Kyle James and Ashley Grigsby have been together since college, moving from North Carolina to Denver, CO., to start their lives as “adults” right after school.
For two years, they’d been saving for a house of their own, and had a little stash when they found themselves itching to travel (on more than just a vacation) before the summer of 2015. At the time, Kyle had started what he thought was a “dream job,” which was really soul-crushing cubicle sitting, cold-calling people to persuade them to buy billboard space. Ashley, a school teacher, was wrapping up the school year and was free for the summer.
After talking and deciding the time was right, the two took a leap, quit their 9-to-5s and bought one-way flights from Denver to New York, and from New York to Paris. They spent the next 114 days backpacking 15 countries and 38 cities together.
“Ashley was 23 and I was 24 at the time,” Kyle tells Personal Space. “Ashley was teaching, I made cold calls all day. I was cold calling from this cubicle…I struggled with [spending the money] mentally. I was very scared that we were gonna go through all our money or we weren’t going to come back and find jobs. But Ashley wanted to go, she said ‘let’s do this now,’ and we left June 1, 2015.”
Kyle, skilled at Excel, made them a spreadsheet to budget out $150 per day to spend for the both of them—including food, transport, and lodging. They Airbnb’d it the entire way because it was both cheaper and more interesting than hostels.
“Some days we had 50 cents left and it’s noon,” Kyle laughed. “But if we overspent it would auto adjust and we’d spend less the next day. We found Airbnb’s that were like 30 dollars a night for both of us, you can find entire studio apartments in the middle of Budapest, it’s great.”
They planned their next steps only a week-and-a-half ahead of time, spending some evenings looking on their laptops as to where they wanted to head next.
“Then we’d buy the next two cities,” Kyle says. “We never thought we were gonna go to Croatia then we got hammered in Budapest and we thought it was Italy. It was so beautiful.”
Now the two are getting married in Croatia next June.
But the lovebirds didn’t go without a few meltdowns. Don’t we all have them while traveling?
“We were in a two seater kayak in Croatia traveling around this mountain in the middle of the Adriatic Sea. We were exhausted, we were together 24/7, a month at that point in the heat, half the air conditioners in the Airbnb’s were broken, we had built up anger. That day, on the water, I jumped off a crazy rock all to get a go pro video…I scaled a mountain, jumped off this crazy rock, almost killed myself, and Ashley had hit record by accident then stopped it by accident when I jumped, and missed it. We’re in a two seater kayak in the Adriatic screaming at each other.”
It lasted only a few minutes before they broke into laughter, realizing all the moments of the trip were important moments. Among the most moving?
“We took a bus two hours at 5 A.M. into the middle of the jungle in Thailand where they rescued elephants from torture and carnivals,” Kyle says. “We were sleeping with them, they trumpeted through the night, Ashley was crying.”
As for what they both learned, beside that they love each other a lot, Kyle says he’s lost some of the fear that he used to have, saying “fear is just the unknown.”
“For Ashley, this trip solidified her. She was always a shy southern girl, soft spoken, self conscious, this trip we’re just living and learning from all these different cultures. She started meditating,” Kyle says.
“I try to explain the type of benefit long term travel has on you,” he adds.
Along the way, Kyle wrote in a leather-bound journal every night, detailing the events of the day for their future grandkids, and had no intention of turning it into a book. But it was too good not to.
“If you read the book, the pictures there go along with it,” he says.
But the best part of the book is the dedication. It’s how Kyle proposed.
“Ash, you are the wind to my sails and the ink to my pen. No matter where I go or what I do, the only thing I am sure of is that I want you by my side. Every cliff I jump off, every moped I crash, every morning after a night of food poisoning, every Mediterranean sunset, I want you by my side. I never want to stop exploring with you, Ash.
Will you marry me?”
The two are now in Asheville, N.C., near family. Ashley is teaching kindergarten while Kyle is working for a nonprofit. They are planning on another adventure soon.
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