Story by James McIntosh and Tarynne Mingione
James McIntosh and Tarynne Mingione were raised and live on the Eastside. Before leaving home in January 2013, McIntosh worked at a public relations firm in Seattle and Mingione worked as a registered dietitian at Swedish Medical Center. Read more about their travels on their blog.
Deciding to Leave
Growing up on the Eastside, we had pretty standard resumes.
We had our first jobs before our names were printed on our college diplomas, and we both ended up in careers we were madly passionate about.
Our jobs consumed our early to mid-20s. Somewhere in the depths of Home Depot visits and the predictable weekend social routine, we realized we were living in our own small world. We had quickly outgrown it.
We decided it was time to unapologetically excuse ourselves from our careers, relationships and the lives we had each created in exchange for a great adventure.
While society may have questioned our choices, lyrics from the song “Don’t You Worry Child” reassured us as we booked tickets to the final tour of the Swedish House Mafia concert in South Africa. After recovering from jet lag from our one-way flight, we celebrated the biggest decision of our lives, dancing like mad in the middle of an ostrich farm in Cape Town.
When you want something bad enough, the universe works in miraculous ways to help you get it. If you can believe that, you’ll get to where you want to go.
There is no best time to go. You’ll never be able to make enough money. It will never be easy to say goodbye to the faces you love. You will always have plenty of excuses to stay right where you are. Travel can be one of the most valuable experiences of your lifetime. The value of traveling will always trump all of those difficult deciding factors.
We both decided that January 17, 2013, was as good a time as any to take a risk, pack our bags and go.
Making Ends Meet
The No. 1 excuse for not traveling is money.
“I can’t travel the world. I can’t afford it.” That’s what people say.
The truth is public relations professionals and dietitians like us don’t make a lot of money. At least not right out of school. We didn’t have buckets of money saved before we left home, and we didn’t (and still haven’t) rely on our parents to finance our adventure.
We saved only a few thousand dollars before leaving on our trip around the world. We knew it wasn’t enough money to make it all the way, but we also knew if we just got on the plane and left, we’d figure it out.
Fortunately for us, it turns out you don’t need to have pots of money or to win Mega Millions to leave on the adventure of a lifetime. You just have to be smart and willing to get your hands dirty.
We were able to get away with not working for the first three months of our trip, but by the time we left Africa and arrived in Europe, cash was tight and it was time to figure out how we were going to make ends meet.
Before we left, we had signed up for Workaway, a website that serves as a medium for connecting individuals and businesses around the world with travelers who are willing to volunteer in exchange for food and accommodation.
Given our financial situation when we arrived in Rome in April 2013, we decided that in order to sustain our trip we would have to start volunteering.
Our plan wasn’t to volunteer the entire time, but instead to find a place once every few months where we could set up shop for a few weeks, unpack our bags and save some money before hitting the road again.
During the last 17 months we have volunteered in a number of places around the world. We’ve worked in a hostel in Sicily, an international retreat in Lake Orta, a yoga retreat center in Seville, a juice retreat in Portugal and a yoga hotel in India.
Between volunteering opportunities, we have been able to travel across three continents and visit more than 22 different countries. On our limited budget, this extensive travel would not have been possible without the opportunity to save money by volunteering for a couple of weeks every few months.
Although volunteering can be stressful at times, for the most part it is a rewarding experience. You have the opportunity to live in a foreign country, meet locals and fellow volunteers and save money to fund your next segment of travel.
In addition to volunteering, we have also done some paid work writing nutrition articles and contracting for former clients in the Seattle area.
This combination of volunteering and a few hours of paid work has enabled us struggling young professionals to travel nonstop for nearly a year and a half.
The Value of Travel
The past 17 months have taught us that travel is not about the places you visit, but instead about how the people, unplanned experiences and accidents along the way change your life.
Traveling around the world isn’t an escape from everyday life; it is your everyday life.
Travel has revealed our integrity and tested our drive and perseverance. It has refined our rough edges, opened our hearts and minds, and forced us to completely let go of all we can’t control.
