about We are Akila and Patrick. Our minds (and waistlines) expand as we travel, cook, and eat our way around the world with our two dogs.
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on fear

View of Cape Town from Robbens Island

View of Cape Town

Things have been quiet on this blog this month not because I have nothing to write, or because of my packed schedule (though that definitely hasn't helped), but rather due to an emotion I cannot control.  Fear.  Blogging is an extension of my voice and my voice is filled with fear.

Lately, fear has been our national pasttime.  For ten years, this nation has been stifled by it --- frightened about the next Al Qaeda attack and to travel anywhere outside our countries' borders.  Two weeks ago, when the Navy SEALS killed Bin Laden, much of this country felt liberated.  Yet, on May 1, 2011, the United States State Department recommended, and continues to recommend that we pull down the proverbial curtains and lock ourselves in our homes, issuing a "Worldwide Travel Alert."  As Pam Mandel so eloquently put it, "The witch is dead, but there is no celebration, instead, we are all still locked in the castle. Flying monkeys are everywhere."

For those of us who never stopped traveling, or felt the need to smack a Canada sticker on our backpacks, or ignored (with justification) the hand-wringing worries of the State Department, the raucous celebrations over Bin Laden's death inspired new fears. Wandering Earl , who has been permanently traveling for eleven years, "fear[ed] that this behavior [of drinking and partying] just might lead to some severe consequences."  He explained, that his "first thought was of all those I’ve met during my adventures, those who live in cities, towns and villages . . . even in Abbottabad, which I happened to pass through myself at the end of 2005 . . . .  I tried to imagine how these people were reacting to the cheering and to the drinking of beer, to the contrast between this behavior and my efforts as a traveler to demonstrate that Americans were peace-loving individuals as well."

I empathize with the State Department's mission to protect us from crazies and the role of the traveler as an ambassador, but do not really comprehend either.  Travel has never frightened me.  Last year, the most oft-asked question about our then-upcoming trip to South Africa was, "Is it safe?"  Crime in that country is so bad that a newly-married husband allegedly hired hitmen to carjack and kill his wife on their honeymoon in Cape Town , under the guise that it was one of the common carjackings that occur in that country.

We went anyway and loved South Africa.  Yes, crime exists there but the only time we experienced it was when we stupidly left my headphones in our laundry bag before handing it to the launderer and didn't realize that we didn't have it with us later.  Yes, there were times when we felt uncomfortable, especially in Durban, but we simply got away from that particular area to another busier area.  At the same time, on an evening in a small restaurant in Komatipoort, I forgot my purse and the waiter ran all the way out into the parking lot to ensure that I didn't leave without it.  That sort of goodness is everywhere, despite a country's shoddy reputation.  We would, without hesitation, recommend South Africa to any traveler, not least because of the warm-hearted people who welcomed us into their country.

In fact, fear rarely plagues me.  Fear requires an imagination cultivated in destruction, disease, pain, or anger.  My thoughts are generally too happy for that sort of thing.  I'm the girl who believes that the world is a good place and there are good people here.

Except for now.  Now, fear follows me.  It is in my back seat, watching me as I turn down the road.  It is with me when I walk the dogs, trotting behind me, its tongue lapping against my heels.  It is in my bed, wrenching its sheets around me as I try to sleep.

The fear I suffer from is the fear of rejection.  At the end of this week, I will start sending my first novel to agents.  I'm not good at rejection.  Actually, strike that.  I'm terrible at rejection.  I remember every mean word said to me, every bad grade I've received, every college or job who turned me down, and every snub from kindergarten and up.

I'm trying to get into a business in which rejection is the norm.  The likelihood of landing an agent and a publisher is slim.  I know that most authors (even the famous ones) struggle for months and years to find someone to publish them.  I know that rejection and self-doubt is the life blood of the author but still I fear it.

