[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Michelle and Shaun met in 2010 while working for an international adventures travel and volunteerism company. After traveling together and separately, they decided it was time to go on a trip around the world! They have been on the road since January 8th 2016! We were lucky enough to meet this lovely couple in Montevideo and asked them a few questions about their travel experiences![/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]
Which place surprised you the most?
Michelle: India was a much more intense and overwhelming experience than I expected. After being on the road for 7 months, I felt ready for the famous “assault to the senses” many westerners describe traveling there – the vivid colors, smells, chaotic masses of people. What I didn’t expect was the extreme level of disparity we experienced, and how difficult it was for us to travel on our own. Other places in the world we’ve encountered poverty, but we were always able to shop at the same markets, spend time in the same locations as the masses of people without issue. In India, we felt shepherded to places that people felt were appropriate for our perceived “class” as white foreigners: diamond and jewel stores, shopping malls with french bakeries and brand name clothing, “nice” restaurants with english menus, trip advisor rated activities. Whenever we tried to go places that were more local, resist purchasing anything, buy more simple food, or do anything on our own, we were aggressively redirected and often even harassed by people – especially children, which was really difficult for me. There are many reasons we loved India of course, but the whole experience was more polarizing (love and hate) than I expected.
Shaun: Switzerland. We have done a lot of hiking this year and exploring on foot and when we got to Switzerland there was only one thing on our mind: the beautiful Swiss Alps. We were really surprised when we got there, and found out how expensive hiking in Switzerland actually is. We found many awesome trails with spectacular views, but all of them required at least $40 per person in cablecar/ train fees to get to the trailhead, making each hike start at a minimum fee of $80 USD. We even rented our own car to avoid this, but it made no difference. The mountains are just so steep that hiking all the way up from roads would have turned a 3 hour loop trail into a 9 hour loop. Everywhere we have been this year we have relied on hiking as a great low cost way to see a country, but in Switzerland even hiking has a high barrier to entry.
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What are you disappointed about?
Michelle: At this stage, I feel so open to everything we’ve experienced that I can’t pick out anything that would really be “disappointing.” There have been plenty of times we’ve been tired, frustrated, or overwhelmed, but never disappointed. Every place has had meaning for us at some level, and especially after India I think we just stopped building up expectations in our head about what places would be like, which made it easier to just experience them however they were without being disappointed.
Shaun: Australia is known for lots of things but mostly its deadly creatures and critters, especially of the slithering kind. Recently when we were camping for 5 nights on the ground in the Outback in rural Northern Territory near Uluru, there was a part of me that was a bit disappointed that I didn’t even see any of Australia’s famous snakes live, only their tracks. Not even any non-venomous ones! I guess it was probably for the better though.
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Most beautiful thing you’ve seen so far?
Michelle: We just finished sorting through 11 months worth of photos, and I’m convinced that this is impossible to answer. So many places we’ve visited have been esthetically beautiful. One that stands out because it just happened this week, was visiting the Australian Outback and chasing a pack of wild horses at sunset. Seeing the sheer power and beauty of these animals in the wild was something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
Shaun: Few things are as picturesque as turquoise water, crystal white sand and hanging coconut palms. Zanzibar, the small island off the coast of Tanzania has them in droves, and the beach we were staying at was truly a sight to behold. With perfect temperature water protected by the barrier reef surrounds, it was a wonderful place to relax after the up-tempo leg we spent in Europe the months before arriving there.
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What has been the most crazy/weird thing you experienced or saw?
Michelle: The Robot Show in Tokyo. There just… isn’t any good way to describe it. Battling robot floats, girls dressed up as anime characters battling each other on giant shark and T-rex statues, men dressed up as unicorns, pyrotechnics, glow sticks, plastic sushi the size of Shaun… this show was the very definition of weird/crazy.
Shaun: Probably the most adrenaline I’ve experienced all year was having to literally fend off attacking monkeys with an outstretched umbrella handle in India. We were descended upon by an angry starving troop outside one of the tombs in Agra, and after being backed up into a corner and screaming for help, between my umbrella and three other men with long sticks we finally managed to scare them all off. “They were just hungry” we were told afterward as justification, which wasn’t much condolence to us at the time. But it sure makes for a good story now that we can look back at it without any monkey bite scars.
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Where are you now?
Sitting in pajamas on our friend’s couch in Sydney, Australia.
Which countries have you visited?
We’re now up to 31! Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, India, Norway, Spain, Morocco, Portugal, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Italy, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Africa, UAE and Australia. We leave Tuesday to New Zealand, which will end our trip at 32.
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How is your budget versus actuals?
Shockingly enough, at this stage of our trip we’re right on schedule and have managed to be almost exactly to our budget estimate. We expected Europe to be really expensive, but couch surfing and traveling with friends (thus splitting bills 4 ways instead of 2) helped thin out the costs, so all the extra that we spent we saved with cheap accommodation and food options. We also gathered more points on our credit card than we planned for, which gave us four nights free accommodation in nice hotels (which we used in big cities where accommodation is traditionally expensive) and six cross continental flights free for the both of us, which were easily worth several thousand dollars.
The most expensive places in the world to get around we found were international flights within Africa and Australia (all $300+) and inside of Japan (which was $350 pp for only three train rides!) Food in Australia is extremely expensive compared to everywhere else we’ve been besides Norway (both places it isn’t uncommon to pay $30-$40 for an entree). Any safari option in Africa, even the budget one we chose was very expensive (>$1,000). Oh, and highway tolls in Spain! We unexpectedly paid 25 euros just to go an hour or two down a major highway.
The cheapest places to get around were everywhere in Asia (rarely paid more than $40 for a flight), busses in South America (cheap and high quality) and between countries in Europe (budget airlines for $40-$50 – the only caveat is that they charge $30-$40 per checked bag). Most of Asia, South America and India we could find or make meals for less than $5, and almost everywhere in the world we were able to stay for less than $40 per night. By far the most shockingly cheap experience was spa quality massages in Thailand ($6 for an hour!) and all of Thailand’s adventure activities. We went on half day white water rafting, white water kayaking and caving trips, and they were all only about $20 each.