Author: thetravelingsidekick

Your questions answered

Now that we’ve halted traveling for a few weeks, we’ve had some time to reflect on our adventure and your questions.

Here’s what you wanted to know.

What did you learn about dealing with some of your more stressful moments that had to be things you did not expect to have to deal with on this journey? 

We are champs are handling major issues. We can laugh it off when the camper catches fire or when we’re on the verge of running out of gas in the middle of nowhere Wyoming. I have a switch that flips automatically when huge obstacles get in my way. I can usually handle them calmly and swiftly and hold it all together. We kind of take turns being stressed. Not intentionally, it just happens that way now, which is a relief.

On the other hand, I often fall apart because of the small stuff. Maybe it’s just a release of the built-up stress over time that comes out when I drop a fork in the dirt or spill coffee on a cold morning in Yellowstone. Luckily, James balances me out and handles the insignificant stuff like a boss.

Of all the places you’ve seen and the things you’ve done in the past year what has been your favourite adventure?

This is such a difficult question, but a few things come to mind.

Having Bull Island to ourselves for a day.

Chasing my mountain fix in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

Hiking 40 miles in the Scottish Highlands.

And falling in love with Florence all over again.

What are the top 5 pieces of advice you would give to someone else who has the desire to just travel for a year? 

  1. Minimize – Get rid of as much junk as possible. The less stuff you have, the easier it is to pack and prioritize. Plus, it’s freeing not to have so much stuff laying around.
  2. Plan ahead – We planned out some of our year and sometimes we just decided to wing it. The problem with winging it was that we spent a ton of time booking places to stay, researching things to do and searching for transportation when we went somewhere new.
  3. Prepare to unplug – It’s 2017 and technology has made it possible for us to be plugged in 24/7 right? Wrong. We had zero cell service in several locations, limited access to free wifi and no access to data out of the country. It was harder than we thought to find a good internet connection even in the U.S. If you’re working or researching things on the road make sure you schedule trips to the nearest Starbucks or public library for occasional connections to the rest of the world.
  4. Campground costs – We thought staying in our camper would save money. Turns out between the cost of campgrounds and the extra gas we spent pulling our camper, it wasn’t much cheaper than AirBnB. The camper has a lot of perks but it won’t necessarily save you a ton of money.
  5. Make friends – Talk to park rangers, locals, tourists, waiters, bartenders and shop owners. We got the best recommendations for things to do, hikes, places to eat, breweries and more from chatting people up. Plus, it can get lonely on the road after a while so don’t be shy.

In one year, what have you best learned about being together 24-7? 

I’ve learned that it’s difficult to be with anyone that much. Living together in a small space wasn’t as challenging as I expected. But I missed my friends, family and girls night. It was hard to be with the same person all day, every day for the most part.

We learned to take some quiet time occasionally and split up our workload when volunteering rather than doing everything together. We learned to walk away sometimes and to pick our battles. It was tough but we came out on the other end stronger than ever.

In all of your travels, what has been the most pleasant and unexpected surprise?

So much of our trip was unexpected. Some surprises were more pleasant than others but a few places really jumped out as being more spectacular than I anticipated.

The Library of Congress in D.C. was obviously going to be amazing. I love bookstores more than any human should and soak them in like oxygen. But the architecture and feel of this building was completely unexpected. Everything was so beautiful from the paintings on the ceilings to the story of the art on the walls to the smell of the books and the worn down indentions in the marble staircases. My library card is one of my favorite souvenirs from our whole year.

While Yellowstone lived up to the hype, the Grand Tetons were indescribable. If you followed our journey to Wyoming you know it wasn’t the smoothest part of our trip. We had so many challenges and I had a ton of let-downs in the first week or so after we arrived. And then we went to the Tetons and everything changed. It was like I could breath again, only to have my breath taken away by those awesome snow-capped peaks, beautiful fall colors and rustic barns that ended up being some of my favorite photos from our trip.

Most of you know that Vietnam ended up being very high up on my list by the end of our trip, but it truly was one of the biggest surprises. It was fascinating, foreign, strange, interesting, beautiful, dark, mind-blowing and real. That was the best part – I felt like I was seeing the real people and places that Vietnam had to offer, not just the tourist attractions.

