And Four Traits that Make Us Not So Good Travelers

Because I am incredibly self-aware and always completely unbiased, I thought I’d follow up last Sunday’s post on the traits that make us good travelers with the other side of the coin. I already laid out some of my travel issues in an earlier post about why I wouldn’t be a good contestant on the Amazing Race, but here are four traits that both Jeff and I share.

1. We Like to Change Our Underwear Daily.
Jeff doesn’t always like to change his clothes every day, and I’ve been known to re-wear a thing or two, especially if I’m not going out in public or am unlikely to be seen by the same people who saw me wearing said outfit the first time, but we both agree that changing underwear daily is a good–and essential–thing. We own those Ex-Officio Underwear with the slogan “17 countries, six weeks, one pair of underwear,” and we’ve seen the many packing lists that claim there is no reason to take more than 4 pair of underwear. The reasoning being that if you take the right underwear (such as the Ex-Officio ones) you can easily wash them in the sink, dry them overnight, and put them right back on the next day. Sure, sounds good. But what about when you’re on that 7-day trekking trip, or you’re on an overnight bus? Yeah, you’re wearing dirty underwear. So though it’s good to know our underwear are up for the challenge of everyday wear, for our round the world trip we’re still packing 7 pairs each. We’re such over-packers.

2. We believe in the concept of the line.
Orderliness is good. Lining up…to buy tickets, to gain admission, to place an order…is a good idea. It imparts order to the process, keeps people from getting hurt, and promotes fairness. And though I think most Americans would agree with me, we are still a small minority. Other countries seem to like mobs and stampedes. Or if, by the grace of God, there is a line, people from these other countries see no need to stand in it. This is even true in Germany, which is, to many, the epitome of orderliness. Just go to Mass once there and see what happens. When it’s communion time, there’s no pew by pew procession to the front. No, sirree. Instead, it’s a mad dash, everybody at once, elbows flailing, as if the priest is going to run out of wafers. In a post about Latin America, fellow travelers at WanderingWhy confirm that this is also true in the countries south of the border.

3. We aren’t good at bargaining.
The bulk of the world expects you to haggle–over prices in the market, taxi cab fares, hotel rates…pretty much everything. Having grown up in a world where you pay the marked price period, we’re not used to that. Being averse to all forms of confrontation, bargaining is a true nightmare for me. And though Jeff is a bit better at it than I am, neither of us is particularly comfortable with it. Adding to the discomfort is the fact that almost everywhere we will be traveling, we’re far better off than the people who live here, and often what we’re haggling over is no more than a couple of bucks. It just seems wrong. But at the same time, it’s not good for us to hand over whatever amount is asked. We’ll feel like we got a raw deal, and we’ll also be negatively affecting the overall economy of that place. Though the seller will be a bit better off, every time he makes that first price, he’ll feel more and more justified in raising the cost until the market price is more than the citizens of that place can afford. Economics is weird.

4. We quickly get tired of eating out.
There are people who eat out every day. There are even people who eat out every meal every day. Others eat out a couple of times a week, once a week, once a fortnight, etc. We probably eat out about once a month. The rest of the time we cook. With eating out only about once a month, I look forward to it. I pick some type of food that we don’t prepare at home (usually sushi…mmm), and I enjoy the whole pomp and circumstance of eating out. But make me do that a few times in a row, and I’ll be annoyed. I get sick of the whole process…the looking through a menu, the waiting for your food, the dealing with the wait staff. I just want to cook what I want, put as much on my plate as I want, sit with my legs crossed under me if I want, talk about anything I want without fear of people overhearing me, get up from the table when I want, etc. After a week of vacation in which most meals are eaten out, all I want is my pantry, my dishes, my kitchen, my table. And while we do plan to cook when we can, it won’t be as frequent as I’d like I’m sure. It also won’t be the same. We won’t a stocked pantry to choose from–herbs and spices, jars of random things like fish sauce and curry paste, a selection of cheeses. We’ll only be able to buy what we plan to use immediately, and we’ll also have to work within the confines of the diet in the place we’re at…which will probably mean many things that we’re not familiar with nor have no idea how to cook. Hopefully we’ll learn. Otherwise, there’s always street food and picnics.

