*Disclaimer: Long term travel is certainly not for the faint of heart! This blog is about the not so fun parts of traveling in a truck; the way we often glorify travel, and the reality of its ups and downs, even if you’re living out your dreams. It’s about all the stuff I don’t post on social media because nobody likes a complainer and I would hate to come across as anything but 100% positive and happy. After almost a year of living out of a car, I think it’s high time I get some stuff off my chest. It’s not always easy, at least not for me.
Poco Y Poco
We’ve all been there; it’s the middle of the work day and you just realized you’ve been so busy you haven’t even eaten lunch yet. You finally have a minute to catch your breath, and suddenly your mind wanders. You begin to day dream about quitting your job, right then and there, leaving it all behind. Maybe finally giving in to that Wanderlust that everyone talks so much about, and essentially living “the dream”, however that’s defined for you.
Maybe your dream is like Andy Dufrain’s from Shawshank Redemption; living the simple life on a beach in Mexico, working on your boat, and waiting for Red to show up. Maybe it’s hiking to the top of Kilimanjaro. Maybe it’s jet setting to Argentina for a long weekend in wine country. Or maybe it’s traveling by train in Europe while eating baguettes and the finest meats and cheeses. Whatever “the dream” is to you, most people glorify it. They say it’s the best of the best. What could possibly be anything but great when you’re traveling the world and living out your dream. It’s a million miles away from that mundane routine we find ourselves trying to escape from. Well, I must be honest, now that I’m living devoid of routine, I sort of miss it.
For me, long-term travel is 80% UN-FREAKING-BELIEVABLE. You know, all that stuff I have been sharing online, but what about the other 20%? The long days of travel, the bickering…or better said…the screaming with your partner. The getting lost just before dark, or getting a flat tire, again, while it’s 95 degrees outside and you’ve been driving on an unpaved road for the past three hours. It’s those stomach bugs that sneak up on you in the middle of the night that knock you on your ass for at least 24 hours, usually longer. It’s missing your friends and family so much and wishing you could just go meet them for coffee (or maybe 6 glasses of wine). It’s having so much time, and more importantly space, to work on yourself and grow nearly every single day (come on…that can be really exhausting!). It’s gaining weight while your fiancé is just shedding pounds, and you keep thinking, “I hope I’ll still look good in my wedding dress I bought when I was 10 pounds lighter…”. It’s dodging erupting volcanoes because you woke up that morning lacking any common sense. It’s wanting to just be fluent in Spanish already!!!! It’s managing my anxiety so it doesn’t negatively affect either of our experiences. The list goes on, believe me, but I think you get the idea.
I’m sure as some of you read this, it’s not the most shocking surprise that traveling has been a bit of a roller coaster for me. The best times are when we’re really in the travel flow; smiling ear to ear, being totally in the moment, soaking in all the culture, laughing a lot, and living in a complete state of bliss. Then there are days when we’re traveling and I barely break a smile, that’s when you know I’m living in that 20%. I get down on myself when I’m there because I think of all the people that would kill to be doing what I’m doing, and how dare I be anything but happy at all times. Sometimes when I talk to my friends back home I won’t even tell them what I have going on inside because it seems so wrong to be complaining. However, I knew when we made this choice to travel that it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park.
Living this lifestyle has created so much space in my life, literally and figuratively! I was just recently looking back at my google calendar from this time last year and I had 5 or 6 things on my agenda each day. That didn’t even include working, paying bills, cooking dinner, going to yoga, remembering to meditate, or keeping the house in order. Now as I type this, the only things I have on my calendar are reminders to floss my teeth (yes, it actually works!) along with birthday reminders. Secretly, anytime I have a chance to add something to my calendar, I get a little excited! It feels good to have some sort of set plans, like I’m actually doing something with my life, even if it’s just a week of Spanish class that I clearly don’t need a reminder for. There was a small part of me that thought freeing myself from my google calendar would make my life a little easier, I quickly learned this wasn’t the case.
