Corporate Fatigue Pushed This Couple To Travel The World
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GAFFL
30th Sep | 15 min read

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    At GAFFL, we love to publish inspiring travel stories from adventurers around the world. You can connect with adventurers from 170+ countries on GAFFL, meet up, and explore destinations together. In this post, we'll be highlighting Ian and Nicky's travels.

    Ian and Nicky are an English couple and they have been traveling full time since March 2015. They like to combine housesitting with backpacking and road-tripping which depends on where they are in the world. They share their experiences through writing and by taking photographs, which they publish on their blog, Above Us Only Skies.

    You can check out their Facebook, Instagram & Pinterest to learn more about their latest adventures. 

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    Why We Quit Our Jobs To Travel Full-Time

    At the time, neither of us were happy with our jobs, nor our lifestyle. We seemed to be spending lots of time driving to and from work, with precious little time being spent doing the things that we actually enjoy. We realized that we’d both quite happily exchange our possessions for positive experiences and memories. So we hatched a plan to travel full-time once wed paid off the mortgage on our home and all our ducks were in a row” financially.

    But, after losing two friends from brain tumors within six months of each other, it suddenly dawned on us that life really is too short. And that if we waited for the perfect moment to take the plunge, then it might just not ever arrive.

    So we sold our house, our car, and most of our other possessions and bought one-way tickets to Bangkok. We honestly hadn’t realized what a liberating experience it would turn out to be. And continues to be. This is why, nearly seven years later, we’ve no intention of returning to our previous lifestyle.

    Duration Of Our Trips

    We’re full-time travelers one way or another. Initially, we spent 15 months backpacking in Southeast Asia and taking road trips in Australia and New Zealand.

    After that, we got into house sitting, which allowed us to slow down and live rent-free in some wonderful homes around Europe and North/Central/South America, and the Caribbean.

    Now we mix all three activities together. Although, since the pandemic arrived we’ve tended to stick with our housesits.

    When we’re backpacking we spend a lot of our time on outdoor activities such as hiking, snorkeling, and exploring places of cultural interest. And occasionally, we’ll take a break in a larger town or city. But, wherever we are, experimenting with the local food and drink plays a big part in what we do.

    How We Decide On Our Next Destination 

    Our plans for travel are fairly fluid, but we try to have at least a rough plan of where we want to be for the following 12 months.

    We’re not interested in trying to visit as many countries as possible. Instead, we try to travel around slowly and get a real sense of what makes a country tick. So we rarely spend less than a month in any one country.

    For instance, we plan on traveling to Mexico in April 2022 and staying for three months before flying to Colombia to spend a further three months there. Part of that is determined by how long a particular tourist visa is valid. But we’re also mindful of the climate in each country and what we’d be able to see and do depending on the time of the year.

    Once we’ve decided which countries we’d like to visit, we do some research on what we’d like to see and do.

    Then we’ll establish how to get from place to place and begin to create a route with a rough idea of how long we’d spend in each place.

    We try not to take too much spontaneity out of our traveling, but we’re not the sort of people who can move around from one place to another without some sort of general plan.

    How We Pack For Our Trips

    Outside of the UK and Europe, we travel everywhere with our 40-liter and 70-liter backpacks. This means that any clothes we’re not wearing have to be rolled up tightly inside a packing cube. In the early days, we were guilty of packing far too much, but we’ve since learned to cut back out of necessity!

    Must-haves include our camera equipment, laptops, and mobile devices as we work online and maintain our blog while we’re on the road. Packing cubes to reduce the overall size of our clothes.

    Earplugs and headphones for noisy neighbors, dogs, and long bus journeys. Walking boots, naturally. And since Ian recently experienced an anaphylactic shock following a wasp sting, he now needs to carry his EpiPen with him at all times.

    How We Balance Work & Travel

    For us, they go hand-in-hand. But as we’re not party animals we can generally find time to work in the evenings if we’ve been exploring during the day. Suffice to say, we get more work done when we’re housesitting than we do when we’re on the road!

    Some Interesting Travel Experiences That We Can Share

    We’ve had plenty of memorable experiences - although not always for the right reasons. 

    A highlight was in Western Australia when we swam with whale sharks out on Ningaloo Reef. But the whale shark experience turned out to be the second-best thing that day. During a snorkeling exercise earlier in the day we found ourselves in the water just a couple of meters away from a humpback whale as she cruised past with her calf in tow. It was an exhilarating experience - especially when she kicked her tail and the force of it blew us several meters backward.

