Our nomadic life is over! Believe it or not, this journey really started about 27 months ago. In 2013, we moved to upstate New York so Jac could finish her doctorate. We always knew there was the possibility we would have to move for Jac’s education so we purposely had few belongings and lived lightly; we left our life in St. Paul with a Toyota Corolla filled with belongings and drove east. We traveled a lot during our time in New York: we visited the big sights of the east coast (DC, NYC, Adirondacks, Catskills, Gettysburg, Boston, Vermont, New Hampshire, etc.), I traveled a lot for work, and we headed back home to Minnesota and South Dakota quite a few times. All told, I was only ‘home’ in New York about 40-50% of the time during the 12 months we lived in New York. That’s a lot of traveling! While we never really planned on a world trip we decided to seize the moment and take the very long way home to Minnesota and visit 160 cities in 42 countries on six continents over the course of 13 months. Once we returned to the US we spent two months interviewing, catching up with family, visiting friends, and visiting nine states around the US, before settling down. Luckily, during the last two months we found an apartment in our old building in St. Paul and I landed a job. So, that’s 27 months. It’s finally over. Our feet are no longer itchy and we’re very ready to be in one spot for awhile :).
We were very lucky and had few issues while traveling. We had food poisoning a lot and both Jac and I caught influenza A but that’s about as bad as we had it. We happened to miss a lot of disasters and other unfortunate events. Sometimes we were in the general vicinity, sometimes we missed the event by a few days, and sometimes the places we visited were later completely destroyed, like:
- The Bárðarbunga volcano in Iceland erupted in 2014 just after we left.
- The Annapurna avalanche in Nepal in the fall of 2014 killed a whole bunch of people. We were going to trek the Annapurna circuit but decided to go on the Langtang Trek instead due to Langtang being less popular. The timing was right where we would have been in the avalanche zone if we would have hiked Annapurna.
- On Dec 31/Jan 1 2014/2015, at midnight, there was a human stampede in Shanghai which killed 36 people on the Bund. We were staying about a block off the Bund and could hear the commotion but didn’t know what happened until the next day.
- The Nepal earthquake in the spring of 2015. This earthquake was very bad and destroyed the Langtang trek in many areas – a 1.5mi wide landslide destroyed the village of Langtang and killed everyone in it. Bhaktapur, a medieval Nepali city we visited, was also destroyed.
- Cyclone Pam in New Zealand in the spring of 2015. We happened to stay in an area that was slightly out of the path of the cyclone, Mt. Maunganui, and just missed the full force of the cyclone to the south.
- We missed the battles in Israel in the winter of 2014 but when we arrived in the summer of 2015 we heard the sounds of war in Syria from our lodging in Madjal Shams in the Golan Heights.
- Cecil the lion was shot in Zimbabwe shortly before we arrived in the summer of 2015.
- We were in Athens, Greece, when the banks shut down in summer of 2015 and no one knew what was going to happen.
- There was a large 8.2 earthquake in Santiago, Chile, two weeks after we left. We were staying on the 18th floor of a hotel so that for sure would have been a bit scary.
- We visited Greece, Bulgaria, and Hungary before the huge influx of refugees. Keleti train station in Budapest was a normal train station when we visited in the spring of 2015 and not the place over-run with refugees in the summer of 2015.
We were never robbed, we never had anything stolen, and the biggest scam we fell prey to (that we know of) was $11. Getting sick was the worst thing that happened to us and I’m so very happy it was the worst thing that happened to us! The reocurring problems we commonly had came from taxis (fake taxis, taking the long route, giving back incorrect change, etc) and rental cars (fine print). All said, we had incredibly good luck during our journey.
So now it’s time for everyone’s favorite part: statistics! We tracked a lot of things while traveling and I figured it would be neat to share some of the results.
We’ll start with the easiest first: the sheer number of photos we took during our travels. Overall, we took nearly 105,000 photos totaling about 1.2TB. This means that on any given day we took nearly 284 photos. I thought I put up a lot of photos of our trip on this website but I only put up 2,175, or about 2.1% of all photos we took. We took a ton of photos. It made sense we took a lot more photos in countries we stayed in longer so I made two graphs, one with the total number of photos taken each country we were in and then the average photos taken per day we were in the country.
