Reflecting After A Month On The Road

A little more than a month into my trip I thought it would be good to look back holistically on my travels and see how I have progressed against my 3 Trip Goals as well as my Six Trip Concerns. This is a text heavy post but it’s good for me to assess myself against these benchmarks every few months to make sure I’m getting as much as I can from the trip.

Trip Goal 1: Establish New Routines

  • Writing has become an every day occurrence for me, something I had been hoping to do for a long time. Keeping a journal every day has allowed me to record all the minutiae of my trip and has made it easier to post on my blog. While my blog posts aren’t yet where I want them to be in terms of quality, I’m happy I have been posting consistently and that people have provided a lot of feedback.
  • Exercising every day gives me structure. While I try to do it in the mornings, with my travel schedule sometimes that isn’t possible. So I will shift to exercising at night. But I’m doing it and it reinforces the idea of no excuses. This is not a vacation and doing this consistently reminds me of that as well as helping to clear my mind.
  • Adjusting to a later sleeping schedule has been tougher. I still wake up very early and it has been harder than I imagined to get seven or eight hours of sleep each night. In fact, I can count on one hand th number of nights I have even gotten seven hour of sleep. I just didn’t realize how busy I would be and on a trip like this sleep easily gets deprioritized. I need to focus on that going forward so that I stay healthy but it’s not too big a concern.
  • Most importantly, I have realized that deep down I’m just not a laid back person, even if I don’t have a job to go to or live in a stressful place like New York. No matter what, I’m motivated to maximize what I can from each day. I have the energy to push myself and like to do a lot each day whether that’s visiting several sites, walking a city, taking a long bike ride or negotiating in a market.
  • But at the same time I think I have learned when to moderate that energy so that its most effective. Some days I need to take it easy so I can recharge and come back stronger the next day. I will never be the type to spend a week just lying on the beach but I can do a better job of slowing down a bit to better integrate myself into the local culture. That may not come for awhile but it will come. When it does I think that having a professional focus wherever I settle will be key if only to ensure that I’m fully engaged.

Trip Goal 2: Socialize With Anyone Regardless of Situation / Trip Concerns 3: Loneliness

  • The people I have met have made this trip so special. Yes, I have battled language barriers everywhere except Malta (with Tunisia being the worst). And in some place it’s been a challenge meeting people. But on the whole I think I have done a solid job of meeting new people. I have definitely has to go outside my comfort zone to engage with people and I’m proud of myself for that.
  • Couchsurfing has been instrumental in allowing me to interact with locals wherever I go. When you meet a Couchsurfer it’s like spending time with an old friend who goes out of his or her way to take care of you. It opens doors that make visiting a new country so cool. And it also gives you a new perspective on wherever you are from the culture to the economy to the political scene.
  • Whenever I find a local who speaks English or a fellow traveler, I go out of my way to talk to that person. In Egypt in particular, whenever I have met someone at my hotel / hostel or on a tour I have spent time talking with them and in several cases joined their group. I don’t allow the lack of familiarity to hold me back. Conversation allows us to grow closer and I have found myself having better experiences when I tour places in a group rather than going solo.
  • I had not fully appreciated the day to day challenges of traveling to places where English is not the primary language. I should have known better but I guess in my previous travels I have usually been with someone else and only been traveling for a short while so it wasn’t as prevalent. But it definitely makes things so much tougher. Even with my newfound openness when you can’t communicate with someone there isn’t much you can do. I wish there was a device out there that allowed us to break down all language barriers. How great would that be.
  • Am I there yet? Am I fully satisfied? No I’m not. It’s still very challenging traveling solo and I can’t find someone to hang out with every day. But I persevere and am always on the lookout for a new experience. I know without hesitation that whenever I go back to “reality” I will be less inhibited in approaching people, whether it’s socially or professionally. My shell is gradually coming off.

Trip Goal 3: Get Into Peak Shape / Trip Concerns 5: Fitness

  • The good news is that I have found some way to exercise every day on the road. The bad news is between all the goodies in Malta / Italy and Ramadan in Tunisia / Egypt, that my diet has not kept pace. I’m struggling to come up with exercise routines that really push me in the absence of using exercise equipment. I really miss having a gym to go to and strength training without weights is just not the same.
  • Being on the move, oftentimes without a place to prepare food, and on a budget, hasn’t helped my diet but I still believe that once I escape the bread heavy diet of the Middle East and once Ramadan ends that I can focus a bit more on eating healthy. It’s so important to how you feel. During Ramadan, alternating between extreme hunger / thirst during the day and stuffing myself at night has not been a pleasant feeling. I need to get that balance back.
  • At the same time, I’m proud that I have managed to work out each day and stay active. I have probably lost a few pounds but at least I’m staying in some degree of shape. And I have yet to get sick so I’m healthy, which is arguably more important than anything.

Trip Concerns 1: Will I Bring The Right Stuff With Me?

