Oh, the Things You’ll Know from the Places You Go: 5 Lessons I’ve Learned in 5 Months of Travel

jammibjorn

Jammie Karlman is married to a man I refer to as the James Bond of blogging and travel, Bjorn. This international couple of mystery, salsa-dancing and helping others are chronicling their travels on both their blogs which are updated  regularly.

This international duo quit their jobs in California to travel around the world for a year doing service projects. Their plan is to spend 3 months in 4 world cities: Bangkok, Thailand; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Berlin, Germany; and Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India. (They call it the B Tour.) This trip has been a dream of theirs for five years. It’s really an experiment in lifestyle redesign. An international life of do-gooding and adventure is what they want for the long-term. (That, and tasty food.)

Take it away, Jammie!

Right now, we are in Buenos Aires and have just come to the end of our fifth month of travel. The food, so far, has indeed been mind-numbingly delicious. Other experiences (e.g. humidity, taxi drivers that scam you) have been decidedly less so.

But that’s travel for ya — constantly surprising.

Through the ups-and-downs of our experiences, here are 5 things I discovered that (usually) hold true:

1.) You can live with half the stuff you have now. Take the remainder, halve it again and you’re left with what you actually use.

You need less than you think. When my husband and I decided to go on this trip, we got rid of 80-90% of our stuff. And now I can’t remember what most of that stuff was. What does remain is the memory that it was heart- and back-breaking work. A LOT of work.

And here’s the kicker: As we travel, I find I still packed too much. I actually have clothes and shoes sitting in the closet right now that I barely use. This is some kind of craziness to me, especially as I was that girl who had so many clothes she could go a month without wearing the same item twice.

But this is not a rant against consumerism and materialism. I still like pretty clothes, shoes and tchotchkes. But the experience of throwing out nearly everything we owned has made me leery of having too many possessions.

2.) Starting a new life doesn’t mean old problems disappear.

I can honestly say that I am living the life that I want and that I am happy. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have pangs of insecurity and doubt about what I am doing or encounter difficulties with my character development. Just because I am traveling the world does not mean I left my baggage behind.

I had thought that by going on this trip, certain problems would resolve themselves. After all, I would no longer have to deal with particular annoying people. I would have more time to keep in contact with family and friends.

But halfway around the world from where I was, I am still having problems with people and keeping connected. How is it possible that almost all of the taxi drivers I encounter have cheated me or tried? I would like to blame all taxi drivers as being fraudulent, but I know that can not be true. If a problem is that recurrent and pervasive, it must mean that there is something I am doing that contributes to the problem. (Perhaps I lack assertiveness? Or is it self-fulfilling prophecy — I expect to be scammed and therefore I am?)

And I am STILL missing and forgetting people’s birthdays!

My real problem, I realize, is that I had wrongly ascribed the origins of my troubles to external sources (e.g. other people, overbearing schedule, etc.) when really they were internal. It’s always easier to blame “the other guy” when really you need to take a long, hard look at yourself.

3.) Traveling makes it easier to take a long, hard look at yourself.

Aside from questions of how much time I will spend on service projects and devote to sleep, I have a pretty open schedule (I ain’t gonna lie: It’s pretty awesome.) I have found that the break from the rigors and structures of a normal 8-10 hour job has created more space for me; space that I fill dissecting events/experiences that disturbed me. I can’t as easily push these thoughts away; I don’t have the same distractions.

Usually, these events are so disturbing because they reveal something disturbing about me. For example, I recently blamed a taxi driver for a fast meter. I forced him to stop and made my husband and friends jump out of the cab. Turns out that all meters in Buenos Aires cabs go faster at night and that my accusations were unfounded.

Aside from feeling embarrassed, I was mystified about why I had such a violent reaction. Instead of dismissing it with the rationalization that “most cab drivers are jerks anyway” and/or avoiding dealing with it, I thought about the experience which eventually led to the conclusions mentioned in #2 about taxi drivers, and some strategies that I will employ next time.

