Mini Retirement Project

We’ve been traveling officially for 3 months now, which is officially the longest we’ve been away from home. If you ask me what it’s like on the road, I can honestly tell you it’s been a real adventure in every sense of the word. We’ve had major dramas since the first day we landed in Berlin, we’ve fallen sick a few times, gotten lost many times, tumbled down very steep ski slopes and lost (or stolen is still debatable at this point) valuable possessions along the way. On the same note, we’ve experienced some amazing highlights of our lives, from witnessing postcard perfect sceneries, sampling fantastic cuisines to seeing snow fall for the first time in our lives.

So what are our thoughts so far from this adventure of ours ? Let me break these down:

Things never go as planned

There’s a saying – “best laid plans of men and mice often go awry”. I’m usually quite flexible when it comes to leisure related plans, I don’t usually give a fuss to plan when to have fun. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not a good organiser because when it comes to serious stuff like work and financials, I’m all about planning. And what do i hate most about planning? – It’s when things don’t go as planned.

Like most people, i dread it when things don’t go as planned. Since being on the road, there were certain incidents that occurred that were totally out of our control. I admit, I got quite upset and started questioning why sh*t happens and whether it was a sign or just bad luck. And then my better half spoke some wise words – ‘If it has happened, then there’s nothing we can do to change the past. The only thing we can do is to choose to see it in a positive light and work with what we’ve got.’

Don’t sweat the small stuff

On a similar note, there’s just too many sh*t that happens in the world that make our problems look seemingly trivial. Sometimes I get too bogged down in the details of things, when I focus on something intently I tend to miss the bigger picture. We argue about silly things like where we want to go for lunch, when we should be feeling grateful about being here, able to sample the delicious local fares that this great city has to offer. There’s too much going on in our heads as adult, constantly worrying about the inevitable and missing out on what’s in front of us. I need to be constantly reminded of the fact that I’ve made it on this journey means that something really good has already happened to me, everything else we encountered along the way was just ‘fluff’. I’m putting this down in words as a constant reminder.

It’s normal to be homesick

People expect us to be having a ball and a great time every single day. Unfortunately reality is not quite true. There were times when I considered flying back home just to surround myself in the familiar comfort of everything that is home. Those times were especially evident when I was sick or when I was missing out on family & friends’ celebrations at home. As much as it is exciting to travel and living in new places all the time, there were times when I just miss the familiarity and warmth that is home.

Always have a copy of all your important documents

This one is a common item on every traveler’s checklist before they step foot out of the door. Before I left home, I scanned every single important document I have with me and shared all these copies with my dad – just incase. We can’t predict what will ever happen after you stepped out of the door, but we can at least be prepared for it when it happens. Documents that I scanned included: passport, drivers license, credit cards, bank cards, and travel insurance documents.

Never carry too much cash

My wallet went missing recently (It is still debatable until today whether it was lost or stolen). The good thing was that I only brought a small travel wallet with me on this trip. All I had with me when it went missing were one credit card, one travelers debit card and cash of less than 100euros. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still terribly upset because I hate losing things but at least I know that I didn’t lose the entire month’s expenditures from my wallet. I am a big advocate of traveler’s debit card and international fee-free credit cards. We topped up our traveler’s card every month, and withdrew the cash we needed on a weekly basis. That way when worst case scenarios happened, we lose only the little cash we have with us and ask the banks to reissue a new card to us. Also, make sure you get yourself an international fee-free credit card. I got a great one called 28 degrees from GE, and we’ve been using this baby for 4 years now without having to pay for a single transaction fee. This entire episode just reaffirmed my personal belief that we should not carry a wad of cash when we travel, it also helps that we can track our expenditures and manage our budget easier with cards.

Bring less stuff

There’s an ongoing debate in the travelers’ world on suitcases vs backpacks. We’ve opted for a 55lt backpack each on this trip, because I didn’t want to lug around big wheeler suitcases up cobblestones staircase. Backpack is just more mobile and it forces us to pack lighter and think twice before we buy anything – which is a great way to curb incessant shopping. However, regardless of how little we thought we packed for this trip, when i carry the backpack around for more than 20minutes I will start to regret not bringing a wheeler instead. Truth is both suitcases and backpacks have their pros and cons.  The main point is just to bring less stuff. Here’s what I regretted bringing with me:

3 long pants – Should have just brought a pair of jeans and another to change into.

