Category Archives: Final Thoughts

One Year

One year. That’s how long we have lived in Seattle. Want to hear something even crazier? It’s been almost a year and a half since we made The Decision and officially left New York.

When we first moved here, friends and family kept asking us if we were happy…if we made the right decision…if it felt right. After one year of living here, we are proud to answer yes to all three questions. (No, it didn’t take one year to figure out the answers, but it’s more dramatic and powerful if you think that it did.) Life is easier here: we can throw a boatload of groceries into the trunk of our car, we can do laundry while watching TV in the comfort of our own apartment, and we can let those dirty dishes pile up because, hey, we can throw them in the dishwasher! Be jealous, New York friends.

In the year that we’ve lived here, we have had lots of family and friends come to visit, and two remarks are always made: a) “Oh, we didn’t realize how hilly Seattle is!”  b) “Seattle and its surroundings are truly beautiful.” We love it here. Mike loves his daily view of the Cascade Mountains from the top of Queen Anne Hill as he drives to work, while Hanna loves seeing the snow-covered peaks of the Olympic Mountains as we drive to the grocery store.

To be fully inducted in the Pacific Northwest Club, we had to do one of three things: 1) buy bikes, 2) fall in love with hiking, or 3) join a rowing club. Since Hanna hates hills, we chose option #3. We did a learn-to-row class back in November and December, continued with a five-week trial, and are proud to say that we are now fully-fledged members of the crew club. (We never said that we were good; we just said we are members.) We row three times a week, and we love our time on the water. It’s been a great way to meet people, and we haven’t fallen in…yet.

Why are we writing this post now? Well, the one-year mark seemed as good of a place as any to officially wrap up the blog. We have put it off long enough. Do we miss our time on the road? Sure. Do we like our not-so-new life in Seattle? Of course. We’ll still pay for the domain of this blog next year. Who knows? Another travel adventure could be around the corner. (It isn’t…but why not leave with some modicum of fake suspense?)

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Final Thoughts: Australia

When Mike asked Hanna for assistance in writing this post, she said, “Australia. We like it. We’ll go back.” Her succinct words are quite true.

We are constantly asked (like, every single day) if we like Australia or New Zealand better. It’s an unfair question. We have seen more of New Zealand, but we have spent more time in Australia. On this trip we spent about a month in two places (Sydney and the Sunshine Coast), and we loved both as much as we did last time.

There’s just something about Sydney. It’s beautiful during the day or at night, and this is a city we could see ourselves living in…if it wasn’t so expensive. Our favorite part of Sydney this time around was taking the ferries wherever we wanted. We had no real game plan for the day, but we knew that a ferry would play a major part in the day. If you have never made it to Sydney, we strongly suggest you go. We know that we will be back someday…sooner rather than later.

No, That Isn’t Mike. We Just Like This Picture Because It Looks Photoshopped. We Swear It’s Not.

No, That Isn’t Mike. We Just Like This Picture Because It Looks Photoshopped. We Swear It’s Not.

Police Boat on a Mission.

Police Boat on a Mission.

Chinese New Year Celebration Outside the Maritime Museum.

Chinese New Year Celebration Outside the Maritime Museum.

See You Soon, Sydney.

See You Soon, Sydney.

The second leg of our Australian sojourn involved seeing people we really like to see. Never in our wildest dreams did we think we would find such good friends three and a half years ago. We are proud to say that Kiwi Mike and Kylie (and now little man Henry) are our mates. Tons of fun was had by all, and we couldn’t get enough of Henry. You probably couldn’t tell, right? We hope to see this lovely family real soon, and we thank them again for their hospitality, television, and WiFi. Since we hardly posted any pictures of Henry, we figured we should introduce the world to his cuteness:

Little Man Hank.

Little Man Hank.

No, We Weren’t There for Christmas. This Picture Was Hanging on Kiwi Mike and Kylie’s Fridge, And We Love It.

No, We Weren’t There for Christmas. This Picture Was Hanging on Kiwi Mike and Kylie’s Fridge, And We Love It.

In a Trance with Sophie.

In a Trance with Sophie.

We Stole This Child. Don’t Tell.

We Stole This Child. Don’t Tell.

Official Self-Portrait.

Official Portrait.

