Managing Expectations vs. Reality While Traveling (Month 1)

We are 1 full month into our travel journey and already we can see a difference between what we thought would be and what actually is!  Well, I guess to be more accurate I mean, ME, rather than us.  I have always had a bit of a fantasy filled head that often times has led me to feel a bit deflated when the experiences themselves don't quite match up to the fantasy, or expectations I built up in my head!

I am hoping that this journey will sort of force me to confront this very issue.  It gets in the way of life and I need some help in changing that.  After this month I can see the importance of resolving this imbalance.  I am so grateful for the opportunity to work on it.

1 month in we are enjoying ourselves immensely, yet at the same time there are some real challenges to living on the road and traveling with 3 children.

When we were still in Costa Rica I had this picture in my head and it was basically that we would all be walking around enjoying the many temples one day.  The next day we would be chattering in Thai with locals and the next off to a new tourist mainstay, perhaps the Grand Palace type of attraction.  We would all be laughing together at travel difficulties, while eating yummy food or travelling on a train, tuk-tuk, or bus.  Playing cards perhaps, or elaborately discussing the next venue.  Yeah, yeah, I can already see the rolling eyes or the "what was she thinking" comments swirling around in your heads.  Honestly I just do this no matter what I know of reality and no matter what people tell me to the contrary.  What can I say, I have a detailed imagination.

The reality is, as you might guess, slightly different.  For starters, my husband needs to work.  I am not sure where the making money part came into my dream world, but we need money to do these things.  He has been working less than he was when we were in Costa Rica, but he simply does not have the time, nor the desire to walk around town for the umpteenth time looking at a random Wat.  His passion and mine for travel and experience are really quite different.  Dream world had that on the same level, and it is just not the case.  So that sort of shoots down the "all of us together" for every attraction component right out of the gate.  Of course, he comes out with us plenty, eats meals out, enjoys the bigger attractions but everyday outings are just not possible.  There would not even be a partial dream fulfillment for me if he wasn't at home working!   Thanks babe, in case I haven't said that enough.

The speaking Thai with locals is just downright absurd.  We are thrilled that we can say hello and thank you and order a few things on the menu.  This is a tough language with foreign symbols in place of the letters we are all accustomed to.  We all try our hardest, but at the end of the day this one falls on the "fail" side of the dream list.  Wild child, our 4 year old, has the best tone in his Thai and the locals adore when he speaks a word of it.  The rest of us, yeah, not so cute!  He has his talents and we are grateful for them.

Food, ahh the food.  Thai food is some of the best in the world, right??  Hmm, well, what do you think an 8-year-old or a 4-year-old American would think of that?  I can't complain too much here as all my boys are doing really well with the food but we have certainly had our share of dishes that were lost to 1 bite and no more.  Spicy where we aren't used to it (even things like pizza and broccoli soup), and all around new flavors have challenged even my husband and I.

I also thought we would be spending $1 a meal EVERYDAY, and that hasn't worked out at all (but it's still always far cheaper than eating in the U.S. or even Costa Rica).   Mu Gatium (garlic pork with rice), Pad Thai (stir fried noodles), and fried rice with chicken or veggies are hits and can be found almost everywhere. For the most part, the food really is unique and oh so yummy!  We do pretty well most days, and eating out seems to be cheaper then eating in most meals, but it's all a learning curve and we are still curving!

Transportation has been all in all pretty enjoyable.  Even the long distance flight, one thing I hadn't romanticized, went pretty well (note to keep expectations in check).  The train trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was great and we have found tuk-tuks, taxis, and song thaews to be quite pleasant.

I had envisioned many bus trips, but for 5 people they are actually more expensive in most cases, and I would imagine less comfortable.  This one isn't too far off the fantasy, as long as you do not factor in the reality that is my wild man.  He is talented at charming the locals but he also has a penchant for screaming, practicing karate on his brothers, and tearing through just about anything he can, even in a small tuk-tuk.  Thankfully the Thai people are patient and adore him!

Then there is the hotel situation.  We have lucked out and gotten some nice places but that is sort of the thing that is off from the expectations.  I had pictured us really sucking it up, cramped in a one room place with a shared bathroom and paying $5 a night.  The reality is that we are a pretty big family and it's just bursting at the seams with rambunctious boys.  1 room is just not something we can handle, especially when said room is equipped with one double bed.  One of the biggest things I have learned this month is that we are not exactly dirt-floor budget travelers -- we want a private bathroom and do not sleep on floors (most of the time).  We need wifi and some space for working.  We certainly are capable of living with way less then the average person, and we do our best to stay thrifty, but certain things are just worth it to pay extra for.  Luckily, in Thailand, we can still do this for under $30 a night, but it is a far cry from the budget $5-$10 a night places I had been envisioning.

Day to day I have gotten better at accepting that this is not the typical tourist adventure. We are not really on a permanent vacation since my husband has to work.  Who could afford such a thing?  Not us, but I am so fortunate to be closer then most to this type of dream.  Some days we stay at the hotel, swim in the pool, or watch TV.  Believe it or not, the kids are no longer impressed with the numerous Wats, or temples.  They do not want to walk everyday and they can voice that quite loudly.  I realize that I do not have the energy to make each and every thing a learning event and some times I beg them to play the Ipad or a video game so I can blog or just catch up with email and Facebook!  The dream in my head, it seems, takes nonstop energy, a huge amount of money, and not enough time to fulfill parts of the dream like working to make money or blogging which I love.  Family slow travel takes a lot out of you.  Maybe even slower would work better??  Nah, not me, too much to see and too little time!

