Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Spotlight: Honey Trek

Two New York newlyweds who thought a two-week honeymoon wasn't nearly enough to celebrate a new life together. With a little bit of savings, no kids, and good health, they figured there was no better time to travel. So they quit their jobs, rented their apartment, and set out on a 650-day honeymoon around the world. Using Anne's background as a magazine editor and Mike's as a digital media strategist and semi-professional photographer, they started to chronicle their journey. 

Now with nearly two years of on-the-road experience under their belt, they've decided to take all they've learned and launch HoneyTrek Trip Coach [], an in-person guide to long-term travel, to help get more people out there exploring the world.

I was so inspired by their story that I wanted to share it with you!
How did you guys come up with the idea of this trip?

We actually learned about the wondrous world of RTW travel from a German friend-of-a-friend who was just returning from a one-year journey around the world with his girlfriend. At the time we had never met a normal person taking a trip of such magnitude and our mind exploded with the possibilities.

When did you decide... alright, let's really do this?

In thinking about where we wanted to spend our honeymoon we didn't have enough paper to list all the places we wanted to visit and this couple's RTW kept crossing our mind. Then about six months before our wedding we started seriously talking it out. “We've got some money saved, we don't have kids, there's a lot of world to see, and we're only young once...maybe we turn our honeymoon into the greatest excuse to quit our jobs and travel...” Then we set the dream in motion. 
How did you determine the length of time?

The trip was going to be 11 months but as we started plotting out all the places we wanted to see, a year just wasn't going to be enough without cutting some of our must-see destinations. Then as we got even closer to go-time and ready to quit our jobs, rent our home, cancel all our accounts, and everything else it takes to put your life on pause, we figured, “Now that we did all the prep work, we might as well go big.” We upped the trip to 500 days and recently extended another 150 to explore our sixth continent. (Watch out Antarctica, you might be next!)

How did you pick the destinations?

We wanted to go places too far to go with a job and too rugged to do when we are old. This ruled out nearby Central America and cushy Europe, and let us focus on all the countries we'd dreamt of going in South America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. We didn't get much more specific than general regions, we just bought a ticket to Brazil and figured we'd plot it out from there. Though once we crossed 500 days and saw that we were under-budget, Europe started to be too tempting to resist and we have started going to the countries we've never been to before in the UK, followed by Norway and Turkey.

What's the average length of stay in each place?

We try and stay 3-4 weeks in a country and about 2-3 nights in each location. This is a fairly fast pace in each town but the fact that we get to experience so many regions of the world keeps us energized and excited to explore every single day. With over 600 days to travel it actually would have been easy to visit more than 28 countries, but we like to stay close to a month so we can get a stronger sense of the people, customs, and character of a place.

How did you coordinate the logistics?

We don't really do logistics and just take things as they come. We usually crack a country's guide book as we cross the next border, buy bus and train tickets day-of, and we find hotel rooms upon arrival. We rarely book anything in advance because things publicized online or even in guide books are usually the touristy and more expensive option, plus reservations keep you from being spontaneous!

Is your itinerary set in stone or do you make it up as you go?

To help us prioritize our must-see places in a country and not overstay our visas, we usually create a rough short-term time line of the towns we'd like to visit and how long we'd like to stay in each but we leave it flexible. We are always updating our plan with the help of local advice, traveler recommendations and opportunities that's all about the journey, right?
What has been your favorite place so far?

That is a very very tough question, as we have loved every country we have visited for different here are our favorite countries for: Food (Thailand), People (Myanmar), Scuba diving (Indonesia), Temples (Cambodia), Wildlife (Zambia), Mountains (Patagonia), Islands (Philippines), raw beauty (Bolivia), Parties (Brazil), Culture (Japan), and the sheer challenge of it all (China). Overall Favorite (if you forced us to pick one): Myanmar (formerly Burma) - We have never met friendlier people any place in the world— kids and grandmas alike blow you kisses as you pass by, strangers invite you over for tea, and proud locals offer to show you around their town in exchange for nothing but your company. Aside from the incredible warmth of the people, Myanmar's placement in the Golden Triangle and as a former British colony offers such an incredible blend of styles. The architecture in everything from the city hall to the temples is like no where else on the planet. 
What is the best dish you've tasted on your Honey Trek journey?

Pachamanca Andean Lamb. We were trekking the outer Inca Trails near Machu Picchu and in passing through a tiny mountain village, our guide bought a lamb from a farmer. To prepare it without a kitchen and at 15,000 feet, they made an oven out of the earth which started by digging a hole, filling it with rocks, building a fire, laying down the marinated lamb mixed with vegetables and covering it with thick layers of local grasses. The meat slow cooked and smoked for an hour and out came the freshest and most flavorful dish of the trip.

Any places you've wished you'd skipped?

We try and find the good in every place we go but if we had to pick one, we'd say the beaches of southern Vietnam. Vietnam has plenty of culture and beauty but it's not in the touristy beaches. 

