airplane taking off

Chapter 1: Gonna Fly Now (Part 2)

by Michael on May 19, 2013

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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.

. . . continued from Chapter 1: Gonna Fly Now (Part 1) That’s what we needed, a journey to reboot our lives . . .

We would take the trip avid travelers dream of: circumnavigating the globe with an open itinerary. Most people postpone the dream until after retirement, but suddenly now seemed to be the best time for us to go. There was one problem: we couldn’t afford to simply drop out and travel for a year. We had a house, jobs, responsibilities. But we also couldn’t afford not to go; we needed this time away to salvage our physical and emotional health, so we figured out a way to make it work.

The answer was right at home or, more accurately, our house. We had lived there for 20 years, so at least it was worth more than the mortgage. We had outgrown it, or perhaps more accurately, it had outgrown us. Now that we were empty nesters, reluctant or otherwise, we didn’t need that much room. Despite lousy market timing, we put our house up for sale during the economic slump of 2010; even with the slowdown, the proceeds would be enough to fund our adventure. We were trading security for freedom, pulling up our roots so our branches could flourish.

The next step was to get rid of all our stuff, the very possessions we had worked so hard to acquire. Like many others, we had trudged along the career treadmill with another shiny toy always on the horizon. But what did any of those things really mean to us? Most of our objects now tied us down to a life that we no longer felt a part of.

Overloaded-truck1

We sold our wedding gifts—fancy dishes and “must haves” from a bygone era—on eBay. We donated carloads of clothing and household items to local charities. Michael even parted ways with his high-school weightlifting bench. (Larissa was heartbroken over that one, he hadn’t touched it in 20 years.) Craigslist also came in handy. Anything we posted in the “free” section was gone within an hour. This process was cathartic; as our closets emptied, we felt lighter and freer ourselves.

Next we rented a small row house in central Philadelphia for a year, where we would plan the trip. With only a few personal belongings left, and a finite end to a lease, it would be easier to walk away when the time came. Living in the city also enabled us to sell our cars.

Suddenly our grand idea—“Hey, let’s travel around the world for a year!”—morphed into practically a full-time job, complete with a giant “to do” list. The house was gone, but we still had to find travel health insurance, stick out our arms for multiple vaccinations (did yellow fever still exist?), figure out how to handle our finances on the road, and on and on.

We met with a doctor who specializes in travel medicine. She loaded us up with pills for malaria, along with powerful antibiotics that could go toe-to-toe with any parasites found in the darkest recesses of the Congo. Her last admonition before we left her office was, “And don’t eat any street food!” Little did we know we’d end up breaking that rule quite often.

kapana in namibia

Larissa tries some street BBQ in Africa. She didn’t find out it was donkey until later.

Michael viewed visits to some of the world’s more remote destinations as a first-class ticket on the Immodium express, and was disappointed to learn that the popular “cork-in-a-capsule” medicine wasn’t available in the form of a patch he could wear all year. Instead, we bought a device that resembled a miniature purple lava lamp to sanitize drinking water in places where bottled water was recommended but unavailable. We doubted it would work, but it was sort of fun to watch it glow.

Half the excitement of a trip is planning the itinerary, but with the world as our blank slate we were almost overwhelmed. An inflatable globe became our essential trip planning tool. We batted it back and forth, playing a sort of global volleyball connecting continental dots. Our must-see list of destinations included a combination of countries, cities, and monuments: Australia, Paris, Angkor Wat, Petra, Africa, Buenos Aires, and North Korea. (That last one was Michael’s idea. The same romantic guy mapped out World War I battlefields to visit on our rain-soaked honeymoon in France, and couldn’t understand Larissa’s lack of enthusiasm about trudging through yet another muddy fort.)

No slouch in the marital negotiation department, Larissa brokered a deal: She would be a good sport about North Korea if Michael, never a big nature boy, would brave lions and elephants and big spiders on safari in Africa.

bayon temple angkor wat

We also didn’t want to be anywhere when it was cold, so Antarctica was out. Maybe it wouldn’t be an endless summer, but perhaps at least an endless spring. Other than that, we planned on visiting all six of the remaining continents. These criteria formed the bones of our itinerary; the rest we’d fill in along the way.

To paraphrase Horace Greeley, we decided to “go west, middle-aged couple.” By continuously heading westward, we would pick up time, thus minimizing the effects of jet lag. Many long-term travelers buy special round-the-world plane tickets, but we decided that wasn’t for us. There were too many travel restrictions, and we would have to fix our whole year’s itinerary in advance: something we were determined not to do.

Already, this journey was changing us, and we hadn’t even left yet. In the past, we planned our vacations months in advance, nailing down all the arrangements so we could relax while we were away. This was different. We wouldn’t be vacationers, but wanderers, not tied into any pre-set schedule. Often we wouldn’t even know what country we’d be visiting the following week.

