The original plan was to retire early. Then, Betsy Talbot’s brother had a heart attack. And a close friend, a brain aneurysm.
Betsy and her husband Warren, suddenly had a new perspective on life.
The longest vacation they had ever been on was a week. They decided they should travel for a year. Then they decided to travel for three. Now, a year into traveling, as I speak with them in Brussels and as they are about to head to Thailand, they tell me how they are turning this into a way of life.
Here is a bit of their story.
What was the hardest part about leaving?
Betsy: Friends. Family. And not knowing when you will see them again.
Did you have any fears before you left?
Warren: Oh, god yes. For me it was leaving my career. I had really identified myself as a career person. Losing this part of my identity was something I worried about until the day I left.
Betsy: I think I worried about everything else.
Did any of your fears come to fruition?
Warren: I left my job at 2:30 on September 30 and at 3:00 on September 30th, I was over it.
Did you get any negative reactions to your travel plans?
Warren: People were telling us we could not do this because our careers would be destroyed or because we were walking away from everything in our lives or we were walking away from them. We lost friends because of it.
Where have you been?
Betsy: Ecuador, Colombia, Northern Peru, Argentina and Antarctica. We took a ship from Antarctica to England. Our plan was to stay in South America much longer, but then we had the opportunity to take a ship from Antarctica to Europe.
What would you say is your favorite experience thus far?
Warren: Mine would be our trip on the ship from Antarctica to Europe. We were the only two passengers with 47 crew members.
Betsy: Mine would be being in places where we were microscopic. It was stunning to be this tiny, tiny piece in a grand, beautiful setting like that of northern Peru or Antarctica. It is a feeling that makes your heart burst.
How did you end up as the only two passengers on a boat from Antarctica to Europe?
Warren: On the way back from Antarctica I was talking to the manager of the hotel. She said that they were going to be taking the boat to the Arctic. I asked if we could go with them. She looked at me like I was crazy. We chatted with G Adventures and they agreed to let us do it if we would write about it. They were thinking about doing this trip as a package and wanted our feedback.
How long were you married before you left?
Betsy: 6 years when we left. 7 years now.
What about your relationship how has that changed?
Warren: Our biggest concern on this trip was, ‘How are we going to get along?’ One year into our trip and with spending 24 hours a day together, our relationship is better than it has ever been.
What would the challenges of your relationship be if you went back to the US?
Betsy: I think the pull of life there would pull us apart. I can tell when we go somewhere that has a television or little to do; we just work all the time. It is an easy trap to fall into. A very easy trap to fall into.
Warren: I think I would absorb myself into work.
Any relationship challenges on the road that you never encountered at home?
Betsy: Traveling magnifies the problems we had at home. For example, I am a much more go with the flow kind of person and Warren is more planned. When you put the two of those together, he feels like I am never taking the initiative to plan things and I feel like he is sort of bossing me around. So we both have to step up. He lets go of control and I step it up a notch.
Is there anything you miss or regret selling?
Betsy: We get this question all the time. The things we miss are not things. What we miss are people. While we were getting rid of our stuff I had difficulties, but now that I am rid of it I do not miss it. It was hard for me to let go of some of those things especially the things I felt were indicative of my personality. You are sort of making a leap of faith that it is all going to work out. And it does. You are just a little uncertain when you are actually getting rid of it.
What are your feelings on stuff now?
Warren: The freedom it gives us is more freedom than we have ever had in our entire lives.
Betsy: I think it makes life simpler. You walk through a market and you can appreciate everything, but you don’t feel the need to buy anything. It makes it a more relaxing experience.
What do you find is the perspective of US as you travel?
Warren: Everyone, and I mean everyone – from an indigenous person in the Andes to a person we meet on the street in England is more knowledgeable about the US politics than we are knowledgeable about any other country.
Betsy: They know our TV shows and songs, but in terms of our politics people are not always receptive. People do not understand why we are not rioting in the streets because we do not have healthcare.
What are the misconceptions of the US in other countries?
Betsy: [They think] that we are all wealthy. Also, people will say to us, “You are different from what we expected from people from the US.” And I say, “We are the US. This is what the US is like.”
Warren: Everyone thinks we all wear cowboy hats. There are a lot of perceptions that we love to work and that is all we do. They think we all voted for Bush. They don’t understand the Tea Party. They don’t understand how there can be so much religious control in US politics right now.
Have there been any times since you have been traveling that you have felt your safety is at risk?
Warren: More that our sanity was at risk.
Betsy: It is hard at times not to get frustrated. The times we have felt unsafe were the times when we put ourselves in those situations. Like when we were hiking at the edge of a cliff or staying in a town where the volcano 2 km away was erupting.
Have you had anything stolen?
After traveling for so long and seeing so many amazing things, does it get difficult to appreciate the next beautiful thing?
Warren: When you travel too quickly and you see 12 Andean glaciers in a week and they lose a bit of their luster. It is something you have to guard yourself against constantly.
Betsy: That is part of the reason we travel so slowly. If you are seeing three things a day, you are going to get fatigued. There is only so much you can process at one time.
How are you trying to craft traveling into an actual way of life?