    We spent a month in India’s Kashmir Valley and the high Himalayas at Leh on some of the toughest roads we’ve experienced, reaching altitudes over 18,000 feet. But the staggering beauty of the mountains, the fascinating Tibetan Buddhist culture, and the bone-crunching journey in a jeep made the whole experience an unforgettable one.

    As was our three-month road trip in a camper van crisscrossing the Andes in Chile and Argentina. From the high desert landscapes of the Atacama in the far north to the glaciers of Los Glaciares and Torres del Paine National Parks in southern Patagonia, it was never less than challenging. But we were lucky enough to witness some of the world’s most stunning landscapes along the way. And the hiking was pretty incredible, too.

    At the other end of the scale, we found ourselves in the middle of the largest Atlantic hurricane to ever make landfall in 2017. We were housesitting in the British Virgin Islands when we were directly hit by Hurricane Irma and its wind gusts of up to 225 mph.

    Ian was injured during the storm and it took us several days to get to a hospital for treatment before eventually being evacuated by helicopter to nearby Puerto Rico. It may not qualify as a “cool” experience but it’s probably embedded in our memories more than anything else.

    Our Motivation To Start The Blog

    We always felt that we wanted to document our travels and Ian has always had an interest in writing and photography.

    After a while, it became clear that people other than our family and friends were interested in what we were doing. So we expanded the blog to provide tips and advice for people who were perhaps curious about taking a similar path. But, rather than turn it into a generic travel guide we try to mix the content up with stories, itineraries, and photography, laced with some humor wherever we can.

    Ultimately we try to focus on the quality of the content rather than striving to publish as many articles as we can. That might mean that we publish less than many of the other travel blogs out there. But we believe in what we’re doing. And hopefully, our readers do, too.

    Favorite Memories Of Meeting New People

    We’ve been lucky enough to meet some incredible people over the years. Many of whom we’re still in touch with. One of our earliest encounters was with Gopal, a rickshaw driver in Jaipur, India, who’d been taxi-ing people around his city for over 40 years. Standing well under five feet tall, unable to read, and with six children to feed, he barely made a living.

    We hired him for a full day to take us around the main sites. Which he did - as well as treating us to a number of hair-raising rides through Jaipur’s chaotic traffic in his tiny open van. Before he dropped us off 12 hours later, he opened a guest book containing entries from previous customers. Most of them were tourists. All were glowing with their praise. And, as we read some of them to him, his face lit up with pure joy and no little pride.

    Finally, we asked him how much we owed him for the day. He just shrugged and told us to pay what we thought it was worth to us. We gave him that and more, but he simply tucked it into his top pocket without taking a look. For us, it was a perfect example of what we were looking for in our bid to experience different cultures. We only hope that he’s still managing to make a living during the current tough times.

    Another memorable experience followed a chance meeting with a guide in Popayan, southwest Colombia. We told him that we were planning on traveling to the mountainous region around the village of Silvia to see how the indigenous Guambiano community lived. We’d seen photographs of them in their striking traditional dress, including a grey bowler hat and a blue cape with a shocking pink stripe, and we wanted to see if we could meet some of them.

    He told us that he lived in the village and would drive us there as he was traveling back over the weekend. He’d also introduce us to one of the Guambiano people, who’d be willing to show us around.

    And that is how we met Maria, with whom we spent a full day wandering around the hillsides between villages and getting to know how her community lives and breathes. 

    In return, we answered her questions about how our lives in the UK compared. Although communication was sometimes difficult due to our lack of fluent Spanish, we were able to share stories and jokes with each other as if we were old friends. We hope to return to Colombia sometime in 2022, and if we do, a further visit to see Maria and her Guambiano family is very much on our wish list.

    Countries We Have Traveled To Together

    As I mentioned earlier, we don’t have a desire to see as many countries as possible, but rather to see as much as we can of each country we visit.

    However, together we’ve visited approximately 45 countries so far - and Mexico will be our 46th. Beyond that, our bucket list destinations include Japan, French Polynesia, Norway, Romania, Namibia, and Morocco.

    In fact, other than Egypt, we haven’t really explored any part of Africa as yet, so there’s plenty of opportunity for us there when the time is right.

    How We Manage Costs During Our Travels

    We try to stick to a budget and also support the local community. So we’ll look for “mom and pop” rentals rather than national or international chains. But we’re also willing to splurge where necessary if we feel the experience will be worth it. 

    Of course, when we’re housesitting we have no accommodation costs to worry about - so that helps enormously. But when we’re on the road, we try to budget for somewhere between £15 ($20) to £30 ($40) per night. And then we’ll splash out maybe two or three times per year for something comparatively special. We don’t generally stay in hostel accommodation but look for something that hopefully feels like it fits with the locality. So Airbnb rooms, treehouses, lodges, campsites - those sorts of things. 