4.) Traveling makes it easier to change

Aside from occasional visits from family and friends, Bjorn and I have been on our own. I am freed from the expectations of others who “know” me and how they think I should deal with problems or act. I no longer have to deal with what others think I should do or perceptions of what “Jammie would do” by what I have done in the past.

I can reinvent myself.

That makes it easier to attack character flaws from a new direction, to do things that you normally wouldn’t have. Just like a kid moving to a new school can reinvent themselves from shy to fly (yes, I did just use dated slang from the ‘90s) the same holds true with traveling.

Plus, I don’t feel “rushed.” I don’t feel the need to have changed and improved myself by the next time I meet with someone. It’s been a more forgiving process.

5.) You should just do it.

No, not just travel. What I’m getting at (besides possibly incurring the wrath of Nike) is that I have found it is better to take action toward a goal. As mentioned above, my husband and I had been dreaming about this trip for 5 years.

Five years of thwarted longing is not only torturous to the soul, but also enough time to build up insecurity, doubt and fear as obstacles to this trip for another 5 years (10? 15? 20…you get my point). It is better to take charge and take action for what you want. Now.

And here’s the crucially important (at least for me) part: You don’t have to be without fear to do it.

I found a definition of courage that I really like: “the ability to do something that frightens one.”

Notice it does not say that you stop being frightened— but you can do it, nonetheless. I freaked out (read: ran around a room screaming while wind-milling my arms — many times) before we even began this trip. But not even two weeks into our trip, I realized it was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made — aside from choosing Bjorn as my husband, of course (Awwww! Hugs, kisses, sweetness, gags. :D)

Now when I get tingles of anxiety about doing something, it’s usually a sure sign that I should do it. Even if mistakes are made. Actually, that should just read: Mistakes will be made. The journey toward the life you want is not a straight line but a series of readjustments.

In a way, that makes change comforting, instead of frightening to me. Even if the actions you take don’t lead exactly where you want, you can always stop and correct course (unless those previous actions lead to death. Please plan your actions carefully and wisely and avoid most things that are illegal, immoral and fattening.)

Who can know what the future will hold? But as for me, I’m looking forward to what I’ll learn in the next five months.

What exciting places you been to? And what have you learned from your travel experiences?

You can read Jammie’s entertaining and informative travel blog here: Go Karlmans.

37 Comments

  1. Really cool couple! I love that they’re focused on do-gooding. 🙂
    And it’s great to see travel couples because its mostly singles out there and hard to date a traveler because of the impermanence of it. But I always like to romanticize travel w/ a partner in my head so it’s great to see it working out there! The only countries I’ve been to are India, Taiwan, Philippines, US and Canada.. I know.. not a lot! I want to visit more. You do learn so much! “Wherever you go, there you are” rings true, because we certainly still have our baggages.

    1. Thanks Janet! I’ve heard it said that travel is one of the true tests of a relationship—if that’s true, then we’ve been through the GREs, the MCAT, the LSAT and the GMAT, sometimes all at once. 😀 But I have found that all the bumps in the road also have helped to make us closer and more loving; we’ve really learned to communicate better with each other. I really am blessed to have Bjorn as my partner.

      You know, before I went on this trip, the only countries I had been to outside of North America were the Philippines, South Korea and France (veeeery briefly :D). Not a lot, either, but life has shown me there’s always room for change! (And a romantic partner :D)

  2. Jammie – firstly, LOVE your name. Makes me wanna play music and dance!

    So you guys are taking on a lot by travelling together. I’d say my travels have taught me a lot about my character and that of those I travelled with. And when I mean travel, I really mean holidays, and not something long term like you are doing.

    On a recent trip to Rome, a friend and I (who have known each other for well over 2 decades) ended up falling out and not talking for near on 8 months after! Wow was that dramatic! But it taught me a lot about considering the other person’s perspective and knowing when to take time apart.

