Larissa Michael Milne Changes in Longitude Philadelphia

Chapter 1: Gonna Fly Now (Part 1)

by Michael on September 3, 2013

While we seek an agent or publisher, we are providing excerpts from the first two chapters of our  book in progress: Changes in Longitude: How One Couple Chucked it All to Travel the World.

Chapter 1: Gonna Fly Now (Part 1)

We tossed our keys into the mail slot of the row house we had been renting for the past year in downtown Philadelphia. There was no turning back now. We no longer had a place to return to, no place to call home. The year before, we had sold our house in the city’s suburbs and given away most of our belongings. Now we had quit our jobs, and we were about to jump on a plane to China.

We looked each other in the eyes and hesitated, just for a moment. This marked the only time in the entire planning and dreaming process that we had felt nervous, with a few jitters in our stomachs. Silent questions passed between us: How do you say goodbye to everything you’ve ever known?  How do you walk away from the security of your normal life and familiar routines? What if we were making a huge mistake?

The answer to that last question would not be revealed for some time.

Out on the street we searched in vain for a taxi. Usually there would be several cabs whizzing by this intersection, but not now. The city was a bit frenzied, with Hurricane Irene forecast to hit the nearby New Jersey shore the next day before barreling inland. After ten minutes of fruitlessly waving at already occupied taxis, we grew anxious. We had planned so much, but hadn’t taken into account a simple thing like our ride to the airport.

Finally, a cab with the lone head of a driver silhouetted inside rolled down the street; we flagged it down with the enthusiasm of castaways hailing a passing ship on the horizon. We tossed the suitcases in the trunk with gusto and bustled into the back seat. The driver arched an eyebrow and said, “Lemme guess, the airport.”

We both exhaled and nodded.

“Taking a vacation?”

“Sort of.”

“Where are you headed?”

As we looked at each other, a shiver passed between us. It was really happening. After months of planning, we were doing this. “Everywhere,” we told the cabbie. “We’re going to travel around the world for a year.”


Life hadn’t worked out as we had hoped. It never does, of course; you hit bumps in the road or take an unexpected detour. What do you do, though, when the detour takes you further and further from the main road, and the bumps become the rule rather than the exception? You can bounce along aimlessly, getting your teeth rattled, or you can grab a bulldozer and create a whole new road. That’s exactly what we were doing now.

The last few years had been rough. We became reluctant empty nesters after repeated attempts to help our now-adult daughter, whom we had adopted from Russia at age nine, avoid a self-destructive path. Burned out, broken down, and nearly broke, we slowly realized that we needed a healing timeout from our lives. It was time to forge ahead into uncharted territory.

But what road should we take, which map should we use? At first, we didn’t know. We had spent most of our energy dealing with whatever parental crisis arose on any given day, week, or month. What should we do with ourselves? We were at a loss.

We thought about taking a year off. Although it sounded heavenly, we got stuck on the main question: What would we do for a whole year? Americans are not geared to taking much time off. Heck, most of us have a hard enough time sliding in a week or two. Time off is a vacation, sitting on the beach, visiting historic sights, or even catching up on home projects. But a year of not working?

Our lives had been pretty dreadful recently, so we were determined about one thing: once we gave ourselves the gift of time, we were not going to waste it. What would you do if you had a year off – a time when you could put the rest of your life on hold and pursue some grand passion? Would you write the Great American Novel? Follow Julia Child’s model and enroll in the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris? Or emulate Julie Powell’s, preparing every recipe in Julia Child’s classic cookbook? Maybe you’d take up the guitar or learn a craft.

We considered our own personal passions—cooking and food, history, world affairs, architecture—and one thread tied them all together: travel. Traveling has always been a major part of our lives. Both of us grew up in families where wandering was not only tolerated, but actively encouraged.

Mazurek family cruise (527x650)Larissa’s mother was a travel agent, and she can still remember her first visit to an airport as a child. Her family wasn’t flying anywhere; her parents just thought it would be a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Other families skied or cheered on their favorite team at baseball games, Larissa’s sat for hours in some obscure section of the terminal at New York’s JFK Airport watching United, Pan Am, and TWA jets take off and land. Thus, a plane geek is born.

