How one couple packed up their life and traveled for 6 months
Most people assume that spending their money on material items verses intangible experiences will result in prolonged happiness and satisfaction because “things” last longer. But guess what? Science has proved that assumption is wrong (reference), and so have I. My whole life I’ve had the curiosity gene. It’s comes to fruition in a variety of ways – from Space Camp as a kid to Burning Man as an adult—but experience has always been at the core of my drive. I have this nagging desire to try, see and explore as much of the world as possible.
So, a couple years ago, I decided it was time to really scratch the adventure itch by backpacking the globe. At 30, I was ready to shake up the 9-5 routine and push the boundaries. With a decade of “real life” under my belt, I was watching how quickly days could turn into weeks, into months, into years and then poof – you wake up and your bucket list of dreams is now just a bunch of “some days” in the rearview mirror. Retirement, perhaps?
It terrified me. It absolutely freaked me out to think about never using my prime, able-bodied years to shape my life. To spend my whole life saving up for a day that may never come wasn’t an option. And that’s when backpacking the world became the happy hour conversation that wouldn’t die.
My pragmatic, sensible husband patiently listened as I pitched him on how this could work. I had an emotionally-driven response for every logical question he’d ask. Did I have everything figured out? Absolutely not. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret, the only way to check anything off your list is to commit and do them.
So after months of back-and-forth, we decided to pull the trigger and buy one-way plane tickets to turn this dream into a reality. The timing felt right enough, because just like everything in life, there’s never “the right time,” but that’s why you’ve just got to read enough cheesy Pinterest quotes to get the courage to make it happen.
I know what you’re thinking as you read this, “Wow, I could never do that!” But just know that we had all the same obstacles and real-life stuff in our way: a home, cars, two great careers on the rise, a pet, finances and nerves of the unknown. If you want something badly enough, you’ll find a way to make it happen. If not, you’ll find any excuse.
So, on New Year’s Eve 2013, my husband and I strapped on our carry-on size backpacks and boarded a one-way flight from Phoenix, Arizona to Bangkok, Thailand. On New Year’s Day 2014 we started a six-month backpacking adventure through Asia.
Here’s our answers to the most frequently asked questions:
What did you do about your jobs?
Both of us were prepared to quit our jobs. The thought of having to tell our bosses was the #1 “scary” factor about the whole trip and we fully expected that “goodbye” would be the outcome of the conversation. Let’s face it, we live in a society that focuses on careers and advancement, so pausing your career and potentially sacrificing your awesome jobs to go gallivant around the globe makes a lot of people look at you like you’re nuts. The most awesome news? Both of our companies were super excited for us, supportive about our sabbatical and making things work until we get home. Learned Lesson #1: you don’t know the answer until you ask!
How could you afford to do this?
Just like you would for anything you really want- you save, you make scarifies and you just find a way. It’s amazing how we all find the time and money to do the things we really want.
How long did you prepare for this trip?
I don’t think either of us really realized how much prep work would be involved. It sounds so carefree to load up a backpack and hit the road – wrong! It’s a lot of work: savings, packing decisions, gear, location research, insurance, vaccinations, real-life logistics… If you’re not super passionate about it, it’d be easy to give up, but don’t! It’s so worth it and it all works out.
How did you pick your itinerary?
For us: Weather + Experience Type + Budget
This was probably the second most overwhelming thing to me – there’s so much to see! It was very important to Danny that we didn’t race around the globe to check places off our list. So, we had to narrow our focus based on priorities: weather + experience type + budget.
Weather: We’ve traveled enough to understand the importance of weather – no one wants to be miserable in either temperature direction, plus packing for multiple climates in a backpack wasn’t realistic. So, warm was the verdict. We followed the sun and kept our packing light.
Experience Type: We decided this was our chance to visit places that typically don’t make the summer vacation list. Places like Europe, Australia and Mexico are all awesome, but we’ve been and will go back. However, places like Cambodia, India and Laos aren’t conducive to the typical 10-day family vacation. So we set out to experience developing places that are still raw and will change dramatically in the coming years.
