A Welcome Day Off

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that we’ve had a busy summer. If not, welcome, we’ve had a busy summer. I am trying to finish my graduate thesis, with all the experimenting, writing and bureaucracy that entails. Theresa has been working full time and writing full time putting together a hiking guide to DC. So on the weekend we actually go on these hikes so she’ll have something to write about during the week. Needless to say, there’s not a lot of time in between for us.

In fact, since we went on vacation with Theresa’s family toward the end of May, we have not had a single day not spent entirely either at work or on a mountain hiking (before that, it was I don’t even know how long). Needless to say, today was a welcome change to all that. We had set a goal of two ten mile hikes for the weekend, and got them both in on Saturday (minor aside: two more bear sightings to add to the total, including one that must’ve been 40 feet up a tree … it quickly rappelled down and ran off … so that’s why they tell you not to climb a tree to escape a bear).

Our prolific Saturday left all of Sunday off, no major trips to make, no major jobs to accomplish. We just were able to have a normal weekend day like we used to. We slept in. We made chocolate chip waffles and bacon for breakfast. We read the Sunday paper. We made our first (and possibly only) trip to the pool. We even got to spend a little time planning our trip. Who would’ve thought, crazy. But the joy of it was we had the freedom to wake up when we chose and decide what we wanted to do that day.

And so we got to talking about how soon, this would be every day. Sure, we’ve got grand goals and buses and flights to catch, but we’ll wake up every morning with complete freedom. To lay around if we want. To go somewhere if we want. To not have drastic future consequences either way. No deadlines. No requirements. Just where we are now, where we want to go and where we want to be at the end of the day. It sounds so liberating, and ultimately, a big reason why something like a round the world trip appeals so much to us.

But this actually led us back to something we discussed long ago in our planning, and I think today reinforced its importance. We both have something wrong with us, in that when we have the freedom to choose ourselves, we end up busier than ever. When we travel, we both have a tendency to try to do as much as we can in as little time as we can, usually due to the fact that we have a short amount of time and a lot of things we want to see, but is also just our nature. Such nonstop busy-ness becomes unsustainable after a short while, especially on such a long trip. I guess you could say this is our first marathon after a number of short sprints. So we need to learn to pace ourselves.

We decided it would very important to regularly take a day and do nothing out of the ordinary. Sleep in, wander to the market, sit in a hammock and read a book, take a short walk. Recharge. Today was a fine example. We’ve been feeling exasperated, hopeless against the piles of things we need to do, even as we furiously work to do them. But we spent just one day escaping from it and it feels more manageable. Not do-able, mind you, just more manageable. One day a week (or so) where we make it a goal not to have any goals, and we should be able to keep our sanity for the trip.

So that’s our plan. Anyone out there have similar “issues” and found good ways of dealing with them?

Say What

I’m terrible at falling asleep. For some reason, as soon as I lay down, my body ready to rest, my mind comes alive. No, no, it hasn’t been shut off all day, I swear, but it’s been focused, allowed only to think about the task at hand, not wander or wonder. So when there is no more goal beyond getting to bed, my mind explores, recalling things I saw or read earlier in the day, asking questions that have no answers (or at least ones that can be answered without major research), ruminating on what lies ahead in this game we call life. In order to combat this, I try to ease into bedtime, lying on the couch for a good hour or so before I head to the bedroom, letting my mind wear itself out.

It doesn’t always work, however, and sometimes I end up in bed, staring at the ceiling and then turning to Jeff—poor, poor Jeff who can fall asleep the minute he closes his eyes but rarely is allowed to—with something that I just have to discuss. Our latest such conversation, begun long after the clock struck midnight, started like this: “Jeff, do you think that whales…let’s say orca whales…more specifically, let’s say orca whales that live really far apart, like the ones up in the San Juan Islands and the ones down in Patagonia…”

At this point, he simply bursts out laughing. (Have I ever mentioned that I have the most amazingly patient husband in the world?) He, like you, I’m sure, was wondering where the hell this conversation was going. And he, like you, I’m sure, was more than a little surprised to find out that I wanted to have a conversation about language and communication. What I wanted to know about those whales was whether two whales, that were of the same species but lived in different places, would be able to communicate with each other should some day they cross paths in the big, wide ocean. Jeff figured that yes, they could, and I figured he was probably right, although part of me also thinks he was just saying that in the hopes I’d be quiet and go to sleep.

