Teresa wanted to travel for years, but could never quite find the right time to leave. Then she lost her job. Then she and her fiancée Chris learned the rent on their apartment was being raised. They decided it was time to go. One year and one wedding later, Chris quit his job and they got on a plane to Tokyo. After seven months of travel they are settling down in Hong Kong.
Here is a bit of their story.
Prior to being laid off and leaving the US, what were you doing job wise?
Teresa: I was working in the admin department of a big corporation. I was doing graphic design prior to that, but I switched to an office job because it paid more.
Chris: I was working at a bike shop.
What did the planning process for this trip look like?
Teresa: I wanted to travel before I met Chris but jobs and such always got in the way. Then I met Chris and I did not want to leave when our relationship was new. I wanted to do it before we had kids and bought a house and that sort of thing. We had talked about it for so long that our friends thought we were just talk. Once we got the ball rolling we left pretty fast.
What was the time between deciding you were leaving and getting on the plane?
Chris: Maybe six weeks. In that time, we sold the majority of our stuff and had two yard sales.
I have talked to some people who said they saved and planned for years. How did you do manage to do this so quickly?
Teresa: I had saved for a long time for this. It has been a lifelong dream. I have saved my whole life. It is one of the reasons I switched from graphic design to admin work because I wanted to save a lot of money fast. Chris was able to make quick cash for traveling and I had been saving over the years.
Chris: I basically sold my truck and was able to finance our trip from the sale of it. I also sold about 80% of what I owned. I cashed out of everything.
How did you sell all your stuff?
Chris: The biggest thing was the truck that I sold through a co-worker. Everything else we sold through Craigslist and yard sales.
Now, if you went back to the US you would need to start over?
Teresa: Yes, we would have to start from scratch.
Does that scare you at all?
Teresa: Yes it does. We keep joking that we are going to have to move back in with our parents. [Laughing] We try not to think about it.
Chris: It is a little scary, but to put it in perspective my grandparents left Asia in the 1950s when they were in their 30s. They had nothing. They did not even have any language skills and they rebuilt their lives once they got to the US. It is daunting, but it is not a huge burden compared to what my family went through as political refugees from China.
What was it like Chris to quit your job and say, ‘Ok I am out’?
It was not a job that was high on my career list. It was retail and it was slow. There was a lot of turnover. I did not feel like I was leaving anything spectacular, although I think it could have lead to other opportunities.
Teresa, what did you think when you got laid off?
I was kind of relieved to get laid off. It was the final kick I needed.
You have been gone for 9 months now. What has the route been?
Teresa: We bought a one way ticket to Tokyo. From there we went to South Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and back to Hong Kong for the last two months.
What was the longest amount of time you were in any one country?
Chris: We were in Thailand for two months.
What was the shortest amount of time?
Chris: Cambodia for a week and a half.
How did you decide that you wanted to settle down in Hong Kong?
Teresa: At the six or seven month point we were tired of moving around with our heavy backpacks and packing and unpacking every three or four days. We wanted to pick a place and settle down for the summer. We had been to Hong Kong before and we fell in love with it right away. We loved the food and the way of living here. It just made sense to try and make it here.
The goal is to stay and live in Hong Kong?
I assume getting a job is the big thing in determining how long you stay.
How hard is it for US citizens to find a job there?
Chris: It is pretty difficult unless you want a low paying English teaching job.
Teresa: Which is what I am going to do. I got my TESL certificate years ago knowing I wanted to go traveling. It is not my dream job. It is something to get us started for right now.
How much do English teaching jobs pay?
Teresa: It is about equivalent to $2200 US a month.
Is that good pay for living in Hong Kong?
What would a one bedroom apartment in a normal safe neighborhood cost in Hong Kong?
Chris: About $1000 – $1300 US a month. It is similar to what we were paying in the US, but you get about half the space.
If you had any special skills would that help in getting a job in Hong Kong?
Chris: Absolutely. Any sort of post secondary degree. College graduates are a dime a dozen here. They have so many people that want to come here that they have a lot of people to pick from. The best way to come here is to get transferred by a large multinational company from your home country, but we decided we had time to try to figure it out, so we thought, ‘What the hell?’ However, finding a job is proving quite difficult as I do not have a visa and am not fluent in the local language.
Are you optimistic about both of you getting jobs?
Teresa: I see me getting a teaching job and then Chris can get a dependent visa because we are married which will open a lot more opportunities for Chris. Then we will see what happens from there.
How much has nine and a half months of travel cost?
Chris: I have spent about $6500 US, maybe a little more. I started with $11,000 US. It helps traveling as a couple as you split costs.
Teresa: I have spent about $7000 or $8000. We have spent about $16,000 US dollars total. We were traveling on a budget.
For Southeast Asia that sounds a little expensive. Am I wrong in thinking that?
Chris: If you look at it as an average across the board then yes, but the majority of our funds were spent in Japan and here in Hong Kong. When we were in Southeast Asia we were probably spending $20 – $25 US a day each.
What was it like being newlyweds doing all this?
Teresa: It was definitely a test that is for sure, but we are still married. [Laughing] It takes a certain personality to be together 24 hours a day.
What was your favorite place?
