On the Brink of Our Abroad Travels (The Night Before Our Departure to Mexico City)

Six weeks ago, we drove from Sacramento to Fresno for the last time, embarking upon our U.S. road trip journey. Along the way it has sometimes felt like less time had passed since we left than actually had, but mostly now it feels like so much more time has passed since our initial departure because of how much that’s happened since. It’s amazing to reflect upon everywhere we’ve been and everything we’ve experienced since that day! I already feel I’ve broadened my travel horizons significantly within the past six weeks; it’s unfathomable to anticipate the breadth and depth of what I’ll experience within the next many months, perhaps even a full year! Fifteen U.S. states and one Canadian province later, and the sun has set on our last full day in the U.S. Tomorrow morning, we will board a plane in Miami departing for Mexico City, marking the official start of our long-term travels abroad together.

I feel a mixture of emotions as we approach this major, significant milestone in our travel journey. I look ahead and I see a blank slate, which I know will be filled with so many different types of experiences, but I can’t be certain of what to expect. I have ideas generated from people I’ve talked to who have traveled to most of the places we plan to visit, and in general hearing from people who have traveled long-term like we are. But for Mexico, I personally only know a couple people who have lived there, and most people I’ve talked to who have been there have visited primarily touristy areas that are resort vacation hubs. We’ve listened to podcasts from long-term travelers who have visited and lived in a couple areas in Mexico, both which we’ll be staying in for a week at a time. I know not to drink the water and anticipate dealing with traveler’s diarrhea. I know that Mexico City is a foodie capital, is walkable, has many different neighborhoods to visit, and is a museum-lover’s mecca. I know the cost of living there in Pesos is far less than the U.S. Dollar and that we’ll get a lot of bang for our buck; our average daily budget we’ve set should be easy for us to stay under, and will likely help our travels stretch longer. Though I’ve studied Spanish in school for 3-4 years, it’s been a long time; while I know being exposed to it constantly, some of it will come back and I’ll be forced to use what I know to communicate my basic needs, I know I’ll feel uncomfortable and frustrated on a daily basis. I’m sure we’ll take a wrong turn walking and get lost and/or miss our bus stop, which will naturally freak me out and cause me to internally panic. I know I’m voluntarily choosing all of this, inserting myself awkwardly into a totally different culture than my own, a whole new world where I’m different and don’t fit in. But I’m banking that this challenging experience will be uniquely rewarding, as I’ll have the opportunity to learn so much about this culture, these people, and myself through doing this. I’ll grow personally and in my relationship with my husband as we have each other to go through this together with. I’m scared, I’m anxious, I’m excited. This is just the next step in pushing the envelope, forcing me out of my comfort zone to face what’s in front of me, when in my “regular” life, I mostly do what I can to stay within my comfort zone, where I feel safe and secure. And this is only one of many countries we’ll visit, each featuring their own, respective cultures, presenting to me the things I just described all over again (though thankfully, most of Central and South America consist of Spanish-speaking countries that have cultural similarities, so it won’t be like immersing into completely new languages and cultures in each country we visit).

My greatest takeaways from our trip so far are:

1) I like to move, be physically active, every day. This isn’t always a dedicated workout session like back at home in my “normal” life, though sometimes it is. Most days it’s walking for hours exploring what is around us, and just the logistics involved in getting to/from a destination and orienting ourselves to an area. We’ve consistently seeked out using outdoor spaces, such as pubic parks, camp sites, bike and walking paths, for exercise. The resistance bands we’ve brought with us are portable and effective in especially our upper body, and some lower body, exercises, when we are doing a dedicated, focused workout. I’m not trying to make strength and endurance gains in our travels (which I have to remind myself of from time-to-time), but rather strive to maintain my physique and physical abilities I’ve worked so hard to achieve. I realize my body will naturally change throughout our travels based on what food choices we have available and how physically active we are, which will vary, and I’m embracing it and letting go of monitoring what I weigh and how many inches certain parts of my body are (because really, those aren’t even accessible metrics for me while on the road). The most tangible, realistic metrics are how I feel in my own skin and how I’m fitting into my clothing. I’ve loved taking fitness classes from instructors teaching various formats across the country, and I look forward to doing this abroad as well! I think it makes me a more perceptive participant and well-rounded instructor.

2) I have become more patient. I naturally don’t like waiting in lines or being in large crowds. In moments where I have to wait longer than anticipated and I’m unhappy about it, I take a moment to acknowledge how I feel and just be in that moment. I think about how I generally don’t have anywhere else I really need to go or be that warrants me feeling this way, and that me being frustrated and upset isn’t going to make things happen faster. So I just settle in and consciously focus my energy on staying calm, positive, and letting the situation play out.