I'm trying to pull myself out because I don't like this me.  I don't recognize her.  I'm starting to work on my second novel to avoid the unsettling feeling in my stomach and immersing myself in my technical writing and other work.  I'm trying to get back into blogging because I miss talking to you lovely people.  I'm trying not to dwell.  But, if things continue to be quiet on this site, it's because I'm scraping at the tough frightening shell that surrounds me.

the digital nomad's electronics death toll


This has nothing to do with this post . . . except that I'd rather be here than dealing with this

Because we are digital nomads and self-employed, we are every single person in the typical company.  We are our own help desks, secretaries, accountants, and financial analysts.  On most days, these administrative duties take only a few minutes from our daily schedule but, some days, everything comes to a standstill because the difficulties of managing a business collide with the actual work we wish to do.

Yesterday was one of those days.  One hour into writing, my 10-month-new state-of-the-art Sony Vaio laptop whined and then screeched, reminiscent of the appalling sounds of the emus that roam Australia, stunning me out of my work.  The black screen appeared and I reverted to my catch-all technological fix, Control + Alt + Delete, and the computer soon started up.  Within minutes, the screen was black again.  For four hours, I pressed the Power button, watched the computer boot up and frantically saved my most recent work to our backup drive and server.  By the time the evening rolled around, the computer had, with somber finality, died. 

A crashed computer shouldn’t cause Boy Scout-worthy-knots in my shoulders but, yet, it did.  This computer is my livelihood and, in the time it will take me to ship it to the Sony warranty center, have them fix it, and send it back to me, I will lose several weeks of work.  I have a full line of blog posts scheduled, some technical writing lined up, and intended to finish the first draft of my novel by the end of this month.  I can appropriate Patrick’s computer in the evenings (as I am doing now), but he needs it during the day.  And, all our pictures, photo editing software, videos, and video editing software are on my computer, meaning that things might be a bit quieter on this website until my laptop is fixed.

There is a slew of logistical issues, as well.  We are currently in Savannah and leave at the end of next week for Charleston.  If the Sony center can’t fix it by the time we leave Savannah, do we have them ship it to Charleston or do we wait to have it fixed until we reach Asheville in April, at which time we will be in one place for a full month?

This isn’t the first technological worry we’ve had since we have begun traveling full-time.  In the past 18 months, we have suffered through the following death toll:

  • Sony Vaio laptop (not this one – my prior Sony laptop) due to extreme heat issues
  • Macbook Air laptop due to extreme heat issues
  • First-generation iPhone dropped and broken on concrete steps
  • An 18-200 Nikon VR lens dropped and broken while hiking
  • Canon point and shoot camera that died after being exposed to sand from the Namibian dunes

Granted, we work our electronics harder than the average person, taking them through extreme conditions, temperatures, and situations, and use them on a daily basis.  But, the Sony Vaio that just died is less than a year old and I’ve already sent it to the warranty center once because the hinges for the monitor fell apart.  I spent two hours on the phone this morning with the warranty center and they believe that my 32 GB solid-state hard drive (which I purchased for its supposed crash-proof-worthiness) is corrupt and needs to be entirely replaced.  Patrick keeps telling me I need to suck it up and start buying Macs but I then point out that his Macbook Air reached mind-boggling temperatures before he replaced it.  Plus, call me old-fashioned, but I prefer PCs.

We’re not the only digital nomads to suffer from a heavy electronics death toll and, given Christine’s death toll of five computers in three years, maybe we should consider ourselves lucky.  Is replacing electronics the inevitable consequence of this lifestyle?  Or, is it just, as the old folks used to say, that things aren’t made like they used to be?  Is there a laptop out there made for the digital nomad?  And, if not, why the heck not?

Either way, we have learned something from these disasters.  Last year, when we replaced my old Sony laptop with this one, we purchased the most exhaustive 3-year warranty Sony offered.  We purchase all our equipment using our American Express card, which automatically doubles the manufacturer’s warranty.  We keep all our equipment in heavily padded Manfrotto and Kata bags.  We back-up everything every single day to our Cloud storage (I’ll tell you about our awesome data storage plan later) and on a weekly basis to our external hard drive.  Even still, our equipment dies, we lose data, and I devolve into a very, very irritable person.