One reminder: vote vote vote for Henry. Click here to learn about his studly glamour shot, or click here to be taken directly to the voting page. Share the link. Tell your friends. The contest ends in a few days, so vote now…or we won’t be friends with you anymore.

Final Thoughts: New Zealand

It’s been over a month since we had to write one of these posts, so we are feeling a bit rusty. Bear with us please, and don’t expect anything earth-shattering.

New Zealand is just as amazing as we remember it. The even more amazing part: Hanna left the country without a trace of pneumonia. After the last trip, Hanna would always say, “Yeah, New Zealand was okay.” Mike would always tell her that the reason she didn’t love it was that she got sick. Hanna tried to refute this point. Hanna finally (FINALLY!) admitted that she didn’t like New Zealand as much last time because she had pneumonia. She admitted that New Zealand is quite beautiful and amazing. Lesson learned: Mike is always right.

There is absolutely no other country that we have visited in which we constantly remark about the scenery. Even sheep got sick of us praising the beauty. Though the roads are winding and often slow, a look out of the car window reminded us that the cliché is right: it’s not always about the destination…it’s about the journey.

While we did go back to places we liked, we are glad that we got to experience new things: canyoning and tobogganing in Queenstown, hot tubbin’ it up in Hanmer Springs, cruising through stunning Milford Sound, actually getting to see Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, and failing to swim with dolphins in Akaroa.

We meant to write a post that included random pictures from our drives around the South Island, but we are lazy and never did. So, uh, here you go:

Up on a Hill in Dunedin.

Up on a Hill in Dunedin.

Proof of Mike Driving.

Proof of Mike Driving.

Sheep. Baa.

Sheep. Baa.

Cotton Ball Clouds in Milford Sound.

Cotton Ball Clouds in Milford Sound.

Clouds over Random Lake. (We Forget Where.)

Clouds over Random Lake. (We Forget Where.)

Wood Structure in Hokitika.

Wood Structure in Hokitika.

Woods on the Truman Track.

Woods on the Truman Track.

Final Thoughts: Singapore and Malaysia

Since we decided to take a bit of a break from our blog, we have received approximately 1,230,842,438 emails begging us to keep writing. We hear you. We understand your sadness. We are happy to say that we are back.

We left Kuala Lumpur to come to Sydney a week ago, but we never wrote our Final Thoughts posts about Singapore and Malaysia. Whoops. That’s what you get when you don’t have WiFi at the places you are staying in Sydney. (Side note: Internet in Australia is more regulated than it is back home. They have limits about how much you can download, so not every hostel/hotel/rental apartment has free access. We’ve quickly checked email or important gossip sites at the Apple Store or the nearby library instead.) Now on to our very quick final thoughts…

SINGAPORE:
We loved Singapore then, and we still love it now. Though we only had a few days here, we got to do the things we wanted to do (Chinatown, Little India, eat, Orchard Road, eat tons of ice cream in one sitting, the casino, and eat). Uh, here are more pictures:

Fried Dough That Mike Loved. Absolutely Delicious and Super Cheap.

Fried Dough That Mike Loved. Absolutely Delicious and Super Cheap.

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.

Mike Detailing Our Expenditures While Sitting Near Gardens by the Bay. Hard Worker.

Mike Detailing Our Expenditures While Sitting Near Gardens by the Bay. Hard Worker.

Hanna Finally Broke Down. Shh, Please Don’t Tell.

Hanna Finally Broke Down. Shh, Please Don’t Tell.

Little India Colorful Street.

Little India Colorful Street.

Packed Chinese New Year Market Inside a Department Store.

Packed Chinese New Year Market Inside a Department Store.

Selection at the Ice Cream Buffet.

Selection at the Ice Cream Buffet.

Diggin’ In.

Diggin’ In.

MALAYSIA:
After spending a whopping two nights in Kuala Lumpur, we know every single thing that there is to know about the entire country of Malaysia. We’re quick learners. We knew we weren’t going to do much in KL, so we enjoyed our movie-and-donut dates. Hanna also fell in love with chicken shawarma at the nearby mall’s food court. We aren’t rushing to return to KL, but our stopover served its purpose as a cheaper flight to Sydney. Done. Pictures:

Fountain. Dakota.

Fountain. Dakota.

Hanna on Escalator in Search of Donuts.

Hanna on Escalator in Search of Donuts.

Mike's New Friend.

Mike’s New Friend.

