Our year long honeymoon is officially over. Really, it was officially over on July 11, 2017 – 1 year after we boarded a plane for Cartagena, Colombia to start our year-long journey.
But now it’s like, officially over.
Yesterday, all of our belongings were finally delivered to our new apartment. That just makes it seem final, somehow. It’s really over. We’re not living out of our backpacks anymore.
Side note: I have no idea what we were thinking when we packed our belongings up for storage before our trip. Like, we saved the most useless stuff. I’m finding jar lids to old pasta jars that we threw away. There’s a dirty bath mat that I’ve had since college. Today we found a ziploc bag of ramen noodles. Why?! I want to throw like half of these boxes in the trash. Note to anyone planning a long term trip: throw everything you own away. Anyway.
We’ve settled back down in the San Francisco Bay Area. We have an apartment and we pay rent, like normal people. We’re doing things like learning to make bread from scratch and trying to grow a vegetable garden (cuz we’re low key granola). Our trip is starting to feel less like it just happened yesterday and more like this distant journey that we can barely even believe we took.
So before our amazing, shimmery trip fades into the recesses of our memories, I wanted to catalogue it. Everything that went wrong, everything that went right, and all of the juicy details about where we actually went, how much we ended up spending (hint: too f***ing much), all of it. So here it is: our year long honeymoon in review!
Table of Contents
Estimated Reading Time: 30 Minutes. So grab a coffee and settle in.
What We Planned to Do
We had big plans when we left for our trip.
We were going to spend 6 months in South America, with a month each in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. Then we thought we’d do a couple of months in Southeast Asia. And finally, because we figured by then we’d definitely both have Travel Bod™ and be SO in shape, we thought we’d casually thru-hike the entire Appalachian Trail.
I can hear those of you who read our Machu Picchu hiking disaster laughing at us from here.
But at the time, our plans didn’t sound so crazy. We worked out for a year before our trip, powerlifting 4x a week and hiking every weekend. We were in the best shape of our lives.
Our plan was to hike progressively harder hikes throughout our travels to “train” for the Appalachian Trail. We’d start with the Cuidad Perdida Trek and the Valle de Cocora in Colombia, then the 3-day Quilotoa Loop in Ecuador, then Laguna 69 and the Inca Trail in Peru, and finally the week long W Trek in Patagonia, Chile. By then we’d be so used to spending days hiking and backpacking that we’d be totally ready to spend 5 straight months doing it.
Of course, those of you who’ve been following along know that none of that actually panned out.
How Much We Planned to Spend
Hearing about all our our adventures and mis-adventures this year is great and all, but I know what y’all Nosy Nancies at home are really curious about: how much does a year long trip cost?
Hey, no judgement from us. We were scouring the web for months before our trip trying to figure out what everyone else had paid for their long term travel, too. A year long honeymoon is a HUGE expense, and we needed to ensure we’d have enough saved up. Not to mention the fact that we were paying for a 2 in 1 punch: a wedding AND a ridiculous honeymoon.
So we’ll tell you exactly what we spent … in a bit. First, here’s what we THOUGHT we would spend.
After a lot of research, we set our initial budget for $15,000.
We budgeted for about $1k per month in South America, Southeast Asia, and the Appalachian Trail. We figured we’d stick to a strict budget, stay in hostel dorms, cook our own meals, and splurge only when it was really worth it.
At the time, we had plenty of savings – I’d been saving up for this trip for 5 long years – but we wanted to have money left over after our trip. So we aimed for $15k and figured if we spent a little more, we’d be OK.
Spoilers: We spent a little more. OK, a lot more.
What We Actually Did
Our trip went completely off the rails and ended up looking nothing like we’d initially planned. At one point, we even cut a huge part of our trip early and left South America entirely – read why here.
We’ve never actually laid out exactly where we went – and looking through our Instagram, it’s a bit difficult to figure out. That’s less because I was trying to cultivate an aura of mysteriousness and more because I’m lazy about posting in Instagram. At one point, there was a several month period where we sort of just … went dark. Even our friends didn’t know exactly where in the world we were for a while.
So for the first time, I’m going to explain EXACTLY what actually happened.
Countries We Visited
We visited 15 countries in total. Here is where we visited, in the order we visited them:
- The Netherlands
- Monaco (but only for 15 minutes, which was just long enough to get a ticket)
- USA (again)
- Costa Rica
Cities We Visited
Here is every destination where we spent at least 1 night, in the order that we visited them!
