Did you know elephants roar like lions? Squeak like mice? That you should never stand directly in front of an elephant because that’s their blind spot? That when we say elephants never forget it’s not hyperbole? I never knew these things. I never knew I wanted to know these things. But now I do, thanks to Elephant Nature Park.
I didn’t know what Chiang Mai would be like, but I can tell you I never imagined walking its streets soaked from head to toe. But when you arrive during Songkran, Thailand’s New Year’s festival, it’s bound to happen, so it’s best to embrace the onslaught of water being thrown in your face.
Bangkok is overwhelming. Heat and humidity coat the city like a long wet tongue. It mingles with the smell of fried food, the din of traffic, the sticky sweat clinging to your clothes. History and modernism press together like two long legs squeezing into a tight pair of pants. They fit (just) but that doesn’t make them comfortable.
Singapore delighted us soon as we entered the airport and walked by a dazzling sculpture called “Kinetic Rain.” Hundreds of copper covered raindrops slid up and down invisible strings, floating through the air in magical waves. We would’ve stood there for an hour if not for the fact that we had very little sleep and were very hungry.
3/19/14 – 3/22/14: Yogyakarta to Jakarta, Indonesia
Our flight from Bali to Yogyakarta (pronounced “jo-ja-cart-a”) was a spiritual one. We knew we’d soon be visiting the largest Hindu site in Indonesia, as well as the largest Buddhist temple in the entire world, but in the midst of contemplating these holy places we weren’t expecting the sudden contemplation on our own fragile mortality. Specifically, Katie’s very real fear of her bladder bursting.
Pretty much everyone who knows Katie and me knows that we love the show Xena: Warrior Princess. In fact, we met because of that show over 19 years ago. So when the opening narrator says “her courage will change the world” I can definitively say that it changed mine for the better.
2/21/14 – 3/3/14: Cape Reinga / Kaitaia, New Zealand
Seashells crunched below our tour bus as it barreled down Ninety Mile Beach toward Cape Reinga, the northern tip of New Zealand. Katie and I were on a day-tour that consisted of sand dune sledding and lunch at Tapotupotu Bay, but it was the beach cruising that had lured us in. There something about speeding headlong down a sandy beach in a gigantic bus that felt…unique. Our juggernaut got us to Cape Reinga in record time.
After principal photography for The Lord of the Rings trilogy ended in 2000, the sets were quickly dismantled, leaving the New Zealand countryside as the filmmakers had found it. Understandable, since you don't want travelers stumbling upon broken down, two-sided castle facades while traipsing through the mountains. What Kiwis didn't realize at the time was that those movies would be incredibly successful, so much so that Peter Jackson's films have become a cornerstone of their tourist trade, as evidenced here by Air New Zealand's "most epic safety video ever made".
01/31/14 – 02/02/14: Kepler Track, Te Anau, New Zealand
Finding ourselves alone once more, without the distraction of parental guidance, Katie and I buckled down for a week’s worth of RTW trip planning. With year-long travel it’s impossible to map out everything ahead of time, you need to make room for research along the way. With this in mind, we rented an airbnb outside of Christchurch for a week-long sequestering, nothing but the internet and a fridge full of groceries to sustain us.
01/02/14 – 01/21/14: Queenstown to Nelson, South Island, New Zealand
As you know, our trip to New Zealand in 2011 beguiled us to no end. We told anyone who'd listen about the country's welcoming people, adventurous spirit, and extraordinary beauty. You can't turn your head without seeing another sublime vista or mountain begging to be climbed! It truly is a remarkable place. (No, New Zealand isn't paying us to be ambassadors of their country, though they should!)
12/24/13 – 12/28/13: Routeburn / Caples Track, Glenorchy, New Zealand
When Katie and I decided to go on a RTW trip we had no idea where we’d be traveling. The options were limitless. How would we narrow it down? An easy way to start narrowing it down would be to immediately rule out places we’d visited before. For instance, New Zealand, where we’d experienced 9 weeks of nirvana back in 2011. It was literally the perfect vacation. Based on that perfection, however, it was hard to resist the opportunity to return. It was, after all, only a short flight away from Australia…
12/10/13 – 12/17/13: Great Ocean Road to Melbourne, New South Wales, Australia
The Great Ocean Road is one of the most highlighted tourist trails in Australia. Unlike Kangaroo Island, everyone's heard of GOR! (Yes, that’s what it’s commonly known as. Not the most appealing of acronyms).
12/05/13 - 12/10/13: Kangaroo Island, South Australia, Australia
Every time someone asked, “What’s next for you in Australia?” I’d reply, “Kangaroo Island,” and suddenly be met with a very confused expression. “What are you going there for?” was the typical response. We didn’t have a good answer other than our guidebook highly recommended it. Considering the shared reaction to Kangaroo Island, it’s a wonder anyone lived there, let alone heard of it (and, in truth, several hadn’t). This got us thinking... Had we made a huge mistake?