So, this week, I’m planning on buying an iPad 2 because we want a back-up option in case either of our laptops crash.  Heck, I should just say that we want a back-up option for when our laptops crash because, at this point, the laptop death toll seems to be an inevitability.  We hate spending the money on another piece of gear but we don’t see any other choice.  We don’t have a help desk that we can call to magically send up a computer when ours crash and we don’t have a financial analyst that can buffer our working expenses with a glut of extra equipment purchased at deep discounts.  We are all we have. 

Then again, maybe I’m jumping to conclusions.  What would you do?  Is buying the iPad 2 a complete mistake?  Should I suck it up and buy a Mac?  Is there a laptop that can actually withstand the conditions we put it through?  Any suggestions are gladly welcome because I am about ready to bang my head against a very hard wall to avoid dealing with these technological nightmares.

99 lessons learned traveling

In one year traveling around the world, we have learned an awful lot, but here are 99 lessons that we think will stick with us:

1. The world is huge. I mean, really, really huge. Bigger than our minds can imagine.

Thailand is the Land of a Thousand Smiles2. The more we see, the more we want to see.

3. Potato chips are sold everywhere.

4. Ham and cheese flavored potato chips tastes just like a ham and cheese sandwich.

5. Quality of internet has no correlation to socioeconomic status of a country.

6. A two-minute train connection is possible in Japan.

7. A forty-five minute train connection is not possible in China.

8. Thailand is the Land of a Thousand Smiles.

Tofu is amazing9. We are braver and stronger than we expected.

10. We are weaker and dumber than we expected.

11. Chewy and Abby are our hearts and souls. We can’t live without them.

12. Squat toilets are more hygienic than Western-style toilets in public restrooms.

13. Douglas Adams was right: the towel is the most useful piece of gear for a backpacker.

14. Tofu is amazing.

15. Nothing causes a traffic jam quite like a cow in the middle of a busy Indian street.

The cruelty of a few can ruin the lives of many16. There is a whole beautiful world beneath the waves.

17. Kids are kids everywhere.

18. Waving at kids by the side of the street never gets boring.

19. The cruelty of a few can ruin the lives of the many.

20. But, the vast, vast majority of people are good.

21. Wearing the same four pairs of pants week after week isn’t as bad as it sounds (unless you choose not to wash them.)

22. Laundry sucks. Always. Laundry always sucks (unless you have a husband to do it for you.)

23. If you want to get to know the local people, sit on a local bus with cigarette smoke in your hair and chickens under your feet.

24. Things disappear in the mind but memories of moments linger.

25. “Close” in New Zealand is about a thirty minute longer walk than “close” in the United States.

26. It is entirely possible to take too many photos.

27. When traveling, expect plans to change.

28. It is okay to not see everything and do everything.

29. Sometimes, you need to take a vacation from your travels and just do nothing.

Food is the great uniter.  Everyone, everywhere, eats.30. It is entirely normal to feel like you are in a life-sized MarioKart game when sitting in the back of a tuk-tuk weaving through traffic.

31. Our parents are more awesome, encouraging, and open-minded than we have ever given them credit for before.

32. Amazingly, we rarely get bored with each other.

33. Patrick is terrible at accents but he tries anyway.

34. Patrick is a celebrity in Asia; he has taken more pictures with Asian tourists than he can remember.

35. Sleep and a good meal can cure an otherwise horrible day.

36. When all else fails, a meal is never further than the nearest convenience store.

37. Food is the great uniter. Everyone, everywhere, eats.

38. Language is the great divider. But, smiles and hand signals can usually get you what you need.

Being able to drink pure clean tap water is decadent.39. If you don’t drink beer, don’t bother drinking alcohol at all in Southeast Asia.

40. You haven’t really eaten Chinese food unless you’ve eaten it in China.

41. Not all guidebooks are created equal.

42. Luxury and poverty are relative terms.

43. Having an en-suite bathroom is luxury.

44. Being able to drink pure clean tap water is decadent.

45. Never leave home without toilet paper, especially in Asia.

Koalas are even more cute than you think they are.46. New Zealand may be the most beautiful country in the world.