We began our trip traveling for three months overland from Cape Town to Kabale, Uganda. Along the way we dived with sharks, camped in the bush, traversed canyons, explored deltas, swam atop Victoria Falls, chased lions and slept under the stars on top of boulders.
After tracking critically endangered mountain gorillas in Uganda, we bused our way back to Tanzania to visit Mount Kilimanjaro.
This dormant volcano is the tallest freestanding mountain in the world and deserves about six days of trekking to properly acclimatize and climb to the 19,341-foot summit.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have six days; we had a couple nights before we needed to board a flight to Italy.
Acknowledging the time restriction, but with relentless determination to introduce ourselves to the mountain, we booked a three-day trek that would take us halfway up the mountain.
Twenty minutes into our trek, we curiously asked our seasoned guide what the quickest possible time was to the summit, Uhuru Peak.
“Thirty hours,” he responded with a raised brow.
We snuck a glance at one another, cracked a smile, and at that moment silently decided we would attempt it. With no training and with only jeans and old tennis shoes, we decided to give every ounce of life to that mountain.
We’ve never been more mentally, emotionally or physically challenged. Kilimanjaro told us hundreds of times we weren’t going to make it. It was overwhelmingly intense, but having one another to encourage each other to the summit, it all became possible.
In just 31 hours, we were standing on top of the highest peak in Africa staring at the indifferent signpost congratulating us. We had the entire summit to ourselves.
Words will never be able to explain the emotions experienced at that moment. The event obliterated the self-imposed limits we placed on our lives.
Summiting Mount Kilimanjaro in half the usual time was one of the highlights of our adventure. It was a true test of perseverance and friendship. It was a challenge unlike any we would have faced at home.
The experience taught us we are far more capable than we give ourselves credit for — a lesson we will apply in our careers and personal lives going forward.
After Africa we knew we wanted to ground ourselves for a few months. We spent the summer in Italy learning Italian and refining our palates for gelato; we pedaled around Prague, danced at a Scottish wedding and reset our visas over a summer in Ireland.
After a pit stop in London, we headed to Spain and developed a crush on Gaudi, hiked through gypsy hills for the most incredible sunset views of Granadaand gave attention to the tiny pockets of Spain that are still kept secret.
A two-week juice fast in Portugal rebooted our bodies. Snowfall, mulled wine and a date at the “Nutcracker” in Zagreb made for a memorable Christmas in Croatia.
In Turkey, we slid across calcium terraces and swam over slippery ruins in Pamukkale. We saw for ourselves why foreigners should avoid Taksim Square in Istanbul on New Year’s Eve.
En route to India, the Burj Khalifa and the Grand Mosque in United Arab Emirates left us speechless over the grandeur of modern architecture.
While there are countless highlights, India undoubtedly pushed us toward our lowest of lows. This country more than any other revealed a lot about our ideas, beliefs and what kinds of situations incite reactions.
During our three months in India, we lost our minds, sanity and our temper. We’ve never been more convinced that travel is far different from a vacation. Travel can crack and destroy you. It can squash your empathic gene, dissolve your patience and challenge every last thing you once thought you knew about the ways of the world.
Thankfully it also gives you the opportunity to emerge stronger, smarter and wiser. India was an extreme example of how travel builds character.
Although we were shocked at our own frustration, anger and irritation, somehow we were spit out after three months in the subcontinent more alive, elated, in love and open-minded than ever before.
Travel shows you that your perceived boundaries are delusional, and takes you to places you didn’t think were possible.
With nowhere to go but forward, with blind faith you are continuously rewarded as strangers and coincidence rise up from the most unlikely of places to support you.
It turns out travel is not just about the dots on a map. Travel is about learning to dance confidently into the unknown, uncomfortable and challenging, convinced that in the end you will emerge a better, stronger version of yourself.
It is by no means a vacation. It is diving head first into everything that is difficult and deciding not to give up, but instead be inspired by every challenge the planet throws your way.
Travel forces you to identify your dreams and wildly dance toward them. We now know travel is worth more than everything we gave up or temporarily put on hold during the past 17 months.
For this Eastside couple, the value of travel is immeasurable.