The word we hear most often at Nowhere Native is how - How did you come up with this idea? How did you quit your job? How did you make it all happen? How can you afford to travel so long? The list of hows keeps coming, and we're ready with answers. We've assembled below ten steps in what we'll call the "pre-production" phase of this life change. In the weeks ahead, we'll add to this and cover travel planning, packing right and the ins and outs of being successful housesitters/volunteers. And we'd love to hear from you - is there something in particular you want the how on? Hit us in the comments, and we'll be sure to cover it.
As we've said before, 2013 was a pretty hectic year for us - we got married, honeymooned in SE Asia and came home to face some really shitty news from my doctor. I had severely abnormal cells on my cervix - a lot of them - the kind that are present in the last stage before cervical cancer.
That's one hell of a punch in the gut if you're a newly married 34-year-old woman just thinking about building a family with your new husband. I felt helpless and unworthy of my relationship. I urged Billy again and again that he should escape while he still could. I'm a strong girl, accomplished in dealing with whatever comes my way, but this was the first challenge in dealing with something ugly together, and TOGETHER was the thing I finally realized scared the bejesus out of me - it was something I had no experience in at all.
And so the joking began - life is short, we should quit our jobs and head for the hills. We should eat and drink everything in site, spend all our money, travel the world. Eventually it soaked in that we could do these things, and do them without spending ALL our money. Here's how we break down our decision to leave into manageable steps:
1. MAKE THE DECISION. Life IS short. If there is something calling you, nagging at you, identify what it is and make the conscious decision to pursue it. In many ways, this step is easier if you're one person. I struggled with whether or not Billy was honestly on board, or if he was just humoring me. Turns out, he was truly into it.
2. GET EXCITED. You're taking your life into your own hands. Not following the path you believe you're expected to follow is super liberating - commit to enjoying it! We had many a long discussion before we finally committed to the decision, but once we did we got excited. We looked up faraway places and Pinned must see lands. We watched travel and food shows. We let ourselves focus on the life change in a positive way.
3. ADDRESS YOUR FEARS. Change is scary. The unknown is frightening as all Hell. In order to confront your fears and begin to unravel them, you first have to identify what exactly it is you're afraid of. Billy was afraid of leaving his parents alone in Chicago. We quell this fear by committing to Facetime with his mom and Skype with his dad regularly while we travel. When we're back Stateside, we focus on making sure they know how much we care and that, near or far, we are only a phone call away. I was afraid of running out of money - so afraid that even as we moved through Europe, the paralyzing fear would resurface. We continue to keep this fear at bay by budgeting smartly, monitoring our spending, arranging work exchange wherever possible (both at home and overseas) and generating income to fuel our lifestyle however possible. We'll talk more about funding travel in a later post, the idea here is that we have only been successful in managing our fears when we clearly define them.
4. GO PUBLIC. We were overwhelmed with support when we broke the news to family, friends and even strangers that we were ditching our jobs in pursuit of indefinite travel. It is absolutely amazing how excited people get when we tell our story. We expected a lot of head-shaking, finance-chiding and responsibility lectures, and got nothing of the sort. It is this continuing support that still fills our sails on those days when doubt clouds our skies and our new life approach feels unreachable. Let people know your plans, chances are their enthusiasm will boost your own and help you stay the course.
5. BUILD YOUR BUDGET. Unless your funds are limitless, setting even a simple budget is key to prolonged travel (if your funds are limitless, we are happily available for private tours!). We took into account what we were willing to spend from our savings, what we were willing to take on in debt and how long we wanted to stay on the road. At this point, we did not factor earning any income while traveling because we planned to focus strictly on traveling together and working to develop our own ideas. Based on this fairly simple math, we set a $100 per day spending cap, including accommodations, food, drink and entertainment. As we booked our accommodations in each city, we adjusted what we could spend on everything else. We'll discuss stretching the budget in a future post, the focus now is making sure to set parameters around spending that will help shape what travel looks like for you.
6. SET A TIMELINE. How soon do you plan to leave? For us, we made the commitment to make this happen in the end of October and decided we would leave mid-December. We knew if we did not immediately set a timeline for departure, we would push the schedule and might even not take the plunge at all. If we waited for the "right" time to make a move, we would still be waiting. It is absolutely necessary to set your timeline before moving on to any of the next steps.
