When Tony & I initially set out on this trip, we thought we’d be gone for the standard 1 year, maybe 18 months if we were lucky. But we’ve now been traveling long enough that when people we meet along the way ask us how long we’ve been on the road we actually have to stop and really think about it. I was astounded when I did just this last week and realized that we’ve now been traveling for over 15 months! Best of all, we’re still going strong and have no plans to stop any time soon.

Of course, it hasn’t been smooth sailing the entire time we’ve been out here; as is to be expected, we’ve hit bumps in the road. Some of them were unavoidable, but others we certainly look back on and grimace at the naiveté and ignorance that led to them. Still, at the end of the day, it’s all part of the adventure and the mistakes we’ve made have only served to make us better, more enlightened travelers. Also, we haven’t been running around out here like complete nincompoops—though it’s easy to beat ourselves up about our blunders, there are a few important things that we’ve definitely done right on this journey.

So, to celebrate 15 months of continuous travel, I put together a list confessing ten of our mistakes, and praising five choices we’re so glad we made.

First up, The Bad

1. Unrealistic Itinerary

Like many long-term travelers, we spent years planning our journey. The more we read, the more excited we became and we may have gotten a bit carried away. Having never really traveled on this scale before, we assumed that we’d not only be able to sustain a break-neck travel pace in which we squeezed in over 30 countries in 1.5 years, but that we’d actually enjoy it. Veteran travelers told us to slow down, but we thought we knew better. We didn’t, of course, but it didn’t take us long to realize that part of the beauty of this trip is that it affords us the time to really slow down and get to know countries in a way that most week-long vacationers simply can’t. Just two months into our trip, we threw out our slavish itinerary and just started going where we wanted, trying to spend no less than a month in every country we visited. It’s been 15 months and we’ve “only” been to 13 countries, but we both feel we have a far deeper insight into these places than our original whirlwind itinerary would have allowed. That means more to us than simply being able to boast about a higher number of stamps in our passports.

Not all your pre-booked rooms will be as nice as this one!
Not all your pre-booked rooms will be as nice as this one!

2. Pre-booking Accommodation

If you’ve never traveled for more than two or three weeks, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to plan everything down to the minute before you’ve even left home. We certainly did this for Japan where we pre-booked all of our lodging a few months before departing. The result was a jam-packed 4 weeks that left us utterly exhausted and gave us no wiggle room: even if we liked a place and wanted to spend more time exploring, reservations in our next city tugged us onward.

Another problem with pre-booking is that you never know what you’re going to get—photos can be very misleading here in Asia, and nothing is more disappointing than splashing out a little extra for a nice hotel only to find it is anything but. We’ve found it’s far safer for us to pick out lodging in person so we can know exactly what we’re getting for our money. Additionally, in the land where prices are always flexible you’ll often get better deals (even compared to discount booking sites) in person and can routinely negotiate even better rates if you are planning to stay for more than a handful of days. For these reasons, we rarely pre-book hotels anymore. Also, when we do book ahead, we generally only do so once we’ve decided we want to move on from our current location and will only pre-book one or two nights, that way if we picked a dud, it’s easy to move on.

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3.  Thinking EVERYTHING Would Be Cheaper In Asia

We started our trip in Asia because we knew that traveling here would be kindest on our savings. In many cases this has turned out to be true, particularly when it comes to food, lodging and transport. But in other areas, Asia can be shockingly expensive. If you are waif thin or content with clothing that falls apart the first time you wash it, you can certainly restock your wardrobe for very little, but as a lady with curves, I have a hard time finding clothing that fits me and Tony has gotten tired of shirts that fall apart when he sneezes. However, whenever we have been tempted by brand name clothing, we have been shocked to see that prices are generally far higher than what we would pay back home (when was the last time you spent $40 on a t-shirt from the Gap?). Same goes for electronics—we thought that since most electronics are manufactured  here that we would be inundated with cheap gadgets… but once again, if you want to get real gear, you will pay a premium for it, definitely far more than we would back in the U.S.

4. No Electronics Insurance

Which brings me to my next point: although we got travel health insurance before leaving, we weren’t able to find insurance to cover our expensive electronics. Given that we are careful with our stuff and never seemed to experience issues back home, we figured we would be ok and maybe only have to replace one or two things (and foolishly thought it would be cheap to do so). Instead we have had the WORST luck with electronics since leaving, having had three (!) cameras break due to various mishaps, our e-reader mysteriously developed a crack in its screen, our phone glitched out for the entire week we were in Shanghai and we thought we’d have to replace it (though it mysteriously mended itself once we left the city), and at one point our MacBook Air stopped accepting a charge because of a faulty logic board (thankfully this problem was covered under our International Apple Care Warranty, which ran out exactly 1 week after the problem was fixed!). All told, we’ve probably had close to $2000 worth of damages and all things we have chosen to replace have had to come out of our travel fund. Having things break is already frustrating, but know that replacing them is also going to cut your traveling a little bit shorter is heartbreaking. We still haven’t found a plan that covers long-term travelers, so if you know of one, please let us know!