Four Traits that Make Us Good Travelers

1. We don’t let a little rain (or snow) on our parade ruin the day.
While in Denver for the birthday celebration, we had free time on Friday, so we decided to head to Red Rocks, on the outskirts of town. It wasn’t a particularly nice day–overcast with a few flurries though the sun would break through brilliantly every now and then. However, once we got there, it was looking decent, so we decided to do a 1.5 mile hike. We weren’t wearing hiking clothes, nor did we have winter coats on us, but what we had was suitable for a short hike in cold but okay weather. Unfortunately decent turned to blizzard a few tenths of a mile into the hike. We could have turned around, but we didn’t. There were cool things to see…gorgeous rock formations, lots of mule deer, and interesting plants. So we forged ahead, laughing at the total ridiculousness of the situation but in general enjoying ourselves…even though Jeff ended up with a hat of snow by the time we finished. (At which point, the sun promptly came out and the snow disappeared.)

2. We have an uncanny ability to entertain ourselves.
One thing you’re unlikely to hear from either of our mouths is “I’m bored.” (Unless I’m lying on the beach.) If we’re not busy with a specific activity, we always find some way to be engaged and/or amused, whether it be discussing things we have read or heard or capturing our very best sides on camera.

3. We get lucky more often than not.
We’re still waiting to win the lottery, so I guess we’re not the luckiest people out there, but we do seem to have luck on our side most of the time. Like when we managed to outrun the bus and make it aboard so that we could get to the Metro before it closed down for the night. Or the time we showed up at a sold-out Paul Simon concert without a ticket and were given two for free. Or the time the guy at the Phillies game handed us free tickets for seats 10 rows behind home plate. Or the time…

4. We have a knack for meeting *interesting* people.
Though I consider myself a fairly reserved person, I must look like a very open person, or else someone has pinned a “Please talk to me” sign to my back, and I haven’t figured it out. When I worked in Dupont Circle and ate my lunch in the park every day, I met everyone. I met the first black Grandmaster of chess. I met a really interesting musician named Raccoon who gave me his CD with the awesome song “Sandwiches” on it. And obviously, best of all, I met the Lord, at least that’s who he said he was, and really, who am I to disagree?

Things I Miss About Home

I wrote earlier about the tug of war between the comforts of home and the adventure of travel. Well, here are some of things I’ve been missing about the comforts of our home since I’ve been over here. And, really, this is a pretty simple list, as I don’t have many language problems and the culture is pretty similar. Just some minor quirks and things I think we do better back home. I’m sure we’ll revisit this list while we on our big journey and surely have many more things to add. But without further ado:

– a comfortable couch

– spicy food (when claim it is its only worse)

– “home cooking”, I know I was pleased with myself but its still not the same

– beers that don’t cost $10

– indoor temperatures above 65 (I don’t know this for a fact but it sure always feels cold … besides, they use these C things that I can’t translate =) )

– TVs with more than four channels (and that are always in English)

– a quilt and sheets

– March Madness and spring training

– non-rainy/snowy days (with the exception of last Saturday)

– non-motion sensing lights in my bathroom (you might think this is clever, until you have it go off every three minutes while hidden behind the shower curtain)

– Coke being the same price as Pepsi, and thus making my decision easy

– doors that open without pushing a button on the wall

– my nightly routine of the Daily Show and Colbert Report

my better half

That’s my list so far. For those who haven’t traveled, what do you all think you would be the hardest thing to give up? For those of you who have traveled, what was the thing you missed most?

Thoughts from the Weekend

The weekend was update-free here at LOW due to a trip down south, back to the alma mater, Rice University. It was the fourth biennial Rice Baseball Alumni Game. It’s always great to catch up again with all of the guys, seeing what they’re up to. New this time around was how just about everyone was now married and having children. Most of the guys I played with had pregnant wives or were already taking care of little ones (or both!). This is a strange duality to me because up here in DC, at 26, we are still considered very young to even be married. (On more than one occasion my ring has elicited a “weird …”.)

But as everyone was catching up, my future plans came up a lot when I mentioned I was finishing in the fall. (Theresa tells me I have to state this as a fact instead of saying “hopefully” or “if everything works out” or “I plan to.” I get the feeling she’s not interested in staying here too much longer …) And so I launched into our plans of world travel and exploration. Which got the same kind of response that I get when I say I’m married in DC. In all fairness, one kindred spirit had recently finished his own round the world trip (and we had a great conversation with him), so the response was not completely unanimous.

A lot of the guys (and girls) responded by saying they had never even left the country, and didn’t really understand why you possibly would. Now some of this comes from the typically Texan idea that nothing could ever be better than Texas, but it also was about security, family and comfort. It was pretty clear that we were currently on two different paths. Theresa likes to talk about wishing she could run two parallel lives … well this was it, exemplified. All of my Houston friends had married, settled down and were starting families. They had support networks of family, lifelong friends and good jobs (at least well paying if not completely satisfying). They knew which restaurants had the best steaks, and where to go for fajitas. They never got lost driving around the city, nor did they have to deal with the hassles of public transportation. Meanwhile, here were Theresa and I, who couldn’t wait to quit our jobs/finish our programs and leave all that comfort and security behind so we could run around the world with only what we could carry on our backs. Now who are the crazies? You have to admit, at times staying put makes a pretty compelling rational argument.

The point is, I guess, that it is all a matter of personal preference, and really has little to do with rationality. (This is probably much too tolerant a statement to put on the internet.) My friends would be happy staying right where they are, in the same house, in the same neighborhood, in the same city, the rest of their lives. They have no desire to wander. And there are times when I wonder why that isn’t enough for me too. But for whatever reasons, that just doesn’t cut it. I need to explore. Deal with getting lost. Have the enjoyment of “discovering” the best restaurant in a new place. Slowly and painfully come to understand a completely different culture. Befriend all the wacky and interesting people you meet. Survive the bizarre events that inevitably occur. And feel invigorated by it all. Because a routine just does not inspire me the way an adventure does. So, anyway, thanks for listening while I justify how I am. I hope it made some sense to you.

Now, all that being said, my friends, the ones perfectly happy to never leave their hometown, are exactly the ones we need to convince to travel. As a case in point, one of our friends didn’t realize there were not feeder roads off of every highway (Houston is pretty much the only city I know that envelops every highway with another two lanes of “local” traffic on each side). It’s both interesting and useful to be exposed to a number of different ways to solve problems, mainly that there are other ways. You start to see things from other perspectives. And if you still like things like “home,” you appreciate it more. So it enriches your hometown as well. I know when I travel, I appreciate all the little things I often take for granted when I return (everything from free public restrooms to a good hamburger to signs in English). So we did our best to convince everyone that it would be great idea to travel themselves. I think we convinced nobody. But whaddya gonna do? They all have little rugrats running around. That’s why we’re still on the rolling five year plan with kids. We still have too much wandering to do ourselves.

My Amazing Wander Is Better Than Your Amazing Race

I’ll go ahead and admit it right now—I used to want to be on the Amazing Race. In fact, I wanted to be on it so much that I actually applied—video, forms, the whole nine yards. But I didn’t hear a word. It was crushing.

Not so crushing, however, that I didn’t try again. I figured that Jeff, whom I first applied with, was the weak link, so I ditched him and applied with my brother Gregory. And though I willed my phone to ring by staring at it all day every day for two full weeks, it never did. Again, it seems that my partner just wasn’t up to par.

(Hold on, what’s that I hear you whispering? You think maybe I was the problem. Um, no, you’re wrong. It definitely wasn’t me. In fact, I think the truth is that the reason I never got a call was that the producers, upon seeing my application, were completely overwhelmed by me and certain that I would absolutely crush any competition, making the show not all that interesting for its viewers. Oh, to be as talented as I am…)

Anyhow, as the show has moved from season to season, my interest has waned, and I’ve gone from being obsessed with getting on the show to watching the show if I happen to have the time. I’m just not invested anymore. I think part of it is the realization that while the show’s contestants travel the world, they don’t really get to see much of it. It’s a race after all, and the goal isn’t to see the scenery or get to know a local or enjoy foreign cuisine. The goal is to accomplish whatever task you’re given as quickly as possible, whether that task is milking camels, consuming pounds of caviar, or running roughshod all over town in search of a hidden clue. The other reason for my slackened interest is my realization that maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t actually do that well. Let me tell you why.

