My real travel addiction started in college, but I got a good taste for adventure and the outdoors as a kid. Our modest family vacations involved packing up the station wagon, grabbing the dogs, and high tailing it to Colorado where we pitched our tent, cooked our meals over an open fire, and backpacked ourselves to exhaustion. Even the dogs had their own backpacks…carrying their own food and some tools. I was still pretty little when this was going on so Dad enlisted my older brother “Chuckie” to be his main hiking buddy..hitting as many 14ers as they could. As we got older, my dad eventually decided that he needed a hobby with me too and so at 14 (pretty young for back then), my dad bought me scuba diving lessons for my birthday and we officially had our activity together. He even bought me this crazy little stuffed animal piggy bank so that I could start saving my money for scuba trips where I stuffed every extra penny I had from my job scooping ice-cream at Baskin-Robbins. Dad and I would haul ourselves and all our gear down to Cozumel over Thanksgiving break and cram in 3-4 dive days over the school break; coming home exhausted sunburnt, and happy.
I had never stepped foot out of the USA until I was 21 with the exception of my Cozumel trips and some various Caribbean islands. My college had a program called JanTerm, where over the month of January you took a single specialized course; most were on campus but they also had professor led trips to all sorts of dreamy destinations. My parents said I could take only one JanTerm trip during my years at college, so of course, I choose the craziest one I could find – a safari trip to Africa climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro that luckily my roommate Joy told me about. The professor needed an extra chaperone so my dad volunteered and tagged along. We headed out after Christmas and actually spent New Years in London during a layover to Nairobi. That trip was such an eye opener- I discovered a much larger, more diverse, and different world than I had ever expected. Having never experienced Jetlag, I got off the plane in London, adrenaline racing thru my veins, so excited to see all the places I read about in my English literature classes. About 3 hours after arriving, I literally almost passed out in the British Museum as my first dose of Jetlag abruptly set in. In Africa, we pitched our tents in the Tanzania savanna and hit the road trying to spy the elusive African leopard or lion. On one such outing we ran into a nomadic Masai hunting group that rarely, if ever, had seen Westerners. We showed them mirrors and cameras (which they had never seen) and they showed us their short mud and manure made homes that they had recently abandoned due a lion attacking the livestock. Our guide explained that the tribe leader had many wives and that the number of wives he could have depended on the number of cattle he owned. Cattle were critical to the tribe..they determined wealth, it gave them nourishment with meat and blood and they used every part of the cow for shelter, clothing, or tools. For a 21 year old Texan girl, this was an eye opener. I was completely fascinated by the culture. I sat there looking at these people who honestly had nothing in comparison to people back in Texas and a realization hit me. These people were happy. You could see it in their eyes and in their faces. When we got back to the United States, I walked around in a fog, as everyone seemed angry and exhausted… running around, sitting in traffic and working 60 hour work weeks trying to keep up the Jones’.
I realized that it’s a big world and not everyone lives or thinks the same and that there is a lot to learn from these other cultures. I was hooked….the addiction began.
I don’t like having to admit this but I guess I was scared. Let me explain… I got a job right out of college… I graduated Saturday and started my job in marketing and development for a non-profit organization on Monday. It paid next to nothing but my childhood friend Jen and I moved into a little apartment and between the two of us we made it work. Despite my car payments, rent, utilities and food, I managed to save every penny I could hoping that I could save enough to travel again soon. Jen and I saved enough to haul ourselves to London that Spring on a week-long deal my friend Eugenia, whose parents have a travel agency, found us. While that was fun, it wasn’t enough…I needed more like any true addict. I really wanted to go back to Africa. So I developed a plan B…I was going to join the peace corp. I got the application, got all my recommendations letters, filled out all the paperwork, put the stamps on the envelope and then let it sit on my desk. Yep, it just sat there week after week. My only explanation is that I was scared. The peace corp is a 3 year commitment to live and work in another country. You can request a region but there are no guarantees. What I haven’t explained is that I lived in the same house my entire childhood never having to make new friends. When I went to college, I went to a college only 45 minutes away from home, allowing me to come back and visit almost every weekend. I really think the thought of having to go out on my own for 3 years without coming home, seeing my family or friends, secretly terrified me. I never sent the application in. Instead I quit my job, took on 3 part time jobs and went to graduate school to get my MBA. But upon reflection, had I sent that application in, I wouldn’t be where I am now.
