Update on my dream: Progress!

From http://www.startupbros.com/the-only-way-to-live-the-life-of-your-dreams/
From http://www.startupbros.com/the-only-way-to-live-the-life-of-your-dreams/

I’ve shared my goals with you. I fondly call it Plan B. But here it is in a nutshell:

  • Sell/give away my non-portable belongs to be free to travel more
  • Save a nest egg so I have something to fall back on between “adventures”
  • Hike the entire Appalachian Trail summer of 2014
  • Teach English in different countries, as a way to travel around the world
  • Blog about it here
  • Find a way to monetize the website, mainly selling ebooks, tour services

I’d like to share an update for those of you who are following along. I’ve made some great progress!

My townhome is a single family dwelling again: For the last couple years, I’ve split my house so that I live in about 500 square feet in the basement and a renter had the top two floors. This has helped me pay down my mortgage. The renter is out! She left a mess, including gouges in the wood floor and I suspect she had NEVER vacuumed. But the floors have been refinished and the carpets professionally cleaned. I’ve scrubbed, polished, and pressure washed, so everything looks better than it has in years. My handyman has just a couple minor things left so that it’s in perfect shape.

House is listed! I’ve found a realtor, Lisa Thompson of Coldwell Banker. She shared with me the sales in my area for the last several months and it’s clear that homes are moving and prices are rising. We listed it for more than I’d hoped, based on similar sales in the area. Keep your fingers crossed and pass the info along to anyone who is in the market for a condo in North Atlanta.

Here are the sales details

I’ve found a room to rent A dear friend has promised to let me rent a room when the house sells. This will be cheaper than finding an apartment. I wish it were a little closer to work, but you can’t have everything. I do love the neighborhood.

Reduce, Sell, Giveaway I’ve been reducing my stuff for so long it’s second nature now. When I can, I’ve sold thingsIt’s not all gone perfectly, and it’s amazing how much a person hangs onto. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to do this slowly because doing it all at once would have been quite a shock to the system. You think that reducing your stuff will be a physical challenge and it is. But it’s much more a mental challenge. And, I really prefer giving stuff away.

Backpacking Gear I’ve selected all the major backpacking gear I’ll need for a hike next year of the Appalachian Trail (that 2, 186 miles, folks!). I’ve asked for 6 months off from my day job (all my vacation time plus time off without pay), but realistically, I won’t get it. If I want to hike, I have to be willing to quit.

Savings Goal, almost there! I’m very close to meeting my saving goal. I should have the goal met by the end of the calendar year. Additionally, I have goals for saving vacation time and sick leave. Those are on track too.

Blogging I started this blog in April 2013. This week I posted my 100ith article. I’m also close to finishing an ebook.

I’ve been busy.

AND I’ve planned in a little escape for myself in the near futue. I’m going to Iceland! More on this later.

It helps to have goals

Travel is my passion. What's yours? This is Ayuttya, old capital of Thailand.
Travel is my passion. What’s yours? This is Ayuttya, old capital of Thailand.

A goal is the place you want to get to

Americans are amazingly inventive. If we know what we want to accomplish, most of us can figure out a plan to get there. But first you have to decide where you want to go. Today’s challenge: write down your goal and take one step toward it. I’m on my path. How about you?

I’ve recently shared how I started weaning myself from having so much stuff that I couldn’t find things and didn’t even know what I had. I’ve posted how I subdivided my house and now live in a 500 square foot studio located in the basement of my condo. I’ve explained how my renter pays my mortgage and given you some ideas of how I reduced what I owned to fit the space. This has allowed me to pay off all my bills except my house, AND save a nest egg.

But it’s just money. And this is a lot of trouble unless you have a good reason. Saving money is good. Living frugally is good and even fun for me. But not enough. This post is about WHY I did those things.

Yup, that's the pyramids in the background
Yup, that’s the pyramids in the background

Follow your bliss

My goal started out as a silly thought. I kept thinking I should be happy. I’m healthy. I have a job with benefits. I have friends and family. I can afford to travel on my vacations, have low debt and can afford all the things I really need and most of my wants. I’m lucky. There is a lot to be said about “growing where you are planted” and appreciating what you have.

And yet, I wanted more. I still want more.

I’m bored and I feel unchallenged. Yeah, I know. Most of the world strives to have the kind of problems I have. But I know I’m actually happier when I’m working hard toward something. You’ve heard it said, Follow Your Bliss. But can “what makes you happy” also pay your way? I hope so. Because that’s what I’m working toward. It might not work out. It probably won’t work out the way I plan. Few things do. But I don’t have anyone to worry about except myself, so here goes.

