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Joel on Planning, Process, and Purpose

In these waning days before our departure, my short-term memory is awash in the names of distant towns I’m sure I’ve been mispronouncing. I’ve been bargain hunting and gear gathering, seeing friends and family, and making creative use of the remaining condiments in our fridge to questionable culinary effect. In recent months, Amy and I have navigated enigmatic visa application requirements, been immunized against assorted pathogens and taught ourselves basic Mandarin. We’ve charted courses then rerouted, and selected accommodation based on proximity to vegetarian restaurants in every Asian capital. We set our comfort level, managed our expectations, and discovered that even on an extended timeline and limited budget, cost isn’t always the final word when it means all day in transit to save a few bucks.


For years I’ve been saving, more out of thrift inherited from Grandma than with an eye towards a particular goal. Of course, extended travel was always more of an unspoken probability than a down payment on an apartment I’ll never pay off, or a car I don’t need living in New York. Cooking dinner at home, sipping soda at the bar, gaming the coupon system at CVS so I rarely pay for toiletries - all these come naturally. Lately I’ve reined in discretionary spending on anything save the essentials for this trip (see below). With such personal austerity measures in place, it’s taken me five years to save enough for the journey on a modest educator’s salary.

Never much of a materialist, in our attempt to “go-light” Amy and I have accumulated a collection of travel-specific items that recently outgrew its designated box by the door. Now we each have our own box. Performance underwear, tiny bottles of Bronner’s, maximum-strength probiotics, the napalm equivalent of bug spray, vegetable bouillon cubes...all as light, compact, concentrated, durable, and multi-purpose in design as possible. I scored a Tortuga travel backpack after waiting months for a production bottleneck to resolve, and with demand for this coveted bag far outstripping supply, I ordered the moment the email notification appeared, which felt a little like winning the lottery. The irony of buying an arsenal of travel gear so we can escape to distant locales removed from consumer culture isn’t lost on me, though the contradiction seems as inevitable as it is necessary.


If home life offers the comfort of a stable routine, time away can feel like someone cranked up the contrast, exposing you to alternatingly less-and-more comfortable circumstances than usual. Sleepless overnight bus rides can be redeemed upon arrival with the kind of pampering you could never afford back home. The effort seems to justify the indulgence, but if travel can be physically taxing, it wears on you mentally as well. Stepping out of an airport onto an unfamiliar street with unreadable signs and strangers shouting in a foreign tongue can be disorienting, even overwhelming for some. As a traveler on holiday, it might make good sense to shell out for an all-inclusive tour that avoids such unpleasantness, maximizing your experience of pure escapism by spiriting you away on a direct shuttle to the beach. But for the one-way ticket crowd, travel is an undertaking with a constantly shifting target, forcing you to adapt to your surroundings at every turn. It rewards the hard way.

There’s something about the finality of leaving home with just what’s on your back that appeals to my sense of self-sufficiency and economy of space. For the organizationally-minded, planning ahead to secure the basics of shelter, transportation, and vital information can translate to more time spent enjoying, instead of frantically searching for a vacant room with a loaded pack under a hot sun. While appreciating the pitfalls of micromanaging an unpredictable future at the expense of living in the present, I’ll still opt for a well-researched plan that leaves plenty of wiggle room. In the age of instant confirmation and free cancellation, I don’t see much of a downside in setting the logistical stage, and letting the daily adventures unfold.

We will push ourselves to embrace the uncomfortable, engage with the unfamiliar, and seek beauty in the novel. We will invite new experiences, but stay true to the ideas that guide us, while staying healthy and safe. Amy and I will document thoroughly, but pinky swore not to let the camera or keyboard mediate the moment. We’ll be regularly updating the SpaceTimeSabbatical website to share our adventures in a way that hopefully entertains, informs, intrigues or inspires...but doesn’t induce travel envy. So come along for the ride!


words by Joel. Photos by Joel Remland, Morgan Scott Green, and Sarah Nagle.

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