INTERVIEW WITH MIKE AND TARA SHUBBUCK of TwoTravelaholics.com
Why honeymoon for just a couple of weeks when you can do it for 14 months and see many of the places around the world you’ve always dreamed of visiting? This inspiring American couple sold their belongings, quit their jobs, and set off for 14 months of adventure that will make for the best honeymoon album around!
When and why did you decide to do this trip?
The idea of the trip came up about a year and a half before we left. It was either Feb or March of 2011. We ultimately realized that we were at a point in our lives where some kind of big next step was supposed to happen.
For most people, that would have meant buying property and settling down. That was on our radar, but we were also talking about possibly moving to another city just for the fun of it. Since we realized we were both OK with leaving our jobs at that time, we joked:
‘Then why don’t we just quit and travel around the world?’
It quickly stopped becoming a joke and turned into:
‘Yes, let’s do that!’
Why not a ‘normal’ honeymoon?
We have loosely used the term ‘extended honeymoon’ for our trip, but we never looked at it as a traditional honeymoon where you splurge, because we didn’t have the funds to do that for a full year. The timing for our marriage and this trip is pretty funny:
- Feb/March 2011: Decide to take the trip
- August 2011: Get engaged
- March 2012: Get married
- June 2012: Leave for the trip
As you can see, we were planning our RTW (Round The World Trip) and wedding at the same time! It was a pretty stressful year. A friend urged us to take a couple of days for ourselves after our wedding, so we did a three day, two night traditional style honeymoon in a cabin in the Shenandoah Valley (Virginia), which was really nice.
We did splurge every once in awhile on our trip, and friends and family donated money for the purpose of the occasional honeymoon splurge too. Sometimes we upgraded accommodations, treated ourselves to a nice dinner with drinks, or took a special river cruise.
How long were you gone and where did you go?
Initially, we were supposed to be gone 13 months because that was the longest stretch we could purchase travel insurance for. However, midway through our trip, we decided to extend for another month for a total of 14 months. We mostly did that because:
- flight prices to get back home to DC would be better if we delayed by a month
- we could afford an extra month because Asia was cheaper than anticipated
Along the way, we visited (in this order):
- Iceland / Finland / Russia / Turkey / Croatia / Slovenia / Italy / Morocco
- Spain / Portugal / Egypt / South Africa / Namibia / Botswana
- Zimbabwe / Zambia / Malawi / Tanzania / India / Singapore
- Malaysia / Thailand / Myanmar / Cambodia / Laos / Vietnam
How old are you both now – and how old were you when you made the decision to spend 14 months travelling around the world?
Mike is currently 32 and Tara is 27. We were 30 and 25 when we decided to take our RTW journey.
How much did you save for the trip?
We saved enough to budget for around $50/day per person, as well as a cushion to return home to. It took a lot of sacrifice and self-control to save every penny, cut expenses, and find ways to make extra money too.
What were you both doing before you left on your travels?
Mike was working for American University in Washington, DC, in a jack-of-all-trades position in their library. He catalogued videos, created content for their Youtube page and taught tutorials on video productions. Tara worked for The Washington Post as a Production Coordinator for custom publications.
Why ‘sell it all’ to make it happen?
We looked into buying a storage unit and were flabbergasted by the prices. There was no way we wanted to throw money at a storage unit when the sum could’ve bought us another month in Asia. So at first we felt like we had to sell everything. But then, looking at our possessions made us realize that we didn’t want to keep it all anyway.
What if we decided to teach English abroad? We wouldn’t want to worry about moving our things or selling it all at that point. With so much ‘stuff’ tying us to DC, we would never be able to live in the moment if a cool opportunity presented itself.
Letting go of material objects and stepping off the expected path means losing attachment to a home and the things you fill it with. The theme of our trip was “letting go” because we were detaching ourselves from so many things we used to hold dear: a steady job, a routine, a home, our comfort zone.
Why box up 15 bowls for the sake of keeping them? It was such a freeing feeling to let go. The minimalist lifestyle became something we wanted for ourselves before and after the trip. After all, we would be living that lifestyle for 14 months while backpacking.
What was it like to quit your jobs?
Quitting was easier and yet harder than you may think. Walking into your boss’ office and resigning without having another job lined up was extremely difficult, but our superiors were both supportive and encouraging.
What was actually more difficult than the act of resigning was keeping our trip a secret from co-workers we were close to. We couldn’t run into the office in the morning screaming:
‘We just bought two one-way tickets to Iceland!’
What places were your favorite?
Iceland, Croatia, Namibia and Vietnam were probably the most scenic of the countries we visited. Whereas the history of countries like Egypt, South Africa and India were fascinating to learn about.
The best food came from Singapore, Malaysia and Turkey. The people of Myanmar were the most friendly we interacted with, and the country’s sights are incredibly interesting (though its history is terribly sad).
If we could get dual citizenship, we are torn between Croatia, Portugal, South Africa, and Singapore.
What places are you keen to return to?