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5. Thinking an iPad was an Acceptable Laptop Substitute

One last gripe about electronics: We left on our trip with a MacBook Air so that Tony could work on photography and design projects, and an iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard so that I could write. While the keyboard helped a lot, the simple fact of the matter is that the functionality on an iPad (especially a 1st gen one) is really limited and multi-tasking is an exercise in frustration. Accessing WordPress is so bad that it’s effectively not possible to blog, and even simply surfing the web was more pain than pleasure. In the end, our iPad gets used as an eReader and as a game console and that’s about it. If we weren’t blogging as intensively as we do, we could probably get by with one laptop, but I really believe that if you’re a blogging couple who is approaching this seriously, then you need one laptop per person. While in Cambodia, we dipped into our travel fund once more and picked me up an 11” MacBook Air and have rarely regretted the decision.

6. Being Stupidly Stubborn About Money

After saving for years, we certainly have been very careful about how we spend our money and are always looking for the best deal. But sometimes in Asia, where haggling is a way of life, it’s easy to lose perspective and get bent out of shape or make our lives infinitely more difficult than they need to be all in the service of saving a few bucks. From flights that land or depart at inhuman hours, or taking the local transport and adding hours to our journey, sometimes we have made choices that look like they will be budget savers only to find ourselves re-evaluating what the real costs were. On a few occasions we haven’t even saved money (for instance, if your flight leaves at an insane time, you might not be able to use public transport to reach the airport so the cab fare wipes out any savings), and in other cases we made ourselves miserable only to be a little bit richer for it at the end of the day. We’ve certainly learned that sometimes our happiness is worth it to pay a little bit more. The goal in taking this trip wasn’t to see the world for as cheaply as possible but to enjoy ourselves, so if we come in under budget but have had a wretched time, it’s hard to consider that a win.

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7. Night Trains

Continuing from the point above, night trains seem like a budget traveler’s dream as they bundle your transportation and lodging costs into one. In reality, we have found night trains to be more of a nightmare than anything else. Rather than being gently rocked to sleep by the swaying of the train, we have wound up bumped and jostled so much that sleeping is impossible. I’ve never gotten a good night’s sleep on any of the night trains we’ve taken, even when we have beds and I’ve taken a sleeping pill, so inevitably we wind up at our destination the next morning feeling cranky and groggy and less than enthused to explore. Now we try to avoid night trains at all costs because the poor sleep they provide us just isn’t worth it.

8. Hostels are Fine, but Dorms? Not So Much.

Because we started our trip in a few expensive countries (specifically Japan & Hong Kong), we tried to stick to our budget by staying in dormitories rather than splashing out for private rooms in hostels or going to hotels. With the exception of trains, I can pretty much sleep anywhere (true story: I once fell asleep on the back of a motorcycle!) and when I do sleep, I sleep like the dead, so I the dorms didn’t really bother me all that much, even though it was annoying when people would get drunk and fall off their bunks or come crashing in at 3 am and turn on all the lights. Tony never took to it, but during the early days of our trip, we reasoned that we didn’t want to spend our time in hostel dorms, we wanted to get out there and explore! But then, we got sick and spent days in a 9-person dorm in Hong Kong and that was hell, no matter how you sliced it. And the longer we’ve traveled, the more we have come to realize we need our down time and value our privacy. Thankfully most of Asia is cheap enough that we haven’t needed to stay in dorms: the last time we tried it was in Thailand where beds were $2/night. Still, we took one look at the place we were supposed to stay and immediately turned around and went hunting for a bungalow. It wound up being 10 times the cost, but was so worth it. We haven’t been in a dorm since, and it’s hard to get excited about ever going back to them.

Can you blame us for ditching the dorms for this?
Can you blame us for ditching the dorms for this?

9. Stocking up on Malaria Pills

Like good little travelers, we got a bunch of recommended vaccinations before heading off on our travels, but we were always confused about what to do about Malaria. We read so much conflicting advice that in the end we just decided to stock up on some pills before I graduated and have them “just in case”. Well, I have no idea what that case would be because 15 months in, we have yet to take a single pill, despite having traveled through the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

I’m not a doctor—ok, actually I am, but not a medical one—so I’m not going to sit here and tell you that if you’re traveling to Asia that you shouldn’t take Malaria pills. I’m just saying that we haven’t and so far have not suffered as a result. It seems like Dengue Fever is more of an issue in this part of the world, and there’s currently no preventative medication for that; the only prevention is not to get bit by mosquitos. That’s also the only real sure-fire way to avoid Malaria, and that seems to have worked for us. If I were traveling to other parts of the world, taking some kind of malaria meds would be non-optional, but why we stocked up on hundreds of these pills for this trip, I can’t say. Especially because if we really wanted them, we could get them for far cheaper here in Asia. Bug spray seems to be working just fine and without all the icky side effects.

Steph and her pack
Me and my pack

10. Packing Too Much

My main pack is only 45L, Tony’s is only 50L. You wouldn’t think with such relatively small packs that we’d have the space to pack too much, but as they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way! I know this is a common pitfall that every long-term traveler falls into, and we were no exception. Rather than packing for the immediate adventure we were embarking on, we tried to pack for every eventuality with the result we’ve toted around unused Malaria meds for over a year, had fleeces with us when visiting Japan during its absolute hottest month and didn’t whip them out until nearly 5 months later, brought bushwhacking sun hats even though we spend most of our time in cities, and sundry other items that were largely unnecessary. Though certain items are more expensive in Asia than we anticipated, it is generally true that if you really need something (like cold weather gear, medicine, etc.,) then you can buy it here, too.