Warren: We do website development to help us earn money in the short term while we build up the other aspects of our business. In the first year we spent $24,140. This is a fraction of what we would spend in the US.
Betsy: We have our first book, Dream, Save, Do, coming out on October 18th. We documented how we saved the money to travel around the world. It is going to be the first in a series of books about living the good life.
What are your client’s reactions when you tell them you are building websites while you are traveling?
Warren: They love the idea of talking to someone in a different country. They know they are going to get the same level of service regardless of where I am.
Betsy: He uploaded a website in the middle of the Atlantic. You can get an Internet connection pretty much anywhere.
What has been the biggest surprise?
Warren: How well we have gotten along. Our relationship is absolutely amazing now.
Betsy: I would agree with that. I would also add how quickly this [way of life] becomes the new normal. I can’t imagine living any other way. This feels like me. This life fits for me. It just feels right.
In the $24, 140 you spent in the first year of travel was there anything you did not do to save money?
Warren: We did not go The Galapagos. The Antarctica trip we paid for before we left, outside of our budget. We probably would have gone to more restaurants.
Betsy: We both really love to eat out, so we have lunch out instead of dinner. When we eat in countries that serve a lot of food, we typically split our meals so we are still able to have wine with dinner. We learned to adjust our lives and our budgets so they work together.
How did you arrange house sitting?
Betsy: House sitting is a great way to see the world if you have the time and the flexibility. We have a great network of people all over the world, but we are also members of a house sitting service.
What do you have to say to someone who says, “I would really like to do that some day.”
Betsy: I would say if you have a dream without a deadline it is dead. If your boss tells you to get something done when you have time, you will never do it. If your boss tells you to get something done by Friday, you will have it done by Friday. If you never start working on it, it will never happen.
In your new book, Dream, Save, Do, you wrote about focusing on your dream. I think the problem is a lot of people do not know what their dream is. Any advice on how people figure that out?
Betsy: We believe the reason we are doing what we are doing now is because several years ago we made the decision to start eliminating the negative things in our lives. We did not really know what our dream was, but we did know what we did not like. Instead of focusing on our dream, we focused on getting rid of the shit. We were both traveling a lot for work. We had long commutes to work. We were unhappy that we could not see each other. So the first thing we did was change our jobs. We also moved from the suburbs to the city because this was more along the lines of our goals for a social life. I think when you start focusing on what is not working for you, you do not necessarily have to know what the end goal is, you just have to know what is not working. When you can only see the negatives, you will never see what your life can be.
I have a friend who is a self-proclaimed Type-A personality and she wanted to know how / if you have structure in your days?
Warren (laughing):I understand because I too was Type-A person and I am changing slowly. Our days are really not structured at all. We let our environment dictate what we are doing. We do not even have watches. We don’t have a phone. We usually do not know what day it is.
How much underwear did you bring?
Betsy: I brought 5 pairs. Warren brought twice as much as me. I don’t know how that happened.
What does ‘home’ mean to you?
Betsy: Home means together.
Warren: Yes, I am at home whenever I am with Betsy.
What about photos and videos. Did you keep them?
Warren: Most of them are electronic and the old pictures we scanned.
Do you ever get lonely?
Warren: I don’t.
Betsy: Lonely is probably not the right word. There are times when a friend has a birthday or my family is having a big dinner when I think, ‘I wish I could just be with them for a couple of hours.’
Is there any way you deal with your frustrations differently than you dealt with your frustrations while you were in the US?
Betsy: We have fewer frustrations while traveling. Frustrations arise usually because something is preventing us from going somewhere or doing something and as such we are required to do something about it. Our frustrations are more action based. We also get a lot more exercise now which I think helps work frustrations out.
What is the most beautiful place you have been?
Betsy / Warren (simultaneously): Antarctica
Which city has been your favorite?
Betsy / Warren (simultaneously): Buenos Aires.
What was the cheapest country you have been to?
Which place had the most tourists?
Which place had the least amount of tourists?
Warren: Northern Peru. Any body that goes to Peru should go to Kuelap. It is truly stunning. It rivals Machu Picchu.
What was the biggest disappointment?
Warren: The food in South America.
Betsy: The trash and litter. In the most beautiful places in the world, I was in shock at the amount of litter.
Why do you think people don’t do what you are doing?
Betsy: I think people want an amazing result, but they aren’t will to put forth the work to do it.
Warren: I think most people don’t realize it is possible and they don’t know anybody who has done it. We didn’t know anyone who had done it either.
Warren, my girlfriend wants to know if you have a single brother?
Warren (Laughing): No.
Betsy: But, we met a woman who wanted to meet single men that travel and I told her she should go to Meet Plan Go meetings as they are all about helping people to travel around the world. Where better to meet great single guys than in a room of single guys that want to travel around the world.
What if tomorrow you had to go back to Seattle and, say, make collectively, $200,000/year. What would that mean to you?
Warren: We made significantly more than that when we were there. It is not about money. We feel happier, more free and more alive than we have ever been in our whole lives.
Learn more about Betsy & Warren Travel Adventure & Life at: www.marriedwithluggage.com