This week on The Traveler Series, meet couple Sean and Jen of the travel site, Venturists. Back in January, this married pair managed to turn their dream of traveling into a reality by swapping their 9-5 jobs and Californian home for a life on the road. Taking their time to explore the world–spending about a month in each location–this dynamic duo fuel their wanderlust by working on a few small business ventures, including blogging at venturists.net and keeping up their online store, Zyger Imports. Here I interview ‘the Venturists’ on how they afford their global travels, Jen’s serious love of cheese & the best piece of travel advice they’ve picked up over the years.
What inspires you to travel?
Jen: Valuing time. We only have so much of it. We decided that spending time with each other and working on our own goals and priorities was an achievable luxury.
Sean: At heart, we are schemers and planners. Over all of the years we’ve been together, some of our most fun has been not just traveling, but planning and dreaming about where to go next. The inspiration is the journey itself. Of course, experiencing new and different cultures and food is key as well.
Jen: We are traveling slowly so that we can more easily afford our lifestyle. That means finding short-term apartments to rent that are sometimes a little off of the beaten track. This also allows us to get to know places and cultures better and to avoid travel fatigue.
Sean: You hear a lot about “slow travel”, but that’s really it. We end up spending at least 3-4 weeks at a particular destination. That allows us to really explore the area on our own schedule, often planning day trips or “mini-vacations”in the middle of a stay in a particular city. We also have some pretty mundane work days, when we’re both on our computers and Skype on conference calls. But to Jen’s point, these days help combat fatigue. For example, today in Medellin we got up, went to the gym, went across the street to the guy selling vegetables out of his truck, ate an enormous salad of fresh veggies and worked online. Not exactly the life of international mystery and intrigue, right? That said, yesterday we climbed up the 659 concrete stairs of La Piedra de Peñol in Guatapé (pictured left) and drank in amazing views of the valley below. Each day is different.
How do you afford your travels?
Jen: Several years ago, we started to dream up ways to help make our time our own, and began to explore potential streams of “passive income.” We shifted our investing strategy and began to purchase rental properties with positive cash flow. We additionally started an online store where we sell products discovered during our journeys. Sean also continues to do consulting work as an IT professional, which is possible anywhere that we have a good internet connection.
Sean: This isn’t going to help your solo travelers, but traveling as a couple (beyond transportation) actually is pretty economical. Two in a cab can be the same price as two in a bus. We budget around $30 a day for accommodations, which for two people staying a little longer can get you some pretty nice places in some parts of the world. Staying in apartments where we can shop, cook and do laundry and not have to eat all our meals out, saves a bunch too. Jeez, how domestic do I sound?
Where has been your favorite destination?
Jen: I don’t think we’ve been there yet! So many places to discover which is part of the excitement of full-time travel. That said we really enjoyed our trip to South Africa, which included game watching in Kruger National Park.
Sean: It’s tough to pick but I guess it would be one of the places we’re hungry to get back to: Cape Town, Rome, Barcelona, maybe? Sometimes my favorite isn’t a destination, but a favorite moment – the two of us sitting side by side, sipping wine, and looking out over the Amalfi coast. There are a bunch of those moments, though.
If you had to settle down in one location forever, where would you choose and why?
Jen: We’ve talked about finding an apartment outside of Rome for a few reasons. It’s a great city for walking and has great public transportation. The food is amazing and living in the midst of all of that history is awe-inspiring. It has been part of our plan to find a few condos around the world to be places to feel more settled and “at home” and that we can also rent out while we are away. We’re waiting to discover the right places and properties to make that happen.
Sean: Choose? I’m really not good at that. We haven’t yet found a single place with crystal blue water and white sand beaches, towering mountains with amazing hiking and views, and a vibrant city life with an unbelievable variety of delicious food, all for pennies a day. But, if you know of one, we’ll put it on the list.
What’s the funniest or weirdest cultural idiosyncrasy you’ve either witnessed or experienced?
Jen: Good question! One interesting thing in each new destination is trying to figure out the bathroom culture. Do you need to bring your own toilet paper? Is there an actual toilet? Every place has something new to get used to that isn’t often described in the guidebooks. We keep our sense of humor and a pack of tissues handy – we often need both.
