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If you spend years planning your dream trip, what happens when life gets in the way? Do you change your plans or do you plow on regardless? Is the journey more important than the destination, and are you living in a way that honors that choice?
In this wide-ranging interview with Doug Walsh, we talk about how fears and expectations can shape our travel experiences, and what we can learn about ourselves as well as the places we visit along the way.
Doug Walsh is a former game strategy author and travel writer. His novel, Tailwinds Past Florence, is a romantic adventure with a time travel twist based on cycling around the world with his wife Kristen.
- Planning a trip around the world for six years and some of the highlights
- The generosity of strangers
- Learning about ourselves on long trips — especially when we have to face our fears along the way
- Holding plans lightly and pivoting when necessary
- Dealing with travel burn-out
- Maintaining a healthy relationship while traveling with a partner
- What happens when you get home after a big trip?
- Recommended books
You can find Doug Walsh at DougWalsh.com
Transcript of the interview
Joanna: Doug Walsh is a former game strategy author and travel writer. His novel, Tailwinds Past Florence, is a romantic adventure with a time travel twist based on cycling around the world with his wife Kristen. Welcome, Doug.
Doug: Hi, thanks for having me on, Jo. This is a real treat.
Joanna: It’s exciting to talk to you.
Let’s start with the big question which is why on earth did you decide to cycle around the world?
Doug: It was one of those things where I remember the night vividly. My wife and I were sharing an upstairs office. She was in business school at the time. I’ve been working from home as a video game writer, writing strategy guides. And we knew we weren’t going to have kids at that point and I just turned to her one day and I said, ‘Hey, what do you say, when the dogs get old and aren’t here anymore, we take a year off and travel?’
At first, we were like, ‘We can rent out the house, take a ferry to Alaska.’ We live outside of Seattle in the Northwest of the U.S. and we could take a train across Canada, fly to Paris, go to Thailand. And then little by little that just morphed into, ‘We’ll sell everything we own, buy bicycles and we’ll spend three years traveling the world by bicycle.’
Not really sure how it evolved into that. It just snowballed. We were always active. I did a lot of mountain biking. We used to do triathlon when we were younger and it just kind of seemed like instead of hopscotching around the world and just seeing places, we can go slower, stretch our dollars, see the world 60 miles a day, and just let it come to us. I’m not really sure that’s a good answer in hindsight, but it’s how we ended up there.
Joanna: A lot of people are unhappy with the way their life is going. And so they want to change their lives by doing a big trip like this. But it doesn’t sound like that was where you guys were. Were you escaping something?
Doug: I think there was some burnout going on especially with my job. We left on the trip in 2014, but it took a good six years of paying off student loans and car payments and credit cards and all that. We had a lot of debt. We were very irresponsible when we were younger.
We got married right out of college and just immediately went from having no money to a small amount of money, but thought we were rich. So it was more of escaping the burnout and then just looking around at the house and realizing, ‘Well, we’re not going to have kids. And this is a bigger house than we need. And the dogs aren’t going to live forever. And let’s just shake it up. Let’s have an adventure in our lives and not wait around until a retirement that wasn’t guaranteed.’
Joanna: I know everyone’s thinking now, what happened to the dogs?
Doug: We had two lovely Siberian Huskies and they just got old. They were about seven, eight years old when we started thinking about the trip and we knew they couldn’t live forever. So we kind of let them determine when we would leave.
Joanna: So they did stay with you until their doggy end?
Doug: Yes. Oh yes, yes, yes.
Joanna: Oh, wow. Well, that’s lovely because you gave them the time they needed and then you left, which is great. Let’s talk about the trip itself.
What were some of the highlights? What are the things you still remember?
Doug: There are a couple of moments that really always jump to mind. We left Seattle on a March morning and managed to largely avoid snow going across the Northern US and Canada. It was about 5,000 miles before we wrapped up in New Jersey visiting our family.
