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Traveling, Working, and Staying Together on the Road: Our Story


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Last year, we were asked by BBC Travel to share the story of how we — as a married couple — quit our jobs to travel the world. The editors asked that we focus on the decisions we made together and offer some tips and advice for traveling couples and others considering making the leap. They requested also that our perspective reflect not only the highs of our journey, but also some transparency on the struggles we’ve experienced along the way.

No small feat to squeeze these various charges into one piece, but I think we did.

In honor of relationships, in all manner of their evolution, we thought it fitting to share a personal story of ours for Valentine’s Day.

Dan and Audrey
Musing on the streets of Haiti.

When people ask us, “What’s the most frightening thing you’ve done while traveling 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 ($10) per night bungalow that brought us joy and satisfaction.

 Sunset at the Beach - Haad Yao, Thailand
View from our bungalow on the island of Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand.

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.

Gheralta, Ethiopia
Life sometimes feels like you are skirting the edge of a cliff.

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.

That one-year sabbatical? It became a new lifestyle – and it did lead to different professions.

Dan holds the Fugu (blowfish) - Osaka, Japan
Fugu (blowfish) handling in Japan.

Our website, Uncornered Market, began as a creative outlet for stories of adventure coupled with tales of places and people that aren’t usually represented in mainstream media. We began its development alongside Buddhist monks in internet cafes in Luang Prabang, Laos, and put the finishing touches on it somewhere in Battambang, Cambodia. The blog’s success has since led to various brand ambassador gigs, professional speaking engagements, freelance writing and photography assignments and digital consulting projects – all of which help fund our continued journeys.

Even so, the big question isn’t how we’ve made our finances and careers work. It’s how we’ve made our relationship work.

As American writer Alexandra Penney once said, “The ultimate test of a relationship is to disagree, but to hold hands.” We’d add, “…while traveling the world and running a business together”.

Dan and Audrey at the Equator in Uganda
Goofing off at the equator, one foot in each hemisphere.

In some ways, we complement each other well while on the road. One of us often needs a little push from the other to get past fears and grow. In early 2007, for instance, Audrey was reluctant to visit Turkmenistan. She knew from her previous job that it could be a dangerous country where journalists were incarcerated; some even died in jail. I wanted to take the risk and see for ourselves. So we decided to leave the decision up to fate, resting on whether our visa applications were successful.

They were. On our ensuing cross-Caspian Sea ferry from Baku, Azerbaijan to Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan, Audrey, despite her initial concerns, was the one who started chatting with other passengers, using the Russian she had honed from both her previous job and two months of travel in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The next thing we knew, we had arrived, and were being plied with glasses of vodka and watermelon by Turkmen vacationers on the beach.

Audrey with Women Pilgrims - Paraw Bibi, Turkmenistan
Welcome in Turkmenistan: Audrey is adopted by a group of Turkmen women.

Another difficult challenge was our own expectations. Ditching what we called the “perfection narrative” of our relationship – the idea that marriages are supposed to be easy and ideal, when in fact they are full of bumps and hard work as you inch toward shared goals – was especially freeing. And travel helps. Wake up after a week without showering in Nepal’s Himalayas and you have a new appreciation for who the person next to you really is. Later that morning, when that unwashed partner makes it over a 5,400m mountain pass and motivates you to do the same, you might just find your heart brimming over with pride.

Still, sometimes we must withdraw to our inner selves to maintain a level of independence and reflection. Allowing and respecting this need is especially important when one or both partners happens to be an introvert, as I am. This is where the ability to create mental space, even in shared (and small) physical space, can be a relationship-saver. We might sit next to each other on a 17-hour bus ride without speaking for hours at a clip. We aren’t angry at one another; instead, we are creating the circumstances we need to reflect and regenerate for the next adventure.

Holding Hands While Diving around Menjangan Island - Bali, Indonesia
Underwater exploration, Bali.

And yes: there are occasions where we fight, sometimes to blow-out proportions. One of those times was in Buenos Aires, the night before Valentine’s Day 2010 – and while I don’t recall what we fought about, the argument ended with us each boarding separate buses, headed in opposite directions, in the middle of the night. The next morning we reconciled, reflected and even wrote a piece on how to travel the world together without killing each other.

Today, we’re often asked for our secrets to travel, relationships and life satisfaction. Our biggest tip? The greatest impressions on life’s highlight reel need not always be attached to a several thousand dollar “trip of a lifetime”, but can instead be found, say, in the eight euro bottle of wine that you share under a tree behind an old train station on the France-Switzerland border.

As a couple, meanwhile, our travels have provided us the opportunity to create a library of shared stories and life experiences. Our respect and appreciation of our differences has helped us grow together, not apart. But it’s important to remember that travelling and working together forces issues to the surface; work through them immediately, rather than letting them stew and simmer.

