Much of this is no longer applicable but we really enjoyed re-reading it years after we originally wrote it. So, we’ve added a few clarifications but left the original text.
Welcome to our blog. We will be starting a round the world trip in January 2015 and decided to keep a blog both as a place to record our experiences and to let our friends and family know we were still alive and loving life. To kick things off, we thought we would answer a few questions.
Well, our 2015 trip is obviously long over. But we are on the verge of starting PigFish Version 2, and we don’t expect that to end anytime soon. The current plan is a year in Asia, followed by a few months in Europe, followed by a year in South America. But, other than a one way ticket to Asia, we don’t have much planned and we plan to stay flexible so we can go wherever the winds may take us.
What is a PigFish?
The short answer is that it is a word we coined and use to describe our trip around the world. The longer answer involves an impromptu trip to Belize a few years ago to look at a restaurant that was for sale, a brainstorming session designed to come up with a name for said restaurant, and one of us throwing out the idea of PigFish. It is a horrible name for a restaurant, but we think it is a great name for our adventure.
No point in changing the name now, right?
Who Are We?
Lisa has a degree in biology and another in law and has spent the last 20 years working as a patent litigator. She is a voracious reader of young adult dystopian fiction and watches far too much bad tv. She loves pretty much anything to do with zombies, and doesn’t think there is anything weird about setting an alarm at 6 am on a weekend to stumble to a pub to watch her beloved Chelsea boys (and Oscar in particular).
Sadly, Oscar has left Chelsea and is now playing in China. But Lisa will still get out of bed at insane hours to watch her team.
Robert has had many professions, including a chef, a salesman, an IT guy and most recently, a stay at home dog dad. He speaks Italian and hopes to learn Spanish on this trip. He loves nothing more than a day spent sailing, hopes to do more scuba diving, and rues the day he introduced Lisa to football (i.e., soccer).
Robert’s Spanish has progressed considerably. Now if he could only convince Lisa to spend more time in Spanish-speaking countries and less time in Asia…..
We met at a party in 1988, briefly dated, broke up but stayed friends, and finally started dating again in 2004. After learning we had planned a trip to Asia, Lisa’s dad took Robert aside and mentioned that rumor was that Lisa was a very difficult traveler. Setting aside the fact that Lisa thinks perhaps the people she traveled with previously just might have been the problem (☺), we quickly learned that we are the perfect travelers together. There is nothing quite like eating pho on a tiny little stool on the side of a busy Hanoi street (and learning there is nothing wrong with throwing those dreaded onions into the gutter), browsing a Christmas market in Europe (yum…prosciutto), seeing our first wild kangaroo in Australia (complete with a joey in her pouch), checking out every Irish pub we can find (bonus points if they are playing a Chelsea or Man City football match), eating street food at every opportunity (just be smart about it), checking out the Dalat wine in Vietnam (no two bottles taste the same) or accidentally getting between a mama water buffalo and her baby in Thailand (ok, that was dumb, but it did get the adrenaline flowing). Once we knew we could travel well together, marriage was in the cards and, ever since, we have traveled every opportunity we could get.
Why not now? A trip like this will only get more difficult the older we get. We want to be physically able to do anything we decide we want to do. And, we want to be mentally young enough to embrace the challenge of hearing (and hopefully learning at least a few words of) a foreign language every day, eating different foods, making friends with random strangers and, most likely, being completely out of our element more often than not.
Yep, everything said above still applies. And the fact that all the health gains we experienced in 2015 have dissipated after two years back in the U.S. made it even more clear to us that early retirement was the right answer for us.
Where Are We Going?
We really don’t know where we will go (and we like it like that). On the theory that we could likely see at least 12 countries in 12 months, we sat down one day and tried to independently come up with a list of our top 12 countries. Not surprisingly, our lists didn’t match. Lisa came up with Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Romania, Croatia, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Argentina and Uruguay. Robert came up with Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Croatia, China, South Africa, Kenya, Nicaragua, Panama, Uruguay and Ecuador.
We know for sure that we will visit Thailand, as we are starting our trip there. And we both love Vietnam so much there is no chance that we will skip Vietnam, even if we have already been there three times. In fact, if you want to bet on which country will hold our interest for the longest amount of time, place your bet on Vietnam. Odds are good that we will hit Myanmar, Cambodia, Argentina and Uruguay. Everything else is up in the air. We don’t plan to make long-term plans – rather, we intend to stay longer in places we like, leave sooner in places we don’t particularly care for, and listen to fellow travellers for advice as to what to see next.