But no such luck. [Insert evil laugh here.] Because really my big question is, why can’t us humans do the same?

Although I guess that’s kind of unfair, because technically we can communicate. We can gesture and draw and find some way to get our point across, but it’s not the most elegant thing and it’s often ineffective, not to mention entirely frustrating. Why, I want to know, can’t I just walk up to someone—another human, another member of my species—and just say what I need to say? Why can’t we all just speak to each other?

Have you ever thought—really, really thought—about language? Every once in a while I do, usually inspired as I was that day with an encounter (this time on the Metro) with people speaking a tongue I did not know. As I rode home, standing in a crowded train, listening intently to words that meant nothing to me, I was struck by the absurdity of it. Of how, here I was, practically in the laps of these people—people who have the same DNA sequence as me, people who probably have very similar hopes and fears as me—and yet I could not have a conversation with them. They may as well have been an entirely different species. I may as well have been another species. In all honesty, we probably would have had an easier time communicating had we both been whales.

Language is one of the things that sets our species apart from other species. It is our grand accomplishment. It allows us to go beyond the physical and explore the existential. It is through language that we see the world, that we define our world. It is nearly impossible for us to grasp anything for which we do not have a word. Language is amazing, really.

Yet language is also a terrible stumbling block, for it doesn’t just set us apart from other species, but also separates human from human. When I think of all the languages we’ll encounter on this trip, when I think of all the times I’ll be tongue-tied and unable to express even the most basic thought, when I imagine all the conversations I’ll hear but not understand, I get frustrated. Ethnologue, considered to be the most extensive catalogue of world languages (though not believed to be complete), lists 6,912 known living languages. Holy bejesus.

Did you know that 29,000 people speak Hdi; 8,000 people speak Viemo; 136 people speak Zo’é, 120 people speak Obokuitai…?

It boggles my mind. And that’s when I consider learning Esperanto. But then I realize that that would be just one more thing to keep my brain churning late at night, and considering how few people really speak this “universal” language, I’m probably better off just figuring out how to best act out “Where is the toilet?” without appearing completely crude. Wish me luck.

(If you have any funny language-related stories, any tried and true gestures, or any advice on how to best approach a trip in which you’ll encounter so many different languages, please share!)

It’s Official!

We have official acceptance of my thesis application! This pretty much confirms my defense date will be September 26th and we’ll be able to leave on schedule in mid-October. I’ll spare you the nightmare details of the Swedish bureaucratic system, but I’ve successfully navigated it and we’ve got approval. So, I guess this means no more meandering stories about bears, its time to get planning. Departure date is now officially less than four months away!

Peru… and Bears!

While camping this weekend, I had enough time to run through the entire Peru guidebook. One down, many, many to go. In way cooler news, Bears!
Bear, bear, bear, bear, bear, bear, bear! Times 7. We saw seven bears in five different encounters on our three day camping trip. Only twice were the bears feeling photogenic.

With the level of bear encounter discussion that occurs in Theresa’s family (with complete lack of first hand experience unless you count from a car) It was really interesting to see how they reacted to your presence. They really are much less confrontational than I’ve been lead to believe. In every instance, they were either completely indifferent to our presence or scurried off very quickly, they never found us the least bit interesting or threatening. The only time I was even slightly concerned was when we stumbled across a mother and her two cubs. They moseyed right across the trail without even glancing at the noisy people. Even the bear I got closest to, only 20 feet to my right, rushed away when Theresa said “Jeff, bear!” I never saw it, only heard it run off.

But don’t you all start chasing bears now that I’ve said this! Since bears are cool, anyone else have a bear experience to share? Your regularly scheduled travel blog posting will resume in a day or two.

