Cold Shower Heroes: How to live a broad life


Welcome to the second instalment of my Cold Shower Heroes interviews. Today I want to introduce you to Tim and Erin, an American couple who are embracing life outside their comfort zone by travelling the world with their 18 month old daughter and 4 year old son (yikes! I hear all the parents exclaim).

I first came across Tim and Erin on Twitter, which led me to their blog: Abroad Life. Tim’s article Daedalus Rising really captured my attention. I felt that it was a perfect metaphor for the situation many of us find ourselves in after reaching a certain number of milestones we’re meant to achieve in life and feeling like “Is this all there is?”

So Tim and Erin decided to reassess what was important to them and courageously decided to leave their comfortable life in Boston to travel around the world. I spoke to them about some of the challenges and rewards of their adventure.

What prompted you to take this trip?

Erin: We always wanted to do some extended travel and we’d tried previously to come up with different ways that we could take three months or more off work. So the idea wasn’t something that totally came out of the blue for us. But as far as actually deciding to do it, that happened in one email.  We had a really tough winter in Boston last winter, where we got 8 feet of snow in the month of February. We had three major snowstorms that winter – we couldn’t even get out the door for one of them. In February we were snowed in and the whole city was just a mess, even all the way through March. Then in April we all got sick and we had stomach bugs and intense sicknesses that never ended, it was just awful. Then I read some travel blog article about someone who quit her job to go travelling and I was just like “What are we doing?” We’d already been doing all this budgeting stuff and I was like “Why are we spending all this money next year on childcare when we’re just miserable.” Well, we weren’t exactly miserable – but I was sick at the time I said that. (Laughs) That was the tipping point and I just threw my hands up and said “Well let’s just do something else”

How did it go from being just a concept to reality and how long was it between making the decision and going?

Tim: So Erin sent that email to me (the one that’s on the website) on May 1st I think and then we came home and that night and started looking at the budget.

Erin: Well we’re big budgeters, so we already had something to start with.

Tim: Yeah, so every year we go through our budget so we’d been doing all that anyway and thinking about what we wanted to do with our house and we just started Vera in childcare three days a week and had been working out how that affected Erin’s work schedule. So we just added another column for what our costs would be and how do our costs change if we do this travel? Then we got to a point where we said “Hey, this might actually be workable” if one of us could keep an income.

Erin: Then within a few days my parents came to visit and we dished this whole travel idea. And of course I grew up travelling so they were like “Yeah, do it!”

Tim: And then while they were still there we started sorting out the house with them.

Erin: We were basically prepping our house for rental, all within days (of having the idea)! And then within a week I was interviewing realtors and having them come through the house. Within a week and a half we had a realtor signed up to list our house… and at this stage I don’t think we’d even talked to our companies yet.  We basically just decided that with such a limited window of time that we could actually do these things that everything was all ‘GO’

Tim: Unless we hit a deal-breaker.

Erin: So we started our trip all within four months. It was August 21st that we left. We had a vacation planned for that time anyway and we had the flights booked so we thought that if we just change the return flight then we’d paid for at least one portion of the trip.

Tim: And the other part of that was that in Boston, September in the rental market is important because of all the universities and colleges. In order to get someone in September you have to have the house agreed to in June.

Erin: That was really why we were moving so fast. I mean we had to rent our house, that was a deal-breaker. There would be no way that we could support the trip with it not rented out.

Do you think having the time pressure made it easier?

Tim: Definitely, I think that because it was so quick there just wasn’t any room to second guess yourself. We were just kinda throwing all the balls up in the air and seeing where they landed.

Erin: Yeah and although it was four months, we actually rented the house within a month of deciding, so that was the point where we realised “Ok, this is actually happening”.

Did you have to resign from your jobs to take the trip?

Erin: Well we spoke to our employers about working remotely and Tim’s employer had said no because they couldn’t support it. Tim said that he may consider doing the trip anyway and they said they understood that.  And I’m a self employed contractor anyway and I had been working a bit from home anyway, so it wasn’t as ‘off the wall’ of an idea for me.