With so much time at our disposal, we also wanted to travel at a much slower pace than if we were on a short vacation. Our goal was to immerse ourselves in the local culture as much as possible wherever we stayed, focusing less on seeing a place than on being there. We would rent apartments or cottages wherever possible, which would serve the dual purpose of keeping costs down and getting us off the well-trod tourist pathways. As eager foodies, we also wanted to shop in local markets and try to recreate the aromas wafting from other kitchens in the neighborhoods where we’d be staying.

You’ve just read Chapter 1 (Part 2) of our book in progress—Changes in Longitude: How One Couple Chucked it All to Travel the World. Next week we’ll post Chapter 1: Gonna Fly Now (Part 3/Final).

Here are links to:

Prologue: One Night in Saigon.

Chapter 1: Gonna Fly Now (Part 1)

Please leave any feedback below.

We are seeking an outlet for this book. Interested agents and publishers can reach us by clicking the “Contact” button near the top of this page.

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Warren May 19, 2013 at 10:50 am

The story keeps getting better.

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Michael May 20, 2013 at 7:21 pm

Thanks Warren.

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Will May 19, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Excellent chapter. I think you are expressing what people who are getting wiser are understanding – material possessions tie you down and don’t lead to happiness/life satisfaction.

I’m sure on your travels people asked you,”Where are you from?” How did you two reply? :)

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Michael May 19, 2013 at 9:16 pm

We would say “Philly” particularly since we were traveling with a mini statue of hometown hero Rocky Balboa. But now that we are back in the US we are still nomads so when people ask us where we live we say “Nowhere.” Which sort of makes us sound like we’re in the witness protection program. We need a better answer and are open to suggestions.

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Kate May 19, 2013 at 5:27 pm

I admire you for what you are doing and your travel ethos e.g not booking a round the world flight, but leaving your options open, experiencing “being in a place rather than just seeing a place” . Selling up everything is a huge leap of faith in yourselves but how freeing! I do feel that my house and possessions are a noose around my neck too.

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Michael May 20, 2013 at 7:22 pm

Thanks Kate. It does feel good to get rid of stuff and also know that someone else can use it..

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alicia-joy May 20, 2013 at 1:08 am

“first-class ticket on the imodium express” – hahaha. love it!

Great chapter. I am definitely the slow traveling type as well. I am going international again later this year. Thanks for the inspiration.

Looking forward to reading more.

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Michael May 24, 2013 at 9:34 am

Hi Alicia-Joy,

Glad we got a smile from that one. Enjoy your journey!

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Penny Sadler May 22, 2013 at 7:20 pm

I love the photo of the car with all the bundles weighing it down and making in lopsided. And the visual of the inflated globe – love that.
Looking forward to the next installment. :)

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Michael May 23, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Thanks Penny. It really was freeing to get rid of almost everything we owned. Then we came back and got rid of the rest.

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Sandra Foyt May 23, 2013 at 12:06 pm

Love that idea: “we wouldn’t be vacationers, but wanderers.” That’s something to strive for, even when you’re not yet ready for a round the world tour.

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Michael May 23, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Hi Sandra,

In the words of Mumford & Sons, “I’m a hopeless wanderer.”

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Tev May 24, 2013 at 9:22 am

I read about you in Smithsonian magazine. Your journey has been amazing. Good luck with the book.

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Michael May 24, 2013 at 9:35 am

Hi Tev,

Glad you found us in Smithsonian. That was a cool story that focused on the time we spent in North Korea.

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Terry at Overnight New York May 28, 2013 at 4:04 pm

I love all the thought you put into this. No matter how it turns out you’ve laid what seems the perfect groundwork. I’m staying tuned!

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Michael June 4, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Thanks Terry.

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Steve May 29, 2013 at 9:01 am

I’m loving reading this and look forward to the book. When does it come out?

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Michael June 4, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Hi Steve,

We are still trying to land an agent or publisher but may go ahead and self-publish before the end of the year.

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Mary @ Green Global Travel May 30, 2013 at 11:21 am

We’re thinking of downsizing too. I wonder if it’s an age thing or if it happens when you have met life’s mile markers – job, marriage, house, kids .. We’re not empty nesters yet, but we’re already planning and taking serious steps towards living a simpler life.

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Michael June 4, 2013 at 2:58 pm

Hi Mary,

Some of it is an age thing and about reaching certain stages in life. The aspect of living a simpler life is good advice for any stage.

Thanks for writing.

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Dale May 31, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Really been enjoying this so far, and the section about selling everything and having the free stuff just disappear seconds after the ads goes live brought back so many memories.

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Michael June 4, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Hi Dale,

It sounds like you have been through it and know how freeing it can be to get rid of stuff.

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northierthanthou June 4, 2013 at 2:46 pm

No street food? Might as well go to the bar and not drink.

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Michael June 4, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Yeah, we sort of knew we’d be breaking that rule.

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Victoria October 27, 2013 at 4:01 am

Well done you guys!

I know what you mean though. When I moved from England to Germany, I just packed my stuff into a mini (mainly books and clothes), and whatever didn’t make it went into the attic of my parents’ home and that was that!
P.S. Those things are still there so obviously, not that important LOL!

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