This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident. The amount of radiation has been reduced to somewhat manageable levels at the site—allowing intrepid visitors to make a strictly timed visit to the 30-km radiation zone that had been abandoned after the nuclear reactor’s explosion. From all reports I’ve read, visiting Chernobyl is a fascinating journey into an area that has been frozen in time. Visitors carry personal radiation monitors which are read after the tour to ensure they have not been exposed to dangerous levels of gamma rays. It all seems pretty well thought out to me.

Realizing that our 25th anniversary is also taking place this year, it occurred to me that this would make a most excellent anniversary trip. I pointed this out to my long-suffering spouse, Larissa, who shockingly disagrees. Sadly, any points that I scored by remembering the anniversary were not enough to overcome the deficit I created by my choice of destination.

We have faced this situation before.  To celebrate my 50th birthday last year I rented a Prius and took off on a four-week cross-country jaunt. Among the sites I visited along the way were the world’s tallest TV antenna in North Dakota (it used to be the second tallest until the record setter in Poland fell down—I kid you not), the Berkeley Pit—which is North America’s deepest toxic waste site, along with the world’s largest abandoned copper smelter. For some reason those weren’t enough of an incentive for Larissa to come along.

The Berkeley Pit - It's prettier in person

Apparently Mrs. Fancy Pants would rather visit someplace “romantic” like Paris or Rome to celebrate our big day. Now mind you, I have been pretty flexible all along in this whole process. I suffered silently when my original idea for the trip—Pyongyang—was shot down. Some nonsense about it potentially being a war zone caused it to be blackballed. (Although to be fair she was willing to visit it on a non-anniversary date and later did so.)

I pointed out, fruitlessly I must say, that a visit to Ukraine would allow Larissa to visit a new country while celebrating one-quarter of her heritage at the same time. It seemed like a slam-dunk. However, her father used to visit Kiev on business trips and glumly referred to it as the “asshole of Europe.” What a buzz kill. My generous offer to make up for Kiev’s shortfalls by adding Chernobyl to the trip apparently wasn’t enough to sweeten the pot.

I’m trying to be open-minded about all this but it’s not like I haven’t already made sacrifices for the sake of the marriage. For crying out loud, we even have matching sheets and pillowcases. Where does it end?

So I ask you dear readers for suggestions on where to celebrate our 25th anniversary, when one person wants to go someplace with indoor plumbing and non-measurable levels of airborne radiation while the other partner is somewhat less discerning.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives In North Korea by Barbara Demick is a valuable peek behind the curtain of North Korea, a gray land whose monochrome pallor is broken up only by the bright colors in propaganda posters lauding their Great and Dear Leaders.

It is notoriously difficult to report on North Korea. Access by outsiders is severely limited. When foreigners are permitted to enter the country their movement is constantly monitored by two minders (one of the minders is there to watch the other one). It’s as if the North Korean government used George Orwell’s 1984 as a blueprint for how to run a country. I experienced this treatment myself on a recent trip to Pyongyang and the DMZ.

While Demick has visited North Korea, the heavy-handed monitoring on these tours prevents any open interaction with ordinary North Koreans. Thus she provides most of the narrative from interviews with defectors who have safely made it to South Korea. Ordinarily I would be put off by reliance on such subjective sources whose commentary can not be independently verified. But Demick manages to verify what she can and weave together a story that sounds altogether plausible about what is taking place north of the DMZ.

In a word it is horrible. According to Demick almost an entire population has been reduced to scrambling for any sustenance they can find among the roots, bark and even dirt of already picked over forests. Children are starving by the thousands causing drastic reductions of the school age population. School itself is just another tool for furthering the regime’s propaganda. The book’s title comes from a song that school children recite which includes the line, “We have nothing to envy in the world.”

The big question with North Korea is: do the people truly believe this propaganda or can they see through it? This has vast foreign policy implications for America should there ever be the need for a military action against North Korea or a revolution from within. When the Berlin Wall came down it became obvious that Eastern Europeans knew their way of life was worse than in the West. They were already receiving glimpses of it through TV signals where they could watch Western programming.

North Koreans have no such view of the outside world. They don’t have the Internet or phones. Their TVs and radios are mechanically set to the approved government station. In fact, these days they rarely even have electricity. Would people who live such a primitive life even be able to adapt to the modern world?