Tim: Yeah, Erin had already established the principle of remote work after having the kids. I’d been doing that to some extent by working from home one day a week, but for a longer term commitment and for what I do, it’s pretty hard. I’m an architect and project manager so I’m going to client meetings and job sites, and all that so obviously I can’t do all that remotely.  So yeah, technically I resigned.  It’s all on good terms though, so I’ll be talking with them next Summer and most likely they would want to have me back, but you never know.  We’ll just have to see where things stand when I get back.

Was having to quit your job scary?

Tim: Yeah, that’s still a big unknown at this point. I mean I’m not too worried that I couldn’t get a job, but part of it is that I did actually like my job. I liked what I was doing and the people that I worked with, it was 10 minutes away from our house, which was a really good set up. And I’d been there 13 years since I graduated from college so I had really put my heart and soul into the company.

Erin: At the point when Tim realised that he was going to have to quit his job that was the point where I was like “Are you really sure, really?” Because I was afraid that this was my ‘brilliant’ idea and Tim’s the one leaving his job, I thought ‘oh no!’

Tim: Yeah, I did like my job but I was also at a point personally where I was feeling like I wasn’t getting the time with the kids that I wanted. And that we were stuck in these routines between both our jobs and the kids routines and it felt like there was just one path forward and we had no other options for what we wanted to do with our time and with our lives. I was just trying to set priorities and work out what has to be sacrificed. I mean do you focus less on career and focus more on your family? You kind of have this time pressure of your career and your family and of course your own personal interests, and at some point something’s gotta give. So I was really ready for a break and to try to take a step back and think more deeply about what we want from our lives.

Now that you are a few months in to your travels, has it been everything that you had hoped for? 

Erin: Yes!

Tim: I think so, yes. Obviously there are still challenges, but they are much different than the challenges we had at home. The travel days are tough, with the kids. All the packing and everything that comes with moving every two weeks. Ideally we’d like to stay in places for up to a month, which will makes things easier.

Erin: Yeah I think we’ll probably do that come January, we’ll have some longer stretches.

Tim: At the moment we’ve been doing housesitting where we stay at someone’s house while they’re on vacation and mind their property. Based on the way those things have been spaced out it’s been two week stints in each place. Mostly that’s been fine, it’s enough time with the kids to get them settled in and see enough of where we are without feeling rushed, but two weeks comes about fast.

Do you have an itinerary for this big adventure?

Erin: Actually the biggest question that we got before we left was “Oh, where are you going?” And we’d sort of just say “I don’t know” because where we were going didn’t really matter. This trip was never about where we were exactly, but really more about having the time to spend together as a family and experience something new. As much as I’d love to say it’s about where we are, it’s not as much because of the age of our kids. I mean we’re still dealing with two naps a day, so our outings have to be scheduled around that. We knew going into this, and still understand, that we can’t put too much into each outing otherwise everyone’s going to get cranky. You just have to have low expectations for what you’re going to achieve that day. Tim’s joke is that we generally only see 30% of what we would be able to see if it was just us travelling together. But we don’t feel disappointed by that, we don’t feel that we’ve missed out on anything because that’s not the main reason we’re here, so we’re just going with it.

Tim: Yeah, what we’re really finding is that now that we’re here, how much this trip is about the time we spend together and sharing experiences in these amazing new places.

What has been the biggest lesson that you’ve learned from this experience so far? 

Tim: Probably the biggest thing has been the way that it’s changed our way of thinking about what we want to do and how we live our lives.

Erin: It makes the future seem like there are so many more possibilities. I know it seems cheesy, but it’s got us thinking outside the box a little bit about what we’re going to do and where we’re going to go with our lives. When we were at home it was so pre-determined, it was like everyday was “Erin has to get both kids to daycare, sit in rush hour traffic to get to the office and then go home, go to the grocery store on the way home, Tim’s got to leave the office early to get home – even though it’s not even early – and then it’s into the evening routine.” And that was just it, the way things are supposed to be. But here, we’ve starting to think in a different way and look at how we can sustain this, or at least some of the time we spend together.

