the learning list

“Be grateful, be smart, be clean, be true, be humble, be prayerful.” -Hinckley

Insights and realizations that are ever expanding

You will not mind people who you find smelly. I mean, you will mind but you won’t let it bother you. Typically, you might get up and move to a different seat but now you will not move because a) you don’t want to move all of your bags, b) there’s a very good chance the next seat will be just as close to someone else who you find just as smelly, c) you don’t know their situation and maybe everyone always moves away from them, which can hurts their feelings, (that thought alone makes me sad). Not everyone is as lucky as some of us are.

Judgemental thoughts turn into curiosity. Let’s be honest; we all have those thoughts that creep into our brain and we say “No! I didn’t mean to think that! Brain, why are you such a bitch sometimes, Jesus!” The locals know where they are going, know where they just came from and, for the most part, have their shit covered. Or at least more covered than you have yours. Being in a position of vulnerability can be powerful.

You will pack and smile because you’re done. Then you will lay in bed at night and realize that no, you do not need that extra sweater and you will take it out of your bag the next day. As you take out your sweater you’ll ask out loud, even though no one is there to hear you, “Ah, silly extra pair of socks, how did you get in there?” and you will throw them against the wall into a pile of “not coming.” Before your trip (and if you are smart), you will repack like this about 8 times, each time realizing that you don’t want to carry that shit more than you want to wear it in Europe.

Sit straight. Your back will fall off if you don’t treat it properly.

You will want to tell your significant partner to go fornicate with themselves. DO NOT DO THIS. You don’t mean it and it is just plain hurtful. It is what two angry people say to each other when one of them has cut the other one off in traffic; not what two people who are in love say to one another. You can think it though! This doesn’t hurt anyone and it helps blow off what I like to call “inside steam.” ‘Oh yes, look at me, sitting here, calm, with a coffee mug in my hand, quiet, contemplative. Little do you know that I am envisioning throwing this mug against the wall.’ Do not waste your time. Go for a walk and come back to kiss them. You have no idea what might happen.

No matter how much time you spend with your loved ones, it won’t be enough. You just have to go.  At every moment something exciting will be happening in your family’s lives; children, school, milestones, etc. Think of it this way: you have to go so you can come back and have more to offer them than you do now. You will be a better aunt, friend, uncle, daughter, sister, person. It’s just the way it is.

You will not want to talk about traveling even before you start to travel: Where are you going? How long? When do you leave? What are you doing? I have memorized my own script that I have repeated for many months now. I love and appreciatiate the curiosity of others (strangers and loved ones), however,  I got to a very comfortable point where I could tell my friends, “I would love to just hear all about you and not talk about traveling tonight.” A bonus is that it gave others permission to talk about themselves, which I loved.

I usually clean my home to calm myself down and to feel organized. Now, I will clean other people’s homes to calm my self down.

Oh, you’re an introvert? You need your space and time to reenergize and reflect? Good one! I am both surprised and elated to find that I am adapting to new ways of being and introvert. For example, I find myself comfortable with busy coffee shops being my “quite time.” Whether that’s because I’m awesome or because I don’t have a choice, I don’t know.

Flights will get canceled. You will lose money on reservations. You will miss flights. You can be upset or you can embrace the change. Either way time is going to pass and I would suggest smiling and embracing while it does.

Wake up early to have quiet time (you know, before hitting up those busy coffee shops). Seeing the sun start the day and listening to you significant other gently breath can be relaxing and lovely. It’s a good way to start the day and it gets you in a mind frame to be able to embrace the shit out of your canceled flight.

Always carry change with you. You will have to pee and when you do you will have to buy a drink. Luckily the coffee in Portugal is flavourful, rich and small so in the less touristy places (bus stops, small towns), it will cost you about 0.60. Typically it will be 1 euro, and in the touristy places I haven’t found it for more than 1.50.

When you first set off, don’t worry if you don’t feel overwhelmed or impressed by the world. Your senses will catch up to you and you will hit a point where you don’t just realize that you are actually travelling the world, but you will feel it in your bones. 

You may struggle with guilt while you travel. Here you are, so happy, with nothing to do except to eat, sleep, explore the world and the people around you, party with locals and play with children in the park. Your family is at home and although they get to do the things you can’t like visit each other, laugh, eat dinner together, they don’t get to see what you see and that realization can pull you out of being in the moment. Just realize that, at some point, you will be home and with them again. Be in the moment because it’s about to pass. 