Oh, and if you board separate buses, make sure they eventually wind up in the same place.

This article was republished with express permission from BBC Travel. The original story can be found here.
About Daniel Noll
Travel and life evangelist. Writer, speaker, storyteller and consultant. Connecting people to experiences that will change their lives. Originally from the U.S. Daniel has lived abroad since 2001 and most recently has been on the road since 2006. When he's not writing for the blog you can keep up with his adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about him on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

38 thoughts on “Traveling, Working, and Staying Together on the Road: Our Story”

  1. I found it really heartening to read that it took you guys two years from the idea of leaving to actually doing it. It was the same for my husband and I. In a comfortable and employed life, it really is a process to leave it all to travel, especially as a couple.

    Reply
    • I’m glad this resonated with your own experience, Casey. The process of leaving one life to embrace another is just as you mentioned — a process, an evolution of sorts. And when two people are involved, there’s always a balance involved.

      Reply
  2. What a great story and spot-on advice! Travel can certainly teach you more about your partner than just about anything else. It’s nice to hear too that even you guys aren’t perfect and have big blow-out fights, but always end up in the same place in the end.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Sonja. Travel can teach us about ourselves and the people around us, including those closest to us. And to your point, we are not perfect, but in fact human. There’s something liberating in developing the skills to navigate that reality.

      Reply
  3. I’ve been reading your reports for some time and appreciate your sharing with everyone. How can a 77 year old single woman in pretty fair condition take off and travel? I don’t know anyone personally who is interested in this and I hesitate to pick just anyone up. It’s tough enough to travel but sharing with another unknown personality would be worse! I hae traveled a good bit but would like to do more.

    Reply
    • Good question, Nancie. I suppose it boils down to what you objective is, then choosing a destination or path that allows you to meet those objectives. For starters, we have always been fans of Southeast Asia as a location to begin because it’s approachable and relatively safe and inexpensive.

      For more on that, check this out: https://uncorneredmarket.com/southeast-asia-beginner-guide/

      Especially when it’s a big change or leap, be sure to give yourself time to ease into it and find the people who are “your people” along the way. I hope that makes sense.

      Reply
  4. The second to last paragraph about the 8 dollar bottle of wine over the multiple thousand dollar trip is dead on. I try to explain that to friends/co-workers/acquaintances…all the time but just can’t seem to get through.

    Keep up the good work and maybe you can convince someone to follow their dreams just like the two of you have.

    You are truly inspiring!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Mike for your comment and compliment! We’re happy to hear that the “little things” approach resonates. We appreciate the difficulty in communicating that message and having it sink in. After all, most people have a limited amount of time to holiday, to vacation, escape or whatever. That apparent limitation lends itself to a temptation to squeeze in an acceptable amount of amazing-ness. As a tangent to this, we often tell people that travel itself won’t solve issues. In fact, we’ll know that we are on the road to a solution when we can find also find joy at home (wherever that happens to be).

      Reply
  5. Hearing great stories like this has always been an inspiration to everyone who travels, whether solo travelers or couple, or group.. everyone goes thru hardships, conflicts and misunderstandings,. but the most important thing is how we communicate with each other.. like what you guys always do. Communication is always important, checking out on each other, and respecting each other’s personal spaces.
    I don’t travel that much, but I do wish to do what you guys do in the future.. with my boyfriend. I think we still need a longer time to prepare.

    Reply
    • Glad to hear that our perspective resonates with you, Sofia. Your comment reminds me that in travel, as in life, it’s all about the journey.

      Reply
  6. The fugu looking nice. Traveling around the world is great experience and your story is amazing.. It’s great your story is published on BBC travel. Congrats!

    Reply
  7. What an inspiration you are to all travelers
    not that we are all as brave
    I wish i was, you seem to have taken in so much within a short time
    well done, and keep it up

    Reply
  8. Fantastic story guys. I’ve heard a lot about your work in the blogsphere. I’m a British expat in Germany but I did see the BBC interview. I was jumping up & down because even though we have never met, I had heard of some of you. Most importantly, it was nice to see “real” people and not only that, travel bloggers. We’re on the way to recognition and professional acknowledgement. Hurrah!

    Reply
  9. What an epic story … wishing you many more years of happily married life on the road, or wherever you decide to settle down (if ever)

    Reply
  10. D ‘n A I have just posted my first travel blog so you can imagine the buzz we are feeling. I mean come on we hadn’t even heard about TBEX before, but now we have and we have watched your KN talks. Excellent and amzing the crossover with my profession – Financial Planning. I love what Audrey said about ‘moving someone to action is devine’.

    Just this past week I said to my hubby that I didn’t want our dreams to be at someone elses cost. You put it eloquently, when you talk about unlocking value and having integrity. Best wishes Jenny

    Reply
    • Thanks, Jenny. Glad to hear that our messages resonate. Great to see you here and looking forward to hearing more from you!

      Reply
  11. This is such a great and honest account of your story, really enjoyed reading it. So much of it resonates with myself as the wife of a husband and wife travel blogging duo too. For example, we really enjoy settling into a long journey when we can both have some individual reflection time but then also share the enjoyment of jointly listening to a podcast or music and laughing together to pass a few hours. It’s all about finding the right balance and knowing when to give each other space but also when to support and work through the highs & lows together. Thank you for this lovely summary, it inspires me to draft our story now too! Best wishes, Laura

    Reply
    • Laura, so glad you enjoyed this and that it resonated with your experiences as well. I agree, it’s all about finding the right balance and actively communicating how one is feeling and thinking.

      Reply
  12. cool story. I know there aren’t so many people who love traveling the way we do, but you guys made great experiences and stories together while traveling. And yeah I’ve read several post about y’all and cool as usual. nice ;D

    Reply
  13. Thank you for sharing your story. My husband and I are both American, we quit our jobs in June 2013 and have been traveling every since. We are trying to find jobs/businesses we can do online so we don’t have to return “home” and work a 9-5 which in the USA is really 7-7!

    Reply
    • You’re welcome, Hannah! While there are so many more opportunities for work and doing business online, it’s still challenging to juggle everything to make it work. But the flexibility is certainly quite nice 🙂 Good luck with your search and happy travels!

      Reply
  14. Totally insane decision. You’re both crazy.

    I mean, who in their right mind would give up a life of reassuringly predictable sorta-comfort for the chance of wild happiness and personal growth through adventure? What is this, a Disney script?!

    Risk is a funny thing. The more you explore it, the more likely it is to flip on its head. Making a career travelling the world? Sounds like a risk – but you’ve interrogated yourselves in this post and in others, and you identified other, far less obvious risks that outweighed the chance you were taking in leaving your jobs. That’s smart. You’re good at explaining it, but it’s a hard thing to do, because risk is so often seen as an obvious thing that everyone “gets”, so nobody thinks about it too hard. It’s assumed to be self-evident.

    Parsing risk for two people? I have problems enough doing it for myself, so my hat is off to you.

    (It’s a nice warm hat and it’s pretty cold today, so, high compliment.)

    Reply
    • Mike, I know. You nailed it. We’re nuts. Bona fide. And it is a Disney script. I just struggle to consider which one. Maybe The Jungle Book?

      Big gap between what we think we “get” and what we really get. If there’s something the human race has a weak macro and micro view of, it’s risk.

      As for careers and such, we often forget that risk is double-edged. Just as we evaluate the risk of leaving, we ought to evaluate the risk of staying. Always. Not easy, as it means we have a lot of intersections to negotiate and navigate in our lives.

      It seems to me that the parsing of anything for two is geometrically more challenging than for one. On the up and down side.

      Thanks, as always, for thoughtful considerations!

      Reply
  15. Amazing trip and story! Waiting for your next trip and reviews if the places you’ve explored.

    Reply
  16. I really enjoyed reading your guy’s story about travelling together and making your marriage work at the same time. Truly inspirational. I also have a strong passion and desire to get out and see the world. While I don’t think I can ever be brave enough to quite my full time desk job, I admire the fact that you were both brave enough to take the plunge into the unknown. Life is to short to not follow your dreams. I especially like the idea of “acquiring life experiences over objects”, as you say. Often times, I find myself having to explain to people that I would rather save my money to travel, rather than spending it on fancy clothes, a bigger house, a nicer car, etc. etc.

    Reading this article is good timing for me because I am getting married soon and my wife and I have both decided we want to make travelling a priority. I only hope we can stick to our ambitions, compromise, and make things work, just like you guys did. I would love to one day be able to sit down and write an article about our amazing adventures.

    Good luck on all your future travels!

    Reply
    • Thanks for your thoughtful note, and for sharing your own feelings and processes. Am so glad this resonated with you. Regarding making travel a priority, it’s as easy (or as difficult) as making the little (and big) choices here and there to make room for what you feel matters most.

      Upon reflection, awareness of how all those decisions you make along the way are connected to one another and also connected to whatever larger goals you’d like to achieve is especially important. Often times, we make decisions by default — regarding how we spend our money and our time — without even realizing it. That’s dangerous to what we really aim to achieve in this life.

      Thank you for re-igniting some thoughts on this important topic. Good luck to you and all the best on your journey!

      Reply

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