The Grandest of Canyons

I stand with Steve in the kitchen, an old Indian Country map spread open on his half-constructed marble countertop.

“If you take this route, you’ll be able to see the best view of the Colorado River,” Steve says, pointing to a route from Flagstaff, AZ to the Grand Canyon. “But if you go this way, you can explore the Red Mountains.”

“Which would you prefer?” I ask our adventurous host.

Steve bites his lip and caresses his soul patch with his thumb and index finger. “I really want to say you should go through the Red Mountains. They’re one of my favorite spots. But that’s the only thing you’ll see on the route. The other route has 3 or 4 really cool stopping points.”

I wait silently, allowing Steve’s inner dialogue to play out.

“Go this way,” Steve says, concluding that we should bypass the Red Mountains.

“Sounds good,” I say.

“Remember to swing by the local AAA and pick up one of these maps too.”

And that’s exactly what I do.

Two shiny, new maps in hand, Riley and I set off for Flagstaff, AZ. After two hours of cruising along the speedy interstate, we jump onto Route 66. Yes, historic Route 66 – one of the first U.S. highways, created in 1926, and originally running 2,448 miles from Chicago, IL to Santa Monica, CA. We pass by gas stations, convenience stores, restaurants and hotels all boasting the numbers “66” in their name. After many miles of this gimmicky stretch of road, we merge back onto the quicker and more efficient interstate 40. The sun begins to set, painting the swirling clouds above us deep shades of gold, pink, blue and purple. The snow-capped mountains, seemingly forever in the distance, radiate a confident dark blue glow.

We arrive in Flagstaff shortly after 6pm. Rather than heading straight to our hotel like a boring, old couple, we decide to gander around the city’s downtown. First order of business is food. We blindly decide on Beaver Street Brewery. 3 succulent bratwursts, a fulfilling Portobello ravioli and a tasty local Pilsner later, Riley and I feel quite content. We spend the next 2 hours walking off our dinner while enjoying the many clothing and craft shops scattered throughout this quaint town. After realizing we desire every single item being sold in this town, we decide to head to the hotel.

A good night’s rest and a surprisingly diverse hotel breakfast later, we depart our Fairfield Inn for the Grand Canyon. As per Steve’s advice, we take a longer, more scenic route to this world renowned park. We approach Sunset Volcano crater, a volcanic cinder cone, covered in hardened black lava rock. The apex of this mountain is missing, as if bitten off. We then pass many hills and mountains encompassed by black sand, from which unusual vegetation grows. We continue increasing in elevation. Suddenly the picture-perfect clear day turns into an impenetrable fog. We’ve entered a cloud. Over the next 3 minutes the temperature drops from 51 degrees Fahrenheit to 31. We pass through 18 miles of Wupatki National Monument, unable to see any of it. Once again, Riley sits behind the wheel during an unexpectedly challenging drive. And once again, she impresses.

We park a short walk away from the Bright Angel trailhead. Not anticipating the snow, ice and slush covered terrain awaiting us, I wear my running shoes, having 18 months, 2 half marathons and 100’s of miles of tread on them. Riley, also wearing tennis shoes, walks a few steps behind me as I gingerly descend the slippery trail. We slip but avoid falling many times. Less than a half mile in, we pass a group of 4 fit looking men, staring fearfully at the canyon below them. “Let’s just turn around,” one of them says.

Undeterred, we continue our hike. After a mile, the ice ceases as the trail is exposed to the sun. Simultaneously, the view becomes even more stunning. An indescribable amount of space fills this trench we stand in, surrounded by rocks of various shades of red and brown. The plateau seems miles away, and in fact it is. We hike down another half mile. Mesmerized by the beauty we are witnessing, we climb atop a rock protruding farther than the others. Encased in the magnitude around me, I can’t help but think of how small I truly am.

The hike up is easier and quicker than the hike down. We pass many good-natured individuals cursing themselves for hiking as far down as they did. One boy sprints by us, slowing down only to explain that he needs to complete the trail in less than 20 minutes to prove his manhood to his father.

We drive through another gorgeous sunset towards the small town of Williams. We eat a satisfying Mexican meal at Poncho’s. Feeling refueled, we set off to our next destination.

Land of Cheap Gas and Beer

We approach the ancient wooden door. A stone Buddha sits in full lotus to the left of us. A scooter, having seen many better days, leans against the side of the house, motionless. Misha makes a fist with his right hand and knocks three times below the smiling sun carved into the upper center of the door. A fit man appearing in his fifties opens the door. Unkempt grey hair protrudes from beneath his black and white fedora.

“Hello,” the man says.

“Hi. Are you Stephen?” Misha replies.

