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Seven months have now passed since Charine and I both left our very lucrative jobs in Singapore to travel around the world. We left a comfortable life to chase our dream of building a location-independent business, to live all over the world, to experience diverse cultures, to eat great food and to drink incredible wine.
I have always loved traveling and am no stranger to taking a chance and betting on myself. After graduating from chiropractic college in the Spring of 2009, I hopped onto a plane the next day and traveled around the world for seven months on a limited budget, found a new country to call home, got blacklisted from that country, relocated and built a successful clinic and business in another country. The lessons learned from that experience were priceless and are documented here .
Life was great in Singapore–the patients were getting well, the business was great, and I met a wonderful girl who shares the same interests and desires as me. I was extremely fortunate for a life that was going fantastic, there was nothing to complain about. Charine and I were eating at the best restaurants, sporting great stuff, and had a legendary social life. We were doing so well in Singapore that in our last year, we were in the top tax bracket. We wanted more though–the freedom to travel, the freedom to work for ourselves, and the flexibility to work from anywhere in the world.
On 29 May 2015, we launched our first book Travel Learn Earn and two days later we left to travel around the world. The last seven months were a romp through Switzerland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, The Republic of Georgia, Armenia and USA. I planned those seven months as a sabbatical to enjoy life and to think about what the next chapter would bring. The last half of a year has brought much enjoyment and excitement while at the same time brought challenges, fears, and contemplation.
When I left Singapore and shared my plan with one of my best friends, I told him, “The worst thing that can happen is I fall on my face and get up to dust myself off.” He responded, “No, the worst thing that can happen is you learn a hell of a lot.”
So here it is.
5 TRAVEL LESSONS LEARNED AFTER BEING ON THE ROAD FOR 7 MONTHS
Wine is awesome but enotourism is better
Wine played zero part in my upbringing. The only memory I have of wine as a child is when my parents forced me to attend church. The only time I enjoyed going was during communion. I loved how the wine danced around in my mouth. Growing up in a small and rural community, cheap beer was the choice of drink much to my disdain. In fact, I got so sick of drinking economical tipple that from the age of 16 to 21, I did not have a drop of alcohol. It all changed in 2004 when I watched a film called “Sideways”. The intellectual facet of wine was fascinating to me and in that moment I decided to drink wine.
Throughout university and graduate school, money was short so the wine that I consumed was in the $10-15 range which didn’t bring much diversity. After graduate school, expendable income began to exist in my life and with it came better and better wine. Charine and I soon found ourselves at wine-pairing dinners in Singapore at least bi-monthly and often weekly. Our enthusiasm for wine grew with every meal.
The love for wine and enotourism was taken to another level during those last seven months. Visiting a wine producer will do the same for you too. The beauty and smell of the vineyards coupled with talking to winemakers who are full of passion will stir something up inside you. Your understanding and knowledge of wine will increase exponentially just by talking to wine producers and other people in wine regions. Sometimes the tastings are small and intimate, where owners and winemakers would walk you through their facilities and share their personal stories. Other times wineries have huge tasting rooms complete with well trained staff and great food to pair with vino.
Even if you are a novice drinker or just remotely interested in wine, go visit a winery. Better yet, go to a winery that produces your favorite bottle. Drinking that glass will never be the same again.
Leaving comfort is never easy
I love to travel and got bitten hard by the bug since first stepping foot abroad, on a trip to Iceland, in 2006. Since then, I have been fortunate to travel to 27 countries and one thing doesn’t change: I get nervous every single time before I travel.
Last May, Charine and I had just packed up our apartment and gave away most of our stuff. We were also fresh off of a book launch and got to see most of our friends at the event and said goodbye to them. The time was right to go. During the drive to the airport, my hands started shaking and an unsettling feeling came over me. A voice in my head said, “WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING? Things are great here, let’s just turn this car around and go back to the familiar.” That wasn’t the last time I heard from that voice.
During the last seven months, the general rule of thumb is that we would stay at a place for three to four days before moving on to the next place. Every single time on the last day of our short stay, worry and wonder would bubble up and I’d be tempted to just stay instead of moving on. That happened every time without fail. It’s a good thing that I didn’t listen to that little voice because if so, who knows what Charine and I would have missed out.
I thought that it would be easier and easier to step outside my comfort zone the more that I do it. The truth is it is still difficult every time. Don’t get discouraged, just push forward.
Traveling with money is more enjoyable than doing it on a shoestring
There was another fear that kept rising in my mind before we set out. Would this trip be as exciting and organic as the previous trips I did, all of which were on a shoestring?
There is a certain romanticism that comes with traveling on a tight budget. You are forced to come up with creative solutions on the fly. If you miss a bus and it’s late, sleeping on the parking lot outside the station doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. No money for food? That free tomato and cheese sandwich a fellow traveler offers you might just taste like the best thing in the world. When I was a younger traveler, everything happened organically and everything seemed to be the greatest story in the world.