I’ve got to say, like, the first moment that we smelled the Atlantic Ocean hitting a little Island on the coast of Maine, that was one of the most emotional moments of the whole trip. Just realizing that by just waking up every day, getting back on the bikes, we managed to cycle across North America at almost its widest point. And that was a real moment for us to smile and be proud of what we had accomplished.
Other highlights, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention just the people and the generosity that we felt. Just so many people coming out to us, jumping out of their car in front of us on the side of the road and just saying, ‘Hey, do you need a place to stay tonight? You want to camp in my yard.’
One of the hooks that we had with the trip was that I decided we’re not going to take any airplanes. We’re going to take ships. And so we crossed the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2.
Here’s something for those people thinking of ever doing a trip like this. I don’t know about all cruise lines, but Cunard will let you bring bicycles fully loaded with panniers right onboard the ship and just wheel them into your cabin as long as they fit in the room. So that was nice.
We met a couple on the ship that said, ‘Hey, you really have to come to Homburg. If you’re ever going to be there, call us and we’d love to have you over.’ And we were like, ‘We’re not really planning on going through Homburg.’ But then we changed our mind a month later.
After cycling through the UK and Denmark, I emailed her and she said, ‘Well, actually, I’m in Berlin,’ with her husband, but she’ll leave the key with the neighbor and we’ll let ourselves in.
And so we cycle into Homburg. The neighbor comes over, gives us the key, we go in, and she had all these little post-it notes all throughout the kitchen with our names on them. And she fully stocked the fridge with all manner of food and beer and coffee. And then she came home the next night and took us out to dinner.
It was just like, ‘Holy cow, we spoke with you for five minutes on a cruise ship a month ago.’ And it was just mind-blowing that level of generosity. So that was definitely a moment.
And then off the bikes, I will never, ever forget Naples on New Year’s. If you’ve never been to Naples, Italy for New Year’s Eve, it is just absolutely bonkers. I’m not sure how it’s safe or legal or any of that, but 60,000 people in the town square, live music, and entertainment from, I think it was 9:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m.
And then at midnight, everyone just seemed to have borderline illegal fireworks that they were just pulling out of their coat pockets and launching when we’re all packed in shoulder to shoulder. It was out of this world. So that was something I’ll never forget either.
Joanna: I have been to Naples and not at New Year, but I would say that you mentioned, borderline legal. I think Naples is one of these slightly wild-west-type cities where a lot goes on, but it’s very, very interesting for sure. You mentioned a few places that you enjoyed and found more highlights.
Were there any other stunning locations, either natural locations or cities that you cycled through and went, ‘We want to come back here?’
Doug: Oh, absolutely. Part of the trip, we ended up spending about two months in Italy, cycling from Livorno where we disembarked a ferry that we had taken from Morocco. And we made our way all the way to the southern, the heel of the boot, as you’d say.
We ended up doing a large lap around the Puglia and Salento regions waiting for the banks in Greece to open. And just cycling East of Rome, going through the mountains there in the center of Italy and then down along the coast was just stunningly beautiful.
When we got to Greece, we lapped Kefalonia and across the Peloponnese and we did a lap around Crete. And just every day peddling from one gorgeous beachfront campground to another, those were amazing days, even though it was 100 degrees Fahrenheit almost every single day while we were there.
The other real highlight too was, of course, going through Tuscany, these little hilltop towns. And when we were in Tuscany, it was in the winter. And it seemed like most of the tourists weren’t there. It was a little cold, a little rainy, but all these beautiful hilltop villages just decked out with Christmas lights and decorations.
We felt like we had it all to ourselves with just a few locals because there weren’t many people there at that time who weren’t residents. So those are definitely a few of the highlights.
And then we fell in love with Spain, absolutely fell in love with Spain. We cycled from Pamplona down through Sienna to Madrid or Madrid to Sienna. And then all the way down to Algeciras where we took a ferry to Morocco. And it was such a neat contrast of city and rural and mountain and it was the only place that we cycled through that reminded us a bit of the Western United States, where you can go from a city and into the mountains so abruptly or a small town and into the mountains so abruptly. That was one of the places that scratched that homesickness itch which we were starting to get from time to time.