Demick addresses these questions in her book. While many North Korean defectors do have problems relating to South Korean ways, most do manage to adapt. Interestingly, some of those who defected had been able to overcome the mechanical locks on their radios to change the station and receive South Korean broadcasts. In this way they were able to decide for themselves that they were being fed a pack of lies by their own government.    

Nothing To Envy is recommended reading about a country that truly is like no other place on Earth. Those who believe America is on a Marxist/Socialist/Leninist or Whateverist path should read this book to see what such a place is really like.

Bucher: My Story by Commander Lloyd M. Bucher USN, Captain USS Pueblo with Mark Rascovich

On January 23, 1968 the United States Navy ship Pueblo was attacked and captured by the North Korean navy for allegedly intruding into their territorial waters. During the capture an American sailor was killed. The remaining 82 sailors were held hostage by the totalitarian regime of Kim Il Sung. The “Pueblo Incident,” as it became known, was played out against a backdrop of rising Cold War tensions and the Tet Offensive which broke out a week later in Vietnam.

This book is the story of Lloyd Bucher, the commander of the Pueblo. It recounts his impressive rise from a resident of Boys Town in Omaha, Nebraska to the captaincy of an American naval vessel. He covers the period when the Pueblo was being outfitted as a surveillance ship in great depth. During its retrofit he already had concerns about how the lightly armed vessel could respond to a possible enemy takeover. Unfortunately his concerns were to be founded as the ship was surrounded by five hostile North Korean gunboats as it cruised in international waters.

Much of the publicity surrounding the incident refers to the Pueblo as a spy ship, which it was not. It was an intelligence gathering ship operating in international waters. The key difference is that spying would be an illegal activity that would justify another country’s interference, while gathering electronic data in international waters was a permitted use of the high seas. It seems like a fine point to split but the difference is huge, basically the difference between being legitimately held by a foreign power, in this case North Korea, or being illegally held hostage.

Eventually Bucher issued a forced confession that the ship had intruded upon North Korea and had been operating illegally. This confession only came after brutal torture and threats made upon his men.

The crew of the Pueblo did their best to resist their captors. They were shown in North Korean propaganda photos giving the middle finger to the photographer. When asked what the gesture meant the sailors explained that it was a Hawaiian good-luck sign. The North Koreans did not realize what the salute meant until it was revealed in an American news magazine. After that point torture of the sailors increased.

During the course of the crew’s 11-month ordeal as the United States government was not 100% certain that the Pueblo had been operating in international waters at the time of its capture. In fact when the crew was finally released just before Christmas, Bucher was taken aside by a State Department employee to ask if the ship had been operating in international waters. Bucher verified that it had been. The United States then rescinded the apology that it had issued to gain the crew’s release.

One surprising aspect of the book is Bucher’s attitude toward Edward Murphy, his Executive Officer or XO. It is clear that he did not approve of Murphy’s performance throughout the mission even before the ship came under attack. Bucher is rather blunt in his assessment of his XO. I would have thought that the 11 months of shared brutal captivity would have softened some of his feelings regarding the XO’s pre-capture performance.

A year after the publication of this book, Murphy wrote his own version of the events, one in which he was critical of Bucher’s performance. It seems a jarring subtext in an otherwise fine story of men under pressure and their efforts to survive a brutal regime.

For more go to the official web site of USS Pueblo veterans.

Lost On Planet China: One Man’s Attempt to Understand the World’s Most Mystifying Nation

By J. Maartin Troost

 

Lost On Planet China by J. Maartin Troost is one Westerner’s take on the riddle of modern China. The country that Troost explores is not all that appealing. It is obviously crowded, 1.3 billion people have to go somewhere, but it is also incredibly polluted. Wherever Troost ventures he describes the air as some variation of “dismal haze”, “hideous pollution”, “vile” or this nugget, “wheezing as if I’d just chain smoked three packs of Marlboro Reds.” Not to mention the quaint Chinese custom of spitting everywhere in public.
I’ve read many travel memoirs. The first part of the book is usually devoted to witty observations about the differences between country X and the author’s native land. Then there is some transcendent moment where the author “gets it.” Maybe it’s a delicious meal or a wonderful interaction with the locals. All of a sudden they have a newfound love for the country they are visiting and all is right with the world.

I kept waiting for that moment to occur in Lost In Planet China. At page 100, I noticed I still hadn’t heard much that was positive. By page 200 I was becoming a bit alarmed that Troost just wasn’t going to like China, although I did appreciate his glaring honesty. He did like Hong Kong a little but mostly because it wasn’t like China. He also liked Tibet. But since Tibet has been under the authoritarian thumb of China for 50 years it’s sort of politically correct to like Tibet. To not like it would be like pointing out that Girl Scout cookies really aren’t that tasty.

By the end of the book I realized, “Holy cow, he really didn’t like this place.” Based on his descriptions I can’t really blame him. That said, the book is an entertaining read. Those who enjoy the travelogues of Bill Bryson will appreciate Troost’s wry look at the sights and events unfolding around him.

If the last century was the American Century it looks more and more like the next one will be the Chinese Century. They are already America’s largest lender and continue to build up their military and manned space program. As American consumers demand ever cheaper “Made in China” consumer goods at the likes of Walmart we are actually hastening our own demise. Sorry to be such a downer but it’s actually quite depressing.

Despite reading this book we’ve been planning to spend a month in China for our upcoming around-the-world trip. I’m hoping that maybe Troost was exaggerating just a bit. God I really hope so.

China Road: A Journey Into the Future of a Rising Power

By Rob Gifford

Gifford is uniquely qualified to provide a Westerner’s view of the future of China. He traveled to China in 1987 as a language student, became fluent in Mandarin and has spent twenty years reporting on, and from, the country. For six of those years he was the Beijing correspondent for National Public Radio. His language skills have enabled him to break away from the bubble of Beijing and interview ordinary people in the heartland, far away from government eavesdroppers.

For China Road he traveled 3,000 miles from Shanghai to the far western border with Kazakhstan. He followed the mass exodus taking place along Route 312, the Chinese equivalent of America’s legendary Route 66.

Witnessing the largest migration in human history, as tens of millions of people leave their homes for opportunities in the cities and factory towns, Gifford was able to meet with everyday people. His goal was to determine if China is the next great superpower or a paper dragon, one that will inevitably be consumed by a system of government that does not allow full freedom for its people.

Gifford has a love/hate relationship with this complicated country. He loves many aspects of the people, but experiences frustration doing his job under a repressive regime where he needs to use unregistered phones in order to meet unimpeded with his interview subjects.

Before reading this book I thought the recent rise of China on the world stage was a new phenomenon. Not so. China was a technologically advanced world power during a time when Europeans were still living in caves. When you consider that one out of every five humans is Chinese, it seems that their eventual rise as a superpower, perhaps the only one, is inevitable.

But Gifford peeks behind the curtain of the “China miracle” and sees a few potential fissures. For a country to succeed in the global economy it must facilitate a free flow of information, both between its people and with the outside world. Yet the Communist party severely limits freedom of speech and blocks a free exchange of ideas.

As Gifford states, “The Party needs to promote knowledge in order to compete, but knowledge is dangerous. It needs empowered people in order to become strong, but it can’t let the people be too empowered.”

Even though this thinking limits technological and other beneficial breakthroughs, the government is  more concerned that people can organize to overthrow them. The 1989 uprisings in Tiananmen Square took place well before the advent of social media. Imagine what a few disgruntled Chinese could achieve now? Egypt provides just one such example.

What does this mean for the West? Some factions see China as a huge threat and from an economic basis they may be right; particularly when looking at the loss of manufacturing jobs to Chinese factories. But Gifford points out that if “the China threat” idea is pushed too far it could define our whole relationship with them.

The rise of the Chinese economy is also beneficial to the West. Chinese goods allow Western consumers to buy cheap products and help tamp down inflation. And the Chinese government’s investment in U.S. government debt has kept interest rates, and therefore mortgage rates, low. (Though I would argue that the availability of cheap mortgages got the US into the problems it is currently experiencing in the first place.)

Gifford concludes that while we must stand up to China in certain areas, we cannot demonize them so much that we end up hurting our own interests. We need to back off of thinking of China as “friend or foe” but as a combination of the two. The West needs a nuanced foreign policy that doesn’t descend into “emotional demagoguery.”

When Gifford finally left China he reflected that most of all he would miss the people. They have suffered for too long under Communist rule and are finally getting a taste of progress like those in the West. But if the system doesn’t change in the next ten years, he fears for the future of the people.

