There is no doubt that we are Living the Dream. We have been utterly blessed with wonderful experiences as we’ve traveled around by RV and sailboat. It’s as though the gods have reached down from the heavens and sprinkled us with fairy dust. And it keeps on twinkling!
Since we started our travels in 2007, we have driven 125,000 miles by land, sailed 7,000 miles on the ocean, taken 250,000 photos, published 100 magazine articles describing our experiences and things we’ve learned along the way, and landed 20 photos on magazine covers.
Much more importantly, we have fallen in love with life and each other all over again, and grown immeasurably as people.
I know many of our readers are doing similar things or dream of doing them in the future. And for quite a few readers 2016 will be “The Year.” The very cool thing is that dreams definitely do come true. Ours did. Yours can and will too.
But what’s the trick to making it happen?
Before we started traveling full-time, we had both done a bit of travel, but not a whole lot. We were too busy living conventional lives that kept us rooted in a single neighborhood with a predictable pattern of commutes. We had both lived several different phases of that lifestyle over the decades, and although each one was rich and deep in its own way, we both yearned to get more out of our lives.
I had backpacked around Europe for a few months in college and did the same around Australia in my early thirties. Mark had gone on a huge motorcycle adventure through the Canadian Rockies and western states. But other than exploring the few hundred miles from where we’d lived, we knew very little about the country we’d been raised in.
We didn’t do a lot of planning or even all that much research before we set off in our RV. I had read cruising books and cruising magazines for much of my adult life, dreaming of casting off on the ocean and enchanted by people who set sail from some shore and wound up in exotic places in the Caribbean or the South Pacific.
From them, I knew that a life of independence, travel and freedom was possible. I just wasn’t sure how to put it together or when the opportunity would arise.
Two books written by travelers really got my wanderlust humming. One traveler was Tania Aebi, a girl who took off to sail around the world as a teenager, and then, at the ripe old age of 21, wrote a fascinating coming-of-age story about her eye-popping adventures. It’s called Maiden Voyage, and I highly recommend it.
I had followed Tania’s monthly column in Cruising World Magazine and devoured her stories blow-by-blow as she inched around the world for two years. I was smitten.
She was a few years younger than me, and rather than spending every day commuting to an engineering job in an office park and writing software in a tiny cubicle while the world passed by beyond the out-of-view windows, she was in her bikini on her boat living an astonishing life.
I wanted that! But I couldn’t see a way clear…
It made me wonder: what does it take to have a Big Adventure?
Tania’s father thought his rather headstrong daughter might be headed for teenage trouble where they lived in New York City. So, he made a deal with her. Rather than spend his money sending her to college for an education she probably wouldn’t appreciate, he bought her a small sailboat, outfitted it with some basic gear, helped her load it up with beans and rice and untied the dock lines for her.
Her job was to get around the world, come back to New York, sell the boat and give him whatever cash she got for it. In the meantime, she would get her education from what she affectionately came to call Ocean U.
But she wasn’t exactly an experienced old salt. She had cruised with her family in the past, but when she went to drop the anchor on her first night out, she realized she had no idea how to handle a boat by herself.
The first leg of her trip took her from New York to Bermuda. Miraculously, she made it there alive, albeit days late. But as she sat at a dockside restaurant, scarfing the biggest hamburger on the menu, she was overcome by an incredible sense of pride. She was the captain of her own ship, and she had sailed to Bermuda from New York by herself, a feat few others on the island had done.
The rest of her tale is gripping, and her story has inspired many a sailor. Beth Leonard and Evans Starzinger, two of the most celebrated and widely published sailor-writers of recent times leaned heavily on Tania’s story for inspiration and moral support as they began their own world cruise as newbies years later. Evans has written that at times he would say to himself, “If Tania could do it, so can I!”
The other book that seduced both me and Mark and kept drawing our thoughts away from convention and towards adventure was An Embarrassment of Mangoes by Ann Vanderhoof.
She and her husband left the demands of urban life in Toronto to savor many months of carefree, sunny days aboard their sailboat in the Bahamas and Caribbean islands.
They tackled the cruising life with very little cruising experience, had loads of misadventures on the way to becoming seasoned sailors, and ultimately came home after two years completely reborn as two very different people with a whole new outlook on life. It wasn’t long before they did it again.
So, what does it take to have an adventure?
Ours had very humble beginnings. With my job coming to an end in the spring of 2007, and Mark’s job being one he could put on hold for the summer, we planned to take our popup tent trailer on a four month voyage from Arizona to Vancouver Island and back.
