Exactly one year ago today, on April 24, 2018, Cecilia and I left our life in New York City behind and set off on our travels. We had the first few months of travel fairly well planned out, but beyond that, we decided to leave both destination and duration open-ended. If you had asked me then if we would make it a full year, I would have signaled my hope that we would still be traveling in a year, but expressed my doubt that we would actually make it that long. Well, we are currently in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, at the beginning of a trip around Eastern Europe and without any plan for wrapping up the travels – turns out we will make it more than a year. And now that we are here, I wanted to take this post as an opportunity to share how this adventure came to be.
Cecilia and I met back in late 2015, shortly after I decided that I needed the help of the numerous dating apps available to NYC singles if I was ever going to meet somebody. Although our first date was rather boring, filled with the first-date basics (“where are you from, what do you do”), we had a good enough time to decide we would meet up again later that week. On that second date, one or two cocktails turned into five, and before we knew it, we were closing down the bar. We bonded on many things, and one of them was travel.
Things went well from the start, and within six weeks we had agreed to go on our first trip abroad together. To me, traveling is the ultimate litmus test for a relationship – if we did not travel well together, than this relationship would never work out. To Cecilia, she was questioning her sanity in traveling to Tobago with a guy she hardly knew. Needless to say, things went incredibly well in Tobago and our relationship and travels really took off from there – we actually have gone back to that same fishing village in Tobago every year of our relationship except this year.
Long-term travel was something I had always aspired to do again at some point in time in my life, preferably long before reaching the retirement age. Cecilia and I started discussing a travel plan with some level of seriousness around six months into our relationship. I wanted to quit our jobs and travel for a year, and if we still liked each other, we would get married. Cecilia said there was no way in hell she would quit her job to travel unless we were already married. Fast-forward a few months, and we were engaged in Italy, and exactly one year later, we were married in Mexico.
For our honeymoon, we decided to forego a flashy honeymoon and opted instead to spend a few days getting some culture and eating some street tacos in Mexico City. The thought was we wanted to save the big honeymoon for a long-term trip. After returning from Mexico as a married couple and no wedding to plan, we had a modicum of free time which we utilized to start planning. However, after a couple months of discussions, we had only agreed that we would take the trip, with a final day of work targeted, but little else planned. Sensing that we needed to make a commitment if we were ever going to truly make this happen, we finally agreed on our last days at work, gave notice at our jobs, and purchased one-way flights to South Africa.
With an agreed outline for our first few months of travel, Cecilia and I put our efforts into the logistics of packing up. First, we listed our Brooklyn apartment for rent, fully-furnished for a period of 3-6 months. A couple weeks went by and we received no real interest from future tenants, just a bunch of spam mail from brokers wanting to help us rent our place. At this point, we were less than a month away from our leave date and starting to panic. While this was all transpiring, I was starting to get more and more sick of NYC. The weather sucked. The MTA was useless. And I realized I was no longer happy there – we loved our apartment, our neighborhood, and all our friends, but everything else just drove us mad. And after one of those awful weeks of broken-down subways and terrible weather, Cecilia and I had the same thought – why are we trying to come back?
We quickly changed our strategy with three weeks to go. We listed the apartment as a standard one-year unfurnished rental, then began selling, donating, and packing up everything we owned. Those final few weeks were insanely stressful. We were packing up our lives while trying to say goodbye to New York. We had plans nearly every night to meet up with friends or visit one of our favorite restaurants or bars, all while wrapping up our jobs of 10+ years. While Cecilia was still working, I spent a day packing up a rent-a-truck with load number one, then driving it to my parents’ house in Pennsylvania, which has a basement big enough to store all our possessions. I came back to New York for a final weekend with friends, then Cecilia and I embarked on the final packing effort. The plan was to load up a larger rent-a-truck with the remainder of our stuff and set off to Pennsylvania by the early evening. We grossly underestimated the effort and did not finish packing until after midnight. Exhausted, but without much of a choice, we drove off around 1:00 a.m, Cecilia in our car, me in the truck. Along the drive, I was terrified to see Cecilia crossing traffic lines as she struggled to stay awake. Thankfully she had the self-awareness to pull over and catch twenty minutes of rest at a truckstop near the NJ-PA border. We finally arrived at my parents shortly after 5 a.m. and woke up a few hours later to unpack the truck.
Even our final day was incredibly stressful. The plan was to finalize packing our bags and finish the cleaning of the apartment by early afternoon, then head to The Double Windsor, our favorite neighborhood bar. There, we would leisurely drink a couple beers, eat our favorite food, and finish our wedding thank you notes, before catching the subway to the airport. Instead, we cleaned up until about 6 p.m., leaving ourselves about an hour to drink a beer, eat our favorite chicken sandwich, and say goodbye to a few friends before hailing a cab to the airport (and those thank you notes – they ended up making it around the better part of Africa before being sent home with my brother, who ultimately stuck them in the US Post for us).
We set off that night from JFK, headed towards Cape Town, South Africa, where we would start our adventure. It is hard to believe that 12 months and 27 countries later, we are still going strong. Sure, there have been a few bumps in the road (Cecilia has gotten fed up with me numerous times), but we are still traveling and loving being together while on this crazy adventure. And who knows how long we will go – we are starting to discuss an exit strategy, but it is far from solidified at this point. Let’s just hope we do not regret our lack of planning this time around.