Related Posts: Stories from our trip to China

Related Post: Books about North Korea

A question we are frequently asked by friends and family is how we will handle the language barrier in other countries, particularly in places like China where we won’t even be able to read the street signs. Will we try to learn the language before we go?

In the past we’ve tried practicing a new language with the Rosetta Stone and were not impressed by it. We’re a little dubious of a learning package that is so aggressively marketed to the point that you find it at mall kiosks right beside customized coffee mugs and the latest stuffed animal craze.

Since we will be traveling around the world and encountering so many languages (even within China there is a different dialect between Beijing and Shanghai) it would be impossible to learn the language of every destination.

It turns out that Michael is not very good at languages anyway, heck, he’s still working on English, while Larissa seems to absorb up enough of the local dialect on the short hike from the airplane to the baggage carousel. She also has a pitch perfect ear for picking up accents while Michael is basically tone-deaf.

Michael took four years of Spanish in high school but the extent of his knowledge pretty much prepared him for understanding the emergency exit signs on the New York City subway system; and even that was several decades ago.

Learning some aspects of the local language is more important for Larissa since she is allergic to many different types of shellfish. Whenever we have traveled throughout Europe she has written the words for what she can’t eat. This will be much more difficult with the characters of Asian languages.

What we will do is make sure we understand some basic phrases for each country before we arrive. Saying “please” and “thank you” go a long way. We also learn how to say, ‘Excuse me but I don’t speak your language.” The ability to pantomime helps so being a former Charades champion would be a definite plus.

In Mandarin the language consists of four different tones, so the word for “mom,” said slightly differently, could mean rope, horse or scold. No phrase book in the world will help the visitor decipher those subtle variations. Last week we asked a waitress in a Beijing restaurant how to say “please,” she walked us through it phonetically and made sure we had the right tone, in this case a rising inflection.

Whenever we ask people how to speak their language properly we always get a positive response. Just showing that you are making an effort to learn goes a long way toward breaking down barriers.

The best way to learn a language is to live in the country where it is spoken, even during the course of a week-long visit you will pick up enough words and key phrases to get by. Our impromptu language lesson from the Beijing waitress shows there is no substitute for on-the-spot learning from a local.

As the most historic city in America, Philadelphia has nurtured accomplished citizens in all walks of life. But its most famous resident is a fictional movie character: boxer Rocky Balboa.

Rocky represents the city’s hardscrabble image. In the first Rocky movie, despite the backing of the lovely Adrian, he didn’t win. (Sorry if we ruined the ending for the three people who still haven’t seen it.) But he went the distance against a much stronger foe–for him that was a victory.

He has become an inspiration to millions of people around the globe who can identify with his underdog tale. The most famous scene in Rocky occurs after he has transformed himself from an out-of-shape pug to a lean mean fighting machine. Rocky runs through the streets of Philadelphia and eventually winds up at the base of the imposing steps leading up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Earlier in the film he could barely make it to the top. But now he goes bounding up the steps with the unbridled energy of a child tearing through presents on Christmas morning.  The Rocky Steps, as they are now known, have become a worldwide symbol of triumph over adversity.

A few years ago, Philadelphia Inquirer journalist Michael Vitez and photographer Tom Gralish wrote a book titled Rocky Stories: Tales of Love, Hope, and Happiness at America’s Most Famous Steps. They spent a year atop these steps, interviewing some of the people who ran up them in a virtual round-the-clock operation. He met people from cancer survivors to wedding parties to celebrities. They all wanted to come to Philadelphia to experience a bit of the Rocky magic.

Rocky steps PhiladelphiaThe entire world comes to the Rocky Steps. We are going to reverse that trend by starting this journey at the base of the steps and from there we will travel around the world for a year. There will be many obstacles in our path from language barriers, events out of our control and the occasional gastrointestinal hijinks.

Our goal isn’t to  win over every obstacle we face. Sometimes we will just have to grit our teeth and endure it. But like Rocky, we want to go the distance. We will travel an estimated 75,000 miles during the year and return to Philadelphia to run to the top of the steps.

Appropriately enough the music that is played while Rocky makes his triumphant sprint is “Gonna Fly Now.” We can’t think of a better song to be humming in our heads as we board the plane to Beijing.

