Our current traveling lifestyle started in 2010. But travel was in our hearts and minds long before that.
The year we married (1977; we were babies) we decided to quit our respective jobs and head overseas. Let’s travel while we can, we thought, before jobs and family take over. We started in London, ended up in Spain, and had no idea when we set out that we’d find jobs and live in Spain for more than a year.
That was before we started our careers in publishing. But oddly enough, those travels actually prepared us for our entrepreneurial adventures, and then offered us a way out years later. We entered the business world with a sense of confidence, knowing that if all else failed, we could make our way in Spain or some other foreign land. We learned we were comfortable living elsewhere, anywhere, and could find a way to support ourselves. Those early traveling years taught us how little we needed to make a home together.
We viewed travel as a trusted alternate lifestyle–a fallback position and security blanket–not as a risk or hassle.
What prompted us to start traveling again?
Some three decades later, we were ready to return to the road. Our two children were grown and out of college; we’d sold our newspapers and magazines. Within 15 months, I'd lost both my brother and sister to cancer. Tom’s father passed away a few months later, just as we were relocating. For the first time in 30 years, we weren’t directly responsible for anyone else. Let’s travel while we can, we thought, before health issues or other responsibilities take over.
So, in 2010 we sold our house and most belongings, stored some stuff, and took off. Again, we had no idea how long the journey would be. Starting in Quito, Ecuador, we taught and worked and found our money went far. And we felt like we were in our 20s again, in a studio apartment with just a suitcase of personal items.
Let's travel while we can.We said this in the 1970s and again in 2010.
Are we crazy? Malcontents? On the run? And other sidelong questions.
We might have returned to our hometown in a year or two years. We might have found a second career. (I’d interviewed for jobs before we left.) But nine years later we are still drawn to travel. There is inertia for sure. The more we see, the more we want to see. The more we travel, the better we want to make our website to help others see the benefits of traveling.
All these years later, we’re still answering questions from friends and relatives about our motivation, our plans, our choices. Some are simply mystified. Some say we're being frivolous and abandoning our responsibilities. (To what they’d like us to be accountable I’m not sure, but I suspect to their need for familiar surroundings and regular routines.) Some wonder what we have against the United States, since most of our travel is international. Some envy our travels; others can’t imagine doing what we do, hating the physical toll and stress of travel. Others suppose they’d never be able to afford to travel as we do. And others are, unfortunately, victims of media that report heavily on terrorism threats, natural disasters, and travel accidents. I’m almost annoyed at the number of “Safe travels!” messages we get. “Be well at home,” I say.
Over the years, we’ve built this blog to help others envision travel by reporting on what we see. We want to offer tips that might peel away some of the barriers to travel for others. Meanwhile we’ve successfully offset our travel expenses through our work. Maybe we’ve surprised ourselves that we are not only still on the road, but as eager as ever to visit and revisit fascinating places and people around the globe.
How we travel
First, a note on how we travel. We fully realize our travel style isn’t for everyone, that travel is extraordinarily personal. We book all our own plans, only occasionally fitting in a guided tour of some sort in the middle of other travels. We travel by plane, train, and automobile. We stay in hotels, apartments, AirBnBs, and have spent some weeks with family and some weeks house sitting. Staying flexible works for us. Once we show up someplace, then we set out our sightseeing priorities.
We aren’t interested in all-inclusive resorts nor holidays spent exclusively on the beach. We don’t do ocean liner cruising; we’d rather be on land and definitely want an exit plan on our own timeline. We like road trips, but we’ve never driven an RV. We’ve only managed a couple volunteer trips (citizen science in Malawi and a couple stints teaching English in Spain), but our attention to local economies and sustainable practices has sharpened and impacted how we travel. We are typically drawn to natural wonders and historic sites. (Churches and cemeteries have an uncanny pull; I’m duly appreciative of Tom’s Latin skills in deciphering inscriptions for me.) We love museums, and we love pulling up a chair in a sports bar to take in an international soccer match.
What we love about travel
Why has this escapade extended to nearly 10 years? We keep on traveling because we love travel. We are happy when we travel. And what is it that makes us happy?
We recently ran a contest for our e-newsletter subscribers (giving away a Moon Guide book to the Camino de Santiago.) We simply asked our readers why they love travel. The winning entry by Alicia Adams read, “[Travel] is the best way to expand your mind, shrink your ego, and bring context to your problems and your blessings–all at the same time.” Adams noted her emotional responses to all sorts of things encountered while traveling: beauty, injustice, simple human needs, kindness, compassion.