Sean: Weird, I’m usually the one that brings up bathroom-related discussions. Ok, this one’s probably only funny to us, but here goes. First of all, you have to understand that Jen has a serious cheese addiction. Cheese gets put on everything. On a trip to Venice, Jen nearly got into a wrestling match with a waiter over the Parmesan that she wanted to pile onto pasta with clam sauce. We still laugh about the waiter’s indignant “the fish and the cheese, they do not mix” comment.
What keepsake do you have to get at all your destinations? (Whether it’s something free like ticket stubs or brochures, or something you have to buy)
Jen: Since we’re always expanding our on-line store, shopping for crafts has become part of our business. It’s fun to try to figure out what products may become popular and to consider how buying these items can support local artists. Keep an eye on our store to see what we come up with! Bonus – now Sean doesn’t complain (as much) when it’s time to hit the craft market.
Sean: We went through a lot of soul searching and discovery about “things” when preparing to sell all of our belongings to start traveling full time (“How did we end up with two blenders?”), and that really stuck with me. Beyond the products Jen mentioned above, I think it’s the photos of places we’ve been that are our most important keepsakes. It’s amazing to review them months or years later and remember the smallest detail. (Obligatory tech guy comment: always back up your data and photos!)
Jen: Our computers are necessary so that we can keep working. A travel essential for me is a scarf that can multi-task as a sarong, shawl when it’s cold, or to use as a cover when required (such as entering churches in many cities).
Sean: One thing? I have too many gadgets to pick just one! Ok, I’ll pick three: MacBook Air (yeah, I’m one of THOSE people), an e-Reader and an Android camera phone. But there are lots more! It’s actually been interesting what you CAN travel without – it seems every place we end up discarding something from our bags (which are already carry-ons).
What is the best piece of travel advice you’ve picked up over the years?
Jen: Rule #1: Don’t be a bitch. Landing in a new place, feeling uncertain, tired, not knowing the language can lead to frustration that is most easily directed toward your trusty traveling companion. We have learned to slow down, take a deep breath, and practice kindness and patience. It always pays off. Rule #2, see Rule #1.
Sean: Just to be clear, I’m usually the one violating Rule #1.
Why did you begin your website? And how did you come up with your website name?
Jen: We began the site as a way to document our travels and to connect with like-minded others. Now that we’re traveling full-time in foreign places it’s even more important that we stay connected. We decided on the name “Venturists” because we wanted to relay our thirst for adventure as well as the idea that we aren’t retired. We continue to make money and to look for new opportunities everywhere we go.
Sean: As we were preparing to jump into this new lifestyle, we read a LOT of travel blogs and they were a great source of inspiration and information. For me, it was natural that we’d try to do the same. It’s also a great way of staying connected to our friends and families back in the states.
What is your one piece of advice to budding travel writers looking to start a blog or website?
Jen: We used DesignCrowd to assist us with designing our blog and our logo. We put our job on the site and got several developers/designers to bid on our project. They were relatively inexpensive and we were introduced to many talented people.
Sean: This is one of those “do what I say, not what I do” pieces of advice: write as much as possible and have a consistent schedule for posting so people are regularly checking the site for new stories. Also, have you heard of this social media thing? I think it’s going to be big! The Twitter/Facebook/Instagram communities are great for connecting with like-minded people, as well as for shamelessly promoting your own posts.
What’s next for 2014? (Trips planned, etc.)
Jen: We started traveling full-time in February, 2014. We are now in Colombia and are planning to head to Mexico and then to Europe in late summer.
Sean: A month ago, we ran across a one-way fare from the US to Lisbon in August for $300 and jumped on it. We had decided to attend TBEX in Athens in October and this will get us going in that general direction. So, after Mexico and a brief visit with families in New England, we’re heading to Europe. Lisbon and Porto, Portugal are on the list, as well as a “side trip” to Morocco and possibly Italy before Athens. We’re also talking about winter in Southeast Asia. Of course, our current lifestyle allows this to change at a moment’s notice. So, who knows where else we’ll venture in 2014. Check the blog!
Follow Jen & Sean as they travel the world here: