What is a “hapa?” And why “HomelessHapas?”
Matt: Hapa is short for the Hawaiian term “hapa-haole,” meaning half-white. Originally a derogatory label for the islands’ half-white half-Japanese population, today it is widely used to mean anyone who’s half Asian and half white. Seeing how we’ll be living on the road for the next couple years and we’re both hapa, homelesshapas.com made sense.
Joylani: “Homeless”—we’re going for the literal sense of the word here, since we won’t really have our own place during the trip. “Hapas”—actually, today people of many backgrounds, not just those who are Asian/White, claim the identity of Hapa.
How will you two travel together for so long and not kill each other?
Matt: That question immediately brings to mind all the times we’ve gotten into it on the road…oh the memories. Actually, for the most part, we get along pretty well both at home and while traveling. In fact, I think one of the things that convinced me I could marry Joylani was traveling around Costa Rica with her for three weeks during college. It was the first time I spent that much time with a person 24/7 and didn’t get annoyed or tired of them. I think it helps that we have somewhat similar tastes. We both like to explore and learn, we’re frugal, and both enjoy the outdoors. I say somewhat because Joylani generally has higher standards of cleanliness, safety, and comfort. She likes culture, I like history. Most of the time, these differences are good because we experience things we wouldn’t otherwise, although they sometimes lead to arguments. Nonetheless, the occasional fights we have are worth a lifetime of good memories.
Joylani: I’m not worried about getting tired of spending time with Matt. I like the guy, that’s why I married him. The question really should be, “How will you two travel together for so long and not become hopelessly lost?” We have a knack for getting lost. Matt’s sense of direction isn’t quite at “A-game” level, yet I have a tendency to assume he knows where he is going. This usually results in at least one u-turn and various other states of being lost. Luckily, we don’t plan on driving during our trip, which will solve some of our directional deficiencies. Some, but probably not all…
You guys must be loaded!!?
Joylani: This seems to be a common response (spoken and unspoken) when I tell people about the trip. Contrary to what you may think, we’re not MTV bling-bling pimped out frivolously loaded (I know that our decade old dented car and Matt’s worn-out shoes can give off that “loaded-vibe”). We have, however, eaten lots of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, avoided dining out regularly, and don’t spend 80 bucks on drinks if we are out with friends. Knowing we were going to be packing up all of our stuff helped us (ok, helped me) to not buy things we didn’t really need. Frugality, no kids, and no debts have helped us to be able to save towards our goal.
Matt: Most of what Joylani said is true. We’re frugal, worrying about the cost of this trip has often kept me from spending, and the three reasons we’re taking this trip is we don’t have kids, careers, or a mortgage. We are however loaded…relative to where we’re going. The average income of most of the countries we’ll visit is less than $2000 USD annually. We don’t have much money relative to the US, but the low cost of living in Asia will allow us to travel for a long time, just like “loaded” people.
What are you going to do about your apartment?
Matt: Joylani says that this is a stupid question and anyone that asks it doesn’t deserve to be associated with us. I agree it’s a dumb question, but it is asked of us a lot, so we decided to add it as a FAQ. If you are wondering what we’re going to do about our apartment, what do you think we’ll do? Pay a thousand bucks a month for two years, while not living there? Of course not! We’re just terminating our lease and leaving.
Joylani: What?! I didn’t say that! But it is a silly question …
What do you guys do for living?
Matt: Definitely still figuring that one out. Prior to being explorers, Joylani worked in non-profits and education while I worked in finance.
Don’t you worry about your careers and/or not being able to find jobs when you come back?
Matt: Yes, sometimes. We’ve both thought a lot about that aspect of our trip and don’t harbor any illusions about it. It is true that quitting your job to indulge a fantasy of exploring the world is not conducive to advancing your career. For us though, it just comes down to priorities. We asked ourselves: at the end of our days, when we’re old and grey-haired, when our bodies are aged and we can’t travel anymore, will we regret not seeing the world or will we regret not starting our careers two years earlier? Put simply, the answer is easy for us. Sure, we know there’s a lot of risks and sacrifices, but this opportunity far outweighs the costs.