I took this during a balloon ride in Cappadocia, Turkey
I took this during a balloon ride in Cappadocia, Turkey

I won’t be bored

I want to be wanderer, fulltime. I want to be a nomad of the world. Hence the name of the blog: Wander For Life. I may never own a home or a car again, nor many more possessions than I can fit into a couple suitcases. I may move to a different place every year, or every month. I want to meet people from other cultures, eat food I can’t pronounce, form my tongue around words I never heard growing up in the Midwest. I expect I’ll have more real problems, but fewer imagined ones. I’ll probably be dirty and lost and confused a lot. I’ll probably never have a lot of money again. But I won’t be bored.

I don’t have every single step figured out to accomplish my goal, but this blog is part of how I’m going to get there. Part of the blog is documentation. It’s also part marketing tool. Eventually. And it’s a place to solicit ideas. My guidance counselor in High School didn’t have “Wanderer” on her list of job titles. Heck, there wasn’t even an internet when I went to High School. I’ll have to feel my way. But I’ll need help. Your help. NO ONE DOES ANYTHING ALONE. I’ll need ideas from you.

That's me in the great Library at Ephesus
That’s me in the great Library at Ephesus

Plan B

It’s not all mapped out, but here’s what I plan, more specifically:

  • First I want to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. It will take me about 6 months to walk the 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine. I’ve asked for that time off my job next year, but the odds are slim that I’ll get it. I’m selecting my backpacking gear now.
  • I want travel, to live in a different country every year. On the short list is South Korea, Turkey, Thailand, somewhere in the former Soviet Union, somewhere in South America and somewhere in Africa.

I think I can pay my way by teaching English, supplemented by blogging, selling ebooks and tour services online. I’m also willing to wait tables, work at hostels, be a barista at a coffee house or tend bar. I’m willing to try any reasonable/legal means to meet my goals, even some that might seem a bit extreme. None of the ideas will make me rich, but I should have a very rich life.

This will involve a lot of change and at some point I’ll just have to stop planning and step off into it. This won’t be an easy life. As Donna Freedman says, “I can say with some authority that sometimes, change really stinks. But I can also say that while change is scary, it is not the end of the story. Change is the chance to rewrite the story – or, rather, to take it in a new direction.”

So here’s to new directions!

Today’s challenge Write down what you want and take one step toward it. If you write it down, it’s less a dream, more a goal. If you take even one step toward it, it’s a path.

I’ve taken my beginning steps: I’ve chosen a goal. I’ve saved money to fall back on and–aside from my home–have zero debt. I’ve gotten rid of many of my possessions and continue to do so (more on that in future posts). I’ve paid down my mortgage so that the odds are good that I can sell the house free and clear when the time comes. I’m refining the gear I’ll need to hike the AT (much more on this to come)  I’ve started this blog. I’ve connected with YOU!

I’m on my path. How about you?

A Memorial Day remembrance from Thailand


Kanchanaburi War Cemetery
Kanchanaburi War Cemetery

Memorial Day is celebrated on the final Monday in May. It’s easy to think, based on the way we act, that it just a three day weekend to officially open the pool, drink beer, throw some burgers on the grill and watch the Indy 500. Lest we forget, Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the Armed Forces. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it started after the American Civil War to commemorate both the Union and Confederate soldiers who perished.

Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, 5In my mind, there is a single film associated with Memorial Day. As a child, The Bridge Over the River Kwai would play on one of the two stations we were able to get on the television. My father, who truly loved TV, would always watch. If you’ve not seen it, The Bridge over the River Kwai is a 1957 British-American World War II film directed by David Lean, starring Alec Guinness and William Holden, and based on the 1952 French novel by Pierre Boulle.

As a child, it never occurred to me that that the film was based on a real event. It was just a story. Nor did I know that I would one day walk across that very bridge.

Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, 2This past February, I visited Thailand. I signed up for a day trip out of my base city of Bangkok and I honestly didn’t know what I was signing up for. I was focused on the part of the tour where I could ride an elephant and didn’t pay attention to the rest. But the highlight turned out to be a stop at the Kanchanaburi WWII Cemetery. This cemetery, the largest of three, is the final resting place for about 7,000 prisoners of war who died building the Burma-Siam Railway.