    – Razwana

    1. My mom told me she gave me an extra “M” for luck. Here’s the true story behind my name: I have 3 older siblings. My mom said to them, “What do you want to name your new sister?” It was the ’70s and there was a particular show they loved. They shouted, “Jamie!” and my mom, not knowing any better, thought it was a nice name. So yes, I am named after the Bionic Woman, Jamie Summers (I even have a baby’s bracelet that says “Jammie Sommer” — luckily they changed my middle name when my mom wised up. :D)

      I’m sorry to hear about the falling out with your friend but it sounds like you made up (?). It is so true about the character reveals. I was a little surprised by what I discovered, though. On this trip, I feel like the darker aspects of my character are being revealed to me and I am learning to appreciate the good of Bjorn’s character more.

      It may sound like I am making Bjorn into a saint (believe me I find plenty of “faults” in my crustier moods :)), but I have been humbled, many times, by the depths of his love, commitment and patience.

      In contrast, I have discovered that I have a much shorter fuse than I thought, I have a fine flair for the dramatic and I am not as kind as I thought I was. It really came as a surprise to me, considering how I thought beforehand that I was hot stuff. 🙂

      Here’s to the lessons of travel!

  3. I once told a friend that I like ‘travelling’ better than reaching the destination…I agree with your five learning points Jammie. The best comes at #5~ to just ‘do it.’ I always come up with excuses not to but the same friend encouraged me to do it ‘now’.
    I’ve been to Italy, N. Africa, Malaysia and Singapore ~ and you’re right ‘mistakes’ will be made but there’ll be a lot of lessons and blessings too in between. I was just supposed to stay a whole day in Malaysia but I have overlooked my departure time so I get to stay three days more (we did lose money from buying another ticket but I get to scout the place and I got acquainted with a Filipino actor in the airport :P).
    Good luck in your travels ~ buon cammino!

    1. Melissa, I love that—enjoying the travel more than the destination. I think there’s a good lesson in there.

      I also love that story about the Filipino actor! How are they everywhere?? When I lived in Southern California, every other day there would stories of a Filipino celebrity sighting — in Eagle Rock, just about the most unglamorous part of L.A. 🙂

      I would love to visit all those countries you just mentioned. I guess I better take my own advice and just do it. 😀

  4. Jammie, it sounds like this trip will forever change your life. Thank you for sharing your lessons with us. I love how you said it is easier to blame others for our struggles but we must look inward. From the little bit of traveling I’ve done I have realized there is so much beauty out there, and also I feel so blessed for all that I do have and the comfort of home. Have a wonderful rest of your trip!

    1. It’s true—this trip is life-changing. Sometimes I look back at all the changes I’ve already gone through and wonder if I will recognize myself at the end of the year. 🙂
      Gratefulness, I have learned, is the gift that keeps on giving. It really does make life better. Thanks so much for your comment, Wendy!

  5. I really like this! I’m going to share it with people. I like what you said about life being a “series of readjustments”. That is SO true. At 30, I’m looking back (and forward), and seeing that to be very true! You two are very missed! I regret having to cancel my trip to Buenos Aires to see you two, but I promise it was for a good reason, as we will discuss sometime! Love and miss you both!

    -Josh

    1. Josh!! We miss you too and are bummed you didn’t come out! I am looking forward to hearing (and meeting) your very good reason. 😀

      Ya, when I finally realized there was no straight line to my dream life I was super bummed, especially when some of my “readjustments” seemed to take me backward and it seemed like I had to retread some old trail. But now I think about it this way: there is no old trail to retread. Every step/choice is a new path—there is no going backward. My journey only fails when I stop moving.

      🙂

  6. Great article Jammie! A lot better than the Buzz, 🙂 Sounds very exciting to take off on a year long trip all over the world and meet so many people that you’ve never seen before!! It sounds exciting and exhilarating, hope you make many life long friends over there!! Then you can go back and visit them 😉 Is blogging a permanent pursuit or will the ER be back on the table? It all sounds awesome though!!

    1. Thanks Christina! Oh the Buzz — I still love it and dollars still make me holler (http://www.norcalblogs.com/buzzblog/category/dollar_makes_you_holler/) 😀

      You know you’re right: meeting people has been the highlight of the trip. Bjorn and I have been very fortunate to meet so many wonderful people. I am looking forward to seeing them again. 😀

      I would like to make blogging a permanent, financially-stable pursuit but we’ll see. And about the ER—I’m not ruling out anything. 😀

  7. Hi Jammie and Bjorn,
    I just loved your most recent posting of five things you have learned. Very excellent comments and oh so true. I have been over twice to stay with hubby while he was working in Hawaii at the hospital, and the house was very sparsely furnished but it works! And no work to take care of it all. I have learned to know that I can get items we NEED at the thrift store and be all right with it. I even took a chair in someone’s front yard that had a “free” sign on it an washed the cushion covers, spray painted the bamboo, and voila…another seat for the living room. I know that I have too much, and we have moved numerous times throughout our lives and gotten rid of things each time. I have traveled a lot, but I have not gone on a trip such as yours as far as not being all planned out to the ‘nth degree. I agree with you that we don’t leave our baggage behind or our problems. I learned that well when we were missionaries in Africa. Just different location, different people, different scam artists, but so much of our success is related to how we handle things internally and how we don’t let others determine what we should do…not having to always meet someone’s expectations. So, loved your comments, Jammie. Keep them coming, an be safe..and yes, I love the quote about not doing something that is illegal or eating something that is fattening! That is where I need to shape up. Eating too much, fattening or not. Have a beautiful day.

    1. “So much of our success is related to how we handle things internally and how we don’t let others determine what we should do…not having to always meet someone’s expectations.” — I would tattoo that somewhere on my body if I weren’t so afraid of needles. 😀

      I am a big fan of thrift stores, and especially things that are free. 🙂 If we ever decide to settle down for a while, I am planning on using “reduce, reuse and recycle” as my decorating theme. 😀

      I didn’t know you both were missionaries in Africa! (Although, in hindsight it makes sense as you are such loving, giving, service-oriented people.)

      And I, too, have a problem with the “fattening” part. Cakes and cookies are my downfall, but I am working, slowly, on conquering that challenge. 🙂

  8. It goes without saying that I am telling EVERYONE about this post! Excellent job! I think I picked the world’s best globetrotter…

    1. No I DID. 🙂 (Here’s where we start making kissy-kissy noises and talking inanely, like saying, “You silly-billy-boo-goo-goo!” :D).

      Seriously, though, thank you so much for your support. You are a wunnerful man and I heart you SO MUCH.

      You silly-billy-boo-goo-goo. 🙂

  9. I am not a lover of travel and this post makes me want to take time off to experience life lessons like the ones you’ve learned. #1 is my favorite and makes me want to go home and clean out all my closets. It’s incomprehensible to me how you can feel that you packed too much! P.S. I remember back in 2005 when a taxi driver cheated us out of $10 in change and we didn’t realize it until we’d left the cab. I think your sensitivity in that particular area is well founded.

    1. Grrrl, I still am bitter about that cab driver cheating us! (this is probably another area I should work on: holding grudges. :D)

      And I know, right? We actually got rid of 1 WHOLE SUITCASE full of clothes after Bangkok, and yet I’m still carrying stuff around that I hardly ever use. (I’m super-sentimental. I brought the shoes I wore at my wedding even though I don’t wear them. :)) And I just recently unearthed a dress I forgot I brought. Arrgh.

