Larissa Michael Milne Changes in Longitude Philadelphia

Chapter 1: Gonna Fly Now (Part 1)

by Michael

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.

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