Can you tell we are not in the mood to write this post?

Final Thoughts: Thailand

We continue this Final Thoughts series with a few final observations on Thailand. Having loved Thailand on our last trip, we were very excited to get back there this time. We had a most wonderful time during our fifteen-day stay but were ready to move on to Singapore too. Here are a few things we noticed this time:

  • Beds are HARD in Thailand…like hard as a rock. Our bed in Bangkok was essentially a box-spring with a fitted sheet on top. Definitely took a bit getting used to.
  • The anti-government protests (Bangkok Shutdown) began while we were in Bangkok. We didn’t quite know what to expect and were extremely cautious about where we went. No, parents, we didn’t go to any of the protest sites. The roads were quite devoid of traffic on the first day, and cars only marginally increased the subsequent two days. Some shops were closed, and there definitely were not as many people on the streets. While we sunbathed on our hostel’s roof, we could hear some of the protest speeches being broadcast from a closed-off massive bridge. We didn’t experience anything bad or weird, but we are glad that we safely got out of Bangkok.  Just kinda an eerie feeling of visiting a city that could end up being volatile…
  • Russians love Thailand. Phuket literally had more Russians than Thais. Most of the menus at restaurants and all signs in the Phuket airport were in Thai, English, and Russian.
  • The prices throughout Thailand have gone up a bit but are still very, very low. Definitely the place to come if you want to shop, drink, and get massages all day. Bangkok is much cheaper than any of the other places in Thailand that we have been too. Phuket is still cheap, but massages will cost double what they are in Bangkok.
  • The last time we came to Thailand, it was in October (the rainy season). There were mosquitoes galore that loved Hanna, and it rained a lot. This time it was hot, dry, and thankfully mosquito-free. The only problem with coming during peak season is many more tourists. We really liked Phuket in 2010, but this time it was a bit of a draining experience. It was extremely crowded, loud, and just a bit much for us.

Enough observations and onto the photos!!!!!!

Hanna Pondering Her Next Meal.

Hanna Pondering Her Next Meal.

Boats.

Boats.

Out for a Stroll.

Out for a Stroll.

Water Monitor in the Canals of Bangkok. Gross.

Water Monitor in the Canals of Bangkok. Gross.

The Scene of Another Photo Shoot.

The Scene of Another Photo Shoot.

Eggs and Rice Teddy.

Eggs and Rice Teddy.

Please Enjoy Mike's Toothy Grin.

Please Enjoy Mike’s Awkward Toothy Grin.

Final Thoughts: Hong Kong

Phew, we are finally getting around to writing our first Final Thoughts post for this trip. Instead of following the format we used last time, we will just leave you with some observations and pictures of our second time in Hong Kong. If you don’t like the fact that we aren’t listing our daily averages, please write a letter to the editor. Thank you, and good day.

  • We can’t get over how beautiful the scenery is. Skyscrapers next to mountains next to water…can’t get more beautiful.
  • We didn’t notice this the last trip, but the residents of Hong Kong are absolutely obsessed with their cell phones. Every person on the metro is playing a game or texting on their phone. Back in New York, you would still see people reading books or just sitting. Every person walking on the street has their head down, oblivious to the world around them. Our constant muttering to people we passed? “Look up!” iPhones are definitely trumped by Samsung phones that are the size of tablets. It would make us laugh to see people holding up the equivalent of an iPad mini to their ear to talk.
  • You have to be in decent shape to live in Hong Kong if you are going to take the metro. The stations are pretty massive, and you have to use underground walkways to transfer lines. Our Christmas diet of cookies and donuts didn’t prepare us for all of this walking again. We have failed as New Yorkers.
  • We still can’t believe how many massive apartment buildings there are. Though the skyline is beautiful, many of the apartment buildings look old and dingy. It’s hard to imagine how many people actually live in each one.
  • Dear Hong Kong Immigration, why did we not receive stamps in our passports? We are trying to fill our passports, and you didn’t help our quest. Sincerely, Mike and Hanna
    A Construction Site Everywhere You Turn.

    A Construction Site Everywhere You Turn.

    Question: How Does One Skatebike in a Roller Skating Rink?

    Question: How Does One Skatebike in a Roller Skating Rink?

    Flags. Street.

    Flags. Street.

    Main Street USA...in Hong Kong.

