Along with working as coach for global nomads living around the world, I also post an Interview Series on this website where I share the stories of global nomads who have moved abroad, are traveling the globe, or are transitioning to life back at home.
Today I’m featuring an interview with a couple who is sure to inspire you to pack your bags and head out on an adventure. Taemi and Josh are a married couple, originally from New York, who have been on the road for the past two years. After calling various places around the globe their home they’ve recently returned to the states where they’re continuing their adventures in the Pacific Northwest. Read on to learn about the envy-inspiring places they’ve seen in the world, their tips for embracing life on the road and how traveling together affected their relationship.
Hi Taemi and Josh, can you tell us a little more about yourselves?
We’re a married couple originally from New York. We’ve been living around the world for the last two years and are currently back stateside, still continuing our journey in the Pacific Northwest. We are slowly becoming jacks-of-all-trades, but we specialize in video production, architecture and outdoor education. While we’ve traveled, we’ve pruned grape vines, installed wood floors, painted a house and flipped burgers, amongst other things. For fun, we like to hike in the wilderness and just enjoy the peace and quiet. We also enjoy learning new things, traveling, playing music, cooking and blowing bubbles.
What motivated you to move abroad?
We grew up believing that life was lived one way: you go to school, get a job, get married, buy a house, have kids. You stay put. But as we entered our mid-twenties, we started to get this unshakable feeling that such a lifestyle might not be for us. We could see our lives laid out before us, and we weren’t ready for that. We wanted to see what was outside the walls of our work-focused lives. New York was all that we knew, but we wanted to know more. We saved up some money, put our belongings into storage, and set out for the unknown.
Where have you lived abroad?
We’ve technically lived a lot of places, without actually having a single address. We started our trip by walking 500 miles across Spain on the Camino de Santiago. Then we began our first stints in “work exchange” where you stay with a host who provides room and board in exchange for a few hours of work each day. After staying with several hosts and friends throughout Europe, we lived in Australia for a year. We bought a car, and spent our nights camping in National Parks and in friends’ backyards around the country. From there, we explored and gave back in countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Nepal. If we stopped to think on how many bathrooms we’ve showered in over the last 2 years, we could confidently say it’s well over 100. So, we’ve done the complete opposite of “staying put” and were able to truly live in and absorb each place that we visited.
What place was your favorite and why?
Our favorite places would have to be Australia and Nepal. Australia felt to us like the world’s best-kept secret: a place that a lot of people know about superficially (it has a big reef and kangaroos) but don’t know personally. For us it’s a country with a rich and troubled history, untapped natural beauty and open-hearted people. We slumbered in the red sand of the desert, bathed in hidden waterfalls, and gawked in awe of the unhindered night sky. Though completely different, we loved Nepal for similar reasons. The highlights being the Himalayas and the people. We made friends in small villages along a trek surrounding Mt. Manaslu. Friends who are thankfully safe after the recent earthquakes, but are living under tarps and on minimal food after their homes were destroyed. It breaks our hearts to think of these shining people in such distress. A non-profit we connected with through our travels is raising money for our friends in Nepal, you can check them out here: http://www.gofundme.com/swd4vsc
What’s the most difficult part about living abroad?
When you live abroad, many things of course are different. We’ve been in towns with no indoor plumbing, where the water is undrinkable, where electricity is a myth and where traditions are foreign. But that’s what traveling is all about- being out of your comfort zone and trying something new. As humans we are adaptable. These differences in routine can become the new norm. The most difficult things for us were those we couldn’t adapt to being without, the people we couldn’t replace: our family and friends. Being apart from them for so long was a true struggle. The frozen screen of a Skype call left us feeling empty. Emails and phone calls, however frequent, still don’t match the real thing.
What’s the best part?
While we were abroad Taemi became ill, and discovered through various doctor visits and navigating foreign health care that she has a chronic digestive disease. One that can be aggravated by stress and is heavily influenced by diet. In Malaysia, she had an extremely debilitating episode, losing 10 lbs in 2 weeks. For Josh, watching Taemi suffering and feeling helpless was the worst part. The questions of whether we should end our travels and what was the best thing for Taemi’s health had us confused. When you feel as if a situation is life or death, or sick or sicker, every decision is overanalyzed and becomes urgent.
Having said all that, we wouldn’t trade our time abroad for anything. Living out of a backpack isn’t for everyone. But being able to point to a distant spot on a map and then experience it is unparalleled. We had our eyes opened to how other people live and were fascinated by their banalities. We thrashed out of our shells, pursued new careers, tested our limits and discovered who we really are.
What have you learned from living abroad?
