Six Months of Travels

A few days ago marked six months of international travel for me and B! Travelers often write about all of the things they’ve learned about the world in that time. We might eventually do that – though the best such post has already been written. Instead, I’m writing about all the things we’ve learned about ourselves.

Directions: If we’re going somewhere new, B should lead; if we’ve passed by a place before, N should lead.

B is better at reading maps. This is no surprise, since I often have to physically turn my phone to figure out which way I need to go at an intersection. I am also not really into maps when traveling. What if the most amazing thing in the world is on the next street, and we won’t see it because Google thinks that this street is slightly more direct? When I’m following a map, I check for the direction we need to head and then follow whichever streets seem interesting. Fun though it may be, this isn’t terribly efficient, and it’s downright maddening if we’re carrying heavy bags.

On the other hand, I have a ridiculous memory for landmarks like stores, signs, flyers, roofs, and other such miscellany. In other words, I not only remember having passed an intersection, but also which way we were going when we came upon it, what people we saw there, and whether certain stores were open or closed. It is ridiculous that my brain is filled with this information, but I can’t seem to push it out. I mean, I remember the location of a sandwich shop I visited in November of 2004 on a 24-hour stopover in London, despite jet lag and the ten years that have since elapsed! So, if we’ve walked in an area before, I take the lead.

Languages: If there is good communication to be had, it’s with B; if there is embarrassment and pantomime to be had, it’s with N.

B is better at pronunciation and grammar rules, Polish Languagewhile I routinely forget that ‘k’ is pronounced ‘sh’ in Swedish or that ‘cc’ is pronounced ‘ch’ in Italian. Once he learns a rule, B can apply it to other words or situations. On the other hand, if we don’t know the rule, I am not averse to making a fool of myself, trying any words I can think of. B is less willing to have people stare at him like he’s an idiot, as they do when the French word that I’ve Italian-ified is not anywhere near the real Italian word. He strives to use the correct word in the language of the people whose country we’re in. I mostly strive to be understood, whether that involves pantomime or end-of-word mumbling. Plus, I figure that the people I’m ‘talking’ to get to go home and regale their families with stories of the ridiculous and stupid girl they met earlier that day – and everyone needs a laugh.

Pet Peeves: N hates the smell of mildewy or musty clothes; B hates walking in the road.

Over the course of this time, we have developed new pet peeves that weren’t an issue at home. For example, most places we’ve stayed use drying racks, since they have no clothes dryers. In more humid areas, this has meant that our clothes haven’t dried fully, even after several days of hanging. The smell that these clothes take on drives me bonkers. It’s all that I can process, and I just want to rip the clothes off immediately. (Not always an option, as you might have guessed.) Towels are beset with this problem particularly often when traveling, and I hate having to use them when they smell like wet mold. Yuck.

B’s pet peeve, on the other hand, is more country-dependent: he hates walking where cars and motorbikes are. Regardless of how used to it these drivers are or how common this sharing of space is, B can’t focus when we’re on a road like this. He wants to get to a sidewalk where he’s not fearing for our collective lives (since I am, of course, quite blasé about it) as quickly as possible. In South Korea, even that isn’t infallible though, since motorbikes ride up on the sidewalk and even through the very narrow passages within an indoor market. This is likely to get worse as we move throughout SE Asia.

Activities: If B plans, the goal is thoroughness; if N plans, the goal is flexibility.

When I plan, I try to find all of the different things we might want to do or see in a place. I gather hours, costs, addresses, and whatever else makes sense, and I put together a big list. My expectation is that when we get there, we will do some – but not all – of the things, based on mood, weather, and new opportunities. I have no intention of trying to get to everything. When B plans, on the other hand, his list is more of a checklist. He becomes disappointed with the items we don’t get to, because he’s read about how cool each one is. This is one of the reasons that I do most of the city planning for our trip.

Walking Around LondonWalking: N really can walk to end of the earth; B can walk a long way, especially with rest breaks.

It has been said before (by my best friend, for example) that I could happily march to the other side of the world. I like meandering around cities, and I am perfectly content to keep walking, even when others would take a bus, subway, bike, or cab to reach their destination. I also enjoy it, which means that I may experience a 30-minute walk as only taking 20 minutes, a fact to which anyone who has walked with me can attest. B has adjusted to this tendency remarkably, simply asking that we take more frequent breaks than I would naturally think to take. He also revels in the complaints of any others who walk with us, happy to have backup in his attempt to prove that my walking stamina is abnormal. It’s all in his quest to get me to acknowledge that my idea of a stroll is most people’s idea of a for-charity 20k “walk.”

Privacy: We can survive for a long time in small, shared spaces.

If you had asked me at the start of this voyage how we would survive together, I would have said one-bedroom apartments and small side trips apart. Neither of these has been entirely feasible: that would be both expensive and lonely. Instead, we have gotten used to sharing a studio-sized space. As a result, B probably knows more about female grooming rituals than he (and I) would prefer, and we end up having to be on much more similar schedules. We likely know more about each other than others do after half a decade of marriage. Hello confined spaces. And yet, still hopelessly affectionate. A year of marriage and half a year of full-time travel, and our PDA still grosses out my sister. You’re welcome, M.

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