The Swanderers: The Origin Story


We left the US to embark on this journey in May 2019 but the adventure started long before that. Before we even started dating, we were adventure seekers.

When I was young, I lived in a travel trailer with my family and my mom home-schooled me and my sister for 3 years. My dad worked overseas during this time, commuting to Egypt for 31 day rotations. So when he was home, flying was the last thing he wanted to do. I didn’t get on a plane until I was 21 years old because my dad always preferred driving. This meant I got to see a lot more of the American landscape that people usually skip–the “flyover states”.

Living in a travel trailer gave me some of the best, most adventurous memories of my childhood. When Dad was home, we would travel to visit friends or family in other states. When it was time for him to commute back to work, we would set up home wherever we happened to be and wait for his return.

When Andy was young, plane flights were a normal part of family trips. Andy’s mom is a flight attendant, so she used standby passes to take the family on vacations and getaways. Andy would even tag along for 24-hour layovers in countries around the world.

Andy’s early jet-setter lifestyle made him a pro at carry-on packing. From an early age, he was able to hit the ground running in whatever foreign destination he found himself in.

When we started dating in college, we talked about our different travel experiences. He had seen a lot of the world and I had seen a lot of the US. We each wanted to see what the other had known. We knew right away that we were going to have a lot of adventures together.

We graduated in May 2013 and both took jobs in Oklahoma City, where Andy had grown up. We had been dating for less than a year, but we knew things were serious and moved in together. Andy was helping me adjust to life in Oklahoma City, as I had grown up in a small, rural town in the eastern part of the state. Life was exciting and we were embarking on a new chapter together.

We were at an outdoor music festival late that summer when he started complaining of pain in his abdomen. I assured him “it’s probably just a kidney stone, drink some water”. We went to the ER a couple of days later when the pain hadn’t subsided.

After a visit to a family doctor (who he hadn’t seen since he was a child), Andy was referred to a specialist who ran more tests. “Just a kidney stone” was ruled out.

At the age of 23, Andy was diagnosed with cancer.

Within two weeks of that first sign of pain, Andy underwent surgery.

Everything was happening so fast. Our world turned upside down as we tried to understand what was happening and what it could mean for us.

After surgery and three rounds of chemo, his doctors declared Andy cancer-free in December of the same year. We were grateful to have that nightmare behind us and to get on with “normal” life.

Then we received another blow in March the following spring. We were running in our neighborhood, training for our first half-marathon together. I ran into the crosswalk ahead of Andy and was hit by a car as it ran through the red light. They estimate the car was going around 40 mph when it hit me.

By some miracle, I didn’t have any broken bones or serious internal damage. But I did have a concussion, PTSD, and lasting musculoskeletal issues. Despite the trauma, we still managed to finish that half marathon three weeks later. We went on to complete several more together.

Experiencing these trials so early in our relationship might have been the best thing for us. It forged us and made us appreciate our health and our time together so much more.

In 2014 we bought a house and worked hard at our full-time jobs like good young professionals. We carefully planned how to spend those precious two weeks of vacation that we accrued each year. We chased and created adventure as often as we could.

In 2015 we got engaged on a camping trip in the Rockies and in 2016 we got married in a hot air balloon over our home city. I wore my hiking boots with my wedding dress. It was such a magical time.

But we were getting restless.

We enjoyed our jobs and loved our community. But living for the weekends and two weeks of vacation every year wasn’t cutting it. There was way too much living, way too much to see and do and experience for that measly amount of time.

Cut to a fortuitous meeting at a friend’s wedding in the fall of 2017.

We met friends of the bride and groom who had recently returned from several months of world travels. They were still on that freedom, wanderlust high and it was so contagious.

I tried not to scare our new friends away with all my questions and “hey, can I get your contact info?” They were still so amped from their own adventures and were happy to share their story. They told us how they saved their money, quit their jobs, and traveled the world for several months.

It dazzled me. I was immediately on board. I needed to make this happen. I needed to not let my enthusiasm scare Andy away from this wild idea. I needed to keep cool. I needed a plan.

See, Andy is very pragmatic. He’s not impulsive and doesn’t jump into things without thinking it through. Those are some of the many things I love and appreciate about him.

I knew that if I said “Hey! I have a great idea. Let’s quit our jobs and travel the world!” that it would come across as a crazy, implausible dream. I knew I needed to gather intel, do some research, and prepare to bring it up in a more thoughtful way.

When it was first brought up, the conversation was something like “hey, wouldn’t it be crazy if we did that?”

Which then became “so what would it even look like if we wanted to do that? Where would we even start?”

Which turned into “Ok, so this is totally possible. Let’s do this.”

And so we did.

In the next post, I’ll talk about how we started to plan for this undertaking, our approach, and our shift in mindset

*Author’s note: I have never had “just a kidney stone”, but I have been told it is incredibly painful. I believe it. My guess at Andy’s source of pain was not in any way meant to be dismissive or to downplay his pain. I think “kidney stone” was my optimistic suggestion. I knew he was in pain but who would have guessed cancer? I have never truly stopped feeling like an ass for the way I responded to it.


  1. Kathy Villarreal aka Mom

    Reading this through tears…but you probably knew that already?. So many memories brought back by reading this and seeing the photos. Wrapping the two of you in prayers for many more Swanderers adventures and safe travels???❤️

    1. We’re excited to relive and share the stories with more detail. Thank you for all your love and encouragement, even after we ambushed you with the news. ❤

  2. Billie Knittig

    And the talk shows will be begging you to be guests! Can’t wait

    1. We would welcome the opportunity! In the meantime, we’re excited to share our story and build our own little community here. Thanks for following!

  3. ridersgrimm

    I cried too! but happy tears. Love this 1st Chapter. Great beginnings.

    1. Tears of all sorts are welcome here ? Here’s to beginnings!

  4. Janie Steele

    So happy to be reading your adventures again. You have lived a lifetime in a short time. God bless and keep you safe and hopefully you will be able to continue your adventures as we tag along.

    1. Very well said–we’ve packed a whole lot of living into these two+ years away. I have a feeling our adventures will continue, even if it’s not in the way we originally planned.

  5. Jetmama56

    You know I had the waterworks too while reading it aloud to your dad!

    1. Permission to feel all the feelings! ?

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