Figure 1 – Total Photos Taken in Each Country
Figure 2 – Total Photos Taken in Each Country Per Day in Country
Jac and I have sat down and gave each country a 0-5 rating based on a handful of variables and, believe it or not, the number of photos we took per day in each country loosely corresponds with how much we enjoyed the country. In general, if the number of photos per day for a given country was above the average photos taken per day then it’s a country we want to return to in the future. I made a graph showing this relationship and I also put a red box in the areas we visited where we took an above average number of photos and the country received an above average score. When looking at the countries in the red box I think, “yup, those places were awesome”, and they are on our short list of places to revisit in the future.
Figure 3 – Photos Taken Per Day vs. Combined Country Rating
We used very different modes of transportation to get around: planes, buses, boats, private cars, self driving via rental cars, walking, and so on. We really came to enjoy train rides and we greatly preferred train rides whenever possible; it was fun to sit back and watch the countryside go by while enjoying a picnic lunch! Plus, most train stations are in the center of cities and easy to get to. Planes were OK but flying around the world has about as much, or more, hassle than flying in the US – it sucks to arrive so early, lots of planes are late, planes are cramped, and blah, blah, blah. Private car was always the best but could be expensive so we focused on hiring drivers in low cost areas. We hired a driver for about two weeks in Rajasthan, India, which was surprisingly cheap, and we hired some drivers in Vietnam, where their fees were slightly higher than the bus fees we would have to pay. We disliked busses the most – cramped, hot, easy to get car sick, bumpy, and loud. Before I saw the data I thought we had taken the train way more than we had and I thought we had rented cars a lot less than we did. If we had to do it over, I think I’d try and rent cars more often and take the train more often!
Figure 4 – Modes of Transportation
We rented cars a handful of times. Having the freedom to set our own schedule and go where we pleased was so awesome. Some countries it was really cheap to rent a car ($9/day in Ireland) and other countries it was quite expensive ($40/day in New Zealand). It was fairly straight forward to get into the swing of things even in countries where road rules are more like suggestions like in Bosnia, Croatia, Romania, Montenegro, and Bulgaria. Our rental cars were usually beer cans with an engine so we never had to worry about over driving the road conditions and, as we found, people are really attentive and good drivers overseas simply because a lot of people do not follow the road rules and have to pay attention. As an example, it was surprisingly common to see people driving towards us in our own lane – pretty uncommon in the western world but very common in a lot of other places. Generally, it was very easy to rent cars and be on our way. I spent a lot of time reading the fine print of every rental agreement because there were a lot of “gotchas” in rental agreements, like charging $5/day for a toll tag, mileage charges, fuel surcharges and so on. South Africa stands out as being the best place to drive – the rentals were cheap ($16/day with insurances) roads are in good condition and the drivers are incredibly considerate. They have something called “yellow line driving” where a vehicle will drive on the shoulder, over the yellow lane, to allow people to pass. It’s fantastic! We spent the most time and distance driving around New Zealand, which super sucked because the roads aren’t straight and it takes forever to get anywhere. New Zealand also had the most expensive car rental at about $40/day and we had really expensive fuel to boot. We put on about 11,500mi on the various rental cars we drove. About 61% of the time we drove on the left side of the road. We would switch back and forth too and this ended up causing confusion on which side of the road was correct, we had to think about it!
Figure 5 – Left Side or Right Side Driving
We stayed in a surprisingly large variety of places during the trip. We had a few flights that went overnight and even slept on a boat but overwhelmingly AirBnB was our go-to lodging. We had a pecking order: whenever possible we would try to rent apartments/flats that we could have to ourselves, followed by a shared room in an AirBnB place, followed by a hotel/motel and lastly, VERY lastly, a hostel. We enjoyed our AirBnB visits and had great, once in a lifetime, experiences all the time because of awesome hosts. AirBnB was a bit trickier than a regular hotel but we learned how to make it work and we really made it work! We can’t recommend Airbnb enough, it really brought our trip from great to amazingly fantastic.
