some things we learned around the world

{pssst … i’ve finally updated the “about” / “faith” / “tough love” / “san francisco” pages linked on the left. veerrrry drafty still, but at least it doesn’t say “coming soon!”! check it out if you want.}

passport globei’ve now blogged over half of our eighty day around the world trip! i still have so much more to share – from south africa, dubai and abu dhabi, argentina, uruguay and ecuador, as well as from our time in the states and now our first couple of weeks in london! phew! it has really been a wild six months.

while we were traveling around the world, i kept a list in my phone of things we had learned along the way – everything from profound changes of perspective, to realizations from silly mistakes or true serendipities, to little aspects of wonder and awe. today i’m sharing some of those lessons learned as a little intermission among all these picture-heavy posts :)

traveling is so wonderful and so exhausting because (i believe) if we do it right we are constantly learning. here’s my list (obviously incredibly incomplete, but maybe a good sampling), roughly in chronological order during our eighty days. (some things have already been expressed in previous posts, and some things are previews of posts to come!)

-new zealand’s diverse and striking natural beauty is quite mindblowing. we could spend months in each the north and south islands exploring. (we only spent one week in new zealand and of all the places we visited, it is top by quite a long shot on our list of places we want to return to.)

-there are tons of volcanoes in auckland!

-in order to get to the white sand/teal water beaches of cathedral cover on the coromandel peninsula, you have to hike a few miles! (this was top on my list of things to do in new zealand and for some reason we figured we’d just drive there to spend some time on the beach. we didn’t have enough time to even see cathedral cove because you have to hike to it!)

-milford sound is spectacular in the rain – maybe even better than in the sunshine.

-mount cook has taken a lot of lives – there were books full of memorials to those who died ascending new zealand’s highest mountain in the visitors center we went to. we decided we love hiking but will never attempt a mountain that has taken many, many lives.

-bunk mates in hostels are awesome in some ways and not as awesome in others.

-there are soooo many sheep on the south island of new zealand.

-mint slice cookies and goody goody gumdrops ice cream (found only in new zealand) are among the world’s most amazing treats. and feijoa is a delicious type of guava.

-glowworm caves are even more magical than they sound.

-lord of the rings fans are pretty intense. (the owner of the motel we stayed in near matamata, a town made famous as being the gateway to “hobbiton,” told us that she has guests who pay amazing amounts of money to tour around different sites at different/multiple times of day and literally fall down to the ground in tears when they see the vistas used for filming middle earth!)

-there are flamingos in the hong kong zoo, which is right in the middle of the city and mostly free to visitors. also, the shenzen airport (right across the border into mainland china from hong kong) is incredibly cool looking!

-i am obsessed with imperial chinese art/architecture.

-the walls around x’ian (which are supposed to be really neat to walk/bike around on) are inaccessible after 6pm. even if you arrive at 6:02 and offer to pay double the admission price and tell the person at the desk that you came all the way from america and only have one afternoon in x’ian…totally inaccessible.

-chinese atms don’t always work with us cards. in fact, more often than not they won’t give you cash.

-even though they are really famous and a huge tourist attraction, the entrance to see the terra cotta soldiers is not easy to find.

-there is a chinese holiday called “tomb sweeping” wherein people have work off to go to the burial places of their ancestors and loved ones and clean them up.

-delay starting and go very slow at the beginning of the slide down from the great wall of china, or you’ll quickly get stuck behind other people.

-in order to get where you want/need to go in china, you probably have to (really) push through crowds.

-there’s a few white minibuses in the yangshuo area in southern china that, if you know how to spot them and flag them down, can take you on a carpool ride into town for about 25 cents.

-“the bund” in shanghai is totally awesome both day and night…and most of the buildings that create the incredible skyline didn’t exist just twenty years ago!

-the boy is incredibly thorough in travel planning (he even researches which side of the plane we should be on going from point a to point b to get the best views!)


-train travel gets old after about 44 hours.

