Tara and Michael of Passport Therapy quit their day jobs five months ago to follow their daydreams. United by a shared passion for travel that stems from very different beginnings, they decided to pack up their belongings and hit the road.
We caught up with them to talk about the places they’ve been so far, what they’ve learned, and how on earth they got to where they are now.
When did you decide to actually take your around-the-world trip?
Michael: I always knew Tara was game, since she’d been kicking the idea around for a while, but it took me a bit longer to come around to it. We had a few false starts with the possibility of positions abroad, but I remember we were driving to her parents’ place for Thanksgiving, and we had just gone through the Robin Williams Tunnel outside of San Francisco when I thought, “What the hell — what do we have to lose?” We basically picked our departure date and starting location during the 40 minutes it took to get to her parents’ house.
Had you traveled together before?
Michael: We had, but it was always a quick vacation. I think our trip to Iceland in September of last year really stoked our interest in non-traditional travel experiences. We spent two-and-a-half weeks driving around the country by ourselves, and it was really eye-opening.
What were your first steps toward planning this trip?
Tara: We knew there were a few key places/events we wanted to hit, so that helped frame our itinerary. Machu Picchu was a must, so we started our travels in Peru. Then we knew we wanted to go to Oktoberfest to meet up with friends, so we just had to determine how to make our way there by that date.
How did you present the idea to friends and family?
Tara: Our families knew that this was something we wanted to do for a long time, so it didn’t come as too much of a surprise. We are really fortunate to have parents that supported our decision and never told us we were making a mistake. And, as far as our friends go, most are in the process of planning their own trips now!
Michael: Pretty soon after we told our friends, we were introduced to other couples who were planning similar trips. We still keep in touch with some of them, sharing tips, tricks, and stories from the road. I think social media, as well as the recent popularity of the digital nomad lifestyle has normalized this type of travel to where there wasn’t a ton of skepticism when we decided to leave.
What was it like having to quit your jobs? Are you working on the road?
Michael: Quitting our jobs was one of the reasons we decided to go on this trip in the first place. We were both ready for a change in scenery at work. But rather than finding new jobs, we decided to travel instead! So far, we’ve gotten some work as freelance photographers, but most of our time “working” goes toward our blog and growing our social media presence. We’ve just been on the move far too much to try and find remote work within our field (digital marketing and advertising).
How much research do you typically do about the places you visit?
Tara: At first, we were really good about doing research — mostly because we knew where we were going! Now, since we’ve been planning as we go, we tend to let the adventure guide us. We’ve met some awesome people along the way who have also given us great tips, and we’ve been using social media to poll for advice. Instagram has become a really amazing tool for us in that regard.
How long do you spend in each location, and what kinds of things do you do in each place?
Michael: So far, we’ve been staying in each location for anywhere from a few days to two weeks at a time. We prefer to explore locations with our feet — it gives us the freedom to get lost and go at our own pace. We also love wine, so we’ve incorporated wine tastings or visits to wineries in almost every region we’ve visited.
Tara: There also seems to be a theme of climbing the tallest point in any given location, whether we’re in a city or a jungle. Those are always the best viewpoints!
How did you plan your budget for the trip?
Michael: I had a coworker who had already done a year-long trip, so I spoke with her about budget early on, and she gave me a loose estimate of how much she spent. We took that figure and saved about twice that amount for cost overruns and inflation. We agreed on a figure we’d like to spend, and a larger number that we’d be okay with, but our hope is that we land somewhere in the middle.
What challenges have you encountered?
Tara: We realized that we spread ourselves a little too thin during the European leg of the trip. We tried to pack too much into a short period of time, and it left us exhausted. Moving forward, we want to stay in each place for longer periods of time.
The other thing that’s been tough is getting out of our normal routines. For the most part, it’s actually a great thing, but the main “routine” we miss is the gym. Michael and I were regularly working out back home, and trying to be active on the road can be difficult. But it has forced us to make sure we walk everywhere and get creative with at-home workouts. There’s always an option!
Michael: I always feel like we need to check every box, which isn’t feasible when you’re living on a budget or are on the road for an extended period of time. I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing your trip with others, instead of just enjoying your experience for what it is.
Have there been any unexpected benefits?
Michael: I don’t know about unexpected, but this trip has brought clarity to what we would like to accomplish when we get home, and where we would like to invest our time. I wouldn’t say we’ve had a “moment of enlightenment” like you see in movies, but there has been an added level of appreciation for what we had before we left, and what we would like to do moving forward.
What are some of the things you’ve learned since traveling?
Tara: Traveling can be really exhausting! We were (and still are) excited to see so many places, but we forget that sometimes we just need to take days where we sit and do nothing.
Michael: Keep an open mind and say “yes” as often as possible, as long as you feel comfortable with the situation. Some of our best experiences on this trip came from off-the-cuff advice or recommendations from strangers.
Was there anything you had to adjust to in terms of the lifestyle or mentality of long-term travel?
Tara: I think that food is a huge part of understanding new cultures. But as a vegetarian, I can’t always fully immerse myself in the local cuisine. This has proved somewhat challenging at times, but instead of getting frustrated or changing my lifestyle, I’ve learned to get creative.
Michael: I had to learn to accept that shit happens. There will be mistakes, like the time I bought two plane tickets for Mr. Michael Castillo and Ms. Michael Castillo. There will be accidents, like our rental car getting sideswiped while parked on the street. There will be moments when you feel frustrated, burnt out, or just plain sick. Learning to embrace the unknown and the unexpected goes a long way in maintaining a healthy disposition.
Do you carry anything with you or do anything specific to make your life feel “normal” while you’re on the road?
Tara: I love this question. When we can find it, we buy nut butter. It can sometimes be incredibly hard to find, and I have a bit of an obsession with almond butter. When we have people meet us from the States, we ask them to bring us a jar! Other than that, we also seek out gyms or fitness studios when we are in a new location.
Michael: Netflix is easily my favorite subscription service for long-term travel. All their original programming is available worldwide and downloadable to your tablet or mobile phone. It’s one of our favorite ways to decompress or feel connected to life back home.
What advice would you give someone who is thinking about or planning a trip like this?
Tara: Don’t spread yourself too thin. Pick a couple of key places you really want to go to and experience them fully. You can always make side trips or make changes along the way.
Michael: Buy your clothes as you travel, especially if you are living out of a backpack. You are going to be using a ton of different washing machines, and life on the road is tough on your clothes. It’s better to ruin inexpensive, replaceable threads from retailers like H&M, than that amazing shirt that was $85. Even with down jackets and technical gear, you can find inexpensive alternatives to the name-brand stuff you’d buy in America.
What’s the most rewarding thing about traveling for you?
Tara: It sounds cliché, but just getting to see new places and experience new cultures. One of the best feelings is going somewhere with few expectations, and being completely blown away by how much you like it.
Michael: And how those experiences and cultures lead to self-exploration and discovery. We’ve found that the activities we have enjoyed on this trip are completely different than they were only a few short years ago. I think travel has helped us expose new sides of ourselves that we weren’t nurturing back home. Our parents have even expressed some surprise by the changes they’ve seen in us since we left.
And lastly, do you have an end date in sight?
Tara: We are planning to head back for Christmas this year. But who knows — we might pack our bags back up again after that!