We’re inspired, too, by our friends at Allianz Travel USA, and their campaign to #TravelHappy and explore the myriad reasons people like us–and not at all like us–travel. Our list will undoubtedly mutate and expand as we evolve through travel. Travel itself is an ever-changing and highly variable exercise. There are as many ways to go as there are travelers. Feel free to add your stories tagging #ItravelBecause.
1. Travel Builds Confidence
Every traveler has moments of doubt. But in essence, travel is an exercise in self-reliance. To step out into a new place and manage to navigate, eat, communicate and learn something is an accomplishment. It is an active rather than passive state. The senses are heightened. Every day feels full. Travel requires engagement and participation, so at the end of the day, we feel satisfied– at having been alive and aware and able to observe, problem solve, or appreciate the details and differences in front of us.
2. Travel reminds us of common concerns
No matter where one travels, families are families. Behind the headlines and topline stories of politics and policies are families clinging to the same basic needs wherever they are: safe water, sufficient food, good health, education, housing. These topics are omnipresent. The exciting part is learning how so many different approaches are viable.
3. I like flying
Yes I like flying and the leap of faith required to set out on a flight around the world. There’s nothing like that little rush in my heart as we zoom down the runway and lift into the void, the same feeling I had as a college junior taking my first flight to Europe. Even arriving at an airport I relax, knowing I can do nothing else to prepare; I have nowhere else to be. Once in the air, I relish the time in my cocoon, with headphones and a book or movie. I get teary at the thrill of flight, at magnificent views, and at cheesy movies, often scribbling random thoughts in my journal.
4. Surveying maps, geography, and points on the Earth
Apparently I never got enough geography in school, because I love pouring over maps to glean distances, topography, watersheds, global positions, and international borders. I love observing skies and the varying times of sunrise and sunset–from midnight suns in Scandinavia to equal hours of dark and light in Ecuador. Tom still laughs at my stopping in my tracks in Chile when I was suddenly struck by my midday shadow falling to the South, absolutely contrary to my lifetime experience in the Northern Hemisphere.
5. Travel offers historic perspective
We can count UNESCO World Heritage Sites and national monuments we’ve visited, but in reality we gather historic perspective wherever we go. Hiroshima tells a story, as does the slope of the land to the river bed at Little Big Horn. Just as an era is evoked by the Soviet statues on display outside of Budapest, so does the murder mystery recounted at the Galletin History Museum in Bozeman speak to the wild West. The quiet displays in Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul in Mexico City are as poignant as the sacrificial Mayan caves in Belize.
6. Being in nature keeps us healthy
It seems big sky views and scenic beauty are more a necessity for me than a benefit of travel. Taking in nature is medicinal, and research shows the health benefits of forest bathing or hiking under Sweden’s ‘freedom to roam” tradition, for examples. I feed on landscapes, distant clouds, geological formations, and fast rivers, and can feel my blood pressure drop when I soak up the scenery.
Yet these experiences can be the most difficult to communicate. Smoke-orange sunsets are great for Instagram shots. So, too, are some of the wildlife shots we’ve captured patiently. But a fresh breeze, a sudden rain, or the Sulphur stench of hot springs are not so easily conveyed, nor are shrinking glaciers and dried up riverbeds.
We love the United States’ National Parks program, which includes a remarkable mix of protected lands and worthwhile historic monuments. The same goes for national parks in Canada, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. These are resources we’re so fortunate to be able to see, and we are grateful for every visit.
7. The joys of active/adventure travel
The more we travel, the more active our travels are becoming. Maybe this is an example of travel improving our self-awareness. We enjoy pushing ourselves (a little) physically. It feels good to hike and bike. It feels great to accomplish something we never anticipated doing. Our 500-mile walk across Spain on the Camino de Santiago; a challenging hike in Tasmania; our first (and second and upcoming) bike tours. We’re just happy we can give it a try, and get up the next day and try some more. More often that not, we feel younger than our calendar age. Staying active is a great reason to travel.
8. Taking time: we travel at our own pace
A nod here to the fact (our style) of open-ended travel. The adventures noted above were all the more enjoyable because we were not in a race, nor confined by deadlines. We could take the time we needed, stop when we needed. Taking this philosophy from the long view (not possible for every traveler) to the quotidian level (which can apply to all travelers), the message is simply to take in what you can and then rest well, too. When we travel, we say yes to trying new experiences. But we don't try to do too much. And we take time to rest. Resting is key to absorbing all that travel has to offer.
It's a fact that it's more difficult to enjoy reflective time when we’re home. Schedules have a way of filling in. Keeping up with friends and family, with groceries and cooking, with work and personal time, becomes all-consuming at home. On the road, without a routine, though, we simply figure out what thing we most want to do each day. When we tire, we stop to sit and refresh. While our batteries are recharging, we watch the world go by–and this is the best part of travel.
From our early days in Spain, we developed a great interest in Mediterranean cuisine and good inexpensive wines. Everywhere we go, we love sampling the local fare, finding the ‘regular’ restaurants, tasting the favorite beers and wines, touring the food markets, and sometimes splurging on a fancy innovative restaurant. What’s not to love? It’s not coincidence that Spain and Japan are among our favorite countries, and now Sweden, too. These places all offer cuisine that's presented in both simple and artistic fashion. Other top runners, not surprisingly, all have excellent bread and butter.
10. We are lucky to make and see friends around the world
Hometown pals may consider us AWOL, but it’s amazing the number of people we are able to visit face to face. Of course, credit goes to Facebook, where friends and friends-of-friends see where we’re traveling and reach out to arrange meet-ups. We’ve met up with old and new buddies in Australia, Hawaii, Amsterdam, Milan, Paris, Rome, Dublin, Baltimore, Bozeman, Napa, even Omaha and Minneapolis. One of the most fun connections: a Minneapolis friend now living in Las Vegas introduced us to people she knew in Paris. They in turn invited us over for dinner where we met others, and now we’re in regular communication. Lovely! The Parisians' interest in meeting with travelers dates back to AOL chat group days, pre Google. If you can't travel, reach out to host travelers in your home.
11. Ancestry travel
Not everyone wants to delve into family history, or even has enough detail to go on. But for me, mysteries abound and it’s fascinating following up on the scant information I’ve been handed. My mother died when I was 17, but I knew she’d been devastated when her brother, a pilot, died in World War II. Years after a visit to Normandy where I inquired about my uncle’s grave, I made my way to Belgium where his remains were returned to the Ardennes Cemetery. Now I have both his letters home and the moving visit to his gravesite, plus a new appreciation for the care given to fallen soldiers at cemeteries like this.
In 2014, with a lot of encouragement from Tom, we had unexpected success in tracking down the Henning ancestral home in Skåne, the southern region of Sweden. Given lackluster record keeping on my father’s side, the details provided by church and emigration records were astounding. I never expected to step into the church where my grandfather was baptized, or gaze over the land that was once my family's backyard, or look into faces that looked meaningfully right back into my eyes.
12. The more you travel the less you spend on stuff
Shopping has never been a huge pastime for me. But when traveling, visiting markets, galleries, shops or street vendors is a legitimate way to learn more about a place and its people. It’s even enjoyable to buy groceries. But once you're practiced at the art of packing light, there is really no need to buy anything besides food. I now know that I only wear a small percentage of the clothes in my closet, even after the purge of 2010. I know I have no wall space for more art. I know souvenirs are usually not meaningful to the rest of my family, unless it’s food. Just travel with one suitcase for a year, or live out of a storage unit, and you’ll be cured of buying useless stuff.
13. Travel promotes downsizing.
Lots of people our age are talking about downsizing. Most dread culling through decades of family archives and detritus. My advice: realize the process is layered and will repeat periodically. The storage unit we rented in 2010, after selling and dumping the majority of our possessions, has shrunk and shrunk. Attrition of stuff occurs naturally over time, whereas it was impossible to rid ourselves of it all in one fell swoop. Eventually, our kids lay claim to fine art, occasional furniture, and miscellaneous boxes of sports gear and memorabilia. We later sold items we hadn’t parted with initially, not knowing how many years we’d be traveling. We shed more (and read Marie Kondo) when we moved (most) out of storage to our temporary condo. Today I look around and see another layer ready to be hauled out.
14. Travel promotes an efficient household
We know our flying warrants contributions to offset carbon emissions. But on the flip side, we use public transit more than ever. We own one car, not three. At home, we went paperless long ago. Our energy usage in a condo versus a single family home is significantly less. And we are able to manage safety and efficiency functions remotely with Nest and Hue apps to regulate our home’s heat, cooling and lights. All this feels right.
15. All ages crowd
A great joy in life is mingling with all ages, and that is easily facilitated by travel. When we travel, we are not surrounded by people like us. They are not from our parts and they are not usually our age; we are surrounded by world travelers who are quirky and curious, packed with all sorts of background stories. We never tire of hearing how someone got to this spot–whether they are solo women who fled the corporate world, young couples testing their relationship against an unfamiliar backdrop, adventurers who mean to return home someday. Age is never the central descriptor. How they got where they are, and where they are going next, their impressions and recommendations: that’s what we talk about.
