Today, in my series on other travelers, where I get to find out about the exciting lives of others, I interview Deah of http://www.palmtreemusings.com/, a 41 year old currently in the US. Deah is a very experienced traveller (she started her main travelling adventure at 28) and has such an amazing story. She tells me her favourite place is wherever the next trip is!
So Deah, you’ve visited a lot of countries right? How many is it?
I have lived/worked in five countries and travelled to 98 countries – most of Europe, all of Central America, about half of Africa, and pretty much all of East Asia. We are taking a long trip next year to West Asia, and then in a few years we hope to semi-retire to South America, so maybe at some point I’ll get them all!
That is truly amazing, you’re so near to hitting 100 countries! Can you tell me a bit about why and how you decided to start travelling?
I started travelling in 2003, when I decided I wanted to see the world…. I was a world geography teacher, and I kept teaching about all these exciting places but hadn’t been to any. A friend had just started teaching at an International School in Peru. She sent me the link to register as an International teacher, and I did, and six months later I was moving to Haiti, my first post. I stayed there three years and in those years I visited most of the Caribbean around me and was also sent to some work conferences in other countries. From there I moved to teach in Nicaragua, and then later to Africa with my boyfriend (now husband).
What a wonderful experience and meeting your husband on the way, we’ll definitely delve more into that! How much did you initially save up to start your travels?
I didn’t need to save up – I found a job that would pay for me to travel. International teaching paid me a salary for nine years, and a flight to and from my job every year and back home to visit my parents/friends. For shorter vacations, such as Christmas break, spring break, Eid, etc, I explored around the country I was teaching in and the nearby ones. International teaching paid my medical insurance, provided me with a house, and in most cases, some form of daily transportation, and some bills such as water and electricity. The salary wasn’t huge compared to a salary in the US, but essentially 75% of my salary went to my travels.
Well that is definitely one really good option to travel if you don’t have stacks of savings, it was something I looked into when I was thinking about quitting my job. How did you find teaching?
Teaching is hard work, if you do it right. I found it rewarding but it also gets you down after several years. Working with kids can be a struggle because so many of them don’t want to do homework or apply themselves. As I taught overseas it started to really hit me how much students in other countries value their education, while so many American students act like it’s something they’re forced to do and act like they hate it. I wish some of them could see the facilities and lack of resources that kids in impoverished countries have and how much of a struggle it is there.
It would definitely teach you humility, it sounds like a rewarding experience. Do you fund your travels by working along the way? If so can you tell me about the jobs you have completed?
After nine years, and meeting my husband along the way, we decided to come back to the States. We moved “home” to Washington DC, but after a year we started getting the travel bug again. We saved up for the next year, and then took a year off work to travel from Australia to Japan via SE Asia. After that trip, we returned here and have worked the last two years, saving. Next year we are looking to travel again. I think we will continue like that for the next ten-fifteen years: work about three years, save up some money, then leave for a year and travel through a region.
That sounds like such an exciting plan! Definitely something I would love to do myself as living out of a suitcase/backpack can get tiring after a while, it’s nice to have some stability every now and again. What other methods do you use to fund your travels or assist to keep your travels on the cheaper side?
We are both pretty low-maintenance – we don’t care too much about where we sleep or how we get there. We prefer slow travel – a $10 bus ride over a $100 flight or a $30 train ride is just fine for us. We often stay at hostels, if we can get a private room, in order to use the common cooking facilities and also to meet people. So many hostels offer free walking tours (of course we tip!) or a group visit to a nearby market or a lake or mountain. It’s a great way to spend a day cheaply and make some friends along the way, and then cook as a group for dinner that night. Other hostel-goers are really great at sniffing out good deals for happy hour, tapas, late night drinks, etc.
By saving up our travel and doing it for a whole year at a time, we are able to rent our house out so we don’t have to worry about paying the mortgage while we’re gone, but still have a house to come home to. We’ve done some house sitting for friends, so I’m thinking about getting us certified as housesitters to see if that might be a way to save some money and see another part of a city- a neighborhood rather than the central tourist district.
That’s some great advice, we rented our flat too when we first left. We’ve also done housesitting, I’d definitely recommend it! So going back to your husband – can you tell me a little about how you met? I’ve heard single travellers describe finding a partner difficult.
We met in a running/drinking group – the Hash House Harriers. Most countries have a branch. It’s a great way for ex-pats to meet up and also get to know some locals and expats from other places. You run, you drink. Chris and I kept meeting up at runs, bbqs, etc and started hanging out, then dating.
We were fortunate to meet but then just eight months later his work sent him to Africa while my work sent me to Central America. It was too soon to decide to toss aside my job and run off together, so we did a year apart – a lot of texts, Skype calls, emails, and we saw each other on my winter and spring break. By spring break we felt we were ready to move in together, so I quit my job in June, moved to Africa, and started looking for a job there.
You have a lovely story! Can you tell me how your travels have changed since you met Chris?
For a while I continued to travel alone because he didn’t have free time at the same times I did. So I traveled a lot of Africa by myself or with new teacher friends. But after a while Chris and I got our schedules to sync up better and now we travel together a lot. Our new thing has been to try to get a friend or two to link up with us on our travels – last year my college roommate and her husband joined us for a week in Scandinavia – it was really fun to share that experience with them!