Joanna: I love Spain too. I go back to Spain again and again. It’s one of those countries I could definitely live in because it just has so much that I love. Interesting.
You mentioned a bit of homesickness.
What were some of the difficult times and the issues and doubts and fears that you faced?
Doug: Doing a trip like this and especially traveling with my wife and knowing that we wouldn’t be cycling side-by-side all the time, I definitely had concerns for her safety. Our biggest fear was dogs and cars.
We did carry small things like pepper spray and people assumed that it was out of concern for people, but it was actually for just dogs. And that did become a bit of a problem in Morocco. When we were going through the middle Atlas Mountains, just having packs of very territorial, loose dogs out in the mountains.
When you’re climbing up a mountain, you can only go three, four, five miles per hour. The dogs can run a lot faster than that. So at one point, I had to ride interference. And we’re two dog lovers, but here I am holding my bicycle lock as a weapon, just trying to make sure that the dogs aren’t biting us.
We also ran into a problem with kids in Morocco where they would bicycle up to us and grab onto the bike and demand candy. And that was very nerve-wracking just because it was dangerous for us, dangerous for them and I didn’t handle the violation of personal space well.
Morocco was one of the places I was most looking forward on the trip when we left and it ended up being the only place I got sick. I ended up basically bedridden for about seven days just with what I now call stress-induced flu from just not being able to really adapt to that violation of personal space and the constant threat from dogs and even kids. That was very stressful.
Joanna: I know other cyclists have mentioned dogs before. But that violation of personal space is interesting.
What did you find in Asia or other countries where most people have a different view of space?
Doug: Our original plan was to go across Turkey, up into Georgia through Azerbaijan and across central Asia to Western China. Unfortunately, my wife’s father fell really ill and we ended up going home and spending his final months with him taking a break from the trip. We left all of our gear and everything in Rome.
That ended up throwing off our schedule so that by the time we got to Turkey, it was already October. And we knew going through the mountains of central Asia and into China…and visas were always going to be a question mark for that. But we would have been hitting 11,000-foot mountains in January, and that just doesn’t work.
So we couldn’t do the initial plan that was going to go through China. And now the reason I bring this all up is because I had also learned from our month in Morocco that I probably wasn’t going to handle China very well.
You learn something about yourself on a trip like this.
And I learned that for me, I just didn’t handle, like I’ve been saying, the personal space violation. And the questionable fear of being taken advantage of, or always being hassled. There was a lot of that in Morocco.
I don’t want to pile on Morocco. We actually had some of our best memories in Morocco. The food is wonderful. The country is absolutely stunningly beautiful. But I learned a lot about myself in Morocco.
To circle back to just another difficult time and that was that we did face one moment in Minnesota of all places, in Northern Minnesota, where we did have a fright where we thought we were going to get robbed, or there was a potential for a violent encounter. Fortunately, it turned out to be nothing.
We’d run across this guy who seemed really down on his luck, homeless, walking from one town to another and he disappeared. And then he came back in the dark and he made a comment like, ‘Wow, my life would be a lot easier if I had one of those bikes.’
And it was like, ‘Oh gosh.’ We’re camped at a small park two miles outside of this tiny town in Northern Minnesota and the bicycles were locked to a post, but it was just the three of us. And I ended up standing between this fella and the bicycles. And with my hands in my pockets, one hand on the little thing of pepper spray and another hand on my three-inch pocket knife, just thinking, ‘Oh gosh, like, please don’t make this an altercation that we’re both going to regret.’
Fortunately, nothing ended up happening. But man, that was a very tenseful few moments. And then his friends came and picked him up eventually. And that was even scarier because now we are like, ‘Oh gosh, now there’s five of them.’ But other than that, we didn’t have any major scares, fortunately.
Joanna: It’s interesting because one of the reasons people don’t do these big trips is because they have a fear of bad things happening.
