What REALLY Happened to 9 People Who Gave Up Everything to Travel

They went big... and they didn't go home.

When you read stories like the one about the dad who sold his app for $54 million and bailed on his whole life for a permanent family vacation, you may suddenly find your daily grind feels, well, like a grind. As romantic and enviable as the permanent nomad life may sound (to some, if not to all), what really happens off of the well-curated Instagram feeds and blog posts? Here are real stories from nine people who've tried it.

1Jessica and Nate

Current location: Puno, Peru at Lake Titicaca

What they did: After getting married in July of 2015, 29-year-old Jessica and 33-year-old Nate considered their options: They could buy a house and start a family and travel when they retired… or they could take off a year and see the world. By taking a big leap of faith, they quit their jobs, sold everything they owned (except their dog, Lily), saved up $75,000 and went for it.

What they’re doing now: Even though they’re living on less than $130 a day for two people, they’ve found ways to make the most out of their adventure: private Spanish lessons in Ecuador, whitewater rafting in Peru, scuba diving in Colombia, hiking the Inca Trail in Machu Picchu, and learning how to cook alpaca at a Lima cooking school.

What they’ve learned: That life doesn’t have to fit into a preset list of checkboxes or follow a timeline — it can be whatever you make it. And maybe more importantly, by traveling and seeing what’s possible, they’re wondering what else could happen instead of a very specific five-year plan. “My biggest takeaway is that you can do big things if you can get serious about setting goals and following through on them,” Rachel says. “Also, now that we've stepped off the traditional path (get married, buy a house, have kids), I'm wondering what other nontraditional things we could do: Could we work abroad? Could we run our own businesses and be location independent?” 

2Rhett

Current location: Austin, Texas, U.S.A.

What he did: As a big NFL fan, 42-year-old Rhett always had one big dream: to see every NFL stadium in person. But as his life evolved — he got married, had children, got divorced — that wish seemed further and further out of reach. “My life wasn’t turning out the way I hoped, so I decided to buy a ‘67 VW bus that I named Hail Mary and travel to every stadium,” he said. He took a chance traveling for 16 weeks but even with an MBA and nearly a PhD, he couldn’t find work and needed a little help from friends and family to check off every NFL homefield. There were even times he slept in the bus or couch surfed with strangers to make ends meet. “I even slept outside in Buffalo at Hammer's Lot across from Ralph Wilson Stadium where the Bills play football,” he added.

He didn’t want to struggle and more importantly, wanted to be an example to his sons about what is possible in life and that you can change the narrative of your own life. That’s when NFL Films contacted him about doing a feature on his adventure for NFL Network and ESPN2.

What happened along the way: After working on the documentary and making it through rough times, engine troubles, and many sleepless nights, Rhett says that even with all of the difficulties, his trip around the country restored his faith in humanity. In his documentary, 25,000 Miles to Glory, he interviewed lifelong football fans, VW enthusiasts, and many more inspiring people, all who were more than willing to help. “Often we were offered a place to stay, food, or much-needed parts for the VW Bus. Now I have friends all over the country that I would've never had the opportunity to meet had it not been for my willingness to put myself out there, leave everything behind, and see the world,” he said. “If a young football fan can grow up watching NFL Films then later in life be on NFL Films for driving a '67 VW Bus to every stadium in 16 weeks... then anything in life is truly possible.”

What he learned: Like with anything that’s new and different — Rhett says that once you leave your driveway, you’ve let your fear go and you’re willing to embrace the unknown. “If you dream of traveling and seeing the world, you have to believe in that dream and be willing to make sacrifices for it. You also have to be open to how the world will make your dream come true. There were many times where we had no place to stay or even worse, the VW Bus would leave us stranded on the side of the road. Every time it looked like our situation was hopeless, somehow someone was put in our lives to get us back on the road,” he said. “Stop focusing on ways your dream can't or won't happen, and figure out a way to make it happen. There is almost always a way to do something with less resources. It may not be ideal or comfortable but you will live a dream and everyone deserves to live their dream. The world needs it.”

3Lina and David

Current location: Northern Wisconsin, U.S.A.

What they did: Even though Lina and David always loved to travel together, it wasn’t until they ventured on their honeymoon in Southeast Asia in 2010 that they realized traveling around the world wasn’t as difficult as they originally thought. In Asia, they met many couple couples who had left it all behind to see everything on their bucket lists, so they decided to do it, too. They saved for 18 months and sold everything: the home they designed on a restaurant napkin and built themselves, their cars, their farm equipment (they used to own a private horse farm), and they had rummage sales. They then left their well-paying corporate jobs and became permanent nomads.  

What happened along the way: Their friends and family thought they were insane, and if they’re being honest, they were a little scared. But when Lina and David boarded that one-way flight to New Zealand in February of 2014, they knew there was no turning back. Two years later, they have an entire third of this year booked with travel. “Even with the stress, uncertainty of it all, and the massive change of life, it was worth every second of it. Change is hard, even when you want it,” Lina says.

What they learned: Just as a nomad doesn’t have one place to call home (but rather can call any place home), Lina says that knowing you can always go back to your old life can be comforting — and give you the liberty to take a chance. “Trust your instincts and if your heart says to do it, then do it,” she says. “You can go back anytime you want. But why not live a little?”

4Michael

Current location: Marshall, California, U.S.A.

