When’s The Wedding?
Spring of 2017 was just around the corner. My girlfriend and I had been dating for a little over year but it felt much longer. It was probably because what started off as just roommates quickly became a couple living together. Without realizing it, we reached the point where we were surrounded by that wonderful question: So… when are you guys getting married?
Married? Not sure yet. I had never really put much thought into it. Don’t get me wrong, I have always envisioned getting married, but that had always felt to be far off into the very, distant future. Marriage wasn’t something I needed to worry about anytime soon… right? Wrong! The future was here and now. It was time to make the next major step in this journey we call life.
By the age of 26, I had been to enough weddings to realize that it wasn’t cheap. I would ask my close friends or their parents the cost for the special day. The lowest figure I personally knew about was roughly $20k, the highest was over $100k, and the median was probably around $40k. Any quick online search will tell you that the average wedding in the US will run you around $30k.
Here I was, jumping ahead of myself. I had to take a step back. Apparently I needed to propose before getting married. That means I still had to buy an engagement ring. Another online search will tell you that the average cost of an engagement ring is around $6k (I saw some $3k results as well). I asked a couple coworkers who said they spent roughly $15k!
I don’t want to think about how much certain expenses have gone up compared to salaries over the years. We already start off out of college with loads of student debt because college is a necessity for the world right? Don’t get me wrong, education is wonderful as long as the future cashflows can quickly pay off the debt and never ending accruing interest. While my mind is looking at my student loan debt, I turn around to discover that I need to drop over 30 THOUSAND DOLLARS for ONE PARTY?!
As far back as I can remember, we’ve never had to spend anything close to that for any sort of celebration or to have a good time!
Don’t even get me started on a diamond ring. Society wants me to drop $6k-$15k on something that loses more than 50% of its value seconds after purchase? What can we do with this diamond ring? Can I use this diamond ring to get us from point A to point B? Did we learn anything from this diamond that can help us succeed in life or strengthen our relationship?
I began doing more research on engagement ring costs and started to think of ideas on how to propose. I really wanted to do something special that no one had ever done before. Whatever it was, it had to be something challenging as well.
While I was thinking about what to do, I couldn’t help but be annoyed at how much I was supposed to spend on this ring and wedding.
Do you know how many of my friends who got married said: Man, with the money spent on our wedding, we could have had the most epic, insane honeymoon ever!
Every, single, one.
Is that not crazy? For those of us in our 20’s, we can easily come up with a list of things we could spend $30k on instead: rent, towards a down payment of a house, investing in stock & bonds, new car, or even the most epic, insane honeymoon ever!
That got me thinking, what sort of trip could I plan with that budget? I pulled up Google Maps and zoomed out to see the whole world.
Only one trip? With $30k? Pshhhh, I could easily plan more than ten different trips with that money! I could probably take Yagmur all over the world!
I wondered, what if I actually did spend that money on us traveling together as opposed to on our wedding? I would be the one paying for it anyways. I’d much rather spend that money on what I think we’d get the most out of.
So I asked myself: What would benefit us more in the future? Multiple opportunities to get to know each other in a deeper level, build countless memories where we would later look back in our old age and laugh about, and basically travel all over the world or have an average wedding in the US?
I can’t remember if I even finished asking myself that question before I already knew the answer. We were going to travel the world instead. With the proposal still in mind, I began to run a few ideas in my head. Then it hit me. What if I took her on a trip that literally spelled out will you marry me?
Could I do it by country? I began to try and spell it out but quickly failed. I needed two countries that began with the letter Y and there was only one, Yemen.
What about cities? I zoomed in on Europe. I decided to print out a map to plan it out.
Some letters were harder than most. What cities in Europe began with the letter Y? The more I searched for cities that could be used to spell out the question the more random they became to me, and I didn’t recognize them. Should there be a criteria on which cities I should pick? Maybe the population should be at least 1 million people?
Regardless, I soon concluded that to do all of this in one trip would be impossible. 14 letters meant 14 cities. 14 cities meant a minimum of 30 days if you spend only 2 days in each city and pretended that you could just teleport between cities. There’s no way I could get 4 consecutive weeks off from work anyways.
But what if I went global and spread out the trips over a year? What if I did capital cities? Could I do them in order? Now that would be a challenge!
I then discovered this wonderful website that listed all of the capitals, alphabetically sorted: Capital Cities of the World
I got some paper and began jotting down different combinations.
I started to get excited but told myself to relax. I took a deep breath and a step back. I had to really think about what I was about to do and plan out the big picture.
I needed to create rules, this proposal couldn’t be easy and needed structure. After a few minutes of thinking about the wedding/engagement ring costs and starring at the world map, I came up with a plan that had the following rules and guidelines:
- The 14 cities which spell out WILL YOU MARRY ME must be capital cities of countries.
- A country is defined as the following: If you can play for the FIFA World Cup, you’re a country.
- I have to go in order. Start with W, then I, etc.
- There will be a budget on all of Yagmur’s trips totaling $15,000. Each city has a budget of $1,000. The ring has a budget of $1,000. Anything left over from traveling can go towards the ring.
- Any credit card points used for traveling will be split evenly between me and her.
- I will start in the Summer of 2018 and must finish by Summer of 2019.
- I have to write down every single expense.
- I will write a blog post about each of the fourteen cities (Almost no one knew my real reason for each post but making it public made it easier for me to stay accountable).
Her budget was perfect. It was the cost of the most expensive engagement ring I knew of. Combined with mine, the total budget would be roughly $30k, the average wedding cost in the US. We would basically spend our wedding money on us traveling the world.
The best part? Well, I have always believed you don’t really know someone until you’ve both lived with them, and traveled with them. When you live with someone, you get to see them in their natural habitat. When you travel (backpacking/hostels, nor resorts/hotels) with someone, you get to see them far outside of their comfort zone. Seeing someone in both extremes gives you a really good idea of who they are.
