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.

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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.

Slowly Global

Jen and Patrick with everything they owned in April 2013 before leaving on their trip.

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.

Slowly Global

One of Patrick’s and Jen’s many “ridiculous photo ops.”

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.

26 Responses

  1. Kristi

    Love this! So inspiring. But of course, I wonder how do they afford it? I share similar dreams but not sure how to practically name them a reality

    Reply
    • Jen

      Hi Kristi,
      We saved for almost two years before we left, and we definitely traveled on the cheap. Here are our cost summaries per country if you’re interested: http://slowlyglobal.blogspot.com.au/search/label/money%20stuff

      There are many sites that provide opportunities for work exchanges (food/lodging in exchange for 4-6 hours of work a day) – WWOOF, HelpX, and WorkAway are the three that we used. These opportunities were a huge help in extending our travels; they were also often off the tourist path and provided unique opportunities to interact with folks in local communities. This method of travel isn’t for everyone but we were really careful in our screening process and looked for places where we would learn new skills every time. There’s also couchsurfing and housesitting…

      Lots of other ideas I could share, but really, if travel is your priority you will find a way to make your dreams come true.

      Reply
    • Peter Korchnak

      The travelers I know of (I either know them in person or read their blogs) work really hard to make their trip happen, saving for years, living minimally, and so on. Most travel bloggers also answer the question you ask at some point on their blogs. Jen and Patrick do, as you see, and so do we. If you want it enough, you can make it happen!

      Reply
  2. Renée B.

    These trips seem so often to become journeys of outreach: I’m so impressed and inspired by the volunteerism aspect, and interested to read more about how that ultimately changes the travelers.

    Reply
  3. Pech

    I like the detail of the feeling of home also including peanut butter! And, congratulations on finding something you love so much you extend the plans from a year to 600 days, wow!

    Reply
    • Jen

      Thanks Pech! Yes, the extra year was an unexpected bonus – but we’re definitely tired now and ready for a little time in the PNW.

      Reply
  4. Emily

    Interesting read, I also wonder how people afford this, how they find the right places to go, etc. – and also notice that most don’t have the responsibility of family life. I find the stories inspiring for when my children are grown and I the energy I give to caring for them can join me in a journey across the earth.

    Reply
    • Jen

      Many long-term travelers are solo or coupled without kids – but we’ve also met heaps of families traveling long-term with their children. Usually the kids are homeschooled along the way, and travel itself is a wonderful education too.

      Reply
  5. Marlynn @UrbanBlissLife

    Another interesting and inspiring interview! I know voluntourism has been covered with some controversy in the news the past two years, but I think it’s an awesome way for people to travel, and when they do it out of the goodness of their hearts, fully investigate the programs, it really does make such a difference for all parties involved.

    Reply
  6. Rachel

    I LOVE these questions! It really helps get to know you better! Excited to see what travels you take in 2015. Happy to follow along.

    Reply
  7. Tracy

    I love the last line – “There is no room for apathy in this great big world.” I couldn’t agree more. You interview neat people! Thanks for sharing with us.

    Reply
  8. Gina Sanderson

    Wonderful interview. Jen and Patrick WWOOFed with us here in Australia. It was a treat to meet them and a pleasure to make such wonderful new friends. I encourage everyone to add WWOOFing to their travel plans, it allows for real experiences with real people and saves loads of money while travelling.

    Reply

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