There are a few exceptions to this, such as sunscreen: it’s available but since the locals don’t use it and this is considered a “tourist only commodity” it’s REALLY expensive here. Also, finding deodorant that doesn’t have skin-whitening properties (a topic for another post, I think) can also be tricky, and if you’re a lady, sometimes feminine hygiene products can be comically pricey. So we probably would have been better of tossing an extra stick of deodorant and a bottle of sunscreen in our bags than a compass and several pairs of socks when we lived in sandals for months, but there you have it.

And now for The Good

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1. Signing up for CouchSurfing

I’ve raved about our CouchSurfing experiences on multiple occasions on the site before (check out this post on our first time Surfing in Japan, or this one about the incredible people we met in Taiwan if you need a refresher), so I’ll try to keep this brief and simply say that the somewhat cavalier decision we made to sign up for this service before leaving on our trip was one of the best choices we made. It’s with real embarrassment that I remember that we initially signed up as a way to save money on accommodation, because although it is certainly true that Surfing has helped our money go farther, the experiences we’ve had through the program have truly proven invaluable. We’ve been so lucky that everyone we’ve met has been so welcoming and hospitable, and there is something so gratifying about leaving a country with new friends and a whole host of deeply enriching experiences you would never have discovered on your own. Without CouchSurfing, our trip would be far less fun and meaningful than it has turned out to be.

Note: Though Tony is not wearing one here, always wear a helmet. Do as we say, not as we do, kids.
Note: Though Tony is not wearing one here, always wear a helmet. Do as we say, not as we do, kids.

2. REALLY Knowing How to Ride Motorbikes (& Being Properly Licensed)

Before leaving, Tony & I were well-versed in the singular pleasure that traveling by motorcycle brings us, but we didn’t fully appreciate our ability to confidently and competently ride until we reached Asia. Here, motorcycles are the de facto mode of transport, and being able to take off on our own bike has allowed us the freedom to travel at our own pace (without dealing with price-gouging touts) and explore parts of countries that many tourists skip right by or simply can’t reach on their own. Of course, many travelers arrive in Asia without ever having ridden before and promptly hop right on a bike, but the number of tourists involved in motorcycle accidents or fatalities is so shocking that I personally think this is one of the dumbest things a traveler can do. While it’s not difficult to ride a motorcycle, they are dangerous, in large part because of how unpredictable roads can be particularly in combination with the notoriously lethal Asian road rules. To be truthful, although I spent nearly a year riding a scooter in Nashville before our trip and took a full-blown riding course to boot, I leave most of the driving up to Tony and ride pillion instead, except in the most serene locations—Tony has been riding motorcycles since he was 10, and so he really has the breadth of experience and knowledge to ride safely. Moreover, he has bona fide motorcycle endorsement on his U.S. and international driver’s license, which means that should the worst happen, our health insurance will actually cover us. We have ridden motorcycles in over 50% of the countries we have visited, so it’s clear that if given a choice, we prefer to travel by motorcycle! But it wouldn’t be nearly so fun (or so safe, all things considered) if we hadn’t arrived prepared.

3. Learning to SCUBA Dive

Another thing both Tony & I have spoken about effusively already, but one major change since embarking on this trip is that we can now call ourselves divers, and we are so happy for that. Not only do we simply enjoy the pleasure of floating weightlessly beneath the surface of the waves, gazing on vistas and creatures of unparalleled beauty, and witnessing surges of mindboggling diversity, but as divers, a huge swath of the world is now open for us to explore that was once blocked to us. Moreover, our love of diving has motivated us to visit destinations we previously dismissed, such as Borneo and Indonesia, and we continually find ourselves adding new countries at an alarming rate in our quest to find and dive the best underwater paradises the world has to offer. Because of diving, we find ourselves traveling to more adventurous places, and our interest in environmental conservation has skyrocketed as well.  It’s also been a venue through which we’ve met many wonderful people who share our passion for the underwater world and who we’ve enjoyed spending time with, laughing and learning, during our surface intervals and beyond. Pretty much, diving has given us the world, and our love of diving is taking us to more of the world than we ever could have dreamed of!

