Where in the World Are Nicole and Weston?? Our Overdue Update

It has been almost 2 months since our last post… and we’re back in the States.  

Since our last post, we took a short trip to Las Vegas (on a backpackers budget) before making it to Sherman, Texas where we spent time hanging out with some of Weston’s family.  Then Weston and I did something we had not done in over 7 months… we spent a day apart…. a lot of days actually. A month to be exact. He stayed in Texas to spend more time with his family while I went on to Oregon, Tennessee and ultimately Florida to visit friends and family.  Spending every moment of every day with one person certainly isn’t the norm… nor is spending a month apart… but then again, whoever considered us normal?!?!

Our time apart was as important as our time together.

Together we learned we can get through anything.  Even after 7 months of only hanging out with each other, we still willingly and happily choose to be together.  That’s pretty awesome.  

Separately, we were able to spend quality time with our friends and family reconnecting while doing things we love.  Weston, his brother and best friend went to the X-games in Austin, Tx. He also got to do a little fishing, something Weston really missed. 

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Meanwhile, I went to Portland, Oregon to visit my best friends. Then I moved on to Nashville, TN to visit my brother and niece.  When I finally made it to Florida, my mom and I took advantage of our flight privileges (with my brother being an airline pilot) and flew to Paris for a week.

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After a month of Weston and I having excellent adventures separately, it was time to be reunited! NicoleAndWestonsExcellentAdventure began again in Florida.  We spent tons of time with my family and even managed to sneak in a last minute, bargain deal 4 night cruise to the Bahamas.  

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Yesterday I took Weston to the airport for his flight back to Houston.  I will be following him in a couple weeks.  Time for us to figure out the next part of our adventure…

Pro-Traveller Tip at the Singapore Airport: Staff Canteen

Consistently ranked as one of the top airports in the world, Singapore’s Changi Airport is an excellent place to spend a long layover, fly in and out of, or sleep at if need be.

Within the passport controlled area of the airport, there is complimentary wifi, tons of charging points, free massage chairs throughout the terminals, theaters playing movies around the clock, video game stations, special sleeping sections filled with comfortable lounge chairs. If that’s not enough there are lounges you can buy access to with showers, gyms, food and drinks.

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In addition to all of the amenities within the secured area, there is also something that can’t be missed outside of security in the public area…

It’s not very well advertised but if you look closely in terminals 1 and 2, you’ll see signs leading the way to the “staff canteen”. Which despite its name, is also open to the public. In terminal 2, the cafeteria is located up on level 3M. In terminal 1, it’s down on the lowest level, B1.

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As Singapore has notoriously high prices on everything from hotels to food, this is an especially great find. There is stall after stall of the most delicious food we found in all of Singapore… And at half the price! It is definitely cheaper than any other food you will find advertised in the rest of the airport.

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A Week in Thailand: Chiang Mai to Phuket

It’s always fun meeting up with friends on the road because it mixes things up for us. It changes our backpacking trip to more of a vacation for a few days. This visit was especially anticipated after the previous week in which we spent most of our time trying to spend as little money as possible. After a long day of bus rides from Vientiane, Laos we met up with my friends Arlene and Auhona… The same Auhona who I have now seen in Nicaragua, Japan AND Thailand… How cool is that?!?

We met in Chiang Mai (Northern Thailand) and immediately started partaking in as many touristy things as we could. This included but was not limited to: petting large tigers, riding elephants, touring temples, eating lots of delicious food, dancing at the discos, shopping, ladyboys, and general silliness.

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It was sad to see them go, but for us it meant time to get back to the beaches which we had been missing since we left Vietnam. On to Phuket! We could have flown for about $150 each, but decided instead to take a train/bus combo which ended up costing us $78 each and taking 2 days. This option also gave us a day to spend in Bangkok.

Phuket, Thailand. As expected, the beaches were absolutely gorgeous… But also VERY popular. I’ve never seen so much stuff crammed into one small beautiful space. Beachfront hotels in front of other hotels next to restaurants with shacks and shops stuffed in between selling anything and everything you could imagine. Any remaining space anywhere was taken up by parked tuk-tuks and motorcycles. We decided to spend only a couple days here. Tomorrow we catch a flight to Indonesia.

Bali or bust!

8 Revelations From 6 Months on the Road

Our trip is not over, but after leaving our jobs 6 months ago and backpacking for 5, this is what we have learned:

1) Backpacking is not a vacation.
The backpackers life is nothing like the vacationers. The vacationer usually has the pleasure of guiltlessly enjoying the best a particular city has to offer. Sometimes we forgo “must-see” things because we have a limited budget that we are trying to stretch as far as possible. We have many days where our goal is to spend as little money as possible. Those days usually involve a lot of reading, internet surfing and walking… And cost about $20. I usually blog about the highs and lows, but when traveling long-term, there are plenty of in-the-middle days. Our travels are not always as glamorous as walking the Great Wall of China, or Snowboarding in Japan… most days are just quiet.

