Next Stop: Who Knows?

Karen reflects on the World Tour, after four months on the road.

It was a simple enough question. Our friend Marilyn asked via email, “Is your trip everything you thought it would be? Or is it still too early to tell?” She was surprised at Ken’s not-so-simple answer. Shocked, in fact.

While it generally doesn’t show up in the blog posts and videos, sometimes this trip has been a challenge. A royal bitch, actually.

Imagine selling pretty much everything you own, leaving all your comforts behind and throwing yourself into a very different culture. Sounds romantic, right? Most everyone was envious of our choice. We thought it was a fantastic idea. It was interesting to see how quickly that thinking started to change.

We left the U.S. in a flurry of activity, still feeling stress from all the last-minute preparations. (Remember, our house had yet to sell.) We toured Japan. While our head colds and the high humidity were a challenge, we were having a pretty good time there. Everything in Japan was fairly clean, easy and efficient.  It felt like all the other 2-3 week vacations we had taken in the past. Except this time, we were not going home. We often found ourselves saying, “Oh my God, we are really on the world tour!”

Attitudes starting taking a turn in Australia. Hostels got dirty, activities were getting expensive, our travel styles were in conflict, tensions were flaring up. Being with the same person, 24/7, even if it’s your spouse, can be exhausting. Constantly planning our next move could be overwhelming. Paying for a flight we never used sucked. Squabbles here, some tears there. New Zealand lightened the load a little bit, with the locals’ laid-back approach to life. Wait, there was the damaged rental car. Oh, we left that off the blog? Yes, we did. More planning, more packing, more bad hostels. Are you seeing the pattern here?

The major thing we find lacking on our world tour is our support system. At home, we had our own spots in the house for some refuge. Most hotel rooms we stay in don’t even have a closet. At home, we had friends to call upon or hang with when we needed a hand or a break from each other. On the road we make and keep friends in 1-2 hour increments. We’ve had some delightful hosts and are so grateful to them. Travel is the most fun at those times. And then we move on.

We realized that we need our friends and family much more than we expected. Then a funny thing happened. Some friends stopped emailing, many staying out of contact. Even requests for email updates went unacknowledged. Hmmm, what was happening? Marilyn summed up the feelings we heard from several people: “We don’t want to send you bothersome emails that slow you down, that take you away from the adventure” and “Nothing’s going on back here that’s noteworthy”. Some friends thought that we were looking to change our lives drastically and did not want to hear from them back home. We weren’t fulfilling each others’ needs, and our friends were checking out on us. We were feeling a little disconnected and empty. For me, the excitement of seeing new things was waning. More squabbles, more tears.

In Malaysia, we have finally had some time to slow down and talk things out. We realize that our current style of travel may not work for another year on the road.  We have money considerations, pace of travel decisions and me missing my 80-year-old pop much more than expected. Perhaps a flight to Las Vegas, where he is snowbirding this year?

So Marilyn, our trip is not quite what we thought it would be. Life rarely is. Setting up expectations is dangerous, as they are surely going to tumble down. We have new opportunities to explore and there’s no better time than New Year’s to take a fresh look at our plans. Just like many of our friends and family back home, we will be looking into the future and setting new goals.

Next Stop: World? You betcha! Stay tuned for our next move. Thank you all for your support.

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25 Responses to Next Stop: Who Knows?

  1. Pat says:

    Thank you for this honest blog posting. We know that we miss you at home and it’s good to hear that you miss us too. Good luck with your travelling decisions.

    Love,
    A. Pat

    • Ken says:

      Thanks, Pat. It was great to see the whole gang on Christmas (the gang sure has gotten big). One way or another, we’ll see/talk to you again soon!

  2. Colleen says:

    Thank you for this reality check post. Whatever you decide, no regrets. I am so happy to call you both dear friends. Ken, I am so glad you had Dr. Karen by your side during your health ordeal. Happy 2012 whatever it brings!