At this point in our lives, we had only done the former. If we were going to spend the rest of our lives together, we should be spending that money on getting to know each other better and by making memories. Plus, why spend all that money making one moment when we could have fourteen moments instead?
This Is Crazy
I told a few close friends of the idea and they all thought I had lost my mind. Some even thought I couldn’t do it. In about a year? In order? With a budget? There’s no way.
This felt impossible. I only had so much vacation each year. My girlfriend had even less vacation than I did. The quickest I thought I could do it was two years. Not only that, there was only one capital that began with the letter I, only one that began with the letter U, only one that began with the letter E, and only three (of which I needed two) that began with the letter Y. Plus, I had to somehow keep this a secret from her? This cannot be done.
I honestly began to doubt myself. I caught up with my close friend Emine to try and figure out how I was going to be able to do this. She tried to see if we could spell it out in Turkish but that just made it much worse!
Should I just go out of order and somehow spell it out at the end? I asked Emine defeated. I needed to be realistic and was now asking for the impossible.
Emine began to think for a short period of time. Soon after, she turned to me and said: No Shawn, if you’re going to do something, you need to do it right. You can do this.
She was absolutely correct. There was no cutting corners. If there was one person I knew on this planet that could do this, it was me. Or at least that’s what I needed to begin telling myself. My greatest talent was traveling the world on a budget, wasn’t it?
So to my past-self, here’s a picture from your future fiancée for doubting yourself. Don’t you ever let that happen again!
Take it one capital city at a time. If possible, I would try to group what cities I could together in a single trip, do my best to stick within her budget for each upcoming journey, find some excuse of why I picked where we were going, and somehow not get fired from work along the way.
I told my girlfriend that I wanted to create a new series in my amateur travel blog called: The Adventures of Shawn & Yagmur. I bought her a world map with a necessary plaque at the bottom left hand corner. She became very excited and didn’t think anything of it when it came to me documenting our adventures.
1. W | Washington D.C., U.S.A. | Sunday, July 1st, 2018
I started off easy. Baby steps… We headed down from NYC to DC to visit my mom and uncle the weekend before the 4th of July. We barbecued, relaxed, and explored DC a little.
Babe, let’s take a picture together I said, giving the camera to my uncle. This was the beginning of our trend to take a picture in every city.
That evening, we were planning to head back to NYC. Unfortunately, the bus we booked never arrived. Yagmur began to ask around and found us another bus company to take us back. As I got us a refund, Yagmur paid for 2 seats on a bus to get us back to New York.
Once home, I told Yagmur we would pin the main cities red and other cities white. I added some of our previous trips in the US on the map to throw her off.
I had also bought a little notebook where I ended up writing all of our expenses.
Luckily for me, the capital of the US is Washington D.C. That definitely helped out the budget from the start. Yagmur’s expenses below include the cost of the map.
Little did Yagmur know, I had just collected my first letter: W
Check out the full post of Washington D.C. which includes everything we did with a full breakdown of her budget here: The Adventures of Shawn & Yagmur – Washington D.C., USA
2. I | Islamabad, Pakistan | Tuesday, July 17th, 2018
I’ll be honest with you guys, Pakistan isn’t high on the list of top tourist destinations for travelers from the U.S. (U.S. Customs officials didn’t think so either but more on that later). Usually from the U.S. you’ll probably choose Mexico, Canada, or somewhere in Europe. Fortunately for me, because this was our first international trip, Yagmur was looking forward to visiting anywhere I had in mind.
Getting the visa was a pain but after applying, waiting for weeks, and checking in on the consulate every now and then, we got our visas. I was super stressed at the time because Islamabad was the only capital in the world that begins with the letter I. If our visas would have been denied, it would have been the end of my international proposal.
The main lesson learned on this trip was that every situation needs to be put into the correct perspective. Many times we can enter a situation where we show up with a negative bias that leads us to be fearful when we really don’t have to be. This really hit hard at the very end of our trip which brought me to write a blog post about a military checkpoint stop: The Lahore Airport Scare. Don’t worry, nothing bad happened nor was anything bad going to happen.
The moral of the story is that we can avoid becoming fearful of exaggerated, extreme, negative possibilities by being realistic and analyzing events from the perspective of all parties in the situation. If we don’t, we will open the door to an irrational fear that tends to lead us to poor decision making and actually make matters worse. The main problem is that even though the fear may technically have no real foundation the emotion that is felt is absolutely real.
Outside of the little hiccup previously mentioned, Pakistan was definitely a cool country to visit. Our itinerary included Islamabad, Lahore, and the Wahga Border!
We got to explore all of Islamabad and even made a new friend through Matt, Faruk!
In Lahore, we fell in love with the Badshahi Mosque.
I also took Yagmur on her first tuktuk ride after we inadvertently almost went for a swim post a good amount of rain 😉
Somewhere along the way I got to try some awesome brain masala for super cheap! For those of us earning USD, you can check out how cheap it is for us to travel in Pakistan here: Average Daily Costs To Visit Pakistan
We also made it to the Wahga Border which was a unique experience we’ll never forget! I must say, the motorcycle ride there and back was definitely a blast.
You can check out more about the Wahga Border here: The Wahga Border – Pakistani side
As mentioned before, I kept track of all of our expenses in my little notebook. Here’s the life to date costs including our trip to Pakistan.
The next letter was now unlocked: I
Check out the full post of our trip to Islamabad, Pakistan which includes everything we did with a full breakdown of her budget here: The Adventures of Shawn & Yagmur: Islamabad, Pakistan
3. L | Lima, Peru | Monday, August 20th, 2018
This one was easy. I just told Yagmur she should meet my family and I could take her around my other country: Peru. She was totally up for it. When Betty & Ron heard we were going they were like: We’re down!!! 😀
So we all went to Peru and had an awesome time. We started off in Lima where I spent time with the fam bam.
After a few days in Lima, we flew to Cusco and immediately headed over to Pavitos streets where we hopped on a combi headed to Ollantaytambo.
We spent a day there exploring and had so much delicious soup.
