“We choose to live like monks, rooting ourselves to a home or a career using the future as a phony ritual to justify the present. And by doing this, we end up spending the best part of our life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it. Thus, given an unlimited amount of choices, we make none. Settling into our lives, we hold onto our domestic certainties that we forget why we even desired them in the first place”
– Henry David Thoreau
Have you ever noticed that we tend to ask people what they do for a living, where they went to school, what kind of car they drive, how many kids they have, how the weather is, or how their job is going, but we never ask people if they are happy? The phrase genki desu ka? in Japanese means “how are you”, but one of the literal translations actually means “are you happy?”
I remember seeing a meme that struck me; it was a photo of bumper to bumper traffic on a 7-lane freeway in both directions that read, “normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for – in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.” This just didn’t sound logical to me.
After my first international travels to Europe and Asia with my family at age 19, my first few jobs as a real “adult”, getting my certification as a yoga instructor, moving from O’ahu to Seattle, finding love, and building a career in sales & tourism, on paper, it would appear that I had it all. Yet I felt unsettled. I was determined to find the answer to this very question: was I happy? I repeated it to myself. I danced with the question as if it would unlock a vault filled with butterflies and seahorses and somehow provide the secret answer to all of life’s most challenging and ethereal questions. And the conclusion I came to?…
Yes, I was happy, but I was not content. I was seeking more fulfillment from the life I was living in Seattle. I would come home from work and gaze at photos of beautiful places in the world, feeling an extreme sense of wanderlust. I yearned to climb to the top of a mountain peak far away in another country; to feel the wind against my face and grasp the feeling of true freedom. I bought a giant map of the world and hung it up in our living room, every day looking at where I wanted to go next and what the life, the food, the people, the music and the culture might be like there. I would close my eyes and see the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean, feel the ocean breeze from the Caribbean Sea in South America, taste the pesto Genovese in Italy, and hear the roosters in rural Greece. Something…something was calling me…and not just calling, but pulling me.
And who was I kidding, I wasn’t going to accomplish any of that by staying put, continuing to merely gaze longingly at photos on my computer screen and feeling my heart ache looking at a map, just sitting there, its one-dimensional etches and lines mocking me. I almost heard it speak to me: Come to me…explore me…the world is waiting…you must go. Okay, now I was crazy; was I really listening to an inanimate object? Was I really being spoken to by a map? Yes, yes I was. And the moment I accepted that, I was free. I was beyond eager to experience all the contours of the world, and thankfully, my then boyfriend (three months later my Fiance, and now husband), Sasha felt the same way.
So, in April of 2017, we made the biggest decision of our lives to-date…we left our corporate careers to travel the world without a set date of when we would return.
In Europe and Australia, taking a gap year between high school and University is essentially a rite of passage. In fact, if you don’t take that time away, people wonder why you didn’t choose to travel. The gap year is an opportunity for young people to learn how to deal with challenging situations, thrive outside of their comfort zones, interact with people from different cultures, adapt to new environments, and learn responsibility, humility, how to live on a budget and be accountable for themselves. This concept doesn’t just apply to young people, so we thought to ourselves, why can’t we take an “adult gap year”? Call it what you wish: escaping the newly elected President in America, adult gap year, mini retirement, long-term travel abroad, indefinite departure…
So we donated many of our “things” to Goodwill, put our furniture in storage in Seattle, gave up our apartment and waved goodbye to the April gloom. Elated and free, we set off on our journey with the whole world ahead of us. We had no more timelines, no more deadlines, no more obligations, no more bills, no more paychecks, and nobody to please but ourselves. We were finally free. And I’m happy to report that through these six months of travel with the love of my life, I did in fact, discover my true happiness…and so much more.
Here is a recap of the last six months of our lives in a nutshell with some data that I collected along the way (the cover photo of this blog post is a snapshot of where we have traveled to (in orange). The grey is where we have yet to visit!:
10 countries visited:
– United States national parks
– The Vatican, (technically its own country!)
(and Sasha had a three-day solo stint in Latvia due to an unnoticed Russian passport expiration…oops!)
22 flights (only one missed due to incorrect dates, but we were able to re-book…lesson learned: don’t take 12:00 AM flights. Also, Alaska Airlines is the best.)
3 of those flights (the long, expensive ones across the Atlantic) were booked for free using Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card miles
41 accommodations slept in
Got engaged in Greece!!
– 1 pair of sunglasses (Sasha’s in an Uber in Kazan, Russia)
– A razor (disappeared in a shared Airbnb in Rome)
– A headband (somewhere in the bowels of my suitcase)
– 7 pounds of weight (over the course of six months)
– Several negative stigmas about common world dogmas
– New friendships
– New life perspectives
– Self confidence
– Understanding that the world is much smaller than it appears to be
– Appreciation for different world cultures
– Affirmation that we can live out of a 65-liter backpack each and that embracing minimalism is a much less stressful lifestyle
– A tan
– The ability to view the world from an unfiltered and non-judgmental lens
– Restoration of faith in humanity
– Waterpick flosser
– Electric toothbrush
– Nikon D3100 DSLR camera (don’t go intense trail running with it bouncing up and down in your backpack)
– Seagate backup drive (unplug the USB cable from the backup drive before packing it to avoid it bending inside the portal during transport)
Besides our lap tops and cell phones, I can’t think of more expensive items to have been broken, but alas, they’re just things, they’re replaceable, and life goes on.
