Monday, September 29, 2008

Typhoid and Polio and Flu, Oh My!

Last week I went to get vaccinated against all the terrible 3rd world illness that abound overseas. Who knew that people still get polio?? I was also due to update my DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis) which, I recalled from that large series of shots required for college admission, is about as much fun as slamming your fingers in the car door. My misguided notion was that I'd walk out with only my tetanus booster and some strong warnings about other things I should be doing to guard my health. I walked out with three large shots in my arms, a flu-mist up my nose and a pack of pills that required refrigeration (to protect the live bacteria--ew!!) to start my typhoid vaccination.

I'm pretty particular about what I put into my body so the idea of inoculations is never a happy subject for me. I hate to introduce something into my system that has no business being there in the first place. I eat healthily (most of the time), don't drink much alcohol (the occasional beer here and there), don't smoke or do drugs and would rather suffer than take medicine. That includes over-the-counter medication as well. Introducing foreign agents into my body seems to just be asking for trouble. I'm not a big breakfast eater most days and didn't realize what a detriment that would be post-injection. But about five minutes after my shots I started feeling really dizzy and light-headed. Then I started having slight pains in odd places like my jaw, the top of my left hand or in my right ankle. David was with me and I told him all this when the nurse stepped out of the room to retrieve our typhoid pills and upon her return he made my symptoms known. The nurse acted quickly and started scouring the office for something to jack up my blood sugar level. She came back with a Hi-C juice box, which helped a little but I continued to feel lousy until eating some lunch about half an hour later.

Ultimately the round of vaccinations left me feeling really weak and ill for several days. I never remember feeling that way in high school when I had been given similar shots, but maybe its because I'm much more aware of my body as I get older. I wanted to wait until I started feeling more normal before I commented on the whole process, hoping that time would give me insight. I held off on taking the typhoid pills, as I needed to let my body recover, and will start those tomorrow morning. I'm maybe slightly less a fan of vaccinations than previously, but not enough to risk getting violently ill and letting it wreck part of my vacation. For now, I'd rather pay a small price at home instead of gambling with my health abroad and risking getting sick in a place where medical facilities could be questionable.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Beauty of Snail Mail

I thought I had made all the tough decisions about confirming my travel plans. It wasn't an easy task but I was locked, loaded and ready to go. And then David came along and shook things up. I've always wanted to spend an extended amount of time in Australia and New Zealand and suspected that I would fall so much in love with the area that I wouldn't want to leave. I was extremely disappointed when my original itinerary had to be condensed and those countries got the axe.

David's original plan was to spend 3-4 months in New Zealand kayaking and I thought it would have been cool to head down there to meet up with him, as our trips were supposed to overlap. He moved things around to join me in Asia and asked me the right questions at exactly the right time. Why not come with me to Australia and New Zealand? Why not go to see the things you've always wanted to see? You're in the area and already on the move. It makes perfect sense. Especially since it won't be alone. Although my name would probably be mud if I didn't make it home for Christmas this year and I might be wearing out my welcome for my dog at my parents house by leaving him for six months, the idea of just going is extremely appealing.

One of the biggest things I hope to get out of all this travel is just to be. And my whirlwind pace is not exactly conducive to that idea. Extending my trip for an additional four months would most certainly allow me to achieve that goal and give me time enough to see the things I'd like Down Under. I'm trying to get my head around the concept of being gone for so long. Its a good thing I sent my check through the mail instead of paying with my credit card because, once again, my travel agent, Kristina, has her hands full!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Its All Happening

I started writing a post a few days ago about how I had been procrastinating and dragging my feet about finalizing my flights. It had been five days since I had signed off on the itinerary my travel agent worked out for me and there was no reason for the delay other than I was standing in my own way. The act of writing the check and mailing it made the whole thing seem more real than I was willing to deal with at the time.

Despite my attempts to have others join me abroad, no one was able to make my plans work with their budgets and/or schedules and I had resigned myself to traveling alone. While I'm not opposed to solo travel, there was something scary about making it official. I had known going into the whole planning process that the chances were excellent that I would be unaccompanied on the bulk of the journey. There aren't too many people I know who are capable of uprooting themselves on short notice and taking off for an extended trip around the world. And that's okay--I realize that my migratory patterns fall well beyond the realities of most people. If I only had two weeks off for the year, I doubt I'd blow it all on a trip to Asia either.