Budget: When you’re not making money, just spending it, this is a giant factor. In places like Western Europe it wouldn’t be realistic for us to be (happy) travelers on the type of budget we planned to endure this trip (and come back with money in the bank!). However, places like Southeast Asia are a budget traveler’s dream.
Did you have a designated route or itinerary?
In the beginning, I had charts and maps and was a psycho trying to learn as much as I could about everywhere. Then, one day I got so overwhelmed that I started to cry, so Danny took my laptop from me and that’s when we decided the trip was going to be my chance to really let go of control and be open to the road less traveled. Looking back, our original route changed quite a bit from where we landed because you get so many tips and learn so much along the way.
Where did you stay?
We did a mix of hotels, guesthouses (in between a hostel and a hotel), Airbnb home and private room rentals and some family stays.
What did you pack?
We each have an Osprey 55ml (carry-on size) backpack. This was probably the #1 curiosity people had (particularly women) – what are you taking?! See our packing breakdown here.
Travel tip: Preparing for health & immunizations:
This in itself was a commitment – both physically and financially. We both did a series of physicals and just finished a dozen shots each – there are SO many. We also did oral vaccinations which make you feel really off. At one point, we had live salmonella bacteria in our fridge. On top of that, it was constantly working between your physician, pharmacy and insurance company to stock pile prescriptions and make sure you’re covered abroad. We became super tight with our local pharmacist!
What are you doing with your stuff at home?
We weighed our options and decided to rent our home fully-furnished verses packing and storing everything. We really lucked out and found ourselves a wonderful snowbird to enjoy our home while we were away. We also decided to sell my car.
What about your adorable French Bulldog, Hunter?
This was THE single most difficult thing to think or talk about. We’re lucky that friends and family love Hunter as much as we do, and welcomed him with open paws.
Phew, sound like a lot of work? It was. But when you think about it, the best things in life require effort. If they were easy, everyone would do them. I think this is true across the board. When you’ve got to work for something, it’s so much more rewarding. Whether that be raising kids or nailing a presentation at work or hiking and conquering a mountain. It’s the people who are willing to put in the time who are going to get the most out of life. This continues to prove true for us.
I could write for hours and try to tell you about our adventure. I could describe in detail the sound of music at the wedding we were invited to attend in a small village in India, the goosebumps on our skin after jumping into a frigid waterfall in Laos, the warmth and generosity of the Thai people, the rush of adrenaline you feel when you’re alone in the crowded streets of Hong Kong, the pungent smell of street food in Vietnam, the taste of fresh sushi in Japan, or the emotion that takes over your heart and mind when you talk with a survivor from the Khmer Rouge era in Cambodia, but those are my experiences.
And while I hope they inspire you, can they truly can’t impact you? It would be like asking my friends to tell me what it’s like to be a parent and raise a child. It’s not a story to be told, it’s an experience that needs to be lived to be appreciated. It’s all the little moments that turn into one great adventure.
And that’s what life is all about. Sure, that big screen TV, new car or handbag will give you a temporary jolt of happiness, but experiences – a vacation, a meal out with friends, learning a new skill, seeing a new part of the world – the emotional impact of those will last a lifetime. Material things will always remain separate from you. But in contrast, your experiences become a part of you. Ultimately, you are the sum of your experiences.
Your dream doesn’t have to be mine. I have plenty of friends who shudder at the thought of some of my adventures. And that’s perfectly okay! But find your thing and go do it. And if you don’t know what that thing is, all the more reason to start somewhere. Start exploring this gorgeous planet and go find your happy place.
Commit to a new experience today. No matter how big or small. Adaptation is the enemy of happiness, so go pop your bubble for a day – a week – a year! See, smell, taste and touch new things. Sleep in a different bed, wake up to a new view, get lost wandering foreign streets. When you turn-off life’s autopilot, you’ll be amazed at what you can find.
As you read this, we are currently on another multi-month journey in Central America. You can follow along at thetaleoftwotings.com or on Instagram at #thetravelingtings.
By Teri Bockting