You’ve mentioned the potential of crime, the invasion of personal space, getting sick, the dogs when you’re on a bike. These are all valid fears that you actually did face. I feel like many people worry about these things and don’t even go.
Did you think about that before you left? And was the trip worth going through those things?
What would you say to people who do worry about those difficult times?
Doug: I would say to absolutely go for it and that these things that I just mentioned, would I cycle across Morocco again knowing what I know now? Probably not. I’d certainly go back and hang out in Tangier. We love Tangier.
But, when we embarked on the trip, our main fear was, ‘Be aware of drivers.’ And with cell phones distracting more and more people in their cars every day, that was our number one fear. My mother’s fear was that ISIS was going to be waiting behind a bush for us to cycle past. That was her biggest fear.
Joanna: In Italy?
Doug: Maybe in Turkey. We did get about 300 miles from the Syrian border in 2015. There was a bomb that went off in Ankara the day after we cycled through Ankara. So that was a little close for comfort. We didn’t let our parents know where we were at that point in time because they still worry even though we’re in our 40s.
But the other concerns; dogs, everybody has encountered a wild dog. You don’t have to worry about that. The only time anything got stolen from us was a small $30 bike computer off my wife’s bicycle which was left in the lobby at a hotel in Pamplona. I’m pretty sure a couple of mountain bikers who were cycling the Camino took it because they were the only other people who probably would have known what it was.
Joanna: So the trip was worth it?
Doug: It was worth it.
Obviously, there are stories out there of tragedy. One of the roads we cycled in Canada, I believe it’s route 17 that goes along the Northern shore of Lake superior, the one or two summers before we left, there was a…I think it was a complete family of four hit and killed by a truck cycling that road. And when we got there, we realized that there’s no shoulder on that highway. And that was very scary.
We’ve heard couples getting hit by a car in Thailand and worse things happening to couples while they were camping or women camping together in other parts of the world. But I always tell myself the reason we hear about these things is because they’re uncommon and that’s what makes them newsworthy. Not because they’re a fear that happens on a regular basis that we need to commit to memory and avoid.
Joanna: I think what’s also interesting is that your father-in-law was sick and that changed your journey, but also it sounds like you almost changed your intention and you changed as people as well along the way. I feel like sometimes people plan these trips and then they’re like, ‘I must finish the trip in the way that I planned,’ but what you guys did was kind of go, ‘We need to change this because of life or because of our preference or because of situation.’ And that meant you learned different things.
How gently do you need to hold a plan when you do a trip like this and be open to possibilities and also situations?
Doug: That’s an excellent question. I think there are two things that play into how we handled it.
On the one hand, we ended up being a lot less spontaneous than we thought we would be. We ended up stopping every five days, planning our route for the following five days and very seldom veering from it.
We did end up going to Homburg based on that recommendation. But largely, we just went where we originally planned to go and didn’t let much get in the way of that.
That said, as you mentioned, my father-in-law’s illness and then death did change our plan. We couldn’t go through Central Asia because of winter. So we ended up doubling back through. We did a big loop through Turkey, about 1,300 miles through Turkey, and then made our way back to Athens and boarded a cargo ship to take it from Athens all the way to Malaysia. And that was 19 days at sea.
It was on that cargo ship where I wrote the outline to my novel. And we were thinking like, “Okay, maybe we’ll just go to Bali for a couple of months. We’ll rent a house in Bali for a few months and I’ll write the book or maybe we’ll cycle through Southeast Asia.’
And right before we got on that cargo ship, my wife’s former employer emailed her with an offer to come back to work.
It was really interesting timing because before we went back home to spend time with my father-in-law, we got to the point where every day, all we were talking about was, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to just rent an apartment in Pamplona for a month? Wouldn’t it be nice to just go back to Florence for a couple of weeks?’ And it was part of this every three months like clockwork, we got burned out.
It took about three to four months to get across North America. And we had that month off with family before we boarded the cruise ship. And then three months later, when we were in Morocco and then Italy, it was just, like, all we wanted to do, all we talked about was just taking some time off.