Eight Reasons Why You Won’t Find a Maple Leaf on My Backpack

We’ve all seen them, the backpacks decked out with the red-and-white maple leaf patch—a proud proclamation of Canadian citizenship…or so the wearer wants us to think. Without any interaction with the owner of this maple-leaf bedecked backpack, it’s not always clear who’s sporting this piece of cloth. Is it, in fact, a Canadian, who would rather die than be thought an American? (Because, you know, we are terrible, horrible, no good, very bad people.) Or is it an American who thinks that by sewing a maple leaf to his bag he can dupe everyone into liking him, because who, after all, dislikes the Canadians? (Or knows enough about them to have feelings one way or the other.) It’s one of life’s great mysteries. But let me clear one thing up for you: if you see a maple leaf on a backpack, you can be sure it doesn’t belong to me. Here are eight good reasons why I won’t be buying a patch and getting out the sewing kit.

8. I’ll be found out as soon as the weather turns cold. I’ve been to Niagara in January and Winnipeg in February, and the weather those Canadians put up with is brutal. It was -50 degrees Farenheit outside and the man I was working with in Winnipeg was training outdoors for a marathon. Crazy people, I tell you. I don’t do well when the temperature drops below +50 degrees Farenheit.

7. I firmly believe that the last letter of the alphabet is pronounced “zee,” not “zed.” One round through the alphabet, and I’m screwed.

6. I prefer Aunt Jemima to the real thing, which would probably be considered sacrilege by the folks dwelling north of our border. Also, I like to be able to tell my bacon apart from my ham.

5. My iPod contains zero songs by Avril Lavigne, Shania Twain, Bryan Adams, or Celine Dion. And if requested, I wouldn’t be able to sing the Canadian national anthem beyond the second line (although I could sing that much with gusto). But, hey, wait, how many Americans can make it all the way through the Star Spangled Banner?

4. I don’t sprinkle my speech with nearly enough “ehs” and “you knows”, and when I’m tired a bit of a southern accent can come out. I’ve yet to meet a Canadian with one of those.

3. Hockey is maybe my least favorite sport. I couldn’t hold a coherent conversation on it to save my life.

2. I’ll go ahead and admit it, I have no idea who the prime minister of Canada is. Those real Canadians would smoke me out in a second.

1. And oh, yeah, here’s a good one. Because I’m an American, damn it, and I’m proud of it.

Let’s face it, at the current moment, America isn’t the most beloved country in the world, but if you take a moment to think back through history, you might remember that the U.S. has in its relatively short history done a lot of good for the world. Like most every other nation, we’ve had brilliant successes and startling failures; ours are just usually on a grand and very public scale. I do feel that we have done some shameful things; I also feel that we have done many noble things. As a person, I’m the same way, and I don’t disown myself, so why should I disown my country?

Additionally, in my previous travels, I’ve found that the majority of people distinguish between a people and its government. After all, not every Venezuelan agrees with Chavez, every Iranian with Ahmadinejad, every Zimbabwean with Mugabe. If we give them the benefit of the doubt, they will return the favor.

And finally, as a respectful and responsible traveler, I have the opportunity to have people associate good things with America. Why should I, with a maple leaf sewn on my backpack, give Canada undeserved credit for producing a traveler that respects cultural values, that strives to speak at least a bit of the local language, that cares about what local people want, need, believe, and care about, and that believes that every other life is just as valuable as my own? There’s no way I’ll do that. No, instead I’ll let it be known that I’m from the United States, and I’m not loud or obnoxious, don’t travel to get drunk for cheap, and I don’t so much as own cut-off jean shorts, a fanny pack, or a star-spangled bikini top.

So my fellow American travelers, I now challenge you to join me in putting on your big boy pants, just saying no to the maple leaf, and traveling as a proud representative of the United States. Let the world know that you, brave traveler, are from the good ol’ U.S.A.

(Unless of course you are a loud, obnxious, frequently drunk, navel showing, bikini-top-to-temples wearing, “do you speak English” yelling, ugly, ugly, ugly traveler. Then, by all means, please get yourself a maple leaf for your backpack, the bigger the better. )

(Sorry, Canada.)