The next day we woke up before sunrise to catch our train to Aguas Calientes!
Once there, we hiked up to my favorite world wonder: Machu Picchu! For those interested, here’s a guide on how to visit Machu Picchu in one day: How To Visit Machu Picchu In One Day: Everything You Need To Know and here’s a guide on how to buy entrance tickets: How To Buy Machu Picchu Tickets: A Step By Step Guide
P.S. Don’t take the bus up from Aguas Calientes if you’re in regular shape and don’t have kids with you. It’s only a little over an hour of a hike up and has spectacular views along the way.
After visiting the world wonder, we took the last train back to Ollantaytambo, checked out of our Airbnb, enjoyed more soup, and finally took a combi back to Cusco. The next morning, we joined a tour to visit Rainbow Mountain. I highly recommend anyone traveling to Cusco to go see Rainbow Mountain as well. Here’s a post for those visiting: Rainbow Mountain Peru: Everything You Need To Know
Although the hike itself is easy, the altitude is what destroys you. We were by no means acclimated for this hike so give yourself at least 3 days in Cusco. Bring lots of water and ibuprofen for the trip!
Our only rule was to make it to the top without the help of any horses or donkeys.
You better believe that each of us made it up!
Heading back wasn’t any easier. Yagmur began to feel faint. We got some water and chocolate in her system to keep her going. However, just in case, on our way back around a hill, I told Yagmur to make sure her toes were pointed towards the side of the hill as opposed to the edge. I figured that if she were to faint, she’d most likely fall towards the direction of her momentum. It’s always better to fall towards the hill than away from it. 😉
Don’t worry guys, I was constantly checking up on her and never left her side. We made it back safe and sound. 🙂
Peru was easy. The trip went smooth, we got to visit my family, and even explore some of Peru’s gems. Everything seemed fine until we flew back with a layover at Fort Lauderdale airport…
We both received one of those big Xs across our customs form and headed to the other line. Once it was our turn, we were told that we needed to head over to some room so that they can do further checks on Yagmur. Unsure of what that meant, we headed over to some waiting area that had multiple offices.
Long story short, a US Customers officer came over and interviewed Yagmur and I separately. After he finished interviewing Yagmur, I was called in and he jumped right into it, wanting to know why we went to Pakistan. I gave him a tourism spiel. He then began to ask about where I’ve traveled to in my whole life.
“Do you mean everywhere in the world?” I asked.
“Yes.” he replied.
“Alright.” I shrugged and we started in the Western Hemisphere, and worked our way east. Every time I hit a country he had interest in, he would ask more in depth questions. After going through every country I’ve been to and him asking about over a dozen cities, he leaned in unsatisfied and said: “Okay… I hear you… but I still don’t understand why you would go to Pakistan.”
This guy was good. I didn’t want to tell anyone about my plan outside of a trusted circle but I figured this was an exception to that rule. Meanwhile, poor Yagmur was having a heart attack as she stressfully waited for my turn to be up. She had recently read horror stories of people being turned away upon arrival in the US even though they had a valid visa or a green card. I knew I had to end my interview now.
I sighed and gave in.
“Alright, I’ll tell you, but only if you promise not to tell my girlfriend out there.” I told him with a head nod towards the door. His eyes widened with a flash of excitement. To say I piqued his interest is an understatement.
The man clapped his hands, put his elbows on the table, and leaned in saying: “Of course. Go on…”
“I’m working on my proposal. I’m spelling out the question Will you marry me? by taking her to capital cities around the world.”
He raised an eyebrow and we got to talking about it. I walked him through the plan, where I was planning on taking her, and where we had just been.
“Good luck man,” he said and we were on our way.
After Yagmur told me about her interview, she asked me how my interview went.
“I just told him the truth. We both said the truth and our stories matched, it’s all good babe.” I told her and left it at that 😉 [To the US Customs border agent at Fort Lauderdale. I wasn’t lying and I did it! Please tell someone to get us off whatever list we’re now on because every time we’ve come back to the U.S. since, we get the big X on our customs form! We are tired of going to the “extra security check” line, Thanks!]
*Note: On our way back from Pakistan we went through US Customs in Abu Dhabi, UAE with no issue. The issue with US Customs about Pakistan was from our trip back from Lima, Peru*
For our trip to Lima, we slightly exceeded her budget again but we’re still overall under budget by this point:
We somehow managed to make it back home with our next letter: L
Check out the full post of Lima, Peru which includes everything we did with a full breakdown of her budget here: The Adventures of Shawn & Yagmur – Lima, Peru
4. L | London, England | Saturday, September 8th, 2018
London almost didn’t happen thanks to me. Remember that interview in Fort Lauderdale from our layover from Lima? Well, it took way too long so we never made it our NYC flight. On top of that, our airline had no more empty seats in the remaining NYC flights for that day. We both had work the next day so we had to make it back somehow. With no more flights to NYC, we had our airline fly us to the next closest city.
Boston… here we come! I passed out on our new flight to Boston because I couldn’t sleep on our redeye flight from Lima. Once we landed in Logan, I booked us two bus tickets directly back to NYC. Right before we got on the bus I told Yagmur to do a quick passport/green card check even though I made sure she had hers before we exited the plane.
“Weird, where’s my passport?” I asked out loud as I searched all my pockets. I thought I had misplaced it but slowly began to realize it was really gone. I stopped breathing. It was Sunday and we had a flight to London (our next city) on Friday that same week.
I told Yagmur to head home without me. I was going to trace back my steps and try to find it. It was all in vain. I checked 3 different lost & founds between the bus/train station and the airport. I figured that it must have fallen out of my jacket pocket on the plane when I was sleeping. The worst part was, I had checked to make sure Yagmur had her passport and Green Card right before we exited the plane but I did not check my own.
I was devastated. How could I, Mr. World Traveler, have let this happen? Was it amateur season or something?