47. French fries laid on top of lasagna is considered an acceptable meal in Australia.

48. Grilled kangaroo tail is as unappetizing as it sounds.

49. Koalas are even more cute than you think they are.

50. Florida beaches are more beautiful than those in Thailand and Australia.

51. Our homeland is as unique as those places we fawn over in travel blogs and magazines.

52. You can’t boast that you’ll eat anything until you’ve been offered fried cockroaches on the streets of Chiang Mai.

Our homeland is as unique as those places we fawn over in travel blogs and magazines.53. You can’t boast that nothing’s too spicy until you visit a chile-laden restaurant in South Korea.

54. Television watching reduces by orders of magnitude when traveling but you won’t even miss it (except for LOST).

55. It is possible to travel the world as a vegetarian and not starve.

56. Street markets should be required stops for every traveler who wants to eat good food.

57. Pantene Pro-V is the hair product of choice across the world.

58. There are truly and really 1.3 billion people in China. That’s a heck of a lot of people.

Street markets should be required stops for every traveler who wants to eat good food.59. The fastest way to get from Point A to Point B is not always as obvious as it seems.

60. The fastest way to get from Point A to Point B is often not the most interesting.

61. The cost of sunscreen has a direct correlation with how much you will need it.

62. The golden rule of restaurant choice generally holds true: the less people in the restaurant, the less delicious the food.

63. Siem Reap is not representative of Cambodia just as Las Vegas is not representative of the United States.

64. Necessity is the mother of invention.

65. Meeting other travelers can be as fun and informative as meeting the local people.

The Great Barrier Reef is as great as everyone says.66. Contrary to popular belief, Americans travel to nearly every country in the world.

67. But, Americans travel for less time or to fewer places than those travelers from Europe and Australia.

68. Two weeks is not enough vacation time.

69. Portable chairs in China are not weight-tested for American males.

70. The Great Barrier Reef is as great as everyone says.

71. Gazing at the Milky Way makes you feel both insignificant and important in this universe.

72. Your life is what you decide it is going to be.

73. That is because there are as many ways to live a life as there are people in the world.

No matter how geeky we think we are, there are people so much geekier than us.74. And, most every lifestyle is equally valid as long as that person is happy.

75. American marshmallows are hands-down the best marshmallows in the world.

76. Getting Akila out of bed in the morning is like pulling teeth.

77. No matter how geeky we think we are, there are people so much geekier than us.

78. Despite thirty years of research and innumerable ad campaigns, this is still a smokers’ world.

79. There are things more important than traveling; there are reasons to come home.

80. While doing as the locals do will help enrich your travels, urinating on the side of the street is not a necessary requirement.

The true meaning of a bat out of hell is a baby lamb waiting to be fed.81. Skype proves the axiom that the simplest solution is often the best.

82. Cell phones, internet, and television shrink the world.

83. But, visiting a place and meeting people expands your world and theirs.

84. Keep your temper in Thailand . . . and, for that matter, the rest of the world.

85. The true meaning of bat out of hell is a baby lamb waiting to be fed.

86. It is not possible to sleep late in Cambodia or Thailand because if the roosters don’t wake you, the monks ringing the temple bells will.

Jumping into canyons is way more fun than it sounds.87. Wooden toads are the most annoying souvenirs ever created.

88. Australian security thinks decorative boomerangs can be used to take over a plane.

89. Traveling and making money are not mutually exclusive.

90. Jumping into canyons is way more fun than it sounds.

91. The deliciousness of American fast food restaurants is proportional to the distance away from their home location.

92. Despite its demise in the United States, Kentucky Fried Chicken is the king of fast food across the world.

93. Locking suitcases and computer equipment makes good sense whether staying in a five star hotel or a basic backpackers.

Believing in peace, kindness, and resiliency is not naï¿œve or hopeless.94. Racial diversity is more rare than you might think.