Still acclimating to this new experience, I stand a few feet behind Misha.

“Yeah, I’m Steve,” the man answers. “And you must be Misha.” He then turns toward me and asks me my name.

“I’m Riley,” I say.

Steve invites us into his cluttered home. Tribal relics and artwork span the unpainted walls. Shelves upon shelves are filled with vintage records and tapes. Another bookcase contains more modern sources of music – CDs. Countless dusty books are stacked atop antique tables. One of the many Buddhas in this home rests peacefully within a wall incision along the staircase leading to the second floor. Steve points out a small tent lying atop aging wooden furniture. “I’m in the process of making that thing waterproof for when I backpack Colombia for 2 months. I leave in a few weeks.”

While studying the disorganization among us and talking with our host, we learn that for a profession Steve imports and sells various items from Indonesia. In addition to the keepsakes and indigenous clothing scattered among the house, Steve has an entire warehouse full of imports he is attempting to liquidate. “Once all this crap is gone, I’m retiring,” he says.

Steve is also working on multiple projects around the house, including renovating his kitchen, painting the walls and setting up a permanent room for Couchsurfers. The more we speak to Steve, the more I realize this is going to be an unforgettable and eye opening 2 days in Santa Fe.

An hour after arriving at our temporary home, Misha and I set out to the Plaza in downtown Santa Fe. Unprepared for the 20 degree weather, we only stay long enough to eat dinner and check out a “funky schmunky” (as described by a local couple we came across) bar, named Evangelos. And indeed the bar was funky schmunky. Rugged-looking men with cowboy hats drink in the dim-light room filled with stuffed game and ancient Mexican decorations. We return to Steve’s house exhausted and are soon asleep in his guest bedroom.

With the sun having awoken, Misha and I arise from bed ready to go for a run. Upon stepping outside we are exposed to picturesque terrain. Snuggled between the mountains, Steve’s house is at the end of a development consisting of quaint homes perched among large plots of land. We look into the distance and see snow-capped mountains beyond endless dry fields of golden shrubs and scattered rocks. We run 4 miles along the desolate, snowy street, passing horses, dogs and adobe-style farm houses. Despite the 7,000 foot altitude and the uncomfortable blasts of sub-freezing wind, we make it back to Steve’s house.

Although worn out and cold, I’m determined to experience more of this distinctive city. Our first stop is Madrid. No, not the city in Spain. A 40 minute drive from downtown Santa Fe, Madrid, NM was once a prosperous lead and coal mining town. As with many mining towns, the natural resources in Madrid were exhausted and the economy dwindled, resulting in a ghost town. Some time later Madrid received a face lift and now boasts a renowned artistic community, with a variety of enjoyable shops and galleries lining the main street. As we wander in and out of the aged shops, I can’t believe that I’m in the United States. The culture, terrain, and architecture of Santa Fe is something I’ve never experienced. I soak in each step.

We end the day at the Santa Fe Brewing Company. Unlike the breweries I’ve experienced in the past, in which I receive a collectible glass and six 4oz pours of beer, this brewery sells delicious pints of beer for 3 bucks a pop. This favorable price came as little surprise to us, as gas sells for under 2 bucks a gallon in this town. Misha and I climb the stairs to the second floor where we are surrounded by extravagant Christmas decorations. A Christmas Party will be taking place here later tonight. While sipping our crafts brews we engage in conversation with an older couple from El Paso, TX. We have much to talk about as they are quite the travel buffs. After discussing cross-country motorcycle treks, Couchsurfing, camping, and New Mexican history, Misha and I are ready to conclude our night.

We snag some cheap dinner at a local pizzeria and head back to Steve’s home. We walk into this eccentric home to the sound of Steve listening to calming music and feasting on organic rice, veggies and self-made juice. The stove, positioned half in the kitchen and half in the living room, heats up a pot of organic purple sweet potatoes – Steve’s lunch for the next day. After many questions from Misha, we learn more about our wonderful and caring host, including his passion for preserving our environment and our bodies. We are wildly impressed by his use of composts for the garden, buckets to catch the cold and excess water in the shower, and mason jars to preserve and ferment food. I go to sleep reflecting on my time in Santa Fe; it has been an unusual; yet, amazingly mind-opening experience which I will never forget.

Into the Underworld

If you’re looking for an exciting 8 hours, the drive from Austin, TX to Carlsbad, NM is not for you. Aside from a handful of small towns, this drive consists solely of dried vegetation and empty road. On average we see less than one car per hour, and see more oil rigs than humans and animals combined. To pass the time, we play crossword puzzles, blast Phish through our car speakers and find excuses to pull over and stretch our legs.

