One fateful night in Switzerland, as we rounded the bases of Europe, a new friend and fellow globetrotter asked a serious question over a not-so-serious pot of bubbling cheese. Passing a square of bread into the abyss he inquired, “When we travel, are we searching for ourselves or are we finding ourselves?”
I had been grappling with my own existential version of this for the last few weeks yet I failed to offer an enlightened response.
Rewind to one month earlier: Zan and I were just setting out for an inspired seven week journey through Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, Sicily and Italy. Armed with my sketchbook and a bundle of new pens, the plan was to be at once totally immersed while floating above myself. I wanted to record everything as it unfolded, know where every interaction would lead before it began, tuck it neatly into the next as if it were happening to some idealized, fictional character gliding effortlessly alongside me.
And though our time was filled with extraordinary moments of discovery and self reflection, I forgot to leave room for the ordinary.
Some days we moved like we were blindfolded, tripping on minor adversities like stumbling through an agitated crowd. We maneuvered uncomfortable menus and impatient drivers, hit walls of cigarette smoke, unrelenting heat and confusing odors. We strained to interpret train schedules in another language, to convert kilometers to miles, meters to feet, Celsius to Fahrenheit, 24 hours to standard time...
How could I find myself in all this mania?
When would I even have time to look?
I started to panic. I wanted to start over, to be better prepared. I wanted everything to be better than I could have imagined or, if not, at the very least, as good.
I wanted the journey to be more riveting than a movie, more grandiose than a photograph, more romantic than a love song.
But none of this was reasonable, let alone possible, all of the time.
I didn’t look perfect in the photographs — not taller or thinner or more elegant. I had tired eyes and bad hair days. My wardrobe was neither trendy nor timeless and most certainly not hanging on the younger, fitter body I always dreamed I’d bring to Europe.
But this was me in the best of times, the best of places, doing my best. Moving and alive, constantly reconciling the familiar with the new. The only thing that could bring me satisfaction was letting that be enough.
One fateful night lying in a strange but comfortable bed, door open, breeze blowing patiently through unfamiliar trees, I began to sob uncontrollably. I was no longer confused.
I needed to let the little things get lost in translation so that I could learn to be present, without judgement.
After that night, I planned less, relaxed more and laughed without caution. I turned off the phone, tore pages from my sketchbook and put away the camera.
I opened up and out to others, sat at new tables and embraced my good fortune.
Was I searching for myself or was I finding myself?
“Don’t you have somewhere you’re supposed to be — like a job?” or...
“How is it possible for you to go away so often / for so long? You must be rich?” or...
“It’s a trip of a lifetime — you must really deserve it / really be lucky...”
Even though our recent travels have been more varied than ever, we’re invariably asked these same few questions by the people we know and meet along the way. After returning home to more of the same, it appears as though there’s a certain mythology surrounding the life we lead.
Perhaps we should stoke these fires to boost our cool factor but we’d much rather open up a dialog with those of you in search of your own utopia. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that getting out from under our work and finding the money to travel seemed like a far off dream. Yet here we are, bags freshly unpacked, still awash in the glow of our most recent adventure.
However you’ve found yourself here, consider this our attempt to pull back the curtain...
Myth #1: We don’t work
For folks that operate in a more traditional realm, we recognize the confusion regarding our work. We eat a lot of donuts and throw confetti on one another while we’re in the office so how can we possibly be trusted to be productive while we’re away?
My parents called us last month as we settled into six weeks of working from Turks & Caicos. My mom immediately apologized for bothering us (on a Tuesday night, no less), certain that we had one foot out the door to embark on a night of drinking and dancing!
Let bubbles everywhere burst in disbelief but, believe it or not, we don’t stay up to all hours of the night partying like rock stars when we’re remote. Social has taken more than a decade to build and we owe it to our clients and amazing team to be sharp and focused when we’re on the clock, regardless of our GPS coordinates.
And while being self-employed lowers the barrier to this kind of arrangement, creating a system for our company, partner, employees, clients and ourselves took planning, dedication and time.
The lesson here? Just because it may not currently be your situation doesn’t mean you can’t negotiate a remote working arrangement with your employer.
Myth #2: We’re rich
This idea of our perceived wealth is a tricky one that even our own families grapple with. During the aforementioned call, my dad commented that everyone he told about our trip was shocked and certain that we must be rich. Apparently, he agreed with them — we must be rich, right?
I gently explained to him that, while we make a good living, we are not rich (not in a way that’s measured in dollars anyway.) Fact is that much of it comes down to minimizing our daily expenses and planning our lives around travel — instead of hoping for a life that magically includes it.
To make it a reality, here are some of the rules we follow when plotting our excursions:
- Live Lean — Planning our time and money while we’re away starts with managing it at home. We share a car, a cell phone, eat in most days, workout at home, blah, blah, blah... And we’re always rethinking our spending habits, looking for creative ways to divert money from avoidable expenditures toward travel.
- Avoid Purchasing Plane Tickets Like the Plague
We purchase and pay bills on an airways mileage credit card (paying off our balance in full every month of course, don’t be silly) which we then cash in for plane tickets when it’s time to travel.
- Opt for Extended Stays
Airline tickets are one of the largest travel expenses — a cost that barely changes whether we stay for 3 nights or 3 weeks — so we instantly add value to our adventures by extending our stays as long as possible.
- Don’t Dwell on Hotels
While we’re suckers for a good boutique hotel, we mostly book our stays using airbnb.com and we’re not shy about asking for a deal on extended stays. Bonus: We engage with interesting hosts who generally go out of their way to make our stay more meaningful by sharing priceless insider tips.
- Rely on Human-Power
Whenever possible, we pass on exorbitant vehicle rental fees and explore our new homes away from home by foot, bike or public transportation. Slowing down also allows us to fully immerse in our new space and meet locals more freely.
- Trade Tourist Traps for Home Cooking & Hobbies
On this past trip, we diverted time and money from overpriced eateries and gimmicky tours to early morning drawing sessions and evening experiments with artisan bread and homemade pasta recipes. Things we never seem to get enough time for at home take top priority when we move away from daily distractions in a way that no amount of parasailing could ever compare with.
Myth #3: We’re Lucky / We Deserve It
While the sentiment leaves us with a warm fuzzy whenever someone is genuinely happy for us, we do nothing special that grants us exclusive access to this type of lifestyle.
In combination with the tips above, we simply talk about what kind of experience we want to have, where we want it to be and what we want to do. Next, we make an actionable plan to make it happen. Combined with the support of family and friends checking in on us and our home, everything finds it’s place. Boom. (This isn’t Lewis and Clark folks, stop making it seem so impossible.)
Are we lucky? Of course.
Do we deserve it? Sure, we’re good peeps.
But, the fact is, most of us live a charmed life if we’re willing to stop long enough to recognize it. Frankly — whatever it is that brings us joy, and wherever we go to we find it — we all deserve it.