16. Enjoying international sports and pastimes
At home, our down time might be in front of a TV or having a meal with family. On the road, we need our down time, too, when we can zone out and relax. What do we do? We enter the nearest Irish pub or sports bar and tune in to a soccer match, usually involving Spain and/or the local club. It’s fun to be in this atmosphere, and no one (least of all us) cares if we’re not talking to each other. It’s just entertainment. (By the way, we are sometimes that tired couple you see across the restaurant, the poor slobs on their phones barely exchanging a word. No pity, please. Rest assured we spend plenty of time together–sometimes even in conversation–and that we’ve earned our quiet time.)
17. People-to-people travel, conversing with strangers
The term has gained popularity because of U.S. travel policies to Cuba. While a Canadian or European can lounge on the beach in Cuba, Americans cannot; we must be engaged in “people-to-people” activities (now refined to “helping the Cuban people.” In fact, we would engage with people without such a policy, and even more vigorously. The point is we travel because we want to talk with people like this young woman in Croatia, to listen to them talk about their lives and opinions, and to hear their views about the world, the United States, and our futures–theirs and ours together.
After years of travel, sometimes I need to remind myself to step up and ask questions. I don’t want to miss chances or become complacent in using my time to learn what others think. I’m inspired by memories of my father chatting up everyone from the gas station attendant to the neighbor, from the business client to the poet or theater professor, addressing everyone with equal interest and respect. If we have a mission traveling, this is it.
18. Travel is humbling
The very nature of traveling is to put oneself in unfamiliar places. By extension, this frequently means feeling lonely, isolated, disassociated. Practically speaking, travelers sometimes find simple daily activities like speaking or finding drinking water challenging.
We travelers are strangers in a strange land, outsiders. We're potential crime victims (yeah, we’ve been pick-pocketed). I might be the only curly-haired blond in the place, sticking out like a sore thumb. We're trying not to look lost, or feeling stress at holding up the line in the metro while we try to figure out how to buy a card. That’s often how it feels to travel. (And how is it those little kids can speak Italian so well when I’m stuck on my lost fluency in Spanish??) Breathe. Ours are simple lessons in humility. We're reminded, in contrast, of the enormous pains facing immigrants around the world.
19. Travel builds optimism
Tracy K. Smith, U.S. poet laureate from 2017 to 2019, traveled extensively around the country to share and engage the public in poetry. She recently remarked that when she is home she becomes anxious and fearful, but when she travels she becomes optimistic. We know this to be true, as we are buoyed by individuals around the world working on improving their lives and communities.
20. Bringing a travel perspective back home
Coming home can be the hardest part of travel. Seeing friends and family is great, of course, but there’s sometimes a disconnect. Beyond finding out where we’ve been and where we’re going next, the questions falter. The travel stories are too big to tell in one go, and simply must filter out on rare occasions when the topic at hand is right. On the other hand, we look at our hometown with a visitor’s eye. We see how the airport signage and light rail tickets might work for a newcomer. We check out new restaurants and building projects. We plan outings as if we were visitors–a bike ride or a night out for jazz or theater. The places you might take your out-of-town guests to see are there for us. We remain on the lookout for quirky sites (like these 45th parallel markers). One of these days, you’ll find me biking to the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, because I’m a traveler in my home town.
“[Travel] is the best way to expand your mind, shrink your ego, and bring context to your problems and your blessings–all at the same time.”Travel Past 50 reader Alicia Adams
At the onset of our travels in 2010, when we were putting our house on the market without knowing where we’d be in a year, or five, we reminded ourselves, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ We assured ourselves that if we didn’t care for our traveling life, we could always buy another home. If we get tired of travel, we can stop or slow down. Just like our thinking when we started our first business: if it doesn’t work, we can always do something else.
On a smaller scale, we use this philosophy when planning travel, and it’s the essential reason our plans are generally loose and last minute. At some point, the best decision is to hit the “Purchase” button. If you end up not liking where you are, go somewhere else. All that’s needed is the desire to step into a different spot to see the world in a new light.
Thank you for following our posts. Travel can be lonely, but we're always cheered by feedback. For more inspiration, check out these various quotes related to travel. Or, follow the Allianz Travel hashtag #ITravelBecause on Twitter and contribute your thoughts.
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