90 things I’ve learned from this adventure

After posting a shortened, top-five list of things we’ve learned on our travel adventure, some of you wanted more. Here’s the original, full list of 90 things we’ve learned after traveling to 23 countries so far, coming to you from country #23, Jordan. (Note: you can find numbers one through six in the original post here.)

  1. My favorite memories from our travels didn’t require me to wait in a line or spend a lot of money.
  2. I’m glad we didn’t wait for the perfect timing to take off on this adventure. There is zero guarantee that our health will hold out or that what we want to see will hang around and wait for us. For example, I really wanted to visit Istanbul, but now a diplomatic standoff is likely to prohibit us getting Visas in a few weeks. Or my fear that a natural wonder might topple over by the time we get there.
  3. Anyone. Can. Do. This. There is nothing magical–financial or otherwise–or mysterious about hitting the road to travel long term. We are proof that there are no prerequisites required or experience needed.
  4. We learn, at a bare minimum, ‘thank you’, ‘hello’ and ‘cheers’ in the local language. It is always worth the small effort it takes.
  5. Despite our many, many tourist driving moments (one more time around the roundabout everyone?) I think it’s better to drive as the locals drive. This might sound risky, but driving the opposite of how everyone else is driving is even more dangerous.
  6. No matter how much I love to read actual bound books, I had to switch to electronic books when traveling. Real books are just too damn heavy to carry around.
  7. Most museums, regardless of where we are in the world, DO NOT like it when my kids run and slide on their knees, Bruce-Springsteen style, across the polished marble floor.
  8. We found that the free (tip-based) walking tours in major cities are both entertaining and helpful to get us orientated when we land in a new city.
  9. We try to avoid getting on or going near tour buses. We go farther then the tour bus groups are able to go, or no roads where they can’t fit; that’s where the best stuff is.
  10. Travel became easier when I reduced the amount of personal grooming required. For me that means my hair is up in a bun and no makeup. I’m running on the barest number of products needed to not smell offensive or stick out in a police lineup.
  11. On a typical vacation, we had a limited amounts of time to relax, play, sight see. We worked under the constant feeling of a clock ticking down before we had to pack up and go back to the daily grind. When there is no clock ticking, there is less pressure and the journey itself becomes much more enjoyable. Time and schedules became more conceptual and frame our day instead of controlling it.
  12. We always try the local beer, wine or tea. Some things don’t have to taste great (or even good) to be memorable.
  13. Getting up without an alarm clock every day is the ultimate luxury. Letting my kids sleep until they wake up naturally is pretty great, too.
  14. We have a handful of “go-to” meals that can be made easily. We use the same grocery list at every new place, mixing it up with whatever local produce or specialties are available. (Fresh anchovies in Spain, pomegranates in Greece, baguettes in France.)
  15. I can’t imagine traveling like this without technology. My phone is my local map and navigation system. My laptop is my travel agent and guidebook.
  16. High heels are ridiculous travel shoes. We’ve seen people hiking rocky dirt trails in heels. Not sexy, I promise you. They are not practical for travel (or for life in general.)
  17. Don’t leave stuff in your car. We parked our rental car on the street, full of baggage, while visiting Vatican City and listening to the Pope speak. When we came back to the car, everything had been stolen. This was on a wide, public street in the middle of the day.
  18. H&M was a great place to affordably replace our clothes after they had been stolen. We have been slowly acquiring any ‘must haves’ along the trip, and also leaving little folded piles of things we don’t need in every place we stay.
  19. After we had everything stolen, we were reminded of how unimportant belongings are in the first place. Everyone was safe and healthy and no one was hurt in the theft.
  20. Even when I completely screw things up, everything turns out okay. When I realized, on the way to the airport, that we were flying to the wrong destination and also headed to the wrong airport, I cried one small travel-related tear. But it was a short lived pity-party. I was able to make some quick changes and by that evening we all tucked in right where we were supposed to be.
  21. Even though we are seeing incredible sights around the world, my kids’ favorite things are the same as before: amusements parks, desserts, watching silly YouTube videos and wrestling like bear cubs. They will always (at least at first) prefer a rickety old swing set to a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  22. I use ratings and reviews from other travelers lightly. Every traveler is different. Five stars does not guarantee we have a good time, nor does two stars mean we won’t have an absolute blast.