    Main Street USA…in Hong Kong.

The Blog Days Are Over

Friends, we have finally come to the end. This is it. Really. We’ve enjoyed sharing our adventure with you, and now it’s definitively over. Enjoy.

MIKE
Something I haven’t done since my carefree days of unemployment (how I long for thee) is write for fun. Sure, I’ve written boring work emails and more entertaining personal emails, but I didn’t realize how much I would miss blogging every day. We tried to maintain the blog after our readjustment to the States but found that life here (especially unemployed life here) was not nearly as fun to write about as our adventures out in the world. Settling back into a true daily schedule (coffee drinking, crossword puzzling, Swamp People-watching, and dog playing don’t really count) has been a hurdle to writing interesting daily blog posts. As I write this, we are flying to the West Coast for Hanna’s grandma’s eightieth birthday, and it hit me that this would be a perfect time to finally do what we’ve promised for ages to do: finish the stupid blog. Composing this on the very same netbook we brought with us on the trip seems like a fitting end too. (Note: we flew out to Spokane in mid-November. It took a certain someone a while to write her final blog post.)

We have said it time and time again: it’s not like we have a zillion posts left to write. It’s just that by ending the blog for good, it fully shuts the door on our can’t-believe-it’s-over journey that we were fortunate enough to experience. The hardest part about the end of the trip has been accepting that life is stable and routine now. While we certainly had our fair share of tough days on the road, we never knew what the day would bring…and I miss that.Being stuck on a Thai island for a couple days seemed a bit claustrophobic and repetitive at the time, but now I welcome the day when my hardest choices were whether to have an omelet or pizza for lunch and what TV show to watch as the rain beat down. The harrowing day when we were dumped at the Cambodian border was incredibly frustrating at the time, but it’s now a distant memory and a story to tell the grandkids. The monkey attacks at Mt. Emei and Bali cemented my fear of large simians, but I’d rather face a monkey than a crucial deadline at work.

Before leaving for the trip, we listed out our expectations, and I feel like I have only chipped away at my understanding of how the world goes round. We got to see how locals lived and got a feel for commuter culture. All bets are off as to whether the local Balinese family (mom, dad, two toddlers, a newborn, and grandma all on one moped) will get to their destination unscathed. Chinese subways and buses can seem like a cattle call at times, while waiting for Japanese subways is the epitome of efficiency and politeness. After months in Asia, subways and trams in Australia felt quite similar to home. Germany is the hands-down winner of train perfection in Europe. No matter whether I was sitting next to baby pee, riding atop an elephant, or floating on a noodle as the Great Barrier Reef current pushed me this way and that, the sense of forward motion got me excited about my next destination.

We certainly struggled more than we thought upon returning home. (I use the word “struggle” quite loosely as our lives really weren’t that bad.) Bouts of insomnia were accompanied by thoughts of “What the hell are we doing back in New York when there’s still a world to explore?”. One thing is definite: I am not sick of traveling by any means. While it’s nice to have our own place to call home that doesn’t contain snorers, bed bugs, or shared bathrooms, I miss the thrill of discovering that I am, in fact, in Tokyo…or Christchurch…or Phuket. The sad truth is that I don’t know exactly when (not if) we will get the chance to visit these places again.

I could list out everything that I learned by traveling for a year, but I don’t want this to get preachy. I will say that I am proud that I traveled with my wife for a year and never had any knock-down drag-out arguments. We definitely bickered and got annoyed with each other at times (wouldn’t you if your wife wanted to sample McDonald’s many times in every country?), but our disagreements were just that: quick bouts of differences. They didn’t last days or even hours, and this fact cements how lucky I am to have found a partner in Hanna. I have also found that even when the going got tough, we would get through it no matter what. Lying awake at night in a hostel in Siem Reap, we felt like we were being eaten alive by ants, mosquitoes, and/or bed bugs as dogs barked and music blasted. We couldn’t help but think that life was not so fun at that moment, but we knew it would be over soon enough. Life sucks sometimes, but you’ll get through it…albeit bleary-eyed and frustrated.As cheesy as this may sound, people all around the world aren’t all that different than us. Sure, people look and speak differently, but you may strike up a conversation with a local or the Swede, Kiwi, or German traveling alongside you and find that you’re not that far removed from life back at home.  The little Malaysian kid likes Plants vs. Zombies just as much as the American tot.  The Turkish teen perfected her English skills by watching Gossip Girl.  No matter where you are in the world, Friends, How I Met Your Mother, Law & Order, and The Big Bang Theory are always on and universally loved. (Though the French in particular love the last one, I’m not as convinced.) While socioeconomic classes may provide a divide no matter where you are, simply chatting with whomever wherever proves the world really isn’t that big.

