It started with this post.
In 2008, I quit my job as a software project manager at GE, a dream job by all accounts, to become a writer and photographer – and to travel the world. As far as plans went, this was only the faintest sketch of a direction. I didn’t know how I’d do any of those things, let alone get paid for it.
My husband thought my panic attacks about quitting the best job I’d ever had were somewhat, well, hilarious, so he suggested I name the site: “Almost Fearless”. The point was that I wasn’t fearless at all, but I was going to do it anyway.
The thing was, we were both in our early 30s, without kids, and settled into a regular adult life. We had purchased a house, we had two dogs, and our careers were doing well. Looking back, we had so much money, just absolutely ridiculously well paid for what we did, and for about a year before we left, we saved a full 50% of our combined income (which just points to how much we were spending on dinners out, drinks with friends and other seemingly minor, but ultimately unnecessarily expenses).
I was completely freaked out about the decision, but I did it anyway. I blew up my life. House sold. Possessions tossed. Career trashed. Off we go to Madrid. With two dogs. Into a fifth story walk up. Drew and I had never really traveled (except our honeymoon in Barcelona) and he spent the first three months in Madrid as a shut-in.
Did I mention my husband didn’t want to travel? That he grew up in Vermont and I had to drag him cross-country to Seattle when we first started dating, and that he only agreed to move overseas because I promised to handle all the logistics?
I traveled that first summer quite a bit, while leaving Drew at home. I went to Lisbon, the Canary Islands, Dublin, Paris, Italy, and Croatia. While I was away in Dublin, Drew got mumps. Yup, mumps. We used the public hospital and while we had US health insurance, they didn’t even bother to bill us. (By the way, mumps looks exactly like holding softballs in your cheeks, it’s rather concerning).
After Madrid, we traveled back to the US. Why? I don’t know. We had a three-month visa in Europe, then we just went home. We stayed with his sister in Vermont and quickly got roped into fixing up the house so his father could put it on the market. I left. I know, right? Well Drew really wanted to not travel for a second, and I really, really wanted to travel, so we agreed I could go for a few months. I booked a ticket to Mexico and traveled down through Central America, stopping in Guatemala to do a month-long Spanish immersion program, and falling deeply irrevocably in love with Latin America.
Drew met me three months later in Costa Rica, and I showed off my Spanish, we hung out in hostels, and the entire time he worked online as a graphic designer for bosses that had only the slightest idea that we were traveling so much. I think Drew told them, “We’re in San Jose, no problem, right?” of course he only spent an afternoon there, and spent the rest of the following three months trying to cover up the incredibly slow wifi we kept encountering.
Eventually we made it back to Guatemala and I brought Drew to Quetzaltengango, where I had taken my Spanish immersion course. He took some lessons, then after a pregnancy scare, we decided, in the midst of all this travel, that yes, indeed, seven years into our relationship, we wanted to have kids. Now. I chalk this up to some kind of magic that happens to some women in their 30s, where they go from being “eh kids” to “omg let’s have a baby now”. It also helped that our lifestyle was so laid back, without a daily commute or insane hours at the office, having children seemed for the first time to not just be possible, but a net positive. We’d get to enjoy our little ones, while keeping our careers going and traveling. What could be better?
So how did I become a writer during this time? I blogged. I wrote stories for websites and small publications. I sold an occasional photograph. I wrote three ebooks from 2009-2010 and that funded my share of the travel. I sold some ads on my blog. I didn’t intend to become a blogger, but it just sort of happened. The freedom to get to write what I wanted, the immediate feedback, the connection – it all was very seductive. I started out pitching magazines and newspapers non-stop but over the first two years, those efforts faded until I eventually dropped it altogether. I was a blogger now.
We got pregnant immediately. We were in Northampton, MA, the same place I went to college, and what do you do when you’re pregnant, traveling and you have a nice, robust US-based health plan? You travel within the US.
