The following text and photos originally appeared on the Airtreks and BootsnAll websites in 2000-2001. The stories are a combinations of writings from a 14-month personal journey during which I decided to launch my freelance photojournalism career.
Haven’t we all dreamt about escaping to an endless summer tropical paradise? Wished we could spend more quality time with our soul mate? Wanted a break from our predictable routine?
Andrea & Dale Johnson decided to see what would really happen if they turned those fantasies into reality. It was too late for their honeymoon (they had been married for 5 years when we began our trip) and too early for retirement. Nevertheless after spending several years and long hours in corporate jobs they began to question why they were working so hard. Their motto had always been ‘work to live, not live to work’, but they’d discovered how easy it was to get caught up in the rat race.
What began as a vague dream gradually began to materialize into a specific goal. For a year and a half they saved money for their trip, discussed destinations they wanted to see, and committed themselves to a departure date when they finally revealed their plans to family and friends. Before they had a chance to second guess their decision, they quit their jobs, rented their house, and set off to experience a different way of life by traveling the world for 14 months.
A brief Overview:
We began our journey searching for something elusive; only now after looking back on our trip it’s clear to see how the purpose and meaning of our travels evolved. On the day Dale & I quit our jobs, we were suddenly overwhelmed by the fact that we had the next 15 months free to explore the unknown – it seemed like such a long time. It was the year 2000, the new millenium, and I had just turned 30 : t was the perfect time (if there’s ever such a thing) to make a fresh start, and to focus our energies on discovering what was really important in our lives.
Instead of keeping separate personal daily dairies about our thoughts and adventures, we chose to write a series of journal entries – short stories with photographs – which we updated on our website. This way we didn’t have to worry about having a paper diary lost or stolen, trying to regularly write individual letters and emails to family and friends, or worse yet – being asked to summarize 15 months in 5 minutes. Also, by composing these stories each time we finished exploring a different country, it forced us to take the time to reflect upon our thoughts while they were still fresh in our minds. It wasn’t always easy writing together, and it took much patience to type our handwritten copies of text and download our digital photographs on various cybercafe computers around the world. However we felt compelled to share our stories with others – and for ourselves recording our adventures serves as a reminder of the life changing lessons we learned through our journey.
Our writing style and subject matter changed over the course of our trip, reflecting our mindset. On the first leg of our trip, while riding our Harley down the Pacific Coast Highway, we tried to wind down from our previous hectic lives but found it difficult to shift gears so quickly. Dale had no other choice but to focus all of his attention on safely navigating our motorcycle along the twisty roads; my mind drifted to thoughts of what we were leaving behind, last minute preparations I kept remembering, and worries about what the future would hold.
When we reached Tahiti we finally started to relax, though most of our energies were focused on mastering the daily logistics of independent travel – food, lodging, transportation – that was a challenge in these relatively expensive islands. In Fiji, a country we’d briefly visted on our honeymoon, we decided to slow down our pace to see a more in-depth view of traditional Fijian culture. When we met up with friends in New Zealand – who were on a brief vacation and trying to see as many places as possible – we reverted back to sightseeing mode. In addition, since New Zealand’s geography, people, and recreation tastes reminded us so much of Oregon, we found the temptation to live the same lifestyle as we were accustomed to at home was irresistible: we splurged on wine, lodging, and adrenalin activities.
It wasn’t until our fifth month of traveling, when we arrived in Australia, that we really found our own rhythm. Although we continued to cover a lot of distance quickly, we realized the truth of the famous quote, “It’s not the destination, but he journey”. We still had our security blankets – we met up with friends in Sydney and also while sailing around the Whitsunday Islands, but we now felt ready to leave the comforts of western society behind for SE Asia.
Palau, a former U.S. territory, wasn’t really a great departure from familiar cultures. Nevertheless, we managed to find creative ways to travel independently in a place where most visitors are booked on expensive package tours;. Our flexibility allowed us to turn our 10 day scheduled stop into a month filled with activities and people we’ll never forget.
Our first foray into eastern cultures was during our stopovers in the Philippines, Sabah, and Brunei. We were initially uncertain of our abilities to just wing it in these new cultures, so we booked a few package tours. This backfired when I came down with Dengue fever, a scratched cornea, and toenails that fell off after trying to stick with unrealistic plans.
During the first 8 months of our trip we spend a good hunk of our money on activities –especially scuba diving. In Indonesia we reunited with Jay – a fellow traveler and friend we met in Tahiti who has been traveling the world for the past 6 years in search of perfect surf. Here we learned the art of doing nothing – and enjoyed it. As a consequence we spent little money (we averaged $18 U.S. dollars a day for both of us – our previous combined daily average was between $50-$90 a day) and began thinking of travel as a way of life rather than just an escape.
The hospitality of strangers made our stay in Singapore and peninsular Malaysia memorable. By month 11 of our trip we were tired of constantly being on the move, so when we discovered the ideal mix of scenery, budget accommodation, food, activities, and people on a small island in Southern Thailand, we stopped to stay awhile. Listening to our instincts, we stumbled upon a situation that was meant to be: We ended up working as rock climbing instructors and website designers, which allowed us to become temporary locals and helped us to recover from past budget blowouts.
Our most challenging times were immediately after the September 11th terrorist attacks I America. Family and friends – worried about our safety – asked us to come home, while simultaneously we found a $1,500 discrepancy in our bank balance. We stayed put on the island in Southern Thailand waiting to see the world’s response to terrorism and investigating how our careful budgeting had gone awry. Fortunately we resolved our money problem but we still had to come to grips with our situation – we only had enough cash to continue traveling for a few more months.
Nepal proved to be a fitting final test of the skills we’d learned on the road thus far. During our month-long trek from Kathmandu to Everest Base Camp, we overcame 0physical and mental challenges we cold have never envisioned, immersed ourselves in t he most foreign culture we had encountered, and learned to appreciate living life simply. To recover from the rigors of the Himalayas, we returned to Thailand to rest for two weeks before boarding our flight home on Christmas Eve, 2001.
Not once during our journey did we wish we were back at home rather than the place we were currently traveling. Each country provided a unique flavor in the smorgasbord buffet of the world we sampled. The more dishes we tasted the more our appetites were wetted; instead of satisfying our hunger to explore our experiences merely awakened new cravings.