Even today, Larissa maintains her plane-spotting ways. She may be the only woman on the planet who was disappointed to learn that the TV show Project Runway wasn’t about airports. Is it any wonder that she wanted to be an airline stewardess when she grew up? (This aspiration eventually morphed into a career involving international travel.)

If Larissa had been looking around at the passengers instead of the planes, she might have noticed a chubby little Michael trudging through the same airport, lugging his New York Mets tote bag. Michael’s schoolteacher mother always encouraged his sense of curiosity. His family’s vacation to the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park at age nine was the first time he realized there was a big, exciting world beyond the borders of his suburban Long Island neighborhood.

Other than a nerve-wracking experience when he accidentally locked himself in the cabin bathroom at Yellowstone, missing Old Faithful’s performance, Michael remembers the trip fondly. From this little escapade, he learned the valuable lesson of checking to see how the locks work on a bathroom door before entering. (To a point: Michael would forget it a few months into our trip, missing a good chunk of dinner with a friend in Sydney.)

Mikey superman (241x400)Michael knew then that he wanted to fly, but since his dream job of Superman was taken he searched for the next best thing. He learned that airline employees were given free plane tickets and decided he would be a lawyer for American Airlines. (Why a lawyer and not a pilot? Who knows.) It wasn’t a conventional motivation for studying law, but fortunately that harebrained scheme didn’t work out, and to this day he remains unlawyered.

Travel kept popping up as something that invigorated us; it was our shared passion.  We resolved to get away for a year, but not to just park ourselves in a single location like Provence or Tuscany. We needed to be on the go—seeing, feeling, tasting, filling our senses with new experiences. Instead of running from our troubles, we would find something to excite us, something to run to. In the words of the Roman philosopher Seneca, “travel and change of pace impart new vigor to the mind.” That’s what we needed, a journey to reboot our lives.

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

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.

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa 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.

Kate May 12, 2013 at 2:55 pm

I am really looking forward to reading the story in long form, and from start to finish! Awesome work guys!

Fred Allen Barfoot May 12, 2013 at 9:00 pm

Ah, Larissa and Michael, learning these bits about you add more appreciation to your last couple of years. “Go for it,” we hear often, but rarely do we go for it literally. Great fun following you, and I wish you well on finding a publisher. Oh, and in your intrigue of locations, even though in this writing you called our Center City “downtown,” have you found any other city that naturally calls downtown “Center City”?

Sandra Foyt May 13, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Looking forward to reading the next installment!

D.J. - The World of Deej May 13, 2013 at 4:52 pm

Love your road and bulldozer analogy. A great start…looking forward to chapter 2!

Adam May 13, 2013 at 7:08 pm

Wow – love the story and that you’re writing a book. I also can relate to growing up in a travel family. My Dad works for an airline and I remember so many trips to the airport (sometimes just for fun) while growing up.

Penny Sadler May 13, 2013 at 8:26 pm

Love this intro. Sorry to hear about your daughter, but I’m sure by now you know, you did the right thing!

Cat of Sunshine and Siestas May 14, 2013 at 3:46 am

I’m really loving this, especially with your references to flight. My grandfather was a Navy pilot during Korea and had his own plane after the war, which he flew until he died. I’ve long been fascinated with the take-offs and landings…and ended up marrying a pilot anyway! Incredible how these experiences as young people shape us!

wandering educators May 14, 2013 at 3:35 pm

looking forward to reading more. and LOL on project runway!

Lynne B May 14, 2013 at 10:37 pm

I have followed your travels ever since your first Inky article and I’m very much looking forward to reading your up coming book. My husband I love to travel and are excited about our next trip to Europe in Sept. I think the first chapter -part 1 is right on target and as a reader I know that personal details and observations are what interest me the most.

Val @ThisWayToParadise May 15, 2013 at 9:57 am

I so get this. I feel like my journey has rebooted my life as well! Can’t wait to read more!

Larissa May 15, 2013 at 7:58 pm

Thanks Kate!

