It’s crazy to think we’ve been home a little over 2 months now. We’ve caught up with friends and family, settled in our new home in Brisbane, Australia, we have an apartment and ‘stuff’ (probably too much stuff already!), we’ve returned to work and are back into a regular routine. The excitement of ‘coming home’ is starting to wear off and we’re just going about life like everyone else now.
So it seems like an opportune time to reflect on our incredible whirlwind 10 months overseas. How did this trip change us, both as individuals and as a couple, what did we enjoy, what did we dislike, and where do we absolutely want to return to. Hopefully we can answer some of your questions and give you guys some insight into our experience.
We visited 33 Countries on our 10 month trip, that’s right 33!
We’ll list them out, partially for bragging rights but mostly because I’m sure some of you are curious. So, in the order we visited them:
UAE, Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Sweden, Denmark, Iran, Armenia, Georgia, Cyprus, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Egypt, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, Serbia, Slovenia, Belgium, the Netherlands, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, Austria & Thailand.
We’ve also ticked 3 Wonders of the World; the Pyramids of Giza, Petra & the Colosseum, 1 Natural Wonder; Victoria Falls (would have been 2 if we’d seen the northern lights in Sweden), and 26 UNESCO sites off our bucket lists.
Our Favourite Places
A common question we get asked now we’re home is what was our favourite place or country. It’s a hard one to answer, we loved so many of the places we visited and had so many fantastic experiences that it’s difficult to narrow them down, but it’s also easy to see things with rose-coloured glasses once you’re home and overlook some of the challenges.
Ash’s 5 Favourites:
Krakow is one of my favourite places in the world! I’ve now visited 3 times and would go back in a heartbeat. It is such a beautiful city with amazing architecture and history, but it’s also got an awesome, eclectic, up-and-coming hipster area, and super friendly locals who enjoy visiting the same beautiful old town streets and restaurants alongside the tourists.
All I can say is make sure Krakow is on your next European itinerary.
I don’t really know why, but I’ve always wanted to visit Sarajevo. Perhaps I heard about the terrible siege of Sarajevo and Balkans war on the news when I was a kid? Maybe it’s because Sarajevo is where Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in 1914, resulting in WW1. But whatever the reason, Sarajevo (and Bosnia & Herzegovina) had been on my wish list for a long time, and we finally made it happen!
Sarajevo is a beautiful city full of interesting architecture and surrounded by lush green mountains. It’s managed to shed its dark past and is now a thriving city with lots to do. It has lovely buildings, walkable streets, great food and bars and incredible history. Interestingly, the primary religion in Bosnia and Herzegovina is Islam, due to Ottoman conquest in the 15th century, though its practice is generally less strict than in the Middle East.
The Bosnian war (1992-1995) is still quite fresh for the locals, though many speak openly about it, and you can still see the remnants of bombed buildings and gunshot holes in building facades. It’s incredible to consider that the people we were hanging out with (who were our age) lived through a war and siege on their city.
With all this and more to discover, after only 5 days here I wanted to rent an apartment and continue exploring, but alas we had a date with Southern Africa to keep. I will definitely be returning to Sarajevo!
Oktoberfest, Munich & Austria Road Trip
Towards the end of our trip, we met up with our friends with Seb and Brit for an awesome 2 week trip in Munich and Austria! We spent a few days camping in Munich and sampling the strong Oktoberfest beer, delicious pork and traditional music at various beer tents to Oktoberfest in Munich.
Then we hired a car and embarked on an amazing road trip through Austria! We got to see the Dolomites on the Italian border from a hilariously named town (Assling), tested our friendship and boundaries with nudity at the thermal baths and sauna in Bad Ischl, watched the Sound of Music and visited all the sights in Salzburg, and helped Brit celebrate her birthday in Vienna with a visit to a local winery to try the special Sturm wine, a fermented wine only available for a few weeks every year.
Thanks for a fantastic end to our journey guys!
I call it the ‘dark horse’ of our trip. Armenia wasn’t really on our radar before we left on our adventure (which is saying something, since I love researching everything related to travel & destinations), in fact it was a last minute decision to visit.
We were planning to travel overland from Iran to Turkey, however the Christchurch Mosque shootings had just happened and Turkey wasn’t exactly being friendly towards Australian’s afterwards, so we decided to bypass Tukey for the time being and looked for other alternatives. See Armenia, sharing a land border with the north of Iran, we had the option of taking a VERY long bus ride (24+ hours) or short 1 hour flight into the neighbouring country.
We were intrigued by this little country that has incredibly picturesque monasteries on the side of mountains, has fantastic wine (and claims to be the ‘first place of wine production’ in the world), and didn’t seem to be on many people’s radar.
