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Up and Out: Packing, Budgeting and Leaving (aka Leaping Part 3)

Departure day! The last 24 hours are what we’ve been preparing for – jet lag, no sleep and exhaustion. Just kidding. Kinda. But we’ve packed and budgeted and now travel.

It’s been a long time coming and we’ve safely arrived in Brugge, Belgium, our first leg of this trip. I’m extremely excited to spend a week in Belgium, and have been thinking fondly of my future 4 food groups: Chocolate, waffles, beer and fries. YES. 3 days in Brugge, 2 in Gent and 3 in Brussels, I cannot wait. I’m sure the resident food editor, Jon, will have much to say on the topic of fries and mayo – especially since he does not like mayonnaise. More pictures coming soon, we’re only just recovering from the long flight.

FYI, this post will mostly be a catch-up on the how-to of long-term travel – or at least, what we know so far.

For those with whom we haven’t connected lately, here’s what’s up:

We left Portland on December 22, after selling the majority of our belongings, including the car, and packed the rest into a moving van to head up to Olympia, Washington.

We arrived at Jon’s moms’ house (thanks Sheryl & Dayna!) where we spent the week of Christmas. The moms are truly making our trip possible, by storing the rest of our stuff in a little shed in their backyard, and letting us forward our mail to their address. It’s things like this that really make leaving possible. A storage unit would have cost us over $1000/year, which is money we didn’t have.

There was quite a lot of business to take care of before leaving Olympia. But my favorite part (other than relaxing with family of course) was that our moving truck had a giant picture of a firefly on it (exhibit A in the giant picture at the top) – a serendipitous sign I think of good things to come.


Many of you have also asked how one packs for a year abroad. The answer? You don’t. Bring a few changes of clothes, buy what you need while traveling, leave things behind when you’re done with them. Jon and I both have 1 bag each plus a small carry-on size day bag. One of the books we read (thank you Garrett Downen for the recommendation) Vagabonding, also suggests this. The idea is to pack light. The biggest challenge for us was packing for 2 climates – a week in Belgium (same weather as Portland right now) and 2-3 months in West Africa, with highs of 95 and lows of 65. In the past I’ve found the packing list on OneBag.com extremely useful, and highly recommend it. I usually trade out a few things here and there. We also brought a bit of technology – the laptop and charger, our Kindles, an external hard drive, the necessary cords and outlet adapters (thanks BCA!), plus of course the camera.


I also have some budget updates, since we offer transparency in an effort to express that this kind of travel isn’t just for the wealthy. Both Jon and I can say with confidence that had we looked at these numbers 2 years ago on somebody else’s blog, we’d think, “well, no way can we do that.” The point is that we didn’t realize how much money we had, nor what we could buy with it. We also didn’t realize that by selling a few things, I could get rid of my debt and have the freedom to make financial choices differently. Don’t get me wrong, it took a lot of work to get here, and these numbers are a combination of our cash, savings, sales and lots of other ways we worked to make the most of our money. These numbers also assume that we’re coming back with no additional savings. Highly irresponsible in “today’s economy” but hey, you have to live sometime.

After it was all said and done, we left with the following assets:

  • A grand total of about $13,500, which includes our pooled resources and sale of stuff and car.
  • We also have some money set aside, which we will save to come home and set up shop.
  • Additional income will come through my client work and any jobs we can come by on the road.

And of course we have expenses. Here’s where things are at:

  • With the cost of leaving the country, final bills, the last car and rent payments and moving expenses, we totaled about $3585 of expenses before we even started.

All told, we’re trotting off with around $10,000. Europe is way expensive so after some crafty budgeting by Jon, we’re expecting to be just over $9,100 by the time we land in Mali.

$9,000 may or may not sound like a lot, but I can tell you that I feel rich with the prospect of knowing that I’m buying experiences from here on out, and that the choices I make won’t be whether or not to eat a Belgian waffle, but rather, what kind of amazingness I want on that Belgian waffle. It won’t be about paying too much for cable, or even if we should pay for cable, but which incredible art museum we should visit, or which bus we should take that will lead us to somewhere unexpected. These are all good things.

So the question for you: what experiences would you buy with $9,000?

About the Author : Jess SternJessica has an insatiable appetite for travel. She loves experiencing culture in every way. She loves art, music, food and sharing stories.View all posts by Jess Stern

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