- Colombia: Cartagena, Parque Tayrona, Santa Marta, Minca, Cartagena again, Medellin, Salento, San Gil, Bogota
- Ecuador: Quito, The Galapagos, Cotopaxi, Latacunga, the Quilotoa Loop, Baños, Cuenca, Vilcabamba
- Peru: Chachapoyas, Cajamarca, Huanchacho, Huaraz, Lima, Huacachina, Arequipa, Cusco, Ollantaytambo, Aguas Calientes, Cusco again, Arequipa again, Lima again
- Chile: Santiago, Valparaiso
- Argentina: Mendoza
- Denmark: Copenhagen
- Germany: Hamburg, Bremen
- The Netherlands: Amsterdam
- Belgium: Bruges, Antwerp, Brussels
- France: Road trip through Nice, Montpellier, Bordeaux, Avignon, Seillans, Nice again
- Monaco: We just drove through Monaco (and got a ticket)
- Spain: Barcelona
- USA: Hermosa Beach, Disney World, San Francisco, Paso Robles & the Central Coast, Louisville
- Mexico: Puebla, Mexico City, Isla Mujeres, Cancun, Tulum
- Costa Rica: La Fortuna, Quepos/Manuel Antonio, San Jose
56 places! Wow, that’s a lot. And clearly I haven’t gotten around to writing about them all … yet. (Sssh, we JUST got back).
How We Traveled
We went to a LOT of places and traveled in a LOT of ways. Here are all of the methods of transportation we used to get around over the past year:
- Bus: Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Denmark, Germany, Belgium
- Chicken Bus: Crossing the border from Ecuador into Peru (read the full story)
- Colectivo: Colombia, Mexico
- Mototaxi: Minca, Colombia
- Willy: Salento, Colombia (what’s a Willy? We were confused, too.)
- Flights: Bogota to Quito, Lima to Santiago, Brussels to Nice, Nice to Barcelona, Mexico City to Cancun
- Rental Car: France, Tulum. Both times filled with regret (read the full story).
- Train: You’d think we would have done some train trips in Europe, but no. They were super expensive compared to taking the bus, and the one train trip Jeremy did manage to book for a decent price, Lia accidentally booked an overlapping flight. The flight was nonrefundable. So no trains for us. 🙁
- Uber/Lyft: All of Europe, the USA, and Mexico – thanks to TMobile in Europe and Verizon & ATT in Mexico for their awesome travel data plans!
Types of Accommodation We Stayed In
- Hostels: Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Denmark, Germany, Belgium. We always use Hostelworld to book our hostels.
- Luxury Tents: Ok, technically our ~luxury tents were still part of hostels, but compared to your typical dorm or private, they certainly felt different! We glamped in Salento, Colombia at La Serrana and in La Fortuna, Costa Rica, and slept in hammocks Minca, Colombia.
- Hotels: We don’t stay in hotels very often! The only hotels we stayed in were in Cuenca, Ecuador and Tulum, Mexico.
- AirBnB: Lima, Peru; Barcelona, Spain (on the DL, as it’s illegal there – which made us super uncomfortable! We didn’t realize. AirBnb, why you shady like that??) and all of France. Also Hermosa Beach, Louisville, and Oakland. During our trip we also experienced a bunch of stuff that made us not stoked on AirbnB: we got harassed by our host, kicked out of our AirBnB by a landlord who rented it out to a tenant mid-trip, and got our AirBnB account hacked. Still waiting for any kind of apology from AirBnB for anything. Ever.
- House Sitting: Puebla, Mexico and here in the San Francisco Bay Area. We didn’t start using Trusted House Sitters until the tail end of our trip, but if I could go back I’d get on it ASAP. It is INCREDIBLE how much money you can save with even 1 house sit! It’s like free AirBnB + pets. AKA everything I’ve ever wanted.
Stuff We Lost
We lost so many things. Here is an homage to the ones that we were the most upset about:
- We lost Jeremy’s prescription sunglasses a mere 2 weeks into our trip. They were the first thing we lost, and the most expensive. We aren’t sure whether they fell out of our bag or were stolen, but we saw them last in a taxi in Colombia. Jeremy had to squint for the rest of our year. RIP, sunglasses.
- I left my Kindle Fire on an overnight bus in Peru. I went back to the station to try to recover it to no avail. It was just gone. I hope you enjoy reading every Harry Potter book in English, lucky new owner of my Kindle.
- Our hostel lost Jeremy’s beloved hiking pants the night before we went to hike the Inca Trail. This was really an omen that we should have listened to. We had sent them to the laundry and retrieved our laundry the day before our hike, with one crucial absence: Jeremy’s beloved hiking pants. He lived in those pants. Pantsless, he had to hike the Inca Trail in a pair of leggings a European had given us in Peru and his waterproof pants. No wonder we didn’t make it.
Animal Friends We Made
We LOVE animals. Like, all of them. So rest assured, we have a MASSIVE folder of cute animal photos that we haven’t even cracked into yet. Here are some of our favorite and most memorable animal friends over the past year.
- A cat in our hostel in Cartagena that cuddled in our bed every night
- Some cows on the Valle de Cocora hike (here’s a picture)
- Lupe the Sea Lion, who hangs out at the fish market each day in Puerto Ayora. Also, several sea lions and spitting marine iguanas in The Galapagos.
- Alfredo the Pelican in the Galapagos, who kept coming dangerously close to us and eating sticks like a weirdo. We still don’t know why he was eating sticks. Also, it turns out that pelicans are ENORMOUS and absolutely terrifying close up.