On our final day in Koah, Katie and I decided that a trip to Cairns Tropical Zoo would be a fitting way to end our time in Queensland, Australia. Not only did it allow us to see even more of Australia's native animals, but we were able to interact with them too! Some were more friendly than others...I'm looking at you, crocodiles!
11/30/13 - 12/4/13: Koah & Undara Volcanic National Park, Queensland, Australia
The night was black as pitch but for our headlights beaming into the dark. Curves came at us like waves in the ocean, and Vik was just ahead of us taking each turn with the confidence of a local. Two living creatures forced us to swerve: a snake, with its body coiled and head raised; and a toad, which we believed to be of the infamous Cane toads that ravage Australia’s countryside – in which case we shouldn’t have swerved. Either way, no animals were harmed in the making of our way to Koah, Queensland, Australia.
11/30/13: Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia
When you hear the word Australia you think of kangaroos, the Outback, the Sydney Opera House, and the Great Barrier Reef. There was no way we were going down under without, you know, going down under. The surface, that is. The Great Barrier Reef was a must. One of the 7 natural wonders of the world? Who can resist that? Not us. And that’s why we did what every adventure-seeking tourist with no diving skills and limited funds does: we signed up for a tour.
11/21/13 - 11/26/13: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
I arrived in Sydney, Australia nursing a cold. It was my third of our RTW trip and I was getting mighty tired of being under the weather. The good news is my waning illness didn't stop us from seeing the sights. On the contrary, we managed to accomplish 4 action-packed days in Sydney enjoying our own self-guided "A&K Sydney Walking Tours"®
The best way to know a city is to walk its streets. The sights, the smells, the sounds – all creating a rhythm that pounds against you like a beating heart. Its pace can be dangerous, timid, exciting, or even downright painful. Buenos Aires’ heart beats strong and passionate; you feel intensity with every step, your blood buzzing with excitement. Then again, maybe that’s just the 5th cup of coffee vibrating through your veins.
11/04/13 - 11/08/13: Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina
After five full days of hiking the W we decided it was time for…wait for it…more hiking. (There’s not much else to do in Patagonia). And, in the wake of our luxurious trek that included catered meals and refugios with warm beds, we figured why put a stop to our decadence in the mountains? So, when we caught our bus to El Chaltén to visit Los Glaciares National Park, we weren’t destined for some cheap hostel, we were bound for the best Bed & Breakfast in the entire world – El Pilar.
10/28/13 - 11/2/13: Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
We arrived in Puerto Natales, Chile just in time to check into our hostel and hasten over to Erratic Rock. This company owns a hostel, a restaurant, rents outdoor gear, and lures you in with an ingenious marketing scheme: they offer a free seminar about the most popular activity in Patagonia – The W Trek.
While in Peru, we spent many scattered days in Cusco: just prior to our Salkantay trek, before we left for Sacred Valley, and our final days leading up to departure. It's one of the most fascinating cities I've ever visited; culture and commerce immersed together in a landscape steeped in history.
Recovery from the Salkantay trek was slow. Progress was stunted by an unfortunate incident where, on a rare excursion outside just two days after returning to Cusco, I tripped on the sidewalk and fell full force onto my knees. Yes, my aching, creaking knees hammered on stone like two bent nails. The pain was excruciating and I found myself on the ground screaming “Why, God? Why??!!” OK, that last part didn’t happen, but it could’ve happened if I didn’t have self respect.
I was broken when we reached Aguas Calientes. My knees revolted as I limped my way up the long stretch of road that led to our hostel, Kernos. I’m not exaggerating when I say I was taking a step every second; that’s how slow I was moving. That may sound fast in theory, but try it out. Stand up, look at a clock, and take a step for every second that ticks by and see if you don’t feel like a zombie would beat you in a foot race.
10/06/13 - 10/09/13: Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, Peru
“I feel really awful,” Katie confessed to me just before we started hiking. It was our second day on the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu and Katie was suffering from Montezuma’s Revenge, or should I say Pachacutec’s Revenge? (We were in Peru, after all.) That was the bad news. The even worse news was that we were at 12,795 feet and about to climb to over 15,000 feet. What was it they tell you when counteracting altitude sickness? Oh yeah, stay hydrated. Uh-oh…
We were nervous about going to Quito. It was our first destination on our RTW trip and we’d read horror story after horror story about how we were going to get conned or robbed. One traveler even wrote: “In Quito it is PROBABLE that you WILL be robbed within your first three days.” (Capitalizations supplied by the author). Add in a few tales of false taxis that deliver you to armed muggers, and the warning bells start going off in your head.
