We are officially half way through our travel adventure! Jake and I wanted to take a moment to let you know how we're doing, not just what we're doing. As we started to think about how to put together this post, we asked ourselves a bunch of questions. We decided that we liked that format, more of an interview style, instead of the journal style, and picked out a handful to answer for you here. Read on to see some of the things we're learning on our trip! And if you have questions that you think we should answer in our next State of the Union, leave them in the comments below!
What do you wish you had packed?
Noelle: My Keens.
Jake: Nothing, though at the moment, I wish I had an extra Surface Pen, since I just lost mine…
What do you wish you hadn't packed?
Noelle: all that jewelry (that was stolen in Rome). No one cares what earrings I'm wearing.
Jake:A pair of white shorts that didn’t fit me too well before we left (a little big), and now are quite big on me!
You have to name a favorite place - what is it?
Jake: Gimmelwald, Switzerland
You have to name a favorite food - what is it?
Noelle: Khao Soi from Chiang Mai
Jake: Thai street food - Noodles
Let's get deep:
1. What's one thing you learned about yourself?
Noelle: I've learned a two-fold lesson related to exercise - My body craves workout-induced endorphins, and I need to let go of my body issues! Since we started packing up our apartment in February, my 4-5 day a week workout routine completely disappeared, and since we've been on the road I've been eating not only more, but things that are calorie laden like sausage, potatoes, and beer. Without my regular workouts, I am not getting the cardio-induced endorphins that I crave, and I notice that I get irritated more easily, and I get down on my appearance very easily. I have always had a bit of anxiety about looking fit and healthy, so combine that with no workouts and a not-exactly-low-fat diet and my anxiety level goes up. In Europe, I had a breakdown or two when I was feeling particularly "fat". This was an issue for several reasons - 1, I'm not, nor was I, fat. 2 - I don’t want to burden Jake with these irrational feelings because it's annoying, not fair to him, and just really unattractive. 3 - these feelings are irrational and remove me from the fun of the trip.
To remedy this issue, I've done 2 things. First, and most important, I made a decision - when faced with the choice of embracing an experience or saving my waistline, I choose the experience without guilt tripping myself about it later. It's ok if I'm not perfectly fit, on this trip or at any time. Jake loves me no matter what, and I'll get back to the workout routine that makes me happy when we return. Second, almost every morning I do a short workout routine - pushups, situps, squats, and stretches. I feel more energized in the morning, I like that I'm getting stronger, and I enjoy doing something healthy for myself. So while I'm not going for a run or spinning a few times a week, I can still do a little something that's good for my body, and good for my soul. It's a good reminder just how important exercise and healthy body image are to a happy, even-keeled me!
Jake: I have learned that it can be difficult for me (though I am starting to adjust) to say no to people who seem nice. This is a revelation I gained in our first 2 days in Hanoi (and where I am as I write this). There are MANY scams to be found here, and it is easy to be taken advantage of… even as you realize it is happening! Noelle will probably be writing about some of the things that have happened in her travel journal later, but basically, even when I know they are being extra nice, if not pushy, they know many people are too polite to push back. So back to the question again, I have learned that I am not good at saying no to people who are nice (or appear to be nice), and am trying to find a balance of still giving people the benefit of the doubt while being aware of when people are trying to take advantage. We will see how I come out of Vietnam, hopefully it is not a cold hearted bastard!
2. What's been the biggest challenge so far?
Noelle: For me, the biggest challenge has been learning how to communicate with one another in this new level of constant togetherness. Namely, to be able to understand what Jake's facial expressions mean, when a sigh means frustration and when it's really just a deep breath, how my body language is interpreted, how to let nitpicky things go, and how to not take everything so personally.
We are together basically every second of everyday, only separated by a thin door when one of us is in the bathroom. We don't usually go somewhere without each other (especially since I'd probably get lost by myself). We spend more time together than most couples probably spend in the first several years of marriage! And what's more, we both typically enjoy alone time - we don’t really get any this trip. That much togetherness can cause tensions to rise, even when there is nothing to be tense about! We often over-analyze every sigh, every funny look, every trailed off sentence, and constantly ask each other, "Are you frustrated? What's the matter? Why are you stressed out?" which eventually DOES lead to frustration and stress, because nothing was wrong in the first place, and then that frustration turns into an argument. But arguing is ok, because if we're arguing, we're also learning and eventually growing. We're getting better and better at resolving these small fights when they arise. We thought we were good communicators before we left, we're going to be freaking amazing by the time we get back!
Jake: The biggest challenge has been keeping on top of the ever growing list of things I want to accomplish (getting caught up with photo editing, figuring out trip logistics, practicing Spanish, writing my own blog posts, helping Noelle research what things to do in future locations, and more). I have started to realize that there are only a handful of things that are REALLY important to me, and I have learned to focus on those things first, then do the rest later. If I spend too much time on things that really don’t matter too much, then I am thinking about all I need to do still. In contrast, if I get those big things done, I just think about what we are going to do for the day and look forward to having more fun out and about and with my beautiful wife!