For our fellow divers out there, Steph did not actually intend to ascend after this shot...
For our fellow divers out there, I did not actually intend to ascend after this shot…

4. No RTW Ticket

I am sure that there are certain travelers for whom getting an RTW ticket where all their major flights are pre-booked straight from the start makes at least some sense. In particular, if you know you only have 12 months and are interested in hopping across multiple continents, then it’s not a terrible idea (though with all the budget airlines in operation now, I’m still not sure if it really will save you money). However, for those targeting their trip on one part of the world or who have an open-ended journey and want a true taste of freedom, it only makes sense to buy tickets to match. We knew pretty quickly that RTW tickets weren’t congruent with the kind of trip we wanted to take—sure we had a pretty intense itinerary at the start where we attempted to guess how long we would spend in each country, but we always left ourselves open to the possibility that things might change. And, of course, they did. Within 1 month of setting out, we deviated from our original itinerary by spending 9 days in Hong Kong rather than 3, and then a month later, we did so even more significantly when we flew to the Philippines, a country we hadn’t even really planned on visiting. From then on, we’ve followed cheap flights and personal whims and have never been happier. Despite our plans to conquer Asia & Europe in less than 2 years, we’ve yet to make it out of Asia! A RTW ticket wouldn’t have supported a journey of this length and given all the changes we’ve made along the way, I know we would have been miserable feeling we had to stick to a schedule we planned out before we really had a chance to figure out what kind of trip we really wanted to take.

5. Starting 20 Years Hence

Not to end on too sappy a note, but from our initial conception of what this blog would be (a way to share stories with friend and keep our families from worrying we were lying dead in a ditch somewhere and a good souvenir of this adventure, maybe providing a few useful tips to fellow travelers), I know neither of us really anticipated what this site would become. We definitely didn’t envision the blood, sweat and tears that would go into developing and building this site, and there have been days we rued our decision to start this venture, but overall, the fruits of our time and energy have been more than worth it. We both love having a place to funnel our creative energies, and the support we have received from readers has been truly astounding.  It has been so rewarding to watch our community grow and to have created a space where we can interact with so many wonderful people across the globe. One unexpected benefit to the site is that it has allowed us to make contact with many people we’ve since met while traveling and now consider real-life friends. Even traveling as a couple, it’s easy to feel lonely when you’re far removed from friends and your social support, but I know that one of the reasons we have almost never felt isolated is because of all of you who have reached out to us through comments, email, or on Facebook and Twitter. So a big thank you from the both of us, because this journey of ours wouldn’t be nearly so fun or satisfying if we didn’t get to share it with all of you!

Obviously we’ve made more than 10 mistakes (and done more than 5 things right, for that matter!) during the past 15 months, and I’ve no doubt that there will be more to come in the months that follow (though hopefully no repeats!). We may not be proud of every decision we’ve made since setting out, but we both know that all the choices we’ve made—both good and bad—have gotten us this far and have made the trip what it is.

Now it’s your turn: Have you made any of these mistakes while traveling? What’s the best decision you’ve ever made on your own trip? Any other advice or words of wisdom you’d like to impart? Share all your thoughts & feelings down in the comments!

Written by: Stephenie Harrison


In another life, I moved from Toronto, Canada to Nashville, TN to pursue my doctoral degree in Psychology. That chapter of my life is now finished, but I did earn the right to demand you call me Dr. Steph (though I respond just as well to plain old Steph). I am an avid reader whose book collection is rivaled only by my many pairs of cute shoes. I also like to knit, hold impromptu karaoke parties, and try new and unusual foods. Generally not all at the same time. I also really love to learn languages, which may explain why I took 3 years of Latin in highschool. I'm turning over a new leaf, so instead of looking forward, I'm going to work on enjoying the present, so the country I'm most looking forward to is whichever one we're in right now!

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Read comments (43)

  1. November 26, 2013 at 6:28 am
    Nov. 26, '13

    Great lessons Steph! Yep, done all the mistakes, for sure. We do still pre-book at least one night of accommodation though – we found that wandering around seeking out a room after just arriving was causing us a ton of stress so we changed our ways a bit. As for malaria, I agree that in the Asian part of the world meds aren’t necessary – we rarely saw mosquitos and bug spray definitely kept them at bay. I caution, though, that malaria in this part of the world is different than the strain found in Africa which is deadly. If a person is going to Africa they absolutely should take the meds. For our most recent foray we used Clements Worldwide insurance for our electronics (http://www.clements.com/) – we have, thankfully, not had to make any claims but it came highly recommended by other long term Canadian travellers. Lastly, I think that riding a motorbike or scooter is such a great way to see a place! I love, love, love getting away from all the regular tourist stuff and heading out on our own. Often we will look at the day tours in the area, choose the attractions we’re interested in, and then plan our own route on our scooter stopping wherever and whenever we like. I can’t believe it’s been 15 months! Congrats and here’s to keeping going!
    Gillian @GlobalBookshelf recently posted..Book Review: All The Pretty Horses

    • November 27, 2013 at 1:16 am
      Nov. 27, '13

      I definitely agree about Africa & malaria, Gillian—if we were traveling there, then taking some kind of meds would be mandatory.

      And thanks for the insurance recommendation! I will check Clements out and see if they will work for us.

