I’m currently sitting in a hotel room on the European side of Istanbul. I stress the ‘European side’ because for the last two years Alesha and I have traversed across the vast expanse of Asia. From the beaches of Southern Thailand to the mountains of Northern Vietnam, we ventured into the Tibetan plateau, wandered through immense Chinese cities, hitched across the Mongolia steppe, bounced along the border of Tajikistan and Afghanistan, followed the Silk Road, charged over the Karakum Desert, sailed the Caspian Sea and finally moved into Turkey – the end of Asia.
I can’t even count the different modes of transport it took us to cross a continent. Far too many to list anyway.
It took us about 690 days to get to Europe. 300+ days longer than we first anticipated. For each kilometre of this amazing journey Alesha has been my side, and I have been by hers. We’ve supported each other through the good times and the bad, watched each other’s backs, encouraged and nurtured each other and comforted our souls when we needed it. I can’t imagine having done this journey without Alesha next to me, and I’m sure she feels the same. Two years constantly by each other’s side. Every step of the way.
Except today, I am sitting in Istanbul alone. And Alesha is back home in Australia.
We’ve been together for 7 years now, and have always had a solid relationship. Sure we’ve had our moments, the odd fight, but nothing that ever worried us. We’re meant to be together and want to spend the rest of our lives together. We even got engaged at the beginning of the year, inside the world’s biggest cave.
But at some point in China, we started bickering with each other. Even though we have sung China’s praises on this blog and social media, and saw some of the most incredible landscapes imaginable, the truth is we struggled there. China turned us into bad people. The pushing, the shoving, the pollution, the spitting, the lack of respect towards the environment and their fellow human beings, the oily food, the wasteful attitude that is now ingrained in their psyche, we could go on. In the end there was very little we liked about the entire country and its culture.
This is not to say we didn’t have great experiences and meet wonderful people, because we definitely did. It has perhaps the most diverse landscapes we have ever seen. But those moments were far less common for us. We hate being negative, and it may sound arrogant or pathetic, but that is the truth. We tried to love it – we spent four months exploring as much as possible, waiting for the moment where we would say, “Ok, this place isn’t too bad after all,” but it never came. We tried to laugh it off, but travelling in China got to us. And we started taking it out on each other.
At the same time as we were struggling in China, this little blog really started to take off. We began freelancing a lot more, working with more tour companies and brands, our social media followers grew and we started to earn a half decent income. While this was an unexpected (yet welcome) surprise, it also meant we suddenly had a larger workload. This resulted in us spending less time relaxing and exploring and more time sitting in hotel rooms or cafes trying to catch up on work. Don’t get us wrong, we are ecstatic about how things have turned out with NOMADasaurus. But coupled with the travel stress we were experiencing in China, we started to spend less time appreciating each other.
Alesha started to resent travel, and I started to become numb to it. Very few things excited us anymore. We kept saying it was simply one of our “curses of long term travel“, but in all honesty there was more to it. Worst of all, we neglected our relationship.
By the time we left China, we were exhausted. Mongolia was a welcome change, but still proved to be tough. Even though we got back to doing the things we love – camping, hiking, being in nature, hanging out with good friends, learning about new cultures and getting off-the-beaten-path – we never recovered emotionally. We would snap at each other over small things, and these minor arguments would turn into all-day affairs. Alesha would get angry at me over trivial matters, and I would retaliate. In the end I stopped being the caring partner that I should be. I neglected Alesha’s feelings and she would attack me for neglecting her. I continued to neglect her because I couldn’t stand being attacked. It was a vicious cycle.
We kept saying we needed a break, but we didn’t know how. We were in the middle of Asia with no easy way out. We could have thrown the towel in and bought a plane ticket to anywhere, but we knew that wasn’t really an option. We had a mission to complete, a goal to achieve. So we pushed on, never giving ourselves time to fix our relationship.
Even with the struggles we were experiencing though, we never seriously thought about parting ways permanently. We love each other completely, and will have a long and happy life together, this we are both sure of. But we needed to change something to bring us back to how we always have been.
Towards the end of Mongolia we sealed a work deal with the overland adventure tour company Dragoman to travel across Central Asia. This is a company we have always had huge respect for, and we were ecstatic to have the chance to work with them through the ‘Stans. Even though we are independent travellers, we were looking forward to leaving the logistics to someone else for the first time in our 6+ years of travelling the world. Sorting out visas, transport, accommodation, food, activities, all in countries where you don’t speak the language or know the customs, every day for two years, is not a simple task. Not impossible, and we consider ourselves to be experts at on-the-go logistics in foreign lands, but doesn’t mean it is easy.
We also never travel to an itinerary, but thought this would be a good change as well. If you think travelling spontaneously is nothing but fun and games, try and organise how to get across Northern Mongolia yourself…(A special thanks to our new friends Dave and Jordie who saved the day there by giving us a ride in their Unimog.)
