With the departure date of my 1st ever Around The World (RTW) just a mere days away, I wanted to tap into the collective hive mind of some my most traveled friends to get some key insights and wisdom on life, sanity and survival on the road. For the complete series of interviews, please click here.
Everyone, meet Katie + Felipe.
Katie + Felipe, meet everyone.
An online introduction led me to cross paths with this pair of beach-loving, honeymooning travelers. While I'm on the brink of my first solo journey, I was intrigued about the intricacies and logistics of doing extended travel with someone you love. What I learned after speaking to these two is 2 is always better than 1.
Have either of you traveled long term solo or as a couple before this trip?
Katie: Nope. I've traveled all around the world, but never long term, and also never alone or with a romantic partner no less.
Felipe: I've done a month-long stint in Europe and in India prior to this.
"...there was a huge emotional aspect for me too. I was scared and worried about the unknown, along with leaving all my friends, family and everything that was familiar. There were definitely tears, but luckily I have Felipe. I couldn't do it without him. -Katie "
What were the last 30 days before you left like?
Felipe: The last 30 days were rough! It was hectic with long days of packing and trips back and forth to the storage unit.
Katie: Ugh. Don't take me back there! The last 30 days, well, more so the last 10 or so were pretty stressful. On my end, there was all the physical stuff to get done, like packing and all that, but also, there was a huge emotional aspect for me too. I was scared and worried about the unknown, along with leaving all my friends, family and everything that was familiar. There were definitely tears, but luckily I have Felipe. I couldn't do it without him. He always talks me through things, never gets frustrated with me, and makes sure I know my feelings are valid. Looking back, between him and praying, that is what that got me through it. And also, it was comforting to know I'd always have him, so I'd never feel like I wasn't "home".
Is there something both of you would have done differently in preparation for this trip?
Felipe: The only thing I would do over is the planning around getting all of our stuff out of the house and into a storage unit. We were moving things up to the last day before we left, which left us no time to hang out with friends.
Katie: Not really! Sure, I wish I was a little bit more of an organized person so we could have had everything packed and ready to go with plenty of time left to relax between quitting our jobs and our departure date. We had big plans to watch lots of movies, go to museums and have date nights, but alas, we were packing up instead.
Did you guys end up keeping the majority of your things or sell off most of it and keep only the essentials?
Katie: We didn't sell anything! If we were keeping it, it was sent to storage, and if we weren't, we gave it (such as old clothes and jewelry) away to needy people. I wanted to keep all our furniture and other household things so we would have it for when we come back and eventually buy a house. I can't say I'm excited to relive all of this in reverse after all of this is done. I hate moving.
Felipe: I'm a nomad and like to think that I keep myself light so I actually didn't have much other than clothes.
"Just like Katie, I could have done without some clothes I had packed. I brought along too many pairs of socks (no one wears socks with flip flops)... -Felipe"
What things did you end up packing for this trip? On the same vein, what were the things you brought that have been useless so far and vice versa?
Katie: I brought way too many clothes (obviously), earrings, some makeup, only two pairs of flip flops, one pair of running shoes and a few odds and ends. To be honest, I haven't touched most of my clothes. I end up wearing the same few tank tops and shorts every day and just change out my bikini. We also only brought one laptop and wish we brought another. It's hard to work on our blog or do research with only one between the two of us.
Felipe: I packed all the essentials and electronic gear: camera, GoPro, gimbal, laptop, Kindles, chargers, cables, batteries, etc. We have a good blog post on what went into our backpacks. Take a peek in there and see the details of everything we packed. Just like Katie, I could have done without some clothes I had packed. I brought along too many pairs of socks (no one wears socks with flip flops) and I use my tennis shoes once in a blue moon. I could have easily gone day-to-day with only 2 pairs of socks. Same thing for boxers, I wear swimming trunks daily, so I could make do with 2 pairs of quick dry undies. Without a doubt, the laptop receives daily use especially now that Netflix is available everywhere. The best surprise so far has been our Bluetooth speaker that we hook up to the laptop when we watch movies. It works like a charm and that was something we almost left behind. We're glad we didn't because we use it every day. Lastly, speaking for the both of us, swimsuits have been the most used item!