We would close up our home for those months, go out and see some of the western states, and then figure out what to do with our lives when we got back home.
We had perused a few websites that talked about RVing full-time, and we had read excerpts from a few sailors that were posting their photos and stories online as they cruised around the world.
I knew that dry camping all the time with solar power was possible, and had read the info a few sailors had posted about their solar power installations. We were experienced at dry camping already because we had spent over 150 nights in our popup doing just that. So, the idea of becoming full-time RVers that camped without hookups was something we had been kicking around.
But it was a pipe dream, just like our other pipe dream of going cruising in a sailboat. Nonetheless, we spent every spare minute visiting RV dealerships all around us, to the point where we had settled on the exact make and model trailer we would want to buy if we took the plunge and became full-time RVers.
Our frivolous daydream only got serious on my last day of work when I came home to find two signs in our yard: “For Sale by Owner” and “Yard Sale.”
When I raised my eyebrows at Mark, he just told me he was tired of “scenario building” and daydreaming about doing something exciting. He felt that a four month trip to Vancouver in our popup wasn’t going to satisfy our wanderlust itch. We’d just come home at the end of it all and be flummoxed once again.
So… up went the signs in the yard on that fateful Friday.
I jumped on board with Mark’s idea wholeheartedly, and by the end of the weekend the house was in escrow, the car and popup were sold, half of our stuff was gone, and we had put a deposit on the dream trailer we’d set our hearts on — 1,000 miles away. Mark had spotted a smoking deal online and negotiated $500 towards our gas costs if we drove out to pick it up. Score!
Three weeks later, with the rest our stuff sold or given away, we hopped in our Toyota Tundra and drove 1,000 miles, with all our remaining worldly possessions in the bed of the truck, except for five custom bicycles and 10 Rubbermaid bins full of memorabilia we had stored in a friend’s backyard shed. We were off to see our new home for the first time.
Sometimes, for some people, a burst of action and a leap of faith with your eyes closed (but peeking), is the way to go!
When we started, we had absolutely no idea what was to come. Mark was intimidated at the idea of towing a 27′ travel trailer, and I had no clue about solar power except that I knew it worked for sailors so it oughtta work for us. We knew just a smidge about photography, and although we had both sailed a lot and I had lived aboard a sailboat at a dock and been a weekend cruiser for four years in New England, neither of us had sailed more than 70 miles on a passage at sea.
We had no idea that after a few years we would put our trailer in storage, buy a sailboat, and cruise Mexico’s west coast. Or that after four years of alternating sailing and RVing we would then sell our beloved sailboat and move back into our RV and even buy a new truck (and meet rock star Alice Cooper in the process!)!
We had great fun attending the School of Hard Knocks together, and even now we continue to learn and grow and evolve with every passing day.
Perhaps the best part of our traveling adventure has been that it has opened our eyes in ways we never imagined, and has opened doors for us that we never knew existed.
As I contemplate these exhilarating years of our lives, I really think what it takes to “live the dream,” whatever that dream might be, is not the ordinary, practical things that first come to mind, like money.
What it takes to Live the Dream is a passion to break the bonds that hold you
and to chase down your dream for all you’re worth.
Obviously, good health, minimal responsibility and a bit of money are very helpful, but they aren’t required. Mike Harker, a paraplegic, sailed around the world solo on a 49′ Hunter sailboat. He was in “good health” but obviously didn’t have the physical advantages most of us have.
As for being free of responsibility, some families travel full-time on both land and water, with the parents bearing the enormous responsibility of child-rearing and homeschooling and sometimes earning a living as well.
And as for money being a pre-requisite, the stories of the various sailboats without electricity, refrigeration, plumbing or engines that show up in the South Pacific islands, some all the way from Europe, are astonishing, and we’ve met plenty of RVers traveling on skinny budgets.
It helps to have a catalyst to tip you over the edge. Mark’s sudden decision that “it was time,” and his signs in the yard got us out the door. We aren’t planners, so that kind of leave-taking was just right for us. Others prefer to have an official departure date. One person I know hung up a roll of toilet paper with a number on each square representing the number of days left.
However you get yourself launched, the image you have of your traveling life before your journey actually starts will turn out to be only a faint sketch of the picture you’ll paint as you go along.
I sure had dreams of becoming a published writer “some day,” but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine we would reach a point where we’d publish three articles on widely varying subjects in three different magazines and have a cover photo on a fourth, all at the same time, in January 2016.
But that has happened, and I swear it is because we are truly loving our lives and cherishing every minute of what we do.
