Spotlight: On Our Own Path

Bessie and Kyle quit their jobs in Chicago leaving for a year long backpacking trip, and they’ve been gone over 2.5 years. They traveled from Mexico to Argentina by land, volunteering over 1,000 hours and climbing lots of volcanoes. To keep funding their travels, they took jobs as English teachers in South Korea and created WiseGifter, a gift list website to help people have great life experiences, like traveling. [http://wisegifter.com]. They’ve spent a few months exploring southeast Asia, and now they’re settling into Chiang Mai, Thailand for a few months with no plans of stopping traveling any time soon. Read about their continued adventures at OnOurOwnPath.

1. What has been your best travel experience and why?

Hands down, we loved our time in Colombia. The people were so welcoming, the scenery was so spectacular, and city after city we kept having eye-opening experiences. Locals on the street would regularly stop to talk to us, thanking us for visiting their country. We were welcomed into people’s homes, invited to dinner, and the CouchSurfers were the most active we met in Latin America. We stayed our entire 2 month travel visa there, we loved it so much. Before we visited, we were convinced it was far too scary and dangerous of a place to travel, but travelers told us otherwise, and we learned a great lesson that you can travel safely, the key is traveling smart.

2. How do you two determine where your next destination/volunteer project will be?

We try to follow opportunities and also advice from traveling friends. Every time we decide to spend time somewhere it’s pursuing a goal, whether that’s work or because we’re curious about a culture. We volunteered in El Salvador helping develop programs and promoting the work of a young non-profit because I had a work connection. We taught English in Korea because we had a friend that enjoyed it, and we knew we could save a lot of money. We’re staying in Chiang Mai a few months working on our business, and after this, we’ll see where the next opportunity takes us.

3. If all your luggage was stolen but you could ask the thief to return just one item, what would it be and why?

Definitely our external hard drive! We back up our images online, but everything work and personal is backed up there. (Actually, writing this is making me realize I should back-up online instead!) We travel with the assumption that we could have our bags stolen at anytime, so we don’t travel with anything we consider we couldn’t lose.

4. Do you ever feel that your relationship hinders your travels? Or vice versa?

With out a doubt, our relationship strengthens our travels, and our travels strengthen our relationship. We joke that spending the 1st year after we got married backpacking was sort of like 5 relationship years in 1. We spent almost all our waking hours together, so all of our relationship and personality quirks were all right there out in the open – whether it was on a 20 hour bus ride through the mountains or wandering through a street market. Really, we just feel lucky to have so much time to spend with each other. Although I can’t say we don’t drive each other nuts sometimes…

5. How do you find the balance between being together all the time and being individuals traveling together?

Balance is definitely the key word. It’s important to keep up the things you like to do on our own and not make everything together time. Whether it’s a few hours volunteering, exercising, whatever, a few hours apart always makes us a little happier to see each other, and gives us something to talk about that the other person can’t just respond “Yea, I remember!”

6. What is the best travel advice you can give to someone?

Let go of the thought that travel is selfish and therefore bad. It’s a potentially life-changing opportunity to learn things up close and experience the different ways the world works. You can get an education like nothing you’ll get in school. And you’ll find your boundaries and grow in ways you couldn’t if you never left home. Along with that, I see a challenge to the traveler to give back by volunteering, etc, to travel responsibly by harming local cultures, and to share their experiences.

7. What is the best travel advice you can give to someone traveling with their partner?

In those moments of frustration when you feel like you’ve had enough, remember that your sharing in something most couples might never be brave enough to do. Take a breather, get some space and come back to the situation later. Compromise and spending loads of time together can be challenging, but it’s also the base for an amazing relationship.

Thanks so much, Bessie and Kyle, for taking time out of your busy schedules to have this interview with me and for sharing your unique perspectives and travel experiences with us!

© Connie Hum 2010

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