July 3rd, 2012. Our second anniversary.
Now I know what you are thinking:
“Didn’t you guys just celebrate your first anniversary like two weeks ago?”
Well, yes, you are right… but that was our travel anniversary. 365 days on the road. That sort of thing. Today is the “Skott, do you take Shawna for better or for worse and vicey-versa” anniversary.
It’s true… two years ago today we weren’t really dressed as backpackers. I was a little more formal. And Shawna…. well, it’s actually impossible to tell you how incredibly beautiful my bride was looking. I was the luckiest man on the globe.
And so what better way to start our lives together, than to pack our collective worlds up into a couple of backpacks, quit our jobs (thus eliminating all forms of income), and place ourselves into as many foreign, unfamiliar, and bizarre situations we can possibly think of in places on the earth that are so different from our lives back home it would make you pee your pants with fright and worry.
Yeah, if you want to find out whether or not you are meant to be with the boy/girl you are with, give it a shot, it will put those pre-maritial classes to shame. I promise.
Early on in our trip, it was clear there were others who thought we would have a few challenging days ahead of us as well. Check these encouraging messages out:
“You have to recognize there is a good chance you will be home in six weeks”
“You are totally going to get divorced”
“Shawna will probably come back with a baby, but it might be black”
Talk about warm and fuzzy, eh?
Now truthfully, all the above were meant as jokes, and we took none of them too seriously. Except maybe the third one… African babies are rather adorable, and so I do secretly hope that somewhere in my German-Ukrainian background, or Shawna’s Scottish-Welsh heritage, there might be an African gene which has been recessive for the past couple of generations, deciding to become dominant just in time for us to start a family. Unfortunately eight out of ten geneticists tell me this is not possible, so let’s not hold our collective breath.
Yet in spite of any and all challenges put in front of us Shawna and I have been roaming the earth together for over a year. And when I say ‘together’, I am not kidding. We wake up together, eat breakfast together, have coffee together, explore the city together, cook together, plan our next destination together, surf (both the ocean and the internet) together, watch movies together, Skype together, meet new people together, try new foods together, ride bikes, trains, buses, camels, elephants, tuk tuks, and taxis together, laugh together, study Spanish together, discuss the future together, and even do absolutely nothing together.
That’s a lot of together. A very 24-7 sense of togetherness.
And right now, you are probably expecting me to say that it has been the most phenomenal year of our lives….
(and it has been)
…and that this is undoubtedly the greatest honeymoon we could have asked for…
(okay we admit, we are dragging this whole honeymoon thing out a bit, but yes…still 100% true)
…and that it is the easiest thing in the world, and we haven’t argued or fought about anything. Not even once…
*sfx* SCREEEEEECH! *sfx* (brakes are pressed, wheels locks, we come to a halt)
Okay, you got us. We confess. We haven’t always seen eye-to eye, as they say. We have had our fair share of fights, arguments, and debates on this trip. Absolutely. In fact there have been moments when we have both acted in ways that could have been considered rude, childish, vindictive, and annoying.
Not cool. But it happens right? It is bound to.
We are two independent and strong (aka stubborn) people who consistently enjoy our way being the only way. As much as this attracted us to each other, it is also part of what can set us at odds on certain topics. I, for example, believe a nudist colony can be a cultural experience. Shawna doesn’t quite see it that way, and is quite unwilling to bend on this point. These things happen.
But these disagreements are as much a part of a marriage as all of the mind-blowing, incredibly fantastic, holy-smokes-you-are-so-awesome moments are.
And I am very thrilled to report back to you that there are waaaaaay more of the mind-blowing, incredibly fantastic, holy-smokes-you-are-awesome moments than there are anything else.
And so, on our second anniversary, I figured this was as good a time as any to reflect a little on how we have managed to pull this off so far.
1. No Dorm Rooms Allowed
There are many wonderful things about dorm rooms. Actually scratch that, there is maybe one positive attribute to dormitory accommodation. In theory you meet fellow travellers a little quicker. (I suppose it’s nice to know a fella’s name before you spend the night sleeping on top of him.) But other than that, dorms are without virtue, especially for couples. Sleeping on separate mattresses two feet apart with dirty socks between you, squeaky springs above you, and a 65-year old farty German lady shaking the walls with her snoring on the other side of the room does little to bring a couple closer together. And so for us, we have chosen to wherever possible, say ‘no’ to dorms.
Of course to every rule there are exceptions. During our Camino de Santiago, we were left with little choice but to sleep in dorms. We did make sure that in a few of the bigger cities however that we spoiled ourselves with a well-deserved hotel room. And in Jerusalem, the accommodation prices were ridiculous, especially after coming from Africa, so we opted for dorms for a few nights as opposed to paying $80 a night for our own room.