Living outside of the US was an enriching experience all around. We could probably talk for hours about what we learned while we were away. As travellers we were exposed to so many new ideas, strange foods and local customs. Learning is an inherent part of traveling. We learned that there are Italians who speak German as their first language. That Australian Aboriginals don’t necessarily have rights to their sacred lands. And that some Nepali children walk for 6-days (one way) through the Himalayas just to see their families when on school break. All of these lessons and many more give us a new appreciation for the diversities and complexities of our world.
Looking inward, we learned a lot about ourselves as individuals. In New York we tended to define ourselves by external factors- our jobs, where we lived, where we came from. Traveling and living abroad strips you of most of that. You are simply an American away from home. And even that can be called into question. Without the structure of our previous self-definitions, we learned ourselves. Josh learned that spending 7 days deep in the wilderness is his best form of therapy. Taemi figured out how to embrace the “unknown” with a sense of wonder for what’s to come. We learned that we need to just be open to the experience. We can’t know how we’ll react to something before we give it a try.
Spending 24 hours a day together for 2 years straight, you get to know your travel partner pretty well. We not only learned about ourselves, but also about each other and how we function as a couple. We had so many repeated arguments that we started to number them. #1 was Taemi is Micromanaging Josh. #2 was What Are We Doing Here and What Are We Doing With Our Lives. And on and on. We learned how to argue, how to diffuse arguments, how to give each other space, and all the little cues we subtly give each other and how to read them. Every day was full of decisions, and we figured out how to navigate them together. We learned that we may not be perfect, but we are perfect for each other.
What is your secret to keeping a positive attitude while living abroad?
We are very lucky that we had each other to fall back on when things became overwhelming and stressful. But it was also important to build a network of people that we trusted around us. Friends who could bring us up when we felt down. Having the support of our friends and family at home to be able to send a quick question to, or get random supporting thoughts from, was priceless.
What’s the best place you’ve ever traveled to?
It took a while to get there, but standing at 17,000 ft was pretty breathtaking (literally and figuratively). The Manaslu Circuit in the Himalayas took us to the top of Larkya La Pass. Days of uncertainty because of a storm and altitude sickness, made our final steps to the top all the more momentous. And the view and sense of accomplishment was like nothing we’d experienced before. Walking amongst the world’s giants on icy alien terrain, feeling the crunch of snow beneath our trudging feet, knowing that it was our own feet that brought us there, are memories we won’t forget.
Do you have a bucket list? Would you share with us a couple of things on that list?
We took up backpacking in the wilderness while we were abroad, so a lot of the places we want to visit, and things we want to do surround that. We’d like to hike in Patagonia, see the Northern Lights, camp in Alaska, ride the Trans-Siberian Railway, go on safari in Africa and visit Antarctica and New Zealand to name a few.
Do you watch TED Talks? What’s your favorite one?
We aren’t big TED watchers, but Josh’s favorite is probably “Why 30 is not the new 20” featuring clinical psychologist Meg Jay. Her talk describes meaningful ways to spend your time as a 20-something-year-old working professional. Her term ‘building identity capital’ certainly resonates with us as an interpretation of dedicating time in your life towards self-development. This is something that doesn’t exist much in our culture
What advice do you have for people who are considering moving abroad, but are feeling doubtful?
Before we left, a trip like ours seemed like this huge unattainable thing. Not only is everything about the act of leaving difficult (quitting jobs, selling/storing belongings, saying goodbye to loved ones) but what you’ll find when you get there is so unknown and indefinable. The questions that plagued us every time we thought about it had us tied up in knots. What will we do when we get there? Will we find jobs? Will we make friends? What if we hate it? Just the thought of packing for our trip made our brains explode.
But remember, every journey begins with just one step. You can’t lose yourself in the what-if’s and spiral out of control. Take it one step at a time. Some day you’ll look back and think how thankful you are that you pushed yourself out the door. And you’ll cherish each moment of that long winding journey.
A big thanks to Taemi and Josh for sharing your story with us today! If you want to read more about the adventures they’ve had and what’s up for them next, take a look at their blog.
ABOUT MELISSA PARKS, THE FOUNDER OF INTENTIONAL EXPAT:
I moved from Seattle (USA) to Madrid, Spain in 2009 in order to work as an English teacher for a year. I soon discovered that when you accept the invitation to become a global nomad, life may take you in unexpected directions! This one year abroad turned into ten, and during that time I earned my master’s degree and PhD in Clinical & Health Psychology, lived in both Spain and the Netherlands, became fluent in Spanish, transitioned from an accidental to an intentional expat, and met my future husband, a fellow global nomad. I recently relocated back to Seattle and provide online coaching for global nomads, If you’re a global nomad yourself and want to be featured in a future interview, please get in touch!
Would you like to learn more about my coaching services for expats and global nomads? I offer a free 30-minute consultation for potential clients so that you can see if my coaching services are a good fit for you: