“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. “
-H. Jackson Brown Jr.
Leaving when you still love a place is one of the hardest things to do.
If we had been burnt out, bitter, and ready to run away to start new lives, it might have been easier in some ways. But thankfully we weren’t.
We were excited about our adventure but it was bittersweet to be leaving behind so many people, places, and comforts that we loved.
But we knew we had to do this.
First, we had to get some things in order.
This is where we got to apply all the information we had spent months compiling in our sacred Google Doc: vaccines, visas, and final gear purchases.
Vaccines and other life-saving drugs
This was the most “planned” that we got in this process. We had to have a rough idea of when and where we would be traveling so that the good doctors could give us the right drugs and vaccines.
We ended up getting several shots and a regimen of the oral vaccine for typhoid. I (Katie) was even able to get the chickenpox vaccine because somehow I made it to adulthood without ever having chickenpox.
It wasn’t the most fun part of planning, but it sure beats the alternative. Hooray, modern medicine!
In our research, we found that there were only two visas that we really needed to get beforehand. We could apply for the others on the go or as we arrived at our destinations.
We applied for French long-stay tourist visas. This would allow us to stay in the Schengen Area (the collective of 26 European countries that have unrestricted border crossings among member states) for longer than the 90 days that US citizens are allowed.
Six total months, to be exact.
Without these visas, we would have to leave the Schengen Area (most of Western Europe) after 3 months and stay out for 3 months before being allowed back in. Having permission to stay longer greatly simplified things.
To get these visas, we had to complete the application and appear in person at the French visa office in Houston, Texas. We had a “sponsor” who was a French resident and supplied us with their address and proof of residence.
One night we were drinking boxed wine, playing on Google Earth, and learned that the address was located in a nudist colony.
Oo la la!
The only other visa that we knew we needed to get before our departure was the visa for China. Our good friend Alex, who lived in Houston at the time, helped us out tremendously with this. He saved us a separate trip to Houston by submitting our paperwork and visas on our behalf. He went above and beyond in helping us get it sorted out days before we were planning on leaving.
Thank you, Alex!
Final gear purchases
We started purchasing our gear early on, which helped spread out the expense. We were also able to take advantage of several holiday and end-of-season sales.
We knew we were starting our trip with two long-distance hikes. This required very different gear (tent, sleeping bags, camp stove, and mess kit) that would not be as useful for the rest of our round-the-world trip.
It was a lot to figure out. But we gave it our best guess and tried to make the most practical, versatile purchases.
Tying up loose ends
A lot of these items came about from our research and from friends and family asking questions.
“What about X?” or “Have you thought about Y?”
We loved for people to ask questions because it helped us find our blind spots. It also increased people’s buy-in to our dream. Once they realized how much time and effort we had put into planning and research, they leaned in to hear more.
These conversations helped demystify the process and made the whole thing seem so much more doable.
Some of our loose ends included:
- Getting our international drivers licenses
- Write up/sign documents such as power of attorney, wills, etc. It was a little grim to think about, but we would rather deal with it ourselves than leave it for someone else.
- Write up/sign, etc. rental agreement for our renters. eForms made this a breeze!
- Find and gather important documents (property info, income tax info, etc.) and put them in a deposit box, along with other valuables.
- Set up mail forwarding so that all bills and other important documents went to Andy’s parents instead of collecting with our renters.
- Arrange for vehicle storage. Andy and I both have older vehicles (yay no car payments!). We decided to keep them and store them at Andy’s parents’ house. We made sure everything was set up for insurance and registration and dealt with tag renewals as needed.
- Packing up the house. We own a house and decided early on that we didn’t want to deal with selling it before we left. So we decided to rent it out, meaning we had to sort through and pack up all our things.
- Last-minute house repairs. Andy left his job earlier than I did so that he could have “free time” to replace our failing fence and get started on packing our things away.
Leaving jobs (will anyone ever hire me again?)
In the time leading up to departure, we each experienced a rollercoaster of emotions about leaving our jobs.
Andy and I both told our supervisors about our plans to leave long before we actually left. We wanted to make the transition as painless as possible. We also wanted to leave on the best terms possible, in the event we wanted to return.
I had a lot of anxiety about having to one day explain my “gap in employment” to a future employer.
Would I appear lazy?
Would they think I lacked ambition?
Would they ask me to justify this experience?
Did I just kill my chance of having a productive, successful career?
I’ll address this more in a later post, but suffice it to say that I no longer worry about defending this decision.
“If you’re brave enough to say ‘goodbye’, life will reward you with a new ‘hello’.”
After our last days of work, things moved fast.
Friends and family so generously hosted going-away parties.
We booked as many final meetups and hangouts as our schedules would allow.
And then the day we had dreamed about came. Despite all our careful planning, it snuck up on us.
On the day of our departure, we brought the final boxes to Andy’s parents’ place for storage 10 minutes before we should have left for the airport. Those last moments were blissfully chaotic.
We said our final goodbyes and boarded a plane with one-way tickets (standby–thanks, Amy!) bound for the other side of the world.
I teared up watching our city disappear beneath us as the plane ascended. It was a bittersweet sadness because I knew the next time I would see the city, we would both be different.
I knew life at home would go on without me. But I also knew that I would go on with life away from home. Big things were in store for us.
As Andy and I settled back into our seats, we stared at each other in dazed disbelief.
“What the hell are we doing?!”
The Quest had come to pass and we were on our way to… something. We still weren’t sure what, exactly, but it was big and exciting.
“Someday” had finally arrived and we were living our wildest dreams.
In the next post:
First stop, finding our way, getting started
I just read your interview with The Frugal Expat. My husband (also an Andy) and I plan on leaving our jobs in January 2022 to start our early retirement. The first thing on our list is to walk the Camino, which will likely start in late March. I was super excited to find your blog with your posts about the Camino and prepping to leave for an extended trip. I can’t wait to read it and gather some intel about your planning: where you stayed, what you brought with you, and what your thoughts are about it in general. Thanks for sharing!
Hello Lori, we’re so glad you found us and congratulations on deciding to take the leap into early retirement! I’m sure you and your Andy won’t regret it. It was the best decision we’ve ever made to step away from work and reevaluate our lives. The Camino was a great way to start. So great, we’re actually on our second Camino right now. Feel free to contact us if you are curious about something not specifically covered in the blog.