How a Dog Walk Changed My Life Forever

A little over five years ago, my wife and I were well on our way to the “American Dream.”  She was an attorney, I a high school English teacher.  We were saving money to buy our first home.  Then one evening, we took our dog for a walk.

Sometimes it’s tiny, seemingly insignificant moments that can shape what your life becomes.  On that April evening in 2007, my wife uttered a couple sentences that literally changed the course of our lives.

“So, I was reading a blog at work today of this couple who went on a trip around the world.   We should totally do that.”

Those two sentences, spoken very innocently at the time, and immediately dismissed by me, became the backdrop of what’s happened in our lives since.  Since that night out walking our dog, I can’t count how many things have changed – not just the obvious ones either, but the things that changed how I will live my life going forward.  The ones that transformed that person I was in 2007 to the person I am today in 2012.

Rewind

Five years ago, I was just like many other middle class Americans my age.  I had been out of school for a few years, had a good job, an awesome wife, and a great life.  I was by all accounts very happy.  We were on the course that many others in their late 20′s were on – married, saving up money to buy our own house, and planning for the future.

Sure, we both loved to travel, and we had made it a priority to travel at least once a year since we had been together.  We had some epic road trips in the US and a trip to Mexico.  When my wife graduated from law school a few years prior and took the bar, we took what we thought was going to be the longest trip possible until we both retired – 3 weeks in Europe (where we also got engaged).

After that trip, life took over.  Until that fateful night out walking the dog.  When I first heard “We should totally do that,” I honestly thought she was kidding.  While we were making good money, we still had credit card debt from when we were both in school.  We had some pretty hefty monthly student loan payments.  And we were saving for a house.  We were on the path we were supposed to be on.

So how was I supposed to take this request seriously?  By the time we got home, the wife was pissed at my complete dismissal of this idea, and not much more was said about it as we both drifted off to sleep.

An awakening

The next morning, we both headed off to work like any other day. Only this day would prove to be different. After a few hours at work, I started getting emails from my better half. Links to blog posts, articles, and message boards filled my inbox. These links were to stories of how other people, regular people like us, threw caution to the wind, did the unconventional, sold off their stuff, and quit their jobs to travel the world.

I read with great curiosity. I normally trusted my wife’s instincts – she’s a very smart woman who doesn’t do careless things or take unnecessary risks, and while I initially thought she was kidding about this idea, it was clear that she wasn’t. She really, honestly thought that this was a possibility for us. So I began to listen. I began to read.

Suddenly, my thoughts began to change. Everything I had ever thought my life would be suddenly came crashing down around me (in a good way). I had an awakening. I never thought to challenge the status quo. I just assumed that getting married, saving money, buying a house, having kids, and living the “American Dream” was just what we were going to do. That’s what everyone does, right?

Now all of a sudden, within 24 hours of that fateful dog walk, I was questioning how we were living our lives. We both loved to travel. We had made it a priority. Trips we had been on together created some of our fondest memories. “Wait a minute,” I thought to myself, “am I really considering this crazy, ridiculous idea?”

I just assumed that getting married, saving money, buying a house, having kids, and living the “American Dream” was just what we were going to do.

Read the following articles and check out the following resources to see how you can travel the world, too:

 

The decision

My interest was more than piqued by the time we both arrived home after work that day. Before that day, I thought that long-term travel was for the rich, the retired, those with trust funds, or Europeans. But after reading so many stories of people like us who had made it happen, I began to question my beliefs. I began to wonder if all those myths about long-term travel were true. Here it was, right in front of me, the truth about who can do this sort of thing from the people who have done. None were rich. None were retired. None had trust funds. None were European.

From everything I read that day, making something like this happen was a matter of priority and motivation. We were already saving for something major – a house – so what if we just changed our priorities? What if instead of buying a house, we quit our jobs to travel the world instead?

To many, that statement seems crazy. But for some reason, to us, not only did it not seem crazy, it seemed logical. It felt right. It felt like this is what we were supposed to do.

In just a few short days, our world was turned upside down. This idea of transforming our lives to take a trip around the world was quickly becoming a reality. So we started thinking logically (as logically as one can when deciding to do something seemingly so crazy). We went over all our finances – looking at our past spending history, what we were bringing in, what our fixed bills were, and we started thinking about things we could realistically cut out.

Soon, we realized that with some sacrifice, we could be saving a pretty decent amount of money each month. We did the math and found out that within about 18 months, we could not only pay down our credit card debt buy also save a pretty good chunk of coin.

One day, there we were, a normal, middle class American couple in our late twenties chugging along as cogs in the machine. A few days later, we were crafting our own path.

Once we looked at things realistically and realized how much money we could actually be saving, it was on. What was a crazy idea just a few days prior suddenly became our reality. Within a week, we committed. It really happened that fast. One day, there we were, a normal, middle class American couple in our late twenties chugging along as cogs in the machine. A few days later, we were crafting our own path. We took control of our lives and decided that we were going to do what we wanted to do, not what society told us we were supposed to do.

Check out the following articles and resources to help you plan your own RTW trip:

 

Why did we decide to do this?

Despite being largely happy with our lives, there was something missing. Neither of us could put our fingers on it, but we both knew it was there. While she was making good money and not miserable with her job, she still worked long hours and certainly didn’t see herself doing it forever. And while I really enjoyed my job as a teacher, I wouldn’t say I loved it.

For years we had talked about doing something to change things up – we had contemplated a move somewhere else in the US, and we had always toyed around with the idea of moving abroad for a year or two to teach English. We were always talking about these ideas, but none of them seemed realistic or what we really wanted, so we never acted on them.