After the first month of eating our way through spectacular restaurants, buying several cases of wine, and dodging traffic with our rental car in Italy ,the bill was just short of USD 12,000. To some people that might not be a lot of money; to others it may be a helluva lot. I will put it into perspective based on my prior travel experiences. Just six years ago, my total tab for a seven-month trip was under USD 8,000.
Was the first month of the trip any less fulfilling than slumming it in one-dollar beds in India? I certainly was not longing for street food while eating at the Michelin-starred La Ciau del Tornavento and buying cases of some of the world’s greatest wine in Piedmont, Italy. Were those experiences different than budget travel? Yes, but they were not necessarily better.
I am a big advocate for extended budget travel and recommend it to anybody who wants to learn and grow. It teaches you many different things about yourself and the world like I mentioned here. Do it once or do it often. Immerse yourself in the sights, smells and sounds of an exotic place. Then try it again when you are more established and tell me what you think.
Not fretting over two dollars when choosing a hostel may make memories, but so does a five-star cave hotel overlooking the different shades of red in a Cappadocian valley.
Traveling with a loved one is a real test
For five years, most of my focus and savings went towards the dream of taking an epic solo trip after five years of private practice in Singapore. When we started the relationship, Charine and I agreed that we could make a long-distance relationship work. It seemed like we had it all figured out but then something changed. We both ended up leaving our jobs to travel together.
No matter how strong the bond is, traveling together, spending 24 hours a day for months on end with a loved one is a real test. I have a personality that can be described as “irritating” so just having dinner with me is a big enough challenge for most people. Charine had to deal with it all the time over a course of seven months. I’m lucky she hasn’t snapped.
Dealing with each other’s quirky traits while on long-term travel is challenging because even if you are good friends with someone, or love somebody dearly, things start to chip away at you. When traveling with someone you love, it is best to acknowledge when you are irritated, think about why, and then look at the bigger picture. For example, Charine is always hungry. I can turn off the part of my brain that controls satiation; when there is a long period without food, I choose not to be hungry. One time we were in Armenia and were about to take a long minibus ride. I suggested not having lunch that day. She looked into her bag and realized she had brought along only one banana and a piece of chocolate. She then flipped out on me. She got hangry (hungry+angry). The first instinct was to be defensive but after taking a step back, I understood that she was probably upset that her hunger would take over–she was mad about that, not mad at me.
Communication also has to be crystal clear when you are on the road together. That is often the source of misunderstanding, which then leads to irritation, which then leads to fights. Going back to the above example, if I had asked Charine if it was possible to skip lunch instead of stating that we were not having lunch, she would have been able to express her concerns about how it wouldn’t work for her. On the other side, if she would have told me that not eating lunch was not a good option for her instead of panicking and lashing out, we could have avoided an hour of being bitter and working to clear things up.
If we were at home on a daily routine, it would be easy to escape each other’s presence and cool off for a while. Being on the road and together all the time, things get magnified. Anyone who thinks that they have found the right person, go buy two plane tickets and travel around the world together. If you are not ripping each other’s heads off, then great; if you come back with a stronger bond, even better.
Travel teaches you humility
This is something that I am embarrassed to admit: by the end of my time in Singapore, my ego needed a little bit of a check. It was something that I didn’t want to happen to me, something that I tried to fight off as it crept closer and closer. With success comes more money, with more money comes power, with more power comes a big head. I told myself that it would not happen to me, but it was inevitable. There were many times that I found myself judging people that were not doing as well financially as me–it was stupid, it was pig-headed, it was immature. Regardless, it was how I felt and viewed people around me.
Before leaving for the trip, my good friend and I sat down over two bottles of wine and spent four hours discussing life at large. Him being 20 years older than me, I always pull a few nuggets out of our conversations. That night he reiterated a statement that is common knowledge, but that night for some reason, it finally sunk in. He said, “There’s always going to be someone with more money, or a bigger car, always…”
Getting on the road this time has finally enabled that statement to internalize. The trip has taught me that everybody at their core is on a similar playing field. People can be wonderful, kind, and pleasant no matter what kind of socioeconomic background they are from–whether it was a taxi driver ushering us around in Turkey for free to make sure we weren’t stuck, or a lovely guesthouse owner who made tarts from scratch every morning.
The funny thing is that the tables have turned, almost everyone I met on this trip has a leg up on me–now that I’m technically unemployed and homeless. In the past, it was all about what kind of watch I had, where I was going for dinner, and what bottle of wine I was ordering. All that stuff is great and it is nice, but it’s better to enjoy it for the sake of enjoying it. Lesson here: Don’t take yourself too damn seriously.