Budgeting for Africa

This the third in our three part budget outline. See Part 1 – South America and Part 2 – Southeast Asia.

We’re currently planning on spending approximately three months working our way down the east coast of Africa, from Ethiopia south to South Africa.  This leg of the trip has been the most difficult to nail down a budget for.  There’s a couple of reasons for this. First, our sole experience in Africa has come from our amazing trip to Egypt in 2006. We found Egypt to be fantastically easy to navigate and very cheap, characteristics that do not seem to fit the rest of the east coast as well. The second is also entirely our fault, because it is the part of the trip furthest away. Therefore we’ve done the least planning for it, so we really don’t have a great idea of our must see places and our must do activities (more specific than … go on safari, and … see Victoria Falls, etc).

Among things that are not our fault, Africa has a less developed tourism infrastructure that well known backpacking destinations like Southeast Asia do. Overall, there seem to be two poles of tourism service, the “very low” and the “over the top”, but little of the happy medium for budget minded travelers like ourselves. This makes it difficult to predict how much we will spend on average. And finally, it seems there’s more variance between the countries we’ll be visiting than Southeast Asia or South America. But I won’t back down! We’ll give this a go.

Every Day Expenses

Food seems like it will be quite cheap on the whole, I think we’ll be quite comfortable assuming $10 a day. Accommodation seems as though it will vary quite a bit depending on what is available in a given area. I think $40 a day should be a comfortable number, we’ll be well under that enough that it will make up for the times we’ll pay substantially more. Transportation will be somewhat the same way, since while buses are cheap, they may not exist in some places we want to go and private transport or airplane is not cheap. I think we’ll be safe and budget $20 a day. For our daily activities then this comes to $70 a day.


This is also a very uncertainly defined area at the moment, there are a number of things we want to do, but they can also vary wildly in cost.

Gorilla Trekking $1000

Safari $2000

Climb Kilamanjaro $1500

Any number of other adventure outings requiring guides $priceless

Put this all together and we expect the costs for Africa to be quite substantial. 90 days at $70 a day comes out to $6300 and you add it our additional activities and the total balloons to ~$12000.

Now, as evident throughout this post, this part of our trip is thusf ar the most poorly planned and the most poorly researched. So there are bound to be inaccuracies in this, and we would love to have you correct them. Any experience in Africa? What were your expenses? How easily were you able to get around?


So to summarize our entire budget and come to one big number, our entire budget comes to $32000 for two people. This presumes our RTW flights are covered with frequent flier miles and is based off of daily projected costs in each area with costs for the additional activities we hope to do factored in as well. This number does not include pre-trip costs such as insurance, immunizations, moving, storage, gear, etc. We’ll address these issues and their costs as they come up.

Nature? Nurture? Neither?

Earlier this year, while in Houston, I visited a good friend from college while she was also in town visiting her dad. I briefly discussed our travel plans with her dad, and as we ended the conversation, he said, “You must have gypsy blood.” I smiled and nodded. If you look at my history, it’s easy to think that.

At 14, I told my BFF that I couldn’t go to Florida with her as planned because I was going to Ireland instead. No one in my immediate family had ever left North America, yet when I was offered the chance to backpack around Ireland, then live with a host family, I didn’t hesitate. Instead I found an under-the-table job (I was only 14) helping out at a volleyball supply store to help fund my travels. At 20, I said Auf Wiedersehen to my college friends (and Jeff) to spend a year studying in Freiburg, Germany. At 22, I told Jeff that DC would have to wait a year, turned down all the job offers that came with 401ks and health insurance plans, and moved to Greece to teach English for a year. And now, at 27, I’m walking away from the federal career-permanent job that everyone in this area is dying for to traipse around the world for a year. But is it in my blood? I’m not sure.

Now, Jeff, he’s another story. I’d say that it’s certainly in his blood. Thanks to his mom, who immigrated to America in her 30s, Jeff holds two passports (U.S. and Sweden). His mom rode the Trans-Siberian Railroad across Russia and worked with Cambodian refugees while in Southeast Asia. Together his mom and dad toured Africa in a Land Rover they bought long before they were Jeff’s mom and dad or even a couple. This was the family he was born into; these were the stories he grew up with. Extraordinary travel was nothing if not ordinary.