That sounds so much fun with others! Do you have any advice for spending so much time together – how do you make it work?
We each have our expertise: I’m the planner – I book hotels, plane tickets, bus tickets, train, etc. He’s the daily navigator – he reads the maps and gets us around the nearby sights. Once on a year-long trip we started getting really bitchy with each other. We spent the whole day apart – he stayed in and read a book while I spent all day doing a hop on/hop off bus in Singapore. By the end of the day we were both fine. I think we just needed a day apart!
That sounds so much like me and John – I plan it all and he stops me getting lost! It does end up in some arguments when I’m driving! It’s great travelling together, but it can be hard spending so much time together. Did you have any nightmare experiences along the way?
Once we took a ferry from Wales to Dublin. On the ferry they even have a hotel booking service to help you secure a room, but we just figured “Nah, we’ll sort it out ourselves”. It turned out that there was a huge soccer match in Dublin that night and everything was booked. Literally everything. We wound up putting our bags in the bus station locker, staying out along the Temple Bar area till 4 am, then found a Chinese food diner until 6. At 7 am we boarded a bus bound for Cork and slept the whole way there. All in all it was pretty fun but at some point staying up all night just gets tiring!
We had a bit of an experience with fully booked places like that too in Melbourne for the Australian Open! Is there anything you would have done differently?
Now we always book the first night or two in a city ahead of time. When we arrive, if we like the place, we extend the stay, and if it’s sketchy, we look somewhere else. Occasionally it turns out the place we’ve booked is full later in the week, but most times, they’re able to accommodate us or there’s a hotel or hostel nearby so it’s not that hard to move down the block after the second night. We each only carry one bag so packing it up doesn’t take long.
Great advice! When we went to Thailand I definitely overplanned the accommodation I’d booked, I would have liked to mix it up a bit, in terms of the places we went once we were there but I didn’t want to loose the cash we’d paid. Do you ever plan to ‘settle down’?
Right now we’re in a three year stretch of “being settled” in Virginia, although we still travel for my winter break, spring break, and summer break. I think for the next 10-15 years we will work three years/travel one year, and then when we are in our 50’s/60’s we will look to “retire” in a country where cost of living is low, such as Cambodia or Nicaragua, or maybe we will wind our way through South America, spending six months to a year in each country instead of trying to “see it all” in a week or a month.
That sounds like a great concept, and you’ll get to experience the way of life more than if you were just there for a short period. Have you got any advice for aspiring travellers debating whether to take the plunge?
People think they can’t afford to travel but really it’s a matter of priorities. If you want your home to have the latest gadgets, gorgeous art work, and your closet to have high-end stuff, then that is great and you can achieve that. But if you want to travel, then you don’t buy that stuff- instead you put $100 from each paycheck into savings until you have enough to take a trip. Every time I think I want a new KitchenAid mixer or a new pair of leather knee-high boots, I think to myself “That would cost $200 here… but that’s two days of travel in Vietnam”. And then I realize that my old hand mixer works just fine and I already have a pair of boots that are just fine and then I get online and start planning out “Where to visit in Hoi An” and I’m dreaming of the future.
That is so true! It was something I really struggled with before travelling, my wardrobe is still pretty huge, but I think I’ve reigned in it so much more than how I used to be before I met John. To finish Deah is going to share some stories around cocktails, she tells me she’ll try absolutely anything on the happy hour special (I just love those!)!
Bloody Mary Honduras: We spent New Year’s Eve out on the Honduras Bay islands last year, enjoying the beaches and diving. Unfortunately I developed a sinus infection on the night of New Year’s Eve and I just really didn’t feel like partying it up. The next morning my husband went diving but my ears hurt so I didn’t feel like I should. I walked him to the dive shop, and even though it was 8 am, the dive shop bar was having a Bloody Mary Morning. I settled in with a Bloody Mary and wound up chatting with some patrons – and by the time I was done with the second drink, my ear felt fine!
Porron: This is a picture of me in Barcelona, drinking from a Spanish “porron” at a tapas bar. We had done a free walking tour that day and we enjoyed it so much that the whole group stayed on for an evening walking tapas tour. It was a great way to spend the day with some new friends and find some drink specials and learn how to drink “the Spanish way”.
Helsinki: Of course it rained when we had only one day to spend in Helsinki and frankly we just weren’t up for slogging it out in the rain. So we found this lovely wine bar and just sat inside, watching the rain, and reading this book about the city. It wasn’t the same as exploring, but it was still a lovely day.
Krakow: We arrived in Krakow last summer only to discover that it was World Youth Day and there were literally 2 million teens arriving in Krakow that day to see the Pope. It got to where you couldn’t even walk in the streets. Chris and I found a rooftop bar opposite the cathedral the Pope would be visiting, ordered some cocktails, and settled in to just watch the crowd. It was way better than trying to navigate the streets.
Well thank you for your lovely stories, what can I stay, I love cocktails!! I hope you enjoy your future travels Deah, thank youf or sharing with us. If you’d like to keep up with Deah’s adventures, you can catch her over at http://www.palmtreemusings.com/. Stay posted, I have some other great interviews coming up!!