  • This has turned out about as well as it could. My backpack has provided me with enough space to walk comfortably for miles while I brought enough clothes to last me ten days or so without a wash. I have spare space when I need to carry food or water and my bag is small enough to fit everywhere I travel (planes, buses, trains). I’m using everything I brought with me and I can’t think of thing that I wish I had brought (well maybe a keyboard for my iPad).
  • Bringing the iPad along was one of my best ideas. It is so versatile and helps me in numerous ways. I have managed to stay in touch with everyone back home as Internet has been omnipresent. The iPad’s map feature also allows me to plot out where I’m going before I get there. So when I arrive in a new city I have already downloaded the route from wherever I arrive to my hotel or hostel. Sure it requires Internet but it gets me 80% of the way there. And of course it has allowed me to blog, update my pictures and keep a journal. So it’s given me everything I need even if typing on it is a pain.

Trip Concerns 2: Finances

  • I think I have done a pretty good job of being frugal yet taking advantage of opportunities to enjoy myself. As you can see below, I haven’t broken the bank but have still managed to see great things, eat new foods and sleep comfortably.
  • Egypt has been my most expensive destination given all the ancient sites, long distance travel and the fact that I haven’t Couchsurfed but I’m completely comfortable with that. My bottom line has been the marginal cost of seeing a site, no matter the expense, is always worth it given how close I am. If I spent $40 or $50 in a day to see the pyramids or the temples in Luxor that provides me with memories forever so it’s pretty cheap when you think about it.

Trip Concerns 4: Accommodations

  • Couchsurfing has been a revelation on this trip. It has allowed me to meet some incredible people and have unique experiences (visiting Zingaro Reserve in Sicily, biking around Gozo in Malta, attending a concert in the old amphitheater in Carthage and attending an Iftar potluck in Cairo).
  • I know many people are skeptical of it, and I understand that, but everyone I have stayed with and met through CS has been completely trustworthy and ao generous with their time. Particularly in the Middle East where knowing locals goes such along way, this is a great avenue to see something outside the typical tourist trail.
  • I was concerned about staying in hostels again but when I have stayed in them the social experiences have made them worthwhile. In Sicily and in Egypt, I have made some great friends in my hostel, people I have traveled and toured with. It is such a great way for a solo traveler to make friends and to get information about wherever you are staying.
  • Whenever I need my own space, getting a nice room in a hotel has always been an affordable option. Every few days I need time to myself and I have made finding a quiet room to myself a priority.
  • On the whole, I have found the balance that I was looking for although I’m looking forward to Couchsurfing at least one more time while I’m in the Middle East.

Trip Concerns 6: What Will I Do With All This Free Time?

  • What free time? Seriously I have been so busy that whenever I get a spare hour or two I just want to check my email or surf the net. I have stayed incredibly busy seeing sites, going out with fellow travelers and Couchsurfing hosts, traveling and writing that there has not been much down time. That is a good thing although I think I may try to schedule a few free days in the next week or so before my body gets completely run down.
  • The trip has reiterated my need to stay busy and to push the pace. While I would love to relax its just not in my nature. It’s good to know that about myself and when I re-enter the workforce I can dive right in knowing that going full bore is just who I am.

 

Country By Country Daily Expenses (excludes airfare/boat travel between countries)

  • Malta – $31.69 (six of seven nights used Couchsurfing)
  • Italy – $47.10
  • Tunisia – $30.13 (lower because of Couchsurfing and free Iftar meals)
  • Egypt – $55.78 (more expensive because of no Couchsurfing and frequent entrance fees to temples and pyramids)

 

Upcoming Plans

I’m heading from Luxor to Dahab, a diving town on the Red Sea where I hope to relax for a few days (as much as I can relax) before ferrying over to Jordan for a week or so. From there I’m planning to head to Japan, leaving the rest of the Middle East likely for the end of my trip (I would love to still visit Lebanon, the UAE and Oman among others).

Japan will begin the Asian leg of my travels, which should carry me through the next few months at least. I’m still figuring out which country is after Japan but I expect I will do a Southeast Asian circuit before heading towards South Asia.

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4 Responses to Reflecting After A Month On The Road

  1. Hi Matt. This was a great post. Sounds like you’ve been keeping track of everything meticulously which is great. Your point that, “This is not a vacation and doing this (exercising) consistently reminds me of that as well as helping to clear my mind,” is an interesting one. I’ve battled with that mindset since I first traveled with you. I’m not sure how to categorize it because I feel like what you’re doing is exploring the world. Vacationing to me may include elements of exploring, but it’s a mindset more than the act of traveling. I think your goal to explore the world is evident, you’re not kicking back and ignoring the experiences around you, so it sounds like you’ve maximized each day and each location. I don’t know if it’s possible to turn off that exploration mindset, especially when it’s led you to so many great experiences on your travels, so I wouldn’t worry about it.

    Didn’t realize Japan was coming up soon for you. It’s amazing that you’ve been on the road for a month. Japan sounds great. Could be a little pricey in the big cities I hear. Take care, and keep posting.

  2. amylax says:

    From where I sit, which is on familiar turf, you seem to be exploring from within and without. You appear to have a solid handle on what is best for you- what you can handle, what you want to handle and what you prefer not to handle. You are clearly staying true to yourself while testing the limits. May your adventures continue and of course remain safe. I look forward to reading more.

  3. Brent says:

    Sounds like an awesome trip so far! Ryan and I are looking forward to hanging with you in Japan.

  4. Heidi says:

    Having just moved to Glasgow solo, this post was inspiring! My biggest hurdle so far is meeting people/ dealing with loneliness. Really happy that you’re making so many friends along the way. Hope I’ll be as fortunate! Safe travels- looking forward to reading about them!

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