I immediately did some research online and found out that if I had an upcoming flight, I would qualify to get an expedited passport in a few days. I found an appointment for Tuesday in NYC and ended up getting my passport the following day on Wednesday. The sigh of relief I let out with my new passport in hand was heard all the way down Hudson street.
For our flight to London and onward, I created a new rule. Yagmur was now in charge of all passports because I had lost my privilege. Passports lost in my life: 2. Yagmur’s count: 0. The numbers speak for themselves.
With my new passport in Yagmur’s hands, we got on our flight to London. Fortunately for me, my company has an office in London and our team had just worked on a project with our London counterparts. My good friend Matt and I were going to work from the London office the first week of September. Yagmur ended up giving her job an ultimatum and got 2 weeks off approved 😉
With our good friend Matt, we hung around London for an entire week.
He took us all around his favorite city.
Of course we found Emine along the way and forced her to get McNasty with us late at night.
With all the back to back trips and visas needed for Yagmur, I had to pay a little extra to expedite her U.K. visa which brought up the total visa costs to $498! After the first 3 international trips, we depleted the budget cushion we had made from our trip to D.C.
This was the only time in my life back to back Ls were acceptable: L
Check out the full post of our trip to London, England which includes everything we did with a full breakdown of her budget here: The Adventures of Shawn & Yagmur: London, England
5. Y | Yerevan, Armenia | Saturday, September 15th, 2018
I had merged London and Yerevan into the same trip. In order to save some money, I bought us a ticket from London to Kiev’s western airport and a separate ticket from Kiev’s eastern airport to Tbilisi, Georgia. It was cheaper to fly to Tbilisi with a large layover in Kiev and return to the New York from Yerevan, Armenia.
It was a rainy morning in Kiev but we made it across the city by tram…
…and by bus.
We made it to the always comfortable, economy seats on our next flight!
My excuse to Yagmur for traveling to Tbilisi and Yerevan was that I wanted to take advantage of being in London and travel elsewhere in Europe. I told her that we didn’t have time to get her a Schengen visa (honestly we didn’t) which would give her access to the majority of Europe. I then explained that it would be easiest to travel to Georgia and Armenia because she didn’t need a visa for Georgia and could easily get one online for Armenia.
We had a great time in Tbilisi! Extra points for the capital of Georgia because it helped throw off Yagmur from the trail I was making.
After a few days in Tbilisi, we took an overnight train to Yerevan!
In the middle of the night, the border patrol gets on the train and checks everyone’s passport. Those who need a visa (even if it’s online) need to get off the train and go through customs. Yagmur wasn’t a fan of getting separated from me at the middle of the night again but I told her to stick with the other foreigners and she’d be fine.
Soon after, she got back on the train and we fell fast asleep. The next morning, we arrived to the beautiful city of Yerevan.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many public water fountains in one city, in my life!
Combining trips and purchasing flights separately, we were able to bring her under budget.
On to the next word with this tricky letter: Y
Check out the full post of our trip to Yerevan, Armenia which includes everything we did with a full breakdown of her budget here: The Adventures of Shawn & Yagmur – Yerevan, Armenia
6. O | Ottawa, Canada | Sunday, October 14th, 2018
From the two countries that border the US, both of their capitals begin with a letter that can be used for my wonderful question. It would have been a pity if I didn’t take advantage of at least one of them. By each of us taking a personal day on a Friday, we were able to have a 3 day getaway to Montreal & Ottawa!
International weekend adventure to Canada? No convincing was needed. First stop was Montreal.
It doesn’t matter how you look, as long as she looks good, the picture is good.
Sunday morning, we hopped on a train to Ottawa!
One of the coolest things about Ottawa was being able to visit Parliament Hill and the surrounding area.
Canada was a breeze except for at the very end. Our flight back to NYC had pretty bad turbulence.
A huge win for her budget though, a special thank you to our neighbors up north.
A bumpy ride back with this one but we made it safe and sound with our next letter: O
Check out the full post of our trip to Ottawa, Canada which includes everything we did with a full breakdown of her budget here: The Adventures of Shawn & Yagmur – Ottawa, Canada
7. U | Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia | Sunday, April 7th, 2018
I really had to think about how I was going to sell this one. There’s only one capital city in the world that begins with the letter U and it was on the other side of the globe! I began looking at the next possible cities to see if I could merge more cities into one trip.
After searching a million different combinations of capital cities and dates to make the most of my 2 week vacation in 2019, I came up with this crazy trip that had 6 separate tickets with 10 flights in total:
There was almost no room for errors. We would be knocking out 4 cities back to back within 2 weeks!
I ended up telling Yagmur that I wanted to create an epic trip with only countries that didn’t require her to get a visa. I was tired of applying for them 😉 The qualifying 4 countries made it to the finals: Mongolia, Belarus, Turkey, and Morocco.
At this point, Yagmur wasn’t working because she was focusing on going back to school. That made it easy for us to be able to fly whenever I could take time off.
Everything was smooth sailing with our arrival to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
We did a lot of exploring in this capital city.
On one of our days in Mongolia, we decided to take a tour to the Genghis Khan Statue Complex and the National Park.
We ended up visiting a family that lived in a ger.
Everything was great until the horseback riding. Long story short, Yagmur’s horse went berserk and took off. With Yagmur hanging on for dear life, the two guides and I sped after her. One of the guides was able to stop her horse. Believe me when I tell you, it’s incredible that Yagmur didn’t get thrown off her horse.
To say Yagmur was shaken up and afraid of what had just happened doesn’t even come close to how she was feeling. I wouldn’t blame her for being traumatized from the experience. However, she couldn’t allow a horse, or anything beat her and keep her permanently down. After she took the time she needed to pull herself together and push her fear aside, we switched horses and made our way back.
After having enough adventures for one day, we headed back to the Airbnb and began to pack for our next city.
By using airfare points on our flight to Ulaanbaatar and shifting our Minsk flight costs to the Minsk budget, we were able to push down our Ulaanbaatar costs to only $322!