95. Racial diversity does not always mean racial integration.

96. International politics is more complicated than any newspaper makes it out to be.

97. Believing in peace, kindness, and resiliency is not naï¿œve or hopeless.

98. It is a lot easier to come up with 99 lessons learned than 100 lessons learned.

99. And, last but certainly not least: The world is a good place and there are good people here.  Including you.

what americans take for granted

Fireworks on the 4th

4th of July in Jacksonville last year

A couple of years ago, when we first began talking about this trip and suggested that a friend should come meet us abroad, he responded, "Why?  I mean, I love America."  We were indignant.  We don't travel abroad because we hate America.  If anything, we have become more patriotic and proud of our nation after traveling abroad because we have come to appreciate those things that most Americans take for granted. 

4th of July in Jacksonville

Fireworks in Jacksonville

The rainbow of skin tones.  In the United States, we do not blink an eye when we see people with caramel, cream, and chocolate skin tones walking across the street together.  My friends have blue, brown, black, and hazel eyes and hair that ranges from brilliant blonde to jet black.  On the other hand, in Asia, Patrick is treated like a rock star because of his white skin, blue eyes, and brown hair; children ask to pose with him for pictures and he has been interviewed for television twice in the last month and a half.  I, on the other hand, am a different sort of oddity; in these countries, pale skin is treasured as beautiful, and my dark skin confuses, and perhaps disgusts, them.  We met a Chinese person who could not understand why a Chinese woman would date an African American ---- not because of the ethnic differences --- but, because the African American's skin "was so bad."  Of course, America still has a long way to go as far as race relations are concerned, but, a huge first step is simply living in a society where diversity is the norm. 

Grilling out on the 4th

Grilling out on the 4th

Pizza, tacos, hot dogs, cheeseburgers, and apple pie.  Foreigners always ask us to define "American food."  "Is it just McDonalds hamburgers and french fries?" they ask.  "No," I respond, much to their confusion, "American food is the food of everywhere, the food of its immigrants."  If you look at that list above, every single item originated from an immigrant . . . because, America is a land of immigrants.  Italian immigrants introduced pizza on the streets of New York, Mexican immigrants introduced tacos to Texas and California border towns, German immigrants introduced hot dogs and hamburgers, and the early English colonists brought over recipes for apple pie.  Today, we can get darn good food from almost every country in our American cities and towns.  In Asia, continental cuisine is expensive and usually sub-par; in Europe, the same is true with Asian fare (though Indian food is outstanding in the United Kingdom); in Australia and New Zealand, we couldn't find any decent Mexican (or any dish without french fries for that matter).  Sure, we don't get everything in the United States, but, what we have is more diverse than much of the rest of the world.

4th of July in Jacksonville

the Blue Bridge lit up in Jacksonville last year

Steven Colbert and Jon Stewart, Sean Hannity and Al Franken, and Imus and Nancy Grace.  I don't watch or listen to most of these guys (and I bet you can guess which ones we religiously watch) but they are all questioning, searching, and hoping to find some truths to convey to the public.  In the United States, we have the problem of too much information and it is hard to find the truth amidst the swamp of the media, but, at least, we get that information.  Thailand erupted into bloody riots shortly after we left because the former prime minister was ousted by the military elite without any democratic vote.  We just visited the North Korean border, perhaps the most bizarre place on the planet, where university educated students do not know any current government leaders.  We are in China where words are frequently blurred out of foreign news reports and sporting events, deleting advertisements or news tickers that the rest of the world can see.  Thank goodness for our First Amendment.


Veggie burgers, hot dogs, and corn on the cob.  Yum.

Backyards and green grass.  Other than the United States and Australia, we haven't been anywhere else where backyards are simply large lawns with green grass.  In most big cities across the world, just as in San Francisco and New York, a backyard is the ultimate luxury, while in small cities and towns in Asia and Europe, backyards are either bricked in patios with potted plants or dusty shrubbery-devoid plots used to hang up laundry.  Right now, Americans are heading outdoors, pulling out patio chairs onto green grass, and firing up the grills. 

We have to admit that we're a bit jealous but hope you are having a good Independence Day, celebrating the day our forefathers penned the words that formed our nation: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." 

May 2010

writing down dreams + giveaway winner
May 19, 2010

April 2010

April 22, 2010

August 2009

the pre-world trip freak out
August 24, 2009

July 2009

three ways travel strengthens a marriage
July 8, 2009