2 jackets – What was I even thinking about the second one, total waste of space since Aussie jackets are no good for the European winter climate. Had to dump one in the end to make space for a new one.

8 tops – Sounds pretty tame for 10months worth of travel doesn’t it? Actually, these were too many. I should’ve just packed my daily essentials, i.e. a couple of white shirts, a couple of cardigans and something to sleep in. If I needed to dress nicer for a special occasion, I could’ve just bought them over there.

Next time I travel again, I will keep it to an absolute minimum and practice the BIT (Buy-It-There) and forget about bringing all the ‘just incases’.

Most people are nice and decent

Despite what the media tells you, robbery, assault and kidnapping don’t happen on a day to day basis in major European cities (well maybe at the wrong side of town?). In fact in most places that we visited, we actually felt safer to walk on our own in the middle of the night without worrying too much about the horrors that we would back in our home country.  Also, despite the language barrier, we’ve found that most people we met on the road were usually nice people and ready to help us when we asked. Also, this might be a European culture but most waiters/ salespeople that we met were all quite chatty and friendly. We’ve received plenty of good favours along the way, and we are most certainly going to pay it forward when we meet other fellow travelers in the future, whether overseas or at home. Long story short, don’t be an as* and be respectful, people will be nice to you in return.

Long term traveling is not easy

Long term traveling is not the same as extended holiday. I.e we can’t eat out in restaurants for every meal, we can’t simply shop for souvenirs without considering our luggage capacity, and we definitely don’t go out and do big trips every single day. Even though we are enjoying our journey, it’s not always a bed of roses. For one, you need to cope with being with each other almost 24/7 of the time which means unwanted friction will arise. They say that if we can survive 10months together 24/7 we will survive everything else, so lets see what happens at the end of this trip. 😉  Then there’s the constant planning and juggling work commitments as you travel. Sometimes, we fell sick and craved for homecook comfort food, other times we missed out on special events at home that we feel guilty we cannot be a part of. It can be scary, unpleasant, and difficult but we had to remind ourselves why we do it in the first place – To push ourselves out of comfort zone and to make amazing memories.

Be grateful

We take things for granted when all is well for us in life. It is only when something happened that we tend to remember how lucky we were previously. One of the things that we’ve enjoyed doing in our travels so far is climbing up old towers, buildings and hills to get to the highest point of the city. As most European cities are old, the only way to get to the top is using your own two feet to climb up the stone/wooden/spiral/ claustrophobic narrow staircases. Whenever we climbed one of these magnificent places, we’ll usually spot older couples in their retirement age that attempted to climb these and only to struggle all the way through the 500 steps. When we see them, we feel an overwhelming sense of gratefulness that we are able to experience this journey while we are still relatively young, fit and healthy. Now, we don’t miss the opportunity to climb staircases whenever we see one!


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Debbie Lim

Born and bred in Penang, Malaysia, Debbie has spent the last decade in her second home Brisbane, Australia as an engineer. Her professional experiences have taught her how to plan efficiently and manage effectively in the various aspects of her travels. She is an experienced minimalist traveler who believes in keeping it simple yet fun. You will not find a fixed itinerary sheet on her and definitely no alarm clocks or wake up calls when she travels. After spending most of her adulthood in a highly analytical and tightly regulated environment, she currently revels in a a good adventure and spontaneity when least expected.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • This sounds fabulous. My husband and I have this on our radar. The longest we’ve been away has been 21 days of travel. However, we’d traveled many places via cruises and mini-vacations and decided that if we spent 21 days somewhere, we wanted to have a central place (since we have kids). Following your blog is an enlightening experience and definately one I think people should have. We’ve traveled and seen so many older folks struggling with health issues and limited in their experiences. Thanks for blogging about your life lessons and your adventure.

    • Thank you for the kind words 🙂 I’m sorry for the late reply, it’s been a whirldwind few months since my last post. Time flies and life is short! those two phrases may be cliches but definitely very true!

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