The longer we travel, the more couples like us we discover or even meet. Like us they dreamed about traveling, like us they made the big trip happen, and like us they document their experiences online. In the Two Toothbrushes traveler interview series we introduce fellow traveling and blogging couples to share their story and draw inspiration from them.
Jen Shafer and Patrick Franks are two fellow Portlanders “in search of life beyond cubeland.” In April 2013 they left their jobs and our beautiful city to travel for a year. Or so they thought. Follow their continuing journey on their blog Slowly Global.
Where are your toothbrushes, where are they headed next, and why?
Ours are [as of December 2014] just outside of Port Arthur, Tasmania, Australia, where we are WWOOF-ing with a permaculture farmer. We’re heading back to Melbourne to housesit for about 10 days, and we’ve just decided to skip New Zealand and start heading (slowly) back through the States via Hawaii with a general plan of returning to Oregon by June 2015. Our original plan was to be gone a year, so with 600 days under our belts so far we’re feeling pretty good about this whole trip.
What’s your definition of home?
This has been on our minds a lot lately, and the answer is actually part of a larger writing project so we’ll let you read that when it’s available. But we will tell you what home is not for us. It’s not chaos, clutter, noise, or negativity. It’s not cities and it’s not concrete. Places with those characteristics are interesting to visit but we wouldn’t want to live there.
How do you make yourself feel at home wherever you go?
If we’re only staying a few days, we don’t really put much effort into it. For longer stays, like our WWOOF gigs, we appreciate having our own space (and sometimes even our own separate spaces within that space) where we can decompress at the end of the day. We had this in Portland, so we seek it out on the road. Warm, comfy clothes and peanut butter help too.
Why this (or the most recent) trip, why now (then)?
We explain in more detail here but essentially after 15 years in cubes, we’d both gotten really burned out on office life. Jen had spent four months in South America in 2010 and loved it. On our second date we talked about wanderlust, places we wanted to visit, trips we’d taken and wished we’d taken. This type of long-term RTW trip had been brewing in our individual minds for years, so six weeks later we agreed to head out on the road together and started funding our travel accounts.
What were your greatest challenges in making the trip happen? How did you overcome them?
Our biggest challenge wasn’t really the decision to do this, or the process of saving money, or figuring out what to do with our stuff (we sold almost everything) – it was determining where to go! The world is so big but our travel funds were finite. We didn’t want a fixed schedule but we wanted a general route, so we spent hours every weekend poring over Lonely Planets, travel blogs, and photography books about nature and UNESCO world heritage sites. We noted places we really wanted to visit, and to our surprise we ended up hitting most of them on this trip.
What do you enjoy the most about your traveling life?
There isn’t one answer to that question! The excitement of getting to know a new city. Learning everything we never learned in high school history classes. The freedom of going wherever we want and doing whatever we want every day. Challenging our pre-conceived notions of different cultures and different ways of living. Being outside more often than we are inside. Increasing our ability to adapt, be flexible, and accept that we are not in control of anything. Those are just a few.
Share a moment from your travels that you will share with future generations.
We wandered into a little shop in Kathmandu and got into a lengthy conversation with the owner, Nasreen Sheikh, a brilliant young woman who founded Local Women’s Handicrafts, a Fair Trade women’s sewing collective in Nepal dedicated to the radical advancement, support, and education of women’s rights in Nepali society. It’s so cliche but she really embodied the “be the change” concept. Throughout our “voluntourism” we have been privileged to work alongside other really inspirational people: Peter Thuong, who created Sapa Hope Center, a shelter and educational space for hilltribe children in Vietnam; bright Laotian students learning English; a team of awesome Canadian volunteers who built houses for Habitat for Humanity in Cambodia; a dozen inspirational farmers we WWOOFed with across the globe who are doing their part to sustain the earth. We hope that future generations will be moved to action by these stories. There is no room for apathy in this great big world.