I think that’s where you have to be open to sudden change, and spontaneity is just to listen to your body and your heart.
Joanna: I love to hear that actually because I’m somebody who I much prefer short trips to a specific place for a specific reason. Me and my husband cycled down the Southwest coast of India a few years back and that was three weeks.
And then I was done with cycling around India because there were some of the stresses that you guys had as well. I loved it, but I was like, ‘Okay, I’m really done now. Take me back to my local coffee shop and whatever.’
I think you bring up a great point which is traveling is exciting often, or it’s so stressful in a good way and a bad way that it’s very tiring. It’s not like, as you say, lying on a beach in Bali. That’s not traveling. That’s a holiday, right?
Joanna: And you guys were traveling. I think that it’s great that you talk about the reality of what life was like on the read.
Sometimes the digital nomad life, I feel like people get tired of that as well as always moving around.
Doug: I can definitely foresee that happening. We were ready to call it quits once or twice and kept going. And we like to say it’s kind of borrowing that phrase from the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps says, ‘It’s the toughest job you’ll ever love.’
Bicycle traveling around the world is the toughest vacation you’ll ever love. And there’s something that’s romantic and exhilarating about waking up every morning and knowing your only concerns are where you’re headed, food, water, and shelter. And that’s pretty much it, but that gets exhausting after a while.
For us, it was really neat to see that every three months you can almost set a calendar to it. Every three months, we would just look at each other and be like, ‘I need a week or two off.’
After three months and we got to Tangier, we spent a week in Tangier and thought like, ‘Okay, that’ll be enough to recharge our batteries,’ and it wasn’t. We spent a month in Morocco and we got Merzouga on the edge of the Sahara and we just looked at each other and was like, ‘There is no way we’re cycling all the way back to Tangier to catch that ferry to Italy.’
So we ended up paying a driver, the only time we ever put our bikes on anything other than a ship or a train to get to Scotland from South Hampton. We tied our bikes to the top of a taxi and paid someone, I don’t know, several hundred dollars to drive us from Merzouga back to Tangier. And then we got on that ferry. It was a two-night ferry all the way to Italy from Morocco.
We arrived at 11:00 p.m. when it was freezing cold in early December. And we go to this hotel and we woke up the next morning and this is the biggest dose of culture shock we faced on the whole trip. We woke up the next morning, threw open the curtains and realized that right outside our hotel was a whole Christmas shopping village.
After a month in Morocco to wake up the next morning in an Italian Christmas village, your brain kind of does that cartoon short circuit. But that was what we needed right then. We needed just to have that.
Joanna: It’s interesting because, of course, you’ve written a romance based on traveling and I’ve traveled alone a lot and I’ve traveled with my husband and other partners along the way. And there are always difficulties on the road when you travel with someone else.
It may be that you disagree with where you’re going or how you’re getting there or one of you feels something and the other one doesn’t or one of you gets sick.
How did you and your wife manage your different choices? What are your tips on having a relationship that thrives on a trip like that?
Doug: Profanity. A lot of profanity! We’ve been married 23 years and we cursed at each other more in those two years than all the other years combined, unfortunately. But that was part of it.
You understand in the heat of the moment when you’re sweaty and you’re exhausted and the wind has been in your face for five hours and there are mountains, there’s just going to be those moments.
Part of it also was learning to be apart as much as you can. When you’re sharing a tent or sharing small motel rooms, that’s not always possible, but we didn’t cycle next to each other. And we certainly didn’t ride a tandem bicycle, no way.
Joanna: I can’t imagine that.
Doug: And for one practical reason, it ends up having the amount of luggage that you can take. You need each bike to have four panniers and a duffle if you’re going to do something like this, in my opinion. But for the most part, we rode separately throughout the day. We would regroup for snacks.
We had a plan of that if someone wanted to stop, we would give each other a three-day cooling-off period. We wouldn’t make any rash decisions, but we wouldn’t also try to talk someone into or out of something else.
