Looking Back on 2019

Well, our return to the US definitely did not go according to any kind of plan! We have been back home for eight months and what perspective that time has given us! We had always intended to write one more blog post to close out the year, but it took no time for real life to remind us just how much it had missed us while we were away and make our 358 days on the road feel like a distant dream. Part of the rationale for taking a year off to travel was a realization that life doesn’t always fit into a nice, neat plan. If you put off things you want to do for another day, you may no longer want or be able to do them when that day comes. The first half of 2020 has driven that point home in ways we could never have imagined.

In early January, Eric started working at the start-up job he had interviewed for while being chased by a vacuum cleaner in a jjimjilbang in Seoul. Jess who had had every intention of returning to work at Marsh ended up also taking a job at a start-up at the very last minute when she was presented with an opportunity she couldn’t refuse. With jobs sorted, we turned our attention to finding a place to live.

We had chosen Philadelphia largely for proximity to family. After spending roughly two nights per bed during 2019, we found it a little bit hard to give up the itinerant lifestyle. For the first two months we bounced around between Airbnbs, friends and family, and a hotel or two in New York before moving into a long-term rental on March 1st.

Little did we know then how impeccable our timing was or just how much time we would be spending in our new apartment! On March 16th, Jess’s company announced a two-week work-from-home policy, and shortly thereafter Philadelphia (along with many other cities) went on lock-down to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, Covid-19. We had had just enough time to pick up the few critical things we had stored in Eric’s brother’s basement, but we had not acquired any real furniture. We had a bed, some storage bins, and a table but no chairs. After living out of backpacks or what we could carry on a bicycle, we figured we could be resourceful about our working space, so we built Eric a desk out of storage bins and cardboard. Jess took up residence in the second bedroom at a table on the floor. With nothing else to do, we dove headfirst into work. The contrast to 2019 was stark!

Jess went from working zero hours a day to working 16 hours a day in no time. Having complete freedom to decide on our plan for the day quickly turned into having nothing to plan. We had explored more than 120 towns and cities around the world and now found ourselves in a new city we couldn’t explore. We each ran and walked more than 250 miles around Philadelphia in three months because it was the only possible escape. Jess accidentally won a photo contest for all the photos she took while wandering around. Still, our phones remind us we are walking less this year on average than in 2019.

Twelve months of spending nearly every waking hour with each other fast-tracked our shared history as we developed thousands of tiny shared experiences from all over the world. At the same time, it made us very comfortable having only each other for company. Eric had briefly worried he would miss Jess while she was at work all day; instead she became his new coworker! Friends were lamenting the inability to socialize and describing an intense need to see other people. After so much time alone, we found pandemic lock-down increased our social activity. We have had so many more video chats, phone calls, and virtual gaming sessions in the past six months than we had in the whole of 2019 despite the same technology existing!

An Argentine-themed dinner over Zoom replaced our canceled trip to Argentina for a wedding

We are incredibly lucky. We could afford to leave our jobs and have an epic adventure. That’s given us hundreds of memories we can look back on when things get tough. We were (mostly) able to stick to our budget of $100 per day – one last-minute splurge brought our total spend to $36,051 against a budget of $35,800, but we feel pretty good about that. We came home to jobs where we can safely work remotely and start replenishing our savings. Some days we dream of returning to the South Korean jjimjilbangs, the Bolivian winery or the beaches of Australia and are reminded how impossible that seems right now. We are thankful we chose 2019 to travel because if we had put it off just one more year, the whole trip would have fallen apart! If there’s one thing we have learned: make the things you want to do happen. It never seems like a good time, but maybe the time has never been better!

Wyalusing, PA – 2020

Merry Christmas from Sydney

The Armidale airport was tiny! It had a small check-in area which was not open yet when we arrived, a small cafeteria, two gates, and no metal detectors. The same person who checked us in also checked our boarding passes at the gate. There were so few passengers he welcomed us each by name without even looking at the boarding passes! The plane was small, our flight was uneventful, and we landed in Sydney a short time later.

We had roughly $800 left in the budget to spend over three days when we arrived in Sydney. This was a dramatic increase from our normal $100 per day spend, so we might have gone a little crazy with our spending.

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Dog Sitting in Armidale, Australia

Since the Asia phase of our trip was considerably more expensive than either of the other two phases, we knew we would need to find opportunities to save money. We loved WWOOFing, but we wanted a more relaxing experience to finish off the year. Rory and Gen, the friends we made in Korea, told us about TrustedHousesitters which they had used in many countries during their travels. When we saw them in Tokyo, they were spending a week in an amazing apartment looking after some cats. They raved about their experiences so much, we decided to give it a shot. We signed up for an annual sitter plan which would allow us to do house sits anywhere in the world for a year. Rory and Gen got us a referral discount, vouched for us on the site, and supported us through our first few rejections. We were thrilled when Helen and Mike accepted us as house sitters for their brand new four-bedroom house and eleven-year old Golden Labrador, Billy!

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#VanLife on New Zealand’s South Island

We had rented a camper van through a website called Mighway, which is like Airbnb for camper vans; people use it to rent their personal campers when they are not using them. We could not pick up the camper van until 5pm, so after saying “goodbye” to Jess’s family, we went to a nearby coffee shop to do some planning. Since we only had five days, we wanted to give some thought to where we could go without spending the entire time driving. When we had a reasonable plan to go in a loop from Christchurch to the West Coast through Arthur’s Pass, past Franz Joseph Glacier, through Wanaka, and back to Christchurch, we left to meet Kim to pick up our camper.

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Thanksgiving on the South Island

We caught the 9:00am Interislander ferry from Wellington on New Zealand’s North Island to Picton on the South Island. We checked in before 8:00am as instructed and were sorted into an entry lane based on the height of our vehicle. We sat there for a while watching tractor trailers be loaded into the cargo deck before being allowed to drive on. We drove to the back of the parking deck and looped around so we would be facing the correct direction when it was time to disembark. Then we walked up to the 7th floor where we found a nice seating area with a view out the front of the boat. The ferry takes roughly three hours and passes through the Cook Strait, which with its long list of shipwrecks is one of most dangerous waters in the world. Peggy, Mike, Jess, and Angie played Tichu while the boys played Dota Underlords on their phones and Abby read her book and enjoyed the views from the top deck.

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An Epic Adventure Across New Zealand’s North Island

After a brief stop in Australia to practice our surfing (more on that later), we made our way to Auckland, New Zealand, to meet up with Jess’s family. Angie and Kevin, Jess’s sister and her boyfriend, were already waiting at the Airbnb having spent the prior week in Australia themselves. The rest of Jess’s family would be arriving the next day, and we would not be wasting any time getting the whirlwind tour started.

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We’ve fallen a little behind on the blog… too many fun adventures have had us out exploring the world rather than sitting at our computers. However, we are making a big push to catch up, so stay tuned for more posts! We’re hoping to post one a day until Christmas, so think of it like an advent calendar of sorts… and maybe you can help keep us honest.

One Final Look at Japan: Mount Fuji and Reflections

We left the farm in the morning and caught a train from Matsumoto to Kofu. In Kofu, we caught the bus to Kawaguchiko thanks to a helpful woman who made sure we did not miss the last bus of the day. When we got off the bus at Kawaguchiko, it was raining. We walked to our hostel thinking how thankful we were it had not rained while we were freezing on the farm.

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Life on the Japanese Farm

We had expected that working on the farm might be challenging given that we did not speak Japanese, but we quickly settled in. Takao-san’s English was excellent, so our instructions were clear, and he was full of fascinating stories. We learned his English was so good because he had spent two years in Zambia with the Japanese-equivalent of the Peace Corps. He arrived having not spoken English since high school more than ten years before and left fluent. By contrast Hisami-san and Grandpa did not speak much, if any English, but they still made us feel welcome. And little Mi-chan kept us entertained. She was the most animated person we have met… possibly ever! Eric thought she was just like a real-life anime character. She could be hilariously silly, but she could also go from calm to mad in a single second. This was all the more amusing because we never had any idea what she was mad about.

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