Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Catching My Breath

Today as I was driving to meet my sister-in-law, I suddenly and surprisingly found myself thinking about my mother. Sunday was her birthday, and she would have been 65-years-old. I didn’t feel much sadness on Saturday, which is my brother’s birthday, and I didn’t feel particularly sad on Sunday either. Matt and I spent Sunday walking around Pittsburgh in the beautiful fall weather, talking about our trip, and it was a very good day.

But on that walk, Matt asked me what my mom would think of our travels, and I was stumped, lost, totally without an answer.

“I think she,” I began but stopped. “She would say, uh.” Nothing. “I think she’d think it was cool, but I think she’d be worried for us,” I concluded without much conviction.

Matt chuckled, noting that from everything I’d told him about my mother, he thought I would say with conviction that she would be thrilled for us. And she would be, I assured him, but I went on to say that I think that maybe when you become a mother, you reserve the right to feel afraid when your children decide to take off for a jaunt around the world. Matt determined that this was fair. I laughed. And the conversation ended. We moved on to something else, and I didn’t really give it a second thought until today.

Today as I was driving to meet Amanda, I was thinking about a friend’s recent wedding. I was thinking about the fact that her mother, out-of-the-blue, paid for me and the other attendant to get our hair and makeup done on the day of the wedding. The memory made me smile because this friend’s mother is not the kind who you expect to do that kind of thing. And as I was thinking about it, I was suddenly transported to the day of my own wedding, when I was at the salon getting my hair and makeup done. In my memory of that moment as I thought about it today, it was as though my mother was there with me, paying for her daughter and their friends to look beautiful for the pictures. It was as though it really happened because in my mind’s eye, I could see it exactly as it would have happened. We would have all finished up at around the same time, and as we reached into our wallets, my mom would have said that she’d already taken care of everything. As we walked out of the salon, I would have assured her that she didn’t have to do that. And even though she and my father would have by that point spent a small fortune on my wedding, and even though she would have known that my friends expected to pay for themselves, she would have smiled at me and told me that she wanted to, that I shouldn’t worry about it. She would have done it because she was the kind of mother who did that kind of thing.

I can’t explain why this vision was so poignant for me. I can’t even quite figure out why it caught me so completely off guard. I think that it has something to do with her birthday, with the fact that sometimes sadness hits us when we least expect it, when we wistfully think that maybe the window for sadness has passed unopened. But I think, finally, and with some conviction, that Matt was right: my mother would be excited for us to take this trip; she would applaud our adventurous spirits, make us promise to take lots of pictures, and to take great care of each other. I also think, finally, and with some conviction, that I was right, that she would have reserved the right to feel worried about us. What struck me most about my memory today, my memory of a time that never even existed as it existed for me today, is that her love for both of us, even for the man she never got the chance to meet, would have helped to bolster us through whatever hard times lay ahead and would have helped to assure us that doing this trip really is the right thing for us to do right now in our lives. It’s strange, I know, but today there is a part of me that wants to tell her that I get it, that I love that I can have memories of her in places where she didn’t actually exist, that I treasure all of my memories, the real ones and the imagined ones, and that while I can never erase a mother’s worry, Matt and I will take lots and lots of pictures, and we will certainly take great care of each other.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Say Cheese!

No trip around the world would be complete without a ton of pictures of me with a temple, or Lizzi standing next to a temple, or us standing next to a temple, ad infinitum. Of course, our biggest concern is not that we will bore you to tears with one vacation picture after another. No, our biggest concern is what camera to take.

Of course, we already have a wonderful Nikon D70s digital SLR that I love almost as much as Lizzi. It takes beautiful shots, but once you add in the telephoto lens, the whole package starts getting heavy. And I always end up grumbling when I want to run out the door and find myself lugging 8 lbs of camera gear. We're trying to minimize weight, so a simple digital point and shoot camera seems to be the way to go. But at the same time, we're trying to minimize expenses.

So here are a couple of options that we are looking at in the point and shoot category. First, the Canon SD850. Personally, I love Canon's tiny digital cameras. They give great results without much fuss. For me, the big pros for this camera are the 4x optical zoom, face detection, and optical image stabilization. A quick test drive in Best Buy tonight proved that face detection is well worth the money.

Second, the Olympus Stylus 790. It's shock-proof, water-proof, and freeze-proof (ok, not really a major concern, but pretty cool). It's got face detection and 3x optical zoom. Oh, and it comes in orange. We check it out at Best Buy as well, and we're pretty satisfied with how it handles.

The question on the table is twofold. First, should we even invest in a new camera? If so, which one do you like better, the Canon or the Olympus? Please, dear Internet, your thoughts...

Friday, October 26, 2007

Ask the Internet

So, how does one travel with one's partner on a 4-month journey around the world? Yeah, I don't know either. Luckily, the Internet, knower of all, got us looking in the right direction. In fact, The Lost Girls posted an answer to this very question nearly over a month ago (thanks!). Whatever you do, don't look too closely at who posed the question in the first place ;)

PS: That's not us in the picture. I'm not that pretty.

