The first week or so was spent just relaxing after all the stress and work we had finishing up our old lifestyle. We gave up everything; our house, car, business, furniture, personal belongings, daily routine, everything. It was a lot of work but it is also incredibly liberating. There is a freedom that I have rarely experienced. It really feels fantastic to not want to buy things. We can’t take much with us on our travels so there is no need to even think about furniture, electronics or any other accouterments of modern life. We are finished with consumerism (for a little while anyway).
It has only been a month but we are already starting to make some important realizations.
I don’t want to be a traveller.
We will always live abroad and we hope to continually move to different locations but we have to do it slowly. I want to spend several months in each location if possible. I hate being in a constant state of movement and always rushing to the next destination.
My wife and I need routine in our life. We want to find good supermarkets to buy healthy food. We want to cook our own meals. We need to exercise. I want to play guitar and run. My wife wants to do yoga and take dance classes. Most of all we need consistent periods of time to work on new projects. We can’t do any of these things if we are going to a new city every few days.
Getting any work done on the road is very difficult without the Internet. We were using an Internet cafe for the last few weeks but that limited the amount of time we were able to get online. Internet is important if we are going to work on cool projects in the future.
Reverse Culture Shock
Many long-term expats and travellers talk about the reverse culture shock they experience when they return to their home country and maybe I am experiencing some of that now. After living in Japan for so long I have gotten accustomed to a quality of food and general levels of service that are lacking in many western countries.
I have found that it is really difficult to get decent food in Canada. Restaurants almost never make anything with fresh ingredients anymore. Everything is processed. Thankfully, Canada hasn’t been over-run by the huge scale factory farms of the US yet but it is definitely coming. My wife and I are trying hard to avoid any processed foods but it is difficult. We are already homesick for the fresh produce and fish of Japan. It is great to have cheap goods and endless choices but my dislike of the megastores and supermarkets is increasing.
One of the biggest things I hate about the US and Canada is the terrible customer service everywhere. It is so rare to find store workers that offer even basic levels of service. People just don’t care at all. I really don’t understand it. Is it so difficult to show up to work and actually care a little about customers?
Japan is still really formal and rigid with work rules but that is a good thing. I think all stores should be cleaned and organized. Employees shouldn’t be talking on phones to their friends or chatting with co-workers while customers are waiting for service. How about washing your hands if you are going to touch my food? Doesn’t anyone care anymore?
We are now back in my home city of Calgary, where we will spend the next couple of months. We live near a great supermarket and we are going to join the gym that is across the street. It is nice to travel, but it is great to just settle in to one location for a while and get some work done. We are planning some shorter trips around western Canada but it will be nice to have a home base and routine in our lives again. If any of you are in Canada in the near future please email!
I’m very amused by your comments about service. That “terrible service” you get in Canada and the US is nothing compared with the service levels in China! Canadian/US service, friendliness, and courtesy is what I sometimes long for here in Beijing. People in China will just casually stick their fingers in the food, for example. Maybe you’ll get here, now that you are free!
Enjoy your travels and adventures.
Calgary?!?! I live there/here!? I’m always so disappointed because the people behind my favorite jet set/lifestyle design blogs are always from the U.S. or Europe, can’t tell you how excited I am that you’re representing Western Canada, specifically Alberta. I’d love to know more about what you think about Calgary!
Congrats on getting back to Canada!
I didn’t even think about the service quality being an issue, but now I can definitely understand how that would be. I think respect in general will be an interesting comparison whenever I head back to Chicago.
Is Canada louder than Japan? That was always a big difference for me when I returned home after just 2 months in Japan in ’07.
.-= Austin´s last blog ..Why 99.7% of People Should Avoid Actively Trading Stocks =-.
Andy Hayes | Sharing Travel Experiences
I’m glad to hear you have gotten home safe! What a shock that must be, Calgary and Japan are so different. I hear you on service and fresh food, those are so important.
Good on you to recognise that you like to see new places, but you aren’t a traveller. It’s an important distinction that not everybody realises.
Best wishes in Calgary and I can’t wait to hear about your next update!
PS – Cath Duncan is in Calgary for awhile, be sure to look her up and say hello.
.-= Andy Hayes | Sharing Travel Experiences´s last blog ..What to do when you want to see on vacation is closed? =-.
Thanks for the comment. I agree that China is a different game altogether but it is so cheap. I expect lower levels of service when prices are low. Canada has become more expensive than Japan with much lower levels of customer service.
I love Calgary. I was born and raised here. It really is a fantastic city, especially if you are into cycling. I can’t wait for it to warm up a little so that we can start cycling everywhere.
Thanks for the comment Austin!
Canada is definitely much louder than Japan. My Japanese wife has mentioned several times that she has to yell all the time. 🙂
Long time no talk!