    • November 28, 2013 at 5:24 pm
      Nov. 28, '13

      We always also prebook our first night – though sometimes literally only minutes or hours ahead. You just can’t get a better price in person…

      I can only think of two instances in which we didn’t pre book, the first worked out well, in Vietnam, but the second, in Boston, was a disaster.
      eemusings recently posted..Wordless Wednesday: Chicago, from zoo to city to library

      • November 28, 2013 at 9:50 pm
        Nov. 28, '13

        I think whether prebooking makes sense or not from a financial standpoint clearly depends on where you are traveling. It sounds like in North America and maybe even parts of Central America where prices are higher, there’s more room to offer deals on consolidator websites. However, in Asia, we have definitely not found this to be true. Often I will check out hotels that we are staying in after we check in and compare what we were quoted/paid vs what is listed online and 99% of the time we got a better deal. Sometimes the prices are the same in both places BUT by booking in person, we generally avoid booking fees and taxes so that does save us some money. And often we just wind up with a better price: for example, in Kathmandu, we stay at a hotel that charges us $10US/night, but if we we’re to prebook, it would be $14 (not including taxes!). So we save over 50% by waiting and just booking in person. The only place this wasn’t true was at a business hotel in Surabaya—we just kept extending our stay online because the hotel couldn’t match the online prices!

  2. November 26, 2013 at 8:33 am
    Nov. 26, '13

    Great read. I use world nomads and it covers a lot more adventure sports. You have to pay a little more for electronics but you can extend it while you’re overseas. Which one are you currently using? I’ve only used about a weeks worth of Malaria pills out of the two months worth that I bought. Luckily my doctor talked me out of buying a tonne of it
    Jimmy Dau recently posted..Guest Blog: Tips for better food photography by 20YearsHence

    • November 27, 2013 at 1:19 am
      Nov. 27, '13

      Neither of us are World Nomads users as we found their packages were generally way more expensive than alternatives (and for Canadians, you have to renew every 6 months which is a pain…); we both are currently on IMG’s Patriot plan which is really reasonable and covers pretty much all adventure sports. I also didn’t think that they provided electronics coverage—I wonder if that is just for Australians or if anyone can get it? Will definitely check out their plans and see if when it comes time to renew/pick new insurance they might be an option. If our electronics were covered, I’d be willing to pay a bit more.

  3. November 26, 2013 at 8:55 am
    Nov. 26, '13

    You’ve been going for 15 months?! It feels like 5 minutes ago you were celebrating a year on the road! This is a great post and some fantastic tips for people setting out. I still maintain that NOT buying a rtw ticket is the best thing we did, the flexibility you have can’t be compared.

    The only one I’m still an old stickler on is pre-booking accommodation. I just cannot be bothered to walk around places when I’ve just gotten of a horrid bus or train journey. Our method is to book 1 night somewhere new and then if it’s great we can negotiate. If it’s terrible, make a swift exit in the morning! P.S I’m glad you started 20 Years Hence too 🙂
    Maddie recently posted..So what happens now?

    • November 27, 2013 at 1:25 am
      Nov. 27, '13

      If we are planning to visit a really big city like Bangkok or Tokyo or Jakarta, etc., then we generally prebook because in those instances, unless you’re going to a Khao San Road area, it is definitely too much hassle to find something on the ground. And we normally prebook lodging if it’s our first night in a new country so that it’s one less thing to worry about and we have somewhere to head from the airport (provided we’re flying in). We’ve gotten pretty good at finding lodging on the ground, though… I don’t think we’ve ever spent more than 20 minutes hunting before we’ve found somewhere acceptable.

  4. November 26, 2013 at 10:57 am
    Nov. 26, '13

    This post is encouraging – I especially love the tips on the RTW ticket and the pre-booking. Our previous travels have always been for just a couple of weeks and so we’d book nearly everything in advance. I am so looking forward to taking things as they go – staying longer if we enjoy a place or having the ability to leave sooner if we don’t. Congratulations on the 15 months!
    Emily recently posted..On those we’ll miss

    • November 27, 2013 at 1:30 am
      Nov. 27, '13

      I am a major planner so it has been a process for me to lighten up and just go with the flow, but travel definitely teaches you that things have a way of working out. We didn’t start just showing up and finding lodging on the fly until about 2 months of travel, so I think this is something everyone has to figure out at their own pace. Some people just stress out if they don’t have a hotel when arriving in a new city, and if that’s the case, then by all means book ahead! But maybe only book 1 night as others have suggested so that if you hate your hotel or you don’t wind up liking the city you’re in, you have nothing to stop you from leaving! It’s much easier (and cheaper!) to extend than to cancel a reservation.

  5. November 26, 2013 at 4:27 pm
    Nov. 26, '13

    Congratulations on 15 months! You guys seem to have mastered a lot of lessons that I am still struggling with in my third year of travel (um, hello overpacking). Kudos to your many success and happy travels ahead!
    Alex recently posted..Hiking the Inca Trail: Logistics and Tips

    • November 27, 2013 at 1:32 am
      Nov. 27, '13

      Thanks, Alex! I don’t know if we’ve mastered all of these lessons, but some of them we’ve certainly conquered. I have realized I am a bit of a packrat so I think I will always have a tendency to over-pack just a smidge. If only I could reconcile myself to just 2 t-shirts and 1 bottom, my pack would be so much lighter! But what a drab and monotonous wardrobe I would have as a result!

  6. November 26, 2013 at 4:36 pm
    Nov. 26, '13

    Certainly glad you clarified that dive photo 🙂 This was a great read, I can’t believe you guys have been on the road 15 months now!!