Joylani: I’m kind of in the middle of figuring things out in the career department anyways, and like to think that this trip will be conducive to the career thing. This trip has the potential to add value beyond tangible points on the “career ladder.” I think the trip will be character building, eye opening, and will demand flexibility and the ability to work through tough situations/obstacles. Beyond that, I hope that Matt and I will be able to grow as individuals as we pursue individual interests, as well as grow closer together as a couple. This, to me, is of more value than working full-time in the U.S. for the next two years.
How did you decide on your itinerary?
Matt: As far as the routing goes, one of the reasons we’re taking this trip is because you never know what will happen tomorrow. We’re taking this trip now because we can now—we won’t always have that option. That being said, mapping our route was more prioritizing than planning. The order of regions/countries isn’t really based on transportation or logistical sense, but on where we want to experience first. Life rarely unfolds as we expect, and each day is a gift. We’re guaranteed nothing. For this trip, a pregnancy, serious illness or injury, or family emergency, among other things, could quickly end our adventure. It’s with that knowledge (or fear) that we’ve set our course.
Did you get your visas ahead of time?
Matt: Joylani did some research beforehand on which countries provided visas upon entry and which ones required obtaining them prior to arrival. Whenever possible, we’ll try to obtain visas at the point-of-entry. The only visa we obtained prior to departing the U.S. was for India, as it is the first country we’ll be visiting that requires obtaining a visa ahead of time. As for the other countries that require visas, we’ll pick them up at foreign consulates/embassies along the way.
Did you get any immunizations?
Matt: We got a ton of immunizations. In fact, Joylani’s arm was sore for a week after her first set of shots. There’s a plethora of resources out there to see what you’ll need for where you’re going. I picked up a used book on travel health, while Joylani called our local hospital’s travel clinic for advice. Whether you research it yourself or consult a medical professional, the last thing anyone wants is to become a CDC statistic.
Joylani: “Whether your research it yourself or consult a medical professional, the last thing anyone wants is to become a CDC statistic.” I like how Matt sounds like such an authority here. That sentence sounds so, so… so like I’ve heard it somewhere before. But it definitely doesn’t sound like something I’ve ever heard Matt say. What Matt has failed to mention is how he had parasites for most of his first trip to India and didn’t do anything to get rid of them until THREE months after he got back home. And that was after a lot of convincing from both me and his mom to go to the doctor. Plan ahead for your shots. Some immunizations are a series of shots and can take a month to complete.
Did you purchase insurance?
Matt: No doubt. We invested in some long-term international medical insurance for two reasons. One, we value our health way more than the cost of the premiums. We wouldn’t trade our eyes or hands or legs for any amount of money. Why would we travel without health insurance? Our health is priceless. And reason two, without insurance, a single accident or illness could wipe us out financially. Any serious illness or accident requiring evacuation to a first-world facility, coupled with the cost of treatment would bankrupt us at the very least. More likely, it would put us in debt for decades. Granted, backpacking the third-world is not the best way to avoid danger and disease, nor is it a great financial plan, but we’re going to hedge against the health hazards and financial liabilities as best we can.
Where did you buy your tickets?
Matt: Our tickets to Europe and on to India were purchased with airline miles. The rest of the tickets will be bought on the road. We considered an around-the-world (RTW) ticket, but it didn’t fit our needs. We plan to travel for more than one year, we want to stay totally flexible and spontaneous, and you generally pay a premium when buying tickets in the first world anyways.
Joylani: Joylani: We did? We considered RTW?
Matt: Oh. Well, I did.
Where will you stay?
Matt: Although we’ll stay in a wide range of places, we’ll spend most of our nights in budget guesthouses. For us to travel for the long-term, we cannot afford to tour the world’s five-star hotels and resorts. We may splurge every now and then, but generally we hope to spend $10 or less a night. On the bright side, you get a lot more bang for your buck in third world countries (Joylani says they’re “developing countries”). Some memorable examples are the $10/night we spent to stay beachside in Belize. Or the $5 I spent to stay here, deep in the Himalaya. The best place I ever stayed cost $1.50. You can read the story here. One thing I’ve found true in my short lifetime is that your mood/attitude and the people you’re with usually define experiences, rather than how much they cost.
