How we quit our jobs to travel: The married couple
When people ask us, “What’s the most frightening thing you’ve done while travelling the world?”, they often expect a story from Iran, Kazakhstan or Rwanda. Yet while we have encountered plenty of challenges during our travels, many of which have been fodder for stories on our blog, our most difficult moment came before all that. It was when in 2006, as mid-career professionals, my wife and I handed in our resignation letters, setting aside the security of one life for the uncertain opportunities of another – together.
Both of us are American, but we were working in Prague at that time. Audrey, my wife, managed tax and legal issues for US media organisation Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. I was a management consultant for the mobile phone provider Vodafone. After five years in Prague, and a combined 20 years of professional experience, we both had begun to feel as though our careers no longer challenged us. We needed a professional and creative re-boot.
Travelling together wasn’t new to us, having followed our simple 25-person wedding in Pienza, Italy with a five-month backpacking trip across Europe. But it was a trip to Thailand over Christmas 2004 that truly illuminated how we could make long-term travel a reality. Even though we could have budgeted for a pricier hotel, it was a 400 baht per night bungalow that brought us joy and satisfaction.
- The view from the simple bungalow on Thailand's Koh Pha Ngan island that inspired it all. (Daniel Noll)
Back home, intrigued by the idea of acquiring life experiences over objects, we found other ways to adjust our spending habits. We cut back on items for our apartment, clothes and eating and drinking out. Our goal: to save up for a 12- to 18-month sabbatical that would let us both travel the world and develop skills that could transition us each into alternate professions – and into the next stage of our lives together.
The major mitigating factor? We are two people. When you act alone, you can just pick up and go. As a couple you must constantly communicate to make sure you’re still aligned in your goals and needs. It’s something we call “checking in”, a process we’d used somewhat informally in our daily lives, but now approached more deliberately given the major life decisions ahead of us. The decisive check-in happened one night as we sat together at the edge of our bed in Prague, probing possible reasons for making the leap – or not.
“Are we really ready to do this?” I asked.
“Well… maybe we can put it off just a little while longer?” Audrey responded, echoing my own ambivalence.
“But one year becomes five, five becomes 10. The next thing you know you are looking back and wondering ‘What if?’” I said. We looked at one another, knowing what we were about to do.
- Audrey and Daniel take a leap of faith - here on a tandem bungee jump in New Zealand, on Valentine's Day. (AJ Hackett/Bungy New Zealand)
Granted, our decision seemed a little unhinged, especially to those close to us. Luckily, we had prior experience with the challenging conversations and puzzled looks, having set off five years earlier from San Francisco to Prague in the mid-winter – with no jobs lined up. It was a decision that perplexed our friends and family, but also satisfied the nagging curiosity that we both had.
And so in December 2006, two years after our fateful Thailand trip, we handed in our resignation letters, sold everything except what we could cram into our backpacks and departed with two one-way tickets to Bangkok.
Over the next eight years, we travelled the Silk Road overland from the Republic of Georgia to China, climbed to the top of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro, took a 60-hour train from Iran to Istanbul, witnessed the sun rise over the salt flats in Bolivia, followed penguins in Antarctica, trekked in the Himalayas, tracked tigers in Bangladesh and were continually humbled by the prevailing kindness shown to us by people we met.
- The sun rises over the Salar de Uyuni, the salt flats of southern Bolivia. (Audrey Scott)
That one-year sabbatical? It became a new lifestyle – and it did lead to different professions.