Sunday, June 26, 2011

Pre-Travel Musings


Security, freedom, time. There are many things we buy with our money from new clothes to dinners out. But one of the things we've never been able to afford are vacations, save for a couple trips to California to visit relatives and even those became paired back to every other year.

When I think about what it is that we are working for - and trying to save for - those three things keep coming up. Security not to have to live paycheck to paycheck (or occasionally make ends meet with the credit line), freedom to be able to leave a job if we wanted without jeopardizing our family's security and time to just be with each other.

At 38 years old I am leaving the country for the first time (save for a quick trip to Cancun and one to Vancouver). Since those trips happened before 9/11, I hadn't even needed a passport. Even Vaughn had a passport, having gone to Israel with Jacob to visit Jacob's parents a couple of years ago. I wanted to travel at 18 when kids traditionally take off to backpack around Europe (as Jacob had done) but chose to do the responsible thing and go straight to college. I wanted to travel in between college and graduate school but again, concerns that I would be acting foolishly or setting myself back in some conceptual trajectory towards professionalism kept me from ever entertaining the notion seriously. Then came marriage, getting established in a career, buying a home, having a baby, etc. It seemed there would never be a good time.

But now, now is the perfect time.


Taking a sabbatical to travel may temporarily set ourselves back in some areas but we are going to buy ourselves six months together. A string of days, during which (although I dare not hope too much), we will begin to peel back the day to day stressors that cloud us. (so that hopefully Vaughn will remember a time when he saw his parents as their authentic selves.)

The plan was always to just quit our jobs and go. The idea of my job being held for me was ridiculous and for Jacob it was a long shot. Besides, we both got excited about the prospect of using the time to really think about what it was we wanted to do. Jacob is already nurturing fantasies of a guitar building shop where he combines his love of music with a desire to get out of his cubicle. Being the practical one, I manage to shoot down my ideas before they ever take root and I have to catch myself from squashing Jacob's dreams in an effort to leave breathing room for my own. At any rate, we are prepared for big changes. Initially, when we began planning this process it looked as though Jacob's job could be held - we adjusted into the comfort and security that idea provided. We were taking a risk – but maybe not throwing it all in.

After the sabbatical paperwork was filed, things began to look different and there were talks of layoffs and budget cuts. Every other day I texted Jacob to find out if he has heard anything and the answer was always the same- his supervisors WANTED to keep him, and they were trying, but they just didn't know how they would be able to make it work. At first we embraced this notion of total freedom and coming back on our timelines – it felt like the fresh start we wanted.

Then we got positive news, that it looks like the leave would be approved; we both felt relieved – our true feelings and tolerance for uncertainty revealed. Days later the coin flipped again and we were back to the leave looking unlikely. This lack of security threw me into a bit of a tailspin and I became fiercely protective of the $40k we had set aside to start building a nest egg for the next house down payment. I even started referring to it as “all we have left” from the ten years of home ownership. Despite not having any debt, I lost perspective a bit. At any rate, we're all in now.

Finally, the definitive word came down that Jacob's request for a leave of absence would not be granted. His supervisor explained that with all the budget cuts and people losing their jobs there was just no way that she could keep his job open for him but, even though she couldn't guarantee anything, she was trying to plan for his return and find a way to re-hire him. Jacob found that the news made him strangely emotional and he even apologized when telling me – as though provider of stability and security were solely his role. For now, we're not really processing how both of us being unemployed when we return might impact the trip- either positively or negatively. We're just pressing on.


Jacob has taken a keen interest in the website This a website where people register to open up their homes to travelers to essentially crash at their place. He came back from a party last night after talking with a friend of ours who used the site to stay for free for half their time in Europe. I like space and this proposition makes me nervous. I don't worry about our safety (there are families with references/reviews on the site), I mostly worry about uncomfortable situations and feeling like I will have to be overly formal even when I'm not feeling up to being social. I also worry about the food situation. I remember having conversations about traveling and being a vegetarian years ago and the general consensus always seems to be that hospitality should trump whatever moral convictions you might have around food. Not only would I never be able to rationalize this to myself, I can't even begin to think of how I'd explain it to Vaughn who grasps very completely that we are vegetarians (and in Jacob's case, vegan) for ethical reasons. Jacob assures me that the website addresses all this leaving me with only my personal feelings of social awkwardness as an excuse.


Today as we were out walking Jacob saw a box full of free junk laying next to the sidewalk. Peering inside he noted, “There was a time I totally would have taken that home” and I was instantly transported back to our near hoarder-like existence when we had thirty-two old multi-pane windows that he had managed to collect by driving around neighborhoods looking for people who might be renovating (I will concede we ended up with several amazing art projects out of this). Jacob is drawn to free crap on the sidewalk like a moth to a light. He can usually find at least one thing to buy at even the most downtrodden of yard sales. Random VCR tapes of movies we didn't like the first time seem to be a niche. I'll never forget looking out the window and seeing him pull up to the house with an elderly gentleman in a truck following close behind. My initial thought was that he had gotten in some sort of accident but then I saw them both get out and go around to the back of the old truck to unload a mammoth wooden cabinet containing a cheap stereo system from the '70's and a broken record player. The thing functioned better as a hideous table than anything that could be used for listening to music.

One of the great aspects of our attempts to embrace simplicity has been downsizing and getting rid of stuff. Originally, I espoused the notion of “one bowl” which essentially meant that we would each have one cup, knife, bowl, etc. In my romantic vision of this paired down existence we'd maybe even get rid of the dining room table and just sit on pillows around the coffee table. Pretty soon this idea stopped sounding practical and we quickly realized that we'd end up spending a fortune replacing the stuff we had once we got back (and Jacob still grouses about the tools he ditched in our first frenzied push to purge). Still, we did get rid of a lot of stuff and now I can pass by a free box without tensing.

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