Ditching it All
What we learned on the road.
Posted Wednesday, September 3, 2008, 12:16PM
Imagine: no career, no house, no debt, no timelines, just the open road and adventure waiting around every corner. That’s the life my partner and I have created for ourselves. We are living our dream of traveling the world; not in high style, or even in RV style, and not using two or three weeks of paid time off. We are two women who abandoned the normal structure of society and almost all its obligations and set out on a quest to live simple yet worldly lives. We left our careers, sold our homes and most of our belongings, and put the rest into storage. We thought our adventure could last only as long as the funds we had put aside, so we planned well, survived on very little and thought creatively. We drove off with a little apprehension, a lot of enthusiasm and only a general idea of where we’d end up.
To make this lifestyle possible, we arranged for all of our financial matters to be accessible via the Internet. Our yearly checkups were out of the way before our new, high-deductible medical insurance policies went into effect. We stocked up on vitamins and bought natural remedies for everything from the common cold to food poisoning. A new joint email address allowed us to send updates and photos, and we printed it on business cards to hand out to new friends. We joined Hostelling International (hiusa.org), renewed our AAA membership (aaa.com), bought a National Parks Pass (store.usgs.gov/pass) and joined US SERVAS (usservas.org), a travel and host organization with a mission to promote peace.
“Minimize” became the name of the game: our small SUV was packed with camping gear, a cooler that operates on energy from a utility outlet, basic clothing and personal care items, and lots of maps and books. We prepared for over a year, but we were still arranging our possessions in the car until right before we hit the road.
It might seem unbelievable, but we transitioned very smoothly into our new life. We missed friends and family but didn’t give unemployment or homelessness a second thought. Our car became our new home, and the myriad decisions that we faced every day became our new full-time jobs. Over a period of 18 months, we traveled 60,000 miles through 48 states and eight Canadian provinces. We visited dozens of national parks, mastered the streets and subways of many large U.S. cities, backpacked through Europe for seven weeks, hopped aboard an Alaskan cruise and volunteered with the post-Katrina animal rescue efforts in Mississippi. After our first year and a half, we felt as if we’d had a lifetime of adventure, even though we’d seen only a small portion of our world.
Staying in host homes along the way enriched our travel. Not only were we able to meet new friends, but we enjoyed warm showers, soft beds and delicious meals without spending a dime. Hostelling afforded another cheap and fun way to make connections and meet people from overseas. At a hostel near Yosemite, we shared our spaghetti dinner and laptop with a woman from France who later hosted us in Europe. She generously spent four days driving us to Roman ruins, medieval castles and wineries all over Provence. It turns out that travelers create their own networks, look out for one another, stay in touch and extend invitations to visit.
People marveled that we each averaged just $1,000 per month in expenses, but actually, we could have done it for less by staying at more SERVAS host homes. Over the past three years, we have stopped to work for periods of time when funds became low. It seems entirely possible to continue our journey in this manner as long as we have the desire to see more of the incredible world we live in.
This unique way of living is about more than just finding inexpensive ways to travel and meet people. It reflects our guiding principle: We open ourselves to the richness of the world while connecting with others as fellow travelers and lifelong learners. Our way of living challenges society’s rules and expectations about job security, retirement planning and home ownership. It lets go of the fear that keeps people stuck in jobs they don’t enjoy. It requires trusting in yourself and knowing that living a life you love will ultimately take you where you need to be. Opportunities that you would never have imagined will be available because of the space you’ve made for them to appear.
We have found that our openness to whatever comes our way always makes for a good lesson and a wonderful story to tell as we’re sitting around a campfire or a communal dinner table. We look forward to the next steps in our journey, and encourage others to expand and enrich their lives through travel.
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