Perhaps it’s because we went with minimal expectations (except alcohol after 3 weeks in Iran – a dry country), but we met some lovely people and had a fantastic time in Armenia! It’s one of the places I’d love to return to soon.
Africa Overland Trip
We visited 5 countries in Southern Africa in our short 4 weeks in Africa, 3 of which were as part of an organised overland tour. Some of you may have already heard we had some difficulties with both group synergy and visa issues of our guides delaying our trip. While there were a lot of negative feelings at times, we had an incredible experience in Africa!
We managed to see 4 of the big 5 (lion, rhino, elephant & African buffalo), swam above the largest waterfall in the world, went white water rafting on the most intense rapids a novice can do, went bush camping in the wild (with elephants, hippos, giraffes and zebras roaming free nearby), saw a sunrise over the incredible sand dunes of Namibia, got up close to Nelson Mandela’s life at his former residence and Robben Island Prison, and met some amazing people!
Overall I absolutely love Africa and already have grand plans to return (as soon as we can afford to).
Dan’s 5 Favourites:
Wadi Rum (Jordan)
There’s simply no place on Earth like Wadi Rum. Although we only spent around 24 in this spectacular, other-worldly expanse of sand, stone and sky I could have easily spent a week here.
There’s just something spiritual and eternal about the place the local Bedouins call the Valley of the Moon. Whether it’s reading a book in the shade overlooking the dunes; climbing to the top of a towering stone pillar or enjoying some local hospitality under the clear night sky, Wadi Rum is a place everyone should experience at least once in their life.
The coastal town of Swakopmund is a bit of a hidden oasis nestled on the edge of the Namibian desert. We spent four days here as part of our African overland tour and decided to make the most of it by booking an AirBnB with three friends. It was there that we met the amazing housekeeper Lizbeth, the angel of Swakopmund, and had an incredible view of the desert dunes from within the uber-comfortable three-bedroom house.
Despite only being home to 50,000 people, Swakopmund offers boutique hipster stores, sand-boarding, historical colonial buildings, skydiving and a great beach-front. It also has some of the best food we tried in Africa; for game-meats check out Napolitana (especially try the Oryx), and my new favourite fast food chicken anywhere in the world, Hungry Lion!
Cesky Krumlov (Czech Republic)
I’ve written about Cesky Krumlov before, but essentially it’s just a magical fairytale land where dreams are made. A completely preserved medieval town complete with a castle, watermills, sprawling gardens and spiralling towers, no matter how many times you visit it always lives up (or exceeds) your expectations.
Do yourself a favour and spend at least a night here, the town really comes into its own after all the day-trippers leave.
Copenhagen is simply a very cool city. From street art, craft breweries, publicly accessible palace grounds and gardens, as well as intricate cycling paths crisscrossing the city, Copenhagen is clearly designed for the enjoyment and utilisation of its residents.
And that’s before even mentioning the semi-autonomous hippy commune of Christiania. Our advice; skip the tourist traps of the little mermaid statue and colourful Nyhavn docks and get lost in the backstreets of this fascinating city.
What can be said about Jerusalem? Ancient and holy, it’s the centre of the Middle East and one of the most contested cities on earth. The magnificent old-town is home to the Western Wall, Dome of the Rock and Holy Sepulchre, with pilgrims of all Abrahamic faiths descending on the holy city to worship.
Full of culture, history and spirituality Jerusalem also has an emerging youth identity of bars, live music and arts all its own.
That’s not to say we both didn’t love some most all of the trip, but when you’re travelling for 10 months not everywhere can be a highlight. In saying that, here are some of our other favourite experiences…
Honourable mentions to:
- Flying to Italy at the last minute to catch up with our friends Silas and Carla for a few days of wine, pasta and fun
- Stockholm; we were only there 24 hours (and half of that we were missing luggage), but we managed to squeeze in a lot, like the crazy ‘Viking Sauna’ where we drank beer in a floating sauna on the dock and jumped into the freezing Baltic sea when we got too hot, and the awesome pub crawl we went on afterwards with our new friends
- Iran; an extremely underrated country with fantastic history and architecture and the friendliest people we’ve ever met
- Spending Independence Day in Lithuania
- Visiting Israel during Passover and Jordan & Egypt during Ramadan
- Cruising down the Nile and seeing the great pyramids in Egypt
- Flying Business Class, twice!
- Our Nudist Adventure in Croatia
- Spending our anniversary in a suite at the fanciest hotel in Iran (the former accommodation of royalty)
- Sleeping under the stars (without a tent) in the Namibian desert
- Dan’s head being licked by a Cheetah in Africa (apparently they love salt!)