1. I don’t perform well on little sleep. I need to get my ZZZs, otherwise not only am I a huge grump-monster, I’m also completely useless. Even as a kid, I wasn’t interested in staying up all night. At sleepovers, I’d stay up just long enough for someone else to fall asleep first and thus be subjected to whatever pranks the other kids could come up with. Once the toothpaste was all over the other kid’s face or their hand was in a bowl of hot water, I was in my sleeping bag and asleep. In college, I never even once pulled an all-nighter. I always figured a good night’s sleep would do me better than a few woozy hours of cramming

2. I do even worse if I don’t get to eat on a regular basis. When I get hungry, I want food NOW. Just as with lack of sleep, a lack of food makes me grumpy. And I have a problem that I call jello legs because when I need food, my legs get to feeling like jello and I feel as if I’m going to collapse. Not good for racing.

3. I can’t stand obnoxious people, and if you have ever watched the Amazing Race, you’ll find that most seasons have a good share of people I’d place into this category. This is reality television after all. Conflict is good for ratings. Stupidity might even be better for ratings.

4. I hate losing. If I ended up being eliminated from the Race, you can bet I wouldn’t be happy about it. No way I’d stand there jumping up and down and cheering for the winning team like all the eliminated losers do on every season’s finale. I think I’d stick my leg out and trip them instead.

So take that Amazing Race. I don’t want to be on your show anyway. Rather than getting paid a million dollars to run around the world like a chicken with my head cut off, yelling at cab drivers, cursing everyone who doesn’t speak English, and screaming at the top of my lungs about how much I hate my partner (oh yes, all common Race occurrences), I’ll pay my own way so that I can move at my own chosen speed. (And sleep and eat when I need to, get away from obnoxious people at my first opportunity, and not have to worry about my sore loser tendencies.)

What Kind of Traveler Are You?

We all have our own travel style. Some of us find that one place we love and go back to it year after year, while others of us can’t imagine going back to somewhere we’ve already been when there’s a whole world of places we haven’t been awaiting us. Some of us like the luxury of a star-filled sky as viewed from the tent we pitched in an isolated wilderness, while others of us prefer the luxury of a down-filled pillow as experienced from the bed of the Ritz in a bustling city. Some of us brave the revenge of Montezuma to consume local street chow, while others of us search for a restaurant exported directly from America. It all depends on what you’re comfortable with and what you want to get out of your travel experience.

Recently, while perusing the Washington Post’s Travel Blog, I became aware of a man named Stanley Plog, who has spent decades doing market research for the travel industry. He’s made finding out your travel style his job, so that companies can market to you and ultimately get you to invest your dollars in their products or services. As part of the process, he’s created a fairly standard bell curve of six categories into which travelers can be classified. Let me give you a brief synopsis.

  • Authentic Travelers (3% of the population): Prefer to go to places with established reputations, with similar amenities to home. Prefer group travel and often book tours. Prefer chain hotels and restaurants and often return to the same location. Travel less than other groups.
  • Mid-Authentic Travelers (17% of the population): Like Authentics, prefer to go to popular places and often return to the same place thought you’re slightly more likely to change things up. Prefer to drive rather than fly. Prefer good weather locations. Often prefer to stay at home and enjoy your own backyard, bbqs with friends, and other activities rather than travel.
  • Centric Authentic Travelers (30% of the population): Fairly broad travel interests but more middle-of-the-road. Prefer safe instead of the unknown. Like outdoor activities, but not necessarily adventure activities. Family travelers seem to fall in this category most often. Enjoy beaches and good weather destinations. For foreign travel, may prefer to do a tour.
  • Centric Venturers Travelers (30% of the population): Tends to mix things up–will travel by car or plane, stay at a mix of lodgings from B&Bs to motels to top hotels, etc. Enjoy going to cities with a fairly well developed infrastructure but doesn’t like over commercialized places. Returns to favorite places but only after a few years. Flexible, adaptable, and enjoys a diversity of places.
  • Mid-Venturer Travelers (17% of the population): Seeks out new places, prefers each trip to be different from last, enjoys historical locations. Likes adventurous travel but at night prefers a hotel room and restaurant to camping. Prefer to have an itinerary with places to visit and a schedule.
  • Venturer Travelers (4% of the population): Like to visit unknown and uncommon destination. Do not like tours or rigid itineraries. Attracted to unique cultures and adventure travel. Travel more often to more places than other people.