Chris: I enjoyed Hangzhou in China. It was spectacular. I had never been anywhere like that. It is kind of a vacation town for the wealthy of Shanghai. It is about an hour and a half outside of Shanghai. There was great food and great shopping there.
Teresa: It is on a beautiful lake. It is serene and very picturesque. I also had a really good time traveling through Thailand. I loved the people, the food and the activities. I would really like to go back.
What about disappointments? Did anything disappoint you along the way?
Chris: Sure. Doing this is not all fun and games. There is a lot of work involved. You are your own travel agent and it can be really frustrating at times. In Saigon I got pick pocketed and had my iPhone stolen. It is insured, but it is still a downer to have that happen. There were other things that did not go our way. It could have been way worse. We heard of people in Vietnam who had their wallets and passports stolen, but we did not want the fact that we got pick pocketed to taint our trip or make us paranoid about exploring.
Teresa: It is not all fun and games. On Facebook we only post the pictures where we are having fun, but that is not always how it is. There is a lot of down time and stress and worry and towards the sixth month it started to feel like a chore. There are a lot of ups and downs, but more ups of course.
What aspects of the trip felt like a chore?
Teresa: We had to be our own travel agents. By the sixth month, all the logistics of our trip hostel booking, train and bus schedules and tickets, [determining] which route is best, etc all became very daunting. We needed a rest.
Do you have advice for other people on how they could avoid those frustrations or disappointments?
Chris: The information on the State Department website is very good. Most of the travelers we talked to never read it. It can induce paranoia, but I am of the view that it is better to have more information than less. In Vietnam one of the greatest things we tried was the iced coffee, but a lot of the travelers on the forums are warned not to drink anything with ice in it because the water might be tainted. But if you miss that drink you are missing one of the quintessential Vietnamese things. You should be cautious, but don’t let it overcome your whole experience of where you are.
You should also think about the valuables you are bringing. We had a laptop and two iPhones. They were helpful, but we could have easily gotten by without them.
Teresa: People say to be careful and keep your eyes on your things. You think you are being really careful and then you let your guard down for one second and something happens like this pick pocket. At some point you have to have fun. You cannot constantly be worried about things.
Chris, I am interested in your experience in exploring your heritage.
Chris: We do not learn anything about Asian history in the US. In Asia, a recurring theme of our trip is that US foreign policy has had a huge impact on this area. It is fascinating to learn about the history of this region. The way they view political and current events is totally different than how people look at those same events in the US. I was also shocked at how much of an impact colonialism had on this region.
Is there anything you wish you would have known or prepared for prior to leaving?
Chris: We brought way too much stuff. We each had a big back pack and a roller with us.
Do you have advice for others who are thinking about doing this?
Teresa: I would say make a lot of contacts wherever you go ahead of time or while you are there. You never know what will come out of that as far as job opportunity or stuff like that.
Chris: Take double what you plan on spending and don’t get too involved in travel guides. We ran into a lot of people with their heads buried in their books. Books provide a good guideline, but I did not want to be one of those people with my head in the book. Even the authors acknowledge that you should put the book away and do something without it.
Also, if anyone is going to go on a trip like this they should be really realistic. I saw a lot of people that just lost themselves and started going nuts. Maybe I am just older and cynical, but I think if I would have done this in college I would have killed myself. It is the post college trip we decided to take ten years after college. We were older than everyone in the hostels.
How did you find ways to save money as you were traveling?
Teresa: Eat prepared foods from the grocery stores. Even at the 7/11 in Japan they had pretty good food. Eat the street food. If you can travel overnight you can sleep on the train or bus and not have to pay for a hotel room.
Chris: We avoided a lot of tourist traps although we succumbed to a few of them. The Internet is a really powerful tool now for travel especially looking for airfare, although we always tried to travel by land. AirAsia makes it cheap to fly. We were always at hostels. In the places that were very expensive we pinched pennies. In Japan we spent a lot of time in grocery stores looking for food on sale. We would take advantage of any promotion we could find. We would try to negotiate if we were purchasing in bulk. I saw a recent tour in Japan for ten days for $4900. That is how much we spent in almost six months. We tried to fit in as locals and avoided the tourist traps.
What was the most expensive place?
And the cheapest?
Chris: Thailand. A meal there was $1.50 – $2 US and it was really good. The rooms were $10 US a night with free WIFI in the rooms. Prices are going up in Thailand, but it is still really inexpensive. That is probably why there are so many tourists there.
Was there anywhere you went where you felt unsafe?
Chris: Not really, but I guess it depends on how you define safe. The drivers in Thailand are really scary, but I never felt unsafe anywhere.
Did you find any resources online that you thought were particularly useful in traveling?
Teresa: WikiTravel is good. The reviews from TripAdvisorwere ok. We had Lonely Planet and Rough Guides.
Chris: In Hong Kong there is a website, geoexpat.com, which is good for living and working here information. But the best advice is word of mouth through other travelers about where to go and what to do.
Teresa, in your email to me you said, ‘people do not have to think that losing a job is the end of the world,’ could you talk a little bit about what you meant by that?
Teresa: I think a lot of people lose their jobs and then worry they do not know what they are going to do with their lives, but they could look at it as a new chapter. I never looked at it as a bad thing, but I know people do and that is unfortunate. I think it was the final kick I needed to go do what I had always wanted.