If it got bad enough where somebody was really reluctant to go on and this didn’t end up happening, but we decided ahead of time we would just get a hotel, spend a couple of days hanging out and then see where we felt later on. And that was what ended up leading to our going home and spending time with her father. It was just that feeling like neither one of us wanted to continue. We needed to take a break.
That said, we did learn a trick that we now use in all of our subsequent travels. And that is whenever we get to a big city and we know we’re going to spend a few days somewhere, or a small town, if we’re going to be there for a few days, always take a day to just go our separate ways. We hadn’t done that before.
We left in March and it was finally on my birthday in October in Paris. And we were sitting there in bed in the morning and she asked me, what do I want to do for my birthday?
It had been on my mind for a while and I just looked at her. You have to understand our relationship in order to not think I’m a total jerk for saying this. But I just said, ‘Honestly, I would love to not see you at all today until dinner time.’ And she had so much relief in her eyes when I said that.
She was like, ‘I was hoping you would say that.’ And from then on, whenever we were in a city, we always made sure one day we would wake up and go our separate ways and regroup for dinner. And we both learned how to be better travelers by doing that, especially my wife, because she often relies on my navigation skills or my bartering or whatever. So that was really important.
Joanna: I love that. We’re happily child-free as well by choice. And when you travel as two independent people who love each other very much, but equally, you’re both independent and you enjoy different things sometimes, then I think that’s exactly a great way to deal with it.
When we’ve been on cycle trips or walking trips, we don’t spend all day together. I think that is a really good tip actually, and a very honest one. Sometimes I feel like maybe you don’t want to suffocate each other when it is just the two of you. I can definitely relate to that in my marriage as well.
Doug: That’s good. And I think most relationships, there’s always going to be a person who’s a little bit more dominant or a little bit more outgoing personality and ends up steering things, even if they don’t realize it. And it’s good when you go separately because it gives the other person a chance to gain some travel skills on their own and be the leader of their own trip, even if just for half of a day or something like that.
Joanna: And then staying on romantic places because you have written a romantic adventure. What I found, especially in Italy, you mentioned how much you love Italy. And it’s so funny because I did a podcast episode on Venice about this and how Venice was the city of romance.
And then I went there and it was just not. It wasn’t at all. It was flooded and it smelled of the sewers and it just wasn’t great. You have Florence in the title of your book. And again, I’ve been there to Florence in high summer and it was not that romantic.
Where did you visit where this myth of romance did not live up to the reality, or on the flip side, when did it? When were you like, ‘Wow, this is pretty romantic?’
Doug: I love this question. I have to say with regards to Florence, I think part of my reason for it was partially built up from a long story, an inside story, I’m not going to get into, from high school, dating back to high school regarding an international trip that I couldn’t go on to Florence. And so I went there with this anticipation of falling in love with it.
But I really believe part of the reason I did was because we were there mid-December and there were just hardly any tourists there. I think had I have gone in July, I would have hated it.
Joanna: For sure.
Doug: But as far as a place that we were like, ‘Okay,’ that’s known to be really, really romantic that we went and that I was like, ‘Okay, I don’t know what people see in this,’ the first thing that comes to mind would be Santorini.
Now, part of it, it’s Santorini. Everybody pictures the white-walled houses overlooking the sea, and it’s beautiful. And it is. It is all that, but there’s just so many people having the exact same ‘romantic experience,’ that I don’t know how to do that when I’m surrounded by people trying to manufacture the same romance that I’m trying to have. It might be different if you’ve rented a Villa on the side of the cliff and you have privacy and seclusion. We were tenting it.
For us to go see the sunset, we were in the square with 5,000 other people all climbing on top of each other to try and get a view. It was not romantic at all. The restaurants were crazy-crowded and I couldn’t imagine that being as romantic a place, but yet I have friends who’ve gone for their honeymoon and they loved it. So I don’t know. Some people, you’re looking for different things.
A place that was surprisingly romantic was Cappadocia in Turkey.
Joanna: Yes. I’ve been there. Wonderful place. Tell us a bit more about that.
Doug: That was the turnaround point when we got as far East as we were going to go in Turkey and we spent a few nights at this wonderful guest house tucked inside the mountain. It was basically a cave that had been converted into this really little luxurious room.
The whole area, for those unfamiliar, outside of Göreme, I think is the name of the town, there are all these fairy towers. They’re these sandstone rock formations that look almost like the tips of a jester’s hat, just poking up from around the ground. And people used to live in them. So they’re everywhere. There’s hiking trails that go throughout.
But one of the big things that we did and that is really popular there is a sunrise balloon flight up in the hot air balloon. This was our one big splurge of something that wasn’t food-based that we couldn’t just eat is we did the morning hot air balloon ride. And that was absolutely incredible.
The scenery of all these little rock formations sprouting up like little tiny spires and the sun coming up over the cliffs, it was absolutely stunning. And then you have all these outdoor restaurants that were not crowded because again, this was during the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015. I think people were hesitant to go that far East in Turkey. So again, it was a place that we kind of felt like we had a bit to ourselves which was probably adding to the romance factor of it.
Joanna: That’s fantastic. I went to Cappadocia sometime in the mid-90s as a backpacker. I still remember it staying in one of those caves, but it wasn’t very luxurious. They have lots of different levels of caves. We stayed in a particularly flat one. But it is a very unusual location and as you say, absolutely beautiful and memorable.
How did the big trip change you and your wife and how do you travel now and what does that mean to your writing?
Doug: When the trip wrapped up, we realized that we had this thing that we were working towards for six years, and then we did it and it was over and there was a part of us missing. And that part of us didn’t have anything to look forward to.
So before we came home, we ended up making a list of about 100 places that we still wanted to go.
We bought this fancy Japanese paper, this washi paper and cut it into 100 strips and wrote a different destination on each of them. We folded them up, tied them in knots and put them in this lovely basket that we bought while we were in Bali. We did go to Bali for a month before coming home at the end of the trip.
We made it from Seattle to Singapore with no airplanes other than the detour home to attend the funeral. So now on Christmas or New Year’s Eve, if we’re home, we reach into the basket and we pull out a destination and that’s where we go the following year.
We’re keeping some spontaneity into it. We’re not looking to necessarily do like a bicycle tour or backpacking tour although there are a few trips like that in the basket. This year we drew Belize. We’re still hoping to go in December, but it’s probably not going to happen, but we’ll see.
Joanna: Maybe just down the road in Seattle!
Doug: Exactly. But we were supposed to go to Vancouver for our anniversary a week ago. But the borders are still closed for us here in August as we record this. But that’s something that we do where we’re trying to combine active travel and the independent travel with a bit more of luxury. I do feel that we’re shying a bit more upscale just because we look at it as like, ‘We did live out of a tent for two years. We deserve this now.’ So that’s one way in which it’s changed.
Joanna: We’re the same actually. I feel like when you’re in your mid-40s and you’ve slept in enough backpackers or pretty divey places that you’re allowed to stay somewhere quiet! I think that’s the big thing for me.
I do remember being a backpacker in so many of these places and just people snoring keeping me awake all night and I just can’t abide that. So I’m like you. I would rather stay a shorter time and have my own room or have our own room if we go together.
I think this is really important as well to figure out over time how you like to travel, how you want to do each trip. We want to do a cycle trip through Vietnam and Cambodia, but I don’t particularly want to cycle in India again. I probably won’t be cycling in Morocco now, to be fair.
But I’d like to do Jordan and there’s a wonderful cycle trip through Jordan to Petra and see the desert there. So it’s great to have that list. I love that.
We have a list too, but it’s not in a lovely basket. I love that.
Doug: It just adds a little bit of spontaneity to it. We’ve been home from our trip for almost five years now. I love Japan and we were alternating, every other year we’d go to Japan and then we’d draw from the basket.