  23. You know all those pen cups you have in your house right now, with pens that seemingly reproduce overnight and before you know it you have like 10 pen cups packed so tight you can’t get a single pen out? I yearn for your pen cups. We loose pens everywhere and we never have one when we need it.
  24. I also envy your scrap paper, although it is fun to write a grocery list on the back of a used ticket stub from the Acropolis.
  25. The entire world is furnishing their homes with IKEA. I find it depressing that a common aesthetic now permeates Airbnb houses everywhere in the world.
  26. As incredible as this adventure is, we won’t do it forever. So it’s nice to know that eventually we will settle back down somewhere. We often talk about what that will be like compared to how we are living right now.
  27. Nagging, bickering and petty arguments are short lived when we realize we are looking out over a beautiful vista or significant historical site.
  28. At first I was confused and disoriented because I didn’t get many emails after leaving my job to travel. I was used to hundreds of emails every day when working in an office environment. I am happy to tell you that I have recovered from my addiction, and now I’m very content with just a few per day.
  29. Short term memory fails have become a norm. I say ‘thank you’ in the language of the country we just left. Worse, we default to ‘hello’ in the local language to mean anything from goodbye, thank you and I’m sorry.
  30. The kids ask most days, “Mom, where are we in right now?” And family stories start off with a few minutes clarifying which museum, hike, city, airport, house, we are talking about to get everyone on the same page before diving into the story or memory. Like today when grabbing breakfast: “Mom, I want what I had on my bagel in that one place.” What place?!? That could mean literally anywhere.
  31. My kids have practically no toys and they are doing just fine. They make new games in new places. They play with whatever they have around them. Pillow forts are super cool when you have new kinds of pillows to experiment with. Straws and stones and sticks and used tickets have been given a new life as imaginary creatures. The boys went around the corner to a little shop and picked up a roll of aluminum foil for 50 cents which became a fun morning making astronaut gear.
  32. I sometimes feel embarrassed to tell people what we’re doing, like we are running from the law or not being responsible parents. I’m never sure what to write down for our permanent residence. We stumble when people ask us where we live. Ninety-nine percent of the time our adventure is perceived with overwhelmingly positive feedback, and only a rare raised eyebrow.
  33. There are a lot of people doing what we are doing, or planning to do what we are doing. We run into them in the airport or on the ferry and it’s nice to know we are not alone and that it’s a growing community.
  34. Travel screw ups turn into great adventures and even better stories to talk about later on.
  35. I learned the hard way how important it is to store your photos, documents and anything else important in the cloud.
  36. In regular life, we were relegated to eat when everyone else was eating. Now, we eat when we are hungry. Sometimes that means snacking all day, having gelato twice in a row (like today) or eating one big meal and nothing else the rest of the day.
  37. There is a small printed calendar in my bag in addition to my phone and apps because I am prone to forget what day of the week it is and where we are supposed to be. In Dubrovnik, Croatia, we checked out of our place one day to early because I thought it was Thursday instead of Wednesday.
  38. We scribble down super important stuff, like the name of the hotel, because your phone will die when you need it most. In fact, the more desperately I need my phone, the faster the percentage of battery will drop. Regularly a family member will panic, screaming out how low their phone battery is, giving a dramatic vocal update at every percentage drop. (“God, I’m down to 3%! It was just 6% a minute ago! Is anyone else less than 10%?) This is shortly followed by heated debate about who needs to charge their phone first.
  39. We’re learning to splurge wisely. We stopped at a place that advertised a unique sunset, only to realize that ‘unique’ doesn’t equal ‘good’ and the drinks and snacks were shitty and double what we should have paid. My favorite splurges so far were the Game of Thrones tour in Croatia, our authentic stone Airbnb house in Santorini, Greece, a fancy all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet in a castle in the Netherlands (six of us stayed and ate for three hours), and a small boat tour we took in Menorca to see caves and beaches only accessible by boat.
  40. Plan the timing and location of splurges wisely. Get your beer on in the Czech Republic and your wine fix in France. The blow-up water obstacle courses that my kids love were ridiculously expensive in Croatia but only $5 each in expensive Switzerland.
  41. Tourist attractions out of season are always better, even if the weather isn’t great.
  42. Advice from my kids: always eat the pizza and the gelato.
