Sergey and Jenia were a completely normal couple. They bought a house, renovated it, got married, and their reality was 9-5. They had a cat. Fairly straightforward existence which followed the natural progression of society’s guidelines for life.
But then, one day, they finally sat down and thought, now what? Settle into their careers, keep going to the office day in, day out, have babies? Surely there should be more. And then a brainwave hit.
What if they could rent their home, make enough money to cover their mortgage and then some, the extra cash being enough to finance continual travel around the world. Renting the house fully furnished, you wouldn’t need to sell your things, the tenants would take care of the cat as part of the lease, and you’re looking at an escape from the hamster wheel that is 9-5 office life.
That’s exactly what they did.
What do you love the most about travelling?
Ah – it’s hard to pick favorites! What we love most about travel generally changes depending on the day. Some days it may be how much history we are learning and taking in along the way – there is a huge difference between visiting a Fortress in Albania and learning about the national resistance movement against the Turks, and reading about it in a book, you know?
Other days, it’s all about the food! About how delicious, exotic, fresh, and inexpensive local food can be.
Though if we did have to choose just one aspect of travel for which to declare our love it would be meeting new people – whether it’s other travellers or locals, our favorite travel stories usually revolve around the people we meet along the way.
For example, we were couchsurfing in Japan, and ended up staying with a young guy who is part of an underground fight club run by the yakuza. Crazy, right? His stories were fascinating, and one of the things that we remember as a highlight from our time in Japan.
Or our time in Myanmar motorbiking around Mandalay. We turned off the main road and ran into the initiation celebration of a local monk! We ended up being invited to join them, and it was so magnificent. Or just simply when we sat down for a pre-train meal in Guilin, China and ended up making friends with the chef’s daughter – we communicated with our hands, laughed and took a load of pictures– it was the best!
What inspired you to start travelling?
The monotony of office life. After working 9 to 5 for five years we looked at each other and said there has to be more. We weren’t huge travellers before leaving on our RTW; we’ve been on a few family vacations, and the longest we had been away at that point was 2 weeks for our honeymoon.
But we had other priorities prior to this trip – we bought a house, renovated it, got married, and after all was said and done, we finally sat down and thought, now what? Settle into our careers, keep going to the office day in, day out, have babies? We were like, hold up, that can’t be it.
So travelling was a bit of an escape from the hamster wheel. We had absolutely no idea how rewarding and life changing the trip would turn out to be.
What is “House to Laos” all about?
So, House to Laos started out as a joke. We have another blog about how we renovated an old house in Washington D.C., and when we were casting around for a name of our travel blog we couldn’t find anything we liked.
A friend suggested we needed something to reference how we went from owning a house to travelling the world. House to Laos rhymed, and it stuck. It’s kind of a silly story, a bit of an inside joke, and certainly doesn’t necessarily imply travel!
We probably should have been more careful about choosing a blog name, but there is no going back. So we embrace it!
Why Laos specifically?
Well, it’s not really all about Laos – it’s just that it rhymes with House – so, House to Laos. But we did have a great time in Laos – beautiful country, and beautiful people.
What did you do with your house during your 14 months abroad?
We were super lucky – we were able to lease our house, with the rent not only covering our mortgage payments, but also helping to finance our travels. We left most of our furniture and kitchenware in place, only getting rid of our clothes and packing away our books and knickknacks.
We also have a cat, though he is pretty much grandfathered into the house at this point. So our tenants took care of him as part of the house lease.
Tell us a bit about your route and the countries you took in along the way.
We began our trip in Moscow, Russia, from where we took the Transsiberian rail route across several Russian cities, the world’s deepest Lake (Baikal), made our way across Mongolia, and into China.
We took the ferry over to South Korea, then a hydrofoil to Japan, and then flew back to China. From there Southeast Asia was our next destination, and we explored Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam in addition to India.
We were planning on exploring South America too, but changed our mind because of the lack of time and energy – instead we focused on Southeast Europe, which we loved. We also ate ourselves silly with wine, cheese, and European bread!!
What were some of your most memorable moments along the way?
This is one of our favorite questions – we’ve amassed so many travel memories, that whenever this question comes up, it’s just an opportunity to share a few different stories from the ones we have told before. Ask again, and you will get a totally different answer!!
But let’s see, a few of our memorable moments: taking a toboggan down the Great Wall of China, celebrating Songkran in Savannakhet, Laos, receiving an out-of-the-blue invitation to a tea ceremony by a monk in Vietnam, running into travel friends that we made in Hpa-An, Myanmar on the street in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and purchasing our first piece of art on the streets of Belgrade.