As a source of inspiration for those times when we wonder what we were thinking by going on this journey, we’ve brought a bit of Philadelphia with us (no, not Cheese Whiz). We have a miniature Rocky statue that will motivate us along the way for when the going gets a little tougher than we had planned. We’ll document Little Rocky’s trip around the world as he spurs us on to ever greater heights.

Here’s a video of where Little Rocky had been to halfway through the trip:

To view a photo album of where Little Rocky has been, including meeting actor Danny DeVito in London  and former president Jimmy Carter check out Little Rocky’s photo album on Flickr.

We said we’d run up the Rocky Steps when we returned and we did. See A Sort of Homecoming.

Michael has already written a few posts about getting rid of our stuff and how we are going to pack for this year-long trip.  Based on our prior travels I’m a pretty efficient packer.  (Truth be told, this all started when we were getting ready for our honeymoon almost 25 years ago. Michael watched me preparing a different outfit for every day and declared, “I’m marrying you, but not your luggage. If you pack it, you carry it.”)  So I’ve gotten pretty good at the whole mix-and-match wardrobe thing.

Larissa packing for a yearThis is it for luggage for a year of travel

But I’ve never had to worry about packing for a year so I’m wondering about a few things, like . . .

Will I have the right clothes for every occasion?  Probably not.  We’re not planning on climbing any mountains or herding yaks on a regular basis so we won’t be bringing clothes for those activities  Therefore anything we might do that requires specialty clothing will likely be a one-off experience. So we’ll either buy what we need or make do with what we have.

My more immediate “fashion concern” is whether I will have the right items for strolling around a city, going out to dinner or a light hike in the countryside.   I’m packing mostly multi-purpose garments; basic black separates with a few splashes of color here and there.  I don’t need to look like a fashionista everywhere I go, but I don’t want to look like something the cat dragged in either.

So my preliminary solution:  “accessories!”   I’m counting on sturdy pants, shorts and shirts that can take some abuse, with some costume jewelry and a scarf or two to dress up an otherwise mundane ensemble.  I’ll also be relying on my “miracle sundress” that I can dress up or down.  (Will this be enough?  Not sure.  Stay tuned for an update somewhere on the road.)

Will I get tired of the clothes I bring?  Probably.  (Will I get tired of Michael? Possibly.) No matter how many permutations I might try to create with this set of separates, I am bound to get bored with them by week five or six.  I am not going to ditch everything and start over, so what’s my plan?  Again. . . “accessories!”

In virtually every country I’ve ever visited I’ve found a market or bazaar that sells inexpensive trinkets and baubles.  This includes the US where they call it Target. They are not the best quality, but it won’t matter to me, since I will probably replace them in a month or two.

What about shoes?  A true woman’s question if there ever was one.  This is one topic to which I’ve given much thought.  No matter where you are, trudging around in uncomfortable shoes can tarnish an otherwise great experience.  I’m bringing shoes that are sturdy (but not ugly—I don’t like ugly shoes), comfortable and can multi-task.  After much deliberation, I’ve narrowed the selection down to 4 pairs:

Low-heeled loafers:  black patent leather, which will go with everything I wear, closed-toe (for bad weather, and visiting religious sites where open-toed shoes are considered offensive).

Hiking sandals:  good for city or country walking, waterproof.  I like the ones made by Keen—super sturdy and comfy.  (Michael thinks these are kind of goofy looking because of the black rubber cap toe, but I think they have a sort of nerdy charm.)

Flip Flops:  I have a pair of Fit Flops, which are really comfortable for walking, will be great for using at the beach or pool, plus they’ll work with a casual dress. I can also use them as slippers

Mid-heeled sandals:  (my big indulgence) Let’s face it girls, I can’t go away for a whole year without at least one pair of heels.  I’ve tried this pair out; they are comfortable for walking and dress up any outfit just because of the heel (I guess they sort of fall into my “accessories” category too)

The points I make above are based partly from experience and partly from what I think (read:  I hope) will work.  I will be reporting back from time to time on just how well (or poorly) I planned, and will highlight particularly useful (or useless) items.  And no smart remarks from you, dear reader, on seeing me in the same outfit twice!

See you from the road. . . Larissa

Related post: Our favorite travel accessories and gadgets

Click the link to see if Larissa made the right choices with her shoes: review of women’s travel shoes.