After 4 hours of monotonous driving, my cell phone displays signs of reception. A town must be nearing. Moments later, we enter Mason, Texas, a town of 2,000 inhabitants. Seemingly the only awake resident works at the café we walk into. A fairly priced taco salad and roast beef sandwich later, Riley and I are back on the open road. Despite the topography not changing at all, leading us to wonder whether we’re actually just driving in circles, we arrive in Carlsbad, NM just after 8pm MST.

Tonight we’re camping. Seems like a reasonable thing to do for a young, adventurous couple. Especially since it’s saving us $80. We pull into the only open grocery store in town and load up on ground beef, vegetables, Weenie Beenies, beef jerky, aluminum foil, charcoal and water. Ironically, our campsite is across the street. Not quite the backcountry camping I imagined, but it sure is convenient. Using an old camping trick Riley learned back in her early teens, we season the purchased beef and vegetables, enclose the concoction in aluminum foil, and set it atop the grill. 30 minutes later – pure deliciousness. We light some candles in honor of the first night of Hanukkah, pop open a brew, and feast on our inexpensive, yet delightful, meal.

Once the food settles and the fire dies down, we realize it is freezing. Mid to high 30s didn’t seem so bad when talking to the campsite owner earlier in the day about the impending weather. Riley and I each put on three layers of clothing and bundle up in a single sleeping back and an airplane blanket inside my tent. With Riley and I relying solely on each other for warmth, sleep is hard to come by tonight.

It suddenly becomes uncomfortably warm beneath the blanket wrapped around Riley and my head. I unzip the tent flap and am blinded by the glare of the desert sun. It’s 8:30 in the morning and nature wants us awake. We munch on whatever foods we can find in our car and pack away our belongings. By 11a.m. we’re at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Although not quite the longest, deepest or widest, these caves are largely considered the most beautiful in the world. For 4 underground miles we explore Dogtooth Spars, Cave Pearls, Helictites, flowstones, stalactites, stalagmites and aragonites. We emerge from this fairy tale land unscathed, ready to treat ourselves to an authentic Mexican lunch; one not named La Salsita.

After a fulfilling meal, Riley asks if she can drive. Over the next 4 hours, we ascend to an altitude of 9,000 feet to Cloudcroft, NM; one of the highest elevations in the U.S. and descend 5,000 feet to Alamogordo, NM. I feel a bit unsettled as Riley slices through the Sacramento Mountains, among rain, snow, oncoming trucks, and pitch darkness. Despite me fearing for my life, Riley drives exceptionally well and we arrive at our Super 8 in one piece.

The only source of food at this hour is a Japanese/Chinese/Thai restaurant. As we order sushi, I can’t help but wonder where the restaurant obtains its fish from when situated in the middle of the desert. We return to our abode for the night and pass out. Having slept less than a handful of hours the night before and hiking for most of the morning and afternoon, we sleep like kings (and queens) tonight.

We wake up in time for the all-too-familiar continental breakfast. We then set out for White Sands National Monument, a not-too-well-known gem consisting of 275 square miles of snow-white sand. We stop by Staples and plead the store employee for an empty cardboard box, so we could use it to slide down the 50 foot sand dunes at White Sands.

Upon entering the park we drive 8 miles deep to the starting point of the longest hiking trail and the area with the largest sand dunes. Despite all our best efforts our pieces of cardboard refuse to slide more than a few inches before becoming immobilized by pounds of white sand. To our delight, the young quartet sitting behind us at breakfast shows up with flying saucer sleds and kindly offer us a ride. Riley and I slide down the steep sand dune at a much more respectable speed. Everyone laughs as I make a last second dive out of my sled to avoid crashing into my terrified girlfriend.

We hike barefoot for over 5 miles of sand dunes, coming across only a handful of people along the way. The sand is so white that it can easily be mistaken for snow. And by 2pm it begins to feel like snow as the sun lowers into the horizon. 3 hours of fresh desert air later, we get back into our vehicle and head to our next destination.

The strenuous hike has led us to a state of hunger. A promising billboard reassures us that a celebrated café is in the nearing town. 15 miles later we arrive at a dilapidated building, seemingly having been closed for the better part of the last century. Looking around, we find that the entire town has a similar appearance. Onto the next town. Unfortunately for our stomachs and bladders, the next town is 50 miles away. We arrive in this sleepy town and pass through its 1 mile diameter, slowly losing hope that we will ever eat again. Pleasantly surprised to have reception, I do a quick Google search and am pleased to find an open restaurant on the cusp of town. Another mediocre Mexican joint. But one that is very much needed in this time of extreme hunger.

