Our Sabbatical Adventure

During our 11 months away, we meandered through 12 countries while I lost fifty pounds and got engaged underwater

Five years ago, Apple’s App store opened, Kindle was brand-new, Skype was not yet a verb, and my then-boyfriend/now-husband George and I flew to Tahiti to start a one-year sabbatical adventure.

I chose to leap for love and was unsure how a year on the road would play out. George and I met online and had an instant connection, in no small part due to a mutual passion for exotic travel. George said very early on in an email exchange, “We will at least be friends,” knowing that he had found a kindred spirit of wanderlust.

After several months of dating, we traveled for three weeks to Fiji and Vanuatu during summer holidays. Visiting a local village on Espiritu Santo meant this Princess (yes, I worked for Princess Cruises) had her first bucket bath. I liked it so much, I told George, “I am going to buy a bucket for my shower in Los Angeles. All the soap came right out of my hair.” Later that week, the former Peace Corps worker asked me to join him on this dream to travel for a year in Asia. Thank goodness, I had really liked the bucket!

During the next school year, many of our friends continually asked us, “How can you leave for so long?” Others said, “Just go for the summer and come back to teach in the fall.” They couldn’t imagine being uprooted for a full year. But, I had to ask myself, “If George goes on this year-long adventure without me, how will I feel?” I knew the answer in my heart. I had to go with him.

Under the moonlight in Fiji, when I had first agreed to join George’s dream trip, we had been together for six months. My 40th birthday was fast approaching and I missed the time when I traveled full-time.

I had thought my travel days had ended when two weeks after the towers fell on September 11, Renaissance Cruises went bankrupt and I lost my job. After nearly seven years at sea, I returned to Los Angeles and started from square one. It took some effort to adjust to land again, but before I met George, I was well grounded and had a solid life plan.

I bought a condo, was working as a teacher in the elementary school I went to, and connected with old friends. It appeared that I had all the ingredients to make someone happy, but I wanted more. I wanted someone to share my life and dreams.

After choosing to go on a year adventure with George over my job, condo, family and friends, I then had to figure out a way to pay for this experience. Long story short, I became something of an entrepreneur and was moderately successful when I opened a summer science camp for kids. The concept took off in its second year and I suddenly had the money to fund my end of the expedition.

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During our eleven months away, we meandered through twelve countries while I lost fifty pounds and got engaged underwater. It wasn’t always perfect. There were tears of misunderstanding when George said, “This hotel is great,” which I interpreted as “five-star” and he meant “cheap.” George’s idea of a regular day out included a “field trip” in Moorea with biking, kayaking and swimming with sharks; I would have been happy with a book by the beach in a lounge chair. Several times during this and many other “excursions,” I thought I was going to die. A childhood bike accident had left me terrified of bikes but I did my best on that day in Moorea and George was very supportive.

During our days, nights and many meals together, our bond grew strong. When I was ill in Indonesia, George took such good care of me and brought medicine. When his foot had a tropical ulcer, I took him to the clinic and brought him food so he could rest. When we had nowhere to stay, we slept outside (only twice) and I survived.

In July 2009, we returned home to get married and go back to work. For three years, we saved one salary, brought lunch to school, watched movies from RedBox, drove old cars and planned and dreamed. We wrote a memoir, "Traveling in Sin," about our adventures and misadventures and started a blog, WeSaidGoTravel.

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A year ago in July 2012, we left on a second sabbatical year. We generally spend about $50 a day. Our friends in Los Angeles went away for July 4th weekend last month and spent about $600 per night just for a hotel room for their family of three. They said, “How can you be away for so long?” I explained, “You just spent $1,800 for three nights. That would last us for nearly two months!”

While it's hard to imagine, traveling slow is reasonably affordable and we've enjoyed million-dollar views we could never afford in Los Angeles. We often sleep near the water’s edge and are lulled to sleep by the sound of crashing waves.

We’ve stayed in 122 locations and every night I have felt at home with George by my side. I understand how this whole thing may sound unbelievable. It’s definitely not for everybody. The only thing I can tell you is that it doesn’t matter where I am, as long as I’m with my one true love.

The question for me now is, “How can we consider going back to our old life?” It’s quite possible that we’ll continue living with our new definition of home, one that isn’t tied to a physical location, but wraps us up together wherever we may be.

Lisa Niver Rajna is a writer who has traveled to over one hundred countries and six continents. You can follow her current journey at We Said Go Travel.

Tags: travel