Photography and words by Alex Guion & Madelene Farin
Alex & Madie are a traveling couple from San Francisco. He’s French and she’s American (her parents are Filipino), and while their life in SF was great, after a few years of “normal jobs” their wanderlust got the best of them. So in April 2016, after six months of preparation, they left their daily life, jobs, and apartment for a full year of travel across Asia and South America (and yes, a bit of France).
Madie is a professional photographer, so the two of them have shared much of their SE Asia adventures of the past three months on Instagram (@alexandmadie). With a penchant for meeting and befriending locals and travelers alike, they still have a lot to look forward to in their yearlong journey. For those who can’t meet them, follow along on their stunning blog, www.alexandmadie.com.
We’re Alex & Madie, and this is How We Travel.
What do you love most about traveling?
Alex: I love the first few hours of a new place. It’s always a moment of awe, but a slightly uncomfortable one. The new things to see, smell and hear, nudge me a little, getting me to think in a different way, questioning what I know. Sometimes the differences are subtle, sometimes not, but there’s always something to discover and get lost in and – to Madie’s despair – I love to get lost. I love the first ride, whether in a taxi, a tuk-tuk or a bumpy bus ride. I wait impatiently for the first local meal; I’m a little more adventurous than her and quite often more unlucky, ending up with the unbearably spicy dish. But my favorite first is the first bond with a local, the one who welcomes you into their culture with open arms. Eventually that’s what we’re both looking for: learning about others and opening ourselves up a little more with each passing day.
Madie: You know when you’re anxious and uncomfortable, usually upon entering a new country? When you’re hyper-aware because of the uncertainty of the place or people, and your awareness is the only way to protect yourself? One of the things I love most about traveling is when those barriers are broken, our guards are down, and the fear is gone. I love the moments when we finally allow ourselves to be vulnerable again, and really start experiencing what the world and its beautiful places and people have to share with us.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned through all your travels?
Alex: Before we left, my Dad gave us this quote from René Char, a French poet: “Impose ta chance, serre ton bonheur et va vers ton risque. A te regarder, ils s’habitueront.” It roughly translates to:
“Impose your luck, hold your happiness close and move in the direction of risk. Others will get used to it.”
This is still the best lesson we’ve learned on our trip, and the one we keep learning. Traveling and getting a true experience takes a little luck and risk. We’ve learned to keep going forward, make the best of the moments of luck we experience and feel grateful to be together. Everything else is on the sidelines.
How has travel changed you as a person?
Madie: We’ve traveled a lot, both together and separately, but this time is different. Selling most of what you own, leaving the comfort of home, and starting a yearlong journey is (literally) life-changing. It’s likely I’ll change my answer in a few months, but for now, it’s realizing how little we actually need and how much we took for granted. We both had to learn how to live out of a 10-15 kg backpack and to have low expectations of where we would stay at night. Despite all that, we quickly found ourselves smiling a lot more than in the comfort of our home in San Francisco. It turns out we simply have much less to worry about.
What’s the one travel experience/story that has had the biggest impact on you?
Madie: I had an unexpected diving incident in Coron last month. I’m still not sure what led to my panic attack 18 meters underwater, but during the last and easiest dive of the day, I nearly drowned. I’ve done many dives as deep as Belize’s Blue Hole years ago, and as recent as in and out of the Taiei Maru wreck dive just a few hours before, and I’ve never really been physically scared of anything until this experience. It was strange to suddenly feel thankful for just a breath of air.
My fear escalated very quickly. I became paranoid, I questioned if I had asthma and I didn’t want to do anything physically demanding. I was genuinely scared of doing things for the very first time. Then, in true Alex fashion – he’s known for excellent “crisis prevention” – he reminded me of a few things: my fear should never stop me from doing or experiencing anything, and that leaving our comfort zone was the cornerstone of our travels.
The test to overcoming this fear was conquering Kawah Ijen a few weeks later. A rocky 3-hour night hike to see a blue flame ignited by toxic fumes of sulphuric gas in an active volcano, it’s warned that those with breathing issues, panic attacks, or sensitive eyes should not attempt it. So, it was pure joy for me to reach the flame and hike down after sunrise.
Alex: The beginning of our trip was in the Philippines, Madie’s parents’ homeland. We spent time with her distant family in their province, where the poverty of the Philippines was the most glaring. Despite our impoverished surroundings, it was the richest experience we’ve had, truly spending time with them and simply enjoying others’ company. It culminated in the village of Santa Catalina, close to Vigan. Her aunt and other family members were so happy to see us that they decided to kill and cook a goat for the Sunday lunch – all of in front of our eyes, of course. It was graphic, but they still respected the animal and made the most out of it; we even ate the skin! Madie managed to document it beautifully on the blog. This was probably the most authentic experience we’ve had, and I am still grateful to have been part of it.
Alex’s 5 Favorite Travel Items
A big head with lots of hair doesn’t fit in many caps. I found this one while in Hawaii 5 years back and haven’t left home without it since!
I can’t really travel anywhere without my Kindle. Every flight, stopover, overnight bus, or idle time of any sort will be spent on it. I try to read two books at a time, a non-fiction and a fiction. When you’re looking to travel light, having a couple hundred books in a lightweight item is the best, especially when you only need to charge it once a month! [Editor’s Note: Jacob, Gareth, and Josh all love their Kindles as well!]
Our friends in San Francisco gifted us a GoPro before we left. Mounted on a GoPole stick with a red filter, it makes the perfect travel companion for a scuba diver. We were able to capture an amazing video of manta rays in Komodo with it! [Editor’s Note: Rachel, Josh and Jacob also travel with GoPros of various types.]
Our Gregory 55L Z & Gregory 53L J Backpacks
We did a lot of research before finally settling on these backpacks. We even ordered a couple other ones and returned them – thanks Amazon! Our priorities were ~50L or less, comfortable for treks, and a front U-zipper opening like a suitcase, which is super important if you don’t want to rummage through the top of your pack every time you open it. These models of Gregory packs are the best combination of comfort, weight, and convenient travel.
I may have a few too many gadgets in my backpack, but this is by far my favorite one. Before we left, it was important for me to find a speaker with good acoustics and acceptable battery life we listen to so much music at home. This one packs a punch, and it’s water resistant too, which is a nice bonus. [Editor’s Note: Access to good music is equally important to Mishie, and she travels with the Minirig.]
Madie’s 6 Favorite Travel Items
This was my favorite jacket to wear back in San Francisco, so I’ve brought it along with me for the year as a reminder of home, and as a piece of comfort, both literally and figuratively. I always have it on when we fly, since it also goes well with everything, and has pockets large enough for my Kindle and our passports.
My Sony A7II & 35mm 2.8 Lens
I needed a new travel camera: something quick and lightweight, with a well-rounded prime lens good for street photography, portraits, and food. This setup has changed the way I work. Shooting, editing, and publishing a high-quality photo online can happen in just a few minutes with these tools (and VSCO, and my iPhone!). I am in love.
These shoes are super lightweight (see a theme here?) and have amazing grip, making it perfect for long walking tours in cities like Kuala Lumpur, or trekking through the muddy jungles of Sumatra!
With a free international data & texting plan, our iPhones have quickly become one of the most important items we own, simply for Google Maps, TripAdvisor, or a quick photo when my camera is away. Alex is a bit clumsy, so his phone has a FRĒ Waterproof Lifeproof case for added insurance!
Our Travel Bracelets
We didn’t take our wedding rings with us, so instead, we’re buying souvenir bracelets in every country we travel through.
I am super prone to getting bug bites, and finding a strong hydrocortisone cream over the counter is impossible, so we were happy to come across this magical natural remedy. Recommended to us by the owner of our Balinese homestay in Ubud, Bokashi is an essential oil made from several medicinal plants, like coconut oil and fermented lemongrass oil. It helps soothe bug bites and relieves sore throats in one tiny drop. We’re already trying to figure out how to get more!
Alex in 60 Seconds
Madie in 60 Seconds