Wednesday, May 10, 2017

"Big Travel" Inception

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Early Inspiration

Why couldn't we do something like that?
Four and a half years ago, a good friend of mine and his family decided to trade life in the suburbs to spend 2-3 years living and working in England.  Not only was that a shock to find out they were really going to do this, but even the general idea of living somewhere else foreign itself was a completely foreign idea.  I had never considered that as a possibility, especially now that my wife Kerry and I had a 2-year-old daughter.  That sparked many years of turning the idea of some sort of once-in-a-lifetime adventure over in my wife's and my head.  Like a rock in the surf, it started out jagged and dull but through the years, it got honed and refined and polished into something tangible and real.  We started asking ourselves, "If they can do it, couldn't we?"

A little while later, some friends of friends announced that they were going to teach English in China for two years and enroll their two high-school-aged kids in the local school.  My thought was, "What? Someone else is going on a life-altering adventure? People really do this?  It's not just our friends?"

The Weight of Possessions

We watched as our good friends got rid of most of their worldly possessions in preparation for their big move.  It seemed like that would be difficult in itself.  But the more we thought about it, the more we saw how freeing that could be.  Our possessions even might be what hinder us from just leaving tomorrow.  Again, I was thinking more and more about how all of that "stuff" we carry around weighs you down.  You have to store it, maintain it, replace it.  And when it comes time to get rid of it, you have to spend all that time and energy selling it, giving it away, or just throwing it away.  Going on a big adventure then had this additional benefit of getting you free from that excess baggage you hadn't even noticed was there weighing you down.  That would help give perspective of just what we really need and what stuff is really superfluous.  That alone was a reason to do it for me!

Intersection With Our Life Philosophy

These events seemed to underscore some life philosophy that my wife and I had discussed over our years together.  Let me take you on a little detour to understand this piece because it will help you better see how we ended up making the decision to travel around the world.  When we decided to have kids, we were aware of the need to maintain balance between several "pillars" of life:
  1. Yourself as an individual
  2. Our marital relationship
  3. Our kids
We had put the priorities of each of these in that general order.  The idea is, you can't be a good partner until your own needs are met, and you'll be a more effective parent if your marital house is strong and in order.  We strive throughout our marriage to balance those out to keep one from overshadowing and smothering the others.

In Search of Adventure

One of the things we have struggled to balance was being aware of our own needs as individuals and making time for them so we don't look back later and regret losing ourselves in the daily routine.  We are amazingly fortunate that Kerry is able to stay at home with the kids as that time and attention helps us both be better parents and maintain closer connections with the kids.  Childhood goes by so fast - being able to spend time with them is something you never get a second chance to do.  But the downside of that can be isolation, routine, and lack of adventure (even those more mundane daily adventures of massive Reply-All email storms or weekly lunches with coworkers)

Even for myself, the treadmill of the daily commute to work, coming home to see my family, eat, watch TV, etc. was also getting a bit dull.  I've tried to schedule time for myself in there to break things up, but you still get in a meta-routine that you can't really break out of easily.  I was also philosophizing about what is it that I am working so hard for?  That is, what are the things that give some sort of meaning or purpose or drive to ensure I'm getting full enjoyment out of life?

Kerry and I realized that we both could use a shake-up from the "daily grind" to get some perspective on what is most important in life.  We needed to do something big and bold.  We needed adventure.

Why Wait?

“Someday” is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you.”
Timothy Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek
Have you ever heard other people and parents say things like, "When the kids are out of the house..." or "When I retire..."?  We had noticed many people saying those things, and arranging their lives around that general plan.  It was as if everyone was content with biding their time doing things they would rather not be doing, and longing for that distant day when they can actually do what they'd really want to do.  We thought, "What if you don't make it that far?"  You may work your whole life for that distant time and have it all nullified by some accident or health issues.  But even if you do make it to that distant time, we also thought, "By the time you're that old, will you really be healthy and physically able to enjoy those things you'd rather be doing as fully?"

The implications of this are profound for how we might structure our life:  How can we weave into our lives some sort of "mini-retirements" right now so we can reap the benefits of our hard work while we can?

Why World Travel?

The idea began with some questions: "What does adventure look like?"  "How big of an adventure is big enough?"  "How can we incorporate adventure into our daily lives?"

We had thrown around some possibilities for what we could do to shake up the routine.  We could move to Northern California where Kerry lived before coming to Seattle.  We could move across the country.  We could live somewhere else in the world - even for a short period of time.

Or, what if we did what a lot of people (including us) say they would do if they won the lottery or retired - travel!  See the world!

We had considered taking our travel trailer and doing an epic road trip around the USA.  There's so much to see and experience in our own country.  But that is pretty accessible - we could do that over time almost any time.  But what would shake things up and get us out of our comfort zone more than seeing the world?  And when else would we possibly have another opportunity to do something big and bold if we didn't do that now?  World travel seemed like that big, bold adventure to kick off a lifetime of "mini retirements".

Positive Benefits

We looked at stories of other families who have traveled for tips and inspiration.  Their experiences revealed other positive benefits for their family that we wanted out of our adventure (spending time with the kids that you would otherwise miss out on, getting out of your comfort zone, being adventurous, showing your kids how others live, getting a broader perspective, overcoming adversities, simplifying life, chance to get closer as a family, etc.)

All of these together have cemented our resolve that this is the right thing for us as a family and the right thing to do right now.  There are a lot of sacrifices we've made over the past 4 years, and will have to make while we are traveling.  But the hope is that a year is really just a blink of an eye in the context of life and that the richness of our experience during this time will change us for the better in ways that we can't begin to even predict right now.

So, we've gotten rid of a *ton* of our possessions and packed the rest until we return.  With just two bags each, we're ready to finally, after all this planning, find out what the world has in store for us!

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