We’re global nomads who have been traveling the world since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

Part of me feels fortunate to be taking a year off to travel around the world at this point in my life. The other part of me can’t believe it took me so long. I see all those twenty-something backpackers out there traveling long-term and wonder why I never did that.

After putting myself through college I worked for a financial services firm in New York. Whoop dee doo. I was more focused on paying off my education and climbing the corporate ladder. But was my life really enhanced by any of that? Of course it wasn’t. After a few years of the grind I did manage to backpack through Europe with my best friend but we could only go for a few weeks.  Had to get back to work after all.

They say the best time to plant a tree is ten years ago and the second best time is today. Barring the invention of a time machine, that analogy holds true for travel too. Go now. See the world. It will change who you are and it will change who you become–for the better.

I encourage anyone within the sound of my keyboard who wants to travel to drop what you are doing and go now. I mean it. Just go already.

Why are you still reading this? Go make those plane reservations. We’ll see you on the road.

One of the frequent questions we get is, “How do you pack for a year?” The short answer is that you don’t. It would be pretty burdensome to carry every item we are going to use or wear for twelve months. The last thing we want to do is travel around the world looking like a laden down pack mule scaling the high Sierras. Basically you have to treat long-term travel like a 10-day trip that you are going to repeat many times in a row; in our case over 50 times.

Accordingly, you only need enough clothes for about ten days. When we were shopping for clothes for the trip we realized pretty quickly that most of the stuff we were looking at was made in the countries we’ll be visiting (China, Vietnam, Indonesia) so why not just buy it there instead at a much cheaper price? Granted we’ll still have to carry it around but since we’ll have spent so much less for the items, pitching what we don’t need along the way will be much less painful.

Leaving for the airport on Day One - this was too much so we soon pitched a few items

We’ll be traveling to either warm or moderate climates and will (hopefully) avoid the extremes of freezing weather and snow. That eliminates the need to pack bulky items like fleece jackets, hoodies and sweaters. If it does get chilly someplace then we’ll buy something to use at that location and give it away when we leave. You don’t have the luxury to carry something to deal with every contingency and, really, why would you want to? 

We are renting apartments most places so we’ll have access to a washer and dryer. A few rinse-and-wash items will make the final cut for those times when the sink in the room is the only nearby laundry facility.

Our backpacking days are behind us so we are at the wheelie phase of our lives. It’s much more comfortable than schlepping everything you have on your back. So we are each bringing a 21″ rolling suitcase and a carry-on bag that can hold a laptop, items for the plane ride and items we don’t want to risk checking. We will also bring one extra day bag for us to share to hold miscellaneous items.

One of the bulkier items tends to be reading material and guidebooks. Michael the Luddite broke down and bought a Kindle so that will cut down on many of the books we have to carry. Larissa prides herself on being an extremely efficient packer and clothes folder. On her many business trips in the past she always had the smallest suitcase among her colleagues. It helps that she’s rather small and compact herself.

The old rule of thumb, pack what you think you need, and then get rid of half of it, applies even more to long-term travel.

Here’s a list of what we packed.

When we tell people about our plans for a year-long trip one of the first questions we are asked is, “What are you going to do with all your stuff?”

It seems that there are two camps out there: “Pack Rats” and “Tossers.” To determine which camp you belong to ask yourself one simple question, “After you read a book do you get rid of it or put it on a shelf, to remain there in perpetuity?” (Probably right next to your high school chemistry textbook that you never opened then, so you’ll certainly never open it now.)

Since we get most of our books for free from the library we can’t hold onto them, nor do we want to. We are firmly in the Tosser camp so downsizing our home was a relatively painless experience.

Fortunately we knew for over a year that we would be taking this journey. In preparation for it we sold our suburban house and moved into a rental townhouse in Philadelphia that was less than half the size of our prior home. That forced us to make some of the tough decisions about which possessions really mattered to us. You know what? It turns out that most stuff is replaceable. We figured if it’s something we can get at Target we’re not going to pay to put it in storage.

Craigslist postings for free stuff proved highly effective for getting rid of things. Whatever we posted that day was usually gone by that night. It was a great year for twenty-somethings to know us as we got rid of much of our furniture and ended up furnishing a few dorm rooms and starter apartments.

The wide-screen TV went to a young physical trainer who did us a favor in return by taking some of the heavier pieces of furniture that we had no inclination to move. When the moving truck pulled up to our house they were surprised (and somewhat pleased) to see how little there was for them to haul.