Alesha and I thought this break from independence would be just the thing we needed to fix our relationship. Even though we were working with Dragoman on this journey, creating content as we went along, we knew having a set itinerary and our own transport would take away a lot of stress we are normally under.
Before we joined the tour we travelled through Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan on our own. While we have nothing but amazing things to say about these places, our relationship continued to be under strain and it really affected our travels. Alesha was missing her family, and I was just wanting to disappear into the wilderness and run away from it all. Being away from friends and family for a long time is tough. Even though we have each other, we can still feel trapped and alone. In regions like Southeast Asia, Europe or Central America, where there is a huge backpacking community, there is always new friends to be made and people to hang out with. With some of the places that we travel to we routinely go days, or sometimes weeks, without seeing other travellers. Yes, being off-the-beaten-path is great, but not when you just need people your own age to go out and have a beer and a chat with.
Our diet had also taken a hit, and we felt completely unhealthy. We hadn’t done proper exercise for longer than we could remember, ate a lot of dodgy foods that had little nutritional value and put on weight. This just made us feel even more down. Lesh has always said that if your stomach is happy, you are happy. Well after the diet we experienced across China, Mongolia and Central Asia, our stomachs definitely weren’t happy.
At some point we sat down and realised that the best thing for us was to go our separate ways for a while. To give ourselves a break from each other.
From a small guesthouse in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, Alesha booked a flight home for Christmas. With a few clicks on a computer we would now be apart for 5 weeks – the longest we have ever been apart since we first got together in 2008. It might not seem like a big deal to some people, but for us it was huge. It was an admission that something was wrong with us. But it was also a step towards making things better.
The Dragoman tour was just as epic as we had thought it would be, and having a break from organisation was a welcome relief. But we were still burnt out, still unenthused, still exhausted from travel. We knew that this upcoming break would be good for us, and that the time apart will help us appreciate each other.
On our social media we put on a brave face, continued on, put up lots of nice photos and talked about how great our experiences were. We would constantly receive emails and messages from people looking for advice on travelling as a couple, and we would impart our knowledge and wisdom. But deep down we were struggling. Even though we try to let our personalities shine through our writing and photography, we have never really let our real emotions out into the public. To us it is still strange that we now have thousands of people following our journey, commenting, encouraging, sharing kind words and supporting us. Thousands of people we have never met, watching what we do. We love the support and love our readers and followers! You guys are seriously awesome! But we were afraid to spill our hearts out. “No one wants to hear about our struggles when we’re travelling through some of the most amazing places on the planet.” First world problems after all.
Last week we crossed the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul, and geographically entered Europe. This meant the end of an era for our journey, but also meant we were now about to part ways. On the 14th of December we went to the airport and I watched as Alesha stepped through immigration, headed back to her home in Australia. After almost a year of putting strain on our relationship, we are finally fixing it.
So why are we pouring our souls out on our blog for the first time? What exactly are we trying to get across?
People say if you can travel long-term with your partner, then you can get through anything together. We honestly believe this. 7 years travelling the world has proven it to us. We love our lifestyle, but it is stressful. Even though it appears we are “living the dream”, this dream is our lives. And just like you can lose your passion for a hobby when it becomes a job, we’re starting to become jaded with travel. We’re lucky enough to be able to choose to live this way and we are grateful for it. But that doesn’t mean every day is cocktails and pretty sunsets. We’ve been through a lot together, both positive and negative, and we have always come through it stronger than ever. We know this time will be no different.
We’re spilling our hearts out in this post, the most personal we have ever written, because we’ve recognised that it is ok to feel like this. But recognising the problem and fixing it are two different things. I guess we’re just showing you what it’s really like for us, behind the scenes. Giving a bit of insight into our personal battles while we take on this adventure. Revealing ourselves in a way we have never done before. Maybe no one really cares and no one will read this post. But maybe someone out there will read this and realise that relationship issues can happen to everyone, and that it’s ok to acknowledge this.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be bouncing between Turkey and Bulgaria while Alesha visits her friends and family in Australia. We both have a lot of thinking to do, about our relationship, our travels, but most importantly ourselves. When she returns to Istanbul on January 20th we need to make some big decisions on how we can continue to move forward positively, together. We have some ideas on what will help us with this, and we’ll be exploring lots of different options when we are back in Turkey. We still have every intention of making our way through Africa and to Cape Town by land, but it might take us longer than we thought.
Thank you to everyone who has followed us, supported us and encouraged us along the way. We’ve been lucky enough to have some amazing readers, and have even had the chance to meet a lot of you on the road. We appreciate every comment, message, email or reach out that we have received from you over the last two years. And if you’ve taken the time to read this article it means the world to us. We hope you don’t mind us opening up and revealing what it’s really like for us.
Our travels are not over, far from it. But we hope you’ll forgive us while we put things on hold and focus on ourselves. We’re looking forward to the next adventure together, and know that it will as epic as the last 7 years.