Not How We Imagined It
As I sit to write this, I am sitting in an apartment in Potsdam, Germany on a cool, Tuesday morning in May. Potsdam is a beautiful town with amazing history and incredible newfound friends. I’m looking out a small window as trees are gently kissed with a breeze that is making its way to me.
Life is difficult.
Life is wonderful.
How many times have you felt these extremes of life? From the highest mountain joys to the lowest valley pains. From one moment to the next. High. Low.
A Little Background
In mid-2014, we made a decision to travel abroad for nearly a year. I could no longer merely exist in a corporate world in which I had excelled but no longer drew an ounce of joy. We came to the realization that life is more than school, marriage, work, kids, and retirement. You can read more here.
As a family of immense faith in a God who guides our every step we wondered why. Why had God led us to Nashville, Tennessee? There had to be a purpose.
I had been in a comfortable job working for the ideal boss who had become one of my best friends. But the future of that work relationship had been turned on its head. In response, I reluctantly pursued and was selected to lead a team of salespeople in Nashville. From day one I knew it was a mistake.
I believe the reason for our move to Nashville was to be miserable.
We moved from a stale, comfortable life in Baton Rouge. A move to Nashville meant a new house, new friends, new job, new boss, new employees, and new surroundings. Things as simple as a doctor visit, dentist visit, or haircut suddenly required thought. Anyone who has moved can identify with this challenge.
Throw in an undesirable work situation and I began frequently thinking ‘what the hell have I done?’
My decision had been made. Forced. I cannot operate in this work environment anymore. I cannot. I will not.
Without the misery I never would have left the comforts of money and home.
A Seed Has Been Planted
In late 2013, I was in an airport on a business trip. The phone rang. It was my brother. Part of that conversation was the discussion of what we might do with a chunk of money. My brother’s idea: take a year off and travel the world. Amazingly, I had never considered such an endeavor.
I have yet to inherit or acquire a touchable chunk of money. But we have saved.
Fast forward to mid-2014.
We are driving home from church. I look at Donna and say, ‘we should do that’. ‘What?’ she replies. ‘Travel the world.’ Her reply, ‘OK.’ That seemingly easy decision would become much more difficult in making it a reality.
Making it Happen
Saying ‘let’s travel the world’ and actually doing it are two very different realities. Consider the everyday ‘necessities’ that we pay for in a given month. Home, home insurance, cars, car insurance, mission and charitable organization commitments, health insurance, life insurance, retirement and savings plans, electricity, gas, water, garbage & sewage.
Throw in 5 kids aged 21, 17, 14, 13, & 7. What about school? What about their friends and their lives?
You want to travel the world?
What do you think limits most people from traveling abroad for any length of time? I’m not talking about a vacation. We’re talking about a journey: a self-invitation to wreck your life. So what stops most people?
Fear, plain and simple. It stops most people dead in their tracks.
Let me ask you another question.
What would you rather? Would you rather look back and say:
‘I cannot believe we did that’
‘I wish we would have done that?’
At the end of your life what will you regret not doing?
Scared no more. Now what?
So you’ve overcome the fear. You’ve made the decision to do it.
Think about everything you would need to consider if you decided to pick up and leave for one year. Remember that you are coming back to your life one year from now.
It’s mind-boggling. It’s paralyzing. Where do you even start?
You’ll have to arrange for someone to care for your home whether through housesitting or rental. What if something goes wrong while you are away? What about your cars? You can’t simply leave them sitting for one year.
You’ll have to arrange for automated payment of every expense imaginable in your absence. The prospect of simply figuring this out will often stop people from considering the epic journey that we are proposing.
Not only are you leaving your capacity to earn a living, but also leaving your friends, family, familiarity, and the comforts of home. If you seek out those who have done what you are proposing, then:
You know that life will move on without you.
You know that you will come back completely changed.
You know that re-entry will be incredibly difficult.
You know that reverse culture shock will be real.
You know that you cannot prepare yourselves for the difficulties that you are creating for yourself.
You know that no one will truly care about your journey.
You know that you’ll be unable to share your learnings and transformation with anyone who will understand.
You know that you will be exposed to things you cannot and will not forget.
Do you still want to embark on a worldwide journey?
You’ve crossed the bridge that 99.9% of the people that you know will not have crossed. You are now committed to the journey.
So now what?
Where do you start? Where do you go? How do you organize your trip? Do you book a worldwide trip through a company? Do you book everything yourself ahead of time? Do you go East or West? What time of year do you leave? Do you book as you go? What about travel insurance? How do you pay for your trip? Credit cards, debit cards, cash? Exchange rates? What about clothes? What do you take? How much? How do you stay mobile but still take what you ‘need’? The questions are endless.
These questions are just a fraction of what you must consider when planning a journey of this magnitude. These questions alone stop many people who thought they were committed to a life-changing journey.
What is the answer? Well that ‘s up to you. There’s no one-way-fits-all method of traveling abroad.
Our trip started in Maui, Hawaii. We wanted our journey to start more like a vacation as we eased into travel. It was a perfect start. Maui is a beautiful island with a lot of free things to do. The beach, beautiful drives, hikes, and journeys to mountaintops and dormant volcanoes.