Felipe: Here's a funny factoid. The name of our blog ("Pair Of Boots") stems from an inside joke between us. We call each other "boot" and before you ask, we didn't pack any boots ourselves!
How did you pick your destinations? Was going to beach islands the overall goal of this trip?
Katie: That was always the goal. We just love the beach!
Felipe: Yes, actually, the initial plan was to find an island we could live on for a year. As time went on, our plans shifted to finding a couple of islands we could bounce around and enjoy good weather the entire time.
"I just love driving down the street on our scooter and waving at all the people we have come to know and love during our relatively short time here. -Katie "
So far on this trip, what is an average day like? Have you guys developed some kind of routine to stay grounded or is every day different?
Katie: We definitely have developed a routine. It's funny how humans do that. When we first got here we were exploring different parts of the island and finding what we liked best essentially. Then, the longer we were here, the more friends we made, and the more we fell into a routine. We start our day by having breakfast at our favorite spot (Drunken Sailors) with new friends, beach or pool in the daytime, followed by watching the sunset before dinner with more new friends and then capping the day at the local bar where everyone knows everyone. It is simple and nice. I just love driving down the street on our scooter and waving at all the people we have come to know and love during our relatively short time here.
Felipe: The average day is what you would imagine - a decision between going to the beach or going to the pool. We have a routine that is roughly centered around food (I get hangry) and then fortuitously running into someone whom we've made friends with and joining them wherever they happen to be going. This place we are currently in, Kantiang Bay, has a nice mix of expats and local Thai people who live and work here. It makes for a good mix of people that you get to know from all over the country and the world. There are also not too many tourists but just enough to have a few new faces every couple of days.
Katie: I agree with Felipe. It is the perfect spot - a few bars (but not too many to make it annoying), a handful of awesome restaurants (including authentic Thai options) and a few shops. It is not very touristy at all and that's what we love about it.
Felipe: We're actually staying at a house Katie found on AirBnB and the owner of this place is also the owner of a local bar (The Bad Penny) so we had an "in" with the people here automatically. What's also funny is that we aren't big beer drinkers, but here, with the heat, it just tastes so good! We've had at least one beer everyday.
"All the savings from being under budget for the day, which is due largely to being in a place where the cost of living is relatively low, is then transferred to our 'fun money' fund which we use to purchase fun trips, art, and trinkets. -Felipe "
How did you figure out how much to budget for this trip? Are both of you doing a per day or per destination budget?
Katie: Ah, here it is, Felipe's favorite subject. I'll let him answer this one!
Felipe: I started doing the research on how much we would need as a couple to be able to live comfortably for a year. The number that seemed fair and achievable was US$45,000 for the both of us. We set the goal and started saving without making our lives at home miserable. The next goal was to save as much as possible over that initial goal of US$45,000 in order to have savings to get us going after we got back. Luckily, we were able to hit both those goals and now have a good financial cushion after all is said and done. To track our day-to-day expenses, we are going off a per day budget. Rather simply, we divided the US$45,000 by the number of days we planned to be on the road to come up with our single day allowance. Then, as we racked up expenses for the day, we use a spreadsheet to track how we are doing against our daily budget and also see what our average daily expenses are. All the savings from being under budget for the day, which is due largely to being in a place where the cost of living is relatively low, is then transferred to our 'fun money' fund which we use to purchase fun trips, art, and trinkets.
Katie: We have been loving the spreadsheet! It has helped a lot giving us such peace of mind knowing how much money we have.
"Before we left, the biggest thing we did to save money was cook every meal.... we had it in mind that we were about to quit our jobs and not work for a year which proved to be pretty good motivation for not spending unnecessarily. Planning out meals for the week, going to Starbucks less and not shopping as often all added up. It surprised me how easy it was to save! -Katie "
What ways have you found saved you money prior to the trip and also whilst on the road?
