6-Months In: Updates, Accomplishments & Failures From My New RTW Trip

Over six months ago I left Abu Dhabi and flew one way to Jakarta to begin my four-year RTW land trek. Let me just say right at the start that things are going better than I could have ever planned! Of course considering the fact that I did absolutely zero planning before starting this trip — no checking visa requirements or recommended shots, no mapping a route or any country / transportation / immigration research, literally nothing except drawing a squiggly line on a map to indicate a rough route — the fact that things have gone this well is quite amazing. That is one reason why I am big advocate of not planning your travels. If you just go with the flow then you’ll find that most often things work out as they should.

The HoliDaze RTW 2KXV Trip
Behold…the first leg of my RTW adventure!

  That Route Is Going To Take You 4 Years…Really?

I will be gradually winding my way from country to country because I like slow travel and prefer having 2-3 months in each country visited to really learn and experience as much as I can. My plan was to speed up my rate to about one month per country for this RTW trek, as much as I hate trying to travel that fast.

“What, you think spending one month per country is fast?!” Yes, I do. That’s why in nearly five years of traveling I have only been to 21 countries. Sure, I might not set any speed records but anyone who brags about traveling to “over two dozen countries this year” or “all seven continents in one year” has clearly spent too much time on planes and not enough hanging out with locals in the places they have visited.

  So Where Are You Now?

Hehehe funny you should ask. Well, technically I am in Indonesia still πŸ˜‰ But in my defense I have also explored Malaysia and Thailand plus been to Singapore twice. I just keep coming back “home” to Indonesia but I’ve forgotten my RTW plans, not at all.

My favorite deserted beach in Indoesia is Pantai Ngandong in Gunungkidul, about two hours from Yogyakarta
My favorite deserted beach in Indoesia is Pantai Ngandong in Gunungkidul, about two hours from Yogyakarta

  Why Have You Been Spending So Much Time In Indonesia?

The short answer: teman-teman saya menakjubkan (my fabulous friends). When I first arrived here I was surprised just how many Indonesian followers I had on Twitter. Everyone was like “come to my city, I’ll be your tour guide and translator” or “be sure to visit ______” or “come with me to ______.” It quickly became apparent that just one or two months in Indonesia would not be enough.

I spent my first two months motorcycling around Java, Lombok, and Bali before deciding that Yogyakarta was my favorite city in the country. Jogja, as it’s known to the locals, has one of my favorite hostels of all time — it became my home base for all of my subsequent travels. Plus while there I started learning Bahasa Indonesia and managed to meet even more great people.

First there was Windy Ariestanty, a famous Indonesian writer and traveler most well-known for her book, The Life Traveler. She introduced me to her friend Matthew, another cool cat and traveler from Canada who has since settled down in Indonesia and started a family here.

In September I did a tourism film with Riyanni Djangkaru, a famous Indonesian traveler and TV star who founded Dive Mag and the #SaveSharks Indonesia campaign. That has been one of my favorite experiences here so far and if you haven’t read my behind the scenes post yet then I highly recommend giving it a look.

RTW Indonesia: Boating On The Siak River

After Riyanni and I became friends I started to get involved with her Save Sharks campaign and even took part in a one of their presentations in Purwokerto (post to come soon). While there I met even more fantastic people, including Syahbudin Syukur — more commonly known as Budi Doremi, a talented and popular Indonesian musician. While we were on a road trip together with a few of his friends he explained to me how he has been reaching out to remote areas of Indonesia with no electricity or basic necessities and bringing them solar generators and LED lights. Expect a joint collaboration between the two of us within the next month or two.


In Jakarta I had the opportunity to finally meet Trinity, another famous Indonesian traveler and writer most known for her hit book series, The Naked Traveler. The fifth and newest book in the series just went on sale last week and its her first one in English. I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of it but am rather ashamed to admit that I have not yet had the time to finish it…however I’m getting close!

Rifky, Mohan and I
Rifky, Mohan and I

Last but certainly not least are my buddies Rifky and Mohan, part of Padi Padi Creative, the team that produced our Siak tourism video. We hit it off during filming and have been great friends ever since. In fact one day during filming Mohan said to me “I’ve worked with lots of bule but they’re always just bule. You, well you are the first bule I would call a friend.”

What Else?