3) I have become more open to experiences I might not be otherwise, especially when they are out of my comfort zone. I make an effort to try new things or push on doing something that initially makes me feel uncomfortable, like facing my fears. For example, I am afraid of getting bit by a snake or stung by a jelly fish. In Miami Beach, I’ve encountered both. The snake, I was taking in my surroundings while walking down a path and nearly stepped on it (thank you, Aaron, for giving me the head’s up when you noticed it in time for me to be startled and back away from it to let it finish crossing our path). I’ve since been more conscious of the ground in front of me (which I usually am anyway and often have to remind myself to look up and enjoy my surroundings) and hyperaware of the fact that there might be a snake that comes into my path again; however, though I have this heightened sense of fear, I’ve acted in spite of it by biking and walking along that same path in the days to follow. The jellyfish, I saw in the waves washing up onto the beach, water I’d already swam in earlier that day and had been putting my feet into over the past couple of days. Instead of avoiding the water altogether, which I wanted to go into again, I walked a bit further down the shoreline to get in and kept my eyes wide open for potential others (which I later saw another one right in front of me while I was in the water and then got out). I can’t help how I naturally feel, but I can control my response. I don’t want to miss out on something because of fear and am doing my best not to.

4) I have been open to trying new things, whether foods or activities. A couple of examples include mountain biking on a former railroad track route on the Idaho/Montana border with some great views and heights and eating regional specialties, such as Cuban and Peruvian food in Miami, a burger and fries at a bar in Pierre, SD, or fish tacos along the Oregon Coast.

5) I have become more comfortable primarily not doing my hair or makeup, wearing clothing items more than once, getting sweaty pretty much everywhere at all times of day, camping, and living with the items I’ve strategically packed into my carry-on-sized backpack and hand bag. I’ve gotten used to life on the road, identifying what I need and don’t, what I’ve used and haven’t, which made consolidating from my multiple U.S. road trip bags down to what I have now for our continued travels much easier (although I still think I have several things I could get rid of or use along the way and not replace to make my load even lighter, as it’s still a bit heavier than I’d like to be carrying around long-term).

6) My own flaws, as well as my husband’s, are more noticeable and prevalent, and we both work through this individually and together on a regular basis. I think this trip will continue to force us to face these realities and grow stronger individually and as a married couple throughout our travels. This is a situation that 99% of couples never encounter, and it’s one that I think has the ability to enrich our relationship in a special, unbreakable way. I think our mutual love and respect for one another, being considerate of the other’s wants and needs, and thoughtfully pointing out or doing things we know the other would like, has gone a long way so far and will continue to.

7) My desire to lead decision-making and be vocal about it has surfaced more and more, and it’s caused me to feel more empowered and in control of situations and experiences when I am, and has bothered me when I don’t feel like it’s happening enough. Aaron naturally takes the lead most of the time, being more globally traveled and skilled at efficient navigation, and he’s learning to step back more often and go with me leading rather than the opposite. It’s a constant work in progress, as when you are together 24/7, you encounter both small and larger decisions together, rather than some together and some separately, in day-to-day life. What type of food we eat and where, who has and carries our shared phone in their possession, who will look up and navigate our travel logistics, when and where we’ll stop while on the road and what we’ll do there, who showers first, etc. These are all daily encounters and will continue to be. What’s worked well lately has been consciously taking turns both leading and stepping back to let the other person do their thing leading.

8) I still feel so fortunate and happy about doing this and I think it’s one of the best life decisions I’ve ever made! I think we’ll look back on our journey and it will fondly be one of the most memorable, bold, enriching experiences of our lives together. I also love sharing our candid experiences through photos and communications primarily via social media and this blog. At home, I’m mostly engaged with social media for my fitness endeavors and don’t choose to post much on a personal level (so it’s taken some time to feel more comfortable with opening up and sharing so much with so many). However, on this trip so far, it’s been the primary means of communicating with friends, family, and people we’ve met in our travels, which is an important outlet to have. It makes me feel connected and allows me to maintain my relationships while we’re away, which is only possible in this day and age! We also acknowledge how different what we’ve chosen to do is, and that most people we talk to about it are curious and would like to know more, so we’d like to be able to share.

9) So far, there’s no where else we could see ourselves settling in to live long-term besides Sacramento! Taking into consideration the climate year-round, cost of living, activities, proximity to other places, work opportunities, family life, and more, Sacramento truly feels like home to us.

Well, it’s past Midnight on the East Coast now and we have a morning International flight to catch (and are going to try to squeeze in a workout before heading to the airport)! Please send positive thoughts, prayers, and vibes our way for safe, enriching, fun, life-changing travels ahead for us!

Until next time,
Elena 🙂