- Baloo, a giant St. Bernard who lives at Llullu Llama on the Quilotoa Loop
- Tito, a llama that also lives at Llullu Llama on the Quilotoa Loop (yes, they’re friends)
- Several pigs along the Quilotoa Loop hike (yes, there’s a picture)
- A really feisty kitten living in the doorway of a restaurant in Baños, Ecuador
- 3 very serious business guard llamas in Cotopaxi, Ecuador. We also befriended 2 dogs that lived in The Secret Garden Cotopaxi hostel. And Jeremy made a horse friend there, too.
- A self-entitled rooster that sat next to Jeremy while we crossed the border from Ecuador into Peru. The entire colectivo full of people was screaming at the driver to slow down as we careened at 100MPH through the mountains, and everything was chaos… except for this chill AF rooster, sitting on his owner’s lap just getting petted and giving 0 f***s. Here’s a picture of him.
- A tiny baby kitty in Huanchacho, Peru that 2 of our hostel mates found starving outside. They took it in, wrapped her in blankets, fed her some milk, and nursed her back to health along with the help of the entire hostel. When they had to leave, we took over the duties of caring for the kitten. Thankfully, she was quickly adopted by a local, or we would have definitely taken her with us!
- Caila, the resident Boxer at Arequipa Backpacker’s Hostel in Peru. The only thing better than taking care of a cute puppy is getting a discount for taking care of a cute puppy!
- A bunch of sassy alpacas and llamas at Machu Picchu that we tried to selfie with
- A pack of alpacas that worked at a winery in Chile. There was also a group of chickens, too. Here are a bunch of pictures.
- A tiny baby pug puppy wearing a Santa outfit in Bruges, Belgium. He had the saddest face but he was actually really sweet and very warm in his little Santa costume! There’s a picture below!
# Times We Were Robbed
Actually only once! I count us incredibly lucky on that front.
We were in a bus station in Ica, Peru waiting for our overnight bus when someone swooped in and grabbed our little day bag, where we stored all of our electronics. We had made the giant mistake of taking our eyes off of it for about half of a second.
Luckily, Jeremy immediately realized what had happened and took off in pursuit of the thief. Turns out the guy had a partner, who attempted to distract Jeremy while the 1st thief ditched our bag behind a trash can and took off through a crowd. But my husband has eagle eyes and cat-like reflexes – except when he’s trying to do something like walk, in which case he is the clumsiest human being alive other than me – and he was able to recover our belongings unharmed. What a freaking hero!
How Often We Got Sick/Injured
Ugh. We’re so accident prone. While I was more prone to stomach sickness and other internal illnesses during our trip, poor Jeremy kept doing things like tripping and falling and injuring himself, or bumping his giant head on everything. We are both the clumsiest people alive and I’m genuinely concerned about our future offspring. Here is our own personal series of unfortunate events.
- Burned a giant hole in his ankle trying to get onto a Mototaxi in Minca
- Fell and injured his wrist on the Valle de Cocora hike
- Slipped and cut open his leg on a lava rock in The Galapagos
- Severely injured his knee on the Quilotoa Loop hike
- Surfed directly into a rock and injured his (other) knee in Huanchacho, Peru
- Stomach sickness in Baños, Ecuador
- Bumped his head on every single bunk bed in every single hostel all year long
- Altitude sickness in Huaraz, Peru
- Permanent nausea on every bus ride in Peru
- Severe stomach sickness after coming back to the USA
- Overnight stomach sickness from the depths of hell after swimming in a cenote in Tulum, Mexico
- Ear infection after white water rafting in Costa Rica
Adventure Sports We Tried
During our trip, Jeremy discovered an absolute love for high-octane adrenaline sports. Lia, meanwhile, discovered the exact opposite.
- Minca, Colombia: Cliff diving
- San Gil, Colombia: White water rafting, waterfall rappelling, canyoning, paragliding
- The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador: Snorkeling
- Cotopaxi, Ecuador: Horseback riding
- Baños, Ecuador: Canyoning, white water rafting, ziplining
- Vilcabamba, Ecuador: Horseback riding
- Huanchacho, Peru: Surfing
- Huacachina, Peru: Sandboarding and dune buggying
- Arequipa, Peru: White water rafting
- Mendoza, Argentina: White water rafting
- Hermosa Beach, CA: Surfing
- lsla Mujeres, Mexico: Snorkeling
- Tulum, Mexico: Cliff diving
- La Fortuna, Costa Rica: Canyoning, cliff diving, white water rafting
- San Gil, Colombia: White water rafting, paragliding, waterfall rappelling (had to get rescued)
- The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador: Snorkeling
- Baños, Ecuador: Ziplining (had a panic attack)
- Vilcabamba, Ecuador: Horseback riding (horse possibly tried to kill me)
- Isla Mujeres, Mexico: Snorkeling
- La Fortuna, Costa Rica: White water rafting (got an ear infection)
Our 3 Favorite Places
We fell in love with so many places! But a few really stood out to us as faves.
- Colombia. Just, all of it. We love everything about Colombia, and it’s not just because it was the first country we visited on our trip! It’s the people, it’s the food, it’s the diversity of things to do, it’s the scenery, it’s the history, it’s tranquilo, it’s the music, it’s the dance. It’s everything! We absolutely love Colombia. We definitely plan to return! Read more about our amazing month in Colombia here or take a look at all of our Colombia posts!
