After Two Years Of Peace Corps Service In Jamaica This Couple Discovered Their Passion For Digital Nomadism & The Pursuit Of Travel Hacks
What is GAFFL?

GAFFL connects solo travelers with similar itineraries to explore destinations together. Whether you are backpacking in Asia, road tripping in Australia, or exploring national parks in the US, simply type the destination you are traveling to, find travelers who are going there at the same time as you, connect with them, plan trips, meet, and travel together.

Jedd and Michelle
Jedd and Michelle are digital nomads who blog about intentional living and travel.
24th Jul | 8 min read

Table of Contents

    At GAFFL, we love to publish inspiring travel stories from adventurers around the world. You can connect with travelers from 190+ countries on GAFFL, meet up, and explore destinations together.

    Jedd and Michelle are digital nomads who blog about intentional living and travel. Originally from Hawaii and Oregon, they met while starting their careers at a university in Portland. They got married in 2008 and have been adventuring together ever since. In 2014,  they started Travel has changed their lives, and they want to share what they’ve learned along the way to help others reap the benefits, too.

    Jedd and Michelle make ends meet through their freelance web services business, an online cooking club with their Italian friend who teaches from Tuscany, occasional event planning gigs, and their travel blog. This allows the two of them to work from anywhere (hence the term “digital nomads”). They live very simply and keep costs low, trading what they would have paid in rent for the ability to live in many different places. The couple uses their travel hacking skills to earn all their free international flights.

    working Jamaica

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    What Motivated Us To Quit Our Jobs & Travel the World Full-Time

    In 2011, we left our “real jobs” to take a sabbatical- a time set apart to experience new things, to learn, and to grow. We took an epic road trip and did some house-sitting. Then we ended up serving with the Peace Corps in Jamaica from 2012 to 2014, and it was a life-changing decision!

    Our time away made us realize that we don’t have to go back to a typical life, consumed by careers until we save enough to retire in freedom. We believe we don’t have to wait until retirement to live our dreams. And if we’re intentional about our choices, there are out-of-the-box ways to make travel a consistent part of our lives right now.

    jm chiangmai thailand

    How Often We Travel & Activities We Do While Traveling

    Now that we have a “home base” in Oregon, we like to spend time with our family and garden during the beautiful Oregon summers. Apart from pandemic years, we typically live abroad a couple of months in the Fall and Winter.

    When not staying with friends or family around the world, we’ll usually rent an apartment for at least a month. That way, we can maintain a normal schedule of working online, exercising, going for walks, cooking meals, etc. We like to do day trips here and there to see the sights, but otherwise, our travels are mostly about living our lives while immersing ourselves in a different culture.

    How We Decide On Our Next Destination

    Initially, we always traveled to places where we knew someone who could show us the ropes. We also started where we could speak the language (English, French, Spanish, and a little Japanese). As we became more confident, we ventured out to new places and started traveling independently in places like Vietnam where we could barely read the signs.

    jedd and michelle jamaica

    Since we usually travel during winters back home, we always gravitate to being in a warmer, milder climate. We need access to an internet that’s strong enough to continue our online work and we look for places with a low cost of living.

    Things We Learned From Peace Corps

    In terms of traveling, Peace Corps taught us how to navigate uncertain situations, communicate across language and cultural barriers, and adapt to new systems. We’re not only able to be the ultimate tour guides in our country of service, but we have a tool belt of important travel skills that can be re-applied to other locations as well.

    PeaceCorps boyscamp 1

    We’re so proud of our service. Not because we saved anyone or did some big great project. The impact we made was more subtle than that- more about building relationships and opening minds, both ours and our neighbors. We’re proud because, though rewarding, it was a really challenging two years; and we did it. 

    When you’ve managed to wrangle scores of Jamaican primary school students into weekly literacy sessions with no resources, regular interruptions, a noisy and undisciplined school environment, and no curriculum to follow- and you survive that for two years while navigating a new culture, language, public transit system, weaving yourself into the fabric of a community in a place where all foreigners are supposed to be “rich” tourists – then you sort of start to feel like you can do anything.

