From the very beginning of our planning, we expected our Asia leg to be the most exotic and therefore most memorable of our initial three long trips. What we didn’t expect was how many once-in-a-lifetime experiences we’d be able to pack in and how many of them we could only describe as “magical.” While so much activity was slightly exhausting, we still found plenty of time to work and I think both found the three months in Asia to be professionally satisfying.
We learned so much from the first two legs that we were already starting to feel like experts in this travel life, but there were still a few key lessons we got from Leg 3 that will inform our future decisions.
Cheap Food Improves Our Quality of Life
We’d experienced really inexpensive, delicious food in Mexico (and really inexpensive ok food in Colombia), but Thailand and Bali brought it to a whole new level. Being able to get an amazing lunch at the nearby mall for just over $3 for the two of us got us out more for the midday meal and provided a great break to our day. There is something so satisfying about eating some of the best food you’ve ever eaten for a third of the cost of a drive-thru in the U.S. Even in Japan, which was generally more expensive overall, the low cost of fish brought some great culinary opportunities and our lunches out for conveyor belt sushi generally came in around $10 for both of us. We enjoyed all this extra eating out so much – our hearts are very much in our stomachs.
Watch Out for Bargain Airlines
I ended up booking nearly all our flights through Air Asia, which promotes itself as the world’s best budget airline for 10 years running. Our flights were ok – we always got to where we needed to go. But there was an extra layer of stress around flying with them, especially trying to meet their 7kg carryon luggage limit with all Chad’s electronics. I think in the future in Asia I’ll look more deeply into paying a bit more to fly more traditional carriers.
We Can Make a Studio Work with the Right Size and Layout
We’ve generally tried to ensure all our long-stay Airbnbs had at least one if not two bedrooms, but our 4 weeks in a studio apartment in Chiang Mai worked just fine. Even with my early-morning and late-night call schedule, we got by in a single room. It helped, of course, that it was huge and the way the furnishing was set up gave the impression of separation between the spaces. We were really surprised at how well we rubbed along in a studio. I guess we really like each other!
Japan is Our Favorite Country
We expected to love Japan, but we LOVED Japan. Yes, it is slightly expensive (especially compared to Thailand and Indonesia!), but it is worth it. Everything in Japan is quality, from the food to the infrastructure to our rooms. As I wrote about in my Osaka post, we were extremely comfortable there, but also had ample opportunities for unforgettable experiences. We now have an answer to the common question, “What is your favorite country?”
Vast Time Differences Make My Work Really Hard
I think I alluded to this in a few of my Asia posts, but with the work I do often being dependent on phone and video meetings with people in the U.S. that need to occur during their business hours, most weeks I’d have several mornings of waking at 3 a.m. to start my day with a 4 a.m. call, or staying up until 11 p.m. on a night call, or both (that didn’t happen too often). The time difference also impacted our communication with everyone, since work emails rarely could get a fast response and even family and friends were a little hard to catch (though texting with friends in the morning for me and evening for them seemed to work well). I’ll need to do some thinking on how best to manage my business when we return to Asia in a couple of years.
Three Months is Too Short
Our prior two legs were each four months long and by the end of each, we were really ready to go home and see our family and friends (especially me). Because Asia was going to be more expensive and other timing issues, this leg was only three months, and we definitely weren’t as ready to leave. We were still really excited to see folks, but this leg proved to us that 4 months is really the right fit.
This is Our Life Now
The end of this leg represents the end of our initial commitment to each other to give full-time travel a try. If we hadn’t loved this travel lifestyle, or if we weren’t making it work financially, we’d be going home for good now. Happily, this is not the case (see my What Have We Learned After One Year post for more details). But finishing our last originally planned trip is a bit of a milestone, especially knowing that in four short weeks we’ll be heading back to Europe.
Asia was just incredible and while it held challenges, we are looking forward to returning in a couple of years. We will always look back fondly on this, our first trip to east and southeast Asia.