beginnings

Up and Out: Packing, Budgeting and Leaving (aka Leaping Part 3)

Departure day! The last 24 hours are what we've been preparing for - jet lag, no sleep and exhaustion. Just kidding. Kinda. But we've packed and budgeted and now travel. It’s been a long time coming and we've safely arrived in Brugge, Belgium, our first leg of this trip. I’m extremely excited to spend a week in Belgium, and have been thinking fondly of my future 4 food groups: Chocolate, waffles, beer and fries. YES. 3 days in Brugge, 2 in Gent and 3 in Brussels, I cannot wait. I’m sure the resident food editor, Jon, will have much to say on the topic of fries and mayo – especially since he does not like mayonnaise. More pictures coming soon, we're only just recovering from the long flight.

FYI, this post will mostly be a catch-up on the how-to of long-term travel - or at least, what we know so far.

For those with whom we haven’t connected lately, here’s what’s up:

We left Portland on December 22, after selling the majority of our belongings, including the car, and packed the rest into a moving van to head up to Olympia, Washington.

We arrived at Jon’s moms’ house (thanks Sheryl & Dayna!) where we spent the week of Christmas. The moms are truly making our trip possible, by storing the rest of our stuff in a little shed in their backyard, and letting us forward our mail to their address. It’s things like this that really make leaving possible. A storage unit would have cost us over $1000/year, which is money we didn’t have.

There was quite a lot of business to take care of before leaving Olympia. But my favorite part (other than relaxing with family of course) was that our moving truck had a giant picture of a firefly on it (exhibit A in the giant picture at the top) – a serendipitous sign I think of good things to come.

Packing

Many of you have also asked how one packs for a year abroad. The answer? You don’t. Bring a few changes of clothes, buy what you need while traveling, leave things behind when you’re done with them. Jon and I both have 1 bag each plus a small carry-on size day bag. One of the books we read (thank you Garrett Downen for the recommendation) Vagabonding, also suggests this. The idea is to pack light. The biggest challenge for us was packing for 2 climates – a week in Belgium (same weather as Portland right now) and 2-3 months in West Africa, with highs of 95 and lows of 65. In the past I’ve found the packing list on OneBag.com extremely useful, and highly recommend it. I usually trade out a few things here and there. We also brought a bit of technology – the laptop and charger, our Kindles, an external hard drive, the necessary cords and outlet adapters (thanks BCA!), plus of course the camera.

Budget

I also have some budget updates, since we offer transparency in an effort to express that this kind of travel isn’t just for the wealthy. Both Jon and I can say with confidence that had we looked at these numbers 2 years ago on somebody else’s blog, we’d think, “well, no way can we do that.” The point is that we didn’t realize how much money we had, nor what we could buy with it. We also didn’t realize that by selling a few things, I could get rid of my debt and have the freedom to make financial choices differently. Don’t get me wrong, it took a lot of work to get here, and these numbers are a combination of our cash, savings, sales and lots of other ways we worked to make the most of our money. These numbers also assume that we’re coming back with no additional savings. Highly irresponsible in “today’s economy” but hey, you have to live sometime.

After it was all said and done, we left with the following assets:

  • A grand total of about $13,500, which includes our pooled resources and sale of stuff and car.
  • We also have some money set aside, which we will save to come home and set up shop.
  • Additional income will come through my client work and any jobs we can come by on the road.

And of course we have expenses. Here’s where things are at:

  • With the cost of leaving the country, final bills, the last car and rent payments and moving expenses, we totaled about $3585 of expenses before we even started.

All told, we’re trotting off with around $10,000. Europe is way expensive so after some crafty budgeting by Jon, we’re expecting to be just over $9,100 by the time we land in Mali.

$9,000 may or may not sound like a lot, but I can tell you that I feel rich with the prospect of knowing that I’m buying experiences from here on out, and that the choices I make won’t be whether or not to eat a Belgian waffle, but rather, what kind of amazingness I want on that Belgian waffle. It won’t be about paying too much for cable, or even if we should pay for cable, but which incredible art museum we should visit, or which bus we should take that will lead us to somewhere unexpected. These are all good things.

So the question for you: what experiences would you buy with $9,000?

Endings & Beginnings

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I’ve been thinking a lot this last week about beginnings and endings; about chapters in our lives and transitions from one to the next. Jon and I on the fast-track now, with one week until we leave Portland, two until international departure. Whether it’s jobs, where we live, and the people we see every day, there are endings, and new beginnings happening at rapid pace. We ended our jobs yesterday. I wrote in an earlier post that my job and my personal life had become a little too intertwined for comfort. And although the anticipation of the job ending was a long time coming (I gave notice almost 3 months in advance), the day came and went, the access to email and contact lists was gone, the work that was in progress is handed off, and the chapter was closed as swiftly as ever. Trust me, this is all a good thing. Having instant access to your work email all the time is a choice I made when allowing the smartphone to come into the house, and with its arrival the boundary between personal and professional time was even more blurred than before. More than just email, my job became my community, my lifestyle. And so been a long time and I got so accustomed to that line being blurred. My journey of searching for the me without the job has already begun. Now of course, the ending of a job doesn’t mean the ending of the relationships with the people - that for sure is one thing I’ll hold on to, regardless of wherever my new beginnings take me.

There are other chapters that are ending for me too – all with equally balanced beginnings on the other side. But I continue to believe that while things end, they don’t disappear or become less significant. I may leave the arts community for a short time, but the people I met, and the work we did certainly made a lasting impression on me – and I hope I contributed to it in return.

When I think back on my relatively short life, I think about the chapters, about the times that began and ended, only to begin again. As Jon put it while I was writing this, thinking about the past is a natural way of informing our present; and processing where we think we’re going in the future. Well said. What a change we have coming.

And so to stop boring you with my ramblings, since I’m apparently so deep in this mushy ending/beginning time I don’t actually have a point (other than to muse), I leave you with a reading from camp. It’s a reading that I jotted down many years ago in a quote/poetry journal that I kept for years. I realized the other day that the journal ended up in a recycle bin pile when I was cleaning out the basement. Bummer, talk about an ending. Anyway, thanks to Ruth Igoe from Clearwater for sending me the text. These are a few excerpts from “Beginnings & Endings” by Darcy Gruber, 1980 Counselor at Clearwater Camp.

“...If we stop to think about it, life is an endless stream of beginnings followed by endings, followed again, by beginnings. It is the beginnings and endings that make life really worth experiencing.

Here today, each and everyone of us faces an ending and a beginning…Some of us are ending one phase of our lives here and are approaching a new and different phase....This is the way of life and although it is difficult at times, perhaps, some endings are too hard to make - I would prefer life no other way.

Each one of us was touched by someone here and it is up to us to spread these new "touches," these feelings with others. Each one of us has also touched someone. We must continue on, gather more experiences and knowledge - so that, if we meet again, we will have that much more to share and learn. Everyone of us should realize the best thing we have to offer in this world is ourselves.

…I may never see you again, but we have found a place where we will always be together no matter how many miles separate us physically…And know that after every ending, there is always a new beginning.”