She had to hang on tight for this letter: U
Check out the full post of our trip to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia which includes everything we did with a full breakdown of her budget here: The Adventures of Shawn & Yagmur – Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
8 . M | Minsk, Belarus | Thursday, April 11th, 2019
The letter M almost stood for Mistake. Do we need a visa for Mongolia? Nope. Do we need a visa for Belarus? Nope. Do we need a visa for Russia? Well, I don’t but Yagmur does. Did it matter? Yes!
So apparently, if you fly from Moscow, Russia to Minsk, Belarus you need a Russian visa. Did it matter if you don’t need a Russian Visa in general? Nope. Does it matter that you just happen to be in Moscow for a layover and have no intention of leaving the international zone of the airport? Nope. Should I have paid attention to the layover when I bought our tickets from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia to Minks, Belarus? Yes!
Also found out that Russia and Belarus form some sort of Union State. That’s why they have these weird traveling rules…
Long story short, the Aeroflot attendant directing people where to go at our layover in Moscow gave me my 2 options. She said we couldn’t go left and enter Russia without Russian visas. She also said we couldn’t go right and enter the international zone because our tickets were to Minsk. After letting us know what we couldn’t do and telling us nothing else, I decided that Yagmur and I would just sit and stay at Sheremetyevo airport for the rest of our lives. Just kidding.
I wasn’t sure what to do. At one point, Yagmur had the audacity to say: “it’s okay aşkim, let’s just fly directly to Ankara.” Did she think I was going to give up half way through the proposal?
“This is my mistake, I’ll fix it. Believe me, nothing is stopping us from getting to Minsk.” I sternly confirmed.
The next move? Of course Ukraine. Neither of us needed a visa to visit. Obviously *rolls eyes* there were no direct flights to Ukraine from Russia so we flew via a layover in Riga. This trip had just gotten a little bit more complicated…
We made it to Kiev and had the chance to hang out with an old friend of mine, Artem, for the night! 🙂
The next morning Artem dropped us off at the airport and we were on our way. Thanks again Artem!
We barely had a day but we made it to Minsk. The Russian I know definitely helped when figuring out how to get to the city from the airport by minibus.
Probably the most expensive day trip of our lives at $867 for her!
No visa, no sleep, no problem. There wasn’t anything that was going to stop me from getting the next letter: M
Check out the full post of our trip to Minsk, Belarus which includes everything we did with a full breakdown of her budget here: The Adventures of Shawn & Yagmur – Minsk, Belarus
9. A | Ankara, Turkey | Friday, April 12th, 2019
Can you believe that when I was planning this trip in December of last year, I also had Astana, Kazakstan in mind for the letter A? My plan would have been crushed without me even knowing it! I introduce to you the new capital of Kazakstan: Nursultan
Fortunately for me, I picked the capital of my girlfriend’s country: Turkey. This meant I could sit back and relax while Yagmur took me around 😉
We spent the majority of our time in Ankara hanging out with Yagmur’s friend, Ozge, at her awesome coffee shop.
We also got to visit Anıtkabir.
The next day we went on a road trip with Ozge and her fiancé, Meric, to Kapadokya. Meric went to college in Kapadokya which meant he could hook us up with a stone hotel room for super cheap.
Came with free breakfast too!
Yagmur’s other friend from NYC happened to be in Turkey with her boyfriend too! We all spent a couple days together exploring Kapadokya.
We also got our hands a little dirty.
We even explored an underground city.
Before sunset, we pulled over the side of the road to say high to 3 beauties.
Unfortunately, the weather was bad every morning we were in Kapadokkya, so we weren’t able to ride the hot air balloons. Next time!
The next day, we had a 12 hour layover in Istanbul so we decided to stop by and hang out with team Istanbul. I forgot to take a picture of the crew together so here’s an old one.
Combing trips helped yet again with keeping us under budget for this city.
Bonus points for including her country in our adventures for the next letter: A
Check out the full post of our trip to Ankara, Turkey which includes everything we did with a full breakdown of her budget here: The Adventures of Shawn & Yagmur – Ankara, Turkey
10. R | Rabat, Morocco | Tuesday April 16th, 2019
A red-eye flight from Istanbul to Casablanca and a train ride later brought us to the last capital city of our 2 week journey: Rabat, Morocco.
After checking into our Airbnb, we headed to Hassan Tower and explored the surrounding area.
We then made our way to Kasbah of the Udayas.
The next day we woke up bright and early and headed to Fes.
I especially loved the efficient, all natural train toilets.
Once we arrived to Fes, we headed straight to the Medina of Fes to explore.
We spent 2 days exploring Fes.
Believe me when I tell you, there is no way to not get lost in the Medina of Fes.
Don’t forget to make your way to the Palais Royal Dar El Makhzen.
Next up was a super early train ride to Marrakech.
We walked all over Marrakech. Pro Tip: Drink lots of freshly squeezed orange juice every opportunity you get.
The upside from the past 4 trips was that we were able to stay under her budget for each. 🙂
We definitely worked hard collecting our last letter from this 2 week vacation: R
Check out the full post of our trip to Rabat, Morocco which includes everything we did with a full breakdown of her budget here: The Adventures of Shawn & Yagmur: Rabat, Morocco
11. R | Reykjavik, Iceland | Saturday, May 11th, 2019
I was really nervous about Yagmur not getting the Schengen visa for Iceland because she wasn’t currently working (makes it harder to get approved for a visa). My remaining other options for the letter R would have been much more difficult. From the remaining 4 cities with the letter R, 3 of them needed a visa as well: Rome, Riga, and Riyadh. The remaining city Roseau, Dominica didn’t require a visa. Outside of visa issues, Reykjavik was the closest and cheapest city for us to visit for a 3 day getaway. Roseau, Dominica was pretty far and hard to get to.
Fortunately for me, we were able to get Yagmur a Schengen visa. We were only given 4 days but hey, it’s better than nothing!