So what does the next month look like?

For starters I am starting this month with a renewed sense of reality.  When I romanticize things, those high expectations tend to lead to frustration and disappointment. I have been hoping to learn this lesson for years, but I feel reflecting on this past month has been a huge leap forward!  I want to focus on blogging and just enjoying everyday with my boys rather then obsessing about the next adventure.  Well, maybe I'll keep one eye open for the next adventure!  I can't change over night people!  I know, I am halfway around the world, the whole damn thing is the adventure!  I'll make that my mantra.

I need to do some research about our next stop.  This is another component that I hadn't counted on; the amount of time and energy it takes to get the best deals and see some neat things along the way.  I plan to spend the days exploring what feels right for everyone.  This has been an incredible journey already but it has its pitfalls.  Knowing and accepting that this won't be perfect is the first step to really enjoying it all.  Every part of the journey is important, good AND bad.  I know we will gain our footing more and more each day!

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  1. Nicely written post.

    My husband is more of the dreamer, "everything is going to be fine and dandy" type of person and I'm more the realist, bringing him back to the reality of trying to travel constantly with a 3 & 1 yr old. We may do that in the future, but not now.

    For now, we are content to 'slow travel', which to us means living in a place for 6 months or more and exploring the area around it.

    It gives us a sense of balance and makes managing the enormous amount of energy little children require from their parents manageable.

    I also think people underestimate the amount of time that it takes to research the next location, like you mentioned. You could certainly just 'show up' and figure it out, but that is harder to do when you have a family. Fine if you are a backpacker, but a little more cumbersome with a family in tow.

    Great insight on the realities of traveling.

  2. So much of this resonated with me. Our first month was also in Thailand - Chiang Mai. And with our 1 and 3 year olds, we had similar issues. How much fried rice could we really expect them to eat?! And despite our travels, we still take a few days to acclimate to each place and spend way more than we do after the initial adjustment. You've got the right attitude though, especially with a working hubby. Thanks for sharing this honest post.

  3. I really enjoyed reading your post, Mary. It is interesting to be on the other side of the world now from Costa Rica. So new and exciting, but yet quite an adjustment at the same time. I think travel itself does require so much energy, both physical and mental. I know I don't always remember to factor that into my vision either, so it really can take me by surprise sometimes. I resonate with what you said about all parts of a journey being important, both the good and the bad. Isn't it true. Without the bad, we certainly wouldn't be able to appreciate the good, and that would be a truly sad thing indeed!

  4. oh this made me laugh!! And long for SE Asia!! Our 3 months was exactly like you have described. We just rocked up in a place with a vague idea of what was available to see. Whatever we managed was great and we didn't lose sleep over anything that we missed. Some days were spent on ipads and watching TV and blogging - and we definitely had 2 rooms (there was 5 of us!) We found our first day in a new place was expensive - we got scammed by the first transport driver and ate too expensive food - by day 2 we had it more under control and could relax! We didn't learn a scrap of Thai - and in our last week in Vietnam we ate western food - we were so sick of rice and pho!!!!! I can't wait until you experience the hell that is an overnight bus - with a terrorist on board you are bound to have even funnier stories than we do!!! Loving following along!

  5. Hi Tracey, well we are on 7 months now:) We have done some horrendous overnights and we definitely eat Western food and almost always 2 rooms now if just for our parental sanity! I think I should do another of these now that we have been in SE Asia so long!

  6. Great blog, what a rude wakeup call for you hey? haha. we are not budget travellers either, there is 4 of us and if we can get 3 bedrooms i am happier than with 2! And we try and eat the cheap meals 3 - 5 times a week, but then there are those moments where you just need spaghetti no matter the cost haha.

    7 months on are you finding your grove or is working hubby still annoying? My hubby works and sometimes I just want to do something, I guess the kids and I should start having our own adventureS?

  7. Haha, this is so funny to read. Erin, I have always had a workaholic husband so the kids and I have our own adventures all the time. Most everything I write about on the blog or do is just the boys and I. It works nice sometimes as he will stay home with the youngens and my oldest and I can get out and do some more adult type things. He is working a bit less though so we have found a balance there....sort of:)

    I think I will do a new post on this for our 8 months anniversary coming up. We have really found a groove but as always should be spending slightly less so we can save for our jump to Europe. Trying:)

  8. Hey Mary, I know this is an older post, but you are one of my first stops when it comes to researching Southeast Asia. You and I seem very similar with our dreams, hubby and kids so I can learn from your footsteps. :-) Thanks so much and I will probably be commenting more on these and book marking. I am excited and nervous. Like you in Costa Rica, we have been in Spain for quite some time, actually 18 months and about 4 more to go. So being more "nomadic" will be new for us. We are thinking a 3-4 months in Thailand and 3-4 in Malaysia, maybe 1 in Cambodia and still contemplating Vietnam duration.

    1. Thanks! That sounds like a great plan, just be sure to get to Northern Thailand and not just the beaches. It's like totally different countries. Also check out Laos, after Cambodia it was our favorite except for the crap Internet!