So, what does that mean for me? Well, in addition to being free to create my day however I see fit, when something comes up in my life that’s confronting, i.e. my anxiety, my mood swings, fights with Kevin, etc., I have no excuses for why I can’t tackle them head on. Even worse, when I am in a foul mood, I have nothing to blame it on (well, except maybe Kevin… 😉) I can’t use the excuse that I had a terrible day at work, or that I’m stressed out because I have so much on my plate. As humans, sometimes we try and place blame on someone or something else for our behavior instead of just taking responsibility for our actions. Believe me, there are some days when I just want to point my finger at the ocean and yell at it for being so blue, refreshing and magnificent! But at the end of the day, I can only point the finger to myself and it’s a pretty humbling feeling.
There has been so much reflection, so much meditation, so much journaling, so many self-help books, so many arguments, and so many realizations about my life up until this point. It’s insane and exhausting, but it’s also so beautiful. Life on the road is pretty confronting! I almost feel like I have a giant mirror that follows me around every day, just staring back at myself – warts and all (and I might mention a lot more gray hair than I had a year ago). That mirror comes in the form of Kevin as well. No one can see you better than the person you spend every single second of the day with, in a 6 x 10 box at that! As annoying as it might be at times, I do find it as a blessing that I am learning all of this, and especially that I am graced with the gift of time and space so I can look myself square in the eyes and say, “Bring it on”.
Speaking of looking at yourself in the mirror, let’s broach the subject of hygiene/personal appearance while on the road, shall we? As you can imagine it helps to be a very low maintenance person while traveling. I think the question I get the most from folks back home is “How do you shower?”. We haven’t turned into a couple of smelly people, well not all the time anyway. Showers are actually very easy to come by, albeit sometimes a bit grungy or only with cold water. Most campgrounds we stay at offer them, and thanks to technology and the handy dandy iOverlander app, if we’re ever feeling in need, we just look at our app and find a place that has them. Every now and then we get lucky with a spot that has unlimited hot water and it’s the most magical experience in the world! However, you take what you can get on the road and nothing says good morning like an ice-cold shower or jump in a river with a bar of soap and some shampoo. We probably shower every 2 days or so, which is more than I did back home! Let’s just say that after this trip, I am never going to take for granted a hot, mosquito free, clean shower again.
Then there is the subject of personal appearance. Sometimes I feel so FRUMPY! Back home I never wore much makeup so that transition was an easy one, but I literally have the same five dresses in rotation. Of course, it makes selecting what I am going to wear each day a breeze, and I’m not unhappy because I don’t have “more” (especially once I saw how the rest of the world down here lives), but sometimes it’s just boring. I catch myself often getting googly eyed looking at the dresses I see in stores, but I must remind myself that a.) we are on a budget and b.) I don’t really need it, I just want it. Personal appearance can be a touchy subject, but there is something to be said about feeling good in your clothes and the way you present yourself.
Every now and then when we have a hotel or an Airbnb I do a spa night; I do my own nails, wax my own eyebrows, use a face mask, dye my hair, etc. It’s fun, and for me, it’s part of being a girl. Prior to leaving I had a pretty extensive personal routine going: facials, brow wax, hair, mani’s and pedi’s… not to mention all the products I used. I’m sure there a lot of gals out there who have a list as long as mine, if not longer. It is such a great feeling to walk around with a fresh new haircut or recently pedicured toes. I mean, come on, your feet and legs are so smooth after! I have treated myself to some pampering on the road and it is wonderful, and so much cheaper then back home, I even got a great haircut for only $2.50!!! But just like the next topic I’m about to bring up, I know that this only temporary. At the end of the day, I’m traveling to experience the world, not decorate it!
Another not so surprising thing that has come up for me is that I really miss my friends and family! I am blessed with some of the best friends and family on the planet and being so far away from everyone certainly comes with its challenges. Having moved to San Diego in 2009 I’m certainly accustom to missing people – I have people I love across the entire country. However, it always soften the blow of missing anyone because of the unconditional 24-7 love and support I had in San Diego. It was so easy to just call anybody or walk five minutes in one direction and have a friend. I’ve realized I certainly took the ease of most of my relationships for granted, because damn, I miss it! Luckily, technology makes it very easy to connect and stay in touch. At first, it took my friends a little while to realize it is 2018 and just because I’m traveling doesn’t mean I’m unreachable! Of course, every now and then I go off grid, but I always come back. While I was in Mexico, I could get a sim card for 10 dollars a month that gave me unlimited calls to the US which helped me a lot.