Driving through New Zealand was the most beautiful 1-month trip one can imagine. 3-hour drives that take 7 hours because of the dizzying awe that constantly surrounds you. Having new friends invite you into their home for 5 days while helping map out your North and South Island journey is an unplanned blessing that make your first steps in a foreign country magical.
Imagine standing in the middle of a road. Behind you are snow-capped mountain peaks unlike anything you’ve ever seen. To your left are beautiful, velvety green mountains. To your right are rugged, brown mountains that look like they’ve been plucked out of the desert. In front of you is a beautiful lake that’s been colored by the dyes of nature. That is New Zealand.
Google Queenstown, New Zealand.
Magical, beautiful, unbelievable mountain ranges and rock flour waters. Now imagine viewing that on a stunning morning from 12,000+ feet as you free fall. Beauty that is so stunning that it looks like a perfect green screen has been pulled down over your eyes. That is New Zealand.
The beautiful tea plantations and crystal aqua waters of Thailand. The serene rice fields and 12th century temples of Cambodia. The jaw-dropping, beautiful, lush mountains of Vietnam. The snow capped mountains, uniquely formed rock formations, countless invitations of tea sipping and home-cooked meals from strangers in Turkey. The lush rolling hills and mountains that evoke tears in Tuscany. The unexpected love of strangers you feel like you’ve known for years in Germany.
While traveling can be magical it can and will have its challenges.
You are in foreign environments with foreign food and foreign languages. It takes its toll. You’ve never wanted a crappy, McDonald’s hamburger so bad in your life. Hearing an American accent brings you momentary comfort. The sight and sound of a washing machine is a welcomed joy after months of hand washing in sinks of dirty, unclean, undrinkable water.
Following the advice of seasoned travelers, we decided that we would book as we traveled. Book flights, cars, buses, trains, boats, hotels, hostels, B&Bs, apartments as we moved. The big advantage is that you are flexible and can make adjustments as you meet other travelers and locals. It allows you to completely make it up as you go along. But it comes at a price.
That price is sanity.
The constant search for accommodations, flights, cars, buses, boats, subways, trams, taxis, and trains is utterly exhausting. Simply walking out the front door and figuring out which way to go becomes almost paralyzing. Throw in a relatively small budget and fighting kids who are online schooling with unpredictable internet. ALL in close quarters in unknown environments.
It can get ugly. It has several times.
One of our lifelines has been Jennifer Miller, a seasoned traveler with 4 children. Having been through everything that we’ve experienced and more she’s been an unpaid, traveling therapist. Ironically, we’ve never even met face-to-face.
Sitting in Chiang Mai, Thailand in late December 2014, we were ready to scrap Southeast Asia and head straight to Europe. Once we spent a large percentage of our budget in New Zealand, we decided that we’d have to spend 3-4 months in SE Asia to stretch our budget.
Why did we want to 86 SE Asia? Because it was freaking hard and we were losing our sanity on the constant search for cheap accommodation and cheap transportation.
Everything was an effort. Language, food, transportation. Nausea, stomachaches, and diarrhea worsened it. It was all a challenge that required constant thought. There were no mindless trips to the grocery store in your own car, driving on your own roads, in your own country, surrounded by predictable, rule-following, non-tolerant drivers. All familiarity was gone.
But Jennifer had been there. She knew we’d regret not experiencing the uncomfortable stretching that only Southeast Asia would provide in its own unique way. So we soldiered onward. Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam would help fill the next few months.
After those first 3 months, we became more proficient. Trip Advisor became our new friend. Booking for 6 people is very challenging. You cannot just jump on a hostel site and book for 6. It becomes very expensive. We started using Trip Advisor to guide us and then simply emailed the accommodation. Of course, AirBnB has been prominent in our journey as well. Booking for 2 or 3 or even 4 is fairly simple. You can normally fit in one room. 6 people is a whole different ballgame…especially when many places charge per person.
Even though it was still a challenge when moving from place to place, we became more efficient. This helped us get through our first travel wall at 3 months.
After traveling through SE Asia, we moved onto Turkey. Turkey is a beautiful country with some of the most hospitable people on earth. We connected with Americans in Istanbul and made some new Turkish friends that invited us over for an incredible, full-on Turkish spread. Amazing! The people, the food, the experience.
After Istanbul, we moved rapidly through Turkey by car. We covered a lot of ground and saw a ton of history but it was tiring. I was starting to hit another travel wall. The constant bearing of all things money and budget takes its toll. Add on split responsibility for finding affordable accommodation and it quickly escalates to profanity and new stress levels.
Most people are familiar the culture shock and cultural stress of moving to a foreign country. It takes months and sometimes years to adjust. Often times this leads to feelings of anxiety, confusion, disorientation, uncertainty, insecurity, helplessness, fatigue, tiredness, lack of motivation, lethargy, lack of joy, illness, disappointment, lack of fulfillment, discouragement, feeling hurt, feeling inadequate, feeling "out of it", anger, irritability, contempt for the host culture, homesickness. I’m thinking, ‘I chose this?’
