In July of 2011, we made the decision to leave our comfortable jobs in Northern California to see the world. We had always enjoyed travel and for years had dreamed of traveling full time. Careers, family and other commitments took precedence over adventure and we could never really find the right time to make our move. Our youngest son had recently left for college and had made the decision to stay at school for the summer. Our house felt empty and we realized our lives had become routine. We really wanted an adventure. We wondered if now was the time.
We weren’t old enough for traditional retirement. We had been good savers for several years and had a decent amount of savings. We both had a small pension from previous jobs. We definitely weren’t rich but if we could live modestly and watch our money, we felt we could manage. We exchanged luxuries for experiences and made our decision to take on the world.
We would travel slowly, staying in cities and towns for longer periods than most tourists have time for. Hopefully, it would give us an opportunity to observe local life in a unique way. We would live in small apartments and cook the majority of our meals at home. We would live like residents instead of visitors.
Within a fast-paced two weeks, we had rented our house, sold or given away most of our things and put a few collected treasures in storage. Our children thought we were crazy, although growing up as travelers themselves, probably understood. We packed our car with the minimum amount of things we thought we needed and headed south to Mexico, our first destination.
It was challenging in ways we never expected. Languages, customs and traditions were different. We found we needed to rely on each other more than we ever had in our lives. Every day was different from the last. Food, weather and lifestyle were radically different. We did not have the large budget that most tourists use to overcome challenges. With patience, we began to discover that most everyone in the world has more commonalities than differences. Our map skills got better and our world expanded. Eventually, we went further south, crossing into Guatemala and the rest of Central America. We spent almost two years traveling over 30,000 miles of some of the roughest roads in North America. Stopped only by the end of the road in Panama, we saw the biggest towns and smallest villages and learned a new language and a new lifestyle. We learned to live for experiences and not possessions.
We did miss our children. They enjoyed coming to visit as often as they could. We found inexpensive flights are plentiful these days. Because we had rented apartments and cooked at home it was not that expensive to have them spend time with us wherever we were. Video calls and Facebook allowed us to stay connected better than we ever expected.
Eventually, we realized that our new lifestyle could take us nearly anywhere we wanted to go. With the use of websites like Airbnb, we found affordable apartments easily accessible everywhere in the world. Discount airfares were plentiful with minimal shopping. Our world suddenly was greatly expanded. We put our car in storage and left for Asia. We learned to use public transportation and frankly walked the shoes off our feet. We literally learned to live with what we could carry. If we couldn’t fit it into our backpacks, we didn’t need it.
Europe seemed unattainable because of costs. We found that by choosing small apartments and taking advantage of excellent public transportation we could get by even on our small budget. Of course, we loved seeing France, Italy and Spain but the surprises came when we saw less touristed but equally interesting countries like Poland, Czech Republic, Croatia, Romania and Ukraine. Even exotic locations of Turkey, Morocco and Israel were possible for us.
Photographs became our main souvenir of the places we visited. While we still enjoyed perusing the many markets we encountered, our vagabond lifestyle did not permit us to buy as often as we would have liked. We enjoyed looking at photographs of the most beautiful places on earth and figuring out ways that we could capture the images for ourselves. Rather than countries leading us to photographs, we found the photographs leading us to countries. We spend many an evening on a pristine hill overlooking unbelievable cityscapes transformed as sunsets illuminate our newly discovered surroundings.
We have just begun our 8th consecutive year of travel. Despite our glacial pace, we have now traveled to 47 countries on 5 continents and have no intention of stopping. We have returned home for major occasions such as weddings, graduations and a few celebrations and even had an opportunity to see some of our own country. The farther we travel the more we realize there is to see. The world is an incredible place and our life would not have been complete without sampling a good chunk of it. Our lives have forever been changed for the better. We appreciate what we have seen and look forward to each new place with great anticipation. Isn’t that how life is meant to be lived?