Our appetites satisfied and our moods improved, we get back into the car. After 3 hours of high speed driving through darkness, we arrive in Santa Fe, NM. About 15 miles past the downtown exits, we pull off into a small mountain town. Another few miles later we turn onto an unlit road, boasting a sign that we are entering a land grant area. A little apprehensive about the lack of civilization around us, we continue driving until reaching an eerie looking house in the middle of nowhere. We have arrived at the home of our Couchsurfing host.

Everything is Bigger in Texas

The sun glistens off a shiny metallic star, 10 times the size of me. We’ve officially arrived in Texas, the Lone Star state. With Austin another 4 hours away, and my overwhelming hunger making me sick, I ask Misha to pull over at the next decent restaurant. This task is more challenging than we thought. For 20 miles the only restaurant we pass is a Pizza Hut. No thanks. We see signs for the city of Beaumont. That sounds more promising. Misha reads a few reviews online, and we settle on a reasonably priced Italian restaurant. It’s closed. In fact, the entire town of Beaumont looks like it’s been closed for the past few decades. We try another place – La Salsita; authentic Mexican food. Huge Mistake. After ordering what I think was a chicken burrito, and watching the cashier hit on my boyfriend, we sit down to eat. Misha maintains a stoic face as he attempts to down the mass of food in his hands. Despite my apprehensiveness, I follow suit. Two-thirds through our burritos, we call it quits.

“We needed to eat at a place like that. So we could get it out of our system. Right?” I ask Misha, attempting to find optimism in the episode having just occurred.

“Sure,” Misha says.

With a rumbling stomach, I cautiously drive along seemingly endless, wide roads. The 80mph speed limit is a bit disconcerting for me, as I’ve never seen anything greater than 70. I guess it’s true when they say everything is bigger in Texas. Shortly after 9pm, we arrive at Chelsy and Brett’s house. Chelsy and Misha met in the summer of 2012, while Misha was backpacking Hawai’i for two months. She now lives with her boyfriend, Brett, in Cedar Park, Texas, just north of Austin.

Chelsy greets us with massive rubber boots and a wide simile. She instantly radiates a positive and free spirited vibe. With her dirty blonde hair and athletic physique, she’s not exactly the dark-haired Hawaiian I imagined her being, but I can already tell that I’m going to get along with her. As we enter the seemingly typical home, we are enthralled by the decor of the insides. The walls are filled with artwork made of drift wood and copper. We later learn that Brett, a freelance handy-man by trade, built and welded most of these magnificent items.

After an early morning run through Brushy Creek Park, we head to SoCo, a hip area along South Congress Street, in Austin Texas. The street is filled with diversity and spontaneity, as we pass by a skater, a runner, a pair of traveling hippies, and a man dressed in a full Santa Claus outfit, crossing a bridge atop a galloping horse. Misha and I explore unique shops filled with vintage costumes, collectible books, well-preserved antiques, adorable hand-made souvenirs and other uncommon objects while discussing the carefree vibe in Austin. It’s a place of neither judgment nor a preferred style; a place where you can truly be yourself.

The rest of the afternoon is filled with laughter and Misha’s weirdness. We gradually make our way to HopeOutdoor Gallery, a hill containing wall after wall of graffiti art. A strenuous, short hike leads us atop the structure overlooking the city. We sit and enjoy the sunset.

Our last night in Austin is spent cooking a delicious salmon, red potato and asparagus meal for our lovely hosts and ourselves. We pop open a bottle of red wine and toast to old friends and new friends. A few hours of good conversation later, I make my way to bed while Misha plans the next part of our trip.

The Voyage Begins

For the past 27 months I woke up every weekday (and some weekends) knowing that I had to shower, eat breakfast, slip into a dress shirt and slacks, and be at work by 9am. Today feels different. Today is my last day as an employee of a Big 4 accounting firm. At least for now.

The elevator reaches the 10th floor; the very same floor I received my first full time job offer. I read the countless affirmations pasted on the walls: experience, opportunities, unique, flexibility, happy. I’m finally living these words, I think to myself. I sit at a desk beside a glass wall overlooking this gorgeous Atlanta morning. I’ll miss this city, I think to myself.

Today is mostly formalities. I print out my 3 page Exit Checklist, and make sure I’ve completed all necessary procedures. I’m hit with a splash of emotion as I glance at my work instant messenger, containing the names of all my coworkers and work friends. A wave of gratitude encompasses me and I send a few kind words of wisdom to those I’ve grown close to over the years. They thank me and wish me safe travels. I check the digital clock at the bottom of my computer screen. It reads 10:15. Almost time for my exit interview. I head up to the 12th floor.