I realized later that it wasn’t her visa approval I should have been worried about, it was whether our airline would go bankrupt or not…
Believe me when I tell you, if it’s not one thing, it’s another. Life doesn’t like to make anything easy. With the trip weeks away, I had to figure something out. Fortunately for us, Yagmur’s 4-day visa was valid within a 3 week window. I quickly scrambled to book new tickets (I did get a full refund) and re-book our Airbnb. My new tickets were double the cost of the WOW Air tickets. Maybe that’s the reason they went bankrupt…
I rescheduled when I would take my personal day and we headed off to Reykjavik for another international weekend getaway. Straight from the airport we headed over to the Blue Lagoon!
After recovering from a red-eye flight at the spa, we headed to Reykjavik.
On Saturday, we took the Golden Circle tour which was spectacular.
The expedited visa + expensive country + last minute rebooking of flights = a very expenses 3 day weekend.
Not even a bankruptcy was going to stop me from getting the next letter: R
Check out the full post of our trip to Reykjavik, Iceland which includes everything we did with a full breakdown of her budget here: The Adventures of Shawn & Yagmur – Reykjavik, Iceland
12. Y | Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire | Wednesday, June 19th, 2019
When I had spoken to the US Customs agent last year in Fort Lauderdale, he told me that if I had to pick between Côte d’Ivoire or Cameroon (remaining 2 countries with their capital city beginning with the letter Y), that I should pick Cameroon (for safety reasons according to him).
Unfortunately, getting a visa for Cameroon had to be done in person at the consulate in D.C. However, getting a visa for Côte d’Ivoire could be done online. Having no vacation days left to take off and apply for a visa in person, you can already conclude which country we would have to fly to next: Côte d’Ivoire.
It was the first time I needed to get a vaccine in order to apply for a visa.
After getting our Yellow fever vaccine, I waited anxiously for not only the Côte d’Ivoire visa to go through, but I also had to wait for the UK visa. I bought round trip tickets from London to Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire because they were super cheap and I needed to apply for a UK visa anyways.
After falling on my knees once I discovered both visas were approved, my blood pressure was able to drop back down to a more stable level.
Knowing that we would eventually need to go to Africa for the letter Y, I had told Yagmur that I had always wanted to do something different and travel to central Africa (thinking we would be going to Cameroon). Once I realized that Cameroon wasn’t an option, I slowly introduced the idea of visiting the largest church in the world which, believe it or not, is conveniently located in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire.
Our journey to Yamoussoukro begins with arriving to Côte d’Ivoire’s largest city: Abidjan. By chance, one of Yagmur’s, Turkish friend’s boyfriend actually lived in Abidjan! We hung out with our new friend Hasan almost every night there.
We couldn’t find a day tour to Yamoussoukro so we headed to the bus station and made up our own day trip. French 101 from high school definitely came in handy.
After a 4 hour bus and a quick cab ride, we made it to The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro!
On our way back to NYC, we spent a day & night in London. Somehow, my sister and cousins just happened to be there as well so we had a mini family reunion.
We dragged Emine out that night and met some chaps on the way home.
I must say, even though we went over budget, I think we did pretty good for a week off in Côte d’Ivoire with a dash of London at the end.
The third word was now complete with the collection of our next letter: Y
Check out the full post of our trip to Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire which includes everything we did with a full breakdown of her budget here: The Adventures of Shawn & Yagmur – Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire
13. M | Moscow, Russia | Monday, August 26th, 2019
Somehow, we had reached the point where I would now be planning the final trip of our adventures that would spell out the last word. But before I could begin planning, I had to face the grueling wait for yet another visa, one last time. Russia must have been talking to the Schengen states because they joined the Give Yagmur a 4 Day Visa club. Except this time, there was no traveling window, the 4 days were fixed.
The sigh of relief heard around the world this time was let out. All I needed was one shot and I got it. But before I could continue with the plan, I had to redirect the current narrative that went off course because I made the mistake of telling Yagmur that Edinburgh would be our last trip.
“She’s suspicious that something will happen there.” Betty told me after hanging out with Yagmur one evening. “Thanks for the heads up” I responded and began to figure out what my next move would be.
I got it. I just had to make up another final trip. Betty and Ron wanted in on our trip to Scotland, although only Betty was able to stay with us in Edinburgh. Nevertheless, I was going to use them as scapegoats.
“What are you looking at aşkim?” Yagmur asked as I looked at beautiful, hidden caves with pools of water in Cancun on my laptop before going to bed. “Babe, I was thinking. I didn’t realize Betty and Ron would come with us. I want our next trip to be just you and me so it can be romantic. Look how beautiful Cancun is!” I said as I showed her the pictures.
“Let’s do it! It’ll be easy because I don’t need a visa for Mexico!” Her eyes lit up, she was super excited for this romantic getaway.
My mom and sister knew it wasn’t real but did an excellent job suggesting that something big would happen then. To avoid having to buy tickets, I told Yagmur that we would plan the trip together right after we come back from Edinburgh.
Sometime before flying to Moscow, I saw Yagmur looking at a list of familiar countries & cities on her phone. I almost had a heart attack! She was trying to make sense of where we had traveled to/would be going!
It was a blessing that Yagmur had put the country first, followed by the city. Even better that she had added places that weren’t part of the list. I kept my reaction hidden and ignored what I had seen in order to make it seem that I was giving it no importance.
Once I felt like I had everything back under control, I began to focus on the actual plan. I had the following list of things I needed to figure out:
- Yagmur’s ring size.
- An estimated cost of the ring and purchase it.
- A plan for where the ring would get shipped to and how I would get it to NYC.
- A plan on how I would bring the ring and box to Moscow/Edinburgh without Yagmur noticing (She always organizes our backpacks for when we travel).
- How I would ensure Yagmur’s manicure and outfit were both on point for the proposal. *NOTHING ELSE ACTUALLY MATTERS OUTSIDE OF THIS*
(1) So I got to work. Betty was getting into hand modeling so I asked her to take Yagmur to a ring store, pretending she needed it for herself, and have Yagmur measure her ring size just for fun.