In all of your travels, how bad do you miss Landon Wood?

I’m going to let James handle this one…

To say I missed Landon like Shaq misses free throws would be an understatement. Needless to say, I cried myself to sleep every other 4th night.

Is that beard as soft as it looks?

No. Just no.

Thanks to everyone who submitted and feel free to shoot questions to us anytime!

Detour to Ireland on our way home

One of my favorite things about traveling for a year is that we could make decisions about where to go and what to do on a whim, like that time we found $40 flights to Ireland.

Our trip was winding down in Italy and James had dropped a few not-so-subtle hints about wanting to go back to Ireland. It’s hard to turn down Ireland, especially when the flights were so cheap. So off we went.

We spent the final 10 days of our trip hiking in the rain, drinking in pubs, wandering the streets of Cork and partaking in a food festival in Kinsale.

The grass is quite literally greener in Ireland. And the people are incredibly friendly. I could use a little more sunshine, but I have very few complaints about this beautiful country.

This was our first trip to Northern Ireland and it was stunning. If you know me at all you probably know I have a bit of a love affair with trees. They fascinate me and I could take photos of them all day. OK, I didn’t spend all day photographing the Dark Hedges (which apparently were used in some important “Game of Thrones” scenes), but they really are spectacular.

Despite some mean, cold rain, the Giant’s Causeway also in Northern Ireland was awesome — awesome in that awe-inspired, unbelievable nature kind of way.

The hexagon stones really do look like they were placed there by some giant being and stomped into place. And the waves. I’ve never seen waves that large before.

Also new to us was County Cork. We didn’t make it to Cork during our first trip but we spent a couple of days wandering the streets and exploring nearby recommendations like Kinsale, which turned out to be one of our favorite places. It’s an adorable town on the river where festivals cover the streets most weekends and we were lucky enough to stumble across a local food festival that included fresh mussels and fish and chips. I don’t even have photos of Kinsale because I was too busy taking it in to pull out my camera. That ought to tell you something.

Instead, here are some of my favorites from Cork starting with another case of which is side is better, the front or the back.

We stopped off in Glendalough National Park just south of Dublin for some hiking where we found the coolest monastery and some incredible views.

We ended our trip in Dublin where we revisited a few favorite spots and explored some new ones, like the Christ Church Cathedral where I spent hours, literally hours, memorized by the floors.

And then, we came back to Oklahoma and if you’ve been keeping up with us, you know the rest. If not check out my blog on what we’re up to here.

That’s it. I’m all caught up on the places we traveled, so now what? Well, coming home has been an adjustment to say the least and we’re still taking road trips every chance we get so keep checking back for weekly blogs on adjusting to the non-travel life, ramping up our businesses and the road trips that are keeping me sane.

Next week, I’ll tackle those questions you’ve been asking about our trip. So, last chance: What do you want to know about our year on the road?

Thanks for reading!

 

My favorite spot on the planet

This is a big statement from someone who lives to travel. There is nothing that makes me happier than to explore new places and cultures and soak up experiences.

But after a full year of traveling whenever and wherever we wanted, I was reassured that my favorite place on the planet is standing right next to this column with that view.

That is Michelangelo’s tomb inside Santa Croce, the Church of the Holy Cross, in Florence.

I love Michelangelo and I love historical churches with gothic architecture. But this is not the prettiest, most ornate or most interesting church I’ve ever visited. It does, however, represent the thing I love most about travel.

It embodies the experiences that I’ve spent my life chasing, that shape my decisions.

Standing in front of that tomb, surrounded by tombs of other great men like Dante Alighieri, Niccolo Machiavelli and Galileo Galilei, is an experience like no other. Maybe, if I breath deep enough, I’ll soak in some of the magic that lingers from the bodies buried there. Maybe I’ll understand a little more about Italy, about art, about life.

Or maybe not.

What I do know is that I’m better for having been there; for having seen it; for allowing myself to be moved by something; for believing in something; and for putting in the effort to be there, hoping that the experience is worth it. And it is, 100 percent.

This is my happy place.

The church is filled with stunning artifacts, architectural details and stained glass windows. Here are a few more photos of my favorite place on earth.

Galileo’s tomb.

Dante’s tomb.

James in front of Galileo’s tomb.

