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“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
–Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad (1869)
During college we were both extremely fortunate to catch a glimpse of world travel. This began during our second year at Michigan Tech in February 2007, when we both had the opportunity to spend a semester in Australia. At this point we had known each other for nearly eight years and had been dating since the end of our first college semester. Luckily, we ended up placed at the same university in Geelong, about an hour outside of Melbourne. We spent the next five months traveling around the country as much as school would allow. Once you are in Australia, travel is pretty affordable with budget airlines, Wicked Campers, and trains. We got to visit some of the most incredible places and, from that point on, we were both pretty much hooked on seeing as much of the world as we could.
Upon returning to Michigan Tech in the fall, we were both on the lookout for more ways to travel, which ended up with us discovering Engineers Without Borders (EWB). We got involved in a project in Bolivia working with a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), called Etta Projects, to help bring safe drinking water to rural families outside of Santa Cruz. Early on in this project we had the opportunity to travel to the community as part of an assessment trip.
We both grew up in a middle-class and slightly sheltered town not fully realizing the disparity in the way people around the world live. Visiting communities and working with people who make and live off a few dollars a day changed our view forever and had a huge impact on us. We spent the next few years of college getting involved in any international development projects we could. We continued with EWB, we were both part of senior design projects that took us internationally (Kim back to Bolivia, me to Panama), Kim got a grant to spend a Christmas break in Ecuador with an organization called Water For People, we both got accepted into a program to do research for a summer in Tanzania, and we were both accepted into multiple graduate programs that were going to take us around the world.
The plan after graduation was for both of us to spend the summer doing research in Tanzania and continue on to do a Master's degree program that was blended with the Peace Corps, called Master's International (the program has since been discontinued). But then we started to question some of the strategies we had seen within some of the programs and began having concerns about the long term sustainability of going down this path. For one, the thought of having a combined $50k+ in student loans while we were off volunteering began to terrify us, so we started to talk about how delaying the international development work a little might allow us to find a way to do it in a more sustainable and impactful way.
So, we graduated in May of 2010, Kim flew off to Tanzania to do research for the summer while I withdrew from the program and moved out to Washington DC for a job in seemingly one of the only economies that hadn't collapsed after the housing crisis and Great Recession. At the end of the summer Kim came back from Africa and moved out to DC to find a job as well. After living there for about two years, we had come to the (false) conclusion that we were about two years away from being able to stop working to travel the world and volunteer like we had dreamed of since 2007. With this in mind, we moved back to Michigan so we could spend more time with our families before we took off to see the world.
As the two year deadline we had envisioned approached a few things happened that pushed the timeline back.
First, we discovered the growing online FIRE (Financial Independence and Retiring Early) community. I am not going to get into the financial side of the journey here, but this was a key discovery for us. It showed us how people roughly our age have found ways to live comfortably without needing to make buckets of money. Consequently, they have been able to stop working or, as is more often the case, do the work they WANT to do.
The second thing that changed our timeline was that, at almost that exact same time, Kim's dad had an extremely rare, sudden, and severe hemorrhagic stroke. This essentially consumed our lives for nearly two solid years as he went from spending months in the hospital to now hiking, birding, and even running again.
Fast-forward another two years and here we are. We have spent the eight years since we graduated college talking about how we want to travel and find a way to give back to people in developing or underserved parts of the world. We have been fortunate to travel throughout this time but not quite like we dreamed about. Every year we find a reason to delay. Whether it's money, family, job related (I switched jobs... a lot), or a myriad of other excuses, most of which, when boiled down to their core, are just fear. In late 2017 we decided that 2018 was going to be the year we made the leap.
So, what changed? Did we win the lottery? Nope. Did we reach financial independence? Nope. Instead, we spent the past year focused more than usual on devouring as many resources as we could, learning about how other normal people (oftentimes less fortunate than ourselves) have found ways to make a living and travel the world. One of the resources that really had an impact was a podcast interview done by one of our favorite personal finance bloggers, The Mad Fientist. It made us realize that we don't HAVE to reach financial independence to follow our dream. Mainly because our dream, like many others in the FIRE community, isn't to stop working and never make money again. It's to find and create work we are passionate about that positively impacts people.
The mission is actually very simple... Find and create projects locally and around the world that inspire us and help people. Or even simpler: Get out and give back.
How are we going to do this? You can find that out right here.
How were we able to afford giving up our jobs for this adventure? You can find that out right... here.