As with all great questions, this one too has no clear answer. What works for one couple on their adventure may not work for us. Neither of us is naive enough to say that we won't fight or that parts of the trip won't be difficult, but what do you do when you're sleeping in a hostel with four perfect strangers and your partner is dancing on your last nerve? Simply knowing that others have worked through these moments and are still holding hands on the other side is quite a comfort. At this point, I think it's fair to state that we'll take the good days with the bad, offer to share the load, and try like hell to know when it's time for a timeout.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Today is a day of anxiety. Today we confirmed our reservations for all of our flights. We haven’t sent them our money yet (that’s a whole other set of jitters for a whole different day – a day like tomorrow), but we will. I mean, we REALLY will. We also sent our passports off to the Vietnamese embassy in the hopes that they will kindly issue us visas to enter their lovely country. So we are currently in a position where we are about to spend several thousand dollars on plane tickets, and we cannot presently prove that we are citizens of the United States. See? This is a very scary day.

Matt is all smiles and excitement. He is exactly where I was about a year ago. A year ago, Matt was all nerves and avoidance. He was smack in the middle of his second month of grad school and the only important thing in his life was the all-consuming, ever-present grad school. I was working at a crepe restaurant, and I didn’t have a whole lot of important stuff going on. So I started thinking about this trip, and reading travel blogs, and checking out Airtreks to see how much this trip might cost us. And every day at around 10pm, we would sit at the table eating dinner, chatting for the first time in 24 hours. Matt would pick nervously at his food as he contemplated how much sleep he might manage to squeeze in that evening (“2 hours? Maybe 3 if I’m lucky,” he’d think) and I would chatter excitedly about our dreamtrip (“We could even do volunteer work while we were gone if we wanted to. Oh! And today, I saw pictures of Angkor Wat. We HAVE to go there, if we go to Cambodia.” And on and on I’d go.).

Sometime over the course of the summer, our moods shifted. Matt started to see that the end was in sight, that grad school would actually, eventually be over, and that he would get his life back. A life that would include, of all things, a really huge trip to Southeast Asia, how lucky is he?! I started to see that our time in Pittsburgh was drawing rapidly to a close, and as excited as I am about that prospect, I realized that this meant that we were moving to a new city (again) but that first, FIRST we were going on this really huge trip to Southeast Asia and ohmygod we’re going to Southeast Asia!

So now here I am. Matt’s all smiles and excitement, and I’m all ohmygod we’re going to Southeast Asia. He can’t get over himself. He’s finishing grad school! He’s going on a trip! He’s going on a trip with Lizzi! Go us! He’s stoked. And me? I can’t get over us. Matt’s going to be done with grad school, which means that WE are done with grad school. We’re taking this enormous trip. We’re going to be spending every waking minute together for three long months. What on earth are we thinking?

Of course, even as I’m writing this I’m calming down about it. Because for me, the smiles and excitement are never very far from the surface. In fact, it’s really just a matter of reminding myself that I’ve been planning this trip, in my mind at least, for over a year, and then it feels like a reasoned and measured decision. Plus, there’s that added bonus of Mr. Smiley over there, who thinks that we impulsively decided to jaunt around Asia for a bit. And in the end, of course, he’s right: go us!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Good News, Bad News

Lizzi talked to Daniel at AirTreks today. Daniel is our travel consultant, the guy who's helping us get from one place to the next. Unfortunately, he had some bad news. Flying from Nepal to Europe at the end of March is just unforgivably expensive, so sorry, Portugal, but you're off the list. Instead, and this is the good news, we may be adding a few days in Hong Kong or maybe just a stop-over in Hong Kong before we fly somewhere in the South Pacific for a bit of relaxation on the way home.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

This One's For You, Charlie!

So this post has nothing to do with our upcoming trip. In fact, it’s about something much closer to home. Today, the world welcomes Charlotte! The first Scrappy to grace the Scooby Gang with her presence, the miniMart live and in person. We went out to celebrate her birth because we couldn’t be happier she’s here, or happier for her parents who brought her here, or happier for the whole wide world, because today it welcomed a lovely, beautiful, sure-to-be-amazing addition to its population.

We already love you Charlotte!

(And in case you’re curious, Lizzi and I are drinking Yuengling, because we figured that there’s a good chance she’s going to be wearing Tartan someday, and what better way to celebrate her future Alma Mater than with a pint of Pittsburgh’s finest?)