No matter what you think, you will gain weight in Europe. Seriously. I have only done two countries but damn those Nata’s are to die for. There is no getting around it, however, there is something important to keep in mind friends! Do not eat as if you are on vacation while traveling. You have to get your healthy food into you as well. It’s sometimes very difficult when fresh bread and cheese costs 2 or 3 euros but get your ass to the grocery store and make your self a salad. Your body will thank you.

I am an introvert. Lucas is an extrovert. We both need down time. When you travel with the love of your life, you have to become a team in a way that isn’t necessary when you are living at home. As an introvert, I need more downtime than Lucas does but I do understand that he needs it. Even though I am drained, I need to “be on” so we can take turns being alone while at our hosts’ home. For example, after a long day out, we got back to one of our hosts’ home. I was done with the day but Lucas explained to me that he needed to just have some time. Not wanting to be rude, we knew that both of us couldn’t be in our room together while our host made dinner (how rude!) so I took a deep breath and sucked that shit up. I walked out of the room and smiled, laughed, joked and asked questions. What I actually wanted to do was eat and go to bed but sometimes that is just inappropriate. I loved stepping up for Lucas in this way because he is always allowing me to “reenergize” while he works the crowd for the moment. I don’t mind and if you are traveling with someone who is important to you, you won’t mind either. 

Time away from your travel partner can include sitting in different parts of a train for the day. That’s ok. Do it. The worst that can happen is that you miss them (which is a good feeling), or one of you gets off of the train without waking up the other one first. That is not a good feeling. 

When you travel you think “I’m supposed to have this big, life changing perspective on life now, like, right?” I almost feel that I’m not “really traveling” because I don’t know or see or feel how I am changing. If you’re in the same boat, don’t fret. For myself, I know that this will come as I get back home and try to settle back to “reality,” (reality is relative, really). Sometimes you just have to go with something and let the lesson and growth come to you afterwards. It will. It always does. 

Before leaving, Lucas and I spoke of the possible challenges that might put the relationship in a vulnerable position as we travel.  What has happened instead is that I have fallen more in love with him. I mean, there are challenges but there is something to be said about learning the art of relationship navigation on the road. It is a total compromise all. of. the. time. I think in a relationship, you can not just simply love the person wholeheartedly, you have to be committed. That means seeing it through to the end (whether “it” is just through the day or week depending on how stressed or tired you are).  I have to be able to put his happiness and more often, comfort, in front of my own but also balance it with being honest and asking for what I need. Being able to decompress your partner when you are already just as tired or frustrated takes commitment. Relationships are as challenging as they are unique.

France train reservations are crazy expensive. If you can avoid it, do so. Germany is the cheapest and Switzerland is free!

Speaking of trains, always go to the bathroom when you are on a train. Many places in Europe charge to use the water closet. Switzerland was 3 Swiss Franks. Gah!  Just remember, ‘When on the rail, do not bail. Think it’s free and have yourself a pee!’

Speaking of toilets, did you know that toilet water can spray up to 4 meters when you flush it? Did you know that train toilets spray a lot. Close that stinky little lid before you flush, ya heard? 

“I’m sorry” comes in handy. When it is genuine it will go a long way. It also goes the other way: once “I’m sorry” is spoken, let it go. You don’t have time to hold onto hurt feelings or anger because it takes a lot of energy and who wants to travel with a grudge-holding, shoe-wearing, frowny-face, poo-poo-bagoo, negative Nancy anyway?

While traveling Europe, free wifi does not necessarily mean free wifi. Ask about it before you sit down and take all of your gear out. Sometimes you need a phone number to get the password to the wifi and if you’re doing extensive travel, you might not have one. Or, if you are like us, you throw away the paper that has your Spain number on it and you sit there cursing yourself while sipping on your 7 euro latte. 

Whether I wanted it to or not, everything went from being “mine” and “his” to “ours.” I was not used to this at all and I still prefer to have a couple of things that are mine. Just for me. Something to call my own. It might be the alpha-control-feminist in me but… wait, who called me that?! I will say that it has taken me much, much longer to understand and be comfortable with the idea of “one pot of money.” I have never experienced a couple hood like this growing up as everything was Mom’s and she was Queen of all the land. It was easier for me to separate things when we lived at home but as we travel it has changed and ‘what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is yours’ has become quite literal. I think I actually needed a paper bag to hyperventilate into at one point. I think I have it down pat now. I mean the hyperventilating, not that sharing. 

As you travel, all of the weaknesses that you don’t like about yourself or that you wish were different come out,  with a massive light on them, dancing cabaret style all over centre stage. Your partner either accepts it or they don’t. You too have to accept these things about yourself. There is no hiding when you travel so closely with someone. For example, Lucas is fantastic at reading maps and the more he took over this job the more I felt the need to explain to him that I too can read maps and started to list every time I used one successfully. In retrospect… well, c’mon, that’s so silly! He was doing it faster and better than I was and I felt embarrassed that I had a weakness over something I think is so simple. Also, when it come to Lucas, we are both “leaders” and I want to lead all of the time and when I can’t it drives me crazy! 

