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.
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.
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.