In 2015, Marta and Jandirk left their jobs as chemists and started on an extended trip around the world. They purposefully made sure to plan for more than a year so they wouldn’t go back to their jobs, and they haven’t. Now, two and a half years later, they are still traveling. We talked with them about their planning process, what it’s like to live on the road, and why long-term travel is a good thing.
When did the idea of taking an around-the-world trip come to you?
Marta: As with most people, traveling as always been on our minds. Long-term traveling has been a dream for a long time, but it was the same way you dream of becoming a millionaire. We never thought it would come true. Then when my mom passed away, we realized life is just too short and it was now or never.
How far ahead did you start planning?
Jandirk: Six or seven months.
How did you go about the planning process?
Marta: First we decided to go to South America. We wanted to go to Southeast Asia, but decided to start with South America. Jandirk really wanted to learn Spanish, and I already spoke Spanish, so we thought it would be a good place to start, and a way to skip winter. That failed miserably. We hit winter everywhere. I had planned the whole route for South and Central America, then a flight to Sri Lanka, but we abandoned the plan after two or three weeks.
Jandirk: Then it all fell apart.
Marta: We just decided it was much better not to plan.
Jandirk: Plan the must-sees, but don’t plan the whole trip day-by-day.
Marta: You also change as a person, so what you want to see and do changes a lot. Like we didn’t even think about going to Colombia, but we fell in love with Colombia and it hadn’t even been on our list. Same with Japan.
Can you give me a rough breakdown of your trip so far?
Marta: We started in Argentina, worked our way up through South and Central America. Then we flew to Europe — Holland, Poland, Spain, Germany. From Europe we went to the Middle East, and from there we went to Sri Lanka, then Japan, and now Taiwan.
Did you put a time limit on how long this trip was going to be?
Marta: We both had corporate jobs and they offered Jandirk a year off, but we figured we really didn’t want to go back to those jobs. To ensure we wouldn’t go back, the trip had to be longer than a year.
Jandirk: And we didn’t want a deadline.
Marta: When we left, it was going to be somewhere between a year and a year and a half. And now it’s been two and a half years.
How are you planning where to go next? How far are you planning in advance?
Marta: It depends. Especially in South America, you can go over the borders with a bus. You can stay three months in almost every country. So we didn’t plan much at all in South America. For the rest, we try to go with the flow. We try to always stay open-minded about new ideas. Right now, when we’re going to a country we already have a fair idea of what the next country will be, but it’s not set in stone.
Jandirk: But our accommodations depend on what we think of the place when we get there.
At this point, you’re both living as nomads. What have some of the challenges been?
Jandirk: Cooking! We love cooking, and hostels never have the stuff you need. So you get creative and figure out how to make certain dishes without an oven, or without pans.
Marta: That’s very true. And after two and a half years, we enjoy the simple things that most people don’t think about. When we have a washing machine, that’s great! Right now we’re in an apartment and it’s such a pleasure to be able to unpack and have your own space.
What have been some of the unexpected benefits to living on the road?
Marta: For me, I discovered my inner creativity. We both studied chemistry and I discovered that I’m actually pretty creative. I started to take pictures and have really enjoyed that. I also started crocheting, which has been amazing, I’ve met a lot of people because they would come up and talk to me about it. And for Jandirk it’s been programming.
Jandirk: Yeah, I’m more of the technical side of things.
Marta: And the people we’ve met along the way … We didn’t know we would meet such inspirational people.
How did you plan for this trip financially? And how are you sustaining yourselves on the road?
Marta: Initially we looked at other travelers’ budgets, which were very widespread. We figured that we had money for a year, and it turned out that we had money for much longer than that. When it comes to budgets, it’s all about your mindset — what you’re willing to sacrifice and what you’re willing to do in order to travel. And we’ve realized that traveling doesn’t have to cost as much.
Jandirk: That’s the main thing. How much are you willing to spend? If you absolutely have to stay in a hotel and eat out every night, then the costs add up. But if you’re willing to cook for yourself, stay in a hostel, maybe even volunteer, then it becomes a lot cheaper.
Marta: The dream would be to have remote jobs so we could continue traveling.
How much research do you do about the places before you get there?
Marta: That varies a lot. I tend to read a lot of guides and novels, but with many places we just arrive and don’t know anything.
Jandirk: It really depends on the inspiration we get from other people as well, and what we see online.
Marta: Especially with Iran, we didn’t know much because there wasn’t that much written at all. It’s still very much off-the-beaten-track.
What are some of the things you’ve learned about traveling because of this trip?
Marta: A lot of our friends consider long-term travel a never-ending vacation, but that’s not what it is. It’s just a different kind of living.
Jandirk: It’s a lifestyle.
Marta: I didn’t think travel would change us so much.
Jandirk: You’re forced to take a step back and look at the problems you had when you were working your corporate job. Everything gets put into perspective.
How would you describe the long-term travel lifestyle? What was it like to adjust?
Marta: For us, it really started gradually. I don’t even know when we felt the transition from vacation-mode to lifestyle-mode.
Jandirk: I think most people think we’re drunk every day, that we go to parties, and sleep in every day. But that’s not true because that’s not sustainable.
Marta: And that’s not healthy. So we put a lot of effort into keeping the “weekend-mode” and “working-days” mode, cooking, and keeping a healthy lifestyle. That can be really difficult for a lot of people traveling long-term. Many travelers eat local fast food all the time, and that can be really unhealthy, especially long-term. It is challenging when you’re surrounded by people who are on vacation.
What are some of the rituals you use to maintain the non-vacation traveling lifestyle?
Marta: We wake up very early on the weekdays. Right now we’re very busy: Jandirk is doing a lot of programming courses and projects; I research job opportunities and remote work possibilities.
Jandirk: The weekends and evenings are the only time we actually do stuff.
Marta: We also stick to some rules. If we stay somewhere for more than three days, we unpack completely. There is nothing more annoying than diving into your backpack to try to find something. We cook most of the time.
What would you say to people who are thinking about or planning a trip like this?
Marta: I would say just go for it. There’s not that much planning that you absolutely have to do.
Jandirk: You won’t regret it.
Marta: I’ve never met a person who said they wished they hadn’t done it. You really just have to go for it. We all overthink and worry about money too much.
Why do you think doing a trip like this is worth it?
Marta: It challenges you. In so many ways. You meet people from so many different backgrounds and paths of life that you would never meet otherwise and you learn from them. You encounter new, inspiring lifestyles that you didn’t even know about. I studied chemistry, and I always felt like I didn’t like it, but I kept going because I had to study something that would get me a job that would pay the bills. But while traveling, I’ve started to discover so many different parts of me, and abilities that I didn’t think I had.
Jandirk: When you’re traveling, you broaden your horizons. You start to realize there are opportunities there that you wouldn’t have seen if you’d just stayed and done your job at home.
Marta: And it opens your mind to so many possibilities for different lifestyles and jobs.
Do you have an end date in mind?
Marta: We are planning to go to Spain in a few months, and we want to change how we travel. Right now we are traveling without a base, but we would like one. We want to rent an apartment in Spain and be able to have both — to be able to unpack and also travel.
Jandirk: And have a washing machine!