What he did: After 20 years building the organic environmental movement and launching a successful PR company specializing in sustainability, everything came crashing down for Michael. His parents passed away, his relationship ended, he lost faith in his career and suffered from stress-related chronic health problems. He had become cynical and didn’t feel like himself. He did some soul searching and dug deep to figure out the big change he could do to turn his life around. What did he do? He bailed out on what was bringing him down. After turning over his business to his partner, he took his savings, threw a dart at a map, put on a backpack, bought a one-way ticket… and left.

What happened: His first trip in 2010 lasted 15 months and he traveled through Thailand, Burma, Laos, Russia (Siberia), Mongolia, China, Nepal, India and Indonesia. But he wasn’t finished yet. He then lived in Bali for a year. Then traveled to Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, throughout Europe, then back to India, Brazil, Peru — and the list goes on. But for Michael, the long list of countries isn’t important, it’s been discovering himself again along the way.

What he’s learned: By seeing so much of the world and being able to change the monologue of his own story, Michael’s been able to see people and the world from a new perspective. His biggest takeaway? Something pretty universal and simple: We are all magic. And it is all possible.

5Stephanie

Current location: Blenheim, New Zealand

What she did: In 1998, Stephanie traveled to Belize for the first time and instantly knew it was a place she wanted to live someday. At the time, it wasn’t financially an option for her, so she tucked it away on her wish list and kept on keepin’ on. Over the next decades, she traveled more than a dozen times to Central America, always feeling that pull to sell everything and leave the United States. She finally took that leap of adventure and followed her heart in 2013. She saved up over the years and sold her house and car to add even more cash in her bank. She also learned a new language and figured out a way to carry everything she needed in two bags so she could live in a country by herself…. not knowing what the future would hold.

What happened: Many odd jobs kept her ends met (and made sure her savings didn’t completely deplete). She started volunteering in Costa Rica living by the beach on the Caribbean cost for three months. She then took up a house sitting opportunity for the next five months before heading to Panama to raise butterflies for a tourist attraction. After that, she made her way to New Zealand where she volunteered on a sheep farm for three months, and then to Australia, where she house sat again and worked as a help exchange for a mobile coffee van. 

What she learned: “I had to remove the word 'fear' from my vocabulary since that's what holds most people back from doing the things they really want to. I wouldn't let myself worry about ‘what ifs’ before they ever happened. I wouldn't let other people's fears about the places I was living rule my decisions,” Stephanie said. “I decided to deal with problems as they arose instead of waiting in anticipation for something to happen. The best part about it was that nothing bad ever happened to me. Sure I stumbled a few times, but I always landed on my feet.”

6Mery

Current location: South Brazil

What she did: When she was 17, Mery set out on her own in London for the first time to explore the city. “It was the first time I was by myself with a map in my hands with a huge place to discover,” she said. “It became a drug to me.” During college she spent time traveling, even taking a year off to go around the world and returning back to school. And even though she was living in Europe with easy access to many countries, she needed more than her apartment, her job, her friends, and her 25 days of vacation. She started looking for jobs that allowed her to live somewhere abroad, but without much luck, she decided to try something completely different: She moved to South America to start a nomad life.

What she’s doing now: She’s lived now for 11 months as a nomad and has fully embraced the lifestyle. She lived in Northeast Brazil for seven months, then was offered a job for the summer in Uruguay where she lived for four months, and now she’s traveling in the South of Brazil, heading toward Rio de Janeiro, where she has a job at a hostel.

What she’s learned: By taking on odd jobs and skills, like getting certified in kite surfing, Mery’s discovered she doesn’t need a stable job to make her travel dreams reality, she just needs to be creative. “I got certified so that I could send a couple of emails and find a job where I can spend a couple of months teaching and then move somewhere else,” she says. “What I’ve discovered is freedom. I can move and change cultures very often, and this gives me so much amazing happiness.”

7Liz

Current location: Gili Air, Indonesia

What she did: After a graduating high school, Liz visited Spain for the first time and quickly became addicted to travel. She spent most of her summers during college traveling throughout Europe and Central America, but once she graduated, she fell into the 9-to-5 grind and landed a great job with a software consulting firm. She even earned a master’s degree in her spare time and purchased — and renovated! — her first home with the help of her family. But even though she didn’t have anything to complain about, something was missing. “Every time I walked in my living room there hung a large National Geographic map of the world as a constant reminder of my curiosity of foreign places. I'd stare and dream about what life was like in far away places. What did they eat? What do they do for fun? What did they think?,” Liz said. So as she turned 28, she decided to go find out for herself. She donated, sold or threw away everything she owned, put her house up for sale and left her job of nearly 8 years. After some tearful goodbyes, she hit the road with nothing but a backpack weighing her down.

What she’s doing now: She just celebrated her one-year travel-versary last month and she’s still counting, and documenting her experiences on her blog. “My mind has exploded with new experiences, I have learned more about myself and the people on this planet than in the past almost three decades." 

What she’s learned: “The best takeaway I've had is the gift of perspective. All around the world life is lived in different ways yet there is still a sense of connectivity,” she says. “You question your thoughts and beliefs when other cultures and customs differ from yours and wonder why you think any one particular way versus the other. You become completely open in a sense. When I look back on this whole adventure the only thing I'd say to myself is... why didn't you do this sooner? And if you're wondering whether you should, I think you already know the answer.”

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