Update: After reading the comments on this post, we realized that there are a few inside jokes here that need to be explained. First, we call our best friends from college the Scooby Gang. Second, two of these wonderful friends just had a baby, which we called miniMart up until she received a proper name. Third, Tartan is Carnegie Mellon's color. And finally, Scrappy Doo was Scooby-Doo's pint-size cousin. I think that should clear everything up.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

This Won't Hurt A Bit

Except that getting six vaccines DOES hurt. Quite a bit, in fact. Let me re-phrase: it hurt me and not Matt, a fact of which I think he'll keep making me aware for the next 6 or 7 months. (Let's be honest, though. Of COURSE it hurt him, too. He just doesn't want to admit it because he wants to be able to make fun of me.)

Doctors, friends of doctors, and general worriers, Matt and I are now inoculated against the following illnesses: Hepatitis A; Hepatitis B; Typhoid; Tetanus, Diptheria, and Pertussis; Polio; and the Flu. We might add Meningitis to the list, and if I need to, I'll be getting a Yellow Fever vaccine. The kind people at the Allegheny County Health Department shot us both for a mere $400! When you think about it, this is a lot less expensive than say, treating Typhoid. But it still seems like a lot of money for some needles full of dead virus.

And of course, this is not the end of our trip-med stuff. Oh no! We've got a list about a mile long of prescriptions (to ward off Malaria, among other unwanted illnesses), over-the-counter meds,
topical creams, and general first-aid gear to take with us. We intend to stay as healthy as we possibly can, even if it means stopping just short of licking a stranger's hands. I mean, sigh, we were really hoping to do that while we were traveling, but at the advice of our physicians, we'll refrain.

The one upside to getting the vaccines today is that I felt that it entitled us both to a treat. Which turned out to be a banana fruit freeze for me, and a coconut fruit freeze for Matt. Mmm...frozen fruit with tapioca pearls. Maybe my arms will hurt enough that I'll need another one tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


The moment you've all been waiting for has finally arrived: this blog is going public! Welcome! For those of you who are just joining us, this is the place where Matt and I will document our 3-month trip to Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, India, and Nepal. We hope to provide you with witty repartee, pictures, and assurances that we are alive and well. Our earlier posts were for our own benefit, as we were trying to wrap our minds around the fact that we are actually taking a 3-month sojourn from life. You're obviously more than welcome to read those earlier posts. Please also feel free to comment. On anything, really. Comment away!

Since this is an introductory post for most of you, let me give you a bit of background. A little over a year ago, Matt and I started talking about taking a TRIP after he graduated from school. This wasn't going to be a small trip, it was going to be a TRIP wherein we would visit someplace kind of unusual, someplace different from places that other people visited, and we planned to be there for about a month. And then as we talked about it and got more excited about it, and thought about it some more, we realized that maybe it was time to take a journey, to take the kind of trip where we would leave our worldly possessions in storage, leave our cats to the kindness of friends, and say a temporary goodbye to American capitalism/consumerism. It soon became clear that not only were we ready to take this journey, but that the window of opportunity to take it would grow smaller and smaller unless we jumped on the chance right now.

Fast forward through what was an undeniably difficult year in Pittsburgh (read: grad school is hard, and finding a job in a less-than-friendly legal market is also hard), and here we are. We
plan to leave from New York on December 20, 2007 and return on April 4, 2008. That's just over 100 days for those of you who like to count. In those hundred-plus days, we plan to visit Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, and Portugal. We've mapped out an itinerary but we're still tweaking it, so stay tuned for details.

Right now we're in the midst of figuring out a couple of key things before we go: how not to die from a strange illness while we're there (vaccines, vaccines, vaccines) how to make sure that we can get into the countries we want to go to (visas!), and the logistics of saying goodbye to every single person we know BEFORE we get on a plane (including people who haven't yet made their appearance in the world – hi miniMart!).

What we need from you is excited encouragement! We need you to be thrilled for us! We need you to tell us that this is the trip of a lifetime, and that we will have experiences beyond our wildest dreams! We need you to give us all of the advice you have to share, and to tell us about places we absolutely cannot miss. We also need you to give us your warnings, your public service announcements, and your concerns for our safety. We know that your worry means you love us
(we're Jewish).

So with that, I give you our blog. Welcome! Enjoy! Come and go in Peace!
Lizzi and Matt

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Planning for the Geek

All of this planning, in terms of itineraries, visas, and vaccines, is fun to a point. However, what really matters is can we communicate and capture memories on the road. Much of our early technology plan centered around whether we were going to take a worldwide smart phone (like a Treo) or a laptop.

A Treo-like device would be perfect because it's small and exceptionally lightweight. We could also make regular voice calls, which could be a nice lifeline to have. On the downside, service may not be universal, and the fees could easily blow away our budget, particularly fees to upload many megabytes of photos to Flickr. Plus, there's no room on the handheld to store photos.

On the other hand, a laptop offers quite a bit of flexibility, although it will be quite a bit heavier. We can watch DVDs when we want to spend a night in. Storing photos is no longer a problem. We can also burn CDs of pics as we go, so if we lose the computer or the camera, we're not completely out of luck. Plus, connectivity through wired or wireless connections may be easier than trying to connect to