Driving South Africa’s Garden Route is something we hope to do one day.
We would love to explore more of Myanmar as a lot of locations we wanted to visit were closed to foreign tourists due to secular violence. We’d love to do a wine tour road trip through Portugal. It would be cool to go back to Malaysia to explore the jungle and see more of the East coast and the islands there.
What places are you happy never to return to?
We loathe the idea of badmouthing a country, but we had a pretty awful time for much of the two and a half months we spent in India.
What place did you like the least?
Once again, experiences can be so objective that we hate to say we had a bad time for a location that might be a highlight for someone else.
With that said, Koh Phi Phi in Thailand was one of the worst places just because it bent over backwards to cater to drunken tourists. We definitely visited our fair share of “touristy” places, but Koh Phi Phi just felt as though the island was cramming in the maximum amount of destruction per square meter as possible, providing there was money to be had. It was sad to see such a beautiful place overbuilt in such a way.
How much money did you spend in total?
We are working on a book and will be including detailed information there. For now, we will say that Iceland, Russia, Turkey and our southern Africa overland trip had us spending more than $50/person per day.
We were able to hit $50 or less for every other country. Some countries were so inexpensive that we spent less than $50 per day for both of us (Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia)!
The oddballs here are Turkey and Singapore. We exceeded our budget in Turkey because we had a lot of splurges, like a 4-day Mediterranean cruise.
We were under budget in Singapore because we Couchsurfed every day we were there. In fact, Couchsurfing enabled us to have some big splurges in Singapore, like an all-you-can-eat sushi dinner and a day on Sentosa Island.
How has the trip changed you both?
Patience is a virtue that you learn through long-term travel. Not being able to communicate in your native language (both of us only speak English fluently) makes you more understanding and empathetic to others having similar problems.
Travel has also allowed us to better connect with other cultures since we Couchsurfed and stayed at homestays along our journey.
What was it like to arrive back ‘home?’
Returning home has been surreal. We got rid of our apartment, so our “home” is with Tara’s aunt and uncle right now. It is amazing not having to worry about where we will be living tomorrow and packing up nearly every night.
We’ve had a bit of reverse culture shock. For example, the food in restaurants makes our stomachs turn. We are trying to cook all the time and maintain the healthy diet we had in Asia.
We are also trying to establish a healthy routine, which includes exercising almost every day. This is important to Mike because he lost more than 35 pounds (about 16 kilos) during the trip and wants to keep it off. (Tara has pretty much had a workout routine for the past 5 years, so this is a continuation for her.)
How are your experiences likely to impact your future?
Just as this trip has changed us, our experiences have broadened our horizons and expanded our expectations for what should make us happy.
We’re less willing to settle for something (like a job) just because it works or is something we’re qualified for. We want to make sure we’re going to be truly happy – or it’s just not worth it.
What are your immediate plans?
Upon returning, we have been assembling our video and photography from the trip into content that others can view and share. Like we mentioned, we’re currently working on a book, but we’re keeping the details of it to ourselves until we flesh it out a bit more.
What advice do you have for others considering an ‘extended honeymoon’ or ‘selling it all’ to travel the world?
It is never too soon to start planning for your trip.
Selling all your possessions is a long, slow process that you do not want to start only months before leaving. Use a mix of tools to help you sell, like Craigslist and yard sales.
You should also buckle down and start saving more money as soon as you can. If you already do not make non-essential purchases, look at how you can reduce current bills. For example, you can cancel subscriptions and memberships that have fees.
- Interviewee: Mike and Tara Shubbuck (via email)
- Interviewer: Krista Beauvais
- Compiled, formatted and edited by: Krista Beauvais
- Photos: all photos are courtesy of Mike and Tara Shubbuck
- Trip dates: June 2012 – July 2013
- Enjoy stories from their Two Travelaholics Blog
- See videos taken on their trip
CONTACT MIKE AND TARA
- Email: info [at] twotravelaholics [dot] com
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Ah, Mike and Tara, it is inspirational to hear your story, even if it is “slightly” similar to ours. You have been to so many countries and have had so many experiences we have yet to have! Can’t wait to see you out on the road again!
Thank you, Amber 🙂 As you know, it takes a lot of guts and sacrifice. But worth every minute, every penny and every sacrifice. We found it inspiring to meet others who were brave enough to do the same, like you and Eric and Krista & Erik. So nice to find others we can relate to as well 🙂
Mike and Tara, it was such a pleasure to spend three weeks on safari with you guys! Tara, I still laugh about the snakes slithering past you whilst looing in the wild Okavango bush, and Mike, I still cringe at your bravery to actually HOLD a scorpion! I’ve been loving all your blog entries and I’m sure this is only the start of many more travels for you guys!
Thank you, Krista. That overland journey was so fun! Love to think that we all started the trip as strangers and ended as friends with sooo many awesome memories. Good times 🙂 Too bad you missed the drama in Zanzibar. Hope to run into you two again!
Loved reading this!!! Congratulations on such awesome life choices!!