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2) Happiness is not a destination.
The most picturesque beach with the most fabulously ice-cold beer or margarita actually has no bearing on happiness. Even in the most serene places, you can be pissed off, annoyed, hot, itchy, tired, etc. I know this because I’ve been there, done that. My most epic meltdown (the day I cried twice) happened in one of El Salvador’s most breathtakingly beautiful beaches… We released baby turtles back into the water for goodness sake… But at that moment, I would not have described myself as happy. Looking back, I feel silly. So as our tripped progressed, I got much better at simply taking in the moment. I became more focused on being thankful for small things. I realize now, it’s usually the small things that make me happiest anyways.

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3) There is always a better deal out there.
Just this morning we walked down the street to find a cafe. Our plan was to kill sometime in the hot morning hours sipping coffee inside an air-conditioned restaurant. However, every place we stopped at seemed to be charging Starbucks prices, which were out of our budget. Despite my strong desire to say, forget the budget and let’s get a fancy coffee because the sweat is starting to drip down my back, Weston reminded me that we aren’t on vacation and there is bound to be a better deal out there…. Well wouldn’t you know it, he was right. We switched hotels and the new place offered complimentary coffee and juice to its guests!

4) You don’t HAVE to do everything.
We felt embarrassed to admit it, even skirting around the issue at the time, but the truth is… We made it all the way to Cusco, Peru (which included enduring our 24 hour bus ride from hell), and did NOT go to Machu Picchu. Lonely Planet touts, “For many visitors to Peru and even South America, a visit to the Inca city of Machu Picchu is the long-anticipated highpoint of their trip.” Well I guess we aren’t “many travelers.” The truth was we were tired, creeping up on our budget and had just come from an amazing 5 day hike to Ciudad Perdida, the Lost City, in Colombia. We happened to be the only group (of 6 people, including our guide) there at the time. For us, that was good enough. We also never went to the Galápagos Islands. This we decided, after much debate, was because we just don’t appreciate the red-footed boobie and other such exotic wildlife as much as one should when paying exorbitant amounts of money (for a backpacker). At the time, both of these experiences left us wondering if we had done the right thing… Well months later, and countless spectacular sights (and splurges) after the fact, we understand there is too much stuff to see in the world to fit it into one trip. Maybe we will go to the Galápagos Islands one day, but for now we are content in not.

5) Set a budget, but don’t be cheap.
Let me preface this by saying, we saved a set amount of money, $10,000 each, for this trip and made sure we also had a set amount to come home to that would help us buy vehicles and cover us in case of unforeseen incidents (ie not having a job right a way). In the beginning of our trip we were so focused on saving as much as we could, that we missed out on some great and not too expensive activities… Like yoga for a $1 near a beautiful lake, or scuba diving in Honduras. As time went on we allowed ourselves to be open to places not on our original itinerary, like Japan and China. We may even end up adding a week in Australia. We have learned to prioritize. We don’t buy cokes with every meal, or bottled water (we have a filter we use most of the time). This frees up money for the times we want to go out and have fun with the awesome travelers we meet along the way.

6) Comfort is relative.
Back home I thought a new, soft leather couch in front of a big TV was quite comfortable. Weston thought having a brand new jeep was comfortable. Now, having a safe, clean place to rest our heads every night (which we have had) is our comfort. Who knew one could live comfortably out of a 55 liter bag?!

7) I actually liked my job.
After being gone from my job for 6 months now, I can honestly say I miss it…well some of it. I miss solving problems. I miss the people I worked with. I really miss doing CrossFit at lunchtime. It makes me happy to know that I enjoyed a lot of what I did pre-backpacking. (Disclaimer, Weston maintains he actually did not like his job). That being said…

8) We like our family and friends MOST.
The most unexpected bonus to our year off “working” has been the extra time Weston and I have been able to spend with our families. In the past 6 months, we have had more quality time with them than we had ever been able to while working. No matter what the future has in store for us, we are in agreement that time with family and friends will not be limited to 3 weeks of vacation time from work.

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Tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos… What Goes Up, Must Come Down

We went tubing the other day, where you stop at bars along the way… Which was a blast… Until it wasn’t.