It was a little challenging at first because all I had was Kevin, so it was like he became my girlfriend and my fiancé all at the same time! No partner should have to endure that and after that discovery I made sure I took the time I needed to chat with my friends and my mom. It helps me to hear about what everyone has going on in their lives, even if they tell me it’s boring compared to what I am doing. Even as I type this my eyes are starting to well up with tears because I am so blessed with so many people who love me and support me! It means so much when I hear from you all, whether it’s a text, email, phone call, smoke signal, or wizardly power! Something so simple that goes so far to me! It makes me so happy to know that when this is over, we are going to all be together at the biggest and best celebration ever… our wedding!
Another bump I’ve hit along the road is my love of food mixed with constant stomach issues. I’m going to preface this paragraph by saying I LOVE FOOD! I feel as though half of traveling is eating. I mean… how can I go to Oaxaca and not try the seven-different types of mole sauce, or the delicious homemade chili rellenos made with love from a recipe that has been in a family for centuries? When you arrive at a new town and ask the locals what to do, 9 times out of 10, they point you to a delicious food stand you have to try. Then when you meet other travelers, you find yourself discussing food within in minutes. “When you go to Puebla City you have to try this mom & pop Italian restaurant; the homemade pasta will change your life!” Homemade pasta you say? Sign me up! Then there are those days when you just want the taste of home, and no taco is going to fill that void. All you can think about is a juicy cheeseburger with a side of fries and a cold ass beer (sort of like that Jimmy Buffett song… you know the one!). Don’t worry, for all my fellow health freaks out there, I crave a giant bowl of leafy greens with all the fixins too, they’re just much harder to find. Something I’ve found interesting on our travels is usually the salads cost MORE than the entrée’s, and being on a budget, sometimes that can sway my decision. As you can see the food struggle is real for me!
Take my obsession with food and add my stomach problems and it’s a recipe for disaster. For as long as I can remember I’ve had stomach problems. I’ve spent years of my life doing research; going to doctors, trying different diets, getting blood tests, reading books, and so much internet research. I was so fed up with feeling like total garbage all the time that it even led me to doing a year of school to become a Holistic Health Coach. It was a long journey and I learned so much – many of my problems were related to the food I was eating. Growing up, I always hated the saying, “You are what you eat”, but I truly believe that now more than ever. I have so much knowledge in this brain of mine, mixed with my own personal experience, I could write an entire blog just dedicated to this. In fact, I plan on dedicating my life to this upon my return to the states. Anyway, the point is, I made a serious lifestyle change (FYI diets don’t work) and felt like I finally got my life back.
Suddenly I had more energy and I enjoyed waking up in the morning. I got into an amazing workout routine (thanks Alanna!), I treated my body with so much love and respect, I lost 20lbs (weight I didn’t even know I had to lose), I didn’t feel bloated or puffy anymore, my stomach pain/digestion issues had totally disappeared, and most importantly, I was an overall happier person! Finding the right foods that nourished my body (it’s different for everybody) was a game changer. I’d have friends that would say to me “You could get hit by a bus tomorrow and wouldn’t you regret not eating this delicious brownie!”. I wasn’t a total health freak, and was by no means perfect – life is all about balance and moderation – and I would splurge for sure, but I was so tired of complaining and feeling sick all the time. Getting my life back far exceeding the 3 minutes it would take me to inhale an entire brownie! Fast forward a year later to driving through Mexico and Central America with barely any routine in life and a limited supply of the foods I use to eat and you can imagine I am all sorts of out of whack!