-tibet magnets are pretty much impossible to find. (we looked for a magnet for a solid three hours one day in lhasa – the boy was a little obsessed with finding one for our collection – and were unsuccessful. then! we found one in the tent we slept in at everest base camp randomly sitting with four or so other souvenirs for sale – crazy!)

-the best view of lhasa is from the rooftop of jokhara temple – and it is a magical view.

-i am super lazy in prayer. (i find it inconvenient to kneel down sometimes! and many tibetian buddhists prostrate themselves – nose to the ground, almost like a slow burpee - 100+ times in a row. incredible, inspiring devotion.)

-eating lots of treats and not exercising much makes traveling less fun.

-the views of the stars at everest base camp in tibet have got to be the best seen from planet earth. the sky really does look different, unfamiliar, in the southern hemisphere.

-there are a lot of military checkpoints in tibet. it is saddening to see what looks and feels like governmental suppression of culture and freedom there.

-there have been many different dalai lamas and penchan lamas, and the information given by tour guides in tibetian monestaries bleeds together after a while!

-yak butter makes excellent wax for fire and is a common pilgrim offering in tibetian temples.

-there are a lot of prayer flags in tibet and nepal. (i was excited to see some – i just think they are such a beautiful display of faith among natural beauty – and i saw millions.)

-ian’s body is more prone to altitude sickness than mine.

-pineapple tang is the best thirst quencher when hiking in the himalayas. and dal bhat is the best food fuel. it is veg curry, rice and lentil soup, and it is always all you can eat!

-anything tastes good at 15,000+ feet.

-there are towns every few hours on the annapurna circuit. you can get your room at a guesthouse for free if you eat dinner and breakfast there. the guesthouses get more and more primitive and basic as you get higher in elevation.

-sometimes when tragedy hits, it’s best to stay out of the way and share resources you have from afar.

-service is never about me or my desire to help in a certain way. there is always an urgent need to reach out to those that are suffering, not just after a big catastrophe. life is fragile. 

-in nepal airports, you’ll get padded down by security personnel every time.

-yak meat is delicious!

-trekking poles are actually a pretty good idea. (we always thought they were pretty superfluous and dorky, but we sure appreciated ours when hiking over snow and down steep grades.)

-a non-bumpy road in nepal is such a treasure. (we opted to take a twenty minute flight from the end of our trek to the town of pokhara. if we drove, it would take eight hours! pretty amazing.)

-it’s a really good idea to put the cotton balls they give you on tiny (less than 15 passengers) flights in your ears – it helps with the pressure!

-namaste is real in nepal. there is a definite divine light in the nepali people.

-we didn’t know anything about each other before this trip!


-abu dhabi airport is way over-airconditioned. and those lounge chairs that look really alluring to sleep on are actually really uncomfortable :)

-turkish people are generally very jovial and like to crack jokes with tourists!

-there’s a better view of istanbul and the bosporus from the galata konak cafe than from the popular viewing platform at touristy galata tower.

-to get a good seat on a ferry down the bosporus, you need to board the boat really early!

-tens of thousands of early christians lived underground in turkey to escape religious persecution.

-we really do not need a lot of stuff. in fact, stuff really weighs you down and limits you. having only the essentials is often the way to go!

-a testi kebab is cooked in a clay pot which must be hammered open. it is super tasty. as is a traditional beef kebab…but all that red meat doesn’t sit too pretty in my belly!

-we both need to chilllll out (about different things), and be patient and forgiving.

-hearing an american accent when you are abroad is really jarring.

-the boy is a really, really awesome travel companion – i think he has the perfect combination of adventure/spontaneity and carefulness/planning.

-turkish ice cream might actually be the best in the world.

-istanbul is a very walkable city.

-at their cores, people are good, and there is something to learn from everyone. we are all brothers and sisters. i know this because i feel an undeniable human connection with people so dissimilar from me.

-lion cubs are really playful. they’ll scratch and nip, but they very likely won’t draw blood!

-cats (lions and leopards) are haaaaard to find and therefore very rare to see on safari.