Figure 6 – Types of Lodging
When we first started the trip we traveled very quickly. Almost every single night was at a new place which meant we had to unpack and repack and find our new lodging every single day. This isn’t hard to do for a week or two but it’s very difficult to keep that momentum. We had the first four weeks of travel booked before we left the US and we realized around week two that we needed to slow down so we weren’t so tired from traveling. We started to travel a bit more slowly and then we reached a steady state of about 2.5 days at a location before moving on. By traveling slower we were able to enjoy the sights more and weren’t so pressed for time. The graph below shows how often we changed lodging in a given week. If we changed lodging seven times in a week that means we were changing lodging every single day of the week. I think staying in a place for about 2.5 days was just right for us and our energy levels. I became too bored if we stayed in a place longer and too tired if we moved around a lot more.
Figure 7 – Number of Moves Per Week
We saw a lot of the world. The only continent we missed was Antarctica but that’s on the list of places to visit in the future. We didn’t spend a lot of time in any one region but there were a few regions, like the Middle East and South America, where we didn’t spend much time at all. We figured South America could be easily reached by from North America and there were only a couple of places we wanted to visit in the Middle East due to the current instability. I made a graph showing the regions we visited. Since some regions are really big, like Asia, I decided to further delineate by major region. While India and Nepal are part of Asia, they are monumentally different than China or Japan. Same with Eastern and Western Europe.
Figure 8 – Percentage of Time in Each Region
There were countries we REALLY enjoyed visiting and would happily go back, like Japan, Romania, Croatia, Singapore, Australia, and South Africa, but there aren’t really any regions we are particularly in love with. We had great experiences everywhere and there are redeeming qualities to every place we visited but I think Western Europe is the only region we wouldn’t make an effort to revisit. It’s a lot like the US so it’s not as “different” compared to visiting somewhere like SE Asia.
We thought a lot about the worst and planned for failure along the way. We made sure we had our financial house in order gave directions on how to retrieve our bodies in the event of death or incapacitation. While death/incapacitation was the biggest issue planned around, we thought a lot about the nuisance items that could fail and made sure we had adequate backups or plans for fixing. I break everything, even unbreakable items, so it was very important to think about the items that are cheap and not thought of often, like an iPhone power cable, but have super high impact when broke. That said, we, or I, broke a lot of stuff and I thought it was worth sharing.
Things we broke and why, from cheapest to most expensive:
- My RFID chip in my passport. No clue how it failed.
- iPhone power cable. Cumulative damage.
- MicroSD card holder (x2). Cumulative damage.
- 5 Euro bill. I was holding it.
- Wireless optical mouse. Cumulative damage?
- iPhone screen. Sudden and unplanned deceleration.
- Tamron 70-300MM zoom lens. Cumulative damage.
- Travel laptop. Battery died.
Yes, I actually ripped a five euro bill in half by accident. I don’t know of anyone else who has ever broken paper money but I break everything so… yeah.
So this is it. Kind of our trip in a nutshell and a summary of what we did. I have some recommendations below for making an Airbnb stay easier in case anyone is curious because I know some folks are reluctant to sign up for Airbnb.
Recommendations for successful stays at an Airbnb:
- Look for places that have at least three positive, in detail, reviews.
- Make sure there are enough photos of the place to understand what is being offered.
- If it’s an apartment/condo, make sure to ask what the name is on the address board / what the unit number is.
- Make sure to factor in time for immigration / customs / security / taxi ride etc. When scheduling the meet up, ask the host “we arrive at X:YY PM, how long does it take to get to your place?” instead of assuming how long it’ll take. Hosts generally know their city best.
- Show up outside of normal work hours but not too late, these people have normal lives usually – 5pm to 9pm.
- It can be easier to meet a host at a restaurant / landmark near the lodging.
- Whenever possible, use the host to arrange pickup. Some hosts charge for this and it can be worth its weight in gold.
- If it’ll be impossible to communicate with the host, let the host know and then set a window to meet and ask for some help finding a way to communicate with them. “We do not have a SIM card that works in your country, we will not be able to reach you, we will arrive between 6-7PM”, “if we arrive later, is there free WiFi available nearby we can use to reach you?”
- Inform the host of problems immediately using Airbnb.
- Clean the place before leaving.
- Leave an honest review.