Full Time Travel vs. The Gap Year, Part 2 of 3

In today’s blog, full time nomads Chuck and Lori of www.chuckandlori.com interview recent gap-year travelers Andy and LuAnn of www.wetrotabout.com. We hope their conversation helps shed some light on the full time versus sabbatical decision.

Q. First off Andy and LuAnn, tell us a little about yourselves, and tell our readers how we met you guys.

LuAnn is an interior designer and watercolorist at www.LuAnnDunkinson.com, and Andy is a software quality assurance guru, plus a photographer and musician at www.AndyToomey.com. Most people are a something-slash-something else nowadays, aren’t they?

When we started researching the whole full time travel thing you guys stood out as being a similar age and having similar interests, like wine & dancing, so we started following you and eventually reached out and started chatting with you all as we got closer to liftoff; as I recall we had just started our blog using blogger and when we found you we noticed you had picked the same template. Great minds think alike and fools rarely differ, eh?

Q. What sort of traveling did you guys do before you decided on your round-the-world trip?

We were both pretty experienced travelers before we met and got married eight years ago. LuAnn had been through most of the US. Andy had been to about 15 countries and about half the US at that time. Since we married, we then traveled outside the US about three weeks a year…in the two week spans our work allowed!

Q. So how did the whole round-the-world gap-year sabbatical idea come about? What triggered that big decision?

We didn’t really plan to be gone for a year specifically. That’s just how it worked out. Andy has lived in the Northeastern US, mostly in Boston and NY and LuAnn grew up in Hanover, Pennsylvania and lived mostly on the New Jersey shore, but neither of us have ever liked the cold weather very much and have always talked about moving somewhere warm once our kids were settled. Austen was 15 and Alexa was 19 when we met. In 2014 Austen was graduating college so that was our last hurdle, so to speak.

The idea of traveling full time probably started with Colin Wright of www.ExileLifestyle.com. We were reading his books and got talking to him. Then a friend of mine at work, Ben Wymore, quit his job and took his family RVing full time at www.LookBeforeYouLive.com. Then, of course, there was yourselves and we thought, ‘This is what we want to do, let’s do it.” So we did, because that’s how we do things mostly. The decision was helped by LuAnn’s job ending, so one of us was unemployed already.

Q. You sold your house; why not just plan on full time travel from the start?

There are several answers to this. We knew we wanted to settle somewhere warm, but didn’t know where and we didn’t know how we would support ourselves or handle the VISA situation wherever that was, etc., so we planned to travel until half our savings was gone and, if nothing presented itself, we would return to the states and regroup, but this time in someplace like Florida, Texas or California.

Andy had a notion that perhaps he would try doing some location independent work but, as it turned out, that required a lot of time that we felt was better spent sightseeing and so forth. It didn’t seem to make sense to travel the world and spend it in a hotel room at a computer. Besides all that, after 25 years of solid work in two parallel careers he just wanted a break.

We considered renting our house out to fund our adventures but since it was an older house we didn’t want to deal with any problems from another country, and it wasn’t in a place where the rent would make it worth the hassle (so we thought) plus we knew we didn’t want to return to New Jersey so we decided to sell and use half of that money for the trip.

Q. How long did you guys plan for your trip?

I think we talked about it for about six months, things like “Do we want to do this?” “Can we do this?” and “How will we do this?”, then when LuAnn’s job ended, we sold the house and moved into a rental close to Andy’s job for the year leading up to the trip researching and gradually selling our stuff, and trying to balance the level of planning against the level of spontaneity.

IMG_20150304_093734 copy.jpg
Travel Couple Andy and LuAnn

Q. How did you budget for such a long trip?

That was tough because in going through so many places things cost such wildly different amounts. Mexico and Thailand, for example, cost about half (or less) what things cost in New Zealand. Basically we tried to strike a middle ground, above backpacking with a tent, but below the Four Seasons Hotel where ever we went. We used www.VRBO.com and www.FlipKey.com a lot. We rented a van with a bed for our three weeks in New Zealand. In general we budgeted $2000-$4000 per month depending on our locale.

Q. Did you ask your employers for a long-term leave of absence? Or did you just say sayonara?

We knew we were leaving the New York/New Jersey area so it was sayonara. We left on good terms of course, with plenty of notice and we could probably go back but we really don’t want to do that. LuAnn’s primary job had ended when the builder she worked for packed it in so she did some consulting that last year while Andy finished up his tenth year at the software company he worked for.

Q. Did you set out knowing your full itinerary and when you’d come home?

Definitely not. We had a general outline of countries we wanted to visit and we set up a few things in advance, but mostly we made it up as we went along. We knew we wanted to be in Japan for the cherry blossom festival in April so that was an anchor point. We knew we wanted to be in Mexico for Christmas & New Years when our son would come visit so that was another anchor point.

We had booked our van for the 3 weeks in New Zealand but that was about the extent of our prior planning. Everything else we sort of made up or booked as we went along. That ended up taking up more time than we anticipated actually, since we were trying to hit that aforementioned middle ground we spent a fair amount of time on researching airfare & accommodations. Sometimes we picked things based on being tired of looking, which wasn’t ideal, but there you have it.

