The New Normal

It’s said that it takes a month to make something a normal part of your routine, but in the case of travel, it has definitely taken longer for us to adjust to our new normal. Perhaps it’s because our routine is not so routine. Each day brings something new that we have not yet encountered and that has become a normal part of our lives too.

Our typical day is filled with many mundane chores and isn’t nearly as glamorous and exciting as my Facebook photos and other blog posts would suggest. Our days fall into different categories: travel day, down day, tourist day. Depending on the quality of the internet connection, here’s what we do with our days (not always in this order):

Travel Day Down Day Tourist Day
  • Up very early for breakfast.
  • Repack, shifting contents for air travel requirements.
  • Check to make sure schedules haven’t changed.
  • Copy ticket or reservation to our phone to show security.
  • Make arrangements for transfers to airport/ferry/train.
  • While waiting to travel, make hotel reservations online.
  • Ensure we have food and water for the journey.
  • Read a Kindle book, play a game or watch a movie.
  • Lunch
  • Take my notes and start writing blog post.
  • Notice I can’t keep my eyes open. Nap.
  • Arrive at destination. Go to immigration or go to connecting flight. Repeat until at final destination.
  • Collect baggage, go through customs.
  • Find an ATM to get some local currency.
  • Pick up rental car or catch a taxi and drive to hotel.
  • Check into hotel. Get WiFi password. Find dinner.
  • Dinner.
  • Wash clothes, hang to dry for next day.
  • Fall asleep catching up on news and Facebook.
  • Get enough sleep after being deprived from traveling.
  • Ensure that we get up in time for breakfast.
  • Breakfast.
  • Unpack. Wash clothes so there’s enough time for them to dry.
  • Transfer photos from memory cards to computer
  • Select and process photos.
  • Research our next destination online.
  • Determine where we will eat lunch and dinner.
  • Lunch
  • Take advantage of internet connection and upload photos to the cloud, download updates, movies, eBooks.
  • Check email. Check virtual mailbox for new snail mail.
  • Make onward travel arrangements and/or hotel reservations.
  • Pay bills.
  • Dinner.
  • Catch up on TV news. check email, update Facebook, Instagram, and blog.
  • If not feeling creative or inspired, watch TV or movie.
  • Fall asleep while checking/posting to Facebook.
  • Get up for breakfast or arrange to have food made to go.
  • Breakfast.
  • Determine what needs to be packed and taken on the tour. Repack.
  • Wait for our ride when on a tour, or arrange for transportation to tourist site.
  • Ensure we have enough water for the day.
  • Take notes about what we see and do.
  • Take tons of photos. Determine good selfie location.
  • Lunch
  • Decide to continue sightseeing or go back to hotel and take a nap.
  • Nap.
  • Decide on more sightseeing or relax at the hotel.
  • Relax.
  • Figure out where to go for dinner or wait for dinner to be served.
  • Dinner.
  • Write notes about the day and experiences.
  • If cellular data or WiFi available, update Facebook, check email.
  • Play a game, read book, or watch movie if no internet available.
  • Fall asleep.

 

Not only have our daily schedules fallen into a routine, our standards and expectations have also reached a new normal. I’ve learned to sleep just about anywhere, on anything that’s available. Sheri already was able to do this from many nights on the road for work, but for me, it’s always been a challenge to sleep. Pillows never seem to be ideal so we learn to make do with them. We never know about the cleanliness of bed linens or towels, but hope for the best.

We’ve come to have low expectations for food. It often doesn’t come close to what they call it or describe in a menu, so ordering has become a crap-shoot.  Just because they call a dish by a familiar name, doesn’t mean it looks or tastes like that. We’ve really lowered our standards on the quality of food in many Asian and African countries. We’ve come to expect meat to be tough and lean, chicken to be scrawny, lamb to be fatty, and fish to be boney. Every grain from rice to bread has sand or grit in it that crunches on our teeth as we eat it. Refrigeration is a luxury and receiving a cold soda or beer isn’t always a realistic expectation. I’m used to local beers being nothing more than Budweiser in a different bottle. Local brews haven’t moved beyond lagers yet. Grocery stores can range in size from a closet-size stall in a third-world country to a Costco-sized megastore in the most unlikely places, like Bali and Tanzania. Familiar brands are infrequently seen and costly when they are available.

File Jul 21, 11 41 00 PM

I attempted beef stew on the Serengeti and the meat turned out like rubber.