    We’ll also look for accommodation that includes breakfast as buying out can sometimes prove expensive. Lunch tends to be whatever we can pick up while we’re out. But, in the evening, we love to eat at restaurants serving food from the region. Especially those that are full of locals. Which, in our experience tend to offer the best value for money and the most authentic food.

    Other than that, our main budget tip would be to think like a local and do your research on your local destination beforehand. Which for us includes identifying which ATM machines have the lowest or zero charges, the cheapest and most efficient way to get around (which, apart from walking might involve a three-day travel card in some larger cities), and researching the best things to do that are free or of minimal cost.

    How We Think GAFFL Helps Travelers

    I think the concept of GAFFL is a great one in that it enables solo travelers to buddy up with like-minded people for periods of time to share experiences and costs. Although we’ve largely traveled as a couple to date, we’ve also hooked up with solo travelers along the way. And, without question, they’ve always enhanced our experience.

    We tend to travel with as much information about a place so that we at least have a plan when we get there. So, apart from the mainstream travel guides, we seek out some of our fellow bloggers who we’ve learned to trust and respect over the years.

    When we’re out hiking we tend to use the AllTrails and maps.me apps for their offline functionality. But, for more in-depth localized knowledge we’ll try to find an app that specializes in that area. For instance, we spent a couple of months during 2021 in Cornwall, England, and used the Southwest Coast Path and iWalk Cornwall apps to explore the many miles of magnificent coastal walks available.

    Transitioning Into Full-Time Travel

    We actually found the transition quite an easy one. Once we got it into our heads that full-time travel is a lifestyle rather than an extended holiday then we never looked back. Yes, there have been compromises along the way. For a start, we see our family and friends back home a lot less than we used to. Including our four grandchildren. Of course, it helps that we can make regular video calls to keep in touch. But we still miss that close contact from time to time.

    And, of course, we’re living out of a backpack for most of the time - which means we have to make decisions on what we carry with us and what we leave behind. And this becomes even more difficult when our trips span climates and landscapes that are the complete opposite of each other. So carrying around lots of cold-weather clothing whilst hiking through a Sumatran jungle can seem like a waste of energy!

    Apart from that, we both value our sleep. And there’ll come a time when we really won’t want to hear yet another pack of dogs howling throughout the night.

    Our Plans Over The Next Five Years

    We plan to continue mixing our love for housesitting, backpacking, and road-tripping.

    With the caveat of course, that some sort of normalcy returns to world travel post-pandemic. In 2022 we’ll focus on Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Colombia. And, in the years that follow, we’ll try and tick off the remainder of our bucket list destinations. In between, we’ll return to the UK to catch up with folks while we housesit. And we’d really like to explore some more of our own backyard, so to speak. Especially Scotland and Ireland, which we’ve ignored for far too long.

    We’d like to think we’ve got a few more road trips to enjoy. Especially in Argentina, Australia, the US, and across Europe. And, as most of our hiking expeditions have been of the day-hike variety, we’d like to return to some of our previous destinations (such as Peru, Argentina, and Chile) to experience some of the multi-day expeditions we’ve learned about.

    Things We Wish We Had Known When We First Started Traveling

    To be honest, we don’t have any regrets about how we’ve traveled or the decisions we’ve made along the way. For instance, with the benefit of hindsight, would we have spent five months on a Caribbean island during the hurricane season? Well, yes actually, because the people who live there do so every year! 

    Could we have planned our itinerary better to save the unnecessary cost of extra flights and bus journeys? Yes, but that would have meant less spontaneity and possible missed opportunities. Nevertheless, we’ve learned some valuable lessons that have served us well as we’ve traveled around.

    Firstly, we’ve learned to go with our gut instinct when making decisions. Be assertive rather than passive, especially in moments of crisis. Certainly, that helped us get through the trauma of Hurricane Irma when we quickly determined that the only way to get off the island and back to safety was to make things happen for ourselves. It’s an approach that’s stayed with us, especially during the pandemic.

    Secondly, we’ve learned to appreciate (and defer to) each other’s strengths and weaknesses. To the point where one of us will automatically take responsibility for certain tasks because we both know that makes sense.

    And thirdly, we’ve learned to treat our traveling as a lifestyle rather than an extended holiday. This means that we don’t put pressure on ourselves to see and do as much as we can in the shortest amount of time. Instead, we prefer to keep the pace slow and “feel” what it’s like to spend some time in a place (or region) rather than just pass through.

    Other cool travel stories you might enjoy! 

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