  10. Great observations Jammie. I think point 2 and 4 are forever connected. The simplicity of change (if that even exists) can only begin with the realization of the internal issues that cause the need for change. That is why I think that traveling reveals the necessary change because as we have heard, “Wherever you go, there you are.” And it is the “you” that is the real problem. It is great that traveling has helped you have the time and energy to reflect more on where you are emotionally, spiritually, etc. More of us need to take time to do just that. I think that is why solitude is so important, no matter what your religious or spiritual persuasion might be. Taking time to reflect on your life and meditate on the possibilities and the realities around you is where change is a real possibility. Keep it up Karlmans! You are an inspiration to us all.

    1. “Taking time to reflect on your life and meditate on the possibilities and the realities around you is where change is a real possibility.”—Milton, you are a wise, wise man. And I love that point that #2 and #4 are connected — I hadn’t realized it before, but it’s true. Stripped of all I know and that I am comfortable with, I have come face-to-face with the realities about me and must now decide what to do about it, especially the darker aspects. Not always a pretty task, but one that I hope leads to a change for good (in every sense of the phrase. :D). Thanks for the great comment!

  11. Auntie Jammie,

    I’m glad you shared this blog with me. It’s fascinating to see other people’s experiences with traveling and not just visiting, but living among other cultures. As you know, due to my occupation, I have been afforded the opportunity to travel to various places in and out of the continental U.S. Personally, I have come to see how I really am as a person (away from my “crowd”) when I’m constantly packing my bags and sent on mandatory “adventures” whether it be schools or training. You value things you don’t normally think about such as soap, decent tooth paste, baby wipes, and even toilet paper. There are so many individuals I have been graced to interact with and teach them about our way of living and they have shown me theirs and how they survive. It’s always a wonderful thing when you learn something knew about the world around you, as well as yourself. In response to #2 “Starting a new life doesn’t make old problems disappear”, I strongly agree with you. Although my constant moving has allowed me to get my mind off particular situations, they do catch up to you when you aren’t expecting it. However, I do think that the time away from whatever it is that is bothering you will allow you to breathe a little and once you have come to terms with your issue(s), it will be easier to tackle. As for #4, I’ve done that myself. There are many occasions where I’ve had to reevaluate myself and figure out what I needed to change to be a better leader and individual. Often times it would sway more to one side, but I’ve grown so much due to it. Good luck with all your other goals and adventures! I’m glad you’re out there doing what it is that you love.

    1. Midori, I am so proud of you. You are such a mature, thoughtful, articulate young lady — and you can kick serious butt, too. 😀 I am glad that the U.S. has such a good representative in a Marine like you.

      I totally thought the same thing about toiletries! (and oddly, hangers, too. :)). I also agree that giving an issue some breathing space can be a good idea. (I tend to need LOADS of time to digest what happened.) I’m so impressed by the things you have already learned that I am now just figuring out. Your future is bright and shining indeed! Much love!

  12. Congratulations for being brave and take time to do something you have planned for so long. And it is true, traveling teaches many things one of them is as you say, we keep so much staff, and we do not really need it!
    My husband and I after planning for seven years, to do “the Camino de Santiago” in Spain, year after year something came out and we were not able to do it. Finally, last summer we were able to walk 300 km. the idea to finish is this summer, another 500 km. but our daughter is having ababy, so we came to Oregon in stead to help her. We have now planned to finish next year.
    It was such a incredible walk!

    1. Congratulations to you, Maria, for the walk and the new grandbaby! I find your story truly inspiring. You are not giving up on your goal. Your story proves the length of time to achieve a goal is not that important as long as you are taking steps (literally!) toward it.

      And wow! 300 km! I can barely walk 5 km without my feet starting to blister. 🙂

  13. Well-written, Jammie. Clearly Björn has chosen wisely (hugs, kisses, sweetness, barf – get a room). I do try to live every day as a new adventure, but that can be challenging when one gets locked into the everyday routine of work, chores, and social obligations. It’s been fun living vicariously through your adventures so far; looking forward to many more posts from you two in the future. 🙂

    1. LoL Kirk— I like your sweetness progression better than mine 🙂
      You know what’s odd, I love routine as much as the next person (probably even more so) but I’ve realized it is essential to shake things up now and then. I think it might be time to take some time off and come visit us. we’ll try to keep the PDAs to a minimum. 😀

  14. Totally agree with you cousin. Your journey with Bjorn is mighty impressive. The sights, the people, and the experiences, good or bad, both of you have been will make you very wealthy, not the material kind of course. :-). Wish i could do it. Well, at least I can enjoy it vicariously through you guys. Take care both of you.

    1. Thanks cousin! we’re thinking of this trip as a financial and emotional investment. Hopefully, it pays off. 🙂 And you know, if we could do it, surely anyone can! (Read: we hope to be seeing you soon. :D).

  15. Such a great blog! Am proud of both of you for what you are doing! Takes major courage to do what 99% of people would never do cause we cannot get out of our comfort zone! Love hearing about your adventures and I appreciate your honesty too! Prayers for your unique and beautiful journey! May God continue to bless your lives! Hugs!

    1. Hi Katrina! Thanks so much for the prayers. We feel really blessed to have such supportive, kind people in our corner; it means so much to us. I feel especially warmed by your comment because it WAS really hard for me to go on this trip at first because I do loves me some comfort and I don’t think I’m particularly brave, but I’m so very very glad I did. 🙂

  16. Hi Jammie & Bjorn!

    I’m so glad you are both having a great (for the most part?) time experiencing the world! I often think of you two and I am praying for your safety as well as having a blessed experience wherever you may be. I enjoyed reading this post as much as your other entries on gokarlmans.com.

    I would love to visit you in Berlin and/or Mumbai! Please save me a place to sleep.

    1. Camillos! in case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve taken a piece of you with me on this trip (hint: it looks like a scarf you gave me in S. Korea :D). And grrrl— you know there’s a spot for you!

  17. Great article. I respect you both for not only your urge to travel, but for actually doing it. You will both be better people for having done it. And I’m glad I got to meet you in Bangkok. Buenos Aires is a lovely city, and I’m sure much cooler than Bangkok at this time of year. When you complete your travels, you should write a book on it.

    1. Michael! I’m so glad to hear from you! How go the visits at the IDC? Buenos Aires is a lovely place and it is much cooler—although it is getting a tad too cool for my tastes. 🙂 And about the book— we’ll see. 🙂

  18. Hey Jammie! I love your blog! You have just awakened my sleeping travel nerves. It reminded me of my travel to Brazil, I also experienced and encountered all these 5 things you pointed out and they’re all SUPER TRUE! Ya know, I was a shopaholic (given the opportunities you have in Bangkok??!!) and I realized that I spent a lot for just mere vanity. I can’t contain myself now, I can sense that we seem to have the same thoughts on everything except that you have such highfalutin words, haha!
    What I am trying to say is that, I miss you and Bjorn! Do-gooding is what you do best and you have touched people’s lives wherever you go. Many of us here can testify to that! You both are wonderful people – you just made me wish there’s more of “you” out there somewhere who will be willing and do the same thing as you are doing right now. I wish I could find a partner like Bjorn (I just wish that in my mind – not that I have a hidden desire for Bjorn, ya know! 55555) and follow the path you’re taking.
    Anyway, to answer your ending question, I have been to South Korea and Brazil & now I am Thailand but not to travel for pleasure but mostly for work (missions & profession). All the best to you, Jammie & Bjorn. See you in a few months in Bangkok, remember?! God bless…continue to brighten the corners where you are! 😛

    1. Cherry! I love that you just used the word “highfalutin.” Mental note to myself: Must use that word more often. 😀

      Oh Cherry, thanks for the kind words. It really touches me to hear it because so many times I have wondered if I have said/done the right thing. The intent to do good is always there; I just wonder if I really have sometimes. 😀

      And don’t worry girl, I know your “Bjorn” is out there! 🙂 Quality attracts quality and I am sure Mr. Cherry is going to be fabulous.

      See you in Bangkok soon! 😉

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