    • November 27, 2013 at 1:33 am
      Nov. 27, '13

      re: the thumbs up photo—old habits die hard, I guess. I should really know better by now, but put a camera in front of me and it’s like I’ve had a lobotomy… 😉

  7. November 26, 2013 at 9:02 pm
    Nov. 26, '13

    It’s so interesting for me to read these insights as I’ve never traveled for longer than three weeks at a time. Even though I was an expat for two years, we had a permanent base from which to explore the region around us. I’m sure I would have done exactly the same things as you, over packing and over planning. It will be fun to see how your travel style evolves over the next 15 months!
    Heather recently posted..Chinese Words and Phrases for Foreigners

    • November 27, 2013 at 1:39 am
      Nov. 27, '13

      I definitely think that long-term travel requires a different mindset than when you just travel for a few weeks at a time. I was chatting with a friend who was heading to Eastern Europe and she was asking me about the pre-booking thing and I was saying that for us, we don’t bother, but she said they wanted to make sure they got nice hotels and some were already booking up months in advance. While we don’t stay in the cheapest places possible on many occasions, for us, that part of the equation is secondary because we’d rather spend our money on food and seeing things and having big experiences. But if I was going on a vacation and only got 1 per year, I’d definitely want to spend a bit more to make sure I loved every place we stayed. Same with eating out: normally I’d want to try a different restaurant or stall for every meal so I get to try as much as possible, but now, we tend to just go back to the same places because they are reliable and its less work for us. 🙂

  8. November 26, 2013 at 9:33 pm
    Nov. 26, '13

    Ah, your writing is always such a treat to read. Whenever I look at your posts they always look super meaty but once I get reading, I am delighted and totally right there with you, breezing along. So thank you!
    I have done the grotesque flights thinking I’d save money – actually I’ve done it a handful of times – and this has resulted in my sleeping at the airport which is ALWAYS gross. I refuse to do this anymore unless absolutely necessary (which happened twice this summer in Toronto).
    I’m also completely over hostels (dorms in particular)… and where possible I have opted for other forms of accommodation – airbnb, couchsurfing, staying with friends, bed and breakfasts. I couldn’t avoid hostels for the most part this summer while going through Russia, Siberia and Mongolia, and while I did have some positive or okay experiences, for the most part, the summer confirmed my status as over-hostels.
    AND the night trains – I did a few of these in Siberia, and I actually enjoyed them, although I never did get a very good sleep. I think if I had to do it enough, the novelty would certainly wear off!
    Colleen Brynn recently posted..Reflecting On A Few Things: Optometry School Is Like…

    • November 27, 2013 at 1:43 am
      Nov. 27, '13

      Thanks so much for the kind words, Colleen. I realize brevity is not really my strong point, so I appreciate that you find my writing fun and manageable nonetheless!

      So far we have avoided sleeping in any airports, though I have suggested it on a few occasions because I am such a cheapskate. Tony has always resolutely said no, though. Probably for the best!

  9. November 27, 2013 at 3:40 am
    Nov. 27, '13

    What a great post! You learn so much when travelling! I agree with almost all of your points. The only point where we disagree is with night trains. Perhaps I just sleep better than you, but I love them! You can sleep through the boring travel and save money on accommodation.

    Couch surfing didn’t exist when I went travelling, but the best nights I had were when friends introduced me to locals and I spent the night with them (same thing really, but relies on knowing people in the country you;re travelling to) I would definitely sign up if I was travelling again!

    • November 28, 2013 at 9:37 pm
      Nov. 28, '13

      I don’t know if you are speaking specifically about night trains in Asia or in general or in Europe, but I wonder if the ones in Europe might be a bit smoother and less disruptive than the ones in Thailand/Vietnam, etc., I swear, normally I can sleep ANYWHERE and it’s become something of a running joke that I fall asleep as soon as I’m in any kind of transportation (even a motorbike!), but I just can’t sleep on night trains!

  10. November 27, 2013 at 5:55 pm
    Nov. 27, '13

    This is a great list! We can definitely agree with a lot of things on it. Although I admittedly still overpack.. I’m not sure how to make that lesson stick with me! We used to never prebook our hotels in Asia, but recently in Costa Rica we have been putting a bit of extra time into researching our sleeping arrangements. It’s just so expensive here no matter what! I miss the days of $7 hotel rooms 🙂 But we only book like a day or two ahead. Like you guys, we’ve realized intense travel itineraries don’t work for us. We almost inevitably extend our time almost everywhere we visit haha. We’re super glad you guys started 20 Years Hence, too! You guys are awesome and we look forward to all your upcoming travel stories! (P.S. LOVE the diving reference haha)

    • November 28, 2013 at 9:43 pm
      Nov. 28, '13

      Interesting to hear that booking in advance might be a more cost-effective strategy in South America. I can only think of one instance here in Asia where we definitely got a better price by booking online rather than in person. Perhaps it also depends on the level of accommodation that you’re staying at? Since we definitely tend to skew low budget, most of these places don’t have much (if any) of an online presence.