7. IDENTIFY THE OPPORTUNITIES. With a timeline in place, we started combing the internet for opportunities to offset the cost of long-term travel. As we've mentioned before, one of our biggest resources is Workaway. The platform allows hosts to post want ads detailing where they are, what kind of help they need and when they need it, and volunteers to browse and respond to those posts based on the same qualifications. This step is when we really began to narrow down where we would travel based on the timeline (weather, tourist season) and budget (transportation within and between destinations, cost of living in that market, overall length of travel). We searched available housesits and work exchanges, applied for every one that fit our criteria (destinations we wanted to visit, quality living quarters, work and working hours that suited us) and scheduled Skype interviews with anyone who expressed interest in having us. Though we sorted two projects before we left the US, we continued to plot opportunities as we traveled and added to our calendar along the way.
8. SCHEDULE YOUR ITINERARY. Once we landed our first gig, a housesit an hour north of London, it was time to start routing our itinerary. Of course we were in an ideal position to spend time in London, but we had not considered traveling through Scotland until now. We began mapping stops that appealed to each of us - Edinburgh, Glasgow, Ft William, the West Highland Line - and suddenly we had two weeks of travel scheduled at the end of the housesitting job. We continued planning this way - landing an opportunity in Portugal, one in Spain, one in France and one in Italy, then using those dates and locations to continue flushing out our full itinerary. Remember, we did not book each of these details before we left home and are SO glad we didn't. Leaving at least a portion of your trip unplanned will allow you to take advantage of opportunities that come up on the road - and they are everywhere! Just before leaving Italy, we were offered a work exchange in South Africa, but we already had our non-refundable flights home and plans waiting for us when we arrived. Had the offer come at any other point in our trip, we could have taken advantage of it because we left wiggle room for just that occasion.
9. BOOK YOUR TRAVEL. With budget, timeline and the beginnings of an itinerary in hand, booking travel is simple - and really, really exciting! We decided to start our journey in New Orleans with family before flying into London's Gatwick. We chose Gatwick for two reasons - 1. the taxes on our flight were far less than if we traveled into the much busier Heathrow, and 2. there was a direct train departing Gatwick for our housesitting destination in Corby. When booking this first flight overseas, make sure to evaluate multiple airlines for timetables, rates and taxes (for example, British Airways charges far more in taxes than other carriers, even on codeshare flights). Also determine if there are multiple airports at or near your destination that can affect travel costs. Be sure to review available ground transportation options at each airport so you understand how straightforward it will be to travel from your arrival airport to your final destination. When we boarded that initial flight, we did not have any travel booked past our arrival in London. There are a few times it might make sense to book more than that first leg before hitting foreign soil - more on these unique occasions when we dive into booking travel while traveling.
10. WRAP UP LOOSE ENDS. I mentioned our pre-adventure stop in New Orleans to be with family - it meant the world to me to spend uninterrupted time with my folks and brothers before taking off on this journey and again as soon as we returned. It's only one of the things we determined to be a priority before we took off for months.
While planning our travels, we each took time to define what things in our lives really mean a lot to us - the things we were most committed to preserving while we were away. For us both, our relationships are highest priority, so we consciously committed to leave them in a state we could be proud of - hopefully a place we could pick them back up on our return like we'd never missed a beat. This included our personal relationships as well as our professional ones, and we each worked closely with our employers to bow out of our jobs gracefully, with every i dotted and t crossed, ensuring a clean hand off of responsibilities and a way to contact us on our travels if any questions arose in our absence.
We cannot stress this enough - DO NOT BURN BRIDGES... EVER! We hold our former employers in the highest regard and know that, chances are, even if they don't immediately play a constant role in our lives, they will resurface time and again. Even if you never ever want to go back to doing what you once were, you will eventually require a reference, come up in conversation or otherwise cross paths either online or offline. When that time comes, it's far more powerful to have a champion in your corner than another hurdle to overcome.
And those personal relationships - keep in mind why you're embarking on this journey... life is short, make memories with the people you love most.
If life change is what you're after and extended travel is how you plan to kick it off, following these ten steps will set you on your way to serious adventure. Drop questions for us below, and stay tuned for more of our how in the weeks ahead.