Larissa May 15, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Ah, Fred, you would catch that “downtown” bit. Funny, we put it in that way because we thought it might be a more universal term, but now that you point it out it does look foreign. Maybe we’ll change it for the book 😉

Larissa May 15, 2013 at 8:01 pm

Thanks Sandra. If you haven’t already read the Prologue, there’s a link to in just below. . .

Larissa May 15, 2013 at 8:02 pm

Appreciate the comment DJ, glad you like it so far!

Larissa May 15, 2013 at 8:06 pm

Wow, Adam! You were that other family sitting at the airport! Yep, I can tell my 737s from my A320s, etc. etc. 😉

Larissa May 15, 2013 at 8:07 pm

Appreciate the vote of support, Penny.

Larissa May 15, 2013 at 8:07 pm

Cat, you must love the Gibraltar airport–so wacky! 🙂

Larissa May 15, 2013 at 8:08 pm

Thanks Jessie, and regarding Project Runway. . . I still think the title of that show is misleading 😉

Larissa May 15, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Thanks Lynne, your comment is very encouraging. . . and glad you like our Inky articles as well 🙂

Larissa May 15, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Yep Val, we’re definitely on the same page. . .

Colleen May 15, 2013 at 11:22 pm

I’m with Fred- stay true to yourselves and let your readers learn about you and your world.

Colleen May 15, 2013 at 11:27 pm

I’ve followed your adventures from the first article in the Inquirer. I love that you are writing this book. Something for so many of us to dream about doing!

MissElaineous May 15, 2013 at 11:47 pm

Guys –
I finally got a few moments to read your first chapter and I will say..STUPENDOUS!!! A great read; fun, intriguing, had me answering yes yes yes!!! and wanting to flip to the next page. I sincerely hope and pray that someone of note recognizes your effort and publishes. It really is great! Keep focused on the dream and it will happen!!! I can;t imagine someone not wanting to pick it up and read…and please take this as a compliment, it had a John Grogan sensability about it. Interesting but relatable, honest and funny but a great story. Perhaps a title could be “Rocky and me….”

Dale May 16, 2013 at 7:10 am

This makes me remember all those family trips in the summer with my mom, my nan & my sister packed into the car covered in sleeping bags & extra blankets because the boots packed in the Fiat Punto.

It’s strange that I forgot just how much travel I did as a child and how much it probably helped form – subconsciously – my desire to travel as an adult.

Terry at Overnight New York May 16, 2013 at 5:00 pm

I love that feeling of no turning back — the key drop in the rowhouse mailbox. Nice set up for the journeys to come. From plane-spotting to Superman it sounds like your Big Journey was destiny.

Larissa May 16, 2013 at 6:43 pm

Thanks, MissElaineous. Interesting idea for a title, but we’re kind of partial to “Changes in Longitude” 😉

Larissa May 16, 2013 at 6:45 pm

Agreed, Dale. For us wasnderers, there’s often a childhood experience where the seed was planted.

Larissa May 16, 2013 at 6:46 pm

Yep, Terry, that “no turning back” moment is both frightening. . . and thrilling.

Bethaney May 17, 2013 at 4:42 am

Can’t wait to read your book! Even this little snippet alone was a great insight into you both. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

Bret @GGT May 19, 2013 at 6:10 pm

Good start, guys! We’ve never really considered a RTW trip, but after the stuff you guys were dealing with I can certainly understand wanting to take a break from it all. Looking forward to reading more!

Bill Cleveland June 23, 2013 at 8:23 am

What a fine night at the Plains B and B with the two of you and everyone else in attendance! Terrific to meet you and get an overview of what you’re doing and the details involved. Our best wishes for your adventure in discovering the world and we know you will enjoy President Carter’s class this morning. Should you be meandering through Plains another time and need a temporary home, we would be glad to welcome you to ours. Bill and Marilyn

Michael September 8, 2013 at 12:51 pm

Thanks for the encouragement Bret.

Michael September 8, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Thanks Bill & Marilyn. Our weekend in Plains meeting President Carter was a highlight of our journey. We wrote a bit about it here:

Victoria October 27, 2013 at 2:42 am

I really love what you’re doing and you are starting a fascinating read which I’m looking forward to following LOL however, if you don’t find a publisher, don’t wait! Publish “that” book yourself!

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