  11. November 28, 2013 at 8:39 am
    Nov. 28, '13

    Woah! Congrats on completing 15 months!! You guys are inspirational! I am glad to have been a part of your travels through your blog, keep going 🙂
    Arti recently posted..10 Insanely Tasty Vegetarian Foods From North India

    • November 28, 2013 at 9:44 pm
      Nov. 28, '13

      Thanks, Arti! We’ve been so glad to have you along as well! 😀

  12. November 28, 2013 at 5:23 pm
    Nov. 28, '13

    Ooooh yeah. I also have the ancient first gen iPad and knew that we would be purchasing a laptop ASAP for our trip, especially if I wanted to do any freelance work on the road. I wouldn’t even have an iPad if work hadn’t given me one – they’re only good for reading (and the odd tweet).

    In Europe I quickly learned that I was willing to pay a little more for convenient/comfortable transport. We endured the rite-of-passage sleeper buses in Asia though!
    eemusings recently posted..Wordless Wednesday: Chicago, from zoo to city to library

    • November 28, 2013 at 9:52 pm
      Nov. 28, '13

      Thankfully we have never done a sleeper bus because we have never heard anything good about them so we felt we could still be “backpackers” without running (or should that be “riding”?) that gauntlet. Still no regrets on that front!

      • November 29, 2013 at 2:02 am
        Nov. 29, '13

        I have to admit that I haven’t tried night trains in Thailand/Vietnam, but all the ones I tried in China, Japan, the US and Europe have worth it. You’ll have to give one a go in another country and see how it compares!
        Jackie (Farm Lane Books) recently posted..Night Film by Marisha Pessl (Audio Book)

  13. November 29, 2013 at 12:01 am
    Nov. 29, '13

    Firstly, congrats on 15 months of travel! We’ve made so many of the mistakes you mention; booking all our New Zealand accommodation before we left the UK, thinking everything would be super-cheap in Asia, taking only one laptop and having to buy another on the road, trying to stick to an unrealistic budget and thinking night trains were a good idea. On the upside, we’ve never attempted dorms even in expensive countries because I know full-well that I’d never be able to sleep in one properly; we also have yet to break any of our electronics and continue to fit everything into 35L and 40L packs. We use Photoguard electronics insurance which covers some of our gadgets while our travel insurance protects the rest – unfortunately I think it may only be available for UK residents though. With regards to the things you’ve done right, we have yet to couchsurf or dive but hopefully we will in the future; totally agree with you about driving motorbikes, we’re terrified of them and have only used them a couple of times when we’ve absolutely had to in very quiet areas with helmets.
    Amy recently posted..Does Travel Ruin your Future Prospects?

    • December 4, 2013 at 11:48 am
      Dec. 4, '13

      Travel can definitely be a trial by fire and no matter how much prep reading you do beforehand, there are always going to be lessons to learn along the way. Everyone has things that work for them that may be dealbreakers for others, so part of the journey has been figuring out what works for us and what doesn’t! It’s something every traveler has to do for herself at some point or another.

  14. November 29, 2013 at 12:42 am
    Nov. 29, '13

    Congrats on 15 months of travel. Wow, I can’t believe it has been that long either. It doesn’t seem too long ago since we met, but time goes by so quickly when you are having a good time. I know what you mean about having an unrealistic Itinerary. We are leaving Cambodia in two weeks and are off to South America for a while. As I am German I like to plan a lot, but I am finding myself getting really frustrated by trying to squeeze too much into our itinerary. So we have a rough route, but decided that if we want to spend a few days longer in one place then so be it. Let’s see how that is going to work out. 🙂
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..The day I ate a tarantula

    • December 4, 2013 at 11:50 am
      Dec. 4, '13

      I am a planner at heart to, so I can’t really show up places without having done at least some cursory research, but I no longer bother trying to figure out how long we’ll spend places and definitely realize that any itinerary I come up with is really just a guideline that is always subject to change. At the end of the day, use your heart as a compass and you’ll find yourself where you need to be!

  15. December 4, 2013 at 11:06 am
    Dec. 4, '13

    Loved this post – in fact I am going to share it on our fan page. I liked it for its honesty and because it is truly helpful. From the iPad is not a laptop, to the malaria pills, to learning how to drive a motorcycle and Couch Surfing all of it is real tangible and useful insight I find rare on travel blogs. Thank you for this!

    • December 4, 2013 at 11:51 am
      Dec. 4, '13

      Thanks, Sonja. I’m so glad to hear you found this post helpful and I hope your fans will too! Lots of lessons you need to learn for yourself, but some of our mistakes I hope others can learn from!

  16. December 6, 2013 at 3:02 am
    Dec. 6, '13

    Happy 15 months to you!!! Amazing how life can take us on unknown adventures when we give it a chance.

    I agree on the clothing and electronics! We did end up buying a new phone, as you saw recently, but luckily haven’t had to splurge for anything else (yet…knock on wood). So far, we haven’t given in to the temptation of a 2nd laptop, although we definitely think about it…a lot. At least I do.

    I have to disagree about the malaria meds. Although I understand why a lot of people don’t take them, especially when you’re traveling so extensively, for us they’ve been peace of mind. Well, especially for me. I tend to get bit SO easily. We both started out taking Malarone, which Shawn had gotten from his doctor for a cheap price because his insurance covered it. I opted out of my prescription because it was $475 for 75 pills. We figured we could get more once we got here, but WRONG. If you can find a place that sells it (we haven’t), it’s massively expensive. I understand it’s almost as much as back home. He’s doing the antibiotic route and letting me take the Malarone since I have the lady parts that don’t like extended periods of antibiotics…ahem. Anyway, maybe it’s just from working around too many Infectious Disease docs…I just can’t take the risk. But I’m glad you haven’t gotten malaria or dengue fever! I will probably die of some DEET-related illness anyway…

    And the sunscreen! Ugh. We have paid SO much for sunscreen. It sucks being so pale.

    One of our best decisions has been bringing our little mini-speaker. I love it. It makes movie and TV watching on the laptop SO much more enjoyable.
    Carmel recently posted..BANGKOK SNAKE FARM

    • December 7, 2013 at 10:00 am
      Dec. 7, '13

      Yes, if you want to take Malarone then trying to get it in Thailand/Asia is more difficult and no cheaper than getting it back home, so if we had gone that route then I would be perfectly happy to have brought them with us. But we wound up stocking up on doxy, which is readily available everywhere in Asia and dirt cheap to boot.

      When it comes to health, of course everyone needs to do whatever makes them feels best and seems right. For us, it seemed like since the malaria meds don’t actually prevent you from contracting the disease (but just start treating it) AND you can still get another mosquito-born illness for which there is no prophylactic prevention nor any treatment we needed to focus more no not getting bit more than anything else. I am a huge mosquito magnet so I was really worried, but I haven’t found mosquitoes to be much of a problem anywhere we’ve been, perhaps because I’ve been judicious about using our 90% DEET spray. So long as I’m not getting bit, I know I don’t need to worry about malaria/yellow fever/west nile/Japanese encephalitis/dengue/etc and for me that has been the best peace of mind.

      I wish we had brought mini speakers for our laptop. Maybe we’ll pick some up here in Bangkok! 😀

  17. December 6, 2013 at 6:50 am
    Dec. 6, '13

    A great read Steph – you’ve answered a lot of questions I already had in my head for when I head off to Asia next year. Like you, I’m a planner and I’m not sure how well I’ll take to looking for accommodation “on the hoof” but your reasons for doing so seem fair enough. Better start booking those motorbike lessons methinks….
    Ian recently posted..8 Amazing Beaches Without a Donkey Ride in Sight

    • December 7, 2013 at 10:03 am
      Dec. 7, '13

      Thanks, Ian. I’m glad to hear this was helpful and hopefully will help you in your Asian adventure prep! I might write a post at some point about how exactly we deal with not booking lodging (we don’t just show up blindly and hope for the best… well not usually), because I think Type A Steph of 2 years ago would have really appreciated reading something like that. It’s hard for us planners to let go, but if you take a trip of any extended length you do learn to unclench a little bit as it’s the only way to survive!

  18. December 12, 2013 at 10:58 pm
    Dec. 12, '13

    Wow, we do a lot of the same things when we travel: couchsurfing, sticking around in one place, being stupidly stubborn about money… haha. I loved this post, though, and I’m sure you’ll get around to Europe (and South America and Africa, etc)… eventually. 🙂
    Sally recently posted..Photoessay: (Delicious) Things I Ate on Jeju Island

    • December 14, 2013 at 10:29 pm
      Dec. 14, '13

      I think world travelers are bound to make some of the same mistakes… I just hope that by the time we make it to the rest of the world we’ve moved past these ones and are making new ones! 😉

  19. December 30, 2013 at 7:39 am
    Dec. 30, '13

    Hi Steph, I’m just finally catching up with your blog. As usual this is a great read. Can’t believe you slept at the back of a motorbike! You beat Keith, that something he has yet to do (yes, he can sleep anywhere, too). I’m very glad you put up this wonderful site of yours. I always enjoy reading about your travel experiences and your insights. And I’m glad that Keith and I get to work with you on our new blog design. We’re very excited about it.
    Happy new year to you and Tony. May 2014 brings you more beautiful and frutful journey.
    Marisol@TravelingSolemates recently posted..Iceland: Exploring the Lava Tube Cave of Leidarendi

    • December 30, 2013 at 10:38 am
      Dec. 30, '13

      Thanks so much for you kind comment, Marisol! It has been so nice getting to know you and Keith through your own blog this past year and be inspired by the incredible trips the two of you take. Tony & I are so happy to be working with you—can’t think of a better project to kick off the new year! 🙂

  20. January 6, 2014 at 11:26 am
    Jan. 6, '14

    We have learned the same basic lessons in our five years of travel, but I disagree about overnight trains. Perhaps it’s just me but I sleep fine and love riding them. Safe travels and Happy New Year!

    • January 6, 2014 at 7:58 pm
      Jan. 6, '14

      Like I said, I can sleep pretty much ANYWHERE but I’ve yet to have a good night’s sleep on any train we’ve taken in Asia save the one from Hong Kong to Beijing which was acceptable. If you are a traveler who can make them work, more power to you, but we know that for us personally, they wind up not being worth it. That’s what makes traveling interesting, right? Everyone does it differently!

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