I wish I had blogged about this more, but I took almost the entire time off, so sick in my first trimester, as we drove cross country, with our dogs, and camping along the way. We made our way to Seattle, then took the ferry to Victoria BC, where Drew was pulled aside in Canadian customs and they found a pipe and small bag of weed in our luggage. He hadn’t smoked since being in Vermont, but somehow he thought stashing it in our luggage was a good idea. Then he forgot about it. I was pregnant, holding the two dogs on leashes and starving, while Drew when through the process of being detained. We called the government issued lawyer and he was like, “How much?” and it was less than a gram, so he was like, “Oh don’t worry, I gotta go.”
We got a ticket and were released. The ticket was for possession and the fee was calculated against the amount found. We owed $0.00. Thanks Canada!
We then drove up through the Canadian Rockies to the Yukon which to date remains the most beautiful road trip of my life. In the Yukon there was decent wifi at truck stops, and we camped wherever we wanted. We saw so many bison, it was insane.
Totaled trucks and cars littered the highway from people who crashed into one of the slow moving beasts and had no other option but to ditch their vehicle. We crossed into Alaska and settled into Fairbanks, where I suddenly decided I didn’t like it. It was the last week of August and winter was coming on quick. There was already a chill in the air. At the market – at least where we went – the produce was unripe and the bread was frozen and thawing on the shelves. I was three months pregnant and in my best, most authoritative voice I said, “Oh no, we are not having this baby in Alaska, I am not going to eat frozen bread for the next six months.”
So we turned around. We drove south and made it back to the states in just three days. We went to Bend, Oregon, because, why not, and rented an apartment.
I had Cole on March 5th, 2010.
By June we were back on the road. His passport still has his tiny infant photograph, where I had to lift him in the air at the post office to get him in the shot, trying to hold up his head so he’d be looking at the camera. The passport is good for five years, so that’s what border agents across thirty countries have checked to make sure it’s really my son.
At this time, we decided to make a film about people like us, who travel and work online. On our way out of the country, we stopped in NYC and bought $10,000 worth of video equipment (all funded from donations) to begin filming a documentary that would take us two years to complete filming, another year to edit, and is actually coming out this spring (2015).
Our first stop was Colombia, where we had our first taste of traveling with a baby. Immediately the difference was apparent. We didn’t just disappear into the background as tourists, people noticed us (or more accurately our son). For the first time, we were the attraction. Kids would run up and look at his blue eyes, the bold ones trying to touch them (“eh, no toque sus ojos”).
From there we went back to the States for Burning Man (we had two interviews scheduled there).
We had left the dogs in Oregon and wouldn’t see them again for two more years.
After Burning Man, we headed to Thailand, then Malaysia, then back to Thailand, going into Myanmar and Laos to renew our visas. We were filming the documentary the entire way, interviewing other travelers like us.
Then it was off to India, where we spent a few months, and Drew took the train in a two-week long loop that took him all along the coast. We made good friends in India, we hosted other travelers, and to this day I still email some of the guys we met while we stayed there. Our house was in Goa, and at the beach shacks, you have workers coming from all over India just for the chance to work. They typically live together 8 or more in a tiny studio or they just sleep at the beach shack at night, and the street dogs come and (try) to snuggle them. When Cole turned 1, we threw a big party at the beach, with fireworks and all, and they guys chipped in together to make him a shirt that read, “Happy Birthday Cole, We Love You”.
I suspect that Cole learned quite a bit of Hindi during his time there, as the guys would scoop him up as soon as we arrived and play with him as we ate.
Next we went to Dubai, then Greece, then Spain, then Morocco, then Egypt, where I finally got burned out on travel. But even more so, Drew was done. That was it. I had taken this small-town Vermonter and showed him the world, but in the process I might have broken him. It was just too much. While this was happening, I had been in contact with a New York literary agent who wanted to represent me. I had an idea for a book and she was interested. We talked via Skype with a shaky connection, but while I kept breaking up, I heard her say, “I would love to represent you.”