Q. Did you work any while traveling?

LuAnn did a few painting commissions and Andy did the occasional busking, but mostly no. We were too busy seeing and doing stuff!

Q. How did you guys decide where you were going to go?

We had a bunch of places on the “wish list” like New Zealand, Japan, Bali, & Thailand. Some places didn’t make the cut due to price. We didn’t feel Australia was going to be different enough from New Zealand to make it worth the astronomical prices there. Same for Vietnam but in reverse: after two months in Thailand (with a stop in Siem Reap Cambodia) we were kind of tired of Southeast Asia, enough to make us head for Europe even though it was more expensive. That kind of flexibility was built into the plan. If we liked it we could stay longer, within Visa tolerances, if not we could leave early.

Q. How’d you do with your travel budget? Over? Under?

We spent on average about $2500 a month each, the bulk of which was airfare & accommodation. That was pretty much in line with expectations. We could have done it for much less had we stayed longer, or seen & done less, but you can’t see the world from your couch in one city. Besides LuAnn had some “must haves” on accommodations. This was a trip we’d been waiting for most of our lives so we didn’t want to skimp too much. As Andy says, “I’m not going to visit Paradise, but stay by the dumpster!” On average we moved about every 5 days for 300 days, though sometimes we stayed longer or moved oftener.

Q. What did you miss most while traveling?

We both missed the people, our friends & family most. There were occasionally things that came up but that was far and away the biggest thing; the kids! Being in such different time zones made it hard to even talk to people in real time.

Q. What did you learn about yourselves?

We learned that we love traveling and that we can do it for longer than three weeks at a time! Many people told us we would get on each other’s nerves being together 24/7, but, honestly, that was just not the case. The biggest thing we argued about was what went in the blog! Andy’s style is more matter-of-fact; where we went, what we did & links to everything. LuAnn thinks that’s boring and is more about how things make her feel. We also learned that in general people are the same all over; some nasty, some nice, mostly just trying to get on with doing something with their lives.

Q. Was it odd to come home…and not have a home?

Well, as it turned out LuAnn got recruited for a job in Jacksonville while we were still in Portugal, and accepted once we were in England doing a dog sit, so she came home first. We got a month long furnished rental so she could scope out the area and find a place we could stay for a year, then Andy came back and got our stuff from storage and brought it all to Jacksonville.

It wasn’t like we arrived in the airport in the US going “OK, now what?” It was a pretty soft landing, which we had always sort of planned for and that’s how it worked out. If not we might have stayed with friends somewhere until we found work but that’s how it happened. That’s nicely indicative of letting spontaneity do the planning for us. That tended to work out well since things so seldom go perfectly to plan. One amazing thing is that in all that time we never missed a flight or had any bad travel juju at all!

Q. Any regrets? Would you do anything differently?

We weren’t really sure if full time travel was going to be for us, so we had to try it out to see. We probably wouldn’t move as often next time. As a long term goal we talked about being nomads and moving quarterly, like 3 months in Portugal, 3 months in Thailand, 3 months in Ecuador and 3 month in the US, then repeat. First we wanted to find those three perfect places to do such a plan. The jury is still out on that though.

Possibly it would have been “better” to set up a permanent revenue stream and/or location independent jobs before we left, but then we might never have left, or we might have discovered we didn’t like it and the lifestyle wasn’t for us. Who can say?

There’s never a “good” time to make a huge life change. LuAnn has had some health issues with breast cancer in the past and we felt it was wise to move while we had the money, the time and the opportunity, rather than wait until the “perfect” time. The perfect time might never come.

Q. Planning another sabbatical?

For the time being we want to spend some time exploring the American Southeast. We really like Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and all the low country hereabouts. Things change so fast and there’s a lot to see. I think perhaps we have a new appreciation for home now that we’ve trotted about some. There are pluses and minuses to anywhere you go. No place is perfect, at least not that we’ve found yet.

Possibly we may buy a house here and then rent that out as a way to fund our future travel adventures. LuAnn really likes having a “home base”, or a nest as we call it, though Andy continues to lobby for a more mobile lifestyle. No doubt we will find a way to strike a balance in the middle, as we tend to do. We might try a little harder now to set up some revenue stream that we can use to keep us afloat abroad. So far the problem of VISA’s still seems like the biggest obstacle to living and working abroad. In this so-called global economy that’s still a big pain and a seemingly irrelevant and unnecessary obstacle, but that’s how it is now so we’ll just have to find a way to work around it.

Q. What advice do you have for someone considering full time travel versus a sabbatical?

It’s hard to give advice about anything since people’s circumstances can be so different. We certainly recommend long term travel to anyone and as soon as possible. One never knows when circumstances will change in a way that makes it much harder. We try to live a fairly minimalist existence (which we also recommend) since having a lot of “stuff” can be a hindrance to moving around. The opportunity cost to store things is high and generally not justified. That said, it’s probably less than you think. It’s better to store it and go than to not go. Nothing we ever owned is worth more than the things we’ve seen and experiences we’ve had in the last year.

IMG_20150312_140323 copy.jpg

Leave a Reply