Money spent: on average, less per month traveling than we would have, had we stayed in Seattle (and also a full $15,000 under what I had set for a six-month budget)
10+ times people told us not to go somewhere because it was dangerous
0 accidents, injuries, times we felt in danger, thefts or break-ins (stop believing everything you hear and allowing the media to scare you)
17 museums & historic sites visited
9 free walking tours
7 rental cars driven
9,000 approximate number of miles (14,481 kilometers) driven (this only includes what we drove in our rental cars and does not include Uber and taxi rides). This means that in the last six months, we have driven one-third around the Earth (it is 24,901 miles around the circumference of the Earth)
14 UNESCO World Heritage sites visited
50 gelato eaten (between the two of us) in one month in Italy (this means that out of 30 days in a month, we ate gelato 25 of those 30 days. Now that I look back at it, that doesn’t make sense. That’s far too small a number.) 😉
We drove a LOT, which means endless time in the car. To pass the time intelligently and interestingly, we read and/or listened to several books through Audible. Here is our reading list (most have a common thread of travel or entrepreneurship.)
Best Books To Read While Traveling Abroad:
– The $100 Startup
– Pitch Anything
– The Biography of Elon Musk
– Shoe Dog: Autobiography of Phil Knight, Founder of Nike
– The Obstacle is the Way
– Zero to One
– Ego is the Enemy
– Vagabonding – An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel
– Tales of a Female Nomad
– The Good Mom
– On the Road
– The Alchemist
– The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k
– The Compound Effect
If you plan on traveling abroad for an extended period of time, try this fun exercise and keep the random pieces of information on what you did, ate and saw. It was fun to put this little list together based on the information I kept from our travels!
kimmyloveyourlifeSeptember 29, 2017 at 7:24 pm
This is a great post! And very helpful, thanks!
denaidenSeptember 29, 2017 at 9:37 pm
Liza, thank you for the detailed write up! This is super helpful and i’m amazed at your discipline in calculating and documenting all the numbers. Our common friend Dima shared your blog with me, since I do a lot of travelling and am about to spend a month working abroad in Spain (and probably do some travel in Europe along the way).
Curious, the accommodation in London – one of the most expensive cities – says $0. Did you stay with friends there as well? And I’m assuming, since Sasha’s family is from Russia and you spent a month there, the total for accommodation would be higher for somebody who is not staying with friends/relatives.
contoursofatravelersmapSeptember 30, 2017 at 8:56 pm
Privet!! I’m so happy Dima shared my blog! Yes, you are correct in that we had free accommodation in London staying with one of Sasha’s good friends. I thought I had mentioned that in there, but perhaps I missed it, thanks for pointing it out! I’ll go back and include that. 🙂 Yes, you are correct that we stayed with his family in Russia and also they cooked many meals at home, which saved us a great deal on eating out and grocery expenses. However, in Italy and Croatia we were completely on our own for all expenses, so those two countries are perhaps a closer estimation to what you would typically pay for a trip traveling in the “mid-range” budget category. That’s so wonderful that you will be working abroad in Spain! My dream was always to teach English in Spain (I’m fluent in Spanish as I studied it in University) but the unemployment rate has been so awful there lately! Do you mind me asking what you will be doing? I hope you get the chance to travel to Italy and Greece, as those were our two favourite countries! Have an amazing time and feel free to reach out anytime if you have further specific questions! Cheers!
denaidenSeptember 30, 2017 at 11:56 pm
Liza, thank you for the response and clarifications.
Regarding what I’ll be doing in Spain , the company I work for allows us a month of remote work a year. We have to cover the expenses of getting to and staying at the place of our choosing, but at least we don’t have to be in the office, as long as the work gets done. I work for one of the tech companies in the DC area that still has a startup feel to it, this is one of the perks.
I’ve been considering teaching English in China at some point, but never summoned the courage to actually do it… There is a huge demand for English teachers in Asia, and, mst of the time, you don’t have to know the local language. One of my colleagues did it for two years and travelled all over Asia. Might not be a bad option, if you guys are still in the exploring mood 😉
contoursofatravelersmapOctober 1, 2017 at 3:38 pm
Oh, that’s so great, what an amazing benefit!! Sasha’s sister is actually teaching English abroad in Taipei and she loves it! I considered that at some point and would still consider it, though it isn’t the most lucrative path. However, it’s a great way to base yourself somewhere and learn about the culture!
HaiHui StoryOctober 12, 2017 at 3:24 pm
OOOHH, i Love your article! This is exactly the info i’m looking for, when getting ready for a bigger trip! Safe travels, guys! And congrats on the engagement! 😀
contoursofatravelersmapOctober 12, 2017 at 4:35 pm
Thank you so much! I’m glad that you found the article useful. I wish I had found something like this before we started so that I had a better idea of how to budget, so I hoped that it would help people who traveled after us! 🙂
HaiHui StoryOctober 12, 2017 at 5:31 pm
This is exactly what i thought before going on a roadtrip crossing 6 countries! And i did exactly the same(an article with a map and budget overview),after we got back home! 🙂
contoursofatravelersmapOctober 12, 2017 at 9:08 pm
That’s so awesome! Where can I find that article on your blog? I’d love to read it! 🙂
HaiHui StoryOctober 13, 2017 at 7:28 am
Here it is 🙂
contoursofatravelersmapOctober 13, 2017 at 8:14 pm
WOW gorgeous photos!! And how funny about the tourists asking how they built Plitvice Lakes, lol! Looks like a really amazing (but quick!) road trip!!
CareerBreakAdventuresDecember 16, 2017 at 8:02 pm
Nice post and congratulation on getting engaged in Greece!
contoursofatravelersmapDecember 17, 2017 at 5:56 am
Thank you so much! 🙂