Here are some of my other adventures that you might have missed:
  Participated in panjat pinang, the slippery tradition of Indonesia [photo gallery and video]
  Had fun with ladyboys and massage parlors in Bangkok’s notorious red light districts
  Wrote a critical piece on the Bandung Zoo that got the attention of the new mayor, who has since set aside funds to renovate and improve the entire facility.
  Spent a week at a batik art school and made a few pieces myself, as well as discovered the dirty and environmentally damaged aspects behind the artwork.
  Learned how to make a keris, a traditional dagger in Indonesia and other southeast Asia countries that is shrouded in history and mystery.

And some of my less than admirable “accomplishments” — posts to come soon:
  Killed a cobra, at some of it’s organs raw and then washed it all down with a glass full (not a shot, a real glass) of blood and chunks of muscle tendon.
  Got blackout drunk with bartenders after they got off work and woke up the next morning covered in blood — but I’m not going to reveal what happened just yet πŸ˜‰
  Accidentally traveled through four countries with marijuana in my possession. Although my fondness of marijuana is no secret, this time I cannot stress the word accidentally enough.

Elephant Sanctuary in Sumatra
Riyanni and I riding elephants at a sanctuary in Sumatra

So Exactly What Are You Doing In Indonesia Now?

Last week I left Thailand and returned to Indonesia. But rather than go back to Jogja, which has been a home base for all of my travels around the country, I’ve settled in to Jakarta. Here I have been living with Rifky and Mohan at their house / office and using this time to get caught up on all my writing. You have probably noticed a flood of new posts from me recently, as opposed to the one post a month pace that I’ve been at during the majority of these last six months. That is why.

In addition to working on my writing I have several other irons in the fire here. Of course I don’t want to jinx myself so let me just instead say that there should be some interesting and exciting adventures in the upcoming weeks. πŸ˜‰

Cold Hard Numbers And What They Mean

* So much for land travel only. During the last 3-4 months I have taken a staggering number of flights. I’ve also missed four flights, three of them during the same week. But since I am still in Indonesia I can technically restart the “land-travel only” aspect of this trip anytime…

So how well have I fared these first six months? Here are the stats:
  Countries Visited: 4
  Immigration Interrogations: 1
  Cops/Gov’t Employees Bribed: 1
  Posts Written: 24 (+6 not published yet)
  Flights Taken: 21* (see right)  
  Money Spent: $6,194 USD ($34.41/day, including plane tickets)
  Travel Bloggers Met: 32! (10 during one week in Chiang Mai, Thailand)
  Twitter Friends Met: 130+
  Toothbrush Count: 15
  Baggage Weight: 29.2kg start / 40.5kg now

Okay, wait a minute, what the hell is your toothbrush count? Hahaha…well, this came up on Twitter a couple months ago while I was doing a house sit in Jogja. During the sit I motorcycled back around through Java and collected all the bags and belongings I had left behind in various cities. Only after I compiled this stuff at the house and started sorting through it did I realize just how many toothbrushes and how much clothing I had amassed.

  The Toothbrushes   As a backpacker I often stay in hostels, but not always. Anytime I find myself in a hotel I never leave behind the complimentary toothbrush and toothpaste (nor any other complimentary items). Plus I have spent a few nights at random people’s houses and have been gifted several travel toothbrushes as well (you know, the ones with the plastic cover for the bristles). In addition to this excessive collection of toothbrushes I also have toothpaste from Canada, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and China with me — but most of these are small one-week tubes. As one buddy pointed out that is enough toothbrushes to last someone nearly four years. Even so please do not expect me to stop taking free toothbrushes just yet. Let’s see how many I have once I am one year into this adventure πŸ˜‰

  The Clothing   75% of my baggage weight is in apparel. When I left the USA back in May I already had too much clothing, even back then. Unfortunately now I have twice as much. Not only did I get a half dozen free shirts at TBEX but several of my Indonesian friends have purchased me shirts as souvenirs. Then there was the film. Since the director didn’t approve of the bulk of my clothing I went wardrobe shopping with the casting director and artistic director. Now I have so many clothes that if stacked in a pile on a hostel bed they reach the underside of the upper bunk. Two extra bags of clothing are still in Jogja and a third is with my friend Ren back in Singapore. (I apologize again buddy!)

  What About The Rest Of Your RTW Trip?

The trip is still on…it just might take me longer than four years to make it all the way to Portugal. As of right now it looks like I will be in Indonesia until the end of January. My travelin’ buddy Ryan of Lost Boy Memoirs arrived here a few days ago to explore the country and join in some of my endeavors here. Depending on how they go determines whether I (or we) will be sticking around Indonesia longer in 2014 or continuing onward our separate ways.