As I travel, I now get over this type embarrassment very quickly, if it comes up at all. Instead, I have found new things that I excel in that I hadn’t before in my everyday life because these things didn’t present themselves in the day to day “normal” life.  For example, Lucas and I just had a conversation (literally, he just came in the room and we had this conversation) about what I contribute to our travel adventures. This conversation led into the topic of introverts and extroverts and how we communicate about the travels. Lucas, as an extrovert, looks forward, sometimes a bit too forward and forgets to stop and smell the roses. I, as a reflective introvert, am behind him picking up the surroundings and feelings of what is going on. Just yesterday we were biking around Bern, Switzerland and Lucas said that the view over the bridge was supposed to be beautiful so we biked there to see it. When we finally got to the bridge he just kept going! I stopped and had to call out his name and tell him to turn around. I was amazed. “Where are you going? You didn’t even stop to see at the view… that you wanted to see, silly!” I didn’t understand in the moment but it is representative of the bigger picture and how we work while travelling: Lucas looks and plans ahead to where we go based on our discussions, and I force us to stop and enjoy where  we are in the moment. I also document this shit out of it with pictures. My point is that you don’t only grow as an individual but your relationship also starts to take shapes and forms that it hasn’t before and that is just as important and fun as the travel itself. 

I say it all the time but your gut never lies! Trust, trust, trust you gut. 

People everywhere have stereotypical ideas about everyone else. Hands down, no matter what. Every culture, ever person, they all have something to say about other cultures and people. I have also learned that I have some very specific views of Americans that I would like to start changing before I have children so I don’t pass them onto them. I think my mom, who was American, passed down some of her ideas to me by accident. I also realized that the Americans in my life that I love and adore to the moon and back, I don’t label as “American’s,” they are just who they are and if I love them so much, why do I have such an aversion to Americans as a whole? I will commit to myself to change my way of thinking. 

The Euro Rail: Research, research, research and then research some more. It might be for you, it might not be. If you are planning on going for one, please call me.

 European gossip magazines show nipples but blur out children’s faces. I like it.

Tuscany will meet and exceed all of your dreams. Fact. 

If anyone came to me and asked for advice for their own year long round the world, I would say this: budget a trip home at the six month mark of your trip. You will start to feel like going home at the 4 or 5 month mark so it will be a treat knowing it will come up. Set a date to come back to travelling though!

There will be moments of travel that are key moments. The crucial ones that will make you want to do it again and again. These are moments that you can’t describe in words. You can’t describe what you saw and how you felt. These are gifts just for you. 

Don’t ever, ever expect any plane to be on time especially in places like Nepal, or South East Asia. Don’t ever, ever be the d-bag that get’s up in arms about it either. You are travelling and you must have known before you left to any of these places that it’s not like North America or Europe. Everyone needs to get somewhere and no one wants to miss their connector flight. Put a D in in if your going to be an idiot.  

Get a book and make it a good one. It will be your best friend. 

You will get sick even if you don’t for quite some time. It always sneaks up on you and one night you will wake up with shivers, sweats and absolutely shitting yourself mad. Do the drill, whatever your drill may be. For example, mine if getting a cool, wet cloth and putting it on my forehead, getting a heavy sheet on me and making sure I’m close to a bathroom. 

It’s ok to hit a wall while travelling. It is. I have felt lackadaisical  and detached from it at some points. You just have to stop and refresh yourself. Do things you want to do, see things you want to see. For me it’s writing, and if I can, emailing/calling my family and friends. Travelling is a gift and should be treated as such. 

Try and convince family and friends to meet you somewhere. You will be in strange new places with everyone and it will make for incredible memories. Don’t be so sure that you have a handful of time to do these things with people. For those of you going to meet people, you can say “someday” but today it someday. My mom wanted to have her three children under one roof for her 60th birthday and at 56 she didn’t wake up one morning. The next time we were all under one roof was at her celebration of life party and she sat in brick form under a bunch of flowers. Life is now. Go get it. 

There are more good people out there than bad. This is a fact. Go and meet them for yourself. 

When all of your friends and cousins are having babies, and they all happen to be due in the same month, and you are far, far away from home, you will feel the urge to get pregnant. Although I want children to begin with so it’s extra challenging, getting pregnant isn’t the answer. You, man or woman, will have your time to be parents if you choose to be. Patience is a virtue.  

