The rumours are true: we've returned back to our home in Canada, and although it feels that not much has changed since we've been gone, we are certainly different.
The past two months have been a roller coaster of emotions from moving into our new home to reentering the work force. Through all of our changes, reconnecting with family and friends has been the most amazing part. We missed that aspect of being home the most, and we're so happy to start to be actively present in these people's lives again.
It has been a challenging transition, but we can honestly say that after living out of our backpacks for 22 countries, our car for the summer (Rust in Peace Fiona the Ford), and staying in countless hostels, hotels and friend's houses for the past year, we're happy to be settling down in a new space that is entirely our own outside our previous city of Waterloo, ON.
As we've been slowly integrating back into life in Canada we've been asked a lot of questions about our adventure and what it's like to return. Here are our thoughts:
1. Favourite country?
Greg: I don’t have one favourite country over the rest. There are so many special memories from each place we visited. But I would say there are a few at the top of the list for me which are the Scottish Highlands, Iceland, the caves in Phong Nha (Vietnam), Chiang Mai (Thailand), and Greece. Krystal: It's so hard to pick just one! Each country we visited was special in it's own way, so I like to break them up into categories such as favourite countries to hike in: Poland, Iceland, Scotland, and Vietnam. Favourite beaches: Cambodia, Greece, and the Philippines. Best food: Thailand and Italy. Best beer: Germany, the Netherlands and Canada.
2. Favourite food?
Greg: Northern Thai Cuisine, Italian Pasta, Portuguese wines, Pilipino Fried Chicken,and Greek dinners. Krystal: I agree with Greg. Oh, and all of the wonderful comfort food from Scotland. I still dream of the chicken I ate that was stuffed with haggis... which is a sentence I'd never thought I'd write!
3. Most memorable experience?
Greg: Driving through the majesty that is Iceland, our first stop, when the adventure was finally real and it looked like we were driving into a real life fairy tale. The other one would probably be Songkran (Thai New Year), I’ve never seen so many people collectively so happy.
Krystal: Sitting around a kitchen table in a hostel in Krakow, Poland laughing with complete strangers from around the world. Within two days we felt really close to this group and have already visited two of them in their home countries. The other experience was returning to Chiang Mai, Thailand to our favourite hostel for the second time. Our hostel friends there welcomed us back like we were family. We had a hard making new friends travelling as couple at times, and it always felt really good to connect with others.
4. You’re still together?!
Greg: You bet, and we've booked a wedding venue too ;) We’d be lying if we said everything comes easy in a trip like this, but our constant open communication (even when things are hard to talk about) helped us develop a deeper understanding of our relationship, and further appreciation and love than before.
Krystal: Travelling together was the most amazing experience. When we began this adventure, I felt we were at point in our relationship where we knew everything about each other, but being in new places sparked stories and memories that we had never shared before. It was like we were being reacquainted all over again, it was the best feeling.
5. How did you avoid getting sick of each other?
Krystal: We had to develop a skill pretty quickly of "making space" because even if one of us wanted to be physically alone, you couldn't be because the other person would have no where else to go. Instead, we were honest with each other when we needed quiet time and we would just be in our own heads thinking, listening to music, reading or writing. This helped us recharge and avoid getting frustrated with each other because it was our own way of taking breaks.
6. Where would you go back to?
Greg: Pretty much everywhere. I’d like to explore more of Germany, the North and East of Iceland and other parts of Italy. Krystal has told me there’s at least a dozen places we HAVE to go back to.
Krystal: [Smiles and nods] Yup, let's do it again! ;)
7. Where wouldn’t you go back to?
Greg: I personally got my fill of Vienna, Austria. It doesn’t mean I’d never go back, but I’m not particularly drawn to it. Same with London, it’s a fine enough destination but after travelling for a long time I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m not super comfortable in large metropolitan cities.
Krystal: Cambodia was an amazing experience and we learned so much about it's history while we were there, but it's one country I'd be okay not revisiting. It was chaotic and very HOT.
7. Did you struggle in countries that didn’t speak English?
Greg: Struggle? Yes a little, but I think that’s all in one’s perception. We definitely changed the way we talked, especially in places where English was not a dominant language. We started to use shorter sentences, but avoided slang while ensuring we weren't talking down to people or using incomplete thoughts/sentences like we can tend to do with babies and toddlers.