After a refreshingly open conversation with my interviewer, I exit her office and ascend to the 14th floor with my computer. In a very matter-of-fact way, the man workings the operations services desk snatches my computer, asks me to sign some paper I’m too excited to read, and bodes me farewell. This anti-climactic moment does little to deter the excitement bubbling up in me. Without a work computer for the first time in nearly 2.5 years, I feel lighter; literally and figuratively. I try to hide my grin as I speed walk to the elevator and then sprint across the lobby to the glorious day outside. I scan the parking lot for Riley. There she is – appearing scared, yet excited.

8 hours and some world famous BBQ later we turn onto an old pot-hole infested street full of vintage, tall houses with large porches. We’ve arrived in New Orleans, Louisiana. We park in the street beside a picturesque white house with pink window shutters. Unsurprising beads hang from porch posts and telephone lines. As we ascend the aging porch steps, a skinny boy with long red hair jogs over to us.

“Misha?” he asks.

“Yup,” I reply. “And you’re David?”

“Yes sir.”

David is our Couch Surfing host, with whom we will be staying the next two nights. We pulled in just as he was returning from a night of studying economics. He unlocks the door to his dwelling and we enter a classic shotgun-style house. Dating back to the early 19th century, the shotgun house is built as a narrow rectangle, with one door at the front of the house and one door at the back of the house, and all the rooms in between connected by a continuous hallway. Our room is the one closest to the door. A full sized air mattress, 2 sleeping bags and 2 pillows await us. David’s room is connected to ours, followed by a study area, a kitchen and a bathroom. Not every day do I walk through 4 rooms just to brush my teeth.

David invites us onto his porch, where we set up 3 chairs and a hammock. We pop open a bottle of red wine and merrily sip away, while listening to some unusual sounding birds screeching above us. I stargaze for the first time in months. Midway through the bottle David’s friend, Pedro, arrives. An exchange student from Honduras, he and David are co-founders of the Loyola University Economics club. The 4 of us spend a wonderful evening discussing everything from communist-Russia to college girlfriend troubles. As the temperature dips into the 40’s we walk inside where David prepares us some fancy shmancy hot chocolate. We sip on it and our eyelids grow heavy. David, a self-proclaimed night owl, has a party to go to. We check the time – it’s midnight (well, back home it is. In N’awleans, it’s a young 11pm). We tell David we’re going to take it easy tonight and go to sleep early.

Riley and I wake up to a perfect morning. We tie our shoe laces and head off on a 5 mile run along the St. Charles trolley line towards the French Quarter. The closer we near to the Quarter, the rowdier and more eccentric the crowd becomes. After witnessing a fight between a convenience store employee and a drunk homeless man, and passing by a van advertising “Weed Candies” (which I did not know was legal in Louisiana) we arrive on Canal Street. Resembling The Strip in Las Vegas, Canal Street is beautifully lined with vast hotels, symmetrical palm trees, a casino, and endless activity. We cross the street and walk along the deceivingly quiet Bourbon Street. A family dressed in Victorian-era clothing prances around, while a man balances himself on an invisible chair for tips.

An afternoon in New Orleans is not complete without Po’boys, which is exactly what Riley and I eat for lunch. Dessert consists of Cafe Du Monde and their world famous coffee and French beignets. As the afternoon draws to a close, we hop on the St. Charles trolley, which takes us back to David’s house.

After relaxing and changing into more presentable attire, Riley and I treat our accommodating host to a true creole dinner at a local restaurant. We then hop back on the trolley towards Bourbon Street. With the sun having set many hours ago, the atmosphere on the Street has drastically changed. Spray painted school busses speed past us, blasting music. Its tenants shake their rears out the windows. We walk the length of Bourbon Street, stopping only to purchase the famous Hand Grenade beverage and to stare at intriguing passersby. We listen to some impressive piano music at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, the oldest bar in America, before setting off to nearby Frenchmen Street. Considered, a more vintage New-Orleans experience, Frenchmen Street is bustling with live music. Men play jazz on street corners while onlookers dance. A trio of women play folk music on a set of dirty steps. A sextet of young boys play classic covers inside a local bar.

Riley and I stumble upon a recommended hot dog joint where we gluttonously down an obnoxiously large brat. An enjoyable amount of beers, a strip club and a rave later we’re back on the trolley heading to our host’s home.

We wake up Sunday morning to a third consecutive day of marvelous weather. We pack the car, snap a selfie with our host, and take off for our next destination.