My parents, too, have traveled. They have their stories. Funny stories, poignant stories, memorable stories. But they are stories of travel within the United States…trips to the World’s Fair, long station wagon rides from Kentucky to California.

Like most Americans, in this country of immigrants, I have that long ago brave relative who left behind the homeland to begin anew in an unknown place. Yet, since then, my family has stayed put. My parents were born and raised in Louisville. They bought a house shortly after they were married, and they still live there today. My grandparents live in Louisville. Most of my aunts, uncles, and cousins live in Louisville. I am not sure that anyone on my dad’s side of the family has even left North America unless they were on a tour of duty with the military. No, I don’t think I can claim gypsy blood.

So what is it that makes some of us stay and some of us go? Is the desire to travel something we are born with, something in our genes, passed down from generation to generation, perhaps remaining latent in multiple generations before emerging somewhere down the line? Is it something learned, some desire we acquire from the tales of others, from books we read, from movies we see? Or is it some combination of personality and experience, temperament and opportunity?

I’m not sure, but I know whatever it is, Jeff and I, despite our different upbringings, both have it. And it runs so deep in both of us that when we try to think of how this trip came to be, we can never figure out when or how it originated. There was no sitting down and deciding, no weighing of options, no official announcement to family or friends. The trip was always there, ever evolving, until at some point one of us finally said “We are doing this, aren’t we?” and the other of us said, “Of course.” And that was that.

Gypsy blood? Maybe.

Or perhaps we’re both just a bit crazy.

Bhutan: Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign

I tend to think of myself as a very practical, reasonable, and down-to-earth person. (Just please ignore the fact that I traded an engineering degree for a German degree, and I passed up well-paying job opportunities to teach English in Greece for something like 600 Euros a month.)

I usually consider it pretty hokey when I hear people say things about the universe leading them in some direction and if anyone asks what my astrological sign is, my response is most likely rolled eyes. But damn it, I think the universe is indeed trying to tell me something, and though I’ve repeatedly ignored it, it’s not relenting. Apparently, I am supposed to go to Bhutan.

What makes me so certain, you ask. Well, let me lay it out for you.

1. Long ago, when we first started talking about the trip in real terms, I made a few connections with people who had done similar trips. One of the first people I talked to had done a route very similar to what we were planning, except for the addition of Bhutan. She had pretty much planned her entire trip around this tiny kingdom, and she raved about it so much that I started to look into it. I’ll admit that at the time I knew next to nothing about the place, but I was soon completely enraptured.

2. Bhutan started showing up in the newspaper. This kingdom of less than a million people was suddenly being talked about in the Washington Post. Now I don’t read the paper every day, and I definitely don’t read every page of it when I do, but for some reason I started seeing news about this nation and their transition to democracy every time I opened the Post.

3. Two of our favorite magazines arrived in the mail right around the same time with feature articles on Bhutan. Smithsonian Magazine and National Geographic Adventure both profiled the country, its amazingly well preserved culture, and its holy-crap-is-that-for-real scenery. At this point, I started hinting to Jeff that maybe Bhutan needed to be added to our list.

4. This summer (in just a few weeks as a matter of fact) Bhutan will be featured at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival. This is the first time that Bhutanese culture will ever be displayed outside the kingdom (in live performances). I work at the Smithsonian. If ever the stars were aligned, this was it. After attending a special lecture offered last week to Smithsonian staff, I came home excited all over again about this nation.