What have been the biggest challenges of the trip so far? And how have you overcome them?

Tim: Well there are two parts to that: the challenge of getting here, and then the challenges of actually being here.

Erin: Yeah the challenges of getting here were pretty big. We had a checklist of something like 200 things we needed to do before we left, and there were big things that we needed to figure out. Sorting out health insurance for example, which luckily Tim handled because I just can’t cope with that kind of stuff because I just get angry at the health care system. Urgh.

Tim: All the big decisions had a potential to derail everything, but I think what kept us pushing through was knowing that we just really wanted this, and that we were really committed to it.

Erin: Yeah, by that stage we’d already rented our house!

Tim: We kind of threw ourselves in the deep end…

Erin: Also by that stage we’d already figured out what needed to be done and made the assessment that nothing on that list was too scary that we couldn’t handle it. Having said that some of it was so stressful, I felt like I was breathing from the top of my chest for two straight months. But as soon as we left it was fine – and I went back to breathing normally. (laughs)

Tim: Then since being on the road it’s really been about logistics of travelling with kids and general problem solving, plus making sure Erin can work remotely.

Erin: Things like making sure we have internet access is important, plus some type of cell phone use and things like that.

Tim: And like we mentioned before, the biggest challenge on the road is the long travel days, getting packed up and whatever.

Erin: Yeah, physically moving with two kids is hard (we wrote a blog post on it) because we have to carry everything as well as the two kids. And we packed surprisingly lightly – I mean we’ve basically only got three outfits on rotation! It’s actually kind of silly. So it’s not like we packed heavy, there is just a lot that you have to bring having kids. I always get a bit stressed the day before and day of, but we’re getting pretty used to packing and unpacking and we’re pretty good at giving ourselves more time and not rushing.

What have been the sacrifices that you’ve had to make to take this trip? Have you found it difficult not being able to go out just the two of you, for example?

Erin: Actually, just being somewhere different makes you feel like you’re out anyway. When you’re in a different city or staying in a rental that you like it feels like a special occasion.

Tim: Yeah, when we’re at home it sometimes feels like you have to go out just to spend time together because in our normal routine there’s no time to spend together, just the two of us. But here it’s different.

Erin: There just feels like there’s less to do when you’re not in your own house. It’s taken the cleaning thing out of the equation, when you’re here for two weeks you just do a final clean (and a little wipe of the highchair each day) and then you’re all done!

Tim: For me my biggest concern is with Oliver, having him miss out on his pre school experience and not having collaborative experiences with other kids. But then the trade off there is that he gets us, full time, engaging with him. It’s not the same, but that is a struggle, keeping him engaged and interested in what we’re doing.

Erin: As for our friends and family I think that if we were gone for the full year (we’re going home for a visit for Christmas) then I think I would have felt a bit more feelings of angst or separation. The other day I got a bit sad thinking about Thanksgiving, but then I thought “At least we’ll be home for Christmas” because I think we would have had a hard time not seeing everyone for a whole year. Especially because we’re close to our family and we’ve got a good group of friends who we spend time with.

Tim: But we also Facetime a lot and have the blog and Instagram where we can connect with everyone – including new people, like you!

What do you think that you will do differently once you get home as a result of having this year away?

Erin: Well, that’s an ongoing conversation.

Tim: The biggest question for me is what happens career wise.

Erin: I think it would feel wrong to jump right back in to what we were doing before. But I’m not sure just yet how to re-align things to something a bit different.

Tim: Mostly it’s around how we can change the amount of time we both work so we can spend more time together and as a family. That both of us working less might allow us to have a life that allows us a similar experience to what we have over here. But at this stage I have no idea what that looks like at the moment.

Erin: I think that we could possibly do more travel, possibly for three months or so. I’d like to take a bigger chunk of time to take these trips, instead of just having a two week vacation somewhere. Actually making it part of our lifestyle.