-sleeping in a treehouse among the buzzing african bush is actually the coolest. thing. ever!

-south african food is really yummy!

-elephants eat about 500 pounds of vegetation and drink 50 gallons of water every day. they spend 18 to 20 hours a day eating! they are also known to be particularly emotional among wild animals, and they exhibit emotions in relationships as observed by animal scientists. also, for the first few months of a baby elephant’s life, it is learning how to control its trunk – so it’s really wobbly and floppy for a while, which is really cute to observe for some reason!

-hippos stay underwater an average of seven minutes; crocodiles can stay underwater for an hour!

-the “big five” of africa are: cape buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard and rhino. they are the classified together as the “big five” because they are the hardest to hunt on foot.

-johannesburg is actually very high in elevation (more than a mile high – higher than denver) and became a metropolis because of gold in the ground there. also, ghandi lived in johannesburg for a while, and his time in south africa was immensely impactful towards his work in promoting peace.

-we learned a lot about great white sharks, most of which i didn’t absorb very well in my brain because i was a little concerned about getting in the water with them! (cage diving with great whites was ian’s #1 highlight from our entire trip. it was pretty awesome.)

-the southern tip of africa is actually not the cape of good hope! it is cape agulhas, a few hours south of cape town. and there are many less tourists there (4 vs. 400, in our experience).

-fog rolls in quickly in cape town.

-african sunsets have got to be the best on planet earth! (we saw a completely spectacular sunset every single night we were in south africa.)

-“loadshedding” in south africa is when the electricity goes out in a particular area for a few hours. it happens very routinely, many times without warning. you should always have a torch (flashlight) close by in case! one of my favourite memories of our trip though was a serendipitous candlelight dinner due to loadshedding! :)

-nelson mandela is so, so beloved in south africa. and his gospel of forgiveness can be felt there. (we went to robben island, where mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. our tour guide was an ex-political prisoner. he told us his story, explaining that he endured indescribable torture, and yet he ended our tour by telling us, “i hold no grudge.” it was so, so moving and had me in tears.)


-tourists can’t go all the way up burj kalifa, the tallest building in the world. the highest one can go is to floor 148 of the 163 floors. (we went to floor 124.)

-dubai has seemingly every american chain. it is pretty hysterical to see texas roadhouse, chili’s, macaroni grill, etc in the malls. we saw at least three shake shacks!

-emirates palace is actually a hotel, not a palace. but it is really fantastic in its opulence and fun to see!

-the church of jesus christ of latter-day saints meets on friday in the united arab emirates. (we overlooked this and went to the mormon church that was just built in abu dhabi on a sunday. we should have known!)

-it’s a good idea to really look at a map before telling a taxi driver where to go in dubai. if you don’t, you might end up on the opposite side of town.

-snorkel masks are much better than simple swimming goggles when searching for a lost wedding ring in the ocean. (we did find it!)

-the grand mosque in abu dhabi is unreal. also, walking around the magnificence in a black abaya and headscarf in 111 degree humid heat is….really hot.

-old dubai feels like a (not so manicured) aladdin section of disneyland.

-protests are the norm in the city center of buenos aires. anything dulche de leche flavored is the norm everywhere in buenos aires!

-there is a sixteen year wait list to be a member of the boca junior futbol (soccer) club! argentinians are serious about their futbol.

-drinking mate (a type of herbal tea) is a huge cultural thing in argentina. there are cups/straws made specifically for drinking mate, and the taste gets better as it stews longer.

-el rio del plata is the widest river in the world and 9 de julio in buenos aires is the widest avenue in the world.

-steak in buenos aires comes in very large portions. and you definitely don’t want it well done. also, restaurants in buenos aires don’t open until 8pm at the earliest!

-all the widows are always open (at least in may) in the subte (subway) in buenos aires.

-tango is mesmerizing and can include some pretty impressive acrobatics!

-international airlines are much more generous in food than american airlines. and we found that emirates and etihad airlines have the best food!