Why does this guy get to be so close?! I’d clean the toilets in this place if they’d let me behind that rope.

Clearly, it’s a beautiful building, but it pales in comparison to some of the other churches I’ve seen. That’s OK because it’s not about that. It’s about the feeling I have here and that is the reason I travel.

Where’s your happy place? Comment below and thanks for reading! 

 

Il grande finale

Some places leave me speechless because I can’t come up with the right words, but occasionally I come across a place where the words I’m searching for just don’t exist.

Enter Florence.

We fell in love with Florence during our belated honeymoon in 2011.

Everything about this city is magical — the cobblestone streets, the architecture, the history, the food, the wine, the art, the people. Really, everything.

It was a no-brainer that we should toast the end of our biggest travel adventure yet in our favorite city.

In March, we spent a week strolling the streets and daydreaming about the day we move to the most amazing city in the world.

Florence was definitely the highlight of our month in Italy but we did hit a few other notable destinations while we were adopting the Italian lifestyle.

On our way to Florence, we stopped over in Rome for a day where we walked the forum for hours and touched every inch of the Colosseum that we could get our hands on. You can literally feel the history in those stones.

Since those were our second trips to Rome and Florence, it was time for something new.

Next, we headed south to Naples where we ate some insane pizza and walked the lava-covered streets of Pompeii where we gushed over ruts in the roads made by chariots that date back before 79 A.D. when Mount Vesuvius erupted destroying the ancient city.

Since we came this far, why not spend a few days relaxing on the Amalfi Coast. It was off-season, which meant the towns were quiet. We spent our time eating delicious seafood, laying in the sun, sipping coffee and staring at the 360-degree views. Two weeks later, James had to drag me out of the stunning landscape that covers Italy’s western coast.

Looking back, I would have spent a little more time in Italy last year. This place speaks my love language and will always hold a very special place in my heart.

BONUS: I love Italy so much that I decided to publish a second post this week! Check back Thursday for another post where I’ll introduce you to my favorite building on the planet, which happens to be in Italy. You might be surprised at what it is.

If you had one month to spend anywhere in the world, where would it be? Comment below. 

 

Where was my favorite place?

I still can’t believe our year is over.

I just can’t get it through my head, despite dozens of conversations over the past couple weeks with friends, family and acquaintances about our next steps.

In all of those conversations, one question always comes up: Where is your favorite place?

Every place is so different from the others. They all offered unique experiences that I’ll never forget. It would be like choosing my favorite child to pick only one, but there is a place that, no matter the day or who’s asking, it always comes to mind.

Vietnam stands out to me for many reasons but mostly because it was surprising. I’ve wanted to go to Vietnam for years and it didn’t only hold up, it exceeded expectations. My heart still melts a little ever time I see a photo on my phone or open my kitchen drawer and see the soup spoons that made it home unscathed.

Over three weeks we traveled from Hanoi in the north to the Mekong Delta in the south and a few stops in between, including my favorite city HoiAn. I already gushed over the people, places, markets and food in Vietnam so rather than repeating all of the things I loved, I thought you’d like a little glimpse into our trip. Maybe this will give you a little taste of what I loved so much.

We started in Hanoi.

We didn’t get to spend as much time as I’d liked in Hanoi but there is an energy in that city that was irresistible.
You really don’t want to mess with these women. Those things are heavy.
Sometimes it’s just the little things. This is from a temple.
Oh, just another morning business call, heels and a pencil skirt while side-saddling a scooter in the most terrifying traffic jam I’ve ever experienced.

Took a quick trip to Sapa for some hiking.

Heavy fog outside of Sapa added to the already beautiful scenery of the layered rice fields.
We met the most amazing people on our overnight hike in Sapa.
Villages were almost invisible on our second morning with fog blanketing the entire valley.
Not the wildlife we’re used to seeing on hikes but these water buffalo were fun to watch.
A quick stop for photos of the waterfall.
When the clouds lifted patches of rice fields covered our view.
The sprawling rice fields outside of Sapa are incredible. I can’t wait to go back during harvest time when they turn yellow.
We hiked by several villages outside of Sapa where a simpler way of life is necessary and still valued by the people that live there.
My trail shoes were barely enough to keep me standing on the rough, slippery trails but locals were killing it barefoot.