  43. We are all journaling this adventure in life through different mediums: video, writing and photos. I’ve already forgotten so many of the finer details and it’s nice to look back even just a few weeks ago.
  44. We are keeping a short list of all the places that we want to come back to, and those that we don’t.
  45. Take the photo. Even though there are annoying people taking 39 selfies in poses different only under the eye of a microscope, I wait my turn, find a vacant spot, or ask to step in for a quick one. Or I just capture the entire gong show scene with my family in it.
  46. I have become a world-class expert in taking photos and cropping them in a way that makes it look like no one else is there with us at the Eiffel Tower, even though there may be throngs of people just outside the camera eye.
  47. I made a rule that the kids are never, ever allowed to say “Awwwwaaaaahhh!” when it’s time to go do something I want to do. (And it’s not an “Awwwaaahhh, look at the cute kitten” sound, it’s the “Awwwaaahhh, we just got to this beach five hours ago, do we have to leave already?” It’s the worst sound ever. My kids have now replaced this sound with an over-exuberant “Yay!” and even though I know what they really mean, I appreciate the faked enthusiasm. Plus, they always like it once we get there.
  48. I trust real-life streets signs more than navigation systems or Google maps. This has saved me about five, nine-point turnarounds on a narrow street and hours spent trying to find the next exit to turnaround.
  49. We now try to have a day pack with a small towel and bathing suits for everyone inside. There is nothing more depressing than seeing a perfect swimming spot on a perfect day and not being able to act. One of my regrets on this journey is not diving in to this perfect swimming cove we spotted in Dubrovnik in my underwear. It looked divine on a hot day.
  50. I think you need to try out a place once to get a lay of the land, and then come back to do it perfectly next time.
  51. We avoid buying any souvenirs. Sadly, most of the places we’ve been to have the exact same souvenirs.
  52. If we do buy keepsakes, they are edible, small or light.
  53. If you lost your phone, who could you contact? I realized I know very little of my family’s phone numbers by heart since they are all stored in my phone. We’ve been practicing learning a few important phone numbers by heart.
  54. I keep 50 euros/kronors/dollars and important phone numbers under the sole insert of my Nike, just in case.
  55. When I can’t remember the last time my kids took a bath or shower, I have them take one. Same goes for me.
  56. Since we started traveling, and after the first few weeks of initial decompression, I think I yell at my kids about 75% less than I did before. I’m less distracted, we are less rushed. The 25% that I still yell is usually when we are moving between places, like in the airport.
  57. I’ve started to talk more softly. When we see other American travelers along the way, they are VERY LOUD when they talk, and also tend to yell out across parks and museums to reach their kids.
  58. When everyone else is topless on the beach, go topless.
  59. It’s been difficult to be environmentally conscious while traveling. We try our very best, but it’s not easy to always tread lightly. We can, however, see the impact that humans have on the earth. Plastic bags fly everywhere we’ve been, beaches are cluttered with plastics, waste and rampant consumerism is ubiquitous.
  60. It’s nearly impossible to find peanut butter outside of the USA. However, soft drinks, cereal, chips, candy bars; pretty much all the crap the world shouldn’t be eating can be found everywhere.
  61. There are very few handrails and warning signs at dangerous tourist spots. I am always nervous that one of my boys will attempt some new parkour move and accidentally jump off a cliff.
  62. I am surprised that I haven’t seen someone die trying to get the ultimate photo op on the edge of a dangerous cliff or rooftop. Seriously. It’s nuts.
  63. People of all ages and nationalities that are obsessed with selfies. It’s really distracting. I watched three young ladies pose for more than 30 pictures in front of a water fountain light show, all while blocking the view for the crowd.
  64. Strangers and locals are great allies. They help explain which train to get on, where a specific road is, or recommend the nearest grocery store. I might have to ask more than one, but eventually we find someone who can help with basic English and a few hand signals.
  65. Everyone knows English. Everyone but Americans seem to know English plus a few other languages.
  66. My go-to websites and apps have been Google Translate, GlobeConvert, Expedia, Airbnb, TripAdvisor, Google Maps, WhatsApp, CityMapper, Hotels.com and Booking.com. Airbnb is practically everywhere now.
  67. The things I miss most from living every day in a regular house is surprisingly short: a sharp cutting knife, fly swatter, tape and scissors.
  68. It is a nightmare to do basic online purchases or make account changes with apps or websites when you are traveling in other countries, which is frustrating.
  69. A high-intensity, do-it-anywhere, use your own body weight kind of workout has worked really well for us. It takes less than 30 minutes, I need a space slightly larger than my body, and I can mix it up depending on how you feel. Plus, it’s fun to have the grandmothers stare at me while I’m doing burpees.