2. Enjoy A Little Solo Time
Travelling together is an incredible way to further develop and strengthen your relationship, but it is also important to ensure you are also growing as an individual at the same time. It is healthy to take an afternoon every once and a while and do your own thing. You don’t have to do everything together. If Shawna wants to go for a run, and I want go for a ….nap… no worries, I’ll meet you for dinner!
In April, we took things to a whole other extreme, when Shawna went to Indonesia and then Vietnam for 21 days with Carly and Marissa while I stayed in Thailand for my meditation retreat and a little scuba diving. We didn’t really decide that we wanted to be separated for that long, but as I was unable to convince the girls that ten days of complete silence and rice porridge would be fun, that is just how it worked out. We missed each other, of course. But we reunited in Bangkok with a whole new sense of adventure.
3. Money, money, money
This is apparently the number one reason for arguments between couples when they are NOT travelling, so I suspect the same holds true for couples on the road…especially considering that taking the time to travel usually means you are not taking that same time to earn a salary.
Before embarking on this journey of ours, we knew we needed a budget. Having never done anything like this before, we randomly picked $100/day (not including international flights). It seemed like a nice, round, manageable number - a budget we could live with.
However, despite the fact that we both agreed on this number, for the first several months of travel, I was always trying to live just a little bit cheaper. Which is fine, except that I failed to share my budgetary vision with Shawna. This probably would have been a wise idea. If one of us is believing our budget to be $100/day, while the other one is secretly hoping we can bring it to under $80 it can lead to frustrations…obviously.
My other mistake was that I had become a little bit of a control freak, when it came to recording our budget. Sure, if we are tracking things it is important to count all your pennies. But I kept on gathering this information at really awkward times. A word to the wise fellas, if your wife wakes up in the morning and gives you a big hug and a kiss, the first thing out of your mouth should NOT be “Do you remember how much your shampoo cost yesterday?”
As far as spending goes these days, we realize that this is our money. We both saved it, and so we are respectful when it comes to spending it. If one of us is making a major purchase (when you are travelling, a major purchase is usually anything over $25), we will run it by the other first just to make sure we are on the same page. Other than that, we remain aware of our spending, without letting it control us or prevent us from doing things we really want to do. If we have to go home early because we overspent a little, we have both decided we will be comfortable with our fate.
5. Practice Extra Patience, Especially on Travel Days
If only a person could travel around the world, without actually having a ‘travel day’. Travel days nearly always involve us waking up with too little sleep, spending the entire day (or several days) on a bus, train, or plane, not showering, eating crap, and then being bombarded with strangers trying to rip you off once you finally disembark. Awesome, huh? In fairness, they don’t usually end up all that bad, but for Shawna and I travel days are usually the most likely days for one of us to become unglued. It took awhile for us to catch on to this little tidbit, but now that we have enlightened ourselves we both try extra hard on these days, to give the other person a little bit of a break.
1) no cockroaches.
Yup… that’s about it.
Shawna on the other hand, has a loaded list of demands that are nearly impossible for any hostel owner to meet: clean sheets, no hair from the last guest remaining in our sink, a mattress, a locking door.
I know. I know. What a diva!
But, as time has passed on this venture of ours, I have learned that sometimes having these ‘little extras’ can actually be worth it. Alternatively, having my wife kicking me in the back all night long, white with rage because there is a rusty spring tickling her rib, is not. And so, when deciding between two different bedrooms for the evening, we always take the one with the least offensive bedsheets.
6. Take Turns
It’s easy for one of us to get in the habit of always booking the next hostel, or automatically jumping to negotiate every taxi fare. But this isn’t always a good thing. We both have skills that we want to hone, be it research and planning, cooking dinner, or our conversational Spanish… so we really try to make sure that we are dividing and conquering all of the things we need to do evenly, so we both have equal opportunity to succeed or screw up in every aspect of of our travels.
One of the unfortunate things that can happen when travelling with your spouse is that, because you see them significantly more than you may when living a more traditional lifestyle, you may take them for granted. Days blend into days, and suddenly special occasions can almost be forgotten. So, um…. don’t let this happen. Anniversaries (like this one) and birthdays mean something, so make the effort to ensure that day is extra special.
As you read this, we are taking a tour of one of the local coffee plantations here in Boquete, where we will be able to roast and take home our very own “Anniversary Blend” coffee! Then we will spend the evening cooking together (Shawna picked home made pizza for dinner, I picked peanut butter cookies for dessert), and enjoying a little red wine. Nothing too crazy, but we have made a point to recognize that this is a pretty awesome day.
8. Wherever Possible Carry Your Wife’s Backpack
I’m serious…. this one is a keeper.
Hey, it’s worked for us. What do you think? Do you have any other couple travelling tips you would like to pass on? Let us know in the comments below…
Please know that I know I am still the luckiest man on the planet and I love you more than life.
Happy 2nd Anniversary baby.
PS. You’re super hot… I dig that too!