And, well…to recap what happened:

I lost Weston. (Who turned out to be waiting for me at the end of the one-way flowing river.) Apparently, I got out too early. I then rolled down (what I think was a very steep and rocky) hill. I had strawberries down my knee, elbow, forehead and scrapes all along my back and feet… the low-point of the day. The next thing I remember is Weston (who had been frantically searching for me for quite a while and was quite bewildered at how I ended up this way) finding me sitting in a chair somewhere that the very kind girl who I had been floating next to (and after 4 beers and 4 shots had become my BFF) set me so she could buy me a new shirt and some stuff to clean out my cuts (I somehow lost my mine when I was rolling down the rocky cliff).

Nothing some BBQ and beers couldn’t fix!

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In my vivid re-imagination, I believed it was a giant steep mountain-like slope I tumbled down…. But when we went back two days later (because one day was too soon to get out of bed), I could find no such incline… Just some rocky paths.

I’m officially the worst river-tuber ever… But can’t wait to try it again!

New Years in Luang Prabang, Laos… Happy 2557!!!

Some of the best things in life happen to be unplanned perfect accidents. That’s exactly what our trip to Laos turned out to be!

We decided to spend the extra money ($177 each) to fly to Laos, even though Google Maps says it’s only 464 miles between Hanoi, Vietnam and Luang Prabang, Laos. While there are cheaper bus options available, we opted against them after reading too many blog horror stories:

Nightmare Bus from Vietnam to Laos

26 Hours of Grueling Bus Trip From Hanoi to Luang Prabang

From Hanoi to Luang Prabang a 26 Hour Plus Journey

30 Hours on a Bus Hanoi to Luang Prabang

Hanoi to Luang Prabang by Bus 30 Hour Journey

I think you get the idea…

After enduring more 12+ hour bus rides than we’d like to have in a lifetime while we were in South America (including our own bus ride from Lima to Cusco, Peru which still makes me cringe when I think about it), we happily shelled out the extra money to travel in 42 minutes what would have otherwise take over 24 hours.

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Our hotel was only 4.2 km from the airport, so we decided we would walk there, instead of taking a taking a taxi. Plus, it was a good way to burn off some of those $0.15 beers from Vietnam.

Within 5 minutes of walking we come across a family standing where their driveway met the road, holding large buckets of water, hoses and water-guns.

Welcomed to Laos and Happy New Year!!

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These little girls may have looked adorable, but they were relentless with the water guns!

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It turns out we unknowingly arrived at the start of their 3 day New Years celebration, Songkran. This basically turns the whole city into one giant outdoor water fight/party. Everyone is out in the streets, laughing, soaking wet, drinking and eating.

After getting thoroughly soaked with our packs…

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… we decided to join in by arming ourselves with some water and beers.

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By far the most fun we have accidentally stumbled into on our whole trip!

Vietnam: Home to $0.15 Beers and Postcard Beautiful Beaches

What can we say?… Vietnam has been one continuously awesome adventure. We started out in Ho Chi Minh City (formally Siagon), which must be the motorbike capital of the world. At least 100 bikes to every 4-wheeled vehicle.

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We opted to only spend one night in the big city, and make our way the next day to the beautiful countryside of Delat, Vietnam.

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Being a couple months removed from the ocean, we felt compelled to get back to the water… So we made our way to Nha Trang, Vietnam. After a quick walk along the beach,we decided we wouldn’t mind staying here a few days.

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It was as if they were catering directly to Weston… We did eat at this restaurant and was the same, same but cheaper.

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Weston already had his Open Water Scuba Diving Certificate, but despite growing up in South Florida, I did not have mine. Fortunately, in Nha Tran one can get their certification for $275… Much cheaper than back home! So we found ourselves a clean, conveniently located hotel for just $11 per night, and 3 days later, I became scuba certified.

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From Nha Trang, we took the night (not-so-sleeping) sleeping bus up the coast to Hoi An.

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Here we feel as though we might have found our paradise. We splurged for a $20/ night hotel that includes the most fabulous buffet breakfast every morning and an absolutely gorgeous swimming pool!

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This is seriously the most paradise like place we have found…. And I don’t throw that term around lightly. So what exactly constitutes a day in paradise (to us)? I’ll tell you…

We wake up and head downstairs to the breakfast buffet that awaits us. After (more trips that I see any other guests make to the buffet), we head back to our room to make some quick calls/messages to friends and family back home. We then hop on our $1.50/day bicycle rentals and ride down to the beach… that for a couple hours in the morning, we have pretty much to ourselves. Here we make up some workout to do then jump in the refreshing ocean water to cool off, and then spend a couple ours lounging on beach chairs sipping fresh pineapple juice.

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Finally, we ride back to our hotel where we spend a couple more hours reading/trip-planning/napping by the pool. Eventually, we might make our way back out on our bikes to a restaurant where we will eat pho and each drink 4 very cold $0.15 beers (11oz drafts) and only spend $3.

Ahhh, paradise!

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