Mysteries Solved! - kinda

My my, does time fly. It's already been three weeks since we ended our jobs at American Village, flew to Florida and arrived back in Europe. How did that happen so quickly?! Well it did. We're currently in Southend, England, in the county of Essex, about 45 minutes east of London by train. It's a bit of a story, but I'll tell you how we ended up here. Sorry for the delay in the post - the blog has been broken all week! The Art of Planning (and the non-art of not planning)

As many of you know, we started this trip 5 months ago with a pretty clear idea of how it would progress. Belgium, Mali, Senegal, Mauritania, Morocco, we thought Spain, but then we got the jobs in France so we headed there. We knew we'd be there until early May and that would end the first 'leg' of our journey. It never really crossed our minds how important that basic outline to our plan was - because it'd always been there. Sure we got sick, we got tired, we got to pick and choose cities and be flexible on timing. But overall, we had the plan.

Fast forward to May 6. We're in Lyon, just finished with camp, with one day in Paris before flying to Jacksonville. We had no place to stay in Paris. Luckily our now former employer offers 1 free night in Paris to all employees, so we were fortunate to take advantage of that and stay in a decent hotel in a cool neighborhood we'd never see (Vincennes, check it out next time you're in Paris!). At the time I remember thinking, "ok, when we get to Florida, I really want to work on finding a great place to stay for when we go back."

But it became abundantly clear to us that we really had absolutely no plan of what our next move would be after Florida. All we had was a return ticket to Paris and an impending date. Turns out also that the weekend we flew back is a holiday weekend, so everything - and I mean everything was booked. Couchsurfing royally failed us (if you're not familiar, couchsurfing.org is a site you can go to in order to connect with people all over the world who will offer a free place to stay) - we probably reached out to over 20 people with no replies. Hostels were booked, airbnb was booked - and expensive, and no replies from TripAdvisor's vacation rentals left us wondering if we were going to have to skip Paris again and pick a random town in France to go to. Luckily at the very 11th hour (as in we didn't have a confirmation by the time we boarded our overnight flight from Charlotte to Paris...) we found a decently priced hotel - and although we wanted to find free or almost-free accommodations - we were so desperate we booked it.

But all of that last minute scramble made us realize that we weren't able to spend anytime even thinking about what we might do after our 3 days in Paris. Money is getting tight and we want to make the most of our time with the least amount of expenditures.

At this moment, I have to thank my dear family, who all throughout my brother's incredible wedding weekend (congrats Jeremy!), were kindly asking, "So...where are you going next?" To which we could only answer, "Um...we land in Paris." (end of conversation)

So after three days, in Paris, between seeing the sights, walking about 20 miles in 2 days and enjoying our last bit of France (for now, hopefully), we connected with a few of Jon's college and work friends, and an old friend of mine to piece together 8 days in the UK. Don't ask us what we're doing next week! We'll let you know :)

All of this has really made me appreciate how the world being one's oyster can be both a blessing and a curse. Transport is expensive, but we could go just about anywhere. The multitude of choices has been our downfall and we're working to figure that one out. For now, we're enjoying the small coastal town of Southend, then up to Peterborough north of London and then up to Newcastle. Funny that in trying to save money we've taken ourselves to the most expensive countries in Europe. Oops.

Hot, Sunny Florida

So what did we do in the States? Other than a brief medical episode (we had to, we've seen doctors in every country, got to keep the streak going at this point), we relaxed, ate delicious home-cooked meals - thanks Mom and Dad - and enjoyed our friends and family in celebration of my brother's wedding.

We also visited Universal Studios and got relish in our dorkdom at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We did have to stop ourselves a couple times while marveling at Hogwarts castle and realize that it's silly we're less impressed by real castles. It was a fun time to ride the rides and play all day at the theme park. Even the crazy downpour we walked through was nice - tropical rain is nice and warm - as opposed to the 40 degree frigid rain we were welcomed with in Paris.

Speaking of Paris

It's grand. There simply isn't another word for the size and scale of the City of Light. I've been to Paris before a few times, but I hadn't done the sights in the last few visits. We only had 2 full days and boy did we pack it in. Day one had us at the Eiffel Tower, a walk to Les Invalides (where Napoleon is buried), a visit to the Rodin Museum, Musée d'Orsay and the quintessential eating experience - Royale with Cheese at McDonalds.  Day 2 had us on the Right Bank, starting at the Arc de Triomphe and a walk down the ENTIRE Champs Elysée past the Jardin des Tuileries, through the Louvre (we didn't go it, we were too tired), a cross over Pont Neuf (supposedly the most romantic spot in Paris - can you tell by our pictures?), a visit to Notre Dame, ice cream at the famed Barthillon and a walk through the 5th arrondissement up Rue Moufftard and back for a quick break before having a fabulous eating experience at a little neighborhood Basque restaurant. It was an enormous amount of walking - which justified the extra crepes and ice cream - and a lot to see in 48 hours. I already miss it and hope we can go again, but I'll look forward to the English countryside just the same.