Speaking of patience being a virtue, you will develop it over the time of travelling, or at least start to practice it more often (see above about planes being on time).

Don’t be embarrassed if you ask a question and people don’t know the answer. For example, we asked someone how cold it gets where they live. They didn’t know because they have never seen or used a thermometer before. Of course they haven’t! I wasn’t embarrassed but excited to be immersed in a culture that is so different from mine. I suppose there could be questions to be embarrassed about: after someone shared with us that doctors weren’t available where they are, and that they give birth in the living room with no help but the wife and husband doing it themselves, someone asked if they found out the sex of the baby. Um, no. 

According to one of our friends from Lama, you have to pay to apply for a job in Nepal and the person who pays the most will get the job.

The garbage is overwhelming in Nepal but the younger generation seems to be more aware of this than the older ones which is a start.  

Nepal: People will steal the garbage bins that are provided for the public and use them in their own homes. That’s why it’s difficult to find a garbage bin while you’re walking around in some areas. 

Nepal: When the garbage company doesn’t come and collect garbage, many people will throw their garbage out on the road at night. Most, actually. 

The Himalayan people sleep together as a family around the fire place. In the teahouses, guests will eat in the room with the fire place and sit on wooden benches that are built into the wall. At night, these benches are the family’s beds. When there isn’t enough room, some will sleep on a mat that’s placed on the floor. 

Everyone helps out. Every child, every adult and everyone in between works to help out the family. Our friend Ghalsung said “everyone [helps out]. You just help and it gets done.” These families host trekkers in their home so there is always something to do, for example, a child can mash garlic with a stone because they have items on their menus that call for garlic.  You see children sweeping and sewing, you see teenagers taking food orders from the guests and starting the morning fire. It’s just the way it is and it is fantastic to see. The moment my children start to complain about cleaning their room or some Apple item they didn’t get for Christmas, I will take them on this trek to meet our friends and leave them there for a while. Ha. 

Just because you don’t see the poisonous spider, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Shake your pillows out before going to bed each night when in Australia.  

Riding the back of a motorcycle isn’t as bad as it may seem at first as long as you don’t think about it that much (if you’re the passenger. If you’re the driver, you should be thinking about it very much, indeed). In fact, riding on the back of a bike allows me some quiet time to think. I think about everyone in my life, what will happen when we get home, where we should go next. It’s almost meditative. 

Most people don’t want to face interpersonal conflict head on. Open your arms, embrace your challenges the same way you embrace your success. If someone is a douchbag or ignoring you or being passive aggressive, love them the most because they need it the most. 

When you are trekking in the mountains and you reach your destination for the night, keep trekking for at least 50 more meters and then come back down to where you are sleeping. This helps your body adjust to altitude. 

Dogs are fantastic. They just are. 

Some members of your family will suck. Whether it’s on your mom’s side or your dad’s side or maybe it’s your mom or dad or one of your siblings. Some will just suck and make you face palm all of the time. Their actions will speak so much louder than their words and they will make you want to apologize to the world for them. Don’t apologize. Covering them and protecting them from their own consequences is a form of enabling and sometimes it’s just better to walk away from it for a long while to allow yourself time to think about what you are going to say and what action you will take. 

Relationships can be really, really challenging. They can challenge your every belief and every value. Allow it to… you never know where it could lead. 

As you travel for the year, you’re whole approach to it will change. Maybe it’s just me though, I’ve always been slow to warm up. When I first started I had this idea that life was on pause for a year while I did this. Now, I realized (a couple of days ago) that this whole year has been an integral part of my life… it is my life… and I could not be more thankful.  It has changed the way I travel.

If you read a status that is passive aggressive and you  think it might be about you, it probably is. Call that shit out. 

Read about the countries you are in. Even if it’s the Wiki version. It will make your time there so much more valuable. I promise this.

It’s OK if you don’t do everything your partner does like scuba diving or driving motorcycles. It is not their job to make you and it is not your job to force something you are not comfortable with. 

Ladies, bring panty liners everywhere you travel. For the days you are traveling for over 12 hours and you don’t have access to your luggage, put a liner on and then take it off when you should be changing those stank-ass undies. It’s almost like new and you won’t feel so gross. Sorry, let me be really honest: you will feel gross no matter what if you’re in SE Asia because all you do is sweat… need I say more, ladies? 

People will challenge you to the core without even knowing it. As a joke a man said to his female partner, “Shut up or I’ll rape ya.” Just because it twinges your core does not mean that you have to fight every battle on a micro-level. You have to recognize that in some context, you can say say a smart one liner instead of going into a serious lecture about the women’s movement, feminism, violence against women, etc. This doesn’t mean that I don’t want to because I do, trust me. I just know when it’s worth my time.