When you’re suffering from a cold and you wake up at 2:30 in the morning to catch a 3:00AM van ride that takes you across rough jagged stones for over an hour, then spend another hour on paved roads, only to spend two hours waiting at an airport before spending several hours flying, landing, and flying again, then add another hour moving like cattle with 80 other people onto a bus so that you can ride a dinghy across rough seas and end up on a small cruise ship that’s slowly rocking back and forth, back and forth, back and forth on an incessant ocean… Well, you don’t feel great. That was how our Galapagos journey began.
09/19/13 - 09/23/13: The Secret Garden: Cotopaxi, Ecuador
You may not know it, but the highest mountain in the world is in Ecuador. Well, it depends on how you look at it…
The Earth isn’t a perfect sphere. It’s slightly oblong, widening ever so slightly along the equator, meaning the equatorial line sits closest to the sun. Mount Chimborazo is Ecuador’s highest mountain, which means it’s the furthest point from the Earth’s core and, consequently, the closest point to the sun. So, no, it isn’t the tallest mountain the world compared to sea level, but it’s still pretty impressive!
The previous day was unbeatable, as far as I was concerned. What could top dozens of tropical birds, chatting with tamarin monkeys, and discovering hairy tarantulas? Our experiences seemed impossible to improve upon, and our first activity of the day supported my theory.
We awoke at 5:00 AM for breakfast at 5:30. Upon waking, Katie and I put on our standard jungle armor: rubber boots, long pants, long sleeve shirts, a hat, and copious amounts of sunblock and bug repellent. Precaution is a healthy person’s best friend!
Zipping down the Napo River in a large motorized canoe, we had little idea what was in store for us, but already knew it would be an adventure. One year prior, when we’d decided to go on a round-the-world trip, we chose Ecuador as our first destination and immediately knew we had to visit the Amazon Rainforest. It’s one of those mythical places you see in pictures, or replicated in films, but never think you’ll actually visit. Knowing that our first stop would be in a country where we didn’t speak the language, we decided to do a tourist-friendly trip to the Amazon in order to ease our transition. It worked like a charm.
Packing for a year-long trip isn’t a big decision, it’s a hundred little ones; a marathon process of elimination that starts when you choose to travel and ends when you step on the plane. Katie and I have been working our way toward minimal living for a full year now and we’re still struggling with what’s made the cut! Is it too much? Too little? Just right? Only time will tell.
I’ve done my research. The majority of travel blogs advocate living life spontaneously while on the road. Don’t plan too much. Keep your options open. It makes sense. The more structured your trip the more choices you’re cutting yourself off from. After all, you won’t be able to take advantage of last minute deals or enjoy newly discovered volunteering opportunities if you’re flying out of the country the next day. There’s also the love / hate argument. What if you adore where you are and want to stay an extra month? What if you hate a place and want to move on right away? You should allow yourself the freedom to do whatever feels right. Flexibility is key, and it’s touted as the cornerstone of any enjoyable round the world trip.
7/29/13 - 8/2/13: Prosser, WA, USA - Chicago, IL, USA
Last week we gathered in Prosser, WA then migrated over to Centennial, CO. Our journey has been a family affair with friends sprinkled in. As we cross the U.S.A. we both know this will be the last time we see each person for a long time, so we're soaking up every moment, gathering lasting memories to keep us contented during our year of travel. From dice games, to cracked windows, to riding horses in the Rockies, here are some of our favorite moments while traveling from family to family. We miss you already.
The moment Katie and I decided we were going on a RTW trip we immediately asked ourselves: “What do we do with all this stuff?” After a quick analysis, we were able to categorize all of our worldly possessions into four categories: Give, Sell, Keep, and Trash.
People have been wondering where we’ll be going on our round-the-world adventure (more commonly known as RTW on the interwebs). It hasn’t been easy to decide. Infinite possibilities are difficult to rein in. It’s impossible to go everywhere, and if we tried to travel every place that tickled our fancy we’d go broke and insane. As it happens, my sanity is very dear to me and I’m not anxious to sleep under a bridge (though a friend of ours has given us pointers).
7/1/13 - 7/7/13: Burbank, CA, USA - Mukilteo, WA, USA
Our time traveling up the coast to visit family and friends before our cross-country road trip was quite eventful. We spent quality time with those we love, soaking up moments until our return a year or more from now. Thanks for the memories. We'll see you again soon(ish)!
I’m sitting in our Burbank apartment, lying on our black vinyl couch for the last time. It was bequeathed to me 11 years ago by my father, after he asked if we needed any furniture for our move to California. Emphatically, yes. We didn’t have much money at the time and no jobs on the horizon. All we had were our NYU diplomas and a bit of moxie. We’d seen job listings aplenty in LA and were prepared to work for nothing to take a shot at our dreams, which, at the time, were big hazy bubbles with cinematic sparkles at the centers. Neither of us knew exactly what we wanted to do, we just knew we wanted to work in the movies.