- The Galapagos Islands. We loved our week in the Galapagos so much. It was filled with critters and swimming and more critters and more swimming and we just had an amazing time. We definitely plan to return to the Galapagos as well – and we’ll be trying to convince our family to come with us! We would DIE watching our little niece flipping her sh** over the sea lions and spitting lizards. Oh my god. How adorable. Read more about how to visit The Galapagos on a budget here.
- Belgium. 2 words, you guys: chocolate and beer. And waffles. Ok, 3 words. Oh, and fries. 4 words. Oh, and then those spicy little cookies, Speculoos. Are you getting the picture yet?! Other than being filled with the most delicious food, we were totally taken by surprise by how much we fell in love with Belgium! From our hilarious tour guides in Brussels who shared all of the ridiculous history and sense of humor that Belgians have developed over the years, to the insanely adorable and romantic town of Bruges, to one of our favorite hostels in Europe (there were chickens!), to the most ridiculous museums we’d ever heard of, Belgium surprised and delighted us. We spent longer in Belgium than any other country in Europe, and we’d go back in a heartbeat. Read more about Belgium here.
2 Places We Wouldn’t Revisit
When you’re traveling for a full year, you can’t expect to fall in love with everywhere you go. And there were a couple of places that we just didn’t vibe with.
We spent a full month exploring Northern Peru. I’m not sure if it was just the exhaustion of our 3rd straight month of traveling from place to place every 5 days, or the nausea-inducing overnight bus rights through the Andes, or the altitude sickness – or all 3 – but we just didn’t vibe with Northern Peru. Particularly, Chachapoyas and Cajamarca.
Things improved vastly in Huanchaco, an adorable coastal town which we really enjoyed. But in Huaraz only 1 of us was able to appreciate the beauty of the Cordillera Blancas on an epic glacier lake hike while the other one of us was sick as a dog in bed with altitude sickness. (Note to self: never ascend overnight to 10k feet after a week on the beach, even if you’re taking altitude sickness pills, even if you’ve spent a lot of time recently at altitude in Ecuador. It is a very bad idea.)
The entire month (yes, MONTH) that we spent in Northern Peru left such a bad taste in our mouth that we decided to cut our entire South America trip short and go somewhere else entirely. You can read more about that decision here.
If we did things over again, we’d opt to fly from Quito straight down to Lima and only head north briefly for Huanchacho, we’d cut our total time in Peru down to 1 month instead of 2, and we’d only recommend Cajamarca or Chachapoyas to visitors who specifically wanted to visit the attractions there, such as the Kuelap Ruins and Gocta Falls.
Oh, Tulum. Our feelings about Tulum deserve their own post, but we haven’t been able to convey our feelings in a way that feels both fair and honest. To put it very briefly: Tulum is every bit as gorgeous as you see on Instagram … if you can afford to stay in an all-inclusive beach resort. It may not be Cancun, but it’s also NOT the budget backpacker dream destination of the last generation.
But that’s not the main thing that we didn’t like about Tulum (although it didn’t help). Our biggest issue wasn’t the scams and tourist exploitation we were subject to in Tulum (although they ALSO didn’t help, and I’m still irritated about it); it wasn’t the insane price gouging or the blatant poverty we witnessed being suffered by local residents while ex-pat hotel owners struck it rich; it wasn’t the in-authenticity of the canned tourist experience, or the extreme partying (by gringos, of course) that was the nail in the coffin for us for Tulum. Sure, they bothered us too.
But what we REALLY didn’t like about Tulum was the animal abuse that we witnessed firsthand for the purpose of entertaining and attracting tourists. There was SO MUCH animal abuse! From the sea turtles in cenotes growing mold on their backs in the fresh water, to the toucans in cages at those same cenotes, to the baby turtles being fed by snorkelers in hundreds of tour boats, to attractions where monkeys are trained to come and climb on you, to wild dolphins kept in tiny cages subjected to a petting zoo at the hands of tourists, to a tour guide at the Tulum ruins feeding and tickling a wild Coati – and then encouraging the crowds to do the same.
It was heartbreaking, particularly in comparison to animal-friendly locations like the Galapagos and Costa Rica.
We are firmly against animal abuse, and I want this message to ring out loud and clear: Never, EVER, EVER!!! Touch a wild animal. Don’t feed it, don’t touch it, don’t invade it’s private space. If someone is encouraging you to do this, ignore it. You could hurt or even inadvertently kill this animal, or permanently impact its living conditions or habitat. It is NOT worth the Instagram picture and it is NOT OK.
We wouldn’t revisit Tulum unless they aggressively cracked down on human/animal interaction. If you’re looking for a tropical Riviera Maya vacation that’s a little bit like Cancun but not as terrible, we recommend visiting Isla Mujeres instead.
The 3 Best Foods We Ate
If we’re being honest, pretty much what we did for the past year was eat. And have travel disasters. But mostly eat. It is truly difficult to choose a top 3, but here are our favorite foods from our year-long trip.
