follow our hearts
Just a few weeks back, we were all set to take teaching jobs in Da Nang, Vietnam. We were putting all our chips in when it came to this job: 40+ hours a week at a reputable school, 15 month contracts, benefits, good pay, and a fun challenging position that neither of us had experience in. This is what we had been waiting for, right? Two nights prior to our first day of teaching came one of the most sleepless nights I had since we left for long term travel. I tossed, turned, and carried anxiety thinking about what had led us to make this decision -- and most of all, how we could possibly back out of the positions this late in the game? Many factors played into my feelings, but the one that broke the camels back was: didn't we sell all of our stuff and quit our jobs so that we could break the 9-5 mold? Didn't we come half way around the world to travel and not plant roots? Teaching English was only supposed to be a vehicle for making a little money while on the road -- not this heavy of a commitment. So...on that Sunday morning, 24 hours before we wwere supposed to start our jobs, we sorted our thoughts and feelings out, and ultimately decided not to take the jobs. As cliche as it may sound, we followed our hearts. Before we left to travel, we had a friend give us one piece of important advice: only do what feels right when traveling and trust your gut more than anything. Even if that changes your plans or diverts your path, listen to it. After we made that tough decision, we left Da Nang (we didn't love the city), rented an apartment for a month in Hoi An, and began teaching English online. We are both so happy and relieved that we made this decision! We've had extra time to pursue our passions of starting a business, which we are confident wouldn't have happened had we taken the jobs.
Think, for a moment, about going out to your favorite restaurant. You enter the door and a smiling face greets you and shows you to your seat. Menus are brought to you, you order and enjoy your meal, then you ask for the bill. The bill is brought to you, you place the money or card in the bill, the waiter/waitress collects it and then provides you with change or a receipt.
The countries we have traveled go a little something more like this: walk in to the restaurant (no greeting), find our own seat at a (usually) dirty table with leftover dishes, wander the restaurant until we find some menus, flag someone down who might work there by waving dramatically (sometimes it is hard to tell because they are usually in everyday attire), order, and then we enjoy our meal. When we're ready to leave, we don't sit and wait - we take action. We always total the bill ourselves and prepare the proper amount of money. One of us then walks around the restaurant, even sometimes into the kitchen if needed, until we find a staff member and hand them the money. In some ways, we have really enjoyed this not so structured lifestyle. Think back to the time you just finished your meal at a restaurant and you're about to be late for the movie that is starting in 10 minutes, but you have to wait for someone to get your bill and then process it. On the other hand, waltzing into a kitchen and handing people money in America might not go over so well.
This idea of taking action carries outside of just restaurants in SE Asia. We've had similar experiences at immigration offices, renting motorbikes, clothes shopping...you name it.
our perspectives have changed
Driving through the rural villages of India can be complete culture shock. We were able to meet and tour a few of the villages near Jaisalmer, India. People were living in small mud huts without electricity or running water. However, after sitting around and enjoying a cup of chai with them, we quickly started to realize that, by western standards, these villagers were living in poverty. But, their happiness level did not reflect what we normally associate with poverty. They had just about everything they needed: food grown on their farms, water, family and friends, shelter, and livestock. Frequently, in western culture we see the statistic that a good portion of Indians live on less than a dollar a day. This experience changed our perception drastically. Why do we use our American currency to measure the economic stability of a country that has their own currency? More importantly, who decided that currency measures happiness levels? That being said, there are some truly heartbreaking situations that we have seen in our travels, but the resiliency of people in the situations is admirable. There is still much work to be done when it comes to addressing inequities (in America) and inequalities around the world. Bre and I discuss frequently how often we witness individuals living with so little material items, yet they are genuinely happy and healthy.
there is only one right way to travel - your way
How about going to 7 countries and 4 continents in 28 days? A couple we met from Miami was doing just that. Swap hotel rooms for overnight flights and it is possible to go around the world and see 7 countries and 4 continents in 28 days.
How about traveling with a 6 month old baby (she is now 15 months) all over SE Asia? We became close friends with a family doing just that in Hoi An, Vietnam. Logistically, this requires a little bit more planning, but they tell us they wouldn't trade their experiences for anything.
We have met all types of travelers: lavish and frugal, on vacation and on long term travel, those traveling fast and those traveling slow, with huge suitcases and with smaller backpacks than ours, those working and those playing, but most of all, everyone is here to live in this moment. Travel has the potential to open an individuals mind in ways that nothing else can. The sights you see and the individuals you meet can only be experienced through travel and it has the potential to help individuals hit the reset button -- to change and evolve as a person. We have seen so many get caught up in the questions of travel. How do we afford to travel long term (still the #1 question we get)? What is the perfect way to pack? What are the perfect clothes and shoes for travel? Do I need to book everything in advance or should I book as I go?
We truly don't know the answers to most of these questions because everyone is different. Although we love to help people and love getting the questions, we only know one thing: everyone out here traveling is traveling in their way and that is all that matters!
language barriers are real (but hilarious)
We have been able to remain vegetarian on the road, (I have mostly and Bre has strictly) but not without learning the basics of each language like how to say "vegetarian". Sometimes though, that hasn't quite been enough. For example, a few nights ago we were craving Pho, which is beef-based Vietnamese soup. We searched online for vegetarian pho and found a place with great reviews. We get there, order "vegetarian pho" directly from the menu, and the waiter says "bone broth." Bre said, "no, vegetarian. Right here on the menu." He then explained that it's bone broth soup without the pieces of meat included. She settled on a mediocre salad instead.
India and Thailand have been the easiest countries to travel vegetarian. In India, most locals are vegetarian and follow this strictly. Thais are some of the most accommodating people and will make any dish on the menu vegetarian. Vietnam, however, has been a struggle. America's definition of vegetarian is very different than Vietnam's. Although this is a minor annoyance and usually easily resolved, it can still be frustrating trying to get our point across when we're sweaty and hungry!
We can't count on our two hands the number of times we've laughed hysterically at awkward language barrier situations! Usually, the other person starts laughing too and we resort to Google Translate to get our point across.
the world is full of amazing people
This last lesson we've learned has honestly blown us off our feet. With the current political state in America, it's easy to forget that the world is inherently kind. It can be difficult to have an open perspective of the world when all you hear are negative stories and stereotypes being flung around. What you often do not hear about is the people that welcome us in to their homes for meals, or worry about us when we have been gone all day, or the people who ensure we are full before leaving their restaurant, or the people who go out of their way to make sure we arrive safely at our next destination. People have shared information about their cultures with us that will forever light our spirits.
So, here's to the next six months of travel! Can't wait to see what else we will learn.