The Day Before

I sit in my room, packing the last of my belongings. It’s Thursday and the clock reads 12:13 p.m.; approximately 24 hours before Misha and I hit the road. The process of folding clothes into a suitcase is mundane, and evokes little emotion. Later that afternoon, I sit down with two girls for my final tutoring session. Having worked with these young ladies for the past few months, we’ve grown quite close. About 10 minutes into the lesson, one of the girls begins to cry. At first I am confused, until I realize she is sad due to my impending departure. Her sorrow transcends into my sorrow and I soon feel a wave of emotions come over me. I’m barely able to hold it together as I try to comfort her.

This moment marks the onset of a surplus of emotions, consisting of anxiety, sadness and excitement. Words do not manifest to describe this collection of emotion, but deep down I’m certain that I made the right decision to take on this challenge with Misha.

After loading the car with my final bag I sit with my parents for dinner. Despite all attempts to focus on the delicious Thai food in front of me and the comedy act radiating from the TV, my thoughts are elsewhere. As dinner nears an end it hits me that this is the last time I’ll see my parents in quite some time. After never having lived more than two hours away from my mom and dad, I am about to set sail on a journey which will take me over two thousand miles away from them. After suppressing my emotions for months, I finally let the tears flow down my face. Seeing me cry is too much, and my mom begins tearing up as well. This wonderful chapter of my life has come to end. And now begins a new one. Thankfully, I receive ample phone calls and text messages from my friends to distract me enough to fall asleep.

I wake up from a surprisingly great night’s sleep. At 11am I hop into my vehicle and head south to Downtown Atlanta. By noon I’m parked across the street from Misha’s work office. I notice a male figure wearing a striped white and blue button down shirt and grey pants exit the building. It’s Misha. Our journey is about to begin.

How to Make a Dream Reality

For 9 months now, Misha and I have been speaking with friends, family and strangers about our impending adventure to travel the United States. The typical reactions we hear are: “I’m so jealous,” “I wish I was brave enough,” and “This is the time to do it; I regret not having done it myself.” Instead of wishing or regretting this idea, you can make it a reality. Here’s how:

Step 1: Daydream

This is the easiest step, as we are already experts at this. That’s the beauty of being human – we are born with the innate ability to daydream. You’ll catch yourself daydreaming about various topics throughout a day. Need be, guide these thoughts towards more productive ones – thoughts about traveling the country. The more you do this, the more you strengthen your desire to travel. Misha and I had no issue daydreaming. Eventually we got tired of daydreaming and decided to make our dreams reality.

Step 2: Ease Your Worries

We are also born with the innate ability to worry. Worrying can interfere with taking risks. The best solution to ease your worries is to talk about them. Make a list of all your worries and discuss them with someone able to give realistic advice. This was the most challenging step for me as I was born a worrier. I was lucky to have Misha and his bullshit to ease my apprehensiveness.

“How can I just quit my job?”

-Your job will always be there. You got hired with no experience. Next time you apply for a job, you’ll have experience. You have your entire life to work.

“If I don’t have a full time job, how will I have insurance?”

-Fortunately, if you’re under 26 years old you can stay on your parents’ insurance until December 31 of the year you turn 26. The following year you’ll probably have to purchase insurance from the government. But it’s not forever and this shouldn’t prevent you from fulfilling your dream.

“How can I afford this?”

-You can do what I did and date an accountant. Or you can come up with your own budget plan. Take out a sheet of paper and a calculator. Pull up your bank account and see how much money you have. Then calculate how much money you expect to make each month while traveling and deduct your estimated monthly expenses. Make sure to be conservative so not to unexpectedly run out of gas and money while stuck in the middle of nowhere. The goal is to avoid digging too far into your savings account.

“How will I make money while I’m traveling?”

-Find an odd job such as serving, babysitting, coaching, tutoring or substitute teaching. This may take some planning and coordinating. I have everything set up where I can literally begin subbing in San Diego the week after I arrive. Since substitute teaching merely requires a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited College or University, even Misha, who has never taken an education course in his life, is considering it. Best part about subbing is the need is always there and you can choose when and where you want to work!

“What if it doesn’t work out?

-Then you return home. You gave it a chance and you’ll have no regrets.

Step 3:  Be Vulnerable and Commit:

Vulnerability breeds happiness. Make your daydream a reality. Realize that there is no better time to do it. Get out of the bubble you’ve been living in and go discover diverse cultures and perspectives. Open your mind and live in a different way; at least for a little while. Misha and I didn’t want to make any rash decisions so we gave this idea some thought for a couple months. Being young and not having the responsibility of a family, we keep reminding ourselves that this is the perfect time for us.

Step 4: Tell Parents

If your parents aren’t in favor of the idea, they won’t disown you. Part of being a parent is loving your kid unconditionally. Despite disagreeing with his decision, Misha’s family still invited him home for Thanksgiving. I gradually introduced this idea to my parents. I planted the idea first as a possibility and answered their endless questions about how this would work. Once I eased their worries, I informed my parents that Misha and I have committed to going on this exploration.