Now, if you’re like most people, you’re probably wondering where the heck this country is and what is so special about it. So let me fill you in a bit. Bhutan is a tiny kingdom in the Himalayas. It’s about the size of West Virginia, has approximately 700,000 citizens, and is nestled between Tibet and India. This year Bhutan is celebrating 100 years of their monarchy, although in just the past few years a constitution was introduced and the first democratic elections took place this past March. Incredibly enough, this change was brought about by the king, and the people were very reluctant to move to any form of democracy. It’s not a complete democracy, however, as Bhutan has maintained a king. Never invaded (at least in remotely recent history), Bhutan has a very distinct culture that is very closely guarded. People still live in traditional houses, wear traditional clothes, and perform traditional labor and arts, as well as practice a very traditional form of Buddhism. The Western World has not made any cross-roads into this country, and speaking of roads, the first road leading to the outside (India, in this case) opened in 1968. The majority of the people have never left Bhutan. Environmental protection is extremely important to the Bhutanese, and they have some of the world’s most dramatic landscapes. Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, the Land of the Thunder Dragon (the name of the country in their language), has declared themselves more concerned about Gross National Happiness than Gross National Product. What’s not to love about a country that places so much emphasis on happiness? (Although, as I was recently reminded, happiness (or at least the pursuit of it) was one of the three rights explicitly outlined in the American Declaration of Independence. I think we often lose sight of that…)

Do I have your attention? Are you wondering why in the heck I’m even debating going?

Well, there’s one catch. One big catch.

Bhutan is extremely difficult to travel to. Preserving a traditional way of life and protecting your environment is not easy to do if you let every Tom, Dick, and Harry (or Theresa and Jeff) who wants to visit your country in. So Bhutan simply doesn’t let everyone who wants to come in. In fact, tourism wasn’t even allowed at all until 1974! They don’t pick and choose tourists by looking at passports or screening applications or disallowing people from certain country to visit. Instead, they control tourism by charging a high cost for people to visit and having very strict restrictions on how you can travel. First of all, all travel must be done with a guide and must be arranged through a Bhutanese travel agency. At minimum, you are supposed to plan 3 months in advance. Secondly, all travel into and out of the country must be done on the Bhutanese airline, and of course, there are only so many seats available per day. You can’t just walk or drive into the country or choose from multiple airlines. Thirdly, there are only so many hotel rooms available, so if you don’t plan far enough in advance, the hotels may be booked and you then aren’t permitted to come. Fourthly, you must pay a price for each day you are in the country based on the itinerary you establish with your tourist company. The price covers everything–food, hotel, admission to museums, treks, etc.–but it is hefty at about $250 to $375 per person per day. This is not a backpacker haven, which is according to plan.

When you consider that in the rest of the Asian countries we plan to visit, we expect to spend an average of less than $50 per day (as outlined by Jeff in our last post) the cost seems even more exorbitant. We could live for months in the Southeast Asia for what we’d spend in a week in Bhutan. Money-wise it doesn’t make sense.

But putting money aside for a moment, is there anywhere else on earth that could give us the type of experience we’d have in Bhutan? And as it seems that Bhutan is in the beginning stages of changes that could lead the country in very different directions, is it possible that this is a place that we can’t just put on the “we’ll get to it some other day” list.

My practical side says no way, you just can’t go there. My “screw the engineering degree and study German” side says hell yes Bhutan should make the cut.

What do you all say?

[poll id=7]

Southeast Asia Budget

We were in the midst of outlining our budget for our trip in three parts (see Part 1 – South America) when a week-long vacation to South Carolina so rudely interrupted us. So now that life is back on its busy schedule, its time for us to finish the last two legs. Our second continental stop takes us to Southeast Asia, where we are planning on staying approximately three months. We’re breaking our trip down into two categories, every day expenses for our daily food, lodging and necessary transport and activities for all the crazy, unique things we will want to fill our time doing.

Every Day Expenses

The region is a backpacker haven for a region: it is cheap. Most of what we’ve read pegs decent budget hotel rooms at under $10-15, cheaper in some of the less developed nations. So as we’ve been trying to do, we’ll play it safe and budget $15 a day for hotel. Eating will also not tax our wallets. Street food can be found for less than $1, with restaurants slightly more. I’m not sure I’ll ever be motivated to cook on my own when I can get some fantastic noodles for less than a buck, so we won’t budget too much home cooking in. $10 a day should cover the occasional splurge. Since the region is fairly small, we will traveling primarily by bus, which is quite inexpensive. We will likely take a flight out to either Indonesia or the Philippines (help us decide), though even those seem relatively inexpensive at the moment due to heavy competition. $5 a day should do us handsomely. That brings us to $30 a day between the two of us.


