We are not long for Mali. Every day our options for exploring the country shrink and I feel more confined. This is such an unfortunate circumstance…no visiting villages, no travel South, no music, a feeling that we can go no where outside the city without the minute chance of being abducted or put in harms way. The funny thing is that you would never know what is happening by sitting in the mango grove and having tea until someone tells you that there are check points on every bridge to make sure that dangerous people don’t enter the city. Ironically, we have heard that the only arms being seized are leaving the city, not entering it. I guess that should make us feel a little more secure. I think we could stay in Bamako for quite some time and never be in danger, but I’m starting to ask myself if there are greener pastures elsewhere. Jess and I are still enjoying the food, which gets cooked for us every day (thanks Salli) for like $4. I am really enjoying the national dish of Mali, cheb, which is a rice dish with veg and some meat or fish. I have had one alcoholic beverage here (Flag, the most common beer here, which taste pretty much like every countries most common beer; inoffensive and easy to drink) and have had no want for another; people just don’t drink here and I don’t miss it. I’ll save the drinking  for Europe.

We went to the grand market on Monday, which was pretty cool. We went to the actual practical market and also the artist market. While the regular market was a little slow, the artisanal market was absolutely dead. We were told that we were the first tourists there in over 6 months, and the desperation was palpable. Every seller would tell us that “looking is free” and they will make us “best price”, then throw everything they could at us. Jess and I very much overpaid for some items (gifts for family) and felt pretty good about it. It was pretty sad, but even when sellers did not close the deal with us they were gracious and wished us well.

Luckily, by the market was a pharmacy where I bought ibuprofen. I have had ongoing problems with my feet: First they cracked and bled, then I got some kind of heat blisters trying to wear shoes to protect the cracks which quickly burst and left open sores, then I tripped and bruised my right foot. Ironically, the plantar fasciitis I suffer from is nearly none existent here. I’ve actually run out of band-aids trying to cover the sores so that the swarms of flies don’t get them infected…really annoying. At least I’m toughening up my feet!

I can only imagine that we will leave in the next couple of days unless a compelling reason to stay presents itself. This is definitely not the way I wanted to see Mali, but I am still really glad we came here.

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 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?