- Soup in Colombia, specifically Sopa de Pescado from Restaurante La Casa de Socorro. Colombian food is absolutely incredible, and the soup was our favorite every single meal! Read more about the best food in Colombia here.
- Foie Gras in Bordeaux, France, which is everywhere and relatively cheap. Although we think that Boulangerie Bordelais had the best. Yes, it’s questionably ethical – although in France, the ducks aren’t being force fed so much as just served a never ending dish of their favorite food, which is a problem I can definitely empathize with. But ethics aside, oh my goodness it is so good. They fry it so that it’s crispy on the outside and soft and spreadable ion the inside, like butter. Yummmm!
- Casserole from Billie’s Beer Kafeteria in Antwerp, Belgium. It had beef, potatoes, cheese, gravy, and CHERRIES!? Yes. It was delicious and very Belgian.
Honorable Mention: Any El Pastor tacos we had in Puebla, Mexico. Holy sh**.
The 3 Worst Travel Disasters
As you know, we are insanely accident and disaster prone, so our honeymoon was less like a glamorous, picture-perfect dream come true and more like a year-long series of screw-ups and catastrophes.
We don’t even bother writing about all of the flights we accidentally double-book, or the dates we got totally wrong, or the destinations we visited in weird orders because we looked at distance on a map instead of thinking about the GIANT MOUNTAIN RANGE in between 2 places, or all the times we get lost … those are just, like, a typical day in the life for us.
But sometimes even we’re surprised at our own bad luck. Here are our 3 worst travel failures from our year long trip:
- Machu Picchu: We tried to hike to it. We failed real bad. We lost a LOT of money. Here’s the full story.
- Juan Curi Waterfall in San Gil, Colombia: San Gil was our first adventure town on our trip, and we hadn’t yet realized that Lia is NOT an adventurous person. Sometimes you just don’t know those htings until you’re 200 feet up clinging to a rock face for dear life while several tons of ice cold water drown out your screams. Here’s the full story of the time I had to get rescued off of a waterfall.
- The French Road Trip: In a nutshell, the entire thing was a disaster. We got a ~free upgrade~ to a fancy BMW, which was AWESOME! … for about 5 minutes, until we realized our BMW was about a zillion times too big for EVERYTHING IN FRANCE. Long story short, we smashed the taillight within 20 minutes, panicked for 2 weeks straight, and at one point, accidentally drove into – and got stuck in – a medieval castle. Read the full story of our disastrous French Road Trip!
The Full Story of Our Trip
A list of places is much more meaningful with a story to go along with them – don’t you think? So here’s the full story of our trip, in all of its disastrous, adventurous glory.
Stop #1: South America
After a few days of being sad and homesick, we pulled ourselves together and headed off to our next destination: Minca, Colombia, a town I’d visited a few years earlier which had made me fall in love with South America in the first place! It was kind of like going somewhere familiar, and we needed that feeling REAL bad.
We had planned to hike the multi-day Ciudad Perdida trek through the jungle from Minca. We were rugged, outdoorsy hikers, we thought, and a multi-day jungle trek would be the perfect way to begin our journey of transformation and adventure.
What we didn’t anticipate was that we’d be completely knocked over by how freaking hot it was. We were in the Caribbean in mid-July, and we’d spent the past 5 years in the permanent fall weather of San Francisco. It was so, so, so hot, and we were so, so, SO sweaty.
But alas, the Ciudad Perdida trek never actually happened. After a miserable 2-hour slog to Parque Tayrona, we decided a difficult multi-day hike in the heat of the jungle was not for us. We skipped La Cuidad Perdida.
We spent an amazing month in Colombia (here’s our itinerary) and an incredible month in Ecuador (here’s that itinerary, too). Then we spent a so-so month in northern Peru, and then a pretty good month in southern Peru.
But by the time we got to Machu Picchu in October, we were officially completely over our dreams of thru-hiking anything, much less the Appalachian trail. The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was an absolute disaster. A really expensive, disappointing disaster.
It was time for us to face facts: we weren’t the outdoorsy super-fit adventure lovers that we wanted to be. I guess we both hoped, deep down inside, that somehow long term travel would reveal our inner selves, and our inner selves would be the types of people who woke up at like 5am, did yoga or meditated or journaled (or all 3), had ~adventures~ all day, and then read books at night before turning in early, excited for the next day’s activities.
Instead, our inner selves were exactly who we already knew we were. We’re the type of people who sleep until 9am, drag ourselves out of bed and head directly towards coffee. Around noon, once we’re caffeinated, we do some adventuring … unless we’re exhausted because we’ve been adventuring every day for months and decide to sit in the hostel and work instead. Around 7, we turn on Netflix and veg out until like 12am, and then we finally go to bed and spend a few hours scrolling mindlessly through Reddit or Instagram on our phones. Yup. No surprises there.
Honestly, we really loved our time in South America. But 4 months in, we were ready to leave. So we left South America early.
Leaving early meant that we had to cut our time in Chile and Argentina short – these two countries are still on our must-visit-again list!
