Traveling Light in the Tropics

Packed for Costa Rica

In a few hours, I leave for Costa Rica on a trip that is unusual in the grand scheme of Next Stop: World.

I booked the trip on a whim. I’m going by myself. I haven’t done much planning. I’m only taking a carry-on bag. I’m not taking my laptop. In other words, I’m travelling like so many of the long-term travelers we bumped into on our trip- the ones who wake up in the morning, rub the sleep out of their eyes, and decide to catch a bus to Bangkok.

I’m thinking of it as an experiment, a taste of a simpler travel style. With friends to visit- Fernando is a native I met years ago on a work trip, Beth is a high school friend teaching English- the urge to plan is less intense. When in doubt, just hang out with my amigos. The fact that I’ve visited Costa Rica twice before helps too.

Karen pointed out yesterday (and it hadn’t occurred to me), that this will be the longest we’ve been apart in our whole marriage. With her strict work schedule on the farm this summer, this might not be my last solo trip, giving the experiment even more significance.

Did I mention that it’s gonna be HOT? Look at the forecast for Fernando’s hometown of Liberia!

Melting in Liberia

Just another excuse to kick back with a cold Imperial cerveza.

Adios for now. ¡Pura vida!

Cerveza Imperial


Red Letter Day

Our first letter

Here’s one for the history books: on Friday, April 19, 2013, we got a letter in our mailbox! Why is that a big deal? That hasn’t happened in over 20 months.

One of the myriad logistical challenges of going on a world tour is what to do with your mail. Our house was for sale when we began the trip, so mail couldn’t keep going there. There are businesses that will rent you an address for a monthly fee, but we wanted to be able to keep an eye on our haul. That’s why we were extraordinarily grateful when our friend Kurt (and by extension, his wife Monica) offered to be our permanent address.

All of our credit card and bank statements were already paperless (for easy management from afar), and we reduced our mail volume as much as possible by asking businesses to remove us from their mailing lists.

Still, month after month, our mail would show up at Kurt and Monica’s house. Occasionally, Kurt would email us about a letter that looked important, but mostly he would just toss the deliveries into a cardboard box.

When we returned to the US, the box looked like this:

Nine months of mail

Not bad for nine months worth of mail. But our postal identity crisis wasn’t over yet, because over the summer we stayed with friends. Then we drove around the Southwest, then lived in a temporary condo, then a temporary apartment. All the while, Kurt continued to receive our mail. We’d stop by his house once a week or so to pick up the latest bundle.

Pile o' mail

Until now. We’ve finally settled down, rented our own apartment, and begun the laborious process of changing our address, no doubt to our friends’ relief.

And what was the historic first piece of mail delivered to our new apartment? A dumb old bill from Time Warner Cable, a company with which I have a troubled relationship. Their customer service often lets me down. Case in point: we are signed up for paperless billing.

So our first letter should never have been sent. A fitting end to our tale of meandering mail.

Open letter


Confessions of an Unproductive Nomad

To Do list

Just as I had expectations for our world tour, I had expectations for this period of post-travel limbo. I was going to get so much accomplished.

Tina Fey, the MuppetMy alternate universe girlfriend Tina Fey put her finger on it when 30 Rock ended. As she told TIME Magazine,

“It’s kind of like a giant bluff is called, because of all the things you’ve said you would do if you had time,” Fey says of her new phase. “It’s like when you have five weeks’ vacation, and you say, ‘I’m going to clean my house and learn Spanish and weave baskets.’ Now I have to choose.”

We chose to look for jobs and see friends and watch movies. Sorting through the mountain of photos and video from the trip gets tedious, but the results are inspiring: we’re creating a photobook for each country we visited, with so many memories wrapped up in each image.

Next Stop spinesSomehow, I haven’t quite gotten around to editing those additional videos, organizing those computer files, or writing that e-book. And how is it that we’ve had months off but are only halfway through with those photobooks?!

Maybe it’s time to get a job. Why, with money left in our re-entry fund, do I feel that way? I’m certainly not the first person to long for the structure of a workday and the social interactions at an office- look at how many retirees wind up back in the workforce (are you reading this, Dad?). It’s frustrating, though, that a client’s deadline seems to carry more weight than a deadline I set for myself.

My boss once told me that I’m a workaholic. Why can’t I be a workaholic on my own projects?

And so, we are returning to the working world. Karen is the first-ever Farm Chef at Primrose Valley Farm, a CSA (community-supported agriculture) farm that delivers fresh vegetables to its clients throughout the summer. Besides cooking for the farm workers, Karen will be writing for their newsletter and website. Can video clips be far behind?

After exploring the possibilities far and wide (from Washington, D.C. to Nome, Alaska and beyond), I am returning to my previous employer, Plum Moving Media, in a new Producer/Director position. Plum’s mix of good people and hi-tech toys is hard to beat.

Subaru on the range

It’s not just employment. We also bought a car. Karen finally got that Subaru she’s always wanted, albeit a older model well-suited for the commuting that lies ahead of her. And we’ve moved into an apartment of our very own, one in which we plan to live for more than a month or two.

Boy, all this sounds so… normal. Lest you think that we’ve lost the fire in our collective belly, consider this: I did something distinctly un-American in negotiating with Plum. I asked them to pay me less money in exchange for more vacation days. They said yes.

Even so, going to work means that my time is no longer my own. Inking a May 1st start date on my calendar made me itchy. I felt like… I felt like… traveling! So I booked a flight to Costa Rica. Since Karen will be working, I’m going solo this time, embarking on one last adventure before the next phase truly begins.

Gotta get packing. Next Stop: Costa Rica!

Costa Rica guidebook


Karen Takes the Plunge

Karen snorkeling in Thailand

After becoming scuba certified in the Great Barrier Reef, I’ve been delving into the deep wherever possible, from Malaysia to Thailand to Bonaire. And Karen has been right there with me- that is, above me, snorkeling up on the surface.

Until now.

When we returned to Milwaukee, I didn’t want my skills to get rusty, so I joined the Badger State Dive Club. At the monthly meetings, club members organize diving charters, share diving tips, and generally celebrate all things submerged. Around here we’re talking about lake diving, so instead of seeking out a lionfish or manta ray, local divers are more likely exploring shipwrecks or discovering artifacts.

What, I wondered, do they do during the long Wisconsin winter? The hearty among them go ice diving. Yeah, they cut a hole in the ice and jump in (while following rigorous safety procedures). Meanwhile, the more warm-blooded among us go diving… in a swimming pool.

That’s where Karen comes in. Although she harbors an aversion to activities requiring supplementary oxygen, Karen was up to the challenge of scuba diving in seven feet of water.

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Our thanks to certified instructor, ice diver, cave diver, and nice guy Paul Franti, who loaned us the gear and gave Karen a mini class. And kudos to her for trying something new.

Upon emerging from the chlorinated depths, Karen reported that it was easier to breathe underwater than she expected. It was also noisier than she expected- I guess that isn’t really captured in my videos (or is left on the cutting room floor).

I don’t think we’ll see Karen lugging scuba tanks around on our next trip, but she did say that she would like to try it again… in a more scenic environment. Some resorts offer “discovery dives,” where they take uncertified divers out into shallow areas nearby.

Next Stop: Cozumel? I don’t think Karen would have a problem with that.

Karen gearing up