I have delved into being a blogger and it was great, but I also liked doing other projects. The documentary was one way I got to flex my creativity, and with the book concept, this would be a brand new creative endeavor. But first I had to fix my husband. We flew from Cairo to Thailand, where we hung out for several months in Chiang Mai and I worked on my book proposal.
That fall, after several rounds of revisions, my proposal was ready to go out into the world, and my agent sent it out to everyone. At least it seemed like that to me. She would send me a list of editors from publishing houses and imprints that made me break into a cold sweat. “Wait, the editor at XX is reading my proposal this weekend? Omgomgomgomg.” It’s not pretty, so we decided to hide from our friends until it was over, going to Cambodia, where we spent the next three weeks sweating it out. We ate crab on the beach and I tried not to check my email every second.
Eventually the news came. Gotham, an imprint of Penguin, wanted to buy my book. For a bunch of money, like actual money. This was happening.
So we headed back to Thailand, but I kept the news largely to myself. The book was about learning languages and traveling, so we had a lot to do. I had to get our family to China to learn Mandarin, Beirut to learn Arabic and Mexico to learn Spanish, all in the next two years.
So what do you do as a writer who blogs, and also has a book deal to write about her life? Eh, uh, ok, well… you do the best you can. That’s why I haven’t totally laid out everything that happened in those two years on the blog, because who wants to read a book that is just rehashed blog posts? Not me!
Okay so let’s fast forward. We’re in Mexico and pregnant with baby #2. This time around we don’t have US-based health insurance, but the good news is that the healthcare at the private hospital in Puerto Vallarta and our doctor (Dr. Laura, google her, if you need a PV doc), are fantastic and the whole thing, induction and C-section with three-day hospital stay was just $2,700. On February 26th, 2013 we had a little girl named Stella. Because she was born in Mexico, she has both Mexican and American citizenship.
Somewhere along the way (actually it was 2011, but ramped up over the years) I started teaching blogging at Blog Brilliantly. I wrote more articles, we started editing the film (after raising $37,000 on Kickstarter to finish the edits and book a tour) and after over a year in Mexico we left. We had brought our now aging dogs down with us, but they didn’t seem up to continuing to travel. With a heavy heart we decided to do what was best for them and found them a new home in Mexico with an expat couple who loved our big sleepy labs.
We went to Europe where we took the two kids, two bikes and a kiddie trailer and tried to bike across Europe.
We made it pretty far, but then crashed and burned in Italy, when the trailer hitch broke and we didn’t have any good options for getting it fixed. A bit torn by this, we continued on, heading to Croatia, where we continued our camping/biking lifestyle, but without the bikes, then bused it to Serbia, then Romania, where we fell in love with the city of Sibiu.
I spent a few months writing, finished my book, and sent it to my agent. We got awarded National Geographic Travelers of the Year. I scheduled the 2015 spring tour for our documentary.
In a few weeks we return to Barcelona, which is our home base. I have a storage locker there. That’s when you know you’re committed (well, if you’re a traveler). Of course we’ll continue to travel, after all, Cole is just 4 years old, so we have two full years before we’re required to send him to school in Barcelona (which is the plan, the kids will speak English at home, Catalan at school and Spanish on the streets, plus whatever other languages we are working on). These days, Drew is a full-time stay at home dad (he got laid off in 2010, six months after Cole was born, the best worst-day ever).
I’m thinking about book number 2, maybe baby number 3, and perhaps another website, but this time about food, not travel. Our travels will take us to Barcelona for the winter, Mexico in the spring (and the US for Drew as he tours the film), then back to Europe for the summer, maybe off to Asia after that… Now that the book is done, I can stop considering for a moment which things will go into the book and which belong on the blog, a constant conversation I have been having with myself since 2011. If I think about nearly seven years of travel it feels dizzying, but really I feel like we’re starting all over again. A fresh start. New travels. Two adorable little ones to share it with. A slew of projects on the horizon that make me happy and anxious to get to work. Life has never been more of an adventure.