Today I interviewed Larissa and Michael from Changes in Longitude. Join me as they talk about what a difference a trip can make and how blogging and travel have changed their lives.
1. In 2011 you decided to do what a lot of people would consider to be crazy; you sold your house and gave away most of your belongings to travel the world. Quite apart from how daunting this must have been, was there a single moment that made you decide that now was the time to travel and escape from it all?
We had gone through a health scare, deaths of parents and employment crises leading up to our trip, but the real driver was the break-up of the relationship with our adult daughter, whom we had adopted from Russia when she was 9 years old. Although traveling the world sounds exotic, our first choice in life would be to have a stable home life. But we’ve learned the hard way that while we can’t control what happens to us in life, we can control how we respond to it.
2. What is the biggest change that you have noticed in your life since you both made the decision to travel?
Our lifestyle is so much simpler than before when we had all the trappings: a house in the suburbs, three cars in the driveway and all the unnecessary stuff that one accumulates along the way. Now we live out of our suitcases and are much happier.
Before we left on our round-the-world journey, we placed what possessions we hadn’t given away into a ten-foot- square storage unit. When we returned we looked at it and thought “why did we keep all this crap” and ended up getting rid of it all. Almost everything we now own fits in the trunk of our car.
Michael likes being “off the grid” so much that he’s even gotten rid of his cell phone. Now that’s simplifying your life!
3. (not sure if I’m overstepping the boundaries here) In one of the excerpts from your forthcoming book, you stated that you were feeling burnt out before you left on your original round the world adventure. Part of this stress was related to the self-destructive path that your adopted daughter was set on at that time in her life. Has travelling, space and a feeling of being re-energised turned things around?
In an odd twist, we needed to leave our daughter for her to realize that she had to work on her life without us there to step in to pick up the pieces. It was the ultimate tough love and only came after years of dealing with an untenable situation. The journey gave us time away and helped us deal with this situation in our own minds; but it took a year for that sort of peace to emerge.
4. Recently I have noticed that many of the most successful and younger travel bloggers are actually going through the process of settling down and travelling less. Since returning to the US have you lost a bit of that itch to travel so widely?
We are still living a nomadic lifestyle. Because we took this journey in our early 50s we had a home to sell, the proceeds of which we are using to fund our travels, along with our sparse income as travel writers. Cashing in on home equity wouldn’t usually be the case for someone younger. (Although we do envy those who travel long-term in their 20s and 30s and wish we had done so.)
If anything our adventure has made us less likely to settle down anytime soon. That itch to roam has still not been scratched. We’ve been on the road now for almost two years and loving it.
5. Do you think you will ever properly settle down again?
Since we don’t plan more than a month or so in advance, that’s really hard to predict.
6. You are actually in the process of writing a book about your experiences travelling the world and there are a number of excerpts from the book on the site. How is this project going and how close are you to completing the book?
Ah, the book. We’ve sent query letters to many agents about our book, Changes in Longitude: How One Couple Chucked it All to Travel the World, but it has been a frustrating process. We’re not used to an industry where a non-response means someone is not interested rather than telling you so. People we meet seem fascinated with the concept of what we’ve done and want to learn more so we will look at self-publishing. If an interested agent is reading this don’t be shy!
7. In just two short years you have managed to create a very successful travel blog. Are you actually running any other sites apart from Changes in Longitude?
Yikes, Changes in Longitude is enough work as it is. We are also freelance writers who maintain a featured travel column in the Philadelphia Inquirer called “A Year and a World.”
8. If you had to identify one key to being successful at blogging what would it be?
Just keep writing good stories that people are interested in reading.
9. Are there any resources that you would recommend to bloggers looking to grow their travel blog?
Before starting this journey Michael took an online class called “Travel Blog Success” taught by Dave Lee. It really helped kick-start the process.
10. Refocusing the interview a bit. What are your travel plans over the next six months?
We’ve always loved road trips so we are wandering around North America. We started in the northeast and are working our way south and west.
11. What are you most looking forward to?
Michael: I’ve been to 48 states but have missed Alaska and Hawaii. I’d like to finally complete that set.
Larissa: Collecting experiences rather than possessions, those moments when we stumble upon something unexpected that impacts our life.
12. Funniest moment while travelling?
On a dreary, rainy day in Devon, England we were hiking through the soggy countryside and found ourselves in a cow pasture. We sank ankle-deep in mud (and whatever other mud-like substance might be deposited in a cow pasture) when we stared up a rise at a herd of longhorn bulls none too happy about our presence. That’s when we realized we were on the wrong side of the fence … an electric fence.
Like something out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, the bulls started pawing the ground and glaring at us. We froze, not wanting to antagonize our new friends. After 20 minutes of playing statue in the drenching rain and sinking further into the muck, Michael told Larissa to run for it while he distracted the bulls with his umbrella.
Larissa thwacked across the muddy field while Michael charged up the hill, his souvenir umbrella from Paris leading the way. He counted on the enigmatic smile of Mona Lisa to frighten the bulls. While Michael held the confused bulls at bay, Larissa employed the dexterity of a bomb squad engineer to unhook the electric fence from the car battery that powered it. We scrambled over the fence, only to run into the neighboring farm’s tenacious sheep dogs.
13. Top three travel memories?
1) During a nighttime stroll we were lost in the maze-like streets of old Saigon. Somehow we ended up at a Buddhist convent on the Tet holiday, the holiest day of the year. The nuns welcomed us in, fed us and invited us into their sanctuary to pray with them and for our family. We didn’t learn until later that during Tet it is traditional to welcome travelers. We were so far off the tourist path that they must have been just as surprised to see as we were to see them.
2) We traveled to North Korea on this journey. North Koreans have no access to news of the outside world and are fed a steady diet of anti-American propaganda. We believe in engagement, not estrangement, and felt it’s better if people of the countries can meet. We found the North Koreans to be gentle people, curious about the outside world. We learned that people anywhere can get along, it’s the governments that have problems with each other.
3) We were sitting on the beach in Perth, Australia watching the sun melt into the Indian Ocean, pondering the changes brought about so far by our journey. We no longer wanted to return to life as we knew it. When we first started out on our trip, we were taking a break from our lives. Now, we realized, we were breaking from our former life. We began to view our journey differently: every step would help us to shape our new life.
That first step occurred sooner than expected. As more folks flocked to our isolated spot, we found out, rather graphically, that we sat smack in the middle of a nude beach. To remain clothed would make us the odd man and woman out. So we shed our clothes as easily as we were shedding the vestiges of our former life. One of the nice things about travel is that no one knows who you are. You can be anyone you want and even reinvent yourself along the way.
Larissa and Michael Milne sold everything to travel around the world for a year with a Rocky statue. You can follow their journey at www.ChangesInLongitude.com.