Five years ago, we woke up early (actually, we probably didn’t even really sleep) and headed to the airport to start this great adventure. We had already sold everything we owned, and had little more than what was in our backpacks. We were excited and terrified about this new life we were starting – actually, had already started – we had sold everything we owned and moved out of our house a month earlier.
We boarded a plane to Dallas – the first stop on our way to Ecuador, where we planned to spend the next month studying Spanish in Quito while traveling around the area. From there we had plans to head to Peru, Colombia, Fiji, New Zealand, & Australia, before hopping up into Asia to wrap up the year.
We were excited and nervous, and we had NO IDEA what we were getting ourselves into, even though we thought we did. We had never backpacked before. The longest trip we had ever taken was 3 weeks. We had dreamed of doing all of this for so long, and to be sitting on that plane, descending into Quito, and realizing it was actually happening was emotionally overwhelming. Back then, we had plans to travel for a year, and hoped we could stretch that to two years. If you had told us back then what our life would look like today – that we’d have a long term lease in Mexico, would own a vehicle again, and be working on the road – we would have laughed at how ridiculous all that sounded.
Today, we are celebrating five years of travel from my parents’ house in ABQ, where we’re spending the spring so that Kyle can work. It’s part of the plan we decided to put in place last year. Spend some time in our home in Oaxaca, spend some time in ABQ, so Kyle can work & we can spend time with family & friends, and spend some time traveling.
We kicked off this scheme a year ago, right after our last travelversary. Kyle went back to work in ABQ for the summer, and I divided my time between Oaxaca and Albuquerque. It was awful! We had never spent that much time apart and we were both miserable. But that’s the nice thing about our life – if we don’t like it, we can just change it. So this year, we’re sticking together and BOTH working from ABQ.
This past year, we settled into expat life – with a lot of time spent at our home in Oaxaca, along with some time spent traveling, and also time in Albuquerque.
When I sat down to write this post, I wasn’t sure what to share, because I didn’t think we had done that much since there was a bit less travel to new places this year. But as I’ve started to think about it, and go through all the photos from this year, I have realized that we did a LOT over the past 12 months. We celebrated a year in Oaxaca! Our circle of friends in Oaxaca continued to grow, as does our grasp of Spanish. This meant that we got to participate in more local traditions and celebrations. From Guelaguetza in the summer to the Night of the Radishes at Christmastime, Day of the Dead to the Fiestas Patrias, we’ve been welcomed into this place and invited to celebrate with friends and neighbors.
We also got to play host and tour guide in our new town. We introduced my parents and some of our good friends to our new home in Oaxaca, and shared some of the reasons that we love this place so much. From tours to meet local artisans to cooking classes, and mezcal & trunk tacos for everyone, we had the opportunity to share with them the things that make Oaxaca special for us. My BFF and I even got Kyle into Day of the Dead makeup for the celebrations.
We’ve also spent a good amount of time hanging out with family and friends back in the US. I finally got to meet some of Kyle’s cousins, many of whom he hasn’t seen since he was small (& some he had never even met), on an epic road trip through three states in 4 days. We’ve visited good friends on both coasts, hung out with our ABQ peeps, and spent time hanging with our family. We even got to take the niece and nephew on a trip down to Carlsbad Caverns this past weekend.
But while this year has given us a lot of incredible gifts and glimpses of what our life can be, it has also had its rough spots. In March, Kyle’s sister lost her battle with alcoholism. We made it to the hospital with no real time to do much more than say goodbye. We were grateful to be here with her in her final moments, but the relationship with Kyle’s sister was always a complicated one, and we’ve struggled with this whole situation. The past 2 months have been full of thinking about what drives us to make the choices we make, whether they’re the right ones or the wrong ones. We have talked a lot about what makes some of us more resilient and others more fragile. The roles pride and shame can play in a life. We’ve wondered out loud why it is that some people can find joy in this life, while others struggle to find any form of contentment. We’ve taken turns tearing ourselves apart, and putting ourselves back together, over questions of whether we did enough, if we could have done more, and what part our physical absence played in this tragedy.
If you know us, you know that we wanted to travel for a lot of different reasons. I was very ill in my 20’s, and never wanted to have to put my life on hold ever again. We both lost friends who were very dear to us way too young and under awful circumstances. We enjoyed our jobs, but they were always just jobs, never passions like the careers of my parents. All of this, and a thousand other reasons, both big and small, strengthened the idea that we had always shared, of living the kind of life we really wanted, and being the kind of people we aspire to be. Almost from the moment we became a couple back in 2001, we’ve been talking about one day selling it all to travel, and it was an idea that we always came back to, always planned for, and saved for, and worked towards. The plan was that we would save and plan, and then take a year or two off in our late 40’s or early 50’s and go traveling.
Then Kyle’s mom passed away in the spring of 2011. After her death, we decided that we shouldn’t wait any longer. Life is short, and the fact is that there isn’t always time to wait to do or say the things that are important. People run out of time every day, and we didn’t want to be those people. We made a quiet decision to do whatever it took to make every moment count. We set a date 11 months later (because I promised one of my best friends that we wouldn’t leave the country until after she got married), and started telling people close to us about our secret plan to sell off everything and travel. We began downsizing our life, in preparation for selling off everything we owned, and put plans in place to quit our jobs.
Some people accused us of running away, but we never saw it that way. We have always felt like we’re running towards things – life, adventure, new experiences & insights, perspective, freedom, and time to focus on each other, and the people and places that are important to us. We set out to explore the world and where we fit in it, but we also ended up finding parts of ourselves that had been missing for quite some time. As we’ve lugged backpacks around this world, different experiences and people and places have filled in those empty spots, like perfectly shaped puzzle pieces that were there all along, just waiting for us to come and pick them up. In the end, travel, and all it continues to teaches us, will once again help heal us in ways we can’t possibly predict.
There is a small greatness that comes from travel. From going to far flung (or nearby) places, and having experiences that shake up your ideas and wreck your knees; that have you crying out with frustration and pure bliss in the same moment. Travel has healed many of our broken places, while also breaking us in new places so it could heal those too. Travel makes us feel more grounded and comfortable in our own skins. It has taught us to let go of the outcome of situations and just be. It has showed us the value of moving forward, but also the value of going back. We’ve spent a lot more time in the US over the past 5 years than we originally planned, and that’s because travel has shown us so much about what is important to us, and the value of being present in a moment, especially those full of both sorrow and bliss. Travel has taught us how strong we are on our own, but also how much stronger we can be as part of a community. We set out on this journey with the idea that it was just the two of us heading out into the world – but that was never really true. We’ve always been standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, and of those who love and support us no matter what. For us to take the freedom we have (of both time and location) and not devote more of ourselves and our time to the people who mean the most to us, and who give us so much insight and support and love, would be a huge mistake. We love travel and living internationally, but we also recognize the value of being present in the lives of those we love.
Over the past 5 years, our life has steadily evolved to mirror that. We’ve gone from a conventional life, to backpacker nomads, to semi-stationary travel with some freelancing, to a hybrid of old and new: a home base, steady flexible work, and travel.
So what’s up for this coming year? Well, now that we’ve managed to figure out how to have a home base and regular work, it’s time to toss more long term travel back into the mix. We have plans to head to Colombia for 5 weeks later on this summer. We can’t wait to see what this next year holds for us.
We’re five years into this experiment that has become a life. It’s still a work in progress, and I guess you can say that we’re taking the long way around. Thanks for coming on this journey with us.
No slideshow today. We chose to celebrate with a few microbrews instead. Maybe for Five (Years) for Friday? Update: You can see the slideshow here.