Now change that every 15-30 days.
Throw in 3 pubescent teens. Need I say more?
The bickering. The selfishness. The ungratefulness. The self-centeredness. The griping. The complaining. The hormones. The drama. The shit.
Add complete parental failure. We were not at the top of our game.
I don’t know that I’ve felt like the best father and worst father all in the same 10-seconds. Both my accomplishments and failures as a father have been magnified.
You may be thinking, ‘you are traveling the world, what could be better than that?’ It’s one of the greatest things we’ve ever done in our lives, but EVERYTHING comes with a cost.
EVERYTHING has a cost benefit, a risk vs. reward.
Is it worth it? YES!
It is insanely hard at times. YES!
Lately I’ve thought, ‘what have I done?’ In the same breath, I ask ‘could I have continued on my current life path?’ No! So what gives?
Life is difficult.
When in Rome
Our stress level hit an all-time-dung-hit-the-fan-high just after our arrival in Rome, Italy.
We were absolutely exhausted.
The constant fighting of our offspring had sent us to the edge. The public transportation strike that had us on public transportation for almost 10 hours in 1 day while dealing with rude, selfish, pushy, Italians pushed us right off the cliff.
We were going home.
We could not do it anymore.
We did not want to find one more, single night of accommodation.
We did not have a desire to book one more flight.
We did not want to look up one more bus route.
We did not want to find one more place to eat.
Trip Advisor. Don't want to click you.
Subway map. Don’t want to see you.
World map. Don’t care.
Failure. Hello, nice to see you again. Our world journey had just come to an abrupt end. I’m a failure.
Oh and by the way. Nice blog. Another failure. You couldn’t even maintain a simple blog of your journey while traveling. No job. No worries. You suck.
This journey was supposed to help me figure out the next steps of our life. A new career. A reinvention at age 44. Nope. Failure.
I was angry. This journey was, in part, inspired by the early exit of my father at age 61. I don’t want to…I will not look back at my life with regret. It was inspired by so many different people, different circumstances, different stories. This was a trip of discovery. Risking everything to uncover what was next. And I was pissed off that it hadn’t been discovered.
Hello God? Are you there?
This wasn’t the deal. We felt led by You to take the journey. We knew it had a purpose. Are my kids even gaining anything from this journey? What the hell? Did you forget about us? Have you seen our bank account? Can you, umm, take a quick look at our calendar? We are supposed to be home in July. I’ve had no moment of clarity. In fact, I’m even more cluttered now. Where are we supposed to settle? What are we supposed to do? What is the purpose of this journey that we stopped ‘life’ for and took tremendous risks?
Hello God, we seek you in every situation. Where are you?
This was my state of mind in Rome.
So we decided to go home. The tickets were found and booked. Only the ‘pay’ button was stopping us from going home. We were a click away from ending our journey. That button stared back at me through my tear-filled eyes.
I looked at Donna.
‘Are we doing this?’
'Is this what we should do?’
After a few hours of deep heart conversations, tears, and laughter we decided to delay our decision.
As we had earlier in our journey, we reached out to our friend Jennifer. Her answer: ‘Slow down. You will have regret if you go home now. There’s comfort in the thought of the familiar and home is familiar but going home will have its own challenges waiting for you. Go settle somewhere.’
The only thing that made me feel better/normal was something that Jennifer had shared with us. They moved fast during their first year of travel. At month 7 (1st of 7 years), they were in Africa and she was convinced that she was either pregnant or had acquired some awful disease. That disease was utter exhaustion.
After delaying our decision and approaching our journey day by day, we decided that settling down was a good ‘compromise’. Germany would be our choice.
What’s the point of this post?
I suppose this is a cathartic vomit fest. I suppose I needed to workout my thoughts on ‘paper’.
And you know what? Those who’ve not traveled as we have will not get this. Perhaps friends who know us well might get it. They know our hearts. But the blessing and curse of this journey is that most will not understand where we sit and where are hearts are right now.
I suppose we asked for this. We had it coming.
It’s like the prayer you pray when you ask for clarity or seek a drastic change or see the other side as greener. Well, you damn well better be prepared for what’s coming because it will kick your ass. It will challenge you. Drive you to tears. Make you question yourself, your decisions, your beliefs, your resolve, your heart, your courage. It will strip you down. It will make you desperate. It will make you beg for an answer.
It will make you question everything about yourself. You’ll question yourself as a man, a husband, a father, a friend, a woman, a wife, a mother, a lover, a son, a daughter.
So we sit here in Germany with 2 months left in our journey. We don’t know what is next. I don’t know what I’ll do for income. Consulting perhaps. A coffee shop perhaps.
I’ll confess it right here and now. I do not want to be an employee in the corporate world. DO NOT. I have more to offer than that.
Perhaps one reader will read this and say ‘I really like that crazy bastard, he could help us’. If that’s the case, you know where to find me. You’ll never have to wonder where I stand because it’s clearly written on my sleeves.
If this inspires one reader, then I suppose it’s worth it but I’m hoping for much, much more on the other side of this journey. Perhaps this is just the beginning. I sure don’t know.