Joylani: My view on lodging is a little less philosophical than Matt’s. Bugs like me. I don’t know why, they just do. After a bad experience with cockroaches in Costa Rica and bed bugs (or something gross) in New York, one of my main criteria for lodging is the “Bug Factor.”
- Are there any visible bugs (dead or alive), droppings, or webs?
- Are there cracks, windows, or other places where bugs can get in?
The Bug Factor may mean that staying in a smaller area (such as a tent) is better than a physical building. Basically, it is a good idea to look at the room before you decide to stay in it. It doesn’t hurt to bring your own travel sheet and towel either. If the drain in the shower doesn’t have a grate, cover it with a plunger or trashcan. We’ve met many a cockroach that entered through the drain.
Other important things to consider when choosing a place to stay include:
- Ventilation. If it is hot, humid, a long stay, or you plan on washing clothes in your room, it is particularly important to have sufficient airflow.
- Security. Do the windows and doors lock? Does the staff seem watchful? Is the building gated?
- Bathroom. Does everything work? Is the water pressure sufficient? Is it clean enough?
Reasons you might not want to stay at a hotel:
- It looks like it is about ready to collapse, and could possibly have been a model for the ferryboat in The Rescuers. (Belize City, Belize)
- There is a spider the size of your palm on the wall. (Tikal, Guatemala)
- The maid left a dirty sponge in the bathroom sink. (New York, New York)
Like Matt says though, even the bad experiences can become good memories in the future.
How did you create this website?
Matt: For those non-techie travelers out there like us, we’re hosting two open-source “programs” (WordPress and Gallery2) on a server (GoDaddy). Although I believe this site is basically the product of my learning, persistence, and creativity, Joylani will tell you it’s the product of hours and hours of sitting in front of a computer screen and learning about basic web-design, trying things, failing, reading troubleshooting forums, trying again, failing again, and then repeating the previous two steps about a half-dozen more times. There are plenty of sites out there that will host your blog as a sub domain, but I wanted to learn some basic web-design. We also like the flexibility and freedom of having an independent site.
Joylani: Matt did it all and I admire his patience and persistence. Thanks Matt!
Are you going to any dangerous places?
Matt: I think that every place on earth has its dangers. Before leaving, plenty of people warned us not to go to certain places because they were “dangerous.” But that’s a broad term that I’ve thought a lot about. The length of this answer is directly correlated to my annoyance at people telling me not to go to “dangerous” places. Generally I see three types of dangers: crime, factional violence, and war.
- Crime. Everywhere in the world has a varying degree of crime. Some places, like South America, have high amounts of crime. Other places, like parts of the Middle East, have very little. East Asia has more petty theft, while East Africa has more violent crime. The U.S. has crime too. We live next to Oakland, which had 148 homicides in 2006, but people tell us not to visit Burma or North Korea. Not to say these places are entirely safe, but just to demonstrate that a traveler in Mexico faces totally different risks than in North Korea.
- Factional Violence. I would categorize this as violence directed at a specific demographic. Examples include: racial, sectarian, or class violence. India has a long history of communal violence, but I feel safe there, being neither Hindu or Muslim. On the other hand, I would not feel comfortable traveling to Colombia, where Americans and Europeans are targeted for kidnappings.
- War. I would stay away from any war zone. Factional or not, in a war zone, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from—who’s safe in Iraq? Who’s safe in Palestine or Lebanon during an Israeli strike? Who’s safe is Afghanistan? Who’s safe in Israel during an intifada? Nobody’s safe in a war zone.
When evaluating the dangers of a place, you must determine what types of dangers are inherent. The U.S. has crime, but I’m not likely to get caught up in sectarian violence or a war zone (although the 1992 race riots in LA and 9/11 show anything can happen). North Korea has virtually no crime or racial violence, but has higher risk of becoming a war zone. Of course, I’ve only covered man-made risk; there’s also geological, meteorological, environmental, and health risks. My point is that everywhere is dangerous in some sense to some degree. We’re not searching for danger, but we’re not going to stay home either.
Joylani: “Safe” places can become dangerous without notice (like Virginia Tech), and there’s not much one can do to plan ahead. We will try to be as safe as we can, using common sense and following the current events in the regions we plan on going to, making the best decisions we can.
What languages do you speak? How will you get around?