We ended up pulling Portugal one year, the Seychelles. So we did a nice trip where we bounced around the Seychelles and mixed in an Airbnb treehouse with a cheap budget hotel with then the final four nights were at this fancy place on the water with the villa. And it was a nice mix, just mixing in things like that.
Joanna: Oh, that’s lovely. This is the problem with this podcast. It always just makes me want to get going again. But of course, as you say, we’re recording this in August 2020 during the pandemic and travel is not really happening.
I’m pretty confident that those of us who love to travel will get back out there on the road again. What do you think?
Doug: I think so. I know here in the U.S., we do a fair bit of camping. Living outside Seattle in the Cascade Mountains, we have thousands of miles of mountain hiking trails all over the state. I’ve been reading articles just recently that recreational vehicles, camper vans and caravans, they’ve been hitting record sales three months in a row.
It seems like a lot of Americans, especially out West with so much public land, it seems people are taking the money that they might have spent on international travel and they’re shifting it into more of an RV lifestyle. So that can end up changing things going forward.
One thing that I am hoping comes out of this and I do have tremendous sympathy for all the cruise ship workers who are currently furloughed and out of work, but I’d really love to see the whole mega cruise ship industry beat back a little bit from this. Hopefully, mass tourism, in general, takes a cut a little bit and things get rolled back to maybe smaller, more intimate, more meaningful travel. And part of the reason I say that is just out of sympathy for these towns and these port cities.
[From Jo: Check out this National Geographic article about How COVID is changing travel. There’s a quote from me at the end!]
I know Venice and Barcelona have been in the news a lot because of over-tourism. But we’ve done trips to the Caribbean where we’re just backpacking around various islands. And then we ended up in a port city and not only was it more crowded with tourists, but all of a sudden, the interactions with the people who lived there had changed and it almost became this antagonistic relationship where that was just like the default setting when they saw somebody who obviously wasn’t from around there. That’s unfortunate. Maybe we can reverse some of that with the pandemic. At least that’s my hope, anyway.
Joanna: I agree. And certainly, there have been some lovely articles about how in Venice the canals have got much more healthy since a lot of the cruise ships are not going. Interesting times indeed. But this is the books and travel show.
Give us a few book recommendations about whatever you like, basically, given that we’ve talked about things, but travel books. What do you recommend?
Doug: The ones that I have that I always refer people to are actually a bit older and two of them are books that inspired me 15, 20 years ago that probably led to our willingness and, I guess, the courage to actually do this trip. And one is Vagabonding, by Rolf Potts who, I’m sure somebody has mentioned on this podcast at least once.
Joanna: It is a classic.
Doug: And then the other one is The World Awaits, by Paul Otteson. I think I’m pronouncing it correctly. Those two books were instrumental in teaching me you don’t have to be a special person to do this. You don’t have to be a Shackleton or a trust-fund baby as a hotel person accused us of being one day in Montana.
Anybody with just the courage to do it and the dedication to saving and getting your life in order can tackle a big trip like this.
So those two books really encouraged us and taught us how to go about doing something like this. For just the pure travel memoir recommendation, I’m a big fan of this book by Glen Heggstad called One More Day Everywhere. It is an around the world motorcycle journey.
What I like about this book besides the fact that he was pushing into some very sketchy areas at times of incredible tension like Palestine and Egypt at times that were not necessarily the safest places to go, he wrote the book with an honesty that I found refreshing, writing it as a middle-aged single guy with a libido. He would write about the women he encountered and what he really thought about all these different places. He didn’t varnish anything. I found his book really refreshing for that reason.
Joanna: Fantastic. And, of course, your book is Tailwinds Past Florence, and people can check that out as well.
Where can people find you and your books online?
Doug: Everything about my books including my upcoming novel which is set in Hawaii can be found at dougwalsh.com. My books are available digital, paperback, audio at all the major retailers, everywhere you’d expect to buy a book.
Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Doug. That was great.
Doug: Thank you, Jo. This was a really fun time. It was great talking to you and I look forward to listening to more of your podcasts.
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