Aside from the face that the percentages add up to 101% (I’m sure some rounding was involved), it sounds pretty plausible. The question is where do we fit into it? Perusing the categories, I’d say that Jeff and I most likely fall somewhere between Mid-Venturer and Venturer. We seek out the new, the exotic, the unknown. We like adventure travel. We travel frequently. We don’t need hotels or restaurants and in fact, love to camp. All of this seems to put us in the Venturer camp. I will admit, however, that I am not completely free-spirited and do love me a good list, which would move me a bit in the direction of Mid-Venturer. And if all travelers are supposed to fit in this grid, I can’t imagine that we’re in that tiny 4% of the most adventurous travelers. After all, we aren’t those super hardcore people you read about in Outdoors Magazine or National Geographic Adventurer–the crazy people who heli-ski, scale the entirety of Mt. Everest, swim the length of the Amazon, take a dip in the waters of Antarctica, etc.

So that’s what I’d speculate. To find out for certain where I fit, I went to Mr. Plogs website and took his supposedly very scientific survey, which asks me to use a scale of 7 options from Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree to reply to 15 statements and then uses a logarithm to determine into which category I fall. As it turns out, I’m a Mid-Venturer. Though some of the statements don’t really sum me up very well, it seems to be a relatively good fit. It was then Jeff’s turn to take the quiz, and I figured (wrongly) that he’d be the same. He actually ranked as a Centric Venturer, which neither of us thinks is a very good fit for him.

I find it a little silly to think that something as simple as 15 questions can determine what kind of traveler you are, especially 15 questions that don’t have a simple yes/no answer but require you to self-rank of a sliding scale. I’m a person of extremes, so most of my answers were either strongly agree or strongly disagree or the rank right next to those. To me, the middle numbers on the scale make little sense. Jeff, on the other hand, doesn’t self view himself as extreme in any measure so he hung close to the middle for almost all answers. If we actually discuss the statements outloud, however, we have very similar viewpoints. (I’d say our major difference would be in the questions about level of socialness as he is certainly much more outgoing than I am.)

Anyhow, the whole idea of it is interesting, even if the results aren’t, in my opinion, all that exact. I guess it would be unwise to expect more, considering the whole idea is to generalize the entire population into 6 categories. There’s always going to be some outliers.

So now for your assignment: Go take the survey (Plog Travel Personality Quiz in the middle of the banner toward the top), then come back and post your results in the comments along with your opinion about whether or not you think it’s a good characterization of you. And no one is excused from this assignment…that means all you lurkers too…ahem Inga.

(In all seriousness, if you read our blog, we’d really appreciate it if you would leave comments, regardless of whether we know you or not, whether you comment on other blogs or not, whether you’re scared I might bite… We’re trying to create a dialogue here, so please share your thoughts.)

The Worse Half?

So it seems I’m called on to talk a little about myself. Having never kept up a blog before (I’ve started probably 4 that ended after one post), this is all new to me. So expect some growing pains … not all of us can be the blogging expert (nor the superb writer) that my wife is. So with out further ado … all about me!

Who am I?
I’m Jeff, 26, former high school quarterback, former college baseball player, current science nerd. I’m Hawaiian — only in the sense that I was born there. I now claim another island, Bainbridge Island, as home. I’m half Swedish and have the IKEA furniture to prove it. I follow baseball and the Seattle Mariners religiously, and football only slightly less religiously.

What do I do in the “Real World”?
I am pursuing a Ph.D. in Neuroscience. The program is a relatively new joint program between the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD and Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. That Swedish background is useful after all! If you’re not a science dork, skip the next two sentences. I’m studying the cell biology of Parkinson’s disease, focusing on the protein DJ-1 and oxidation. And if that got you excited, this is what I’ve published (except for the one random nursing paper that stole my name). OK, now everyone’s back. I plan to finish and defend my thesis next summer, just before we take off on this adventure. It’s gonna be a great time for a break.