  3. Sarah says:

    Hi Ken and Karen,
    You don’t know me, but I read about your trip in the Milwaukee Journal in late summer and I’ve been checking your blog almost every day since. Your journey is inspiring to me. I love reading about your impressions and reactions to the places you visit and the people you meet. I share your blog with my fifth grade students and they LOVE to experience the world through you. The toilet posts are especially interesting to the boys. But seriously it’s not just the toilets. We have all learned a lot from you so far and I hope you keep going! The reason I’ve never commented before is because, like your friends and family, I figured I didn’t want to bug you. So I just want you to know there are probably a lot of people like me quietly cheering you on.
    Happy New Year And Safe Travels from Sarah in Waukesha, WI

    • Ken says:

      Sarah,

      Thanks for your kind words. It’s always a bright spot in the day to hear that someone we don’t even know is enjoying the blog. Stay tuned for Toilets: Malaysia Edition. It will be… interesting.

      Thanks for saying hello, and happy new year!

      Ken

    • Karen says:

      Thanks for posting Sarah. It means a lot. One component that is important for us on this trip is to make meaningful and lasting connections. Making a difference in our and other people’s lives. It’s delightful to know that we are teaching some kids back home! Even about toliets! Cheers to you!

      Karen

  4. Dee and Wilson says:

    Thanks for sharing. You confirmed all the concerns of us, home in Wisconsin, wondering what life would be like on the open road. I consider you brave and adventurous. Both qualities that only come with some risks or set backs. The trials of your trip will fall away as you look back on your trip. Only a handful of people will try what you are doing, there is no guide book or rules. Keep the faith and you grow stronger and better with your current situation. I truly enjoy reading your posts and welcome the day you’ll be back to receive love and hugs from us.

  5. Jen Wilson says:

    Thank you for sharing the “shadow side” of traveling. I can completely relate to the ups and downs you’re describing. We tend to post the awesome photos and tell about our peak experiences and don’t share that we found a 3″ cockroach in the bed or felt so lonely and overwhelmed one day that we stayed in bed for 12 hours instead of sightseeing.

    There is a quote I love (but can’t find at the moment) that speaks to the moments that we most desperately want to return to home and comfort and friends as being the moment change begins. I think it’s wonderful that the New Year is bringing an opportunity to reflect, reassess and change.

    Another thing I’ve learned by facilitating online communities for years is that there are always readers you inspire that you’ll never hear from or even know exist. When you’re longing for some two-way communication, remember that you’re being read and followed and supported invisibly far more than you can know.

    Can’t wait to see what’s next for you!

    • Karen says:

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful post Jen! Your words have been soothing at many a time in our lives. I am grateful for all the outreach YOU do.

      Yes, I think all this “feeling” is leading up to thoughtful changes and a better experience for us. It’s just tough going through it to find the peaceful sunshine at the end.

      Hugs,
      Karen

  6. Betty says:

    Remember Holiday time is always a stressful time. I think, especially when not able to be with family. A phone call e-mail etc helps but not the same. Keep the faith, look on the bright side pick out the positives

  7. Megan Husband says:

    Hmmm…come to think of it, when I moved to Germany for a year, it was about the 2-4 month mark when I was constantly in tears and wanting to go back to the US. Then by about the 9-10 month mark, I was having blast and did not want to go home. Ups and downs are normal 🙂

    • Karen says:

      Whew! Well I hope it comes before the 9 month mark, as crying for 5 more months sounds uncomfortable! Thanks for your perspective Megan.

  8. Laura says:

    Oh Karen… I miss you so much. THis four month mark coinciding with the busy holidays here might be to blame. I have been so unavailable to you. I am sorry!

    Reading this made me realize that my assumptions about how you are spending your time are wrong. I pictured you and Ken galavanting around, living this exotic minute-by-minute life always on the run… with little time to connect. I see now that was incorrect.

    How wonderful it is though, for you to have such strong feelings about your relationships. Isn’t life grand in that you traveled so far, are achiving your dream, and now understand in a deep deep way how wonderful your friends and family? We all need this revelation! We all need this gratitude.

    I am grateful for our friendship!