Southeast England

We've been blessed to be welcomed by a former co-worker and friend of Jon's into his home for a few days in Southend - heartily described as the "Jersey Shore" of England. I don't know what to say about that, other than I had a lot of fun playing the arcade games the first night we arrived.

We've been enjoying a very 'english' experience - pubs, fish 'n' chips, afternoon tea in a garden, and roaming the countryside of Kent looking at old (as in built in the 14th century) country homes, mansions and castles. I love it!

We're still working out the next leg of our adventure. In a couple of days we should know more. But for now, think England, Hungary, France or Norway. Once we know, we'll tell you why :) We're just as curious as you are (maybe you're curious?) to find out, but that's all part of the fun right? And yes, even though it's uncertain, we're still having a blast!


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.


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.


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?

Leaping: Part 2


In my first post, I wrote about how Jon and I have decided to make our own rules; to change the playing field, and come up with a different lifestyle. We’ve been talking with our families and it’s starting to sink in how this philosophy is truly a departure from everything around us. Since we pledged that this would be for all of you who feel like you can’t leave your obligations, or your responsibilities, we want to be honest with how we’re going about this.

Jon and I haven’t been planning this trip for a long time. Indeed, we've known we wanted to go to West Africa for over 18 months, but the question of whether or not we could ‘make it work’ lingered for a long time, and so we never really committed to saving and doing it. Bad move on our part: If you don’t take the first step and make the decision, time just flies by and before you know it, it’s 10 months before you want to leave and you haven’t saved really much at all.

So we sat down and figured out the budget. It included the following for 1 week in Europe over New Year’s Eve, 4 weeks in Mali, 3 weeks in Senegal, 2 weeks in Morocco and 1 week in Spain, with all the travel in between countries:

  • $2,300 savings from gifts received from our wedding, joint savings and some other random cash we pulled together
  • an expected $1,100 from the ‘car fund’: money Jon gets from mileage and gas reimbursement from his work that involves driving nearly 300 miles per week, minus expected car repairs and maintenance
  • $3,000 Jon’s personal savings money, after keeping some for reserve for when we get back
  • $3,000 Jess’ personal savings, with no reserve for the return (yikes! I had credit card debt that zeroed out my savings awhile back…)
  • $2616 Jess’ last month of earnings from work plus about $500 in unused vacation hours
  • $2700 Jon’s last month of earnings from work

This is a total of $15,200 to start with, not including the sale of any of our stuff, our furniture or our car (which we expect to net about $3000 from).  Also, because we bought a one-way ticket, we were going to need to save some cash to get us back home if one of us got really sick, or we just ran out of money. So we calculated a months worth of really cheap living, plus putting down first/last month’s rent on a new place, which came to reserving $4,000 for airfare and the aforementioned expenses. I will make a note here that at this point we have no plans to purchase medical insurance while traveling, which does make us both nervous, but we can’t afford it… Stay tuned on that one. We're going to try and find some money to do this - maybe from the sale of our car.

Of course, that is for a short 2-3 month trip and we've decided to not come back. So now the key is not spending all that money and finding work for short stints in order to continue our travel. It's all about being resourceful, and we're looking forward to it.

So there you have it. What about expenses you say? Well sure, we have them. Here's what we're looking at:

  • Student loans - we have 'em, but without income, they go down to about $10/mo, so that's $20/mo for both of us
  • Credit cards - I have 'em, and wasn't able to pay them off before leaving, but we transferred everything to a no-interest card - it's about $100/mo, which is more than the minimum payment, but not by much.
  • Phone - not sure what this is going to cost overseas. We'll take my smart phone and buy SIM cards locally, minutes and data will depend on usage. We'll mostly stick with skype.

Hopefully other than feeding, housing and clothing ourselves, there won’t be a lot of required costs. For someone like me who’s always had a lot of stuff, I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to getting rid of it, going minimalistic and hitting the road.

Some people ask us if we're selling everything, or if we're storing stuff. Definitely storing stuff. Part of the reason we shied away from doing this in the first place was honestly because we were afraid to come back to nothing. But we've realized it doesn't have to be that way. We also just got a beautiful set of Heath dish and serverware, plus other gifts from our wedding. We also have a few pieces of furniture that we'll keep - things that will fit in a small apartment and we'll need when we get back. We also have some bigger things that we don't want to sell, but that others can enjoy on loan - like our tv, grill and the super nice washing machine that my folks bought us as a housewarming gift.

Looking at everything we have has really made us realize our assets. By doing an inventory of our things, and what’s really of value to us and what we don’t mind selling or giving away has truly opened out eyes to the small riches we’re living with, and how we really do have the freedom to let it go and use the resources from our stuff to start living our lives the way we want to. Hells yeah, that’s super exciting and so so freeing!

What things would you sell/keep in order to cut the cord and be mobile?