A slow shift toward the Long Road

Our house full of stuff.
Our house full of stuff.

Any goal worth pursuing requires preparation. And so it is with our impending PanAm adventure.

We are slowly shifting the very structure of our lives. This is easier said than done. We often don’t realize in this country how entrenched we really are.

We have a house full of stuff: unused golf clubs languishing in the garage, boxes of art supplies, box fans, piles of books, seven years of tax records, extra dog collars, a bin of orphaned cables and cords, a veritable jungle of houseplants… you get the idea. It just piles up in the course of everyday living. We hardly even notice its accumulation until we attempt to downsize. In America, having so much stuff is normal. In fact, we probably have less stuff than most. We will get a storage unit for the few sentimental items we don’t want to part with, and the rest will be redistributed via moving sale next summer.

There are the other trappings of modern American life that weigh us down, too, like the complex web of financial obligations we all create for ourselves: bill pays, bank accounts, credit lines, contracts, mortgages, student loans, and retirement accounts. Much of this is already sorted out, and it will be quite nice indeed to simplify our financial landscape.

Finally, there are all the preparations we have to make for the trip itself. There are a lot of logistics involved in getting our vehicle, two people, and two dogs across all those borders. There are shipping plans involved, safety precautions, vehicle improvements, and equipment upgrades. Our RV has been in the shop all week. We get it back today, and we will start on the improvements this week. On the list: gutting the interior to rid ourselves of 30-year-old carpet and upholstery (gross), installing safety glass lining on all the windows, ripping out the forward windows and fabricating fiberglass over the gap, installing locking compartments for valuables, upgrading the wheels, and a host of other minor alterations.

South America, we are coming for you!
South America, we are coming for you!

So much to get squared away in 8 short months. When did living become so complicated?

And when did we all become so job-obsessed that taking a year to travel is seen as an extravagant departure from the norm? The number one question people ask when I tell them about our trip should be: “What are all the awesome things you’re planning on doing during your trip?” Instead, it is:

What are you going to do about your jobs?

Really? We’re getting ready to go on an epic adventure and you want to know about work? Well, to answer that question, I will still be working just as much as I do now. South America’s time zones are similar to North America, and thanks to the power of the internet I’ll be able to work for my clients just as effectively from most of South America. Granted, I’ll have to plan ahead a bit more to make sure I’m in an urban center when I need to be working, but I don’t anticipate a problem with this. I even got a new laptop to facilitate easier mobile commuting. As for Ben, he is hoping to either contract with his current company or secure a position as a consultant for another company. That is still up in the air.

Our sweet old dog, now 14 years old.
Our sweet old dog, now 14 years old.

There are a lot of unknowns, really. We don’t have a crystal ball. We don’t know exactly how this endeavor is going to pan out. We don’t even have a concrete departure date yet, as we will have to wait for our old dog to depart this world before embarking (at 14, she’s too old for such nonsense). We might end up traipsing around North America for a few months, saving up extra money and giving our sweet old hound the time she needs.

But these unknowns are not detractors, nor deterrents. They just add to the adventure of the Long Road.

The hardest part is letting go of the notion that all of these things we accept as normal actually should be normal. We have to let go of the illusory security of the American Dream, the house full of stuff, the padded bank accounts, and the career ambition… even if for just a little while. If you ask me, we have it backwards in this country, anyway. Work, work, work, work, pop out some kids then work, work, work some more. Finally, if you’re lucky, you get to retire at 65 years old, and if you are even luckier your body will still be able to enjoy a few of the activities your retirement could afford.

Time is money and money is time. I have always opted for a little less money and a little more time in my life to do the things I enjoy with the people I love. I guess I don’t entirely subscribe to the American Dream. I don’t want to be a wage slave my entire life, chained to a desk and grateful for my measly two weeks of paid vacation per year. Call me crazy, but I believe there is more to life than that. We are all on this earth for such a finite period of time, and some of us get less time than we’d expect.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince all we have is here and now, let’s make it count as best we can. Let’s take the time to figure out what makes us happy instead of simply doing what society expects of us. 

In the end, it’s all a give and take, an ebb and flow, a yin and yang. We wouldn’t be able to make this trip (or any of our other trips), if we didn’t also take time to work. We aren’t independently wealthy, we don’t expect to gallivant around 100% of the time without any hard work or source of income, and we’re grateful for the opportunities our jobs provide. But, for us, there has to be balance that tips a little less in the direction of work than most people accept.

We all make our own priorities. We don’t have a big screen TV (or a TV at all, for that matter), new cars, a fancy house, iPads, jet-skis, children (let’s be honest — they are really expensive) or nice clothes. We eat well, pay stupid amounts of money on vet bills (damn dogs), and use our discretionary income for travel. Not everyone would enjoy this lifestyle, and we would not enjoy the alternative. But we are aware of the trade-off.

We all make our own priorities.

How do you find balance between work and leisure? Would you rather have more money, or more time?

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