  2014 Plans
  During February I will be in Vietnam for the Vietnamese Lunar New Year and to visit an old friend from the States that lives in Hanoi now.
  My birthday is in March but I have yet to figure out where I will be celebrating it. Maybe back in Indonesia, maybe Myanmar, maybe China. Who knows!
  As for April, looks like Ryan, Kristin, and I will be partaking in the Rickshaw Run in India. More on this as it develops.

Well, there you have it. That is my first six months into this four year adventure boiled down into one post.

  What do you think?

Like what you read?
About Derek Freal

"Some people eat, others try therapy. I travel." Β  Cultural enthusiast. Adrenaline junkie. Eater of strange foods. Chasing unique and offbeat adventures around the world since 2008. Derek loves going to new destinations where he does not speak a word of the local language and must communicate with hand gestures, or places where he is forced to squat awkwardly to poo -- supposedly its healthier and more efficient. For more information (about Derek, not squat pooing) including popular posts and videos, check out his bio.

45 thoughts on “6-Months In: Updates, Accomplishments & Failures From My New RTW Trip”

    • You are so correct Kenin! The Indonesia I experienced during my first month here, traveling around with other backpackers, is completely different from the Indonesia I’ve come to know and love since making friends with so many locals πŸ™‚

      Reply
    • Thanks Delia. Unfortunately Ryan and I most likely won’t be traveling together for long — he still appears set on returning to Thailand after his month in Indonesia is done and I will be sticking around longer. However if everything works out then we’ll be joining forces again next April in India for the Rickshaw Run.

      Reply
  1. “anyone who brags about traveling to β€œover two dozen countries this year” or β€œall seven continents in one year” has clearly spent too much time on planes and not enough hanging out with locals in the places they have visited.” True enough man!

    And looking forward for your adventures. Looks like you’re having a good time in Indonesia. Bout the marijuana, be careful not to bring them in Malaysia. Haha. Risky okay?!

    Reply
    • Most definitely Khai, I’ll be careful. But at least now I found it and can properly dispose of it before continuing on from Indonesia. I will definitely be passing through Malaysia again soon and am looking exploring more of it this time…looks like I’m going to have to do some more reading through your blog πŸ™‚

      Reply
  2. This is a great rundown of what you have been up to over the past six months. I want to do more slow travel and spend more time in each country. The longest I have ever done was Cambodia for two weeks, I definitely want to give each country I visit at least a month in the future πŸ™‚

    Reply
    • Glad to hear Chanel. The hard part is actually finding the time. I realize not everyone has the luxury of being able to take a month or more when visiting a place. But if you ever get the opportunity definitely go for it! Right around the two week mark is when most people really start to understand the basics of a country; from then on their knowledge increases exponentially. It’s a whole new experience! πŸ™‚

      Reply
  3. It looks your traveling is going well. I’ll be curious to know more about the marijuana accident. You also said you met 32 travel blogger, why haven’t we met yet? πŸ˜‰

    Reply
    • All for the first time in real life these last few months along my journeys through Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Some veterans, like Talon (1 Dad 1 Kid) and Juno (Runaway Juno), and others newer to this type of lifestyle, such as Chris and Angela (Tieland To Thailand). Between crossing paths with people on the road and blogger events like TBEX my biggest hobby besides traveling is meeting other travel bloggers LOL πŸ˜‰

      During 2014 I’ll be all around Asia, from the tips of Indonesia to the northern parts of China, over through India and hopefully make it as far west as the -stans or maybe even Turkey, if I pick up my pace. Let me know if you’ll be coming back to this corner of the world and we can definitely meet up somewhere πŸ™‚

      Reply
  4. You’ve mastered “going with the flow’! Love your posts and delight in reading about your adventures….except the cobra meal. πŸ™‚
    Safe travels, friend!

    Reply
    • The cobra really not as bad as I thought. I wouldn’t exactly use the word good, more of a neutral “oh that’s it”-type taste. But I will say chewing one of the organs and having it release the blood inside my mouth was probably not for most people — they might want to just close their eyes and swallow fast.

      Reply
  5. Definitely go with the flow especially as you have made good friends. Indonesia is a lovely country. Would love to go back one day myself. Love the photo of the Elephant riding in Sumatra. Definitely an experience I would have to have. Enjoying your posts.