Bring books and bring movies because you will get sick at some point (especially in SE Asia). It will make all the difference in the world and you won’t regret it. 

Call your bank every three months if you can. We have had such issues with ours and even though every time they say we’re good to go, after the three month mark, we seem to inevitably find ourselves stuck somewhere because our bank cards aren’t working and someone only accepts cash. Boooo….

The world is massive. You cannot see every piece of it. Just calm your tits down and pick a couple of places. It will all work out in the end. 

When people make you a part of their special day, even though you are across the world, (baby showers, weddings, birthday, grads, whatevs), it will make you feel a sense of love and warmth inside that you didn’t expect. Sounds corny? Yup. Is it true? Would I ever lie to you?

Don’t remove the little ticket you fill out when you get to a new country from your passport. Between the sentence above and this one, we crossed over to Malaysia from Singapore and I had to have someone escort me back to the bus so I could get our little tickets. It’s not something you want to have happen at the border. 

If you have a bus ride that’s over three hours long and you have the choice between a shitty bus and a baller bus with cozy, roomy seats, get the baller bus. It’s the little things. 

Europe feels a million miles away from me. It is currently March 7th and I was in Europe in August, September and October. It’s strange and I keep feeling like I’m going to forget it. Maybe that’s why people get “addicted” to travel, because they forget it, kind of like the pain of child birth (I call bullshit though; I know a bunch of women who remember that shit.)

Just because a brochure says that something is open, it may not be. We have scoured Georgetown, Malaysia going from food stall to food stall and 50% of the time they are closed! Thank goodness there is always somewhere close that’s open… and it’s always a fabulous surprise! 

Just because you sleep in a nice room, doesn’t mean you’re “not travelling.”

Most places in Georgetown, at least the good ones, won’t start making Roti Cani or Naan until 3pm but usually 5pm. You’re not eating that shit for breakfast. I’ve tired. 

While staying with a Chinese-Malay family, I asked the son (who was translating for his parents) if his parents hug people or if there is a different way to show affection when saying hello and goodbye. I learned that they wouldn’t usually hug but their son has had so many Couchsurfers from around the world that they now hug the visitors because they have learned that it’s what Westerners do. I realized that Couchsurfing has the ability to impact people even if they are not direct hosts or travellers themselves. It effects generations  in how they intreat with people from around the world. How amazing is that?!

Mosquito bites seem worse in South East Asia. They look worse, they feel worse, they suck. 

Having a catch phrase to get you through a stressful day or moment helps. It does, I swear to Goddess. Mine is “it’s all part of the adventure.” It is, isn’t it?

If you are sharing a meal with a local family please be prepared to embrace different customs than we are used to in North America. With our Malay family, the host had his hand all up in the dishes. We had been invited to dinner at a restaurant with our host and they ordered the fish head curry. It’s just a whole cooked fish in a curry sauce and it’s yummy. We were eating away and the host stuck his hand right in there, knuckle deep into the sauce, picking at the fish. I was ok with that. I have been on the road for sometime now and I’m totally down. What got me was when he did it and then put the fish on my plate. It was challenging but this is also why I am travelling; to learn about different cultures, and customs, different ways families live, eat, teach, love. This is how they ate, so be it. 

You will see some things that turn your tummy. Mine is seeing infants in the laps of their parents who are driving. It drives me up the wall. 

I am on an island now so I see the sun every day but on the mainlands I missed it. It always seems to have a nice, warm, cozy blanket of pollution for you to wake up to and suck back into your lungs. Hm, hm, good! 

The Chinese-Malay have dry kitchens and wet kitchens. When I asked about this, they told me that they do all of the cooking outside  (wet kitchen) because the oils would make their inside kitchens (dry kitchen) dirty. Make sense. 

Oh man, it is incredible to see an Indian person speaking in Chinese with a Malay person or a Tibetan person learning French from a French person but using English as their communication language. The use of languages around the world and how people can flip between any one of them astounds me. It’s one of my favourite things about travel. 

Lucas and I were having a heated debate about traveller vs. tourist. What came out of it was an understanding that there is a spectrum when it comes to people who move around: tourists, travellers, adventurers. I like this. 




2 Responses to “the learning list”

  1. ddcleve September 9, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

    Oh my little one….you are starting to learn the secrets to a long and happy life together. I am so proud of you both. I know I say this often but I can’t stop myself, travel safe.

  2. maaike April 25, 2014 at 6:10 pm #

    I love what you’ve captured. Simple as that. Be well, you two.

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