Which is why I suppose that when this idea came along, we both jumped on it. For some reason, it just felt right. Our instincts told us that this wasn’t crazy, and we were at the perfect point in our lives to take this risk. Unlike others who have left home to travel the world, we weren’t doing this to run away, or because we hated our jobs or our lives, we were doing this for one simple reason – because we wanted to and we found a way to make it happen.

What we learned

Turning your life upside down and doing something that only a small percentage of people do was an eye-opening experience. When we left for our trip, we thought we might be gone forever. We had romantic notions of falling in love with a place and making that place our home. We dreamed of finding location independent jobs and posting up on a beach in Thailand.

But what happened was quite the opposite. We realized that we loved our home city. We missed our families, our friends, our favorite restaurants, and having a place to call home. We realized that perpetual long-term travel was not for us.

Ironically, doing the unconventional and going against the grain made us believers in one of the basic tenets of the “American Dream” – that anything is possible if you put all of your heart, mind, and soul into it.

Don’t misunderstand here – the trip was a massive success. But it took the entire experience – from the decision to the planning to the going to the coming home to the being home – to really learn who I am, what my priorities are in life, and how to make those priorities a reality. The entire process of the trip gave both of us a confidence that I don’t think we could have gained any other way. Ironically, doing the unconventional and going against the grain made us believers in one of the basic tenets of the “American Dream” – that anything is possible if you put all of your heart, mind, and soul into it.

Where are we now?

It’s ironic that I as I sit here writing this, we are in a similar position that I thought we would have been in before that fateful  dog walk. We are back home in St. Louis. We have a contract on a house that we will be closing on in June. We are both working full time jobs again.

Some of you may be reading this and thinking that we didn’t gain anything by going on the trip; that we only lost several years and are in the same position now that we would have been had we just continued to save for that house back in 2007. But it’s not where we’re at physically that matters – it’s our mental makeup that has changed so dramatically.

Before the trip, neither my wife nor I were confident on where to call home. We loved St. Louis, but as stated earlier, something was missing. It turns out what was missing was the appreciation for our home city and all that comes with it – largely the people and loved ones that make home what it is.

Before the trip, my wife never would have had the confidence or guts to leave a high paying job in a firm to move in-house for a more favorable schedule, a lesser workload, more vacation time (that she can actually take), and less money. When I couldn’t find a job again as a teacher after we came home, neither of us panicked despite the poor economy and job prospects.

Instead, we regrouped and came up with another plan. With the support of my wife and the newfound confidence we both had in regards to being able to do anything we put our minds to, I decided to go all in and try my hand at a travel writing career. And though that first year was difficult when I was making a paltry sum of money for how much time I was putting in, now I sit here finally loving what it is that I do on a daily basis. Without our experience of saving for the trip and living on a small budget for years while planning and actually going, the thought of living on one income would not have been an option before, and I most likely would have settled for something just to bring in a salary.

We no longer feel that empty feeling, as though something is missing. All our accomplishments and where we are now in life are because of the trip. We are now buying a house and settling down because we want to, not because we are supposed to.

And while travel is not our number 1 priority right this second, it’s still up there. We have made it a point to go abroad since we’ve been home. Travel will always be amongst the top priorities for us in life. Sure, it may have to take a backseat at times, but it will always be important. Though we don’t have kids and a family, yet, we have already talked about how we want to raise them as world citizens and indie travelers, and plans are underway for traveling internationally (and long-term) once they do come along.

While I learned plenty in my many years of schooling, I feel that travel has taught me so much more.

Without that fateful dog walk, I have to wonder where I’d be right now. Chances are that physically things wouldn’t be much different. But because of this transformational moment, I am in a completely different mental place. Because of our experience, I now see the world differently – I have different priorities, and I’m determined to always live my life on my terms, not someone else’s. While I learned plenty in my many years of schooling, I feel that travel has taught me so much more.

It has taught me to be open to any possibility. It has taught me to be to accept and embrace other ways of living life. It has taught me that the most important thing in life is happiness. It has taught me that in order to attain that happiness, you have to take control of your life. And what better way to take control than to hit the open road, with nothing in between you and your dreams?

Check out the following articles to learn what to expect from a long-term trip:

 

Photo credits:  tibchris, skyseeker, kakissel, darrylkc, Daniel Schwen, all others courtesy of author and may not be used without permission

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Leave a Comment

  • Louise Vargas said at 2013-04-01T15:07:15+0000: Great post, thanks for sharing your story x.
  • Randy Slocum said at 2012-05-14T22:12:35+0000: What happened to the dog?
  • Sparkpunk said at 2012-05-14T18:43:30+0000: This should be one of those "required reading" pieces for incoming college undergrads…had I read this 8 years ago, I like to think that it would have changed my course.Don't worry, though…I found my travel ways, eventually ;) Thanks for sharing!
  • Boomeresque said at 2012-05-14T14:13:15+0000: Thanks for sharing your journey. I think some people are wired to be able to do what you did and some are not---I see this as the mother of two twenty-something sons. One has wanderlust. The other prefers a more traditional path. I inherited the wanderlust from my father. While I was growing up, he managed to have our family live in Mexico for a year and in England for a year which was kind of extraordinary in the 1960's. We've done the paying off student loans, buying a house, raising the kids thing. (Not sure what it is about walking the dog, but that's how I sold our house). Now, as much as possible, we're outta here.
  • Clare Appleyard said at 2012-05-16T13:21:32+0000: Good on you Adam! It's always thrilling when somebody breaks loose of the shackles of the so-called "American Dream" :-)
  • Louie Christopher Markovits said at 2012-05-14T13:43:40+0000: Beautiful :) I am just finishing a year journey of traveling myself. Best decision of my life. and also a STL native! Go Cards!