    Countries We Have Visited & Our Bucket List

    I’m not sure exactly but the number of countries we’ve visited together is 20-something. We don't really have a specific bucket list anymore. The world is full of amazing places. We’re just thankful to have the opportunity to live temporarily in other countries and keep experiencing new things.

    Jedd and Michelle Sintra Portugal

    Reasons To Start Our Blog

    We hope to encourage everyone to align their daily decisions and life choices with the values they care most about. For people passionate about travel (like we are), our site helps them intentionally pursue meaningful, transformation experiences around the world. We show our readers how to make travel easier, more affordable, and more purposeful.

    Martigny Switzerland

    Our Favorite Memories Of Meeting New People

    I shared about one of our favorite connections abroad in my book, Unconventional Budget Accommodations: “Perhaps our favorite Airbnb of all time has been Leaf Homestay in Hoi An, Vietnam.

    Leaf Homestay is a modern 5-bedroom house just outside of Hoi An’s UNESCO World Heritage Ancient Town. The hotel-style rooms come with home-cooked breakfasts, bicycles, and the internet. But beyond the great value in facilities, it’s really about the family. The homeowners are a local couple who live downstairs, and their small staff are all close family members. We asked our host, Mr. Ty, why he turned his home into a homestay when he and his wife already have full-time work. He told us, “I want to have friends around the world.” 

    Mai Chau Vietnam

    The first time we stayed at Leaf Homestay, Mr. Ty took us to his family’s ancestral home to meet his parents and see the family’s wood carving workshop. Later, he drove us out to the ancient My Son's temple ruins, just because he wanted us to see them. He taught us how to count in Vietnamese while we shared a meal at the house. When Vietnamese Women’s Day came around, the family presented me with a bouquet of flowers, just like they did for the other women in their family.

    During our second stay a year later, the family’s generosity continued to humble us. They brought us to lunch parties with the extended family, sent us on a boat ride with their son and his girlfriend, gifted us “lucky money” on Vietnamese New Year, brought us back treats from a work trip to Hanoi, bought me another bouquet for International Women’s Day, hemmed Jedd’s shirt, and sewed matching pairs of cargo shorts for us! Just to clarify, they did not let us pay for any of these things!”

    JM work out Jamaica

    The fourth time we went back to Hoi An, we actually brought a small group tour. The Leaf Homestay family had our group over for a cooking class and dinner, which was a big highlight of the week.

    Are We Budget Travelers?

    Yes. After Peace Corps, Jedd and I lived a full year without paying for rent or a single hotel stay while we built up our freelance web services business. We had to get creative in order to fulfill our dream to experience the world on a tight income.

    We did exchanges, like Help Exchange or Work Away (or our own DIY version of those), which I cover in my book Unconventional Budget Accommodations.

    Now that we have a more reliable income, we’ve been able to expand our accommodation options. But keeping our living expenses low is still a key element of making our travel lifestyle work, so we continue to employ money-saving strategies to this day.

    How We Manage Our Job & Travel At The Same Time

    When living abroad, we don’t have too many days in transit. So we can maintain a regular schedule most of the time. Because our expenses are low, we don’t have to work full time, and as freelancers/entrepreneurs, we can set our own schedules. So it’s pretty easy to fit in a walk around town, a hike, or a short sightseeing visit throughout the week.

    jm zoom cooking club business

    GAFFL In Our Words

    Networks that allow us to meet like-minded locals and travelers always help us feel a stronger connection to the places we visit. We have especially enjoyed connecting with other digital nomads when we cross paths around the world.

    What Prevents Us From Traveling More

    There are definitely some destinations where the cost of living is too high for us to visit for any length of time. We can either save up for those places as “special occasion” trips, or we can continue visiting more affordable places where our money stretches easier and we can stay much longer.

    hoi-an vietnam

    Of course, these days, Covid and changing travel protocols is also a factor that has slowed us down. But that’s ok. It’s good to be flexible and always thankful for what you can do rather than dwell on what you might be missing.

    Other exciting travel stories you might enjoy!

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