Photo by project hotsauce, feature photo by chatirygirl

Gifts for newlyweds don’t have to include high thread counts and crystal.

After almost five years of marriage, my husband Isaac and I still don’t have a house, kitchen gadgets, a bed, knick-knacks, or matching sheets. However, we do have much of the outdoor gear we were given as wedding gifts.

My Chaco Vibram Yampa sandals, given to us by dear family friends, Billy and Peggy, at our wedding, still accompany me on trips. Considering that we have spent three of the last five years studying, traveling, and working outside of the United States, the Chaco sandals have proved more meaningful than any traditional wedding gift.

Just days after our barefoot wedding in rural Arkansas, we left for a year of travel around the world. In Vietnam, Myanmar, and Thailand, the thick soles of the Chacos kept my feet high and dry while using squat toilets. When streets flooded, or local markets were littered with fish scales or blood from animal carcasses, I floated through unscathed.

While living with the Moken Sea Gypsies in Thailand and the Bajau Sea Gypsies in Malaysia, the firm grip of the sandals allowed me to adjust to life on boats and near the sea without fear of slipping. In addition, the plain black sandals rarely attracted attention, so I did not have to deal with the common question, “How much does your shirt/sock/hat/shoe cost in the United States?

Photo by H Dragon

During our first year of travel, the straps of Isaac’s Chacos, which were already several years old as he had them for years before the wedding, fell apart when we walked around the atoll of Atafu in the South Pacific. Had he kept them, he could have had them resoled and the sandal straps replaced, for $15-30 depending on the work needed. However, in an effort to lighten his travel load, he left his sandals behind.

Mine are frayed but still going strong. Before I traveled with Chacos, I thought they were plain, overpriced sandals worn mostly by urban hippies. However, their toughness and versatility on the road, and the fact that they likely will last me a lifetime have made me a fan. In addition, the sandals are extremely resistant to smelliness, which is a key factor when you are wearing the same shoes for 365 wet/sweaty/hot days in a row.

In addition to the Chacos, we also received North Face Horizon Valley Convertible Pants. Years have passed, and I am sitting in a hotel room in San Pedro de la Laguna, Guatemala, wearing my convertible pants. True, they do have holes in the butt (stitched with turquoise thread), and they are stained with everything from street side tacos al pastor and horchata (Mexico) to spilled gasoline (Thailand) and volcanic ash (Guatemala).

However, the zippers still work perfectly, allowing me to switch from pants to shorts at a moment’s notice, and most importantly, they are comfortable.

When Isaac and I got married, we did feel some of the traditional pressures to buy a house, fill it with things, and have kids. When we first started looking at wedding registries, I wanted to cry. I didn’t care about comparing thread counts, looking at tablecloths, or choosing grapefruit spoons or china. “I don’t want to compare toaster ovens,” I remember wailing.

Somewhere in the process, we realized that we could make our wedding registry more personal, and so we started a registry at REI. Yes, I’m sure some guests were not happy to see a Katadyn pocket water filter on the registry, but we decided not to let ourselves get caught up in the “what other people want your wedding to be like” train of thought.

As we enter our thirties, we expect to be adventuring in the same raggedy pants and frayed sandals; only perhaps we will have a baby or two in tow as we continue to make the world our home.

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Looking for more gift ideas? We’ve got The Ultimate Guide: 100 Gift Ideas for Travelers.