3. What's the most stressed out that you've been?
Noelle: Before arriving in Budapest, I noticed a dark, rough spot on one of my front teeth. It looked like the enamel had chipped away and my tooth was getting stained in the exposed rough spot. "What could have caused my enamel to wear away? I had by teeth cleaned and checked before we left for the trip!" I thought to myself. Later I showed Jake and tried to think of what the problem could be. The only logical explanation I could come up with was a change in diet - at home, Jake and I rarely ate carbs, and we always had tons of fruits and vegetables every day; on the road, we were eating tons of carbs and basically zero fruits and veggies. Perhaps I had some sort of vitamin deficiency? Who knows. I started to freak out about what we were eating, suggested we go get vitamins to ensure we were getting the nutrients we need. I tried to research it on webMD, but found nothing (thank goodness, since WebMD always concludes with the most dire situations). Thankfully, we were headed to Budapest, the mecca of "dental tourism". Apparently dentistry in Hungary is so amazing that people from all over Europe plan trips there just to have dental work done. So I found a doctor that spoke English and made an appointment to have my ugly tooth looked at a few weeks after I first noticed it. Jake and I took the bus down to the Oktagon stop and popped in to Jokai Dental. Within minutes I was in the chair explaining my tooth and my uneducated analysis of what it could have been. The doctor listened intently and took a look. He grabbed a rubber tipped drill thing used for cleaning and touched it to my tooth - nothing was sensitive, so that's a good sign. About 20 seconds later he stopped and said, "All done. I think it was syrup or something sticky." What?? All that fuss and anxiety over syrup? I thanked him profusely, feeling like an idiot, and looked in the mirror- my tooth was back to normal! And bonus, when I asked how much, he said, "No charge, our present to you." I love Budapest.
Man, that was stressful!
Jake: Berlin - I had not updated the daily budget we work off of on a daily basis and was getting stressed about the potential of us spending too much money. The contributing factors in this was that we were only there for 3 days (making a budget easier to miss), Berlin was on the more expensive side, we had not done much research on what really to expect for food costs, or where good values were to be found, and we were travelling with friends (which makes spending more money much easier). Once I realized why I was stressing out, I took a few steps to fix it, like checking on the budget basics, doing some brief research to calibrate my expectations on spending money, and then things were much better!
4. What things have annoyed you the most about traveling?
Noelle: Most people do not share the sidewalk and it's INFURIATING. When Jake and I are walking down the sidewalk and someone is coming towards us in the opposite direction, we move over single file to share the walkway as we pass. Most people, we're noticing do not do this. Most people, even if they're walking three wide, do not move over at all, often forcing us off the sidewalk and into the street. Maybe it's because we move over first and they think they don't need to. Maybe they're just rude. I don't know what it is, but we're getting pretty tired of it. If I had a nickel for every time Jake or I have said, "Next time I'm not going to move at all!", the rest of the trip would be paid for.
Jake: Rude and unaware tourists. I can only begin to try and explain some of my thoughts by making some sweeping generalizations about my overall feelings. The best example was during a ride on a gondola in Gimmelwald. There was a large group of Chinese tourists who were bused in. The problem began when we were waiting in line to get on the gondola, and could literally not go any further because the gate was closed. The group would constantly push up against us, as if that would hurry us along even though we could not move forward. Then when we finally got through the turnstile, walking at a brisk pace to the gondola, many RAN around us, trying to get the window spots. Another good example was the time we were at the firing wall in Auschwitz and a woman huffed and grumbled behind us as we were taking it all in because we were in the way of her picture… and then she decided it was cool to take a smiling selfie. Not appropriate in my opinion. Other rude behaviors from tourists abound, like standing in the path and using a big flash to take pictures of the monks during the alms ceremony. Or the tourist who triumphantly flicked his cigarette into the beautiful Kuang Xi waterfalls before doing a backflip. There have been many examples, and for the record, I am sure I have done some dumb things, but I can tell you I try to constantly respect the local customs, culture, language, and social norms when I am travelling… I just wish everyone else did too.
5. Describe your happiest moment on the trip so far.
Noelle: Sitting on the roof of our apartment building in Avignon, watching the sun set behind the Papal Palace as we drink amazing Chateauneuf du Pape, and enjoy a picnic dinner of delicious things from the Uzes market, and getting hit with the realization that we are SO lucky to be able to do this trip, and I am so proud of us for making this dream become a reality.
Jake: Sitting on top of a mountain during one of our hikes in Gimmelwald while eating lunch and surveying the amazing views around us. It was just so beautiful and made me really appreciate how lucky we are to travel and see these wonderful sights and cultures. It solidified for me how good traveling is for perspective, and awareness of people and the world around you. It allowed me to really appreciate everything my parents, family, friends and everyone who has affected my life has done to get me to where I am today.