We both have tried to think of one “can’t miss” experience. Lisa’s is horseback riding across Patagonia. Robert’s is something a bit more intangible – he wants to make sure we are spontaneous enough to enjoy those little bits of serendipity that come along when you least expect them.
The general plan remains the same. We do hope to travel a bit slower this time, spending 2-3 weeks in each town, particularly in countries we have already visited. Horseback riding in Patagonia hasn’t happened yet so it is definitely on the list this time (but not until 2019 at the earliest, as we plan to spend the first year in Asia). And being flexible is key. Neither one of us had Columbia on our top 12 list in 2015, but it turned out to be one of our absolute favorite places in the world (so much so that we went back for a long weekend just to eat ajiaco).
What Did We Do With Our Pets And Our Stuff?
The pets were our biggest concern in planning this trip. We have the sweetest Rottweiler/German Shepard mix, a feisty Boston Terrier/Pug mix, and a domestic shorthaired cat who thinks she is a dog. We got them from shelters and they are like family to us. We found amazing foster homes for each of them and worry every day that our beasties are happier in those homes than they ever were with us. (And the photos seem to suggest our concerns are justified…). We are grateful to our friends and family (Mark, Julie, Nate and Elise, Mark and Melissa, and Mimi, Jackie and Meghan) who agreed to foster our very special beasties, as without them, this trip would not have been possible.
Our pets all came home to us in 2016, but are now sadly all gone. With the death of our last pet, we knew it was time to seriously consider retiring and moving on with our lives.
The stuff, well, we didn’t care so much about that. We sold the house. We sold quite a few things in the house. We donated piles and piles and piles of clothes. And we threw quite a bit away. Anything left after that went into storage.
It turns out far more went into storage than we originally thought. When we returned in 2016, we honestly couldn’t believe how much stuff we had (and how little of it we actually needed). So, now we are on a quest to purge, purge, and then purge some more. Sadly, we do think some stuff will still have to go into storage, but so be it.
What Are We Bringing?
A small backpack and a personal bag each. No checked luggage for us. And even that is likely going to feel like too much at times.
Admission time. After about two months of PigFish, we started checking our bags. We realized there were little things we wanted that aren’t allowed in carry-on luggage. A knife to cut fruit. A full size bottle of contact lens solution. A full size bottle of sunscreen. And there were times we were cold. Really, really cold (hello, South Africa….and can we talk about the thing they call “summer” in Scotland???) because we didn’t have enough cold weather gear. So this time we are bringing slightly larger bags so we can carry a bit more gear. But they are still small enough that we can carry them on our backs as needed (but big enough to have wheels which, it turns out, can be used most places). And we are still limiting ourselves to one rolling backpack and one personal bag each.
What Will We Miss?
One of our friends, upon learning of our plans, asked us what we thought we would miss most while on our trip other than the obvious choices of family, friends and our beasties. We thought that was a very interesting question, gave it some thought, and came up with the following (in no particular order):
Our own bed: There is nothing quite like coming home after vacation and crawling into your own bed. We won’t be able to do that for a year. And, by the time we do, our bed probably won’t even feel like our bed anymore.
Yep, we missed this last time and we know we will miss it this time. But this time there won’t even be a bed to come back home to….
Peanut butter: Lisa lives on peanut butter. Smeared on carrots, celery, bread, toast, pretzels and everything else she can think of. And, sadly, tsa does not allow carry-on jars of peanut butter.
Lisa nearly cried when she found peanut butter in Vietnam. And will miss it terribly again. But you know what? Nutella is just about everywhere….
Being regulars: We have our favorite bar to watch soccer (AJ Hudsons), our favorite brunch place (The Bristol), our favorite Sunday afternoon watering hole (The Red Door) and our favorite place to watch The Walking Dead (Bar Bar Black Sheep). These places feel like second homes to us and we consider the staff at many to be friends. Jen knows that for a 6 am match Lisa wants a Diet Coke and a soda water, both with limes. Rob knows Robert will try whatever concoction he has mixed up to try out for the bar menu. Fabio indulges our love of discussing Italy and rock and roll music and whether Carl has to die (Walking Dead fans will know what we are talking about and the answer is “yes, he does”). We will miss these places immensely.