While that application sat on my desk, a guy from my college who I vaguely knew but who was friends with most of my college pals, started hanging out with us. His only sister was very sick and he had dropped out of grad school to help his parents care for her in a facility in Dallas. His parents were East Texas college professors and he had traveled with them to Asia for 3 months one summer in college. He grew up spending summers traveling all over Montana and Michigan. We were just friends, but we understood each other, having the same quirky sense of humor and both appreciating culture, art, and travel. He eventually moved back to East Texas to continue helping his family with his sister until her passing but we kept in touch and a year later we planned a trip together to Mexico to visit Puerto Vallarta and to visit a friend in medical school in Guadalajara. By the time we actually went on the trip in July, we had moved past the friend stage and were finally dating. We packed backpacks and hopped on a $99 round trip ticket found in the newspaper clutching copied pages from a dated version of “Mexico on $30 a day” we’d found at the library. We hitched a bus out of the airport and sweated our fannies off in a little $11 a night room in the old town with no air-conditioning. We had a blast…falling in love with the local people and the green tropical mountain landscape. We slid down waterfalls during the day and sat on the beach at night dreaming of a day when we could buy a property there. We had such a good time, we missed our bus to Guadalajara and ended up spending the whole time exploring the beautiful Bay of Banderas.
What we really discovered was that we traveled pretty well together…Something that was probably more important than either of us realized at the time.
As a grad school graduation present, my parents took me and my brother on a tour to Bolivia and Peru. We landed in La Paz Bolivia on Christmas day from a flight that left from Miami. Having left at sea level in Miami, we had to actually depressurize our plane upon landing in La Paz which is the highest airport in the world. They offered us oxygen as we got off the plane as many people evidently pass out due to the difference in pressure. I was in my element getting to explore a new and different culture. We slept on an island in lake Titicaca with no electricity on stone beds with lama skin blankets. We climbed up most of Manchu Picchu with our luggage in tow due to a recent landslide that had taken out the road. We saw islands were people lived that were made entirely of reeds. We canoed down tributaries of the Amazon filled with piranha, slept in mosquito netted beds, and became spellbound as the guide informed us about ants whose single bite could kill you. I couldn’t have been happier.
Over the next few years, Charles and I traveled both together and independently with family and friends to Mexico and Europe. We married in 1999 and as any good travel addicted couple would, we honeymooned in the furthest place we could find- Australia. By this point, I was working as a systems analyst in IT and Charles had finished his Masters in History and was teaching. We built a house and saved any spare money for more travel. The internet was beginning to boom and we were able to find some great deals on auction sites. Our best deal was a $499 seven day trip to Thailand that stopped in Seoul for a day. It included flights from Dallas, hotels, and even one day of tours. We were a little scared as we didn’t receive the hand written tickets in the mail until about a week before the trip, but it all worked out and we had an amazing few days buying fruit in floating markets and watching fireworks over the river Kwai. We won another auction for a Tahitian cruise that included airfare from Los Angeles and an 11 day cruise from Tahiti for $1100. It was such a great deal that both sets of our parents actually joined us, thus beginning a tradition of traveling with both inlaws- which all our friends thought was completely crazy. Getting along with one set of in-laws is hard, let only traveling with both sets!! All six of us drove around Scotland in a minivan one Thanksgiving, on another trip we cruised the Baltic sea seeing St. Petersburg, Scandinavia, and Estonia. We later traversed the Mediterranean seeing Greece, Sicily and Croatia. Any time Charles had off from school, we would go pretty much anywhere we could find cheap airfare – Paris for 4 days, roaming from Madrid to Nice over Christmas, wandering across Italy with no clothes due a lost bag, staying in a haunted castle in Ireland. I eventually moved into project management and process improvements type jobs and started having to travel a lot for work… traveling so much one year that I was gone almost 50% of the year and flew over 130,000 miles. We also started getting more daring in our travels hitting Egypt, Jordan, New Zealand, China, Tibet, Cambodia, Istanbul, Argentina, Brazil, Chili, Ecuador, Belize, Honduras, Uruguay, El Salvador, Guatemala, Galapagos, Panama, Costa Rica, various countries in East, West and Southern Africa, Antarctica, India, the Middle East, Morocco and the Canary Islands, Easter Island, Eastern Europe, Iceland, Faroe Island, Shetland Island, Vietnam and more. We couldn’t stop. The more we traveled, the more places we found to travel to. Instead of our travel wish list diminishing, it kept growing. We did a lot of this while working full time jobs and during some of it caring for my 101 year old grandmother who lived with us for a year and a half until her death.
From 2006-2008 we were hit hard with tragedy. Both of Charles’ parents passed away way before their time due to cancer. It really made us both realize yet again how fragile life is and that you only get one life and you might as well live it doing the things you love. We left our jobs and decided to open a property management business that would give us more flexibility in our schedules and hopefully allow us to travel more during certain times of year. We definitely took a big hit on our income so future travels were going have to be budgeted accordingly. But we found with a little work, we could find some amazing deals and still travel as much if not more than we used to.
I’ve always dreamed of living in another country or at least staying in a country for a few months…long enough to really get to know the local people and culture the way I would have if I had joined the peace corp, but my travel story turned out differently, and it was probably for the best. Maybe one day I will finally realize that dream but until then, I will keep on traveling. Interested to see a full list of where we have been or where we want to go next? Click Here