Matt: We speak English, which luckily for us, is a pretty useful language. Joylani knows a smattering of Spanish and I took a month of Hindi, but we really don’t know any other languages (“That’s soooo American!” my sister Jackie would say). Joylani would like to re-learn and build upon the quarter of Chinese she took at UCSB, while I will probably just get really good at games like charades and Pictionary. Although I know we’ll get lost and have some frustrating ordeals (the kind that make great stories only after the fact), I’m not too worried. The way I see it, exploring by its very definition is all about venturing into the unknown.
Joylani: We’ll manage, and hopefully, I will learn a little more Mandarin. For the record, my quarter of Chinese class wasn’t so productive, but I do feel that I know more than a “smattering” of Spanish. Unfortunately, we aren’t planning on going to any Spanish speaking countries during this trip.
How will you deal with culture shock?
Matt: Embrace it. Know that a foreign place will be foreign—it will be different. Don’t expect anything. Drop all preconceptions and learn. Immerse and enjoy! IT also helps to stay thankful and remember that there’s a lot worse things than “culture shock.”
Joylani: Just get through it, and hopefully get better at remembering that so much of this world—the culture and material items and comforts are temporary. It is likely I will have a few breakdowns, but that is what Matt, calls home, and the IPOD are for.
How will you spend your days?
Matt: Not sure yet. This question is the equivalent of “If you didn’t have to work, what would you do?” We’ll explore new places- probably lots of walking, hiking, and riding around. We’ll eat out a lot; see some movies. I think we’ll both read a lot. I’ll write and Joylani will sketch, draw, and paint. We’ll meet new people; maybe make a new friend or two. Maybe take some classes to learn new things—cooking and massage come to mind. Maybe Joylani will learn a language. Maybe I’ll learn a martial art. Perhaps, we’ll find something we can sell at home, start a business, find a career…I’ll take lots of pictures. We’ll talk. About anything and everything. And late into the night, because we don’t have to wake up early. I’ll get to know my wife better. Honestly, I do not know how we’ll spend our days, but the possibilities are endless and exciting….
Joylani: That is what this website is for—to let you know as we go!
How will you avoid “travel burnout?”
Matt: I don’t think we can totally avoid it. I know there’s going to be an evening at the end of a long day when we’re bouncing around in the back of a stuffy hot bus, dust swirling, my clothes sweaty and sticky, I’ll have a pounding headache, Joylani and I will be in fight, and the only thing that’s keeping me awake is my chin bouncing off my chest every four seconds. It will happen, burnout will happen. But there’s two ways that I’ve found to deal with it. The first is to know myself. Know when I’m headed towards exhaustion. I’ll take a break. I’ll stay put for a few days in a place I like. Or stay in a nice hotel if I’m in a place I don’t like. A couple relaxing days can make a huge difference. The second way I combat burnout is to stay thankful. Thankful that I have the opportunity to travel, thankful that I can live a dream, thankful that I’m exploring the world with my wife. Yeah, traveling is tough sometimes, but so is life. I’d rather be beat on the road, than beat on a Monday evening with four days of work ahead of me. We’ll have tough days, but who wouldn’t trade a few miserable days for years of world travel? I mean, really, how can I feel sorry for us when we don’t have to work, don’t pay rent, and barely have any responsibilities? Sometimes, it just takes perspective.
Joylani: I will think about my first full-time job and be glad that I am not still sitting in that little grey cubicle.
Do you use guidebooks?
Matt: We’ve always carried guidebooks on our travels. But we’re also always careful to use them as intended: as travel guides, not travel bibles. We’ve found them to be informative about transportation and logistics, but it seems locals usually are the most informative about everything else.*
Joylani: *We’ve found them to usually be informative on transportation, and the locals can be the most informative if they know what you are asking and you know what they are saying.
Does anything scare you?
Matt: A few things. I have this paranoia that we’ll run out of money (maybe that’s why I’m a compulsive saver). Sometimes I worry about post-trip stuff. For some reason, I’m most worried that I’ll get the runs where there’s nowhere to go, like on a bus or in a foreign city at night. So I guess pooping in my pants scares me…
Joylani: When it comes down to it, the same thing that scares me at home scares me about traveling: that one of us will get hurt. Bugs also scare me, but that is a different type of fear.
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