Charlie and I fell in love for many reasons, but our mutual love for travel was certainly one of the first things that drew us to each other. Sitting in a cafe in Bangalore for a “business meeting”, our first ever conversation had us talking more about our wanderlust and life goals than the work partnership we were supposed to be discussing. I was thrilled to have found someone I could so openly discuss my wildest dreams with.
We spent the months leading up to our big day talking as much about our extended travel plans as we did about the actual wedding itself. Where could we go? What places intrigued us? What could we afford? It was exciting mapping out our first year of marriage as a time not burdened with mortgages or career advancement, but as a time solely for us to pursue our biggest joint passion.
And so, with high hopes, at last we set off for Laos, our first destination and one we had been told would be one of the friendliest, cheapest, most enriching countries we’d visit – in other words, an easy entry back into the world of backpacking.
Since then, one month of travel has flown by and after entering through Thailand, we have traversed Laos from top to bottom. But now, as we cross over to Cambodia and reflect on this past month, we are still trying to make sense of what exactly we have gained from our wandering thus far.
When I first took a year off to travel, three years ago, I had left with no expectations. And because everything was new to me, it all wowed me. I thought backpackers were incredibly cool, I learned the world was filled with friendly people, and I was exposed to the most beautiful natural wonders – thundering waterfalls in Argentina, green sand beaches and sea turtles in Hawaii, glistening rice paddies in Thailand. Travel had shown me a highly satisfying way of life and I was hooked.
This time around however, I did leave with expectations. Remembering the highs from the last long trip, I set off expecting the same breathtaking moments and uninhibited sense of adventure. And as is always the case with travel, things didn’t quite go according to plan.
We landed in Laos during the height of peak season with its onslaught of tourists. Places we read would be quaint and sleepy turned out to be overcrowded and unwelcoming. Prices were hiked up and we cringed every time we had to fork up extra dollars after earning in Indian rupees. Locals, guaranteed business because of the large number of foreigners and tired of the occasional rude falang, were often unfriendly and indifferent. And to our dismay, almost all the rice paddies across the country were harvested, stripping rural Laos of much of its beauty: the mesmerizing green fields that we loved so much were nothing but brown and burnt strips of land when we got there.
Still, we tried to stay positive and eventually did find our favorite spots. For me, it was the charming riverside town of Nong Khiaw, surrounded by lush mountains and filled with amiable locals and travelers alike.
For Charlie, it was Si Phan Don – the 4000 islands on the Mekong, where time slowed down and you could spend days lounging on sandy strips along the river or swaying in hammocks.
It was interesting, and in hindsight, quite amusing trying to figure out our rhythm traveling together. The longest holiday we had been on was for two weeks and it was both of our first times on open-ended trips with a significant other. For the most part, we were on the same page – we liked to rely on our gut feeling about a place (which determined how long we’d stay) and usually, the general vibe we got always matched. But occasionally, our differences surfaced and we would clash.
I had a preference for mountains, greenery and being active – cycling, hiking, kayaking.
Charlie liked beaches, islands and being able to slow down, read, reflect and just be. I found energy through other people. He found energy within himself. And though we already knew this about each other, travel seemed to magnify our extrovert and introvert traits.
Sometimes the difference lay in our past travel habits. And while I craved some comforts (like outlets in a room or a diet that didn’t solely consist of fried rice/noodles), Charlie was used to being able to hunt for and always avail the cheapest option possible. It didn’t matter that I was ok with squat toilets, cold showers or boxy, windowless rooms. There was always something worse and Charlie was always ok going with it.
Being together 24/7 wasn’t without its ups and downs, but over the course of a month, we got familiar with each other’s habits, preferences and triggers. We learned to shed our individual travel personas and find a middle ground. Charlie now knows not to mess with my sleep and I know that he doesn’t travel well on an empty stomach. Date nights give us an excuse to exchange our backpacker rags for some of the nicer clothes we possess and splurge on an expensive meal ie. $12.50 for two people (we’ve agreed to allow ourselves this treat once a month).
Our first month of travel has largely been a time of learning – learning how to stay positive when things aren’t going the way we want it to, learning how we best travel together, and easing ourselves back into the world of backpacking.
In the end though, it feels amazing to be traveling with a partner and that has been the largest comfort of all for me. Knowing that Charlie always has my back and is there with me through the good and the bad beats going through this journey alone any day. And despite the occasional tiff, throughout this past month, we’ve enjoyed countless sunsets, private jokes and quiet, starry nights. I already know that these moments will always stay with us as lifelong happy memories. And now, as we look towards Cambodia and the journey ahead, we know that things will only get better.
A special thank you, once again, to those who contributed to our travel fund. Now that we have actually been on the road, we know for sure that this trip could not have been possible without your generosity and kindness. Thank you for helping us travel to faraway places, live out these special moments and find joy in simple pleasures 🙂