This next move will involve even more culling through our stuff. At this point what’s left of what we own will fit into a 10′ by 10′ self-storage facility. Maybe at some point we’ll even ditch that and it will show up in a future episode of Storage Wars.

As comedian Steven Wright says, “You can’t have it all, where would you put it?”

Are you here or are you there?  The answer depends on if you are a traveler or not.

One of the interesting things about taking a year to travel is the response you get from the people you tell about your trip.  Reactions tend to fall into two different camps:  those who want to crawl into your suitcase and go with you and those who ask what you’re going to do with all your stuff at home.

If you are reading this post chances are pretty good you’re of the crawl-into-our-suitcase variety.  Mention of travel immediately has you thinking of faraway places, mentally locating your passport and itching to hit the road.   Even if you’re an armchair traveler, you’re doing the same thing.  You gobble up books (and blog posts) about strange and wonderful destinations, and the Amazing Race is your favorite TV shows (it is mine!)

The thought of how you are going to handle whatever exists of your life back home is merely a pesky detail.  The objective after all is the journey.  You are thinking about the there. The stuff you leave behind will get sorted out somehow. . .but enough about all that—you’ve got a plane to catch!

The flip side of this thinking is the folks who are focused on the here. For them, travel is something that takes them away from home, away from their routine, away from their stuff.  They are the ones who are not particularly interested in the journey, but are fascinated by the process of putting our life on hold just to take a trip.  They drill down to the mundane details of everyday life:  What will you do with your mail?  How about your house?  Aren’t you going to miss the Super Bowl/World Series, etc?  How long will you be away from home? (As opposed to “how long will you be traveling?”)  And they rarely ask “where are you going?”–a major differentiator if there ever was one.

It has been interesting to see these different perspectives emerge among our friends and colleagues.  Certainly a long journey such as this one requires a fair amount of planning, and there are also many home-based details to address.  We will discuss them at various points on this site since they are a necessary evil, and it’s important to help our fellow travelers get on the road as quickly as possible.

Because right now you might be living in the here, but we know you want to get to there. . .

Upon arriving after an overnight flight the departing passengers often look like a casting call for the latest zombie movie. We trudge wearily off the plane hoping to make it through the day. Usually I want to fall asleep on a nice soft sofa at the airport.

But too much sleep at that time of day can mess up your recovery from jet lag. A short nap of an hour or less usually works best. Any longer and you fall into a deeper sleep that is harder to wake up from. Your goal is to get enough sleep to make it through the day so you can fall asleep at a reasonable hour that evening.

On my first trip to Europe with a friend we showed up at our hotel in London around noon and immediately went to sleep. We woke up at 9 but were so disoriented that we thought it was 9 AM and immediately got up and went down to breakfast. Imagine our surprise, and those of the innkeepers, when we were rooting around for bacon, eggs and cereal at 9 PM. Of the day we arrived.

Needless to say this totally messed up our body clocks as we now had a full night’s sleep and were raring to go. This led to several days of waking up at 4 AM while it was still dark as coal outside.

Now that I am a more experienced traveler I‘ve got my jet-lag tricks down pat. I’ve narrowed them down to the five “Ss”: sex, sleep, shower, stroll and supper.

When you get to the hotel the immediate urge is to fall asleep. I am usually too wired from the excitement of the trip to just lay my head down. This is where the sex part comes. It helps to have a willing traveling companion for this but it still works if you are traveling solo though, like the act itself, just not as well.

Afterwards take a nap of no more than an hour. This is why having a travel alarm clock comes in handy. The problem on that trip to London is that I didn’t have an alarm clock so my body took the entire eight hours of sleep it missed and now craved. You need the alarm to force yourself to get up.

Afterwards a shower helps to wash off the flight grime and wake you up. Some people prefer this before the sex step so it’s really a matter of personal preference and your partner’s individual hygiene standards.

After the shower force yourself to take a stroll outside. Get out and explore so you can get that second wind that will get you through a really tiring day. Go out for a light supper and try to stay up as late as reasonably close to your normal bedtime as you can so you start the next day well rested.

After 25 years of international travel the five “Ss” have usually come through for me. And even if they don’t work, well, at least you still had the sex part so it can’t be all that bad.