As you may have realized from Laura’s Bangkok and my Burma post, we spent over five weeks in May/June galavanting across Southeast Asia. The trip was mostly for my work, but we decided to mix business with pleasure as much as possible and make this the first leg of our ‘honeymoon’.
When we got married in October 2011, the only option on our registry was to donate to experiences on our planned honeymoon trip. Southeast Asia wasn’t part of our initial honeymoon plan, but we decided this was an opportunity we could not pass up. Our itinerary included about a week in Myanmar, a week in Indonesia, and a week in Laos, with separate 4 day stays in Bangkok.
Laura and I, of course, spend a lot of time together in our daily lives. However, we realized about halfway through the adventure that this was the first trip longer than two weeks that we had been on together. We learned a lot about our individual and collective travel likes and dislikes. Below are a few things we learned.
Justin worries about opportunity costs while Laura is more easy-going
One unique aspect of this trip was how brief the planning period was – no more than a few days. We hadn’t been planning to visit these specific countries and had done almost no research into what we wanted to do before visiting. Justin is the type of traveler that gets as much joy out of planning the trip as he does actually going on the trip. Laura, on the other hand, enjoys ‘just going’ and figuring it out as she explores. This drives Justin crazy because he is overly concerned about the opportunity costs of doing one thing over another. ‘These are the only two days we’ll spend in [insert place name here], what if we’re missing the best thing [to do, to eat, to experience]?” he’ll say with great concern and fear on his face. If this question comes out, you know the game is already lost – Justin has stopped being relaxed and enjoying himself and will bring stress to the rest of the day.
Lesson: Plan ahead. If nothing else to ensure that Justin doesn’t freak out and ruin a day unnecessarily.
Justin enjoys ‘activities’ and gets bored when he’s not ‘active’
For those of you that have ever spent time with Justin, you know that he likes ‘doing things’. He’s the kind of person who has trouble sitting for more than five minutes at a time, would plan a ‘vacation’ around a sixty mile hike, and thinks sitting on the beach doing nothing is perhaps the closest to a living hell as he’d ever like to get. For this reason, it’s important to make sure that part of each day involves some sort of activity. This can be physical or cultural, part of a planned trip or impromptu, but just like a small child, it’s better to tire Justin out with some activity than bear the brunt of his frustrated energy late in the evening.
Lesson: Make sure that there is at least one point in each day where there is a planned activity apart from ‘relaxing’. Or Justin won’t let anyone relax.
We’re uber-urban nerds, but we also travel to experience the outdoors
We spent two years (and the rest of our lives) studying how and why cities do and don’t work. We love cities. At the same time, we’re not city people. We’d rather live in a place where we can have a dog. We’re not really live music people and don’t have too much interest in staying out late at a pub while travelling. We enjoy food but often feel guilty spending large amounts of money on a meal (unless it is a unique experience). In the end, we realized that we’re outdoor travellers. Our best experiences are almost always when we’re exploring nature. For Laura, seeing animals in their natural habitat is her personal heaven. On the other hand, it is important to remember that Justin does not consider the beach to be the ‘outdoors’ – see point two above for more information.
Lesson: Getting outdoors should be the priority but experiencing a day or two in a world class city is a plus.
Staying with friends makes for the best experience of all
We rave to friends about our short stays in Bangkok. When we look back, we realize that if we had gone to Bangkok and not stayed with friends our experience may not have been so memorable. Thanks Kelly and Naomi! Take advantage of friends in far flung places – it’s worth it! (hint, hint)
Lesson: Find friends in places you want to visit; prioritize those places.
Hotels are mostly just beds but wifi is a plus
In our 20s, we each spent an extended amount of time exploring Latin America on the cheap. We can tolerate uncomfortable beds, long drives, or a cockroach or two. When it comes to hotels, we don’t see much benefit to our well-being and enjoyment between a two- and a four-star hotel. That being said, we’ll pay extra money to have wifi. We are internet/reading addicts. And if it more than 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside, Laura wouldn’t mind a pool.
Lesson: If there is a vrbo or airbnb available, take advantage. Otherwise, stick to the recommended budget hotel options.
Laura is more cultured than Justin
Justin doesn’t mind going to museums, but he is definitely less cultured than Laura. Be extra careful when dragging Justin to contemporary art museums. If this is unavoidable, make sure that you do not give him the opportunity to read the explanations of what each piece of work ‘means’. This will throw Justin into an existential nightmare that is not worth dealing with on a vacation.
Lesson: Museums are good, but art museums should be kept to the few and far between category. Or Laura should explore them alone.
Where’s the guide?
You’ll never find either of us on a bus tour, packed with poorly dressed foreigners that hop on and off at pre-designated places. That being said, we love a good guide. We’ll pay good money to hang out with a local for the day who can tell us about wherever we may be. Or to tell us specialized facts about a place (i.e., architectural guides, food guides, etc.). In fact, we find that the best way to get to know a local is to hire a guide. We’re over the idea that the best way to experience a foreign culture is looking like an idiot in it for a couple of weeks at a time. Hiring a guide is usually expensive, so we usually reserve one day per holiday for this self-indulgent treat.
Lesson: A good guide can make a memorable holiday.
Body Scrubs are worth every penny
Please contact Laura for details. I would have no idea what this is like since she had a treatment a day in Southeast Asia while I slaved away at the office. I’m not bitter – just stating facts.
Lesson: Laura likes body scrubs, no matter the cost to her wallet or marriage.
There’s a fine line between too little and too much tourist infrastructure
Bali was a little overwhelming. There was just too much tourism in all directions. Too many taxi drivers telling you they were available. Too many crappy crafts. Don’t get me wrong – it’s beautiful, culturally fascinating, and an enjoyable experience but made us feel a little claustrophobic. There was no escape from being a trapped tourist. That being said, after four days in rural Indonesia, I was more than thankful for food that was not fried rice (nasi goreng). Having the option, when we want it, to eat pizza or Thai or Indian can make or break a day on the road. As we mentioned in our post about Burma, there were moments where we wished there was just a little more tourist infrastructure.
Lesson: Find places that are close enough to the beaten path to have some creature comforts.