Saturday, April 19, 2008

On the Road Again!!

Finals are done, work projects are on hold, and we're off!

We'll be in Turkey through May 3rd, checking out a country that we were disappointed to miss on our RTW trip and also trying to rest and rejuvenate after a pretty intense last three months. Our hope is to have a chance to reintroduce ourselves to each other, reach out and experience a new place a little, remember the things we had liked about living that 15 months outside of the traditional work life and rededicate ourselves to finding ways to keep that balance and happiness now that we're back plugged into the day-to-day economy. (Easier said than done when you're balancing full time work with graduate studies....)

Wish us luck!!


We'll be posting stories and pictures about the trip, though most likely we'll wait until we get home instead of using up vacation time in the internet cafes...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Learning to give myself a break....

...Or: 12 days is different than 12 months

So our passports have been burning a hole in our pocket pretty much since 6 months after our return from our RTW trip. But we've had a lot of things to take care of first:
- Selling a house in Minnesota
- Moving cross-country
- Finding a place to live in Portland
- Finding jobs in Portland
- Getting half-way through an MBA program
- Etc.

But once we had gotten somewhat settled we realized that we really, really needed another taste of travel before that might involve carting along a diaper bag.

Turkey was one of the countries on our original RTW trip list that got squeezed out when we decided to slow down and spend more time in fewer places and it remained near the top of our want-to-see list. Plus it seems like everyone we spoke with either had just returned from there or knew someone that had and couldn't say enough good things. So the decisions was made in December: come Brian's next semester break we'd be cashing in the last of our NW frequent flier miles (before they mysteriously 'disappear' in the Delta merger) and be Istanbul-bound.

One of the hardest things to get used to though has been the difference in planning this trip versus dealing with seeing new countries on the RTW trip. The very first thing that slapped us in the face was the reality of having to fit a visit into a two-week vacation instead of being able to take as many weeks as we thought we needed to see what we wanted to see. (And we were only able to do 2 weeks because Brian negotiated that as part of accepting his new job in February..otherwise we wouldn't be able to be away nearly that long).

So I was reading guide books and making lists of places to see and kept crying out "what do you MEAN we can't just take a month plus to explore???? How can ANYBODY be expected to go to a new place for only 12 days??? It's almost not even worth going!" Yes, I do realize how ridiculous that sounds; it has helped reinforce how unique an experience we had before and how fortunate we were to have done it. Eventually I narrowed down our destinations to 4 cities/villages in relative close geographic proximity that would allow us both to explore/experience a little bit of Turkey but also have a chance for some sorely needed rest and recovery in between grad school semesters.

Figuring out logistics was the next hurdle. Again, on the RTW trip we would have taken mostly local buses or trains and would have viewed circuitous routes, uncertain timetables or long stop-overs as part of the charm. But with only 12 days (there it is again) it didn't make sense to spend an entire one of them trying to travel 35 miles via tortuous connections. Thus all of sudden we found ourselves planning on an internal flight to get from Istanbul to the west coast and back and renting a car to navigate between west coast cities.

The same sort of rethinking happened with hotels. During the trip we found the best policy (outside of high season in europe/chinese new year in Siem Reap, etc.) was to wait until we arrived in city to choose a place to stay. That usually led to cheaper lodgings and also meant we wouldn't have pre-paid for a place that didn't live up to its advertising. In this case, we are traveling during shoulder season or at the very very beginning of high season. Normally that would be even more reason to use our old strategy. But in some of the small villages we're going to it was unclear how many places would be open yet, and we discovered that our return to Istanbul coincided with a Formula 1 race. And we didn't feel like spending a chunk of our sightseeing/exploring time doing the hostel/hotel shuffle. However when we looked into reserving ahead of time we found that most of the hotels wanted us to transfer money to a bank account to reserve a room (vs just being able to give them a cc number).

Before I knew it, I found myself contacting an Istanbul-based travel agency that had come very highly recommended by a good friend (and by Rick Steves). I presented them with the itinerary I had come up with, asked them to suggest changes if the logistics wouldn't work, and had them make the flight and rental car and hotel (not hostel) reservations and arrange all the payments.