Stop #2: Europe, Suddenly
We accepted a generous plane ticket home to see our family for Thanksgiving, which was much needed. Spending a couple of weeks with family was the most amazing and comforting thing in the world after 4 months of travel, disappointing travel fails, and unfamiliarity.
Plans entirely scrapped, we quickly cobbled something together. Flights to Europe were, to our delight, insanely cheap. So right after Thanksgiving, we hopped over to Copenhagen, Denmark to start our new, exciting European adventure. We went from the heat of Argentina in the summer to the freezing cold of Europe in December! Don’t worry: we picked up some warm clothes before we left. Thanks, Black Friday sales!
You guys: Europe in the winter was AMAZING. We drank all of the gluhwein and visited Christmas Markets every day. It was heaven. We celebrated Christmas in Bruges, Belgium and then flew to France after New Years to embark on a 2-week long road trip.
And that’s when things started going downhill again.
It all started with a disastrous road trip.
Suffice to say, we ran a BMW into a castle. And, er, got it stuck. In the castle. Not our finest moment. Read the full story of our disastrous French Road Trip.
Still, I celebrated my 27th birthday drinking wine and eating truffle pasta with foie gras in Bordeaux, so it wasn’t all bad, smashed tail-light or not.
But even as we drank our way through the French countryside, we were changing our plans yet again.
Family Emergency Trip Interruption
We were about to board a plane from Nice to Barcelona for a 2-week long road trip through Spain when we got news from home that my 93-year-old grandfather was not well.
He was in the hospital. He needed help. There was no family nearby to take care of him. And nobody knew how much longer he would have.
Concerned about my grandfather – and being the only members of my family able to spend an extended period of time taking care of him – we decided to fly back to California immediately.
We cancelled the rest our European trip. (HUGE thanks to World Nomads, who picked up the tab for our interrupted trip! Travel insurance is AMAZING.) We’d planned to road trip through both Spain and northern Scotland – itineraries which we still have saved for some future date.
Instead, we booked a last-minute plane ticket to Los Angeles and said our goodbyes to Europe. Our last night was spent in Barcelona drinking wine in the Gothic Quarter, feeling surreal. Was it really ending, so soon?
Last Minute Trip to Southern California
Before we had a chance to really digest it – and I mean that literally, as in, we showed up at the airport in Barcelona at 5am still slightly drunk from the night before – we were back in the USA.
Except instead of a comforting homecoming, we found ourselves up to our ears in paperwork, visiting hospitals, researching nursing homes, and finding caregivers. We spent weeks trying to navigate our way through the complex world of insurance, long term care, and the legal protections that exist to prevent a financial takeover of the elderly.
When we weren’t at the hospital with my grandfather, we were sorting through my grandfather’s house trying to find the paperwork we needed to legally help him.
For all of our 6 months of travel to totally foreign places, we had never felt more out of our element.
There was one saving grace: we found an amazing place to stay in Hermosa Beach, which is an absolutely adorable little town just blocks away from the beach. We spent a few glorious jet-lagged mornings waking up at 5am and taking walks on the beach (me) or surfing (Jeremy) – just like we dreamed we’d be doing on our honeymoon! And then our jet lag wore off. Sigh.
After searching for nearly a month, we found a comfortable place for my grandfather to live. We left him smiling (or, more accurately, shouting angrily) at the enormous TV we’d picked up for him, watching his favorite football team. He kissed us both on the cheek and thanked us for all of our help, giving us a sweet 93-year-old-man smile, and we drove to the airport feeling an overwhelming sense of relief.
My grandfather was OK. He was in a place that was going to take good care of him, and he was happy. That chapter of our lives, we thought, was over.
How wrong we were.
Visiting Family in Florida
We boarded a plane to my mom’s house in Florida and treated ourselves to a trip we’d planned for ourselves ages ago: Disney World.
The plan, of course, was that after 6 months in South America, a trip to Disney World would be the perfect way to ease back into life in the USA.
Except we’d been back in the USA for a month by now. But no matter. We had a blast at Disney World. My sister, brother in law, and adorable little niece flew to Florida to meet us. It was amazing to be back with family, and we started to think about what on earth we would do with the remaining 5 months of our year-long honeymoon.
… And then, another call. My grandfather, who we’d just left a week ago, was definitely on the way out. Like, for real dying this time. Definitely.
Last Minute Trip to Southern California #2
We immediately boarded a plane yet again (for those of you counting at home, we accepted family help for these last minute plane tickets to take care of my grandfather. They are NOT cheap).
My grandfather was on hospice at his home. We entered quietly, expecting hushed voices, dim lights, a beeping monitor or two, and the overwhelming gloom of death.
Instead, we found my 93 year old grandfather shouting demands at the top of his lungs, screaming orders at anyone who would listen to him in his extremely loud Brooklyn Jew accented voice: “I want a COLD BEER and bring me CHIPS AHOY, the ones in the BLUE package. And I want JACK IN THE BOX but make sure the fries are EXTRA CRISPY. EXTRA! CRISPY! Where’s my blanket? It’s FREEZING in here! Close the door! No, not THAT ONE. The OTHER ONE – JEREMY, IS THAT YOU????? THANK GOODNESS. Tell him I wanted THE OTHER BLANKET. The OTHER BLANKET!”