After all this time on the road, the one thing I’m really missing is being able to cook. There are just times that I want to make something I crave, and to cook it my way, with my own recipes. The hope is to end up with food I’m familiar with that we can enjoy. I tried my hand at Indian cooking while we were in Udaipur, but I was little more than the prep wench. I had to cook on our self-drive safari, however, the food I tried to make just wasn’t the same because of the quality of the ingredients. I have been spoiled by the quality of the tools I have at home, the quality of the cookware and the ease of getting quality ingredients. I’ve had to accept that I won’t be able to cook exactly what I want until we return home.

When we traveled to Hawaii in the past, we got used to the concept of Hawaiian time. As we go around the world, we encountered Bali time, Burmese time, Nepali time, Indian time, Island time (Maldives & Seychelles), and African time. All just a euphemism for late or very late depending on the country. Schedules are merely a suggestion.

Queues are just part of traveling. We’re used to having to stand in lines, but we still aren’t fond of the etiquette of queues in other countries, or should I say, the lack of etiquette. We’ve given a new meaning to “mind the gap.” If we leave a gap in line, someone will try and fill that space. And when they’re not, they’re bumping up against us. There is no sense of personal space in many countries. Being a bit paranoid, every time someone bumps me, I think they’re trying to pickpocket me or get into my backpack, so I’m constantly checking my pockets and the zippers on my pack.

India says YES because they don't understand the question.

India says YES because they don’t understand the question.

Although we think our English is impeccable, our accents make it difficult for many English speakers to understand us. We have learned to repeat a question several times, since many cultures automatically say, “YES,” to every question, especially when they fail to understand the question. On the flip side, we’ve mostly learned to hear past the accents to understand the English being spoken to us. Luckily, when I don’t understand, Sheri does, and vice-versa.

I’ve only driven on the left side of the road in right-hand drive cars for the last six months. It has become so normal for me now, I’m concerned when I finally drive again on the right side that I’ll go headlong into opposing traffic. From distances to weights to volumes, I’ve actually gotten used to the metric system and how easy it is once I got a feel for the amounts. However, I still don’t like expressing temperature in Celsius.

We are the proverbial rolling stone, never staying anywhere for longer than a few days, always moving on to the next destination. That means never having the time to truly unpack unless it’s to reassess what I’m carrying in my luggage. One bag for each of us means we can’t accumulate anything, which requires discipline to not buy anything unnecessary, including souvenirs. It also means being ruthless about getting rid of things that no longer serve a purpose or has outlived its usefulness.

Doing laundry in a sink is the new normal. I’m never sure if my clothes actually get all that clean. My hands get dry and cracked from washing so often. Eventually, all our clothes need to be washed, but actually being able to wash our clothes in a machine is a luxury. Being able to dry our clothes is a dryer is a rarity. In the past six months, we’ve used a dryer twice.

Here's one way to lighten your load; just dispose of your baggage.

Here’s one way to lighten your load; just dispose of your baggage.

Speaking of clothes, our clothes are getting baggy. Since we’ve started, Sheri has lost about 8 lb. and I’ve lost about 15 lb. I’m not sure if it’s because we’re more active in general or if it has to do with our ever changing diet and its affect on our bodies. A few people have commented that we look younger. Admittedly, not having to work every day has certainly reduced our stress levels (replaced with different stress), but I think losing weight has begun to show on our faces, giving us a more youthful appearance.

Our expectations for Internet access have been challenged during these past six months. I knew I wouldn’t be getting the fiber-optic speeds I was getting at home, but my preconceived notions were sadly wrong. Places where I thought it should be speedy, such as Australia, India, Dubai and Singapore, have been disappointingly slow. Places where I didn’t expect to have Internet access, much less a fast connection, including Madagascar, Tanzania, and Vietnam, have been a complete surprise. A pleasant one, but still surprising. What has been a welcome addition to our connectivity repertoire has been our T-Mobile cellular service, giving us unlimited cellular data and no roaming charges in more than half of the countries we’ve visited.

We have come to expect being mistaken for Chinese or Japanese tourists, but the response when we say we are from the U.S.A. always prompts the unexpected. We are tired of telling people that American isn’t synonymous with white. And finally, we’re tired of making excuses for our presidential election process. People with whom we’ve talked politics just don’t seem understand Trump or the people who support him.

2 thoughts on “The New Normal

  1. Eric, You will have trouble driving when you come home, especially at intersections where there are no other vehicles.
    Also if another vehicle is on the wrong side of the road, you wil lnot be sure if you or the other vehicle are wrong. Just remember the white line (if there is one) belongs outside your driver’s window.

    I too really appreciate your blogs, I get to travel with you, but in a lot more comfort.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*