Next up, Halong Bay for a cruise and a private beach bungalow. Not too shabby.

Islands, Island everywhere. Jagged little rocks sandwiched between large boulders surrounded by massive islands. Halong Bay did not disappoint.
At night all the cruise boats drop anchor in the same cove in Halong Bay. It was like a light show on the water watching them all pull up.
I did not boost the color in this. The water actually looks like that. I swear.
I ate that. It was chewy.
Just more islands from Halong Bay.
Giant cave formations inside the Surprise Cave in Halong Bay.

Then on to the center of the country where we fell in love with HoiAn, which you already know about, and discovered some interesting sites in Hue. 

Temples are so full of color in Vietnam. Yes, I think I’ll bring my camera.
Moms don’t look!
More color in case you hadn’t seen enough. Incense sticks being sold at a local market.
That’s inside of the Mausoleum of Khai Dinh. The entire interior of this building was covered in the most gorgeous mosaics I’ve ever seen. Spectacular.
Everyone in Vietnam wears those hats. This is not a gimmick as I suspected. They’re legit.
Yap, he’s touching dangerous animals again. But he’s still alive and I got fresh honey so let’s call it a win win.

Now we’re moving south to find the floating market in the Mekong Delta.

Baskets of water and sea creatures were sprawled across a massive warehouse where vendors were tossing fish from one side of the aisle to the other. It was chaotic and amazing.
An early morning visit to the fishing market in Can Tho was worth every minute of sleep I lost.
Dead meat hanging all over the fish market too. I’m pretty sure these workers don’t sleep. She was doing that when I went to bed at midnight that night and there again at 5:30 a.m. when I came for the fish market.
Imagine a sea of boats completely loaded down with produce and goods. This doesn’t do it justice. The floating market was truly something to see.
I ate that pineapple right after she cut it and it was insanely delicious. Turns out they’re sweeter over there. So good.
These women amaze me. I aspire to be this strong, hardworking and dedicated. Also, those hats.
When I say they were loaded down I’m not joking. Think Costco but on boats. We’re talking bulk people.
It’s fascinating what goes into these markets. I love these people.
COCONUT EVERYWHERE! These flakes were being drained for coconut milk that was used to make fresh candies, which were to die for!
Buddha temples everywhere. This guy was gigantic.

Last, but certainly not least, a prolonged visit to Ho Chi Minh (Saignon) where we spent about 10 days exploring the city while James got his first root canal. 

Ho Chi Minh is one of the coolest cities I’ve ever visited and there was plenty of stellar street art surrounding the hippest sections of town.
Mr. Phueng worked at the post office for 70 years handwriting letters for people who could not read or write. He’s retired now but still comes to the Central Post office every week Monday through Saturday to write post cards for visitors. He wrote two for us.
The beautiful ceiling of the Central Post Office.
Had the best Baja fish taco of my life at Sancho’s Craft Beer + Mexican Kitchen! Honestly, we went three times. Tell Calvin we sent you. (Thanks for the photo Sancho’s!)
The view from inside Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh, which was the home and office of the president of South Vietnam during the war with the US.
Communication radio equipment from the Vietnam War in the bunker of the Independence Palace. Talk about retro.
That time we paid way too much for coconut water but it’s OK because James got to carry this thing and do all of the work… wait.

If you made it all the way to the end then congrats and thanks for hanging in there! Where’s the place that surprised you the most? Comment below. We love hearing from you guys! 

Our next adventure is underway

It’s been more than two months since we last posted and you’ve been patiently awaiting our next news… NOT.

For months we’ve been bombarded with questions that we didn’t  know the answers to: Where are you going next? What’s the plan? Are you going back to work? Are you going back to Colorado? Will you live in the camper?

We still don’t have all the answers — and likely never will — but we have developed a temporary plan that we’re ready to share.

But first, thanks to all of you who followed along with our yearlong journey. We had hundreds of readers on the blog every week, nearly a thousand people watching our Instagram feed and a couple hundred Facebook followers. We appreciate all the questions and feedback and we hope you enjoyed our year as much as we did.

So, what’s next? We’ve been asking ourselves that since we made it back to the states over Easter weekend. Here’s what we’ve come up with so far.