Though we won’t post any new updates to the blog, I enjoyed sharing our adventures and looked forward to reading comments every day while on the road. It was often times a race between us to check the blog to see who said what about our days. Our ownership of the blog domain expires in May 2012, but hey…we may renew it. There’s always the next big around-the-world trip to plan.

HANNA
Did you ever know that procrastination is one of my middle names? Hanna Jo Procrastination. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? I have been meaning to write this post for months but have been putting it off and putting it off. I guess that once this post is written, it finally means that the trip is over. After being home six and a half months, you think that I would be ready to accept that, wouldn’t you?

In October 2009 Mike and I were sitting on the beach in Maui dreaming about taking a trip around the world. We had talked about it before, but I always refuted the idea, deeming it too expensive, too scary, and too exhausting. For some reason, however, the stars were aligned on that warm Maui day. All of a sudden, this idea to quit our jobs and travel for a year totally seemed like the best idea we ever had. Of course we could afford it! Of course we will have time for naps! Not having a job will totally rock!  This was going to be the best thing we ever did….and it was.

The next nine months were filled with lists, charts, bank account checks, blog reading, and dreaming. We saved up more money, planned a basic route, replanned our basic route, packed, repacked, and talked about all the what-ifs we could think of. We felt really prepared until the night before we left….all of a sudden, a bit of panic set in. I made Mike book a private room for our first week in Tokyo because I just KNEW I was going to have a night of sobbing myself to sleep and worrying about the big decision we had just made. I knew that I would need time to myself to adjust to life on the road without my friends, TV, and couch. Surprisingly that freak out never happened, and then I knew that we had made the right decision.

Our ten months spent on the road were life-changing. I learned a lot about myself and became a happier, calmer, better, more confident person because of it. I learned that I am a lot stronger than I ever thought I was. Being able to take a two and a half hour ferry ride in some of the roughest waters I have ever seen without throwing up? That takes mental toughness and sheer horizon line concentration. Eating McDonald’s almost daily for a month? Well, that just goes to show how strong my mind AND digestive system really are. Getting food posioning, gastritis, bed bugs, and pneumonia in six weeks’ time? Yes, definitely not the highlight of the trip but always good for character building and storytime: “Remember that time I had shit coming down my leg while I puked in the shower? You were so nice to hose me down, honey.” That’s one for the storybooks. Luckily those certain “character-building” experiences were few and far between, and we were mostly graced with moments to laugh at.

I will be forever grateful to have had the most wonderful travel partner one could ever ask for. I know many people won’t believe this, but we never had a huge blowout fight. We would bicker but always ended up laughing about it. Yes, I was none too pleased when Mike wouldn’t let me eat at Outback Steakhouse on our first night in Beijing; he wanted more authentic fare, so off to KFC we went. Yes, I may have yelled at him to “calm the f*@k down” when he was freaking out about losing his wallet on a London bus. That was almost a daily event, and the wallet was never lost. (Mike’s on top of things like that.) As a whole we just enjoyed each other’s company and laughed through our daily trials. We genuinely had fun sharing this experience together, and I am so lucky to have such a kind, thoughtful, funny, and patient partner in life.

I could wax philosophical for hours about the benefits of long-term travel, but I’m sure no one really cares anymore. With this post comes my final update: we came home, got jobs, are working at those jobs, and are back at the “saving for a rainy day” game. What life might bring us next, we can’t say for sure….all we know is this: taking a huge leap without knowing exactly where we would fall was the best thing we have ever done. Enjoying life for what it is and not for what it could be was earth-shattering. Not always looking for the next best thing but trying to find the humor in the moment was spirit-altering. We will always try and find the joy in life’s moments, whether they be big or small. We do not live to work, but rather we work to live. There is so much of this world that we need to see and so many McDonald’s left to sample. (I should be a fortune cookie writer!)

Goodbye, old friends!

Final Picture of 2011. New Year’s Eve in New York.