We’re at the six month mark of this new way of life for us and it seems like three years since I wrote my first reflective blog about our journey, not three months. That’s one thing I’ve found since leaving Melbourne, time seems to go slower. When I wrote my three month review we were just about to leave Chiang Mai, and I shake my head in amazement when I think about what has happened since. But did we make the right decision to travel?
India was hard work
We left Chiang Mai and spent the following 15 days exploring northern India. It was a toss up between Nepal where I wanted to go, and India where Sarah wanted to go. She had always dreamed of going to India, so the decision was easy. I really wanted to go to Nepal, but I hadn’t exactly been dreaming of it all my life, and we couldn’t afford to go to both so a decision had to be made. In the end we should have gone to Nepal because our two weeks in India was a tough experience for the both of us. We were scammed, harassed and made to feel incredibly uncomfortable for the majority of our journey, but on reflection it was also a rewarding experience in its own way. It’s amazing what time can do to our recollections about a place. While we were travelling through India, we both disliked almost every minute of it, Sarah more so than me. But with time and reflection I’ve taken some life lessons that will remain with me forever. When I remember the children tapping on the window of our car at red lights begging for food or money, or men getting your luggage out of the taxi before you’ve even stepped foot out of the car, hoping for a tip to feed their families, it made me realise how lucky we are to be Australian. I’ll never forget those who lied to us and tried to scam us out of our money, that kind of behaviour is simply unforgivable, but what we thought were problems back home are nothing compared to what the majority of Indians have to deal with every day.
The United Arab Emirates was not for us
Our next stop was the United Arab Emirates. We stayed with a friend of Sarah’s who graciously looked after us by giving us a home while we got on our feet in Abu Dhabi. We were going to get jobs and stay a while to try and save some cash before heading into Europe for more travelling and life experiences. Despite the school year starting just a few weeks after arriving, I fired off a heap of emails and managed to get offered a couple of teaching jobs in Dubai almost immediately. One offer in particular was very tempting given the pay was good and the school were going to pay for an apartment in Dubai for us, along with several other perks. However, after enduring the heat of the UAE for a few weeks, and getting a feel for the country, we decided it wasn’t for us and made plans for our next move. A couple of years ago I left a job I was thoroughly enjoying for another job where I knew there’d be elements I’d really hate, but the money was so good I ‘couldn’t refuse’. As it turned out the decision was a bad one, the experience was horrible and I swore I’d never take a job purely for money again. So I knew accepting a teaching job I wasn’t going to enjoy, while living in a city I didn’t love, would be a bad decision, but I still wrestled with it. Making good money from a job I wouldn’t like had reared its ugly head again and it still took me a while to make the right decision…incredible! Instead we built up our list of oDesk clients, worked on our website and managed to organise a couple of housesitting gigs in France until March, 2015. We also got out and saw a bit of the country during our month long stay, particularly Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Fujairah, but it just wasn’t for us.
So happy to be in Europe
For the next three weeks we made our way through Austria, Czech Republic, Switzerland and France, before settling into our housesitting gig about an hour southwest of Toulouse. To be honest, it was like heaven to me. After spending the previous four months in southeast Asia and the Middle East, I was loving the fact we were in more developed countries, both in terms of infrastructure and way of life. I don’t know what that sounds like to people reading this article, but it’s the truth. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Chiang Mai, and I hope to go back one day for an extended period of time, but I needed cleaner streets, nicer trains, equality, liberal thinking and everything else that makes the west such a privileged place to be. Having experienced life in places like Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, India and the UAE, I now REALLY know how fortunate I am to be from Australia.
So now we’re settled into our first housesitting gig and we’re really happy. It’s a beautiful holiday rental (or ‘gite’ as they’re called in France) with magnificent rural views across lush green paddocks and the magnificent Pyrenees in the distance. The owners are lovely and made us feel right at home, they’ve got four dogs that we’re thrilled about given we’re dog people, and it gives us the opportunity to relax and get some work done. We’ve managed to see a little bit of the area, but we’ve got plans to see a bit more of the countryside in this part of France.
I miss home
I must admit though I’ve had pangs of homesickness recently, as has Sarah. My beloved Hawthorn Football Club won the AFL Premiership a few weeks back and I would have loved to have been there, celebrating with my friends and soaking up the atmosphere only Melbourne can generate. Getting back into a routine of working again, going to the gym, heading to the footy on the weekend, catching up with friends, going to the movies and all that goes into life at home is something I’m really looking forward to. All that has been obliterated since leaving Australia and it takes a long time to get used to living a completely different way. In fact, I’m still getting used to it! We always compare the cities we visit with Melbourne and we haven’t met any that stack up across every category, and we probably never will when you consider that friends and family are arguably the most important things in anyone’s lives. However, while we only spent a couple of days in Bern, it’s probably the closest we’ve come to thinking it was a place we could stay and live for a long time. If we got on a plane tomorrow bound for Melbourne I’d probably be the happiest man alive. To be honest I can’t wait to get home, embark on the next stage of our lives and get stuck into whatever avenues we pursue. However, on the flip side I know we’ll never do anything like this again and there’s so many more incredible experiences to enjoy while we still have enough money in the bank to sustain our travels.
