Tomorrow marks one year since David and I packed our bags (carry-on only!) for three months of adventure in Southeast Asia. It marks the start of a leave of absence to travel, something that many of my friends and family said would be impossible to do. People take leaves of absence to study, or time off to have kids, but to travel? Nobody does that… right?
Well, we did, and I don’t regret a second of it.
What Did We Learn?
Traveling is the greatest teacher I know. Not only do you learn about new cultures, experience exotic food and meet people that you’d never meet, but you learn so much about yourself as well. I learned that yes, I can climb a mountain in Sapa, even if I sprain my ankle on the way down. I learned that my husband and I are capable of spending three months together and still enjoy each other’s company… this was a serious concern going into it, people! I learned that I can definitely over-stress about the small stuff (I probably knew this before), but that a smile and an open attitude will typically get you where you’re going.
I learned that, as much as I love travel blogs by full-time travellers, I’m not meant to be one. I like my creature comforts, having a washing machine in my home and cuddling with my cats. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. But… I learned that every few years, I crave an extended adventure like an addict craves drugs. It seeps into my bloodstream, my thoughts, my dreams. There are ways, big and small, to feed this addiction, so we’ll be doing our best to keep the addiction in check while we start our family.
We also learned the joy of not planning, of not reading the guidebooks and of simply exploring. Bangkok stands out as one of these experiences for us. We were burnt out at the end of our trip, exhausted from being constantly on the go, and decided to shove our carefully planned itinerary to the side and simply explore. I look back on those three days fondly. We smiled, laughed and discovered. We relaxed. We wandered. I’ve done the same thing in Paris, just got lost, and it’s incredible how not having a plan really can make for the best memories. It can be tempting to over schedule yourself and to squeeze in every experience, but sometimes just taking it in like osmosis is the best travel teacher.
Was it Worth the Cost?
I painstakingly tracked every expense, every purchase, every cup of coffee that was consumed in three months to make sure future travellers had up to date (late 2014!) information on how much money a trip like this costs. This was the number one thing I heard from others. “I could never afford to take three months off.”
Fun fact, three months on the road (including rent back home), was not all that much more expensive than if we’d stayed in Canada.
Our grand total spent was $23,785 CAD for two people. To some people, that seems like a fortune, and I can understand why. Were we the ultimate budget backpackers? No, but we never claimed to be. We knew this was our biggest kick at the travel-can before babies, so we wanted to enjoy every second of it, to not turn down experiences like Elephant Nature Park, Halong Bay or learning to ride motorbikes in Laos with a cool Welshman.
Was it Really a Once in a Lifetime Experience?
This is the thing that grates on me. People say things like “once in a lifetime experience”, and that honestly depresses me. If it was once in a lifetime, then it’s over, done, finito. No, thank you. Is taking a leave of absence to travel going to be an annual expedition? Obviously not… for which I’m sure my employer is happy!
My next big adventure is motherhood. Granted, I didn’t expect to get pregnant so quickly after our trip (ahem – word to the wise, averages lie), so I’m starting my maternity leave in the same calendar year, but such is life. It happens.
I still expect to travel, but I’m not one of those travel bloggers that jets off around the world with their small children. Power to them. I admire the passion and the dedication. I think it’s incredible, but it’s not for me.
What will be for me, for our family, will be taking a month here or a month there to show our kids the world and help them become beginner backpackers. I have a dream of taking our kids to Argentina and Chile for a month or so. Why Argentina and Chile? Why not?
And you know what that means? It means that this isn’t just once in a lifetime, not for the Smith family. I refuse to wait until I’m retired to strap on my backpack again. Absolute refusal.