It was not your typical hospice.
For 3 days, we ran around like crazy people getting my grandfather everything he wanted – mostly junk food and booze. Whenever we suggested maybe not eating a diet consisting entirely of junk food and booze, we got the world’s biggest guilt trip.
“I’m dying,” he’d say, giving us the kind of helpless old man look could bring tears to your eyes. “It’s my last meal,” he’d whisper, voice wavering.
But this motherf***er was not dying at all.
You guys. All respect to my grandfather. He is a WWII veteran. He worked for NASA on the early Apollo missions. He’s super intelligent and a total badass.
But he’s also my flesh and blood. He has shaped who I am in so many ways. And let me tell you: his side of my family could write an entire series of books on how to craft the perfect guilt trip.
So it is with love and affection that I put his a** on blast: he cried wolf on his own death so that he could hang out at home and eat junk food while everyone waited on him hand and foot.
3 days into our family sob-fest at his bedside, he fessed up. “I’m 93,” he said. “Who’s to say I’m NOT dying?”
A team of doctors and hospice workers, for one.
As of today, my grandfather – who just turned 94 – is still being waited on hand and foot by a team of 24/7 caregivers. He’s not dying anytime soon. He may actually be immortal. We can probably assume that the alcohol and junk food are serving to preserve his body, so he may in fact outlive us all.
For a few months, I was pissed. My entire family had dropped everything to come be by his side – not once, but TWICE. We were given the Jewish Grandfather Guilt Trip of a century every time we tried to say no to his requests.
But I’ve forgiven him. Really, it’s hilarious. It’s so quintessentially him. It’s so quintessentially my ridiculous family. And when my grandfather does finally go, I know deep down that we did everything we could to make him comfortable and happy. Guilt trips or not.
We just visited him for his 94th birthday. He looks healthier than ever.
Back to the whole travelling thing ….
So, we turned our attention back to our year-long honeymoon. It had now been 3 months that we’d been just hanging around in the States with no real plans to speak of.
We spent several weeks in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Then, we spent a couple of weeks visiting our friends here in the San Francisco Bay Area, which was by far the most expensive 2 weeks of our entire trip.
We crashed at my parent’s houses, my sister’s house, Jeremy’s mom’s house, Jeremy’s best friend’s house – anywhere we could stay for free, but never long enough to outstay our welcome (we hope). The generosity of our family and friends was incredible.
It took us a few more months to figure out our next move. With our plans disrupted, we were left scrambling. Last minute plane tickets were too expensive to afford, so we had to book in advance and hole up with anyone who’d let us.
While we spun our wheels and bounced from couch to couch, we remained productive: I worked incessantly on the blog, and Jeremy was busy debating whether to settle down in New York or San Francisco after our trip.
That’s right, you guys: during our year-long honeymoon, my incredibly talented husband applied and was accepted into New York University for a Masters in Education program.
Of course, as you know, we didn’t end up taking it. But STILL! The fact that he was accepted was huge, and we were at a pivotal life decision moment.
So while Jeremy waged an internal battle with himself about our future, I literally worked from morning until night. I launched a Pinterest consultation business and worked on sponsored campaigns, hustling hard to re-earn some of the money we were hemorrhaging during our trip. I landed us our very first paid sponsored trips, and finally started seeing all my hard work on the blog pay off – like, in the literal sense.
Until finally, a few months of couch-surfing later, it was time to leave for our very last adventure: Mexico & Costa Rica.
One Last Hurrah in Central America
A fellow travel blogger had graciously invited us to dog sit at her home in Puebla, Mexico. So we spent a few amazing weeks taking care of her adorable puppies in a beautiful 4-bedroom home.
Honestly, we were just happy to be stationed in one place, particularly in another country – one with delicious food, where we could practice our Spanish again. It was the most settled we’d felt in 9 long months.
I continued my working frenzy while Jeremy shopped at Mercados and perfected some of his family’s recipes (for those who can’t tell by looking at his white a**, he’s actually Mexican. Our married last name is Garcia! And yes: that makes my married name Lia Garcia. Yes, like Carmen Sandiego. I’m slowly embracing it).
After our time in Puebla, we spent a few days in Mexico City before catching a cheap flight to the Riviera Maya. We soaked up the sun for a couple of weeks in Isla Mujeres and Tulum. Which … did not go well. The hostel we booked in Tulum was such a party hostel that we couldn’t sleep through the noise – yes, even after a YEAR of sleeping in loud hostels. The final straw for us was when we had to step over a half-naked gringo passed out in front of our hostel – and I’m not talking about waist-up half naked here. We demanded our money book and booked the cheapest hotel we could find instead, but it was in the middle of nowhere.