- Formally launching our blog from a homestay in the-middle-of-nowhere Armenia
- Seeing Bloc Party play a small live show in Leipzig, Germany
- Watching Muay Thai from ringside seats in Thailand
- Saving the Game of Throne Season 8 Premier viewing party at our hostel in Jerusalem
- Playing a game of cricket to pass the time during our border crossing debacle in Botswana/Namibia
Places We Didn’t Like
So, we’ve just raved on about all the amazing places we’ve visited, but surely there were some places we just didn’t enjoy… right?
Honestly, I don’t really think so (though Dan will say Bucharest, the dreary capital of Romania). Sure there were days where things weren’t awesome, plenty of times when things went wrong (there were a few flight issues, like the time our luggage was lost in Stockholm or when we were denied boarding for our flight out of Egypt, our Croatian road trip misadventure… the list goes on), but I honestly can’t think of a place we visited that I wouldn’t return to if given the opportunity.
(sorry if that’s boring).
Yeah honestly Bucharest was cold, dirty, dreary and really didn’t have much going on. It was interesting joining walking tours to learn about the history of Romania under Nicolae Ceaușescu, but overall I found the city to be pretty unpleasant. The people seemed to perpetually be in a bad mood and there was visible crime in most public places. Cheap food and beer though!
What Life was Like Day-to-Day on the Road
Life is life. Even though we were travelling, we still found ourselves falling into routines. Early on in the trip we found half a day sightseeing was more than enough for us or we’d lose stamina. While cramming your days full on a 2 week holiday is doable, trying that for a longer time just ends in burnout. It might sound crazy now, but there were days on the road where we just hibernated inside, did laundry and watched netflix.
We created a ‘new normal’ for ourselves while travelling, I’m not ashamed to say I readily enjoyed my sleep-ins while Dan we out for breakfast or exploring, but we didn’t have a set plan for each day most of the time.
Sometimes we’d go out exploring in the morning, then rest, travel plan or work on the blog in the afternoon, sometimes the other way round. Some days we just lounged in bed or on the couch watching TV and laughing at shampoo commercials in different languages.
We were a bit lazy about cooking while on the road (it just seemed like such a task to constantly buy everything you need for a meal, like salt, herbs etc), so I hesitantly admit that about 90% of the time we ate either lunch or dinner out somewhere, and just had a light meal or snack for the alternate meal (oops).
The longest we spend in one place was a week, so every few days we’d have to pack up everything and move on. This got tiring after a while, and in June we decided to start booking longer stays (at least 3-4 days) in places to allow ourselves the downtime we needed on top of sightseeing which definitely helped!
I don’t want this to sound boring or ungrateful but after a while even travel just becomes a day-to-day activity. You may be aware that we were initially planning to travel for at least a year, but found after 9 months we were tired of constantly moving around and not having a ‘home base’.
While we could have settled down somewhere for a month or so (and we did discuss it a few times) we ultimately decided to come home a little early, while we were still enjoying our trip, and set ourselves up back at home. Probably one of the deciding reasons (for me at least) was that Dan was returning home to the same job, meaning we already had a fairly stable job and income to come back to (since we’ve also got a wedding to pay for this year).
It was also nice to see friends and family after being away so long!
Essentially what Ash said. I would often get up early (long before Ash), put in my headphones and go for a walk through whichever town we happened to be in. I’m pretty hyperactive, I don’t like to be doing nothing. Sometimes I’d find cool places or learn about events/activities that we would visit together later in the day. I got really into Spotify, podcasts and audiobooks, and probably walked an average of 7-10km a day all up.
We almost definitely ate and drank out too often. Even though we regularly stayed at hostels with communal kitchens, we usually found it wasteful and not worth the hassle of buying meat, vegetables and ingredients when we would be leaving in a day or two and couldn’t bring it with us.
Life on the road was a mixture of excitement, adventure, stress, planning, boredom and relaxation. Some days we would see lions, African sunsets and the milky way, and the next we would spend 10+ hours sitting on a bus. We would go from hiking mountains and climbing waterfalls to chilling out watching Netflix or doing a blogging day. There was never really a set routine, as everything would depend on the location, accommodation in which we were staying and how we were feeling. And that lack of routine can start to weigh on you after a while.
It was a great idea to start writing a blog, as it gave us a sense of purpose and something constructive to regularly maintain, rather than just lazing around without direction. Also because we rarely had a strict itinerary we had a huge amount of freedom and flexibility. We were able to visit a village or random attraction on a whim after stumbling across it online or getting a recommendation from a new friend.