Still not 100% convinced we’ve done the right thing, but close…
We’re paying off two mortgages while travelling which makes life tough. Our rental income doesn’t cover the loan repayments, so we need to not only make enough money to cover that, but also to live and travel. Unfortunately our work on oDesk is not bringing in enough cash to do that at the moment, but it’s building and hopefully we get to a point soon where income is exceeding outgoings and we aren’t forced home because of a lack of funds. We hope that by the time we do fly home our oDesk work is the equivalent of a full-time job in Australia, and we can work from home which will be nice. Housesitting is certainly helping, and we’re always learning about ways to reduce costs while still experiencing what we set out to do. As with everything in life, we’ll get better at this lifestyle simply by living it and learning that way. If nothing else, when we get home we’ll have a deeper understanding of exactly how we want to live. We’ve already made several decision on how we’ll be living our lives when we return, heavily influenced by our experiences in southeast Asia and India. I’m not talking about filling our house with Balinese furniture and converting to Buddhism, but certainly in terms of our consumerism and what possessions are truly important.
We’re also going to touch down in Melbourne with nothing…no money, no house, no jobs, hardly any clothes…we’re going to be starting again. I’m now 40 (41 in November) and Sarah is 31, and it’s a tough concept to get your head around, knowing we’ll be literally starting from scratch at this stage in our lives. In my last review I said I was 90% certain we had done the right thing, but there was a 10% element of “WTF have we done”! I had hoped that ratio would have subsided a little, but the truth is I’m still wrestling with our decision to travel in my head. The easy option would have been to stay while constantly living with the nagging urge to travel in the back of my mind. I’ve simply swapped one anxious thought for another and only time will tell if we’ve done the right thing, but I’m incredibly confident we have.
Nothing can compare with our life experience
Having said that we’ve had some amazing experiences during the past three months that will live with us forever, particularly those where Jack is in his element. In India all he wanted to do was look for cows walking the streets; we stayed in a fort and rode camels into the desert; witnessed opulence the likes of which I’d never seen just in the malls of Dubai; been charmed by some of Europe’s great cities such as Prague, Vienna, Bern and Cesky Krumlov; met some amazing people while couchsurfing and carpooling; and now housesitting until March in the French countryside. We really can’t complain about what we’ve experienced during our six months so far.
Another reason for coming on this trip was to hopefully discover a passion that I could pursue as a career on my return home. Am I any closer to finding out what that is? Maybe. I’m in the middle of an online travel blogging course which I’m thoroughly enjoying. There’s a real science behind how blog posts should be structured to have the best chance of ranking highly in Google search, thus reaching more people with your stories, and it’s something I hope to continue when we get home. The main point is to write great content, and I hope we’re doing ok in that regard, but that’s not enough to ensure people discover your website. Perhaps I can get a job in this field, or create other blogsites of my own that will be a success. I’ve also come across an idea for my own online retail business that may be something to pursue. It’s a little like our last online retail business, Hot Choccy, although it will be structured differently and we won’t be selling incredibly delicious gourmet drinking chocolate powder. But the retail philosophy is interesting and different and it’s exciting to think about. I won’t let you in on the secret just yet, but it’s certainly got me thinking about what I might do when we get home.
Plans beyond our French housesitting experience?
We’re not sure yet, which is both the beauty and difficulty of living this kind of existence. It would be great to have our future mapped out to give us some sort of certainty, but at the same time the freedom of not knowing is liberating. Not to get too philosophical, but we as a human race (in the west at least) have been hardwired to follow life a certain way…childhood, school, university, career, marriage, kids, career, career, career, retire, die. Ok, it’s not that dramatic of course, we have a lot of great experiences during our lives and many of us live long into our retirements to enjoy the fruits of our labours. It’s not a certainty that life will pan out this way though, and breaking the mould is not an easy thing to do, but I encourage everyone to do it a few times during their lives. Our next move isn’t set in concrete yet, but it will either be finding another housesitting gig somewhere in Europe, heading to America where Sarah has a work opportunity in LA, or go home because we’ve run out of money. Fingers crossed it’s not the last option, although as I’ve already said I’d be delighted if it was (if that makes sense).
My next reflection will be in six months from now when we will have been on the road for a year. I’m hoping we’re still on the road and we’re keeping our head above water financially. I hope I’m further along the road to finding out what I’m passionate about and want to pursue for the rest of my life. But most importantly I hope we’re having fun, having amazing life experiences, and still enjoying this way of life…after all, if we’re not enjoying it anymore then what’s the point.