Step 5: Start Saving Money

Remember, every little bit adds up. Instead of spending 5 dollars a day at Starbucks, brew your own coffee. Go to Trader Joe’s and get the new $3.99 bottle of organic wine instead of spending your entire paycheck on poor quality wine at a restaurant. Stop buying unnecessary items. Trust me, if you have to refrain from buying a designer purse or hundred dollar eye liner, you’ll survive. The money spent on your travel experience will contribute to an intrinsic happiness, unlike these materialistic purchases.

Step 6: Come Up With a Time Frame

This can be tentative, but can also give you the comfort of having a plan. Your time frame may vary depending on your current situation. We decided on a year. A year seemed perfect to us as it was long enough to satisfy our travel bug, yet not too long to where it would affect our careers. Just because we decided to go for a year, doesn’t mean you need to do the same. Pick a shorter time frame. Maybe 6 months. Or a longer one. Maybe two years. Whatever suits you best.

Step 7: Quit Job

The prospect of speaking to your employer may seem extremely nerve-racking, but once you’re done you’ll feel relieved. Find a good time to quit and be respectful so as to maintain a reliable reference and to not screw over your colleagues. Having both notified our employers of our imminent departure, Misha and I feel a huge weight lifted off our shoulders.

Step 8: Pick a Location

Now it is time for the more enjoyable steps of planning your dream. Think of a place that you have always dreamed of living, but never thought you actually would. Misha and I have lived our entire lives on the East Coast (aside from Misha living the first four years of his life in Russia). As such, the West Coast was an easy decision for us. Southern California was an even easier decision, since we’re leaving in December. We considered the fact that Cali has high cost of living, so while we still have some cash saved up from working 3 years, we figured we’d start here and reassess before our next destination. We decided on spending approximately 4 months here. Subsequent locations are still tentative, although we have a few places in mind. It’s crucial to maintain some spontaneity.

Step 9: Find a Sub-Lease:

Best resource ever: Craigslist. Misha and I searched for and signed a sublease within a week. Find a property that is fully furnished and includes most essentials (bedding, towels, cleaning and kitchen appliances). We found a very reasonably priced guest house with our own parking spot, washer and dryer and pull out couch. Did I mention it’s in the heart of San Diego, with nearby popular bars and restaurants, a park, and 10 minutes from the beach? It’s possible! All that’s left is to pack a suitcase of clothes and you’re good to go.

Last but not least:

Step 10: Start a Blog

You don’t want to completely leave our family and friends behind, do you? Misha and I have decided to bring our families along (metaphysically) to experience all the joys and anxieties of this journey. Further, it’ll be nice to reminisce in your later years.

Oh wait, there’s one more thing:

Step 11: Get in the car and go!

The Plan

The decision has been made. Riley and I are going to leave our jobs and travel the country. The difficult part is over. Or was that the easy part?

Now we have to break it to our parents.

Surprisingly, Riley’s parents were on board before Riley could even finish the question. My parents, on the other hand, didn’t react as well.

“Ты что, с ума сошeл?” my mother asked me. This means “Have you gone crazy?” in Russian.

8 months later, they’re still uneasy, but they accept my decision and understand that it’s no longer their job to make decisions for their 25 year old son. Especially one as free spirited as me.

Once our parents were informed, Riley and I needed to decide when to quit our jobs and drive off into the sunset. After some discussion, we settled on December. This would allow me to obtain my goal of reaching Senior Accountant with my firm and permit Riley to complete the current school year and work a few temporary jobs during the Summer and Fall to save up for the voyage. In early May Riley broke the news to her principal that she would not be returning for the 2014-2015 school year. Before I knew it, October rolled around and I received my promotion. Shortly after, I informed my audit teams that I would be leaving the firm in 2 months, giving them plenty of time to brace for my departure.

While I was wrapping up the last few months of working as a public accountant Riley had been working as a substitute teacher/server/babysitter/dog-sitter/tutor to beef up her bank account. To save money, she moved back in with her parents while I signed a dirt-cheap lease to live with 6 foreign exchange students in a house barely large enough to fit 3 people. Despite an 8 by 8 foot room and 1 refrigerator among the 6 of us, I’ve grown to love this place and (most of) its multi-lingual tenants.

Although spontaneity is a crucial aspect of a trip like this, some planning needs to take place. Formalities like health and auto insurance, an expiring car lease and what to pack need to take place. Dating a girl who’s been making to-do lists since age 3 makes planning this trip a cake walk for me.