Sadly, with the happy exception of AJH, our regular haunts are not so regular anymore. The Red Door and Bar Bar closed, and we moved away from The Bristol. And, we never really found a “local” in our new neighborhood. But we will miss our friends at AJH.
Our dvr: No commercials. What more do we need to say?
Guess what? We don’t even have a dvr anymore. We don’t have cable. We do have Amazon Prime and we hope that will travel with us.
WGN morning news: We feel like old people saying this, but we truly will miss WGN morning news. It provides frequent updates about the weather and the traffic, actually has some real local news, Robin giggles her way through the news more often than not. Solid entertainment at 6:30 am.
Oddly, we didn’t miss this as much as we thought and hardly ever even watch it anymore.
You know what we aren’t going to miss? U.S. politics. Not going to miss that one single bit. And we are dreading how to explain the U.S. political situation to others….
How Can We Afford This?
Well, the most important thing is that we have always lived well below our means. Neither of us has particularly expensive tastes in clothes or hobbies. We have only one car and it is 10 years old. We both paid off our college loans as quickly as possible and refused to go into debt for anything else other than a home. And, in all honesty, not having kids helps a great deal – we don’t have to save for college tuition, pay the fees for summer camps, or the like.
Also, we have saved for years. Initially, we set up separate accounts at an on-line bank for each of the trips we wanted to take in the future – we had accounts with names like Antarctica and Africa and India – and had small amounts of money transferred into those accounts every paycheck. It adds up over the years.
Let us repeat, we have lived well below our means — we are still driving the same car, we haven’t made any major purchases in years, we don’t have children to worry about, etc.. But it is also important to note that we spent significantly less traveling in 2015 than we would have spent living in Chicago….Everything is a question of priorities and we made the decision that this was a priority to us.
What Are We Doing About Health Care?
Number 1: keeping our fingers crossed we don’t get sick.
Yep, still doing this. But one thing we discovered in 2015 is that our perspective of what health care costs is significantly skewed. In much of the world (the U.S. being the obvious exception), basic health care is actually quite affordable.
Number 2: preventative medicine. We got (or are getting) all the immunizations we could think of before departing. Both of us had all the normal childhood vaccines and we were both current on our hepatitis vaccine from prior trips. We both got tetanus boosters, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, the flu and typhoid. Next up is rabies (yes, rabies – it isn’t just a vaccine for dogs anymore – although it just gives you an extra day or two to get to a functioning hospital for more shots if you get bit). We have a host of prescription meds that we will take with us, including malaria pills, extra strength antibiotics, motion sickness pills and altitude sickness pills.
We are doing some of this again. We will update all of our immunizations and make sure we have everything and anything we can get — there are no anti-vaxxers in this household. But we probably won’t bring a bunch of meds with us this time. For example, we didn’t even take the anti-malarials in 2015. Dengue is the bigger problem most places and the only realistic preventative for dengue is to not get bit.
Number 3: spending a small fortune on insurance. We bought US-based insurance through the health exchange. We have an outrageous deductible and an outrageous maximum out of pocket maximum, but if something horrible happens and we have to return to the States we will be able to get healthcare without bankrupting ourselves. And we bought travel insurance (medical, emergency evacuation and, wait for it, repatriation of our remains) through World Nomads. Can’t say now whether either of these decisions was the right one, and we hope to still not know at the end of next year.
We will still have travel insurance and a U.S.-based insurance policy with an outrageously monthly premium, an outrageous deductible and an outrageous maximum out of pocket expense. Our U.S. healthcare monthly premiums will be our biggest monthly expense, which is absolutely absurd (especially when you consider it won’t even do us any good unless we come back to Chicago for our care). We sure do wish the U.S. had a single payer health care system….
. . .
We hope you enjoy our little blog this year. If there is anything else you want to know, give us a shout and we will do our best to respond. And if you happen to be traveling in the same part of the world we are, we would love to see you.
If you read this blog in 2015, we really hoped you enjoyed it. And, we hope both old and new readers enjoy it going forward. And the offer to answer questions still stands.