After entering the Second World War in December 1941, Japanese forces quickly overran most of South East Asia. In 1942, in order to find a shorter and more secure line of supply between Burma (now Myanmar) and Siam (now Thailand) the Japanese decided to use prisoners of war and civilian labor to build a railway to existing railheads at Thanbyuzyat in the west and Ban Pong in the east. Two forces, one based in Siam and one in Burma, worked from opposite ends of the line, meeting at Konkuita in October 1943. The project cost the lives of approximately 15,000 prisoners of war, mostly from the UK, Australia and New Zealand as a result of sickness, malnutrition, exhaustion and mistreatment. The dead who could be recovered—and many could not be—were laid to rest in one of these three cemeteries. The land on which this cemetery stands is a gift of the Thai people for the perpetual resting place for the sailors, soldiers and air personnel who died. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintains the Kanchanaburi Cemetery and similar memorials in 150 countries. The Army Graves Services transferred remains from camp burial grounds and solitary sites all along the southern half of the railway and from other sites in Thailand.

Small plaque at bottom of the photo at the top of this post, Kanchanaburi War Cemetery
Small plaque at bottom of the photo at the top of this post, Kanchanaburi War Cemetery

The experience was moving beyond words. It brings to life the phrase, “Gone, but not forgotten.”

This cemetery is located near former Kanburi Prisoner of War base camp through which most prisoners passed. This building is now the “JEATH” War Museum, depicting the horrors of building this railroad in the steamy temperatures and dense tropical forest with little food and less medical attention. It’s not the most informative museum I’ve seen, nor the best organized, but it brutally depicted what went on in the camps. I walked through the displays horror-stuck, realizing that I probably wouldn’t have made it through the experience. I’d have been one of the bodies thrown in the river and forgotten.

The museum backs up against the river and there, on the patio, I saw for the first time the real bridge over the River Kwai (locally called the Kwae Noi River), bridge #277, on the former Burma-Siam Railway. This bridge was bombed by American forces, which helped to stop the progress of the Japanese. (Though it wasn’t as simple nor as final as the film would lead you to believe)

The bridge over the River Kwai, from the back of the JEATH War Museum
The bridge over the River Kwai, from the back of the JEATH War Museum

According to our guide, the round truss spans are the originals. The square-ish truss spans are replacements. According to Wikipedia, these were supplied by the Japanese as war reparations.

A man on the tour with me, from the UK, said that his Uncle had been a prisoner of war here and helped to build the railroad. He was liberated by the US and sent back home, but his ship was sunk on the way. He was rescued, but by the Japanese, making him a prisoner of war once again. He was taken to Nagasaki to work in a factory. He survived the atomic bomb and the US managed to rescue him again, but kept shuffling him about, first to hospital in Hawaii, then California, then even spent some time in New York. It was almost 2 years after the end of WWII before he made it home. His family had thought him dead. By then no one wanted to talk about the war so he didn’t share his experiences in full. He died 5 years later because his body was so worn out, but managed to marry and father 4 children before his death. He was only in his early 40’s when he died. A member of his same group, Alistair Urquhart, lived much longer. He wrote a book called The Forgotten Highlander: An Incredible WWII Story of Survival in the Pacific. I really must get this book.

But in the meantime, I’m going to watch The Bridge over the River Kwai on Netflix.

Kanchanaburi War Cemetery is very well kept.
Kanchanaburi War Cemetery is very well kept.


This train, now located at the JEATH War Museum, ran on the Burma-Siam Railroad.
This train, now located at the JEATH War Museum, ran on the Burma-Siam Railroad.


Display from the JEATH War Museum. The acronym JEATH stands for the primary nationalities involved in the construction of the railway: Japanese, English, Australian, American, Thai and Holland.
Display from the JEATH War Museum. The acronym JEATH stands for the primary nationalities involved in the construction of the railway: Japanese, English, Australian, American, Thai and Holland.

How much will $5 buy you around the world?

Food. We can’t live without it. I consider the most important meal of the day, the next one. But how much of our income/time/work goes to securing it? Here’s an interesting way to answer this age old question. How much will $5 buy you around the world.

If you’re surprised to learn that five dollars will buy you just one beer in Japan, but 12 beers in China, you’ll enjoy this cool little video from Buzzfeed. It gives us a slight—though quite entertaining—sneak peek into the global food system, by painting a picture of what five bucks (or the equivalent of five dollars, according to each country’s currency) will buy in eggs, rice, beer, coffee, Big Macs, and more, in several nations around the world.