(2) For the ring, I made a rough estimate of the projected expenses for Moscow/Edinburgh and subtracted out the $2k net budgeted amount, plus the difference left over from the other trips which came out to: $2,680. I purchased the ring online and sent it to some friends in Delaware in order to save money on sales tax. We were planning to visit them on an upcoming weekend anyways, so I took advantage of that trip.
(3) Early Sunday morning, The weekend we stayed at my friends place in Delaware, I quietly went upstairs to my friend’s room where they gave me the ring. I kept the ring in my wallet for the bus ride back to NYC. I had my friend from Delaware ship the ring’s box to my job where I kept the box with the ring there until our trip.
(4) Betty was given the job to bring the ring’s box to Edinburgh. While she was in Midtown for errands, she was able to swing by my work to pick up the box.
(5) This one was not only the most important goal, it was also the trickiest. How do you tell a woman, expecting to be engaged soon, to dress up and look good for vacation without making her suspicious?
This one was a bit tricky but I quickly figured it out. Moscow was like a second home for me. I used to visit a lot back in the day and had a lot of close friends there. Anyways, if you’ve ever been to Moscow, you already know how fashionable those Moscovites are. I told her that we needed to look our best to blend in.
We were heading to Moscow/Edinburgh with a dress to impress mentality. I ensured that all of her outfits were IG certified. Now, it wouldn’t matter what she would wear when I propose because all of her outfits were on point. Oh and her nails? I picked out the color from the options she provided:
When it came to the ring, I kept it in my wallet the whole time. At the airport, I made sure that I went through security first in order to grab my wallet right away. 😉
I was especially happy that I could take Yagmur to meet my friends and show her around one of my favorite cities in the world.
I almost blew it on the last night in Moscow. I took out the ring to show the bartenders while Yagmur had stepped outside. I quickly realized she was coming back in and closed my hand to hide the ring. I asked the bartenders in Russian, right in front of Yagmur, if she saw it and they both assured me I was good.
Way too close for comfort. Oh, and we made a new friend at the bar. His name is Igor.
As always, flight and visa are the culprits of the large expenses when traveling.
Funny how we picked up the penultimate letter in Moscow: M
Check out the full post of our trip to Moscow, Russia which includes everything we did with a full breakdown of her budget here: The Adventures of Shawn & Yagmur – Moscow, Russia
14. E | Edinburgh, Scotland | Wednesday, August 28th, 2019
The last letter. I almost couldn’t believe it. We had somehow made it to our 14th and final city! I kept my cool and made sure to not give anything away when we arrived that night.
After catching up with Betty & Ron at the Airbnb, we all headed to bed. The next morning, Ron headed out extra early to catch his flight. Once I woke up, I decided that I would propose at Calton Hill. I figured the earlier we go, the less crowded it would to take pictures. While Yagmur was in the bathroom getting ready, I asked Betty to put the engagement ring box in her toiletry bag and to leave it in the bathroom. I then quickly slipped in and got the box, placed the ring inside, and put it in my jacket pocket.
Soon after, we headed to a coffee shop for breakfast. I made sure to keep Yagmur on the opposite side of where the box was in my jacket while we walked. This was the final lap and I couldn’t mess anything up. After an injection of caffeine, we headed up the hill.
My heart was pounding. I had made it so far in this journey. I was minutes away from the end and I had no idea how I was going to do it. Should I tell her the whole plan first then propose? Should I surprise her first and then tell her about it? After years of planning to make it to this very moment, I had not planned the final execution.
We reached the top without me saying too much. I had decided that I was going to surprise her but I wasn’t sure just yet on how I would do it. We turned to our left and were facing the Dugald Stewart Monument. “You know, Edinburgh’s nickname is Athens of the North” Betty said breaking the silence…
As I looked around, I found the perfect spot for what would be our last picture. “Let’s take our city pic right over there.” I told Yagmur and we all headed to the final spot.
In order to buy myself more time, I told Betty and Yagmur to stand next to each other so I could find a good angle. At this point, I still had no idea how I was going to surprise Yagmur for our proposal.
Next, I showed Betty roughly where I wanted the picture taken. Yagmur had already taken off her jacket and told me to do the same. My heart sank as I slowly took of my jacket and laid it next to hers. The ring was now out of reach, lying in a pile of jackets next to Betty.
“Hmmmm, Athens of the North right? Let’s try a philosopher pose” was the best I could come up with at the time.
“Wait, philosophers always look into the distance.” I told Yagmur as I made her look away from Betty. This was it. Now was my chance.
“Don’t move babe, I want to make sure the angle is right.” I told Yagmur as I swiftly grabbed the box from my coat pocket that was lying next to Betty and got into position.
“Babe” I told Yagmur and she turned around.
Will you marry me?
She said yes!
I then explained to her how our travels were all part of one huge proposal. She couldn’t believe it. As I made her spell it out, I turned to Betty and noticed she was balling her eyes out. Somehow, through all her tears, Betty was able to take over 500 hundred pictures in just a matter of minutes. Not only that, her camera phone also records a video because it sensed movement.
Everything worked out perfectly at the end. Yagmur called her family and friends to tell them the good news.
*Special thanks to Betty for not only coming and helping with the plan, but for also capturing the moment perfectly!*
We had an awesome time in Edinburgh.
At one point we may have had too much fun.
Emine and Sam even came up from London to celebrate as well!
What a journey! Happy to see the below table with all 14 cities! I must say, we did pretty good and ended up $1.5k below budget!