    Reply
  6. Love the slow travel you’re doing! When we were given the choice to do Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam in 2 months or choose one we decided on a 1,000 mile cycling trip through Vietnam and we are so glad we did. We can truly say we experienced Vietnam as opposed to only scratching the surface of the 4. Can’t wait to follow you along your journey! πŸ™‚

    Reply
    • Thanks for checking on my status Zara, I most definitely have been having a fantastic time! Cheers to 2014, hope your adventures are going amazing as well. Let’s be sure to keep in touch πŸ˜€

      Reply
  7. This is inspirational. I like that you’re taking it slow (4 countries in 6 months sounds great to me), and the amount of goodwill you’ve received is phenomenal. These types of posts are what help aspiring long term travelers like me keep the dream alive. -Steph

    Reply
    • I’ve found that on the road, regardless of the country, the good in all the locals far outweighs any bad. Traveling at a slower pace (with or without set itinerary) is definitely a better and more rewarding way to travel. Glad I could help inspire — best wishes for 2014! πŸ™‚

      Reply
    • 2013 has set the bar pretty high for 2014, especially as far as on the road surprises go, but either way I am looking forward to it! Hope you and Cipri’s adventures continue along spectacularly as well πŸ˜€

      Reply
  8. Derek, I met you briefly at TBEX Keystone and did not realize the adventure you were undertaking! What an incredible journey for you – greatly enjoyed reading this post and will have to carve reading time to keep reading about your adventures. Happy new year!

    Reply
    • Yup, I remember meeting you Raul. Shame we didn’t have longer to chat. Keep me updated on yours travels in 2014, especially if they should take you to Europe or Asia. Happy new year bro and best wishes!

      Reply
    • Thanks Tara. I hope it doesn’t take me too much longer than the rough four years I had planned. Once arriving in Lisbon I’ll like to head down to Morocco and then land-travel Africa, then head over to Chile and up towards Panama. I’ll be an old man before I finish all of that if I keep up this pace. Of course I anticipate the Middle East and even Europe to go much faster than SEA.

      Reply
  9. Hey. Love that you stay awhile in each country. Quick question though. When you travel through Europe “slowly” how do you get around the 90 day visa limitation?
    Thanks.

    Reply
    • In Europe most countries are 90 days no visa required for Americans. I plan on spending 2-4 weeks per country and using the rails and buses to get around. Why, is there something I haven’t thought of yet, something I should know?

      Reply
      • Thanks for your reply. I guess if you spend 2-3 weeks per country you will be fine. As I am sure you know, most of Europe is part of the Schengen Agreement. This means you can only stay in the Schengen countries for a max of 90 days total in a 180 day period. Enjoy your trip. I will sure be following.

        Reply
        • Ahhh yeah I didn’t realize just how many countries were part of the Schengen Agreement. Guess I will have to put a little hustle into my step once I to the middle and western part of Europe. Of course since life there isn’t near as cheap as here in SEA I didn’t plan on spending too much time in some of those countries, at least not on this trip. Thanks for the reminder! πŸ™‚

          Reply
  10. Wow! I’d probably end up staying in Indonesia for that long as well, heard amazing things about it. We love slow travel and find we want to take the time to really get to know a place and the people other than just hitting main tourist attractions. Looking forward to 2014 adventures and how that cobra tasted!

    Reply
  11. Woot, we are technically 2 of those 103 Twitter friends you met in person! Your movie is such a cool experience and that is such fantastic news that your post on the state of the zoo had such a positive impact. I most definitely think you should spend your birthday in Myanmar. Mine is in March too and I will be at home in boring ‘ol Italy.

    Reply
    • Yes you two are! Definitely glad we were able to cross paths, although its a shame we didn’t have longer to chat. That just means that there will have to be a next time πŸ˜‰

      The way things are looking now I’ll probably end up spending my birthday in Vietnam. I arrived here last week but have a 90-day visa and a tendency to move slow. But that’s okay, I need to slow down and catch up on my writing. Not sure whether it’s more pitiful or embarrassing that I’ve fallen so far behind but alas, here I am. Time to put writing ahead of exploring, at least for a few weeks πŸ™‚ However I will be making it to Myanmar at some point this year….that country is high on my list now!

      Italy…boring?! No way! I just had dinner with friends here in Hanoi and one was from Italy. There was a lot of travel talk and one thing that was apparent is that Italy is anything but boring. Routine or run of the mill for you two, sure, but not boring. Let me know when you need a house-sitting and provided it is for a long enough period to justify the airfare from Asia, count me in! πŸ˜€

      Reply

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