Doing that made me feel guilty and wimpy; basically it felt like a total cop-out. It was like our experience on the RTW trip had brainwashed us into thinking that the only valid method of traveling was on a shoe-string budget with logistics that you manage entirely on your own and with the flexibility to not have set plans. And that certainly is a great way to travel and one that I hope we get to do again in the future. But what gets lost in the haze of nostalgia is how much energy it takes to travel that way, and how tiring it can be to always be planning, and paying attention, and figuring things out and dealing with uncertainty.

After a couple of weeks of flogging myself, I think I've finally convinced myself that it's just as valid to go on a trip where things are planned ahead of time (and yes, even where someone else has done a lot of that work planning for you - travel agents need to earn a living too), so that you can be relaxed and just enjoy and be able to focus all your attention on what you are seeing and experiencing around you instead of having half a brain working on where you'll sleep that night.

So repeat after me: 12 days is different than 12 months. Both are good.


(and yes, I am fully aware of the irony of my formerly psycho type A+ personality self actually struggling with planning more instead of planning less. Who says traveling around the world for a year doesn't change you? )

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Quick clarification...

(since I didn't have time to finish the real entry I was writing)

So my good friend Wade wrote the following comment on our entry 'I hope this is us in 30 years':

"I think "easier said than done" is quite the understatement. Not everyone is in a position to undertake a four year journey around the world. The world would be a better place if more people had that ability, but that's a discussion for another time."
It's a really good point; we absolutely realize how fortunate we were to be able to take 15 months off from 'real-life' and travel. But it also misses the point.

My blog entry was not suggesting that everyone should take off four years and travel. In fact, I don't think we ourselves would actually enjoy traveling for four years like they did. One of the things we learned about ourselves during our trip was that 12 months was about our limit for constant movement. We missed having roots and feeling like we belonged to a community. Rather, what I was reacting to and admiring so much about Pat and Cat was their willingness to say "why not?" and do something that on the surface sounds crazy. And I really responded to Cat's quote:
"You just have to be open-minded and willing to take chances and risks and not be afraid..."
That doesn't necessarily mean you have to grab bicycles and leave your jobs and homes for four years. It just means taking yourself out of your comfort zone and trying something that would normally make you say "I could never do that". It could be taking an art class or showing up for open mike night or changing jobs or writing that novel or training for a marathon or whatever.

Five years ago I would NEVER have thought I could have done our trip. I was 'too responsible', I had a mortgage, I had worked hard in undergrad to get good grades to get a good job and work tons of hours to do well and then go to a good grad school and get good grades to get another good job where I could work tons of hours and eventually someday it would pay off in traditional 'success'. This was what I believed I was 'supposed' to do, what I thought was expected of me, and what I assumed would make me happy.* When I heard about people doing things like taking months backpacking or quitting the for-profit world for the non-profit world, or even leaving the job they had for another similar one that they thought they'd like better, I was envious and admiring, but I couldn't relate to it and always had lots of reasons why of course I couldn't do something like that.

I would give anything for my eyes to have been opened without such a high personal cost, but I am grateful that they were opened. (Imagine my surprise to discover that the world didn't end when I didn't dress in a suit and go to work and present a powerpoint deck.) And what we found is that once we said that first "why not?" the next one and the next one after that were easier. And now that we're back and finding ourselves starting to get buried in the work routine we try and stop every once in a while and examine and question what we're doing to be sure we're still on a path that makes us happy.

Anyway, this turned out much longer than I expected, but Wade got me thinking. And I didn't want to come off sounding like I thought that only those who were able to go off and spend months/years traveling the world were really living life. Rather, I just wanted to encourage everyone to question their own assumptions and find their own ways (as small or as big as it needs to be) to do something they never thought they could do and experience how freeing that is.


*and the point of this was NOT to say that someone who does well in school and gets a good job and then is very successful professionally is doing something wrong. To the contrary if they are happy and fulfilled doing it that is wonderful (or even if they're not particularly happy but they believe it is getting them to where they need to be). But I was NOT happy and fulfilled and for years I didn't think there was anything I could do about it.