While we seek an agent or publisher, we are providing excerpts from our forthcoming book in progress — Changes in Longitude: How One Couple Chucked it All to Travel the World. Here is the final section of Chapter 1: Gonna Fly Now.
Once we went public with our plans, the first question many friends asked was, “You two are going to backpack?” The short answer: “No.” It didn’t seem like a good time to teach our old spines new tricks. The wheeled suitcases that had served us well in the past would be our portable closets.
So how do you pack for a whole year? The reality is, you don’t. We packed as if we were going on a one-week vacation, albeit one we planned on repeating 52 times. Each of us played clothing Tetris as we filled up a 22-inch wheeled suitcase and shoulder bag. That would be home for the next year. With cold climates knocked off the list, we didn’t need bulky sweaters or heavy coats. Most of the clothing sold in the U.S. is made in the countries we were visiting, so we could pick up anything else we needed along the way.
Our luggage for the year patiently waits to check into the apartment we rented in Paris.
Michael can wear the same outfit for weeks, months, or even years, so packing light wasn’t a problem for him. More fashion-conscious, Larissa needed to be a bit more creative, mixing and matching the few items she brought along. One of her biggest challenges was figuring out how to get by without a closet full of shoes.
Our unconventional quest to shake up our lives was finally becoming a reality. We purchased two one-way tickets to China and booked our first few week’s lodging in Beijing. Loose ends—banking details, storing our few remaining belongings, arranging a drop box for our mail—were getting checked off one by one.
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Late August in Philadelphia can be a magical time. The city still moves at the languid pace of summer, but the humid air begins to clear in anticipation of the crispness of fall. A few days before our departure we took a long walk around the city we had called home for more than 25 years. The city glittered under a gemstone sky that painted the Colonial brick buildings a ruby-red, and the leaves on the lush trees an emerald-green.
We approached the large Greek Revival structure, hulking like a modern-era Parthenon, perched atop a rise at the end of the tree-lined Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Our destination was the steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Known worldwide as “the Rocky Steps,” this is where fictional boxer Rocky Balboa, the inspirational underdog from the classic movie Rocky, experienced his triumphant moment.
The pivotal scene in the film occurs after Rocky has transformed himself from an out-of-shape pug to a ripped fighting machine. He runs through the streets of Philadelphia and eventually winds up at the base of these imposing steps. At the outset of training he could barely make it to the top. Now he bounds up the steps with the unbridled energy of a child tearing through presents on Christmas morning. It’s at this point viewers realize Rocky is capable of reaching his goal of “going the distance.”
On the Rocky Steps with our trip mascot Little Rocky. We brought him along to six continents.
The Rocky Steps are a symbol of triumph over adversity that has become one of Philadelphia’s most visited sites. Tourists from all over the world have been inspired by the underdog story. Every day of the year locals and visitors race up the steps, going the distance, emulating their cinematic hero.
The bottom of the steps marked the start of our journey, next to the statue of Rocky that was a prop in the filming of a sequel. We too would go the distance, transforming ourselves in our own way while we circled the globe. Only when we finished would we return to join the others running triumphantly to the top.
Appropriately enough, the music that plays in the background while Rocky makes his celebratory sprint is “Gonna Fly Now.” We couldn’t think of a better song to hum as we boarded the plane to Beijing.
You’ve just read Chapter 1: Gonna Fly Now (Part 3/Final) of our book in progress—Changes in Longitude: How One Couple Chucked it All to Travel the World.
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Larissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.