-the exact location of the equator is highly disputed. there is a big park built around one spot that turned out to actually be the wrong spot according to gps! and - the world is not actually round – it bulges a little at the equator.

-confirmed accommodation can fall through at any time – it’s good to have a back up!

-buses in ecuador are hot spots for bag-cutting theft. (we kept our bags on our laps during our hours and hours of bus riding.) also, buses in ecuador stop wherever there is a person wanting to get off or someone on the side of the road.

-we don’t actually do that much to show our faith or live the gospel. the examples of members worldwide is so inspiring!

-ecuador uses the us dollar as their currency. they use us coins as well as ecuadorian coins that are the exact same size as the us quarter, dime, nickel and penny, but with different inscriptions. the one dollar sacagawea coin is used very, very often in ecuador (i feel like i hardly ever see those in the united states!).

-the united states of america is an incredible country full of prosperity, privilege and freedom. its founding was inspired by god, and it is beloved by us because it is home and heritage. however, there is so much good in other countries, and so many problems or less-than-ideal cultural aspects in the usa.

-rainforest covers only 7% of the earth but contains over 50% of the earth’s biodiversity.

-illegal trading of amazon birds and other rare animals is a big thing.

-sleeping to the sounds of the jungle is magical!

-termites are a natural insect repellant – you can grab some from a termite heap, rub them together vigorously, and apply the paste to your body like lotion!

-traveling and having exciting adventures, as exhilarating and awesome as it is, does get old and tiring. after a while, routine and regular days are massively craved. and, the best adventure of all is living and sharing the gospel of jesus christ, serving other people, and strengthening relationships, especially in family.

-waterfall repelling is suuuuuper fun and in ecuador, the requirements for safety standards are much lower than in the united states!

-the best part of traveling abroad for me is going to church and the temple in different countries. it’s amazing how i can feel the spirit of god teaching my heart even when i don’t understand the words being spoken in church.

-dorritos are super international (they were in every single country we visited, in different unique flavors).

-galapagos giant tortoises live over 100 years and eat things that are toxic to humans.

-small ferry rides are noticeably bumpier in the back than more towards the front of the ship. dramamine really works, as long as you take it in advance!

-the furthest north penguins on earth are in the galapagos islands, and they are really friendly! (we swam right along side them!)

-galapagos has terrible internet service pretty much everywhere, and a lot of fish for dinner (yum!).

-we are outrageously blessed and privileged, and there are so many things we take for granted. we want to cultivate more gratitude, more perspective, more openness and understanding, and more appreciation for the beautiful diversity of this beautiful earth.

travel isnt always


  1. This has been my absolute favourite post about your and Ian's travels. Thank you so much for sharing :)

  2. What do you mean by "less-than-ideal cultural aspects in the usa"?.....Could you do a Q and A soon please? Also, what made the ice cream so great in Turkey? What did Ian do to help him with the altitude? - Yvonne (And yes!, Jesus, family, and service is the BEST!)

  3. I have loved following your adventures around the world!! and am looking forward to the 2nd half of the trip!

    I am sure during all of Ian's researching he has found this site but just in case he has not I wanted to share. I find it very informative!

  4. I think I would have died a thousand deaths if my wedding ring went missing in the ocean!

  5. This is a fantastic post!
    I am sooooooo happy you found the wedding ring! And in the ocean!!!! How amazing.
    My mother lost her ring while weeding our yard, and never did find it. :(
    I really like the magnet story--That was pretty amazing too.
    I never would have thought to go to church on a Friday. That is interesting.
    Thanks for all this fun information.
    I really want to try Turkish ice cream now, because that Italian ice cream I had was sooooo delicious, I can't imagine something even better!!!! LA in WA

  6. Brilliant list.

    I bet we'll all be searching for Turkish ice cream now - it sounds lovely.:)

    Are you making a memory book/scrapbook of your holiday?

  7. Fantastic post! I need to refer to it often as we travel! Such fun info!