Wow, where did 2018 go? We can’t believe both of us have been officially retired for a year (although Robert continues to say he will never be retired, because he has to take care of me). In some ways, it feels like we have been retired for much longer, but in some ways it feels like it was only yesterday that we were stressed out basket cases (ok, fine, that was just me) — believe it or not, I still occasionally have work nightmares (almost always about some task that didn’t get done in time for a deadline).
So, let’s start this post by answering some questions, and we will start with the million dollar question first:
Do we regret chucking everything to travel the world? Nope, not even one little bit. We are happier and healthier than we ever were while working. We are living the dream. Although we still have bad days (and, recently, days we can’t even look at the balance in our investment accounts without cringing), the bad days are few and far between and generally are caused by nothing but our own stupidity when we do things like book an early morning flight. Overall, we couldn’t be happier.
Did we manage to stay on budget this year? The short answer is yes. The long answer is that we were pretty worried that the budget would be completely out of whack after spending the first four months of the year in expensive Chicago. We spent 13% of our annual budget in the month of February and 16% of our annual budget in March. We had spent nearly 50% of our budget when we got to the end of April. How on earth were we going to get back on track after that? Well, the answer is simple: SE Asia. We’ve been in SE Asia since May and our spending has plummeted. No more $100 plus dollar dinners. No more $20 cocktails. It is actually downright easy to stay on budget here, even with some “splurges” on nice hotels, the all-important pedicures, and scuba diving trips. We even managed to end the year with a little bit of money left over, and that is going right into a cd to save for some expensive travel in the future (e.g., the Galapagos, Antarctica, or maybe a safari). The only downside is we are often visiting places we have been before, so things can sometimes be a bit boring. But, then again, this is retirement, not a 365 day vacation, right?
Where did our money go this year? Well, an insanely huge chunk of it (24%) went to food and beverages — this includes groceries, restaurants, coffee shops, bars, street food, ice cream treats, etc. I guess we eat and drink a lot (you think?), but eating is one of our favorite ways to explore a country. And, in our defense, nearly half of the food and beverage spend was incurred in the first four months of the year when we lived in Chicago. I don’t even want to think about how much of the food and beverage budget went to beer, gin and wine, but I’m quite sure it is an embarrassingly excessive amount…. Another insanely large chunk of our money (~20%) went to health insurance. You know, the policy we maintain just in case of an emergency that doesn’t even cover anything while we travel. You know, the policy that won’t even cover anything in the U.S. until we have paid thousands of additional dollars in deductibles. Do not even get me started on the state of health care in the United States. It is absurd. And, that 20% spent on health insurance doesn’t even cover the travel insurance policy we purchased in case there is an emergency while we are abroad. Arghhhhh! Another 20% or so of our budget was spent on rent while in Chicago and hotel rooms while traveling — we are hoping this number goes down in 2019 as we won’t have to pay Chicago rent for four months like we did in 2018. And, the remainder was spent on everything else, including over $100 in foreign ATM fees for the privilege of withdrawing our own money and a whopping 75 cents for the privilege of using some public bathrooms.
What did we miss this year? We actually missed very little. I thought I would miss peanut butter. But, you know what? We found quite a bit of it this year so I don’t miss it (although I do often carry a jar of it in my suitcase). Robert thought he was going to miss a really good hamburger, but has been shocked to find out that he doesn’t miss burgers at all. We really only missed four things. The first and most important thing is our family and friends — we have managed to stay in touch with some people via email and Facebook and video calls, but some people we have barely spoken to since leaving Chicago and we have definitely missed out on some major life moments (both good and bad) experienced by our friends. Robert has missed cooking, and I have missed eating his cooking (and the plain pasta he used to make me on a regular basis). On a lighter note, we both really miss our electric toothbrush. And, finally, we both missed watching the World Cup at A.J. Hudson’s. I’m telling you, next World Cup we have to be somewhere in a time zone closer to the one where the matches are being played.
What is on tap for 2019? Well, current plans have us in SE Asia until June, although other than our remaining time in Vietnam, a short visit to Bali in February and then some time spent in Thailand to visit dear friends, we haven’t fleshed out those travels at all yet. Then, we are off to New Zealand for six weeks. (Yes, we know June is not the ideal time to visit New Zealand but we are celebrating a major life milestone that month and that is where we wanted to go). Then, we will probably head back to SE Asia for another month or so, although we have just recently been toying with the idea of heading to Kazakhstan to ride horses instead. In August, we plan to head back to the U.S. to visit friends and family. After that, we have no idea, but we will most likely head to South America, although we have also recently been toying with the idea of spending a few months in Europe first since we didn’t make it there in 2018. If you want to meet up somewhere, just let us know!
With that out of the way, let’s turn to our final thoughts on 2018.
Although our minds tell us we are still in our 20’s (I wish!), our bodies feel way older than they did in 2015. We get tired out much easier. We seek out more air conditioning. We get grumpy faster if the hotel room isn’t comfortable (and don’t even get us started on the evil of wet rooms). But the absolute worst part is our appetites have decreased. Long gone are the days of first and second dinner. There is amazing food all around us and we just can’t eat it all like we used to….
In spite of our bodies feeling old, we aren’t treated that way. Instead, we are basically ignored. We are no longer young enough and not yet old enough to be considered interesting. It is a weird place to be.