What We Learned (about ourselves, each other & as a couple)
Travelling with your partner definitely creates a higher stress environment than most couples are used to. You’re together almost 24/7, and for Dan and I this took a bit of adjusting. I will quietly admit that I didn’t hate the occasions when we had single beds (or were sleeping in dorm bunks) as it gave us a little space.
I think we definitely learned how to read each other better during our trip, and became much better at communicating our needs (mostly me, I was pretty bad at communicating what I needed and just expected Dan to know somehow).
While we have a lot in common, like an interest in history and culture, an affinity for beer and wine (and most everything alcoholic) and love for exploring beautiful places, there is plenty we don’t too. Luckily for us, a lot of our differences just made us a better team!
For example; Dan is terrible at organisation and packing, while I have it down to a fine art and often just rolled my eyes at his ‘I can’t fit anything else in my bag’ and proceeded to repack it with twice as much inside. I am definitely not a morning person (sorry), while Dan was up and out the door by 8 most days, so he would often go for a morning walk without me. While I love planning and research, Dan is generally more spontaneous and added a lot of fun ‘on the fly’ adventures.
We’ve definitely seen how the other deals with high stress situations, and there are definitely times when we both get frustrated! Luckily we are pretty good at adapting so that one of us is always practical and productive while the other is having a moment.
Travelling together has definitely changed us for the better! We have a much deeper and stronger relationship after everything we’ve experienced together; we know when to make the other laugh or give them a hug when they need perking up, we can have fun together on long and boring bus rides, we always find something to talk about despite spending most of the day together, and most importantly, we know we can take time just for ourselves without offending the other.
I learned that Ashlea will put up with me no matter how many times I miss the fine-print on Egyptian tickets, input wrong GPS directions in Croatia or get annoying songs stuck in her head for hours on end. The amount of effort and skill Ash has put into both our trip and the blog has made me admire her even more, which is really saying something.
As for me, I’ve become more confident with striking up conversations with strangers and wandering unfamiliar streets alone. I’ve learned that skinny-dipping in the ocean is an amazing feeling, that the insides of Pyramids are creepy, that Cheetahs are just big kitties and that there’s nowhere more relaxing than the shade of a rocky outcrop in the Jordanian Desert. I’m far more comfortable in strange new situations, and I’ve learned that researching the history of a place makes you appreciate it far more.
I’ve learned that while countries, places and cultures can be wildly different, people are fundamentally the same.
It’s definitely brought Ash and I closer and made me even more certain of our future together. Long-term couple travel is an intense experience and having survived it is great preparation for any future challenges we might come up against.
Would We Travel Long Term Again?
Yes, absolutely, no question! (I don’t know if Dan will agree with me on that though).
But if we were to travel long term again I would definitely structure it differently. While this trip was all about adventure, exploring and having no job or responsibilities, if we were to do it again in the future I’d definitely plan to spend longer in each place.
Perhaps getting a centrally located apartment for a month or more and plan long weekends and day trips to explore nearby, so that we could unpack, have that home feeling and get to know our location really well, while also getting to explore nearby places.
Yes, but differently. I’d be interested in being based somewhere, possibly working or volunteering, then using that location as a jumping-off point. We also saw some incredible places that I’d love to take our future kids one day, but whether that would be one long trip or a series of short-trips remains to be seen.
Our Plans for 2020 and Beyond
Since we survived our adventures overseas together, 2020 is the year we’re getting married! And considering wedding’s cost an exorbitant amount of money, we probably won’t be visiting 33 countries again in 2020.
So what are our travel plans for 2020? Honestly, we don’t really know at this stage. Our travel this year will probably centre on short Australian getaways, particularly around Brisbane, and possibly with a few sneaky trips to Melbourne. We are also heading to Perth in February when our friends Linda and Kyle get hitched (and Ash gets to be Maid of Honour- whoo!), but there won’t be much time for sightseeing.
We have grand plans for a Honeymoon in East Africa, where can go snorkelling & scuba diving, join even more safaris (and maybe see the elusive leopard), and, most importantly, go Trekking to meet the incredible (and critically endangered) Mountain Gorillas. But these are all fairly expensive activities, so we’ll probably need to postpone the honeymoon until 2021.
While we may not be jet-setting around the world this year, we hope this is just the beginning of Dashing Around the World. We still have plenty of amazing stories and useful travel info to share from our trip, and also plan to start adding some travel guides and insider tips for some Australian locations too.
Before we go, we just want to say a HUGE thank you to all our family and friends (both old and new) who have followed our journey and forgiven our sporadic blog posts, Instagram photos and Facebook updates. Stay tuned for 2020…
Lots of Love, Dan and Ash
Dashing Around the World