But about the time I lost all hope of seeing a familiar face abroad (outside of Japan, of course), I crossed paths with one of those people. Over dinner I managed to talk David into joining me on my adventure. It wasn't a difficult decision for him and I found it completely refreshing because the decision to join me overseas for more than 6 weeks was as casual to him as would be the decision to see a movie or meet up with friends at a local bar that night. His commitment has reinvigorated me and given this trip a dimension that I hadn't dared hope for--a shared life-altering experience and the companionship of someone I truly respect and enjoy.

Its a done deal now! The check is in the mail, my visa applications are printed, filled out and ready to go and I'm researching the immunizations needed to keep myself from contracting some really nasty illnesses. Here we go!!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Making It Work

So I've been playing around with my trip itinerary trying to finalize the major details. My travel agent, Kristina, at Air Brokers, has been amazingly patient with me as I've sorted through my dysfunction (we're talking weeks of changes and at least a half dozen "what-if" scenarios). Ultimately I decided on a minimalist itinerary that provides flights for the beginning and end of my journey, leaving me six weeks in the middle to make changes as needed and linger in places that appeal to me. Of course, this means much less flying and much more over-land travel, which has positives and negatives (cost/convenience vs. time/scenery). Ultimately I made this decision because it was almost $1000 cheaper, but it has the added benefit of giving me a more local perspective of the countries I plan to visit. Also, the idea of trying to cram 6 countries in 8 weeks is an overwhelming notion that I still can't get my head around.

I did a foreign study through Central and Eastern Europe in college with a similar time-frame and similar pace and, although I enjoyed the trip immensely, there was absolutely no point on the trip that I felt as though I had made a connection with the local culture and done anything more than pass through on my way to the next thing. I really want to get my hands dirty and soak up some culture and I'm setting myself up to improve my odds at having a more profound and meaningful experience this time around. The problem with overland travel is that I now have to factor several overnight train trips into my very limited schedule and this may mean cutting some of my already-pared-down plans. While I have the flexibility to be able to do that, I'm not sure if I have the willingness. There's a lot of ground to cover and not nearly enough time to make it as leisurely as I'd like.

I've been asked why I'm trying to do such a marathon trip in such an abbreviated time and the answer is complicated. First, visa applications do not happen overnight unless you are willing to spend a small fortune. Several of the countries on my list require visas before you arrive and will deport you if you don't show up with the proper documentation. Second, I am currently fostering a dog for a local animal shelter and need to find him a home before I run off around the world. My parents generously have agreed to watch my dog while I'm away, but that offer will not be extended for a second animal. Third, my original plan after wrapping up the house flipping project at the end of July was to return to Colorado for a few months to earn some more money to fund part of the trip, see my friends and take long weekend excursions around the desert. But when those plans fell through I ended up staying in Tennessee and finding ways to stay busy. Earning money is still a priority. Fourth, I'd be disowned if I weren't home for Christmas. None of us kids are married, so the holidays are still very much a family time.

Ultimately, with all those other reasons (excuses?) aside, the biggest reason I'm not making my way through Asia right now is that my 10-year high school reunion is scheduled for the middle of October and I want to be here for it. Its an odd sentiment I never expected--to look forward to this event. High school, for me, was not the best time of my life. Hands down that was college, although the last two years are a very close second. I spent years feeling awkward, melancholy and stifled by my small town and by others' expectations. I didn't feel capable of being "me" and felt that I was playing the version of myself that my friends had known since I was seven years old, incapable of personal growth or change. During those formative years, I was not comfortable in my own skin and didn't feel like I'd ever be at a place in my life where I could sit around with those people and reminisce about "the good old days" because for me, they just weren't that good. Sure, it wasn't all bad and I do have several fond memories, but the overwhelming feeling I get when looking back is "UGHH!"