She stuck around long enough for me to get our final letter: E
Check out the full post of our trip to Edinburgh, Scotland which includes everything we did with a full breakdown of her budget here: The Adventures of Shawn & Yagmur – Edinburgh, Scotland
I’m proud of how many places we visited with the time we had. Trying to maintain a budget for all of these cities and having to go in order was very difficult but not impossible. I’m going to give myself a pass on the budget and just consider the $172 a rounding error 😉
To say I learned a lot is an understatement. When it came to planning the engagement, I learned two huge things that helped make the proposal happen:
(1) Dream big but plan small. As I write this last blog post, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by this entire journey. It reminds me of the feeling I had at the very beginning of the trip. When I had taken a step back to look at the big picture, it felt like an impossible task. The key to succeeding was to plan what needed to be planned at the moment it needed to be planned. The overwhelmed feeling comes when you try to plan everything all at once. That’s impossible. You need to create a shell of an idea, divide the shell into pieces, then fill each piece of the shell with results. Understand that the greatest journeys take years and sometimes even decades so don’t expect to reach the top overnight, or any time soon.
(2) Opportunity is everywhere. The amount of times I needed to come up with a parallel reason for why we were traveling were endless: Visit family in Peru, go to London for work, travel to countries where we don’t need a visa, etc. Not to mention at the very end I needed to figure out how to surprise Yagmur for her proposal. I ended up using what Betty had just told us minutes earlier to come up with a distraction so I could surprise Yagmur 🙂 Opportunity is never clearly labeled as Opportunity. Almost always, you will need to create it with what’s around you. With a little creativity, you can make an opportunity out of anything.
We had the chance to experience so many different places that were outside of our comfort zone. Sometimes, the places we booked weren’t the most comfortable. Other times, we were exhausted from red-eye flights or midnight traveling. Nothing was perfect and some parts of our trip were difficult. However, every moment we had traveling together was an opportunity for us to grow together. Here are 3 key takeaways we learned from traveling together which really improved our relationship, that some may find useful.
(1) Get rid of your insecurities. Since you can’t date yourself, you will always find something about your significant other that you won’t like/bothers you. I split those differences up into 2 categories: deal breakers and nonsense. Deal breakers are the very big and highly important beliefs that you both have to agree on or you’ll never have a healthy relationship. An example for me is how money is spent. If one person tends to save/budgets and the other person spends like there’s no tomorrow/doesn’t understand what a budget is, well then, good luck. I’ve found that everything else that isn’t a deal breaker (majority of things) but may lead to disagreements, and even arguments, stems from our own insecurities.
Insecurities keep us from making the optimal decision when we think it didn’t come from our own head. This leads to petty fights, arguments, and a lot of blah blah blah which translates to wasted time. We are human. We make mistakes. Learn from it. Grow from it. Here’s how we got rid of it.
(a) Tell each other all about your insecurities. You’ll be spending forever together so go through them all and make sure to be honest with yourself and with your significant other. If there’s something either of you don’t like about yourselves then work together to change it. If you can’t change it then don’t worry about it. Reinforce each other with positivity and give zero value to the negativity from the insecurity.
(b) Create a reference point and remind yourself/each other about it. Insecurity is driven from the fear of others thinking you have failed or you are not good enough for something. This basically translate to self-doubt. Look back at your life and think about the hardest thing you ever went through or accomplished. Every time either of you have any self-doubt, remind yourself and each other, of how if you were able to succeed before, you can definitely succeed again.
Yagmur’s reference point is being the first of her siblings (she’s the youngest of three) to travel and live abroad. Mine is a motorcycle journey I did from Shanghai, China to the Vietnamese border, one cold December years ago. Whatever your reference point is, use it to remind yourself that if you put your mind to something, you can really accomplish it.
(2) Follow the: I’m always right rule. This one is very simple:
- If I’m right and you’re wrong then I’m right. End of story.
- If I’m wrong and you’re right, then I will change my way to your way. Now, I’m right.
- If I’m wrong and you’re wrong, then well, I guess we must be perfect for each other.
Kidding aside, as a couple, we should always be working together to be wiser. Wiser means to choose the best choice, regardless of where it came from. Since we’re not insecure anymore, we’re okay with being wrong and accepting our significant other’s way when it’s a better option. If we’re truly wise, why shouldn’t we be able to both logically choose the best option? We don’t need to waste time with the whole well that’s just who I am and I am not going to change nonsense. We should always be changing as we learn and understand new things. It’s called growing, and as my mom always says: The day I stop learning is the day I die.
(3) Set up time to talk about it after cooling off. We’re all human, things happen, we still might end up arguing. Sometimes, there’s no time to figure it out at the moment or you both are just too heated. It’s okay, set up time that night to talk about it after you both cool-off. Communication is truly key. Address every argument no matter what. Don’t allow for any ambiguity or negative build up.
Keep in mind that everyone has a different cool-off period. I discovered that mine is usually around 5 minutes while Yagmur might need to sleep on it. Whenever you’ve both cooled off and thought it through, link up and talk. Ask yourselves, How does this argument help us become stronger in our relationship? Most likely there’s no benefit whatsoever. In that case, be adults and drop it. Be empathetic, apologize if you’re in the wrong, and move on. Let’s not waste the little time we have on this planet arguing with each other, let’s go out there and travel the world instead!
Well folks, there you have it. This is the end of The Adventures of Shawn & Yagmur: Proposal Edition. I hope you enjoyed the ride in joining us on this journey. I’m not sure if Yagmur will allow any more of my travel ideas so stay tuned to see if I can get a Season 2 approved.
In the meantime, don’t let that train depart without you on it or that flight take-off without you on board. There is so much to see in this world and even more to experience. So go out there and embark on an epic adventure that you will never forget.
Where will you go?
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2 Comments on “The Adventures of Shawn & Yagmur – The International Proposal”
Congratulations! What was her reaction after the initial shock? Did you get married? Is she ok with not having a wedding party or maybe you will pull an epic honeymoon trip?
Need an epilogue to this, as the proposal is only the beginning.
Thanks so much!! She was definitely shocked and couldn’t believe I pulled it off without her knowing 😉 She’s very cost conscious as well and loved how we used our wedding money to travel the world instead. I still need to figure out the honeymoon but you can believe it will be somewhere relaxing in one spot as opposed to the crazy adventure we had running from city to city 🙂