As you might expect, returning from a year of travel we were met with a lot of questions. Everyone seems very interested in our travels at first, but after a couple hours of us rambling off about “that one time in ____ when ____ happened,” we start to notice some eyes glazing over. So we’ve tried to narrow down our story to the three questions that we’re asked most often. Here they are:
1. What was your favorite place?
Seriously?! What an impossible question to answer. We hate you just a little bit for asking that…
The truth is, we don’t really have a favorite. Each region we visited offered us something unique and we love them all for the little unforgettable moments we experienced. That said, there were some highlights:
It’s not just that everything in Malaysia was absolutely delicious, but more the fact that it was all so new and unique. For whatever reason, Malaysian cuisine never made the jump across the ocean and people in the west have been totally missing out! The marriage of culinary influences from China, India and the Malay region is truly remarkable and is not to be missed for any foodie. Some of the most notable dishes are outlined here.
Island life: Philippines
A little removed from the standard traveler circuit, the Philippines has hands down some of the best beaches and islands in the world. What makes the Philippines particularly unique is that there’s always a sense of some undiscovered hidden location just around the corner. So much of the country is still undocumented in the travel community, and as the tourism industry there grows (and it is rapidly growing), there’s sure to be more and more world class island and beach locations discovered.
Nepal is an adventure junkie’s playground, and not only is the country absolutely stunning, but the Nepalese are some of the most hospitable and friendly that we have ever met. We spent most of our time hiking from teahouse to teahouse along the iconic Annapurna Circuit a few miles above sea level. It was one of the most ambitious achievements of the year and we cannot wait for another Himalayan adventure some day.
We found it critical this year to constantly push our boundaries and challenge ourselves, but over the course of three months in India we came close to pushing those boundaries too far. Some of the everyday amenities and social courtesies we’ve come to expect growing up in the west were completely flipped upside down. Simple things like going to the bathroom, crossing the street, not stepping in poop, hailing a cab, bumping into a cow or asking for directions became real challenges in India. While it was almost always uncomfortable in India, we left the country with some of our starkest memories, good friends and most important lessons from the whole year.
All around: Thailand
I must admit, I had some preconceptions about Thailand. I expected it to be overrun with tourists, depleted of any opportunity for authentic experience. In some ways, parts of Thailand were like that, but after spending over three months there, I’ve learned to accept it for what it is: a truly beautiful place with some of the happiest and friendliest people on the planet. While the more famous destinations in Thailand are, as expected, absolutely swarming with elephant pant donning “farangs” (Thai word for westerners), there is still plenty of opportunity to get off the beaten path and discover something truly unique. In the end, Thailand was hands down the easiest, cheapest and most comfortable place to travel in the whole region (with some amazing food to boot). Plus, it’s where we got engaged, so we’re a little biased.
2. Are you guys really married now?
If you don’t already know, this question refers to a surprise birthday present that Chrissy gave me back in May (probably the most memorable birthday present I’ll ever receive). The night before the surprise Chrissy reveals to me (me completely unsuspecting) that we would be getting married the following day (we were already engaged) and that the wedding would be hosted by a local Tharu village in southern Nepal.
I know what you’re thinking: WHAT!?! that kind of surprise would never fly with me! Well luckily Chrissy knows me pretty well and knew that I would be ecstatic about the whole thing! So after a brief ox-cart procession across the river to the village, a few hours of seemingly random ceremonial gestures (throwing handfuls of flower pedals at shrines of multiple deities, walking around a fire a few times, etc.), dancing around to Bollywood music and eating dal bhaat with our hands, we were officially married according to the Tharu tradition!
For us, the whole thing was more symbolic in nature, and a chance for us to celebrate our union in a fun and unique way. So to answer the question, no we are not yet officially married in the USA, and we still plan to have a more traditional western wedding at home in Austin, Texas to share the experience with our families and friends. Hopefully when that day comes, we are able to integrate some of our favorite elements of our first wedding in Nepal; I’m already interviewing a few ox-cart drivers in the Austin area.
3. Was it hard to not talk for 10 days during your meditation retreat?
It’s surprising to realize that most people had expected the hardest part of the meditation retreat to be…just…not talking. If I hadn’t reached a state of blissful enlightenment, I’d be a little offended (joking). But in all honesty, the not-talking thing was probably the easiest part of the whole retreat.
What most people don’t realize about these meditation retreats, is that meditating all day is not all peaceful vibes, relaxation and harmony. It’s extremely physically and mentally demanding, especially for westerners like us who are not accustomed to sitting cross-legged on the floor for long periods of time. To this day it’s one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, and I’ve done some pretty tough stuff. I’ve never been so close to quitting anything in my life, and many people do quit.
I had some of the most extreme back pain of my life; I developed an eye-twitch; and when I finally had a breakthrough in the meditation, I just about had a mental freak-out when someone’s nearby cough jolted me to consciousness. I began getting paranoid that I was screwing around too much with my internal wiring and would end up going cuckoo.
You wake up at 4:00a.m. every day, sit on the floor for ten hours concentrating as hard as you can on your most basic sensations, only pausing periodically for meals (only two vegetarian meals a day). You never interact or make eye contact with anyone, have no physical activity except for walking laps around the grounds, and then you go to bed exhausted after 9:00p.m. only to wake up the next morning at 4:00a.m. and do it again… for 10 days!
The follow up question we often get on this topic is: Did we come away from the retreat as changed people? Well, not in the way you’d expect. There wasn’t some grand epiphany or spiritual breakthrough. There was no levitation or astroprojection. We’re not motivated to donate all our worldly possessions (which are few) and commit to living the life of a monk. But the change we experienced was much more subtle, and more profound. We learned the value of silence. We learned how escaping the commotion of life for a couple hours can really give you some time to reflect and identify your values. It was a rare opportunity that I don’t expect we will ever have again, and although it was challenging, and painful at times, it’s an experience we wouldn’t have traded for the world.
We get many more questions than this, but these are definitely the three most common. If you have any other questions for us, we’re always eager to talk about our travels. Feel free to send us an email or leave us a comment!