FAQ – What Did We Learn in Leg 1?

Full disclosure – I wrote this post just a few weeks away from the end of Leg 2, and then it has been sitting in wait until now, a few days into Leg 3. I guess one of the lessons I should have mentioned below is that it is harder than I thought to keep the blog up-to-date.

We have continued to learn a lot about ourselves, the world and how we like to travel. But, I really want to do a “What We Learned” wrap-up post for Leg 1 to build upon the prior two (at the one-month and halfway points), so I’m limiting my comments to what we learned in Leg 1 and our time at home immediately following. We actually learned quite a lot from our experience in Istanbul, which was the tail end of Leg 1, so even though months have passed, I still feel this is a relevant post. Without further ado, here’s what else we learned on Leg 1 (beyond confirming the lessons of the one-month and halfway marks):

Checking Bags Is Worth It To Us

It appears to be the great debate of nomad groups and message boards: checking bags versus carry-on only. There are a lot merits to going carry-on only if you can: you don’t have to wait in the check-in/bag drop line at the airport, a lot of flights require paying extra for checked bags, you don’t have to mill around baggage claim after your flight waiting on your bags. But, for us, having all the creature comforts we want on the road and not having to buy new stuff very often makes the checked bags expense and downsides worth it.

I think there are two main factors that prevent us from really considering a move to carry-on only. One is our love of cooking and the appalling state of knives you generally find in Airbnbs. Bringing our full-tang santoku knife with us has been a huge help to us in cooking. And, Chad’s office setup. He needs dual-monitors, external mouse and keyboard, and several hard drives to do his work. By the time this is all packed into his backpack, there really isn’t room for clothes or toiletries.

Reunited with my bag in Vienna, but oops I already bought that dress and a few other things

Since we’re checking our bags anyway, we upgraded to a larger suitcase when we were at home in October, so now have two sold mid-sized suitcases (in blue, for ease of recognition on the baggage carousel). This also allows us to bring full-size toiletries of the American brands we like (and extras!), additional kitchen items to supplement the things that tend to be missing from Airbnb kitchens, and a few more days of clothes (though we’re still pretty minimal here, as with shoes). Yoga mat, chess board, hiking sticks, badminton rackets, and resistance bands are additional items that fit best in checked bags but are important to our happiness.

So far, even when in long airport lines or feeling exhausted at a baggage claim, and even after the hassle of having one bag delayed at the beginning of Leg 1, we haven’t had a moment of regret for traveling heavier that most people.

We Need to Prioritize the Kitchen

My Rough Landing in Istanbul post outlines some of the challenges we had in that location, but one of the toughest was the kitchen in that apartment. We chose the place for the location, outdoor space and view, with the thought that we could “make do” with the kitchen. We learned in Leg 1 that location may not matter as much to us because we love to walk and access public transit, and outdoor space and view are nice to have but tough to enjoy when you’re struggling to make even omelets for dinner.

Tiny, hard-to-use kitchen

In the future, our Airbnb criteria start with a functioning kitchen with at least a mid-size fridge, real stove with two burners (preferably gas; we’ve never had a gas stove in any place we’ve lived until this trip and we’ve come to love it so much that we’re now actually in process of upgrading our Columbia home to a gas stove), decent counter space for prep and when possible, a microwave for reheating. We’ve become a lot more savvy about picking our Airbnbs and asking prospective hosts key questions about what is available. There is nothing like a challenge to teach you more about what really matters to you!

I Am Great at Budgeting

I am pretty chuffed about how spot-on I was with our Leg 1 budget. You can check it out in my prior “By the Numbers” post, but in summary, on a $15,000 total budget for Leg 1, we came in at $14,749 – a less than 2% budget variance.

How did we do it? One factor was on the pre-research. I used the website Numbeo to estimate grocery bills and local transportation. We booked most lodging well in advance, so the budget was based on those actual numbers in many cases, as well as with our main flights. Then I tried to be really conservative in my estimates and always give us extra buffer money in the budget so we wouldn’t feel deprived. And, we got some help from strong exchange rates, which I couldn’t have predicted (especially in Turkey).

The other factor in sticking to the budget was almost daily tracking. I recorded every actual expense within a day or two of making it and constantly compared budget-to-actual. So if one week we were a little over, we could adjust our choices (generally in dining out and activities) the following week to make it up. Although, I overestimated our time in Iceland by such an extent that we had a good buffer off the top that we never felt too much like we need to restrain ourselves.

Fancy drinks at WARMUP Budapest, a bar where they design a cocktail just for you

I strongly recommend budgeting and tracking in any type of travel, even vacations. What it tends to do for us is liberate us to feel like we can go out for $20 cocktails or a really nice dinner every now and then because we know there is room. I’m afraid otherwise, we (especially Chad) would spend all our time trying to see how little we can spend, and that is not the point of this lifestyle change to full-time travel.

We’re Currently Incapable of Bringing our Road Lifestyle Home

Our last lesson came during the fantastic 35 days we spent at home between Leg 1 and Leg 2. It was so nice to reconnect with family and friends and colleagues. But, pretty much immediately upon landing in the US, we fell right back into the old traps of over-scheduling, over-extending, and over-working. Even in the moment, we saw ourselves doing it but just couldn’t stop. Chad justified his 12-hour days with being on deadline. I justified mine with the need to drum up new clients for my consulting business. Even when visiting family, we couldn’t put down the laptops. I was taking an online class about online teaching while simultaneously revising the online graduate class I teach. Chad was in the throes of one editing project while trying to shoot footage for another. We just couldn’t help ourselves.

This was such a typical pose, working in PJs with my dog by my side, that Chad snapped a photo.

But, this was an affirmation to us that the road is where we need to be right now. We are far less prone to bouts of overworking and far, far less stressed out. We are achieving our three goals for this experience of less stress, more time together and seeing/doing awesome stuff. Someday I hope we’ll be able to bring the lifestyle we enjoy on the road home to Columbia, Missouri (while still traveling a fair amount too!), but we’re not there yet.

The ultimate lesson we learned in Leg 1 is that we can make this work financially (so far, so good!), so we’re grateful that we’re able to be where we want and need to be. We’re relying a lot on the support of family and friends (especially Chad’s parents who are the primary caretakers of our dog and our mail, my sister who is storing our car, and our excellent renters and property manager taking care of our home), but so far no one is complaining and we’re very happy in this life of travel.

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