My wife and I have been visiting Canada a couple of times a year so it is not so much of a shock to return for a longer period but we definitely miss the food. There is no such thing as fresh fish in Calgary. 🙂
We will be in Europe this summer, maybe we will have a chance to meet?
Hey John – I think that’s wonderful you’ve realized you prefer slow travel. I’ve been finding that I benefit much more from staying longer in one location than spending five weeks running around an entire continent.
And every time I return to the US after being away for a while, I am always surprised by the lack of interaction and trust between strangers. In many other parts of the world, especially Mexico where I am now, there seems to be a natural kinship between people that doesn’t seem to exist in the US at least.
Just today as I was driving, the car in front of me broke down. The driver opened his window, yelled across the street to two random boys working in a small shop. Without hesitation, they both left the shop, ran over to the car and pushed it down the road until they could find a place to move it to the side. And then they walked back to their shop. My first reaction was, “that would never happen at home.”
.-= Earl´s last blog ..Close Encounter With The Mafia =-.
It’s nice to see you made it out of Japan and now on your journey. There a few things I miss about Japan, but when I think back to how crazy I had to work and the amount I had to pay for rent, I don’t think I could go back to that now. My monthly rent in Tokyo is roughly what I am paying now for one year in Bali. It’s not in the famous tourist place, but that is the way I like it.
.-= Mike´s last blog ..Package Stuck in Customs =-.
Richard @ WpSplitTester
If you think service in the States is bad, try coming over to the UK far a *really* nasty shock 😉
Glad to hear that things are going well for you both! It’s interesting to hear the real side of the story (the things that bother you) instead of just the flashy and movie-like stuff. Sometimes I picture the location independent life like a movie montage, that’s just not reality. Living the anywhere lifestyle, while it’s awesome, has to have it’s ups and downs!
What you said about customer service in the U.S. and Canada really caught my attention. It’s extremely frustrating for me as well. It’s really gotten to the point here in the area where I live that I don’t feel like going into any stores at all. There are a select few restaurants that do a great job but that’s it. Oh well!
Anyway, keep enjoying things and I’m looking forward to future updates.
I prefer slow everything. Slow travel, slow eating, and definitely slow sleeping. 🙂
As a kid I remember the great customer service in Canada. That is the stage that other countries are around the world. It seems the richer we get the less we care.
Bali is fantastic. We are hoping to spend a month or two in Ubud again in 2011. Hopefully, we will have a chance to meet up again.
Tokyo is expensive but almost everywhere outside of the mega cities is actually quite reasonable in Japan. My wife and I plan to have a summer place somewhere in the mountains in Japan sometime in the not too distant future.
I am glad that you liked the post. I am a little leery of saying the negative things because I don’t want to give the impression that I complain all the time. There are great aspects of every location as well. Canada is a fantastic country. I just don’t want to shop or eat out here much anymore.
I think the UK is similar. While I wasn’t so fond of the restaurants in London, I didn’t find the service so bad. London definitely made up for any short-comings with the excitement and energy. The theater district in London kicks New York!
Congrats! Glad to see that you are on the move!
Slow travel is definitely the way to go. Less is more for sure! It’s also more rewarding to immerse deeply and really get to know an area and the people. In Europe it is quite easy to see a lot from one base. Also seeing things from the ground level is truly the best way to travel. We’ve gone 175,000 miles so far on 4 continents, but most has been overland, and by far the majority has been by walking, biking & mass transit. Always leave enough breathing space to enjoy the journey & truly free lifestyle!
Excited to hear your big adventure has begun!!
.-= soultravelers3´s last blog ..Family Travel Photo – Poland =-.
Welcome back to the mother country John! Hope you get out to the mountains soon … Sunshine (May Long weekend) and Marmot Basin (until April 25th) are still open for skiing and boarding!
Been reading your blog for over a year, very through and professional!
.-= unbjames´s last blog ..Becoming As Lucky As The Irish: 3 Essential Elements =-.
Glad you’re both enjoying your escape! Although I agree with most of what you said about Japan, I’d somewhat disagree regarding the freshness of vegetables, especially in the supermarkets. I think it’s due to the tradition of shopping for food daily in this country, for that night’s dinner. Everything is ‘ready to eat’ that day. It’s almost impossible to find a firm tomato!
It’s definitely gotten worse since supermarkets started opening 24/7. I never shop early in the morning anymore. Most of the veg is (the ripe stuff) from the day before, and by the next morning it’s looking positively past it. And they don’t even reduce the prices! I time my shopping to coincide with the delivery times or, if I have time, shoot over to the JA farm shop for my veg. Unless things have deteriorated considerably since I was last in the UK (it’s been a long time!), I’d say British supermarkets were far superior to Japanese ones. Restaurants in Japan, on the other hand, are unbeatable…
Andy Hayes | Sharing Travel Experiences
Yes please 🙂 I will be in Canada in July though..
