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This couple quit their jobs in the UAE to travel the world

Khaleej Times 2018-12-07 05:52:54

There are people who love travelling, and there are people who can't live without it. And Jeff and Anne Johns fall squarely into the latter category. While Jeff hails from the USA, Anne comes from a town in France, and when they met in Dubai in 2014, it was, well, love (for travel) at first sight. The couple immediately set about planning quick 48-hour trips to other countries - easily done over the weekend as they both had full-time jobs - and making a blog (www.whatdoesntsuck.com) to document their adventures. After exploring more than 40 countries together, the now-happily married couple decided to take another plunge this year and quit their jobs for the adventure of a lifetime - exploring 25 countries in the span of six months.
We speak to them to find out what it's like to sell one's possessions, live out of backpacks and not have a fixed base. Excerpts from an interview:

Have you two always had the travel bug?
Anne: Jeff's had an insane wanderlust from a very early age and has managed to travel to over 90 countries in the last 15 years, which is crazy. I lived in Amsterdam after leaving France and then moved to Dubai six years ago. I only really started travelling when we met. Since then, we've explored more than 40 countries together - so yeah, I think we have the travel bug pretty bad!

What gave you the idea to leave the UAE to travel around the world?
One thing you learn quickly when you're living in the UAE is just how centrally located it is. After planning so many 48-hour adventures and long weekends away from Dubai to explore places like Nepal, Beirut, Zanzibar, Egypt and India, we dreamed of being able to not only reach some far-off destinations, but to stay longer than a weekend - so the jobs had to go!
We made the decision shortly after getting married in 2017 that we would set a financial goal, work towards it, and when we hit our target, would leave our jobs and travel the world. After months and months of planning and saving, we hit our goal and did just that! We set an itinerary for a six-month trip through four continents and 25 countries.

How did your companies take it? Were they very accommodating?
Our companies were sad to see us go but extremely supportive and excited to see us follow our dreams. They are all following along on our journey!

What about your belongings - are you carrying them with you?
We often joke that we're #teambackpack because we carry backpack, and bumbags everywhere we go and rarely ever check a bag on a flight. We travel extremely light and lean, can carry everything ourselves and just have the basics. We each carry one backpack, one bumbag and one small rolling duffel.

How much time was spent in preparing for this trip around the world? What kind of effort and planning went into it?
Financial planning was the most important, and it was about 18 months of effort for both the financial savings and logistical planning. We set timelines for 12, nine, six, three and one months before we left and constantly made - and revised - checklists of what needed to be done by those dates.

Travel is not a cheap hobby or passion. How did you manage to make it work, financially?
Anyone who has ever lived in Dubai more than a couple of months knows how easily money can just flow away if you're not careful. So, we set extremely tight budgets for ourselves and would immediately transfer as much of our salaries as we could into a savings account the minute we got paid each month. Yes, travel is expensive, but we also made it a priority. We started filming our "48 Hours in." adventure travel video guides because we realised that skipping out on a brunch, fancy meal, shopping trip and just making coffee at home could save us insane amounts of money over time - and now we're able to say this from a beach in Bali because of that!
Aside from careful planning, we've made mistakes and learned that there are some easy and simple ways to really save money on the road. In the last five months since we left Dubai, we have spent less money every single month than we did on an average month living in JLT.

Planning everything from another country is not easy - have there been any rough times/ bumps/ changes in plans?
Long-term travel takes a certain mindset, no matter where you are. I think the most important thing is finding the right travel partner - once you have this sorted, you can take on anything. Yes, we've hit some bumps in the road but it's often not what people think. Having things stolen, getting lost, missing a flight, etc are the classics, but the more difficult part of travel like this is not having a set schedule, routine or environment. Not being able to go grocery shopping and switching beds (and countries) so often can get very exhausting - so having the right person next to you makes all the difference.

Tell us about your travels: when did you start and how many countries have you visited this year?
We started in mid-June just after Eid and flew directly from Dubai to Seattle for a three-week US road trip. Since then, we've spent five weeks in South America exploring Brazil, the salt flats in Bolivia, Machu Picchu in Peru and then hopped over to Greenland. We drove from Prague to Split, Croatia, got lost in Serbia, and we've now spent the last month exploring Bali. We leave next week to trek Everest Basecamp in Nepal. We'll have a quick stopover in Goa and then we'll slow down a bit for the holidays. All in all, we've been travelling about 160 days and have done 25 countries.

What have your favourite experiences been so far?
Exploring the US National Parks was an absolute highlight. There was so much natural beauty around every corner. Bolivia and Greenland were real surprises as well, and we've really fallen in love with Ubud, Bali. We challenge anyone to do sunrise yoga classes in Ubud for two weeks and not fall in love with it as well.

Any life lessons you've learnt on the road?
We have met some absolutely amazing people everywhere we've travelled - people who are kind, welcoming, passionate and excited to show you their culture, tell you their history and share their food. Without fail, this will happen wherever you go in the world and it's a great reminder of how we're all the same.

What would you say has been the most challenging part of this journey?
Not having a home. We moved out of our apartment, quit our jobs, sold all our belongings, and donated all our clothes. It's very rare in life, especially at our age, to be able to do a complete reset, and while that sense of freedom is exciting, it is also downright terrifying. Not having a home, not knowing where we'll end up and not having that bed waiting for us when we're done is a scary thing.

Do you ever feel a bit like nomads? And, on that note, would you recommend that life to others?
Nomad is becoming such a popular term, but I don't think it is the dream for us - certainly not long-term. Travel is, in our opinion, the single best way to learn about yourself, your significant other, the world around you, and what really excites you in your daily life.. But having a home or a base, is also extremely important and grounding, and something we don't plan on living without for very long.

What countries are you planning on visiting in the future?
We're so excited to get back to Nepal next week to trek, a country we've loved visiting over the years. Looking forward, our bucket list destinations include Cuba, Japan, Mongolia and Patagonia in southern Chile/Argentina. We'll see what happens next after we get there!

Any advice for others who want to follow in your footsteps, leave everything behind and travel the world?
Buy that ticket, carry everything on your back, get lost, explore, repeat. Take the leap, the world will always catch you and you'll end up a different person - we guarantee it. No one has ever come back from travelling wishing they hadn't.
janice@khaleejtimes.com