We rented an apartment for six months in Norman, Oklahoma, where we will be exploring Oklahoma and hanging out with family between road trips through at least October.

I launched a new social media management company and signed my first client in April. I’m still writing frequently with articles appearing in RVWest and the Daily Camera and hopefully some new publications soon. I have plans to rebrand my photography company as well, but social media and journalism are keeping me busy at the moment so photos are on the back burner.

James is doing some land consulting from Oklahoma including some acquisition and divestiture opportunities. He is hoping to stay busy as a consultant and avoid going back to an 8-to-5.

And though we’re not traveling full time right now, we are adventuring every chance we get. In the last few weeks we’ve already made two trips to Beaver’s Bend State Park, been to Austin for a concert, made a couple quick jaunts to Tulsa, popped by the OKC Arts Festival, attended Norman’s Second Friday Art Walk and visited Rockwall, Texas, for a wedding where we spent a little too much time in the photo booth.

After two weeks in our apartment I am still reveling in long, hot showers, a comfortable bed and having most of my stuff under one roof. But I miss traveling everyday. Staying busy helps. So does spending time with family and being around for things like Mother’s Day and 8th grade graduation. But I miss it.

I crossed dozens of places off my bucket list this past year but I added three times as many. Traveling, I discovered, is an addiction. Once you start you can never quit. And I will continue to embrace the urge.

I’ll be blogging regularly again so check back every week for updates on what we’re up to, where we’re going and what it’s like settling back down after a year on the road. Next month I’ll catch you up on our last few weeks of travel, including more from Asia and some yummy photos from our European excursions, like this one from Positano.

Lastly, we are taking some time in June to answer your questions about our adventures, so leave a comment below. What do you want to know?

What do you want to know?

We are enjoying a lot of wine, pasta, pastries and beautiful churches in Italy as this portion of our trip winds down.

Florence is one of our favorite cities and we’re soaking up every second here. We’ll be heading to Naples and then the Amalfi Coast before coming home and trying to readjust to some sort of new normal. We still have no idea what that looks like.

I’ve been talking to you guys about my experiences for about 11 months now, but I want to know, what do you want to know. What are you curious about? What haven’t we shared? What questions are going unanswered?

Leave comments below with your questions or curiosities about our year on the road and we’ll answer them as we wrap up our trip. We try to be candid about our experiences so don’t be shy. Ask away. 

And feel free to plop any suggestions for the Amalfi Coast below as well.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to your questions.

Life doesn’t take vacations

Life doesn’t stop for travel.

Despite my best efforts, reality has overtaken much of our travel year, which I envisioned as a carefree bubble — a vacation from life and its challenges.

After only a few hours on the road the bubble burst. Sickness, bad weather, mechanical issues, laundry, cleaning, the death of a loved one, finances and jobs were just a few of the realities that continued poking holes in my bubble.

Even now, as we come to the end of our “carefree” year, life creeps in. Dental issues apparently don’t take vacations. Neither do stress, responsibilities or bills.

This is not a complaint, mainly an observation and a life lesson I wanted to share and one I’m hoping will drive what remains of this travel adventure.

Today we booked a flight to what will likely be our final destination before home, Italy. We celebrated our belated honeymoon in Italy about 5 years ago but this is going to look very different. I’m swapping the itinerary from my inaugural trip, which was jam-packed with sites and bucket list items, for one that prioritizes wine, coffee and pastries with a view.

This is my chance to learn from my mistakes, take advantage of this amazing opportunity and make some lifelong memories with the man I love. Salute!

Have you been to the Amalfi Coast? Share your tips (and recommended wines) in the comments below. 

 

Happy in HoiAn

Our travel year hasn’t exactly gone as planned. Actually, very few of our plans have successfully played out.

The Tin Can, scheduling, weather and family affairs caused several detours during the past 10 months. I don’t regret anything and I’ve learned so much, but there are many things that I’d change if I could have a do-over.

One thing I wouldn’t change is Vietnam.

I’ve dreamed of coming to Vietnam for years so when it finally happened I was nervous that it would fall short of my high expectations. I was wrong. It is incredible and this country is quickly becoming a favorite, especially the central canal city of HoiAn.

