On paper, my husband Dave and I lived an enviable life. It was late 2006, and Dave was a successful rigging gaffer in the thriving Toronto film industry while I worked as a make-up artist at a hip TV station. We had been happily married for 10 years, lived in a beautiful downtown Toronto loft and looked as though we didn’t have a care in the world. In reality, we were unfulfilled. For almost seven years, we had been living half a life.
In 2000, a five-week trip to Thailand rekindled the spark in our marriage and opened our eyes to a world beyond careers and money. We knew we wanted to make travel a full-time part of our lives – but we didn’t know how. Instead, we worked hard at our jobs and saved every penny to travel between film projects.
The thing is: the movie business can be all-consuming. The life seems glamorous as you rub shoulders with movie stars and work on films such as X-Men and The Incredible Hulk. But shooting 16 hours a day for six months at a time takes over every essence of your being. You live to work and sleep on your days off because you’re too exhausted to do anything else. We were out of shape, tired and trapped by the middle-class rat race. Our lifestyle and bills outweighed our income and we could never get ahead.
Finally, on a miserable and rainy 2006 New Year’s Eve in Toronto, the lightbulb went off. We switched on the TV to watch the midnight countdown, but instead, a documentary about Canadian ultra-marathon runner Ray Zahab caught our attention. He transformed from a couch potato who smoked two packs of cigarettes a day to an extreme athlete – if he could do something extreme like that, why not us? We could either continue to work at our jobs yearning for the day we retire, or we could take charge of our lives. So we made a late New Year’s Eve toast and said, “By this time next year, we’re going to do something extreme like he did.”
A couple of weeks later, we read an article about the world’s longest cycling race from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa called The Tour d’Afrique. That was it. We immediately put down a deposit to enter the race and told all our co-workers that in a year’s time, we’d be in Africa cycling down the continent. There was no turning back.
Since we came from a TV and film background, we decided to pitch a TV show about our adventure. As two ordinary people taking on extraordinary challenges, we had an idea that we could be the “adventure couple for everyone”. So we hired a publicist and started documenting our training.
By the time we left for Cairo on 1 January 2008, we had a series of commissions from Canada’s national newspapers. We had several TV appearances and radio interviews under our belts. We felt excited about our future for the first time in years.
For the next 120 days, we cycled an average of 100km a day through the deep sands of the Nubian Desert in Sudan, the rocky mountains of Ethiopia and the torrential rains of Tanzania. Nine countries and 12,000km later, we reached the finish line in Cape Town. I was crowned women’s champion and Dave achieved the prestigious EFI (cycling Every Fabulous Inch) award.
The TV show didn’t pan out, so when we came back from Africa, we had to go back to work. But now we knew what we wanted to do with our lives. To save money, we lived in my parents’ trailer instead of renting an apartment. And we spent every spare moment learning about the business of travel.
During this time, we decided that the internet would be more powerful than TV in the future, so we focused on building our travel blog – ThePlanetD.com, which we started for our race through Africa.
In addition, we worked on building our YouTube channel and social media followings – interacting with other bloggers to build our community. We got to know travel companies and built relationships with tourism destinations online.
Less than a year after returning from Africa, we had saved enough money to last us a few months in India, so we got back on the road, updating our blog every day. It took time to build our audience but soon people started to look to us for advice and inspiration.
Within four months of leaving for India we sold our first ad, which gave us enough money to cover another month on the road. As our readership grew, so did our influence and soon destinations were inviting us to experience what they had to offer. They didn’t pay us, but they paid for our travel so we could cover our expenses by selling a few ads on ThePlanetD.
It was tough for a couple of years – we never knew if and when the money would come in. Whenever we were down to our last dollar, we’d consider going into our savings, but it always seemed that a small opportunity would pop up to get us through the next month. By having clear goals and remaining patient, we made it through.
Today, we work as brand ambassadors and spokespeople for companies like American Express Canada, Expedia, TravelSmith and TripIt. We also make money through speaking engagements, photography, affiliate sales and various client campaigns. We earn more than we ever did in the film business.
We’re two regular people that have proven anything is possible. We’ve taken extraordinary adventures, such as driving overland from England to Mongolia, kayaking in both Antarctica and the Arctic, climbing to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro and reaching Mount Everest Base Camp. Having explored all seven continents, we’ve done everything from flying a stunt plane in New Zealand to playing with sea lions in the Galapagos.
We travel the world – and it’s a dream to be doing this together – but it’s also a lot of work. Every spare moment is spent documenting our experiences through video, photography and writing. We’ve had to learn to business partners and we’ve had to learn when to switch off and be a couple again.
We have lost touch with many friends from home and sometimes yearn for stability. But when we think about the wonderful friendships we’ve made around the world and the opportunities we’ve had, we wouldn’t change a thing. We took a huge chance giving up successful careers to follow our dreams – our only regret is that we didn’t do it sooner.