    Perhaps a visit home around July 14 for our wedding? 🙂

    Talk soon, Laura

  9. Tom Berna says:

    I encourage both of you to see this through (even with a side trip to Vegas should you decide). These experiences you’re having are going to be unforgettable, and unexpected troubles aside, you’ll never regret them once they are done.

  10. Marcy Hunter says:

    Karen and Ken, you’re such dear friends and we’ve enjoyed your blog so much. Even though you’re far away, you’re near and close to our hearts. Whenever I look at a beautiful knit scarf or sweater, I think of you, Karen. You came over every Thursday night and taught me how to knit when I was on pregnancy bed rest with Patrick. You helped me get through such a challenging, lonely time. I will never forget your love and support over the years. In a way, I was feeling like you never left, you’re always with me.

    I’m so sorry for not writing more often! It’s always nice to hear from friends and family back home. What was I thinking!?!? My mistake for taking such a passive approach to your World Tour! I will do better about e-mailing.

    Keep your chins up. There will be ups and downs. I remember a quote about travel: “Wherever you go, there you are.” I am reminded of that when I leave town and expect to have a GREAT time. Travel is fun, but the challenges of relationships, gloomy thoughts when having a bad day, or just plain feeling broke, all tend to follow!! New adventures and travel last a lifetime, however, and your ability to see the world through a different lens will benefit us all! My only glimpse into the world outside the Midwest is Anthony Bourdain’s show “Reservations.” Am I lame or what?!

    Best wishes for a Happy and HEALTHY New year!

    Love,
    Marcy

    • Karen says:

      Thanks dear Marcy!

      You are not lame. If No Reservations make you happy, then do it!

      My intent was to not make people feel guilty into emailing us. It was just more of an observation about what was happening and my reaction to it all. Sometimes we didn’t talk that much when I was in MKE! Yet take me out of my comfort zone and suddenly, I want all my friends.

      NOW, you are welcome to email whenever you desire. I do enjoy notes from homes, even one liners.

      We will press on. One friend said it best…perhaps our journey is not about learning more from other cultures, yet learning more about each other.

      Love ya Marcy!
      Karen

  11. NotAnotherTourist says:

    I just came across this while looking for a personal chef (my husband and I just returned back to the US after several years away, so your re-direct caught my attention). I can definitely relate to the lack of glamour and surprising reaction from friends while living overseas! It always sounds way more romantic or glamorous than it really is. I also have lost a friend who claimed after trying to touch base multiple times, “there’s nothing exciting going on in my life compared to yours, so what would I have to update you on?” If only he knew that after a while, what at first seemed so bizarre, so adventurous, so noteworthy, became commonplace. Thankfully, sites like Facebook have definitely helped me to feel better about staying in touch with the friends I have made all over the world and stretching back to grade school. It’s nice to be able to briefly check in on others and not get totally left out of their lives as well as to have them be able to peer into mine.

    Best of luck on your future travels! Even when it seems tedious and you think you can’t bear another day of not being able to express yourself fully to the locals or figuring out how to do the most trivial of tasks, try to soak it up and revel in the unique opportunity you have! From experience, I can promise that you will surely miss the good parts and promptly forget the bad stuff (which turns into funny stories later) when you get back to the US and settled back down again.

    🙂

  12. Jane Somers says:

    Hi Karen and Ken! Waves and hugs from Plum. It can’t all be an easy, fun adventure. I still think you are so cool and brave to follow your dream, and you will have amazing memories to last a lifetime. But who are we kidding? When this chapter comes to an end, you’ll be planning the next one!
    Much love from Milwaukee.
    Jane

  13. Karen says:

    Hello Jane and Hello Plum!

    Thanks for your kind words. We are having some fun and making good memories!

    Have a delightful New Year ahead!

    Hugs,
    Karen

  14. Angela Kuhlmann says:

    Hey guys! Love reading your blog and all of your updates. Whatever you decide, thanks for posting and letting us all share a piece of your adventure. It has truly been fascinating! Best of luck on your continuing journey.

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