  70. The most difficult part of logistics and planning our travel is striking the balance between figuring out today’s itinerary and next week’s itinerary. Planning what to do today takes thought and organization (activities, logistics, meals) but at the same time I also need to be thinking ahead to the next few weeks to book fights, accommodations, tickets to special events.
  71. Generally, I have a rough plan for the next two months, I have a firm plan for the next two weeks for flights, and I plan four to seven days out for accommodations. Daily logistics we plan the night before which gives us some flexibility based on the weather and how everyone is feeling.
  72. I question if what we’re doing is crazy sometimes. But then I meet someone new who is excited to chat with us about our travels, friends from afar who again and again remind us that we are giving a gift to our children or older couples who wished they had traveled sooner.
  73. Learn how to wash your underwear in the sink. It’s always nice to have fresh underwear.
  74. Our most used learning websites and apps for my kids: Epic (for reading books), Khan Academy (for math science, history, art and more), DuoLingo (for foreign language), Stack the States/Countries (to learn about countries and US states.)
  75. If you pack a pencil, don’t forget a pencil sharpener, unless you are a wiz with a butter knife.
  76. Fresh air smells different every place we’ve traveled. And it’s awesome.
  77. It is a fun challenge to whip up a meal in a new kitchen with a grab bag of things to work with. We’ve had to make fried eggs without a spatula, coffee in many creative ways, warm things without a microwave (we used a panini maker yesterday to soften butter), cut deliciously red tomatoes with the dullest knife ever, drank wine from a coffee mug. Our friend Dan expertly crafted a slick-looking wine glass by cutting the bottom off a plastic water bottle.
  78. Medicines and medical care are an adventure on the road, but so far it’s much easier than I expected. In fact, I’m amazed at how affordable it has been. Our son had a cavity filled in France for $45. The total cost of a lab test and antibiotics for an infection was $63 in Spain. These costs would have been in the hundreds for us in the USA.
  79. We now read all the signs and plaques in the museums and historic sites. It had helped us appreciate what we are experiencing. This has been a new one for my sons who would typically sprint through a museum in record time. Now they stop to read and appreciate things that catch their eye.
  80. I find myself taking deep breaths more often, not to try to relax and de-stress, but as a means to try to capture and savor that particular moment and the local air.
  81. We have great success when we just wander. After our last day in Santorini, we checked out of our Airbnb and wandered around the area we were staying. It was one of the most beautiful towns we toured and it was right outside our door the whole time.
  82. I question the many hours I’ve spent having a desk job in an office. The pure lack of Vitamin D from not being exposed to sunlight during the day must have taken it’s toll.
  83. We buy things when we need them, and it’s easier than trying to carry everything around. I originally packed a full medicine cabinet before our bags got stolen, now I have some Band-aids and ibuprofen.
  84. I try my very best not to be picky. I’m content with the room, the view from where I’m standing, my seat on the bus, the lukewarm fries on my plate, the cold shower. The time I waste finding something marginally better means I miss joyful opportunities right in front of me: me family at dinner, meeting a new seat mate that gives a great travel tip, a friendly reminder of why I prefer a comfy bed without loud springs, and the water I save from taking a short, cold shower.

Let me know if any of these comments strike a cozy spot in your heart. I love hearing your thoughts and feedback!

You can follow along on our journey on Instagram or Facebook.

18 thoughts on “90 things I’ve learned from this adventure

  1. Jenny,

    Can you post what you define as essential items to pack (clothing & toiletries)? I’m going to be doing some traveling and constantly challenge myself to bring less/use less.

    💜 Angela Lee 704-609-2255



    1. Hi Angela! We really travel light, especially after our luggage was stolen. I carry a medium-sized backpack that I bought at IKEA. Here’s what’s inside: pair of jeans, leggings, casual black dress, bikini, socks and undies, two pairs of shorts, three t-shirts, one tank top, two thin sweaters, two scarves, warm hat, one pair of sandals, tennis shoes, my laptop, a notebook, phone chargers and intl adapter. My toiletry bag has a small brush, deodorant, razor, toothbrushes, mini soap/shampoo/lotion, one necklace, black mascara, ibuprofen and bandaids. That’s pretty much it.


  2. Wendy and I loved this, thanks for sharing! We look forward to catching up with you guys again soon. You inspired us to do a better job trying to document our own travels and what we’ve learned as a family.


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