Crossing Continents: Reflections on RTW Travel

We have received quite a few questions via email about what its like to travel for so long, how does it feel?, do we miss home?, etc. so as we conclude the European leg of our RTW tour and get ready for Africa I figure this is a good place to stop and reflect on the trip so far.

(a little doodle I drew on the placemat at a restaurant in Lucca, Italy)

Are we having fun yet?

First of all Francesca and I are having a blast.  We are thoroughly enjoying soaking up the varied atmospheres and cultures of the countries and cities we have visited thus far (10 countries and 41 cities).

Initially we sometimes felt a bit guilty about rushing through each city especially when we would chat with other travelers who are taking twice as long to cover the same cities.  We were concerned perhaps we were diluting our experience in each city.  However, at this point we have come to terms with the purpose, structure and duration of our journey and we are both feeling that particular rush and excitement of traveling around the world and realize that it is as much about that journey itself as it is about seeing everything there is to see at each stopping point.  To those who question us we have started to say, only half jokingly, that we are in the process of moving from NYC to LA, but are going East instead of West.  And we keep reminding ourselves that this is our “sampler tour” and we are discovering places that we love so we can come back for a longer visit in the future.

….And in this corner…..

Francesca and I already knew we travel well together (and had lived in a cramped NYC studio apartment for 4 years) so we weren’t too worried about being together 24 x 7 for four months.  However, around week three we noticed that we were fighting and bickering about trivial things whereas we typically don’t fight much and if we do it never lasts very long.  But now we would carry some disputes for hours which feels like an eternity when there are only two of you driving in a car.  After about a week of this we recognized that this behavior was likely the result of being together literally 24 hours a day and we agreed that when these arguments came up we would take a step back and recognize what the likely cause was and try to diffuse the tension.  We still argue from time to time, but for the most part this strategy seems to be working.  We’ll see what happens though around month three! If nothing else this trip is an interesting little psychology experiment on human behavior and small group dynamics.

All play and no work makes Jack an unsatisfied boy?

As for not working for over a month, well, let’s just say you get used to it.  The longest vacation I had taken previously in my adult working life was two weeks before taking three weeks for my wedding and honeymoon last year and typically at the end of any vacation I was ready to get back to work.  So I was concerned that I might get tired of traveling and crave the mental stimulation and routine of the work day.  Up until the three week mark I didn’t feel anything as it just seemed like a normal vacation from work (with the exception of not checking my work emails on my Blackberry every twenty minutes!).  But once we got into week four I began thinking “Wow, this is it. I’m not going back to work next week. Or the week after that.  And I don’t even have a job to go back to”.

While there may have been a brief moment or two of panic being a forty year old, married, unemployed drifter quickly spending his savings in the most expensive region of the world for an American to travel, those moments would quickly pass as I gazed out on some spectacular landscape or sunset with my beautiful wife and best friend beside me and think, this is right. This is good.

Calories in versus calories out.

One of negative side effects of RTW travel is a lack of exercise that leads to weight gain, often considerable.  We’ve all seen this when we’ve taken our two or three week vacations – you indulge on delicious, exotic and rich foods with a promise to yourself to go to the gym when you return.  And you do and you quickly retain your fine form.  When you travel for an extended period of time its like stringing five or six of those vacations together without the gym recovery time in between.  Francesca and I both saw early on that this would be a problem and so we instituted a daily workout routine of sit ups, pushups and squats.  But early morning wake up calls to get on the road or get picked up for this or that tour make it difficult to adhere to a workout schedule.  And even for two fairly active and motivated people it becomes easy to rationalize missing a work out to see something spectacular in a foreign country.  You can always work out later, but you can’t always see Neuschwanstein.  So when you can’t exercise what do you do?  Logically you watch what you eat and eat less of whatever it is.  Well, this doesn’t work too well either on this type of trip because you can always rationalize to yourself that part of the experience is trying all kinds of local delicacies.  Okay, maybe you don’t have to “try” them ten times, but hey, you’re on vacation, right?  You’ll work out when you return home.

The real problem is that eating becomes something “to do” when you are traveling.  Who among us hasn’t had that experience?  When you are flying in a plane what is there to do but eat and watch movies?  And if there is no in flight entertainment what then?  Well, you’ll just have to eat more to make up for it.  And how about that time honored tradition of the road trip?  All diets and healthy eating go out the window on a road trip right?  Eating crappy (yet oh so delicious) foods from truck stops and convenience stores on the side of highways is your reward for all the hard driving you are doing.

So Francesca and I have been flying or driving all over Europe for the past month and a half and that’s a lot of comfort eating.  Indeed there are five little words that strike fear in our hearts……”All You Can Eat Buffet!”

Everyone talks about the excitement, romance and adventure of around the world travel, but you don’t really consider any type of psychological impact of such a trip.  As I sit here typing this lying in my hotel bed sipping a diet Pepsi and eating what can be best described as a chocolate Twinkie with my pants unbuttoned for more comfort I realize it’s time to stop typing and go for a run.

Weight gain aside Francesca and I are having the time of our lives sharing this amazing experience together and with friends along the way.  With two and a half months still to go I can’t say we’re not somewhat concerned about our health or about the effects on our relationship being together every waking and non waking moment of the day, but for now we’re bright siding it and enjoying every moment.


3 Responses to “Crossing Continents: Reflections on RTW Travel”

  1. Hi guys! First time on your blog and I like.

    I had the opposite problem when I was on my round the world trip. I lost 10 pounds from all the walking and carrying a 30 lb backpack and a 15 lb shoulder bag with a laptop. My mom was determined that I gain weight when I got back.

    Enjoy every second of your RTW travel and don’t worry about what to do when you come back. You may decide NOT to come back…

    • Hey, thanks for the comment and for checking out my blog. i’m jealous that you lost weight. i think the difference is that while we are walking a lot we are also eating a lot and not really backpacking per se. Plus i have an awesome North Face wheelie bag/back pack combo deal and so far i have only had to sling it on my shoulders once. Love the wheels.

      I checked out your site too. pretty cool. my wife was supposed to contribute to my blog with her tips and tricks on how to travel cheaply but has yet to do so. but we have many money saving tips to impart. i’ll try to put a few on your site when i get the chance.

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