If embarking on a 14-month trip around the world, what essentials should be brought along? By the ninth month of the trip, what would be missed?
At this point in their global odyssey, Ryan and Laura Keller know exactly what they miss ... but more about that later.
Laura is the daughter of Kirkwood residents Sally and Chris Dowling. Ryan is the son of Patty and Michael Keller of Creve Coeur. The couple began dreaming of a trip around the planet right after graduating from college in 2003.
When they married in May 2008, they decided to make their dream a reality. They were living in Chicago, where Laura worked in public relations for Weber Shandwick. Ryan worked in marketing at Vibes Media.
"We realized it was now or never if we wanted to do this," Laura said. "We made scrimping and saving a priority until we left in October 2009."
Talking from Thailand, Laura said the first challenge before leaving on the trip was packing.
"I spent a month thinking and researching because, while you don't want to take much, if you're going many places, you'll need clothes in one place that you won't need in another," she said.
To partially solve that problem, they planned most of their stops for the warmer climes so they would not have to take bulky sweaters, hats and gloves.
"We bought a few extra layers when we were in Nepal for our trek in the Himalayas," Laura said. "It didn't make sense to lug them all around the warm weather destinations we'd be in. After the Himalayas, we sent them home from China with some other souvenirs we'd purchased. There is little room for 'just in case' in our backpacks."
Their first stop was South America, then it was on to Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, and China. When they return to Chicago in mid-December, they will have visited 22 countries.
Ryan and Laura have serialized their adventures on their blog, www.roundwego.com, along with beautiful pictures.
Their sleeping accommodations vary depending on the location. For their longer stays in Buenos Aires and Sydney, they rented an apartment.
"In New Zealand, we rented a campervan, and we slept under the stars at campsites around the country during our month traveling there," Laura said. "Throughout most of Asia and South America, we've been staying mostly in budget hotels, B&B's and guest houses. When there aren't any reasonably-priced hotels, we opt for hostels."
For eating options, they rely on The Lonely Planet Guidebooks which they pick up at bookstores.
"The guidebook usually has a great list of recommended restaurants to choose from," Laura said. "We also try to frequent restaurants that are filled with locals. We've found these spots are often the best kept secrets!"
Ryan and Laura also had to address health concerns that might arise on their trip. It's not like there would be a "Doc in the Box" or 24-hour drug store on the corner in Tanzania.
"We spent our last few weeks in the U.S. getting poked and prodded by nurses and doctors, trying to get every vaccine we might need on our journey," Laura said. "We got shots to prevent us from getting diseases, including malaria, yellow fever and hepatitis.
"We talked to a travel health clinic about the types of medicines we should have with us on the road and packed a medical supply kit that includes prescriptions for a variety of sicknesses we might encounter," she said.
Laura said India stands out as her "most and least favorite."
"It's filthy and disgusting at times, but then you have these beautiful colors, beautiful food and beautiful people that really touched me and will give you anything," she said. "The extreme poverty really affects you, seeing children huddled together and sleeping on the ground. It brings you to tears. There's so much going on, it's a sensory overload."
Burma, she said, was like stepping back in time. "There are no ATMs if that tells you anything."
Most of their travel has been by train. There have been good experiences and, yes, some bad ones, too. They have taken only two flights, both connecting continents.
"I'm glad we began in India for the beginning of our journey in Asia, because they (the trains) were the worst of the worst," Laura said. "Once there were rats on the train, people just hanging out the windows, no AC."
"But," she added, "We wanted to experience everything, so we did lower price tickets to see how the locals travel. The nicest was China where we had a 40-hour train trip that actually felt like a rolling hotel. It was very beautiful. Our travel is always a guessing game - 'What will this be like?'"
Relaxation time is practically non-existent because, as Laura said, they want to experience everything. A day spent lounging around the hotel does not happen. They are constantly planning how they will get to the next stop along their journey.
"Not a day goes by that we don't appreciate where we are and what we're doing," she said.
They both look forward to their December return when they can spend the holidays with their parents.
"Then, it's back to reality," Laura said. "This experience has done a lot for us and given us a lot of perspective on our lives and careers. It's a good time to think: 'Is this where we want to be and where do we want to go?'"
Before their trip, Laura and Ryan worked in Chicago. Whether they return to the Windy City depends on their job search.
So, what do they miss? Laura Dowling misses her jeans, her hair dryer and Mexican food, sandwiches and salads and, of course, her family. Ryan misses the St. Louis Cardinals, burgers and microbrews.
Only five more months!