Poor Kevin is certainly sick of hearing me complain about my stomach, but there are days when I just feel so crappy that I don’t even feel like doing anything. There were a few instances where I’ve literally been doubled over with pain, unable to even move. The worst part is I know I am doing this all to myself, but it is such a challenge to make the right food choices while on the road. I think I put up with it because I know it is all temporary, and I can confidently say I have all the tools available to me to get back on the wagon when all this travel stuff is over. There are certainly times when we cook a lot for ourselves and I’ll have a good week, but over the course of the past couple of months we’ve found ourselves in bigger cities. Usually that means we don’t have room to cook our own meals, and there are tons of awesome food spots to try! At one point, we did two weeks at a home stay learning Spanish that included 3 meals per day. To try and save money we ate there as much as we could stand, but I had two weeks of hell. You could guarantee that in every meal there was going to be bread, beans, white rice and tortillas.
On top of all of this, it’s pretty common to pick up parasites while traveling through Mexico and Central America. Because of this, I was SHOCKED to find out how easy it is to get your hands on a ton of holistic stuff to help treat a plethora of stomach issues: black walnut oil, tinctures, essential oils, apple cider vinegar, fresh ginger, probiotics, coconut oil, vitamins, charcoal powder, etc. You have to remember, we’re traveling through Mayan villages, these people are the best at living off the land and using herbs to treat all sorts of ailments. It’s been interesting to see! If you’re not a holistic kind of person, you can easily walk into the farmacia and get a prescription for amoebas, but they really only mask the problem and usually they return. What you really need is a week or two of totally clean eating mixed with some holistic remedies and you’re good to go. After doing my own research, I’ve learned that you pick up amoebas from unwashed fruits and veggies. I assumed it would be poorly handled meat, but not the case! Again, the only person I can blame is myself for my own food choices, and all that stuff is waiting for me with open arms back in Estados Unidos.
Trust me, I have a whole bag of tricks tucked away in the truck that can help ease my situation. It really comes down to having a tough time developing any type of routine on the road. Having time to reflect on that, I feel like as human beings, we need mundane routines to have our life make sense in a way. Don’t get me wrong, some weeks are better than others. It’s just not the same, our schedule is so inconsistent that it’s hard to keep anything really going for longer than a week. Even still with all my “complaining” I just did, I still wouldn’t change any of this for the world. Recently I’ve been telling some of my closest girlfriends to practice grace with themselves. Don’t be so hard on yourself and allow yourself the space to feel whatever it is you want to feel, even if it’s not unicorns shitting rainbows! After writing this I realize I need to take my own advice. I’m sure there are people out there (like Kevin) who tackle this whole travel thing so much differently (and have a stomach of steel!) so I don’t want to deter anybody from doing it, it’s just hard sometimes.
For me, traveling is summed up perfectly with “Poco A Poco”. I mentioned this in our last blog, it means “little by little”. I think it’s a wonderful way to approach life no matter what sort of course you are on – one foot in front of the other mindset. Life is amazing and you never really know where it is going to take you, or what lesson it’s going to teach you next. Reflecting on this past year, it has been an amazing journey (even with our volcano snafu!). I think I can speak for both Kevin and I when I say that we’ve gotten to do everything we’ve wanted to do thus far, along with so many things we didn’t even know we wanted to do! While there have been some bumps in the road for sure, we’ve always been on the same page in terms of travel plans, and I’m grateful for that.
As it turns out, we have officially turned around to bring our beloved Poppins back to the US and we will continue on without her! The original plan was to drive all the way down to Panama and either sell the truck or have one of our friends drive it back before continuing to South America. After MUCH dialogue, we decided that both of those options weren’t ideal. We thought we would at least make it down to Nicaragua, but with all the political unrest going on there, it’s not the best place to be, so, we turned around in Honduras. Now that the time has come, we’re a little bummed we are not continuing South, but we know we’ve made the right decision.
We will be reentering the U.S. just around our 1-year mark. We’re really excited, and we are, of course, making the most of the situation. We have a jam-packed month planned in the states that includes touring with our favorite band, checking out wedding venues, and seeing so many friends and family along the way! It makes me so happy thinking about all the people we will be seeing soon, but until then I will have my bag of holistic tricks, my five dresses by my side and I’ll just keep taking life “poco a poco!”