Prior to this trip, the longest I had ever spent out of the country at one time was 23 days back in 2001.
As of today, I have been traveling for 92 days.
I thought a lot about writing this post because, well, sitting on a train for 32 hours with “roommates” who sleep the entire time gives you a lot of time to think.
One of the things that occurred to me is something I have not been doing while traveling.
Those who know me well know that I am a sports fanatic. I love watching sports and I love reading about sports. One of the things I always looked forward to on Monday mornings in Chicago (ok, maybe the only thing) was reading Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback column during football season. And one of the sections of that column that I particularly enjoyed was his 10 Things I Think I Think.
I realized I haven’t read this once since hitting the road, which surprises me – and that is the first thing on my own list of 10 Things I Think I Think about the last three months.
1. I think I am surprised that I have not been following sports at home more closely. It isn’t like I haven’t had internet access. I check Facebook, Twitter and email nearly every day but probably haven’t spent even an hour total on my previous favorite time-sucking website, ESPN.com. Of course, that may have something to do with the fact that the Vikings are 2-9, Iowa football finished a disappointing 7-5 and Minnesota basketball just lost their best player for the season with an ACL injury.
2. I think I am shocked that I have managed to stay healthy. I hope I am not jinxing myself by saying this, but aside from one bad cold when I first got to Moscow, I have not been sick. This is a minor miracle considering that I have not been working out regularly and have not been maintaining good eating habits. I have consumed way too much chocolate and Diet Coke, not enough fruits and veggies and I have not been as careful about staying gluten-free as I should.
3. I think I am disappointed so far in my attempts to volunteer abroad. I have already written about my experience in St. Petersburg and, while my Moscow experience was an improvement, it still wasn’t all that I was hoping it would be. I really got my hopes up when I independently arranged to volunteer with the Great Baikal Trail organization in Irkutsk for two weeks, with possible projects including teaching English, editing or writing for their website or working on grant proposals. Instead, when I arrived, I learned that they had two long-term volunteers coming soon so they were saving most of the work for them.
4. I think I have been lazy about learning Russian. I set a goal for myself of becoming fluent in Russian by the end of this trip and three months in, I am nowhere close. Yes, I am much further along than I was before I left Chicago, but frankly, it gets exhausting trying to speak a foreign language every single day. So when I encounter people who speak English – and their English is much better than my Russian – it is easy to just fall back into speaking English.
5. I think I am concerned about my budget but I am trying not to be. I will write a separate post outlining my costs for Russia, but suffice it to say that overall, I have spent nearly $2,000 more than I had planned to at this point. I had a minor freak-out about this last week, but then I crunched the numbers so far and realized that I should be okay. I started with one of the most expensive places I will visit and I exceeded my savings goal in the first place. That being said, I am stepping up my efforts to find some freelance work through Elance and to bring in some additional income through this site to build myself a cushion.
6. I think that I loved getting an email from my tour guide in Ulan Ude saying:
“After I met you I have understood that traveling it is something real. Now I am thinking about traveling to Europe. Thank you again.”
7. I think that I might be able to write a book by the end of this trip about how to retrieve one’s card when it is eaten by an evil ATM machine. In case you missed it, I lost my card again in Krasnoyarsk, only to get it back within an hour this time. I am somehow both very unlucky and very lucky at the same time.
8. I think I am very proud of the fact that I braved -12 F temperatures to go hiking in the Stolby Nature Reserve outside of Krasnoyarsk last Sunday. My guides thought I would back out but I layered on everything I could and toughed it out as any good Minnesotan would. And really, it didn’t feel that cold. Really.
9. I think after three months on the road, I am feeling more certain that I want to pursue some sort of career in travel or tourism when this is all over. I have really enjoyed writing about the places I have visited, researching where I am going next and, most of all introducing people to places they may not have ever previously considered visiting. Whether that will be starting my own travel planning business, pursuing travel writing or working for a travel agency, tour company or tourism board remains to be seen – and I still have plenty of time to figure that out – but at this point, that is the direction I believe I am headed.
10. I think that I loved Russia, but I am excited to move on to something new. Up next are Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in December, followed by Belarus and Ukraine in January! I will likely spend Christmas in Lithuania and New Year’s Eve in Krakow, Poland. I love Europe in the winter and I particularly love Eastern Europe during the holidays, so I am really looking forward to my travels in December. As a bonus, I will be in Belarus for the Russian Orthodox Christmas and New Year so I will get to experience the holidays twice!
Finally, if you were hoping to read more about my Trans-Siberian journey, never fear – more is on the way!
Keep an eye out (or subscribe to my RSS feed if you haven’t already) for travel updates about Ulan Ude and Irkutsk and my experience hiking the Stolby Nature Reserve. I also have posts planned covering my budget in Russia, my experience visiting a Russian school and some overall observations after spending nearly 3 months here!
Anything else you’re curious to know about? Ask below!