THE BEGINNING: Rationalization is our favorite (Part 2)
Once we decided the trip was on, we never looked back. If anything we tried to rationalize the trip even more as we explained it to interested, yet puzzled and sometimes skeptical friends and family. Here are the questions that we had to answer first for ourselves, and now for others:
- Priorities – We don’t believe we are on this Earth to make money, but that’s easy to forget when money is at the center of everything we do. It’s especially easy to get wrapped up in this as an ambitious business-minded young person coming from corporate America. Money is great to earn and have, but too often I forget it is a means to an end. So we want this trip to prioritize what we really think is important: appreciating the incredible world around us, adventuring with loved ones and sharing it with others. As our friend Ghandi said, “Actions express priorities.”
- Introspection – We have come to a natural transition in our lives. And that’s a great chance to take some time out (in our case a year ;)) and reassess those priorities we have. Do we like the path we’re on? What brings us joy and fulfillment? How can we do that for a living? If we don’t stop every so often to check our compass, years from now we’ll look back and realize we’re lost in the woods.
- Inspiration – We would love it if our trip motivates someone to get out into their National Parks. We would double love it if we inspire someone to fulfill a lifelong dream. It doesn’t have to be some epic journey, but it should be something that brings you joy. Because life is short.
- Celebration – When we envisioned this trip, we had a vague feeling that we wanted it to be bigger than a young couple taking a year off to have a personal adventure. That “something bigger” landed right in our laps when we found out the National Park Service’s 100th birthday is August 25th, 2016 – the same time we are concluding happen to be concluding our tour of the parks. We are so excited to pay our tribute to the NPS during its 100th year by going on our year-long expedition to see all its best-loved sites. To go even further, we are dedicating our trip to encouraging everyone, especially our own Millennial generation, to get out and explore an NPS site during the 100th year. And if they want to join us to do it, then that’s even better!
- Challenge – Our goal for this trip has never been a year-long vacation. If we wanted that, there would be much easier, cheaper and less stressful ways to do it. Part of our “why” is just the for the pure challenge of it. I think to myself, “how often in the last 3 years have I been truly challenged.” When I proposed comes to mind. So does running my one and only marathon. But this trip will be a challenge on so many levels – mental and physical (hopefully not marital!). And sometimes you just need to set that crazy bull of a goal to prove to yourself you aren’t afraid to step into the ring, stare it in the face and grab it by the horns.
- Why Now?
- Perfect Transition – Elizabeth and I always knew life would likely take us back to St. Louis to be closer to friends and family before we started a family of our own. And a move from KC to STL would probably require that we both find new jobs. But one thing I’ve realized now that I’ve been out of college and working for 3 years is that (to me) my time off is much more valuable than my paycheck. So instead of rushing back to start the undetermined years left in our careers, why not use this golden opportunity to press pause and take a little time to adventure.
- Youth – Retirement sounds pretty cool. But if I work my whole life waiting for that time to come, I’ll not only under-appreciate the journey, but I’ll be sorely underwhelmed when I get there. And when I’m 65 I don’t know if Elizabeth or I will be up for going rim-to-rim on the Grand Canyon or camping 6 nights a week or climbing fourteeners. Plus, all those life-changing epiphanies we will get from our trip will do us a lot more good at 25 than they would at 65 ;).
- Why U.S.?
- Backyard – Elizabeth has only been to 1 National Park growing up. I consider myself very lucky to have been to 8 with my family as a kid. But both those numbers are less than 59 … by a lot! Neither Elizabeth nor I have ever even been to the west coast. A whole side of the country we know nothing about! The U.S. has so much to offer. I think before we go dreaming of exotic foreign countries we should learn to appreciate the wonders of our own backyard.
- Patriotic duty – I love America. But I can’t speak for Elizabeth :p
- Economical – I don’t really know if this is true since public transportation and favorable exchange rates could make extended stays abroad pretty cheap. But I bet when you add up all those things you don’t think about, plus the hassles you never expect, the U.S. would win out.
- Diversity – There are some incredibly awesome and beautiful landscapes all around the world (from what I hear). And the U.S. definitely has its fair share. But when I think about the diversity of the awesome landscapes in the U.S. is when I think it really pulls away. Rocky eastern seaboard, swamps of the Everglades, rolling mountains of Appalachia, 1,000 lakes of Minnesota, peaks of the Rockies, canyons of the southwest, deserts of Nevada, forests of the northwest, glaciers of Alaska, tropics and beaches of Hawaii – the U.S. has it all. And we will actually be at all these places along our route.
- Saving – Since summer of 2014, when we truly committed to making this trip happen, we have been watching every dollar that comes in and goes out of our bank account. I started a master budget with inflows and outflows including projected incomes and expenses for the next year and then expenses during the year of our trip. Every 10 days I write down and categorize each of our expenses and calculate the subtotals and total. This keeps us mindful of our expenses and honest with hitting our monthly savings goals. And finding creative ways to buy all the gear we needed was another frugality challenge. We also took extra side jobs: Elizabeth sold furniture and crafts through her Happy Lark Designs business and I worked on my My GreenHome business and drove Uber (use my code, N543B, to get your first ride free). We definitely didn’t have to live like monks and we weren’t always perfect, but the small sacrifices add up.
- Car Upgrade – We weren’t quite sure how our car situation would work out. We had a tiny 2011 Ford Fiesta hatchback that deep down we knew would not fit the bill for a cross-country year-long trip through often-dubious terrain. But when it broke down for the 3rd time in 6 months we saw the light and cashed it in for a 2015 Ford Escape. It was a setback to the savings, but worth every penny.
- Downsizing – Somehow Elizabeth and I have accumulated a lot of stuff for just being married 2 years. And even though our Escape is a lot bigger than the Fiesta, it’s not that big. This trip is a great motivation to cut the fat and get down to what’s really important, i.e. memories and essentials. Exhibit A: Elizabeth loathes just about everything in my wardrobe that comes from before we were married. I always tell her I’m not getting rid of anything because it all has a purpose or a special meaning. But during our dedicated spring purge this year I finally did a serious appraisal of my closet and was surprised to find out I could get rid of 2 full trash bags… and that was being conservative! I even gave up 2 Hawaiian shirts from my collection 😉 (it probably wouldn’t take you long to understand why she hates my clothes).
- $20,000 budget – Traveling doesn’t have to break the bank. We’re not promising that it’ll always be pretty, but we’re committing to keep our year of traveling under $20K. And that’s not just any traveling. That’s traveling to American Samoa, Hawaii, U.S. virgin Islands and to 4 roadless parks in Alaska and 51 other parks across the country!
Whether we rationalized ourselves into it or not, this trip just feels right. And we are crazy excited for the year to come!