I heavily considered blowing off the reunion and sending my regards from China or some other far-off place, but the reality is that I'm in a good place now and feel capable of revisiting those years without bitterness and discontent. I grew up with these people and even though I haven't kept in touch with more than a handful of them over the years, I'd like to see many of them and find out how life and circumstance have shaped their journeys over the last decade. Equally, I want to show up and be proud of my decisions and the differences in the "me" from long ago and the "me" I have become. I doubt I'll return for my 20-year reunion, and if I did, I'd likely have more in common with those people than I'd care to admit. So it makes it more important to show up for the pomp and circumstance that these occasions inevitably have and put myself on display for all to see. One of the biggest reasons I'm undertaking this two-month trip to Asia is for adventure and self-discovery. I'd say that, on a different smaller scale, my 10-year high school reunion offers a similar set of challenges and rewards. Given my current aspirations and ambitions, I'd be foolish to turn away from either opportunity.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Setting off around the world for two months in Asia means there is much planning to be done. I've got the framework down but there are lots of gaps to fill in. My itinerary is going to look a little something like this:
  • October 24th - leave Knoxville for Washington, DC for merriment and friends
  • October 27th - UNITED AIRLINES, UA 0141 Dulles to Chicago - 8:48 a.m. and JAPAN AIRLINES, JL 0009 Chicago to Tokyo - 11:55 a.m.
  • October 28th - Arrive Tokyo 3:05 p.m. and commence jet-lag recovery
  • October 30th - Train from Tokyo to Iwakuni to visit Wes
  • November 3rd - Leave Wes's company to explore Japan
  • November 6th - JAPAN AIRLINES, JL 0781 Tokyo to Beijing - 10:50 a.m. to meet up with David
  • November 6th - December 20 - travel all over China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and possibly Malaysia and Singapore (if the mood strikes and the timing works out)
  • December 20th - find a way to get to Hong Kong
  • December 22nd - DAY FROM HELL!!! JAPAN AIRLINES, JL 8730 Hong Kong to Tokyo 2:05 a.m. and JAPAN AIRLINES, JL 0010 Tokyo to Chicago 12:00 p.m. and AMERICAN AIRLINES, AA 4014 Chicago to Knoxville 11:50 a.m.

I'm supposed to be home in time for Christmas, and while my parents would likely kill me if I weren't, its fair to say that nothing is certain except that I go where the wind takes me. I'm really looking forward to being on the move again.

Monday, September 8, 2008

And So It Begins

I’ve thought about creating a blog for a long time--years, actually. I’m a fan of several personal blogs and have always wondered if my own attempt at self-documentation would hold a candle to the wit, humor and charm that these writers use to engage their readers and make even the smallest accounts of their daily lives seem meaningful and interesting. It’s a challenge, for sure, but one I feel the need to address.

This is the first step in breaking down several walls, both in terms of technological experience (of which I have very little) and personal exposure. While I’ve never had a problem sharing an opinion here and there, I’ve closely guarded my thoughts and feelings to all but the best of friends and family. I’ve preferred to be a listener or an observer, rather than the center of attention and scrutiny. I’ve been comfortable with my station in life and have been hard-pressed to deviate from that role. The transition from audience to narrator is bound to be more difficult than I can relate, but there’s no time like the present to start anew. If I can be half as charming as the bloggers I admire, then I win.

Personal growth aside, I’m about to undertake one of the biggest challenges of my life, emotionally, physically and spiritually--a two-month solo trip around Asia. This whirlwind tour will require some major documentation! I’m leaving home October 24th, a date that has significance to me as it marks the second anniversary of losing my job as an Account Executive at an advertising agency in Washington, DC. Unemployment allowed me to reprioritize my life and make decisions that have little to do with conventional ideas of success. For the past two years, I’ve been attempting to tick through some of those crucial “must-do” tasks on my list of Things To Do Before I Die. Obviously, the older we get, the harder it is to make these things happen. There will always be excuses to not do these things so sometimes its best to buck logic and seize the day! Sell belongings and move to a new place? Check. Road trip across the country with BFF in tow? Check. Work for a ski resort and play every day? Check. Learn to ice climb and mountaineer? Check. Explore the West in my free time? Not enough, but check. Flip a house by myself? Check. Book extended trip abroad? Check. My greatest fear is to look back and regret that I didn’t make the most of this time my life when I have no obligations to children, a mortgage or a career. Not that I don’t want those things. Eventually, and on my terms. All things in their time. For now, I’m enjoying living in the moment, taking things as they come and seizing opportunities that come my way. This path has led me on some fantastic adventures and I’m eager for whatever lies ahead.