.-= Andy Hayes | Sharing Travel Experiences´s last blog ..What to do when you want to see on vacation is closed? =-.
Perpetual motion/travel is not for everyone. I think my ideal would be maybe traveling 4-6 months out of the year but having a homebase that you can always go to. I would even think living in a place for a month or two at time is much better than1-2 weeks in a location, then running to the airport for the next flight.
.-= brian´s last blog ..Thailand Protests 2010 – When Violence Breaks Out, Can/Should You Still Travel There? =-.
Thanks for the comment.
We will definitely make it out to the mountains. Banff is probably my favorite town in the world.
It is good to hear from you.
Maybe we were spoiled in Nara, but our local supermarket had great fish and vegetables. The larger chain stores were not so special but the local stores were good. Many neighborhood farmers also used to give us lots of fresh vegetables and rice. We also went to JA often though.
It is still cold in Canada so most of the vegetables are coming from the US or Mexico. That is part of the reason the produce isn’t so fresh.
Restaurants are a different story. Unless you go the highest end places (expensive) virtually everything is precooked and processed.
Completely agree here Brian.
Ideally I would like to have two or three home bases and travel between them. We have family in Canada, Japan and Hungary so those are most likely going to be the three destinations. Costa Rica and Thailand are also probable choices.
It would be great to hook up with a group of people and rotate through each other’s properties. Maybe someday that will become a reality.
I can hear the restlessness in your writing. When are you moving on again? Japanese food and service sure is fantastic! Easy to get spoiled by their service.
.-= Financial Samurai´s last blog ..How To Dramatically Increase Your Job Security For Life! =-.
It’s interesting to see your observations of customer service levels and fresh food after returning home. You are so dead on with your observation that the service level in the US and Canada (though I can’t speak from experience about Canada) doesn’t compare to that abroad.
I recently left the northeast US to begin my nomadic lifestyle in India. I’ve been here for a little over a month and your post made me think back to the service I recieved in the US — now I’m almost afraid of going back!
I’m definitely of the same mindset with regards to slow travel — I too need *some* routine and familiarity in my life. I’ve been living in the same small town in India (Ujire) for a little over a month and it feels great to have the restaurant owners, jeep drivers, and fruit and vegetable stand owners all recognize me and greet me like a friend. I’m starting to feel like I know what it would be like to spend several years living here.
I plan to move on within the next month. I think a minimum of one month is required to get familiar with a place and three months should be more than enough. I coined a term for this type of lifestyle: nomadic explorer. I’ll be writing a post about what a nomadic explorer is, so keep an eye out for that if you’re interested. 🙂
.-= Raam Dev´s last blog ..Sprout Your Ideas by Watering Them With Confidence =-.
I think the customer service is great. If you want bad service, go to Europe or Australia. That being said the service in Asia, especially Japan, is much better than in north america. It’s a definite downgrade but at least it’s not Europe!
.-= Nomadic Matt´s last blog ..Songkran: Thai New Year =-.
Emily @ Maiden Voyage
It’s funny — a friend who is from and lives in London was just in Austin, Texas for a few days (where I live). We went out to several bars and restaurants together, and she remarked that she was amazed how good customer service is here compared to back home. Maybe it was just the Southern hospitality, or maybe because people here have to actually work for tips.
I guess I was spoiled in Japan. That is the level that I am comparing the rest of the world to. I can definitely understand why a Londoner would prefer Texan hospitality and service.
I don’t find service so bad in Europe. Hungary in particular has great customer service for the most part. This is especially true if you go to smaller cities.
London wasn’t so good, but I haven’t had any really bad service anywhere else.
John R. Sedivy
Although it was some time ago I remember having the same experiences that you describe here when I returned from living in Japan and Italy. I particularly recall the difference in service as you describe – unfortunately I guess things have not changed!
Glad to hear you are coming to some important realizations. I am making my way through a book that you may find interesting – it’s called Synchronicity: The Inner Path to Leadership by Joseph Jaworski. He talks about “freedom from” – the freedom to remove oneself from oppressive circumstances – such as a daily routine, possessions, etc. and the other form of freedom – the freedom to follow one’s true purpose. It seems that you may be coming to some of these same realizations.
Thanks for the comment and book recommendation.
Synchronicity sounds like a good book. I think I want some routine in my life to exercise, eat healthy, play guitar, work, etc. but I definitely want to stay away from accumulating possessions again. I also don’t know if there is only one ‘true purpose’ for all of us. Part of my problem is that there really are unlimited options. I know I need to get some more focus in my life but I haven’t decided what I am wiling to sacrifice yet.