In this week’s ¨Who’s Out There Now¨ feature, we bring to you Michael and Larissa, who left to travel the world in their 50s! Yes, you read that right. We met in Italy in April at the Travel Bloggers Unite conference and got to travel around Umbria together for a few days. Larissa and I even went truffle hunting together, at least until the wind destroyed my umbrella and I had to go back to the farmhouse (where I found MIchael kicking back next to the fireplace). They blog their trip on Changes in Longitude and travel everywhere with Rocky (keep reading).
1. So, where in the world are you answering these questions?
Right now we are staying in a flat in London, England. We will be leaving for a cottage out in Devonshire in the English countryside in a few days. We want to finish this interview before then, since we will be going off the grid for two weeks-no phone or Internet!
2. What’s the story behind your site’s name? And why are you only changing longitude? Do I detect and anti-latitude bias?
In order to circumnavigate the globe we need to cross every line of longitude. The title also reflects the changes that are taking place in our lives as we make this break. Regarding latitude, there’s no bias; just some guy named Jimmy Buffett snagged the title before we could.
3. So, you are taking a statue of Rocky around the world with you and snapping photos of him at the monuments and with people (including Danny Devito!!). How is he received by the locals? Do people recognize him from the movies?
At first we just thought we’d snap photos at famous sights, then people started recognizing him and wanted to pose with him. We’ve been to over 25 countries on this trip and the only place he wasn’t recognized was North Korea. He was particularly popular in Italy, which is to be expected from a guy nicknamed “The Italian Stallion”. He’s been a great ambassador for our hometown of Philadelphia.
4. What I didn’t know in Italy is that you are tasting donuts along the way (I knew I liked you) and you took one for the team by trying the world’s stinkiest donut. Can you explain why you didn’t finish it, Mr. Michael?
Have you ever tried Durian? There’s a reason it’s known as “the stinky fruit”. It smelled like my hiking sandals, and I certainly wouldn’t eat them.
5. What are the factors that were different for you in deciding to take a career break in your 50s than would have been the case at the age of 40, or 30?
At this age you can’t just put all your stuff in your parent’s basement and hit the road. We had a lot of loose ends to tie up before we left: sell our house, cars, and most of our personal belongings; sort out health insurance, etc. The flip side to all of this is we have more savings than we did when we were 30. We’re not rich, but we don’t have to sleep on people’s floors either.
6. You went way off the path visiting North Korea, even posting Is it Morally Right to Visit North Korea? Now that you’ve been, how has it changed how you process news about what goes on inside the country or US-North Korean relations?
We realize that the people are warm, friendly and very naïve. We saw firsthand how the North Korean government spins information to suit their regime. They operate as if the political ideologies of the early 1950’s are still active today, and teach the populace that the US started the Korean War, and that North Korea is the center of the Universe. The citizenry would be devastated to know that the world has moved on immeasurably in the past 60 years, and views them as a backward little country. If it weren’t for their nuclear program, no one would pay them any attention. As a result, we have learned to take any news coming out of the Hermit Kingdom with a grain of salt. Everything that is reported is done so to support the myth of the regime.
7. Career break, nomadic adventure, backpacking, how do you characterize your trips?
We started this journey as a mid-life career break. We’ve been on the road 10 months now and somewhere along the way we realized we’re not taking a break, we’re making a break from our former life. We don’t know exactly what the future holds, but we’re excited at the prospect of inspiring others to take a similar step. On a more mundane level, we are not backpackers-we travel with wheeled suitcases. (Perhaps another difference from taking a trip at age 50 rather than 30!)
8. What are some of the secrets to travel that you’ve discovered that you think more people who aren’t traveling should know?
We rent flats instead of staying in hotels whenever we can. They are cheaper than hotels, and even cheaper than many hostels in expensive cities. We like having some extra space and having a kitchen enables us to save on food expenses by cooking our own meals. Plus when traveling long-term it’s nice to have a place to call “home”, even for a week or two.
9. What was your first ¨We’re not in Kansas anymore¨ moment on this trip?
Kansas is the Sunflower State, and ironically our first foreign destination was Beijing, where the pollution was so bad when we landed we couldn’t even see the sun. We were definitely NOT in Kansas.
10. What’s been your most ¨local¨ experience so far?
Getting lost in the backstreets of Old Saigon during the Tet holiday. We wound up in a Bhuddist Convent. A group of tiny nuns with shaved heads fed us a meal of fruit and rice and delightedly posed with Little Rocky. You can’t plan stuff like that.
11. What has been your most embarrassing moment?
We each have a toilet story. Michael inadvertently flushed a small tree frog down the toilet in the Australian Bush country. It’s so dry out there apparently the frogs think of the toilets as ponds. This is the first time he’s “toad” anybody about it.
Larissa had an “I Love Lucy” moment in a toilet on a Malaysian train when water started pouring out all over the floor. After writing a blog post about it, she started getting a lot of odd spam to the site. It turns out there’s a dominatrix out there somewhere: a “Miss Larissa” who “toilet trains” adult men. Whoops.
12. What’s your secret for getting the most out of your journey?
Less is more. When traveling long term, you can’t possibly be on the go 100% of the time. We try to slow things down, take a day “off” and write or just relax. It enables us to absorb the unique rhythms of a place.
13. Finally, our lightening round.
- Best dish you’ve found so far: Michael: Chili Crab in Singapore, Larissa: Street food in Hoi An, Vietnam
- Most exotic food eaten: Michael: Kokorec, the sheep intestine sandwich in Istanbul, Larissa: Durian (the stinky fruit), fresh from the tree in Bali
- Most breathtaking moment: Michael: Open cockpit bi-plane ride over the Lord of the Rings battlefield in New Zealand, Larissa: Stepping onto the Circular Quay in Sydney and seeing the Harbour in all its glory
- Biggest disappointment: Michael: The pollution in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Larissa: The garbage-strewn Kuta Beach in Bali
- Most memorable place: Michael: Jerusalem Old City, Larissa: Istanbul
- Most memorable person: Michael: Roko Belic, director of the documentary “Happy”, Larissa: Not exactly a person, but I remember Bella, the motherless calf I took care of while we stayed on a ranch in the Australian Bush country.
- Best thing to have on a long bus ride: Michael: my eyes, to look out the window, Larissa: a notebook to write in
- Worst thing to have on a long bus ride: Michael: someone who won’t shut up, Larissa: someone who won’t let me talk
- Best thing you packed: Michael: whatever notebook I’m using at the time (I’ve been through several), Larissa: comfortable walking shoes
- Dumbest thing you packed: Michael: sport coat, Larissa: bathrobe
- Funniest travel habit the other has: Michael: Larissa rearranges the furniture in every single room we stay in. Larissa: Michael tries to pick the fastest line at airport security, immigration, etc, and then overanalyzes his choice.
- Place you wish you could’ve stayed longer: Michael: Shanghai, Larissa: Istanbul
Every week, Career Break Secrets profiles a different traveler or traveling couple who are embracing the ¨Because Life Is Out There TM¨ travel spirit. These are people who have taken the plunge to embark on a career break and are currently traveling the world.
Tags: Who´s Out There Now