We have found it much harder, although not impossible, to meet people this year. Some of that is our age — we don’t fit either the typical backpacker demographic or the typical retiree demographic. Some of that is the fact that we have noticed some people from outside the U.S. are really afraid that we might have voted for Trump and dance around on eggshells a bit when first chatting with us while they feel us out. (Newsflash, we didn’t and wouldn’t and couldn’t and don’t understand anyone who did or would or could — but we won’t be surprised if he gets another term). And, some of that is no doubt us — the political situation in the U.S. has left us angry and depressed and I’m sure it shows at times. That said, we have met some really fun people and hope to meet more as we continue our travels.
We are feeling guilty about how much plastic we have consumed this year. Almost none of our hotels had water refilling stations. Instead, they just give every single guest a bottle of water every single day and do not have any recycling facilities. A big shout out to the Ibis in Singapore that provided both still and sparkling water in reusable metal bottles — sure wish more hotels would do that or at least have a refill station for those of that carry our own metal bottles. Also, I can’t tell you how many times we got straws even after saying “no straw.” More and more restaurants are going straw-free or have straws made of bamboo or metal, but straws are still added to nearly every beverage in Asia. I really don’t need (or want) a straw to drink a can of soda water… especially if I also have a glass. And, the number of plastic bags used here is unreal. Everything is put in a plastic bag (even food that is going to be eaten immediately), and then all the little plastic bags are put in a big plastic bag. It can be infuriating.
The only people that walk in SE Asia are tourists. Nearly everyone else has a scooter or an e bike. Walkers like us are at the complete bottom of the pecking order in SE Asia (although I’m not sure if it is because we are walking or because we are tourists or the combination of the two). Robert keeps threatening to buy a scooter so we go one step up. I have to keep reminding him that we can’t ride a scooter from Vietnam to Bali….
Speaking of scooters, the scooters and their riders are a piece of work. I love that helmets have a cut-out for pony tails and that parents sometimes have booster seats for babies (they go in the foot well). Robert loves that the tarps placed over the riders and scooters during rainstorms have a clear area for the headlight to shine through. We both find it interesting that kids almost never wear helmets, even though more and more adults do.
Grab (like Uber) taxis have changed everything wherever they are available. No more worrying about being scammed on the price and/or the route. No more looking for the so-called “reputable” cab companies. Just get on the phone, order a Grab, and be done with it.
You know how Mr. Rogers used to say “always look for the helpers.” Well, in SE Asia, we have a different saying: “always looks for upscale Western chain hotels.” Not to stay in. No, that would be silly and expensive and boring (except when it is time for a splurge). But for clean bathrooms (guaranteed to have Western style toilets and toilet paper and soap) and decent wine.
The music has been beyond bad here this year. We hear Hotel California nearly every day. We hear Shape of You by Ed Sheeran multiple times a day (almost always a bad cover version), and Robert says he “never needs to hear that f*cking song again.” We hear Country Roads by John Denver at least once a week. (Oddly, our 2015 song of the year, “Africa,” hasn’t been nearly as popular in 2018). I’m dying to hear some new music.
You want some advice? Have your kids learn Mandarin. Seriously. The Chinese have already taken over parts of Cambodia and Laos and are seriously going to take over the rest of the world. They are investing heavily in infrastructure (dams, trains, harbors, high rises, you name it), uprooting thousands of people from their homes, and completely changing some towns (and not for the better from what we hear). But almost everyone we have spoken to over here universally hates the Chinese. Seriously, hates them. We’ve heard stories about how the Chinese refuse to work with local tourist agencies. About how they refuse to stay in anything but Chinese-owned hotels and eat at Chinese-owned restaurants. About how all their tourist money goes right back to China. About how entire towns are now unlivable (I’m talking about you, Sihanoukville). And, about how they cook instant noodles in the hot water pot at the hotels, which infuriates the cleaning staff. The hatred is definitely palpable.
Boy, do we wish we were the couples holding conversations in three different languages simultaneously. Seriously, we have overheard so many people effortlessly transitioning from one language to the next in the same conversation. If only we could do that. (Although Robert has used his Italian on more than one occasion to convince a scammer to go away and he recently ordered a dinner for us entirely in Spanish — why he needed to use his Spanish in Vietnam is a whole other story).
We should consider changing the name of our blog to “seriously seeking shade.” When it isn’t raining (like it has been for the entire last month….), the sun is intense over here.
We stocked up on entirely the wrong stuff when packing. Depending on which country we are in, we can buy almost every type of cosmetic/health and beauty product for less (and sometimes significantly less) than the price in the U.S. The only exceptions we have found are J&J brand Q-tips (haven’t seen these anywhere) and Band-Aid brand bandages (saw these only once for about the same price as in the U.S.). Instead of taking up space in our bags with contact lens solution and shampoo, we should have packed spare sandals and waterproof wallets and Q-tips and massive quantities of Band-Aids. But packing a snorkel and mask was a genius decision (thanks Robert).
I love that we can pay someone to do our laundry. It is usually about $1 per kilogram, takes less than a day, and is worth every penny.
The hardest part of going to any new country is figuring out what to tip. I spend hours and hours researching how much to tip and who to tip in each country and I feel like we still get it wrong 90% of the time. And, I hate that, even in countries with no tipping culture, everyone expects the Americans to tip. I wish tipping would go the way of the dinosaurs.
We really need to stop playing Candy Crush and reading Reddit and reading about politics in 2019…..here is to focusing on learning foreign languages instead.