So, lacking in public transportation options, we made the mistake of renting a car in Tulum, which quickly turned out to be a terrible idea. First, we were conned into purchasing expensive car insurance that we didn’t need (because my credit card already includes it) under threat of being reported to the government. Then we were given a “free upgrade” to a fancy Mercedes. After our BMW disaster, we knew better than to view this as anything more than a cruel joke that could only lead to disaster. Which of course, it did.
Driving a Mercedes around Mexico is like wearing a sign that says “ROB ME, I’M A RICH AMERICAN.” We kept getting pulled over by cops seeking bribes. And everywhere we went, we were given BS inflated pricing because our car made us seem like rich tourists rather than the cheap backpackers we actually are. We were hemorrhaging money, and everywhere we went, we kept witnessing animal abuse (as I mentioned earlier in this post). And then on our last day, we went swimming in a cenote, from which I contracted one of the most violent stomach bugs of my life.
Needless to say, we were not big fans of Tulum.
After spending about a month and a half in Mexico – which was actually great other than Tulum – we flew from Cancun to Costa Rica for the final 2 weeks of our honeymoon. And they were an amazing 2 weeks! We saw so many critters – all being treated with ecological respect and care, thank goodness! We fell in love with sloths (THEY ARE SO ADORABLE AND WEIRD LOOKING). We went White Water Rafting, which I hated just as much as I hated Waterfall Rappelling (it was literally just 3 hours of thinking I was going to die). We explored the jungle canopy on hanging bridges and hiked through the jungle to pristine beaches.
And then, of course – because it’s us – one last travel disaster.
I got an ear infection. I’m convinced it was from white water rafting. I was in SEVERE pain, and we had a flight home in 3 days.
Cue one more last-minute scramble. A trip to a doctor, a trip to the hospital, a bunch of pills, and the world’s most painful shot in the butt later – picture me shuffling around a hospital holding my bum and crying – I was pretty much good to go. We had to push our flight back and book an extra few nights in our hostel (again, World Nomads to the rescue! You guys, GET TRAVEL INSURANCE. I can’t say it enough) but thanks to the incredibly fast and effective Costa Rican medical system, I was home safe soon enough.
And then … it was time to move.
Cross-Country USA Road Trip
We packed up our car, road tripped across the country (with a pit stop in Memphis, Tennessee for one of my favorite sponsored campaigns!) and arrived back home in San Francisco.
We spent couple of months apartment hunting, job hunting, soul-searching, and crunching the numbers. We even made a soul-searching spreadsheet. And we decided that as of January, I’ll be a full time travel blogger!
Like, officially officially.
I’m taking a contract position for a few months (you guys, we have no money anymore) but we’re actually making enough to get by (no, really! Check out our income reports.) Which is amazing.
Through this entire crazy, disastrous, amazing, ridiculous trip, this blog has by far been the most life-changing thing I’ve ever experienced. This post has more details about how we came to this decision and why it’s the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to us – mayyyybe even more so than the year-long honeymoon!
We are SO excited for our new opportunities!
So, How Much Did We Spend?
Hahahahahahahaahahahahahahah oh god.
I don’t even want to say it, but I’m going to. You guys deserve honesty.
Between July 11, 2016 and July 11, 2017 we spent about $35,000.
I excluded the pricey bits paid for by my family: the last minute plane trips we had to book to take care of my grandfather, the lodging while we were there taking care of him, the plane trip home for Thanksgiving, etc. If I included those, it would be a LOT higher.
In a nutshell: we spent everything I’d saved, and then some.
But honestly, considering how screwy our plans got and how much time we spent in pricey USA during our year abroad, plus that stint in Europe – where a night at a hostel is about 6x more than it is in South America – it could have been a LOT worse.
Not exactly a cheap honeymoon, but not the worst, either: it averaged out to about $50 per day for each of us.
We did manage to stick to our $1k/month budget for our months in Colombia and Ecuador… which I know, because I was meticulously tracking EVERY cash purchase on Mint. (You can’t use credit cards all the time in South America, which is my usual tracking move.)
We won’t talk about the lack of meticulousness from Peru onwards…
So, if you’re planning a year long trip, take note: give yourself a very large cushion. But try to keep a frugal mindset.
If your budget is TOO tight, you’ll be missing out on some stuff, and like … how often are you going to have the chance to take a year-long trip? YOLO hard and do those once in a lifetime adventures!
But if your budget is too loose, you’ll start spending like money grows on trees. One day, you’ll log into your bank account only to realize that the money is gone, and it’s going to hurt like a slap in the face.
We did a little bit of both, honestly. We definitely spent more than I’d have liked to, but hey: money is money, and experiences and memories last forever.
I hope we satisfied your curiosity! If there are any other things about our year-long trip that you’re deeply curious, drop us a comment below – we’re open books (as you can see by this 8,000 word novella)!
PS, because we don’t say it enough: thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to our wonderful, amazing, incredible readers. Thank you for leaving us encouraging comments. Thank you for letting us know when our blog has helped you on your own amazing adventures. Thank you for your emails. Thank you for sharing our posts with your friends. thank you for laughing with us (and sometimes at us). Thank you for being here.
This blog has grown in ways we never dreamed of over the past year, and it’s all because of you. So thank you. Truly.
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