What were the biggest life lessons you took away from this trip?
That our comfort zone is a boundary that exists only in our heads, and it’s a healthy practice to stretch it.
Before leaving on this trip, we had never tried so many “firsts”, and if someone would have said – “eat these crickets right now” to Sergey a few months before we got to Cambodia, it probably wouldn’t have happened!
But there we were in Batambang, with a plate full of fried crickets, and Sergey totally munched those insects down!
Hiking was another big one for both of us — we weren’t really hiking people before the trip. Then we took three days to climb 54 kilometers of stairs up the holy Emei Mountain in China.
We are now total converts, we will go on a hike any day!
You’ve been quoted saying trains are the best and planes are the worst. Why is that?
Truth. Let’s see, we love trains because: they are more comfortable than pretty much any other mode of transport, you have more leg room, great views, and on overnight trips a lot of rail systems provide train cars with berths that enable you to stretch out and get a decent night’s sleep. That’s just not happening on a bus, plane, or in a car.
Trains are GREAT for socializing – we’ve had plenty of conversations on trains, from chitchat with oil men coming home after 45-day stint at the rig in Russia, to students going to spend time at home in China, to policemen “just taking the train” in Myanmar, to other travellers partying all night on their way from Bangkok to Surat Thani, Thailand (that was one hell of a party with strobe lights and all).
Also, we like to drink beers on a train – now, drinking beers on a bus, or a plane – it’s just not the same, think about it. Trains are inexpensive, especially compared to planes. Train stations tend to be in central locations, making transport into and out of the city a breeze.
Planes are pretty much the opposite of everything we just listed here, and the worst bit is just how much hassle the whole trip always is.
From packing with liquids and total weight requirements in mind, to getting to the airport itself, getting to the RIGHT airport, going through security, being shepherded onto the plane in those long lines, sitting in a totally cramped seat, there’s just no joy in any of it for us.
Of course, being able to cover long distances fairly quickly is a major plus of planes that no one can deny.
Our second favorite mode of transport goes to the motorcycle, but that’s entirely different story.
How did you afford to travel for 14 months straight – are you rich?!
Definitely not rich. But, we took a bit of unconventional approach to financing our trip. When we refinanced our house the bank determined that our property value had increased significantly since purchase, making us eligible for a “cash out” – basically allowing us to take a large chunk of money right then and there.
The cash out money comprised about half of our budget for the 14 months of travel. The other big chunk of money came from leasing our home and getting a monthly rental income.
We both worked as freelancers for our respective office jobs on the road – it wasn’t much, but provided us with an extra financial cushion.
Obviously we travelled on a budget – about $35 per person, per day, not including major expenses such as health insurance, airline tickets across continents, and open water scuba diving certification.
Biggest cultural shock you have experienced while travelling?
India. The noise, the crowds, and constantly being on guard – we knew and anticipated those factors, but they were still a shock to the system after spending a month on the beach in Thailand.
We weren’t quite prepared for the drastically higher number of men to women on the streets and in public places, that was definitely a culture shock.
We liked India, and would go back. But this country was the most challenging one on our trip.
Three things you can’t travel without?
Smart phone – from recording trip memories, to finding our way around, to keeping in touch with family and friends, to such idiosyncratic uses like noise machine for when we are staying somewhere with lots of noise, our iphones are at this point might as well be our appendages.
Swimsuit – it doesn’t matter where we are going, we always pack a swimsuit. You never know, there might be a pool, a sauna, or who knows you might end up on a plane to a beach destination!
Appropriate footwear – you can buy pretty much everything else on the spot. But good shoes, whether for hiking, walking in cities, or going to the beach – we would not recommend for shopping for those while travelling.
That search is almost always frustrating, and more often than not futile.
Which destinations are at the top of your bucket list?
Cuba – because the country will change soon, maybe even for the better, maybe development will be a socially responsible tide that lifts all boats. I hope so. But even then, it will be different.
Anywhere close to wherever we are based at the moment. In general, we are proponents of travelling locally – there is less transit time, and it tends to be less expensive.
Most practical piece of advice for those planning travel?
If you are traveling far away, slow travel makes the most financial sense. If you can devote four months to exploring Southeast Asia, that’s just one round-trip ticket.
You will have the time, for instance, to take a slow boat that might take two or three days to connect you from one destination to the next. Traveling this way means spending less money than if you were to fly, making new friends, and experiencing the everyday pace of life.
Why should people drop everything to travel?
Life’s too short not to! And there is too much delicious local food out there!