Who We Are and What We’re Doing
“It’s Dangerous out there for Americans right now!”
“How will you afford to live?”
“You won’t have anything when you come back. Have you really thought this through?”
“You might get kidnapped, or worse!”
“Oh, man, it’s Dangerous out there for Americans right now.”
Don’t get me wrong – a lot of our friends and some family have been wonderfully supportive, but even some of the most supportive ones occasionally utter a capitalized “Dangerous” under their breath at us. I suppose it comes with the territory, but I don’t really understand where our isolationism came from.
Let me back up and explain.
When I first met my husband, Rhys, I warned him – I advised that one day, someday, I’d leave to walk the world, and it would be his decision to come with or … well, not. Three years have passed since then, and occasionally the ultimatum comes up, with one or the other talking us back from the precipice. The idea has come to entrance him too – a far cry from one of our first “disagreements,” when he accidentally let slip the dogs of war by telling me that my dream was not feasible. That didn’t go over so well. I never said it would be easy – and I don’t expect it to be. Adventure never is. But perhaps it’s even less easy for us than for some: we don’t make much money (about $55k a year combined), we’re both out of shape, neither of us is terribly widely traveled, and did I mention I weigh nearly 300 pounds?
Well, I do. I’m sure there will be more on that down the road.
In late June, I had a dream. I know that sounds cheesy and cliché, but it’s true – I had this awesome dream in which I inherited like a million dollars and got to travel the world and write a book. I even brought friends along. While it was possibly the Best Dream Ever, the next day was depressingly anti-climatic, full of work and chores and… well, you know – normal life. I told Rhys about the dream, and he got a steely determination in his eyes. “Let’s do it,” he declared. “Let’s make it happen.” Minus, of course, the million-dollar inheritance.
This time there was no one to talk us back from the edge. So we leapt. July was a whirlwind of activity. I had gallbladder surgery, we orchestrated our Estate Sale without the aid of a company, and we found a renter to move into our house by August 1. I don’t think very many of our family and friends believed we would actually go through with it all – and I knew our budget would require us to move fast to get out from under our bills and start to save. We moved in with my mother – one of several living stops we would make during the long waiting period – and that’s about when the questions started surfacing.
“Dangerous for Americans”
While I honestly expected some of our older, more conservative relatives to blow a gasket when they heard of our plans, I expected the line of attack to be more accusations of making a poor financial decision – the allegations that we would be robbed, raped, and murdered caught me off-guard. I tried explaining that we were avoiding the really major hotspots and countries in which active wars were waging, but to no avail. Even countries with tame and friendly reputations received the heavy sigh and “I don’t know…” treatment.
Where did this isolationism come from? Is it particular to the land-locked, not-quite-cutting-edge state of Oklahoma? Or is this a widely American phenomenon?
I don’t have those answers yet, but I will be asking as I go.
Just as common is the response: “That’s amazing! I wish I could do something like that but [insert any excuse here] and [insert another one for good measure].” I understand that better. It isn’t easy to give up a “comfortable,” if not wealthy, lifestyle – and if you have children, it must be well-nigh impossible. But I do think what we are doing is not exactly heroic, not quite unique. It has been done before, and with any luck, it will continue to be done by adventurous travelers forever. I think the only factors that make our journey unusual from other backpackers’ and vagabonders’ voyages is the fact that we are… well, kind of clueless. Sure, we’re researching some stuff, and dropping coin on good gear, but we are essentially a factory-standard, middle-class, overweight and out-of-shape American couple – with low mileage, high hopes and big dreams.
If you ask us who we are, you’re not yet likely to get the real answer. I’m a 29-year-old product manager for a giant wireless company whose biggest accomplishment in life has been a 1-year study abroad in Japan. It seems like any conversation that comes up, the only interesting stories I have to contribute are from that year – it certainly shaped who I am today, mentally, if not physically. I lost 110 pounds while there, and have gained it all back since coming home. Poor choices, a sedentary lifestyle, and probably-intentional near-sightedness when it comes to mirrors guaranteed my diminished figure wouldn’t last. I’m a “Renaissance woman,” which is code for both “I’m pretty good, though not great, at a lot of different things” as well as “I never finish any projects but am interested in everything.” It drives Rhys crazy.
I suppose I should let Rhys describe himself, and I will, but here’s a basic reader on him. He’s a 27-year-old Nintendo fan, tech-savvy-nerd-boy, who just happens to be very, very intelligent and good-looking. I am biased, I realize, but I like to think those are pretty objective realities. He is thin, but not fit either, and isn’t accustomed to being outside or lengthy physical exertion.
So our first few months, which will be spent tramping through New Zealand primarily on foot, will be exciting. At least, I hope “exciting” will be the primary word I use and not “OH GOD, WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?!”
In any event, the next eight months will be all planning and saving, and doing some preliminary introspection and just generally going out of our damn minds wishing March would just GET here already.
T-MINUS 8 MONTHS … and counting