Here’s the thing. There are actually very few special activities we want to do in Southeast Asia, at least ones we will have to arrange in advance and hire guides and shell out expensive fees for. Obviously we will go to Angkor Wat, but guides can be hired just for the day if desired and access to the park costs $20. To me, that seems to fit into the range of the general activities costs. Most of the other sights we want to see fall into this category*. So we will simply budget $10 a day for our activities and consider this done. If Angkor Wat is only $20, this should be plenty to cover our adventures.

So again, adding all of these expenses together, we plan on spending $40 a day for 90 days, or $3600. Now that I get here, I’m shocked at how little that is. I’m not as confident we’ll hit this budget as I am about our South American budget. But, I guess you can’t argue with math. As I said earlier, it’s a backpacker haven for a reason.

*There is one big activity that would blow our budget, though we have not yet officially decided on it yet. Theresa will have more on it soon.

Useful Things Learned Hiking

Did I ever mention on here that I am writing a hiking book? Well, I am. I have a contract to write a DC area guidebook on hiking for a major travel publisher. By September 15, approximately one month before our departure date and about two weeks after I hope to have jetted over to Sweden, my entire manuscript plus maps and photos is due. What this means is that Jeff and I spend every single weekend hiking, checking off one by one the eighty hikes that will be in this book. So if you’ve ever noticed that our Sunday evening posts aren’t all that fabulous, well I apologize, but come Sunday we’re pooped—not to mention rank smelling.

And though spending every waking moment of our free time out on the trails isn’t exactly awesome for checking things off the RTW to-do list, it isn’t completely wasted time. In fact, we’ve learned a list’s worth of stuff.

1. The gear is good to go. Do we have a comfortable and safe way to carry the camera? How will my clothes hold up to the heat and humidity of the tropics? Can I layer effectively to stay warm without taking anything heavy? Is that Light My Fire Spork going to cut my mouth or be an effective tool? No way to know but test them out, and that’s where hiking has come in. Back in March, I layered up clothes I planned to take and set out for 10 miles of hiking. Verdict: Impressively warm. This past weekend, I donned two other outfits and went out in the near 100 degree temps plus stifling humidity and hiked nearly 20 miles in each. Verdict: There’s not much to be done when it’s that hot, but if I have to wear clothes, these are the ones. Every hike Jeff slings the camera bag across his body, wearing it along with his backpack and snapping away at everything from frogs to waterfalls. Verdict: Comfy, easy to access, and secure even when we’re scrambling over rocks and tramping through water. This weekend, we threw the sporks in the bag and used them to make peanut butter sandwiches and prepare and eat Jamaican chicken. Verdict: Not just a cool piece, but functional too.

2. We’re not going to be the kids holding up the trekking tour. No, we will be the kids laughing in the face of Dead Women’s Pass on the Inca Trail. Okay, maybe not, but we’ll certainly be in shape for the many adventures we plan to take. When Jeff and I stood at the trailhead of our final hike—what would be miles 32-38 for the weekend and miles 41-47 if I also include my Thursday hiking—I can say that neither Jeff nor I were certain our legs would carry us all the way to the ridge and back. But not only did we do it, we did it in less time than what a hiking club that focuses on uphill hikes told us it would take. So if you’re thinking about joining one of our trekking tours, you better come prepared. Otherwise you’ll be seeing nothing but our dust.

3. We really do like each other. When we’re hiking, it’s Jeff, me, and that’s it for up to 12 hours per day. No friends or family members are around to provide conversation. No TVs, iPods, or computers offer diversion. There’s no one to talk to but each other, and though we’ve been doing this all-day, all-weekend hiking for 2.5 months already we’ve yet to run out of things to talk about or become sick of being together. Woohoo! We just might make it around the world for a year without killing each other.

4. Squatting, no problem. Though I will always hold the porcelain pot dear to my heart, I can do without it. I have the squatting thing down. Aren’t you glad to know that?