What advice would you give to other people who may also want to do what you’re doing but think it can’t be done?

Tim: I would say “Think big”. For us we had to look at all the things that were supposedly big and sacred in our lives – careers, home, schooling (or pre-schooling actually) and we had to burn all those bridges to realise what actually was important. So I think you need to look at your life try and find a way to make the most important pieces fit together a bit differently. I also think that while it’s important to be comfortable with the concept and what needs to happen to get there, you also need to realise that you don’t need to answer all of the questions now. You just need commit to a plan and then trust that you’ll figure the rest out as the experience unfolds.

You can read more about Tim and Erin’s adventures on their blog or follow them on Instagram and Twitter.

And a big thanks to Tim and Erin for taking time out to chat to me. I really enjoyed our conversation and love following your inspiring adventure.  See you in Sydney next time, right? 😉


The Mother of All Comfort Zone Challenges

3745635213_3b3726ea5a_zThere are some comfort zone challenges you can plan for. Arranging a silent date with a friend, going to church, jumping out of a plane (definitely worth having a plan for that one). But then there are challenges that you didn’t plan for, that you never expected and that change you forever. As far as comfort zone challenges go, parenthood is an absolute doozie.

I make it sound like parenthood just came out of the blue, unplanned and unexpected…. Surprise, here’s a baby! Actually it was planned and I was pretty damn excited about it.  In my true control-freak fashion I read every book there was on pregnancy and birth, I knew exactly what little features the little alien inside me was developing week to week. Only problem was that, despite everyone telling you parenthood is ‘hard’, I never really considered that what came after the birth would actually be the hardest bit.

Admittedly, prior to parenthood I was slightly delusional about the meaning of ‘hard’, and to be fair I think it’s very difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t had kids exactly the type of hard being referred to. My previous slightly arrogant self thought that I could do hard. And to a large extent I could. But I was good at the intellectual hard, or the physically hard. I was definitely not good at the emotional hard.

Life had worked for me up until Sophie was born because I had a set of rules about the way life was and I (thought I) had complete control over the aspects of my life, including my emotions, which I kept tightly locked away. Who has time to deal with pesky emotions, sheesh. Letting go of control has been (and continues to be) one of the biggest challenges that I have had to face about parenthood. But as with most comfort zone challenges, those things that we find the most difficult are also the most liberating and rewarding once you’re open to hearing the message.

The element of control that I find most interesting is around the idea that you can not control another human being, even your own child. I think I’ve said before, that I’ve never been shy about my opinions. And I think that it’s important that people have their own opinions. And while I’ve never tried to ‘control’ anyone per se, I have previously tried to make someone change their opinion by probably being more forthright (read: aggressive) than I probably should have.

Becoming a parent has really made me reflect a lot on the way that humans interact with each other and made me change the way I behave in a situation where I want to be persuasive. Dealing with a baby or a toddler has turned my perspective around so that I now consider the other person’s needs or feelings in any situation more. It doesn’t automatically mean that their needs always trump mine, but at least I now consider their point of view more. Yelling at a crying baby because you want it to stop is definitely less useful than considering what it is that it needs and trying to address it. Once their need it met, so too will your need for some peace and quiet. It actually sits much more comfortably with me now knowing that in a situation, someone else having their needs met doesn’t necessarily exclude me from having my needs met.

Of course there are always exceptions – like why the bloody hell people at work won’t put recyclables in the recycling bin instead of the normal bin! That is definitely a zero sum game. My earth-mother needs are clearly not being met in that situation (nor are the needs of our sick, dying planet by the way people! Just saying…), but I’m also learning that part of letting go of control is also about not expecting a particular outcome.

The less attached that you are to controlling another person’s behaviour and just accept that they are who they are and you can not change them, the more at peace you will be. People do change, and people can be persuaded and convinced, but at the end of the day it is them who is in control of that change. And I guess that is the biggest lesson. The “only” thing that we have control over are our own thoughts, our own actions and consequently our own lives.

How fucking cool is that!