HoiAn66

The markets in southeast Asia are phenomenal and we stumbled upon one in HoiAn that seemed surreal. Asian food was everywhere. Produce splattered color on the streets like a Pollock painting. I finally bought a pair of baggy fishermen’s pants that I’ve been eyeing for a month and spent much of the day contemplating how to get the beautiful, hand-painted dishes home without breaking them.

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The best part of this market, though, was the people. They’re lovely. They wear their labor like a badge of honor. It is evident in the wrinkles animating their faces, the muscles pulsing in their arms as they carry baskets of goods across the city on their shoulders and the handmade, bamboo boats that sail across the river with the slightest swipe of a paddle. The people are what makes this country so special. So, without further ado, the obligatory photo gallery.

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HoiAn14

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Where are the most interesting people you’ve met while traveling? Comment below and thanks for reading. 

 

Five-ish things I’ve learned in Thailand

Whenever we travel I have a few goals. One is to meet people and hear their stories – where they are from, what it was like growing up, what they do and what drives them. Sometimes the language barrier doesn’t make that convenient so the other goal is what can I learn about myself and the culture I am in.

These are five things I have learned while in Thailand.

1. Always check for toilet paper before going to the bathroom

It is not uncommon for the public restrooms not to have toilet paper, thus you should always check before just strolling in and conducting business. Needless to say – Thailand toilets 1, James soft sided sunglass case 0. (TMI???)

2. The Thai are super nice, except the taxi drivers

Everyone we have met in Thailand has been super nice. They bow and salute and try to be extremely helpful despite the language barrier. The only exception to this is taxi drivers. They are out to get you. This is something we were warned about before embarking on our trip and man is it true. Many of the drivers will refuse to run the meter and you should not ride with them or negotiate with them. Every time we thought about negotiating, the price they said was always several hundred Baht greater than the metered rate.

ChiangMai30

3. I’m too short to be an American

During our time in Thailand I have been mistaken for an Australian, Scottish, Canadian and “European” but never American. In fact, one Thai did not believe we were American and fought us saying I was “too small” to be American. I’m telling myself this is more due to my lack of eating McDonald’s than my vertical challenge.

4. Thailand can be done really cheap

Thailand is one of the cheapest places we have visited. In fact, as I type this we are in a very cozy hotel that cost us roughly $20 per night. There have been days when we have spent less than $20 and that is living pretty comfortably. However, our thought has been – unless you are trying to live long term – why would you? If you are looking at a 2-3 week vacation you could live like a king. You can get five-star hotels for under $100 a night. You can’t book a Super 8 in some cities in the US for that. You can get an hour long massage for $3-5 dollars, T-Bone steaks for $6 and eat and drink all day for $20-$30. If you wanted, you could stay in five-star hotels, eat at amazing places and be pampered for much less than a European vacation, and that doesn’t even begin to mention the activities like cooking classes, playing with elephants and trekking around in the jungle. So, if you were on vacation why would you skimp when you could live in luxury for much less than you would anywhere else?

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5. Crickets don’t taste like Chicken

I’ve seen on TV people like Bear Grylls telling me crickets or other bugs taste like chicken. Although, I can’t exactly describe the flavor, I can tell you the texture is NOTHING like chicken. Although the taste itself is not awful, it is hard to get out of your own head and enjoy a bug with legs and wings sliding down your throat.

*6. Cobra whiskey won’t kill you (bonus from Laos)

We took a day trip to the Golden Triangle of Thailand from Chiang Mai. This is the area where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (Burma) all come together. We were greeted in Laos with a “welcome drink.” You chose from a drink that had been fermented with one of the following – cobra, turtle and scorpion, gecko, tiger penis (yes you read that correctly) and ginseng. I’m not usually one to shy away from new foods and drinks (see eating a cricket above), but this one had me worried. When our tour guide offered up a small sample of the cobra whiskey I kept thinking to myself, “why do I always have to say I will try anything once (food wise that is)?” So I took a swig thinking the whole time “aren’t these things poisonous?” Well, needless to say I am still here and alive and well. The people of Laos believe each of these fermented drinks offer up different powers. The cobra gives you super strength, the turtle/scorpion gives you long life and you can use your imagination on the tiger penis, but you probably wouldn’t be wrong.

Have you done anything that stretched your comfort zone lately?