What places am I most excited about experiencing?
1. Galapagos Islands — As a fan of all things biologically inclined (and islands), how could this not be #1 on my list. I just hope it’s not overrun with people and we can really experience it. And that we can afford to go there.
2. Nepal — It’s been such a spiritual, mythical, and beautiful place.
3. Serengeti National Park — I told myself I wouldn’t overlap with Theresa, but c’mon, it’s a frickin’ safari! In Africa! With elephants! And rhinos!

What am I most looking forward to?
I’m looking for the constant adventure, the changing situations and circumstances. It’s something you don’t get on daily basis when your routine is getting up and going to work. But when every day is something new, well, that truly is something to look forward to.

What am I most worried about?
Logistics. I’m not a logistics person. Fortunately and unfortunately, my wife is. So we’ll be well planned, but we’ll probably have our share of arguments about it. That and the runs.

So there’s your first introduction to me, I’ve got more, but how will we keep you coming back without the suspense?

Introducing Me, The Better Half

Since we’re expecting this blog to be BIG TIME, with readers who aren’t my family members (Hi Mom, Dad, Matthew, Gregory, and Mark!) or the other five or so regular and commenting readers of my, um, less popular blog Spargel (Hi Laura, Megan, Anne, Lisa, and Jessica!), we thought we’d each do a little self-interview so people know we are. Reveal a bit about who we are in the real world, what we’re looking forward to on this trip, how we ended up so crazy as to think that we could and should do this. You know, the good stuff.

Who Am I?
I am Theresa. I am 26 years old. I am the wife of Jeff, the sister of Matthew, Gregory, and Mark, the oldest child of Mary Jane and Terry. I am a Kentuckian, born and bred, but I currently live in Bethesda, Maryland. In the interim, I have lived in Houston, Texas; Freiburg, Germany; and Athens, Greece. I am a pisces who doesn’t put much stock in astrology. I am a Rice University alumna, a Sacred Heart grad, a St. Athanasius Hornet. I am a wanderer.

What Do I Do In the “Real World”?
Currently I work as an editor at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. I have had this job for over one year, which is a record for me, if you don’t count the three seasons I worked at the Louisville Zoo in high school. Since graduating, I have also been a Teaching Fellow at Athens College, an intern at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and a program assistant at The Children’s Partnership. Though all of these positions have had their interesting moments, none really captured my passion. They were jobs, a way to make money, a means to make this trip happen.

This year, I’ve also begun to make money as a freelance writer. This, to me, is more than a job. It’s something I enjoy. One day, my only job title will be writer. Maybe even novelist.

What Places Am I Most Excited About Experiencing?
1. Patagonia. I think the landscape will be awesome. I can’t wait to do some trekking and to get up close and personal with this kind of natural beauty.
2. Serengeti National Park. I’ve always wanted to do a safari, to see the wild in the wild.
3. Vietnam. Growing up I don’t think I ever thought of Vietnam as a real place. It was an abstract, a synonym for war. I want to experience it as a real place with real people.

What Am I Most Looking Forward To?
I’m excited about investing time in getting to know a place, in being a traveler and not a tourist, in meeting people and learning about their lives, their hopes, their beliefs, in making connections. I’m also excited about sharing all of this with Jeff.

What Am I Most Worried About?
I don’t know if it’s a worry so much as something I know I need to be aware of. When I travel with someone else, I tend to hang back and let the other person take care of things, especially encounters that have the potential to be trying or difficult or result in some form of “rejection.” Not only is this not fair to the other person (aka Jeff), it also inhibits the kind of personal growth that these trips inspire. So I have to make a conscious effort to be less reserved and to push my own levels of comfort.

I must also admit that I’m not really looking forward to squat toilets.

And on that lovely thought, I’ll sign off for now. Jeff, your turn.

Welcome to our Blog

Before you read this, read “about this blog” to the left. No, left! Stop reading this! Ok, that was your first primer as to what this blog is about. Here, I’m going to expound on that a little. This blog will be very multifaceted. It will be a way to keep our thoughts in line as we plan. It will be our connection to home while we are traveling. It will be a place to share stories of all our adventures, big and small. It will be an enduring memory for us of our trip. And when you decide you’re tired of sitting around just reading about amazing adventures and want to have your own, it will be a great reference for you to plan your own trip. Or so we hope. But above all it will be entertaining, Theresa will see to that. So enough with the intro, let the entertainment commence.