1.) You left your jobs, sold most of your possessions and just packed up and left? Are you crazy?
Maybe. But in our short time we've realized that life is fragile and this is a goal we've always wanted to accomplish- it's now or never. We had talked about doing something like this since Steve first suggested such a trip on a balmy San Diego evening while we were walking through our neighborhood after a particularly laborious work day. He’d grown tired of hearing about all Leah’s travel adventures while his passport languished unused, and proposed a shared epic journey. We agreed we’d do it at some point after our 2010 wedding, but never set a concrete date and instead started saving with the hazy goal of someday taking the leap.
Then March of 2011 hit—we were still enjoying newly wedded bliss, when we received earth-shattering news that one of Leah’s dearest and oldest friends, Jayna Murray, had been murdered in a sickening case that garnered national attention. Two months later, another beloved friend lost her days-old son to a rare lung disease. Another two months passed and the center of our little family, Minger, the cherished African dog Leah brought back from the Peace Corps whom we truly treated like our child, was hit and killed by a car. The year continued, with every two months bringing fresh trauma and pain to our lives like a Biblical scourge; we never had time to process or heal before the next horror descended. Our physical and mental health suffered, work--while a welcome distraction--seemed inconsequential, and our fledgling marriage was shaken to the core as we struggled to put our lives back together. Those were the darkest of days.
We tried to find the silver lining and realized that all signs were pointing to leaving now while we weren’t beholden to mortgage payments, children (both of which currently make Leah nervous) and all the modern detritus that seems to accrue too quickly. Also, with Minger no longer physically in our lives, we truly had no more anchors holding us here—we felt fully released. After our year of sorrows we were reminded there was no such thing as stability and we weren’t willing to sit around anymore. Additionally, Steve’s dad died at the age of 31 and with Steve on the precipice of that very birthday himself, all the pieces seemed to be falling into place. We’re willing to tempt fate and biology in regards to babies (we both turn 31 in 2012), and our pre-trip jobs simply weren’t a reason to stay. At the end of the day, we want to have this experience while we’re young enough to undertake it physically, unencumbered by any real or perceived weights and at a place in our careers where we can walk away before it feels too late, economy be damned.
2.) Did you win the lotto? How can you afford this?
No lotto winnings unfortunately, but with budgeted goals and living well below our means, we accrued our travel fund in just under 2 years. We aggressively worked to pay off car and school loans so we could divert that money to our trip fund. On our evening walks with Minger, we’d bring extra bags to pick up recyclable cans and bottles in the street so we could turn them in monthly for cash; Leah even collected cans from her coworkers. We eschewed our beach-access 2 bedroom abode in favor of a tiny 1 bedroom duplex in the suburbs, saving hundreds a month. Online banking also made it brainless to set up automatic transfers from our checking to savings accounts—out of sight, out of mind, and then we weren’t tempted to spend it. Coupon clipping and comparison shopping proved invaluable and we increased the number of meatless meals we ate (Steve was a good sport about that, but justifiably balked when asked to eliminate his craft beer consumption—some things can’t be messed with)!
We also packed our lunches during the week and cooked at home in the evenings instead of eating out. Unused books and DVDs were sold on Amazon.com, providing us with gift card credit we could use on trip supplies purchased through the site. Leah also participated in paid online survey sites, accepted contract work and took on as many babysitting jobs as she could find, all of which went into the trip coffer. Steve sold some pricey electronic and musical gear, as well as all our furniture, and every week we put at least $5 in a box in our closet as an extra cash stash. We also relied heavily on our tax refunds, yard sale proceeds and cashing out our combined 7 weeks’ worth of vacation days when we left our jobs (Leah worked in nonprofit and Steve in landscaping, if that helps give some salary perspective).
Bottom line, this was our ultimate goal and we pursued it aggressively. Did we want to eat out more, enjoy weekend getaways, go to the movies, buy the latest gadgets and live in a bigger place? Of course! However, we knew we needed to forgo those luxuries in order to make this adventure happen, so we lived simply and diverted everything that was left after paying bills into the trip fund.
3.) How much traveling have you already done?
Depends on who you’re talking to. While Steve had always wanted to see the world, he hadn’t been able to pursue those dreams due to other life obligations (cue higher education costs) until he took his first international trip to Aruba for our honeymoon. However, being well-read and half-Mexican, in addition to hearing Leah’s stories over the years, means that’s he’s perfectly primed for this trip! On the other hand, the travel bug bit Leah early in life. She experienced study abroad on Semester at Sea, lived in Scotland, worked as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Gabon and accrued dozens of other passport stamps over the years. While coming from different levels of expertise, we’re ecstatic to tackle this together.
4.) What’s your plan?
At this point we don’t really have one, and that’s part of what we’re looking forward to. We’ll be starting in Guatemala City and from there the general plan is to head through Central and South America before heading over to Australia and New Zealand and then north through Asia, the Middle East, Northern Africa and Europe. Basically, as long as our money and wanderlust hold out, we'll be on the road. We're also planning to use www.couchsurfing.org and www.workaway.info as a way to meet locals and immerse ourselves in their cultures. We've been a part of the CouchSurfing community since 2010 and have had nothing but incredible interactions; we look forward to seeing what Workaway has to offer.