Just like everybody else, we have more dreams on the horizon, and we have New Year’s resolutions we’ve talked about and will try to achieve. As we develop and mature, we master certain elements of our lifestyle, but then we come up with new ambitions and desires that we’d never even thought about before. These new dreams propel us forward.
Yet I don’t think think we’d be dreaming these dreams today, to the same colorful degree, if we had stayed home and never moved into our first small trailer. We would still be dreaming our earlier, preliminary dreams that pushed us out the door in the first place, and we wouldn’t be able to imagine embellishing those dreams in any way.
The experience is cumulative, and the evolution is continuous.
The other day, we returned to our shed in our friend’s backyard to swap out a few things. We stored some goodies we don’t need right now and retrieved a few others we’ve missed. As we rummaged through the various bins we’d so carefully packed all those years ago, we both came across a few items we had held dear at the time of our launch but that we had long since forgotten about.
And that’s the ironic part of the scary Big Purge you have to go through before going full-time. A lot of the things that are precious to you today won’t hold the same meaning a few years down the road. You won’t be the same person.
The things that will be vitally important to you after you’ve been out touring for a while will very likely be things that don’t even enter your consciousness right now, because you can’t even conceive of them.
For me, that is the great beauty of trying a new lifestyle like one lived on the road. The decades are going to pass by no matter whether you chase down your travel dream or let it slip through your fingers. You will grow old despite every attempt you make not to. It will all be over before you know it.
If you give your dream wings now, and let it fly free, you will give yourself a chance to live life to the fullest, to grow, to broaden your perspective and to invite and embrace new experiences that you won’t have otherwise.
And if there is anything that holds most people back from fulfilling their dreams, it is plain old fear.
Yet… what is there to be afraid of? You’re not going to get out of this life alive, and you’ve got a fixed number of years left. Why not go for it?!
And who’s to say we wouldn’t have had scary and disturbing situations there too?
So… is the passion to fulfill a dream really all it takes to shake up your life and go have a great adventure? I think it’s a huge part. But there are other things that come into play too.
I discovered a book last year that has really helped both of us crystallize in our minds what we love in our lives and what we want to expand on. It’s called The Magic, and it is part of the series of books, videos and online materials called The Secret by Rhonda Byrne.
What I love in this book is that it outlines a step-by-step process for recognizing what’s wonderful in your life and opening your heart to even more great experiences. The essence of the book is to find everything in your life that you are grateful for, and to itemize these things and to express thanks for them on a regular basis, either in your mind or in writing.
One simple technique is just to take a few minutes at bedtime to list 10 things you are grateful for in your life and to remind yourself why they are meaningful to you. These don’t have to be monumental things, but little things — blue skies, your favorite song, the smell of lilacs, the dance of waves on the ocean, the warm smile of a loved one, the feel of your child’s or grandchild’s hand in yours.
Another easy bedtime tactic is to think through the whole day you just experienced and to pick out the one very best thing that happened. Even if it was a rotten day, there was surely something worthwhile. It might have been just that you got to eat your favorite cereal for breakfast or stop for your favorite coffee at Starbucks. Lots of people around the world don’t get that chance.
Doing these things puts you in a good frame of mind and takes your focus off the petty frustrations that sidetrack and sometimes derail us all.
There are many other similar ideas like this in the book, and I have found it worth reading and re-reading several times.
Along the same lines, The Power of Your Subconscious Mind, written by Joseph Murphy in the 1960’s, is a book that got me through the frightening Baja Bash two years ago as we sailed from Puerto Vallarta back to San Diego.
This 9 day passage can be a hair raising adventure, and we did it while flying along between two hurricanes that were traveling up the coast with us. Every minute of my off-watch that I wasn’t pretending to sleep, I was reading passages of that book!
It reminded me that life, for all it’s drama and seemingly external events (including things like a scary passage up the Baja Pacific coast), is actually lived entirely between your ears. The most recent minute, hour, days and years are gone forever into the mist of memory, and the next minute, hour, days and years hover ahead in the fog of the future.
Every single bit of that stuff resides in your mind, and you can cast it in sunshine or in clouds as you wish.
The only “reality” is the here and now. And if you ask the Physicists, even that is a figment of the imagination that’s wildly different than our limited perceptions can witness.
If I have discovered anything at all as I’ve pondered our unusual lifestyle choices, our dreams and the lives we left behind long ago, it is that a combination of nurturing my dreams and nudging the thoughts i am thinking onto a positive track both go a long way towards my personal happiness and ability to live my dreams.
2016 is a brand new year, full of opportunity and promise. We hope it turns out to be “your year” to make your dreams come true.
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