After little deliberation, Riley and I agreed that we want to take our time during this trip. We want to relax and acclimate to the culture of each destination. As such, we agreed to spend at least 3 months in each location. We also decided that we want to travel domestically. Having both spent many a vacation traveling abroad, this would be a good opportunity for us to explore this magnificently large and diverse country we call home.

Our first destination was an easy choice. A city that everyone seems to fall in love with. And one that neither Riley nor I have been to. San Diego, California. 70 degrees and sunny year round. That alone had us sold. Especially since we’ll be commencing this adventure in the heart of winter when the rest of the country will be blanketed by snow. Living walking distance from a world renowned beach won’t hurt either.

We should arrive in San Diego around January 15. What happens in between? Take a seat, buckle up, and enjoy the ride folks.

The Decision

Hi all. My name is Misha. I’m a 25 year old male, currently working for a Big-4 Public Accounting Firm. My girlfriend and companion on this trip is Riley, a lovely 25 year old gal, whose profession thus far has been a Pre-K Special Needs teacher. Although generally not considered part of “Corporate America,” the long hours, paperwork and time spent staring at a computer screen make life as a teacher not too different from life in the corporate world.

We all think about it. Leaving our all-too-familiar cubicles and setting off on endless travel fills our mind more often than we would admit to our employers. These thoughts allow us to get away from the fluorescent glow of our laptop screens and daydream about what could be: Watching a beautiful sunset on a quiet, white-sand beach in Tahiti; bundling beside the warmth of a bonfire beneath the tall canopies of an Amazonian rain forest; or riding a rickshaw through the bustling streets of New Delhi, admiring the impeccable architecture and culture.

Unfortunately, most of the time that’s where things end. In a daydream. What makes Riley and I different, is we are taking it one step further. We’re unplugged our computers, tossing our slacks, ties and high heels, selling off everything except the essentials and ditching the Corporate lifestyle for a world filled with travel and spontaneity. At least for now.

Riley and I are not hippies. Well, not entirely. We took the conventional route for most of our lives. We both received Master’s degrees in our respective fields and went on to work for very reputable employers. And to be honest, we’ve been mostly happy. Aside from the occasional Monday morning hangover following another Miami Dolphins’ loss, I wake up every morning excited to go to work. As does Riley. And there are few things more rewarding than solving a challenging problem in the audit room, or helping a non-verbal, child with autism develop communication skills. We have every intention to one day return to our respective fields and live a relatively conventional life, filled with routine and the occasional two-week vacation. In large part, that is exactly why we are going on this trip. So later in life we don’t wonder “what could have been?”

We first began contemplating leaving in early March 2014. We were sitting comfortably in our spacious airplane cabin, returning to our home-city of Atlanta, GA, from Chicago, IL. I had a 2 week business trip in Chicago and was fortunate enough to have Riley join me for the back end of it. Despite having been put up in a $450/night hotel in Downtown Chicago for 12 nights, atop of receiving $75 per diem for food, something still felt amiss. And it didn’t help that my mind was consumed by a story I had heard earlier that day; in which a young couple left their jobs as accountants to spend the rest of their lives traveling and picking up odd jobs to get by.

“Would you ever do that?” I asked Riley, shortly after the wheels of our Boeing 757 skidded to a screeching halt on the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta runway.

“I’d definitely do it,” Riley said, scrunching her face in disbelief that I would even ask such an obvious question.


“Yes. Would you?”

“I don’t think so.”

“When else would we be able to do something like that?” Riley asked, setting the wheels in motion for what would turn out to be a life changing decision.

Occasional daydreams became borderline obsessions. After a week or so of serious pondering and very little work productivity, I decided to bring up the topic again.
“Remember how I asked you about quitting our jobs and travelling?” I asked Riley as we sat eating dinner in her living room.

“Yes,” Riley said, appearing a bit more apprehensive than last time.

“I’ve given it some serious thought, and I think we should really do it.”

After some hesitation and mumbling, a flow of questions and concerns poured out of Riley’s mouth: money, insurance, jobs, safety, transportation, friends, family.

To the best of my knowledge and ability to bullshit, I answered everything. She seemed a bit more at ease.

“So we doing this?” I asked.

“Yup,” Riley replied.

Why This Blog Was Created

This blog was created by a young couple, working for Corporate America, who decided to turn their dream of travelling into reality. The purpose of this blog is twofold: to chronicle the thoughts, feelings and experiences of these two travelers as they quit their jobs and begin their endeavor across the country and to show the reader that they, too, can make this dream a reality. The travelers will switch off writing each subsequent entry, allowing the reader to see both perspectives throughout this magnificent journey.