Krystal: We made an effort to learn simple phrases like 'please,' 'thank you' and 'cheers' everywhere we went. I have a terrible habit though of saying words phonetically (pronouncing words exactly as they are written), so I find learning new languages challenging. I'm sure I gave a few people around the world a good laugh as I butchered 'thank you' in languages such as Greek, Portuguese and Vietnamese, or mixed up the languages entirely.
8. Did you stay on budget?
Greg: Yes and no, we took out a line of credit before the trip and we used it, but we didn’t make any extravagant purchases or do anything we weren’t expecting to do, and we had fewer “surprises” than expected (we only booked two wrong buses, and had one car break down). Krystal: Our research had told us we'd need about $25,000 CDN per person for a year of travel. In the end it was closer to $32,000 but we spent a lot of time in Europe which drove up our costs. Honestly, it was all 100% worth it.
9. What has been the most impactful thing you have learned?
Greg: The world is absolutely chaotic, but there’s so much kindness that we overlook every day. The impact of our own emotions and actions are the biggest thing we can control. People don’t always remember what you said or did, but they remember how you make them feel. This year really drove home the concept: “it’s chaos, be kind."
Krystal: I feel selfish for saying this, but the most impactful thing I've learned is how to listen to my own body. I am in a constant battle with my own well-being, and I've always ignored how I feel or what I need at the benefit of my productivity. This year helped me recharge and shift my priorities to be kinder to myself.
10. What’s it like being home?
Greg: It's been an adjustment to say the least. We're changing how we use our brains, adapting to the new social situations we find ourselves in, and managing the expectations of ourselves and the world each day. The way we’ve combated the culture shock is by keeping our communication open between each other about how we're feeling, and trying to loop others in where we can.
Krystal: It's a weird shift going from survival mode like figuring out where you're sleeping or eating every day to now solving complex problems at work. Being back "home" there is a level of certainty that we know where we're sleeping tonight or where to get food, so we have time to think and worry about other things that weren't a priority before. In "survival mode" we ate when we were hungry and slept when we were tired, but being back at work means we have to re-adapt to our society's normal which has been a weird adjustment. I find that my mind still wanders a lot and I'm still in the habit of talking really slowly.
11. How are you adjusting? Are you sad to not be travelling anymore?
Greg: It’s an ongoing adjustment, some days are great, some days are a real struggle. It’s not the travelling that I necessarily miss because I was definitely burnt out from moving around so much, but having each day be different, having complete control over our actions, and only needing to be accountable to each other was what I appreciated the most about the travel.
Krystal: Being back sometimes feels like a dream. I often joke: Did we ever really leave? Looking at pictures and sharing our stories helps a lot with our transition and brings us so much joy. While we don't want to talk about our travels all of the time because we're worried about oversharing, we also get really excited when people ask us about our stories and insights, so please don't be afraid to ask!
12. Would you ever do a trip like this again?
Krystal: We definitely want try out long-term travel again, but we've agreed we would want to to visit less countries, or stay in one spot to see what it would be like to live there for a year.
13. Where are going next?
Greg: That’s up in the air right now, we likely won’t be able to go on a big trip again until our honeymoon.
Krystal: ...which will likely be somewhere adventurous, but also romantic like Hawaii!
Before we wrap up today, we have a confession for you: We aren't even close to be done sharing our stories with you!
Out of the 22 countries we visited, we've actually only shared content for 9. That means in the next few months we'll be writing, and sharing photos and videos about:
Preparing for, and our experiences in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines
Cooking with fire in Thailand
What to expect when staying in a hostel
How to convert your car for car camping
Planning a cross-Canada road trip
Travel guides for Belgium, Italy, Croatia and Greece
How travel impacted our mental health
Video compilations of "cats following allergic Greg" (arguably the best footage we took)
Thanks to everyone who has followed along with us so far! We are so grateful for your words of encouragement and support. We can't wait to keep connecting with you and hopefully continue to inspire you to keep exploring.
-Greg & Krystal