Do you guys ever get to cook on your travels?

It is rare we have access to a well-equipped kitchen but we love cooking when we get the chance. We rented a floor of an old Swahili house in Lamu Island, Kenya and loved going to the local market in the mornings, picking up fresh fish and veggies and trying our hand at local recipes. Our neighbor taught us how to make coconut rice with a traditional mbuzi (it's basically a chair that gave birth to a massive cheese grater). Another big culinary week was when we rented a camper van to tour of New Zealand, and all be it a tiny kitchen, it was our very own! Having a refrigerator and stove at all times allowed us to stop and whip up hot meals at any beautiful beach, mountain, or glacier we passed. 

What do you miss the most about home?

Pineapple cottage cheese on whole-grain waffles! Our friends and family are by far what we miss the most, but pineapple cottage cheese is one of our favorite breakfast foods and it cannot be found anywhere in Africa, Asia or South America!

What's the coolest adventure activity so far?

We've done all sorts of crazy stuff but I'll go with...Microlight flight over Victoria Falls. This is essentially a lawnmower with wings and it soars over the edge of the largest continuous waterfall in the world between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Your heart is pumping through the flimsy little safety belt of this open-air contraption, then the thunder of the falls gets louder and the calm Zambezi river plummets hundreds of feet over the edge. It's a powerful experience and to add to the rush, it's an aerial safari where you can spot elephant, zebra, and crocodile in the African grasslands below. 
Any travel nightmares along the way? 

Our route from Ibo Island Mozambique to Zanzibar. One would think it would be a fairly straight-forward 500 miles along the coast...but that could not be farther from the truth. It was a four-day, 14-leg overland marathon. Google Maps said this route wasn't even possible (they were basically right) but we did it anyway. Hitchhiking on banana trucks, sleeping in mud huts, rowing leaky boats in hippo-infested water, and riding in a continual cloud of dust, should actually have been a travel nightmare but it was the most unforgettable journey of our trip. It pushed us out of our comfort zone and showed us there is always a way.

What are your plans when you return?

In addition to design and travel writing and working for environmental causes, we decided we have learned too much from this trip not to share it with potential and future long-term travelers. As a personal RTW travel coach and knowledge database, we will be sharing our insights from countless months of research and 600+ days of global travel experience—from figuring out how to save over $8,000 on flights, to converting your smart-phone into a free GPS, to drinking third-world tap water, and to finding lodging in nearly every city in the world for free! Trip Coach is an in-person guide to long-term travel budgeting, packing, chicken buses, accommodation, mile-hacking, tech, blogging, and all the tips you need to take the leap to explore the world. We will not only help people save thousands of dollars on their RTW, but most importantly the time and stress of learning all this on the road, so they can have more time to immerse themselves in this beautiful world.

What type of camera do you use and were you trained in photography before the trip?

Canon T2i SLR with a 18-135mm lens (and 400 mm for safari), Canon Power Shot S100 a really high quality point and shoot, and a Canon Power Shot D20 (waterproof and shockproof for the extra rugged times). I have taken photography classes over the years and and have always been incredibly passionate about photo while Anne has found her passion for it on this trip and has become quiet the photographer herself.

What technology do you travel with? Ipad, Laptop, phone?

Choosing the right tech is one of the most important things in packing because unlike clothes, they are the hardest to replace on the road. We have two super thin laptops, an unlocked iPhone, two iPods, two 1-terra-byte hard drives, a half dozen flash drives, universal travel adapter...the list goes on, but we are happy to answer any questions if people want to get serious about tech packing or just geek out with us.

Now that you've been living the life for so long, what are your impressions of what it will be like to come back to reality and readjust?

I think we feel so fulfilled by our trip around the world and also have such wonderful family and friends in the States, that we are feeling pretty good about going home. Plus, we are really excited about our Trip Coach venture and helping others take the leap into long-term travel.

I've found that it is hard to remember all of the details unless I jot them out right away. When do you typically do the writing during your journeys?

We try not let blogging get in the way of exploring so we tend to do most writing on long bus rides and after the sun goes down. As for remembering it all, we take some notes but we are constantly photographing signs, maps, info boards so that when we edit our photos for the blog, we have the key details and a jumping off point for further research if needed. Though photographs are amazing that way...when you start flipping through pictures somehow even the smallest details come back to you. 

Anything else you'd like to share with my readers?

You do not have to be a millionaire or a hippie to take a trip around the world. We have done this trip for around $40 per person per day including all our lodging, food, visas, transportation and activities averaged out from pricey Australia to cheap Cambodia. So take your savings (or the amount you can save over the next couple years) and divide that number by $40 and that's how many days you can travel for. We implore you to go for more than a couple months and don't wait until you are retired to do so, the value gained in learning experiences and memories will be paying dividends your entire life. 

There are countless excuses to continue along life's track, but you've got to find a time to stop the train, hop on a motorbike and explore the great wide open. 

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