Katie: It has been so easy as things are just cheap where we are currently. Even with renting a scooter, paying way too much for a cottage, eating out a lot, buying art, clothes, and a scuba trip - we are still under budget.
Felipe: Even though the South of Thailand is more expensive than the North, everything is relatively cheap. On average, a meal is about 120 Thai Baht (~US$3.42) and a beer is about 80 Thai Baht (~US$2.28). You can find even cheaper options at food stalls on the side of the road for about 50 Thai Baht (~US$1.42) for good food!
Katie: Before we left, the biggest thing we did to save money was cook every meal. Again, we weren't rigid about it. We still had a few dinners with friends and went to the movies (our favorite), but we had it in mind that we were about to quit our jobs and not work for a year which proved to be pretty good motivation for not spending unnecessarily. Planning out meals for the week, going to Starbucks less and not shopping as often all added up. It surprised me how easy it was to save! I have never been good at it before but I'm happy now knowing that we can do it together. As things come up for us in the future, I know what we are capable of.
Felipe: Prior to the trip, our most common meal for lunch was ground turkey with veggies and some rice. It was healthy and cheap to make. Now, the hardest part of being on the road is eating healthy. We make it a point to cook at our home base here to save money and also get some healthy meals in.
"I've learned how resilient Katie is... She's learned to make the best of the worst and learned to take it all in as an experience we can look back at someday and laugh knowing we did it together. -Felipe "
I'm curious what both of you have learned about each other after traveling, and how much of an adjustment has it been?
Felipe: I've learned how resilient Katie is. She has learned to adjust really quickly to the way of life and the way things are around here. I'm used to a backpacker style of travel and have had my share of "enlightenment" on the road. However, this is all new to her and she has really taken it like a champ. She's learned to make the best of the worst and learned to take it all in as an experience we can look back at someday and laugh knowing we did it together.
Katie: I have learned more and more of what I already knew but on such a stronger and deeper level. Felipe and I have never been the couple that fights and are seriously best friends. Since we have been on this trip, I've seen every day how patient he is, how caring he is, and how much he loves me. For example, I am irrationally afraid of bugs. Every type of bug, even butterflies. The house we live in has little critters everywhere - lizards, ants, the occasional roach, and even huge hornets every once in a while. Let's just say I'm not the best person to live with when I have to live with bugs! No matter what time it is, no matter what he's doing, if he hears me squeal, he literally comes running to see what it is (it's always a bug), kills it for me and makes sure I'm all right. Also, I'm pretty scared on our motorbike because it is not something I'm used to. Even though Felipe grew up racing motocross and rides motorcycles all the time at home, he goes extra slow for me so I don't get scared. He's just so loving, sweet and patient with me, reminding me all the time that we are a team. I love that!
Felipe: As far as it being an adjustment, luckily we work really well together and have always kept communication our top priority. It's a good feeling being on the road with someone you love and can share these experiences with. It's something only her and I will share forever.
Any parting words?
Katie: Everyone's favorite thing to say to us back home is "Oh wow, traveling for a year. Must be nice!" (always with an attitude). I think more people should know traveling isn't as hard as they think it is. We are two normal people, we aren't rich trust fund kids. We work hard, we save, and we are able to do this responsibly. It doesn't have to be a daydream. Just make it your life!
Felipe: Travel light and get what you need on the road. Don't get bogged down from the beginning. The less you have the easier it is to get around. Finally, make the most of every situation, especially the bad ones - there's a lesson in everything.
All images used in this post were supplied and used with permission from Katie + Felipe Mejia.
Nico Atienza is a Philippines born, Sri Lanka raised traveler who sold everything, quit his job and escaped the rat race to travel the world in 2016. Apart from his love of travel, he is an award winning volunteer, miles + points aficionado and perpetually epicurious story teller. You can peer into his life by following him on Twitter, Instagram or send him an Email.