Today, I’m very excited to introduce you to my friend, Emily. The first time I met her, when I was interviewing to be her roommate out in Aurora, Colorado, she told me she was about to take a trip to Africa to give free dental work to people who desperately needed care.
I thought: holy crap, another adventurous, traveling goody-goody. Then I asked her if we could be best friends forever and roommates for the foreseeable future. And it totally worked.
Since that fated day, we’ve adventured together in the Rockies, Switzerland, Italy, Southern California, and Chicago. We’ve hiked mountains. We’ve double dated. And she’s been a constant source of laughter, inspiration, and thoughtfulness – one of my dearest friends.
So, why I am introducing you to her today? Because throughout the seven or so years that I’ve known her, Emily has managed to become a dentist, then an orthodontist, to hold down a residency, to marry the love of her life, and to have dozens of truly epic adventures all at the same time.
Basically, she’s superwoman.
And today she’s going to tell you how she does it: how she chose a career that affords her the life she wants, how she budgets for her adventures (big and small), and how you can too.
The point here is that travel is possible in a variety of ways. You don’t have to uproot your whole life like I did. You don’t have to settle for one trip a year to the same destination. And you don’t have to treat travel like just another checklist of things to do.
Okay. Enough babbling. Here’s Emily:
1. Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Emily. I am married to an amazing guy named Eric, who also happens to be a great travel buddy. I am doing this interview from Southern California, but we are moving to Colorado in a few weeks. I have been lucky enough to live in and travel to a lot of really fantastic places.
I come from a family of six hard-core adventurers, so I think wanderlust and adventure-seeking are in my blood.
2. When did you first start traveling and what made you fall in love with it?
Riding the ferry to Victoria, Canada is one of my early childhood memories. We lived in Seattle and would take boat trips around the islands of Puget Sound and up to British Colombia. When we weren’t doing that, we were on camping trips on Pacific Coast and hiking in the Olympic Rainforest.
For a little kid with a decent imagination, those settings were like lands out of a fairytale and being there was like being in the story itself. I’ve always loved that sense of adventure that comes with exploring new places.
So, a lot of the value I put on new experiences comes from my parents. They took us all over the place by plane, train, and car when we were small and they had us horseback riding, skiing, scuba diving, backpacking, caving, rafting, and just about everything else you can think of before we were old enough to refuse. None of us are pros at all this stuff. I actually don’t even like caving. At all. But I’m glad that I’ve tried it. And I think our parents taught us through all those experiences that it’s really good to try out new things and push the boundaries of your comfort zone.
3. What kind of traveling do you like to do? (Are you an adventurer, a beach bum, a city-girl, a combination?)
I’ll take any kind of traveling over no traveling, but I have a huge bias for outdoor adventuring. Any time out in the wild is a good time, as far as I’m concerned. I grew up near the Grand Canyon, which is one giant playground if you like backpacking, rock climbing, trail running, or whitewater rafting. Mountains are amazing to me, even just to look at, and if I get a chance to hike to the top or ski down the side, that’s just icing on the cake. I’m also happy to just sit still anywhere outdoors if I have a good book and a good coffee.
And who do you travel with?
I’ll travel with anyone who wants to go!
I grew up boating and backpacking with my grandparents and cousins. I’ve been all over the world with my parents and brothers. My husband and I have done Australia and Europe together. And have had more adventures than I can count stateside. I’ve traveled with friends as well and I look forward to traveling with my own kids someday. I love sharing the joys of new places and new adventures with the people that I love.
I don’t really like adventuring by myself. I’m going to blame this on being an extreme extrovert and growing up in a big family; being alone genuinely bores me. I have friends who will spend weeks touring themselves through other countries or backpacking a route solo, and they find it fascinating and meaningful, which is great. If you fall into this category, by all means, do it (just make sure someone knows your itinerary and when to expect you back). But when I’m traveling to an unfamiliar place or heading out for a trek on which I may or may not see another living soul for days, I find I have way more fun if I bring someone with me so the experiences are shared. It’s just not quite the same to say “Wow! Look at that!” to myself.
4. How often do you get to travel?
Eric and I have mastered the Weekend Warrior mode of operation, so we get away on mini-trips at least once a month. We take week-long breaks about every three months and we use those for things like skiing and backpacking. We try to throughly explore the areas where we live (which has been California for the last two years and I highly recommend the Sierra Nevadas if you like mountains even a little bit) in addition to hopping on planes and escaping elsewhere. I think I’m averaging about one big international trip per year (not including quickie trips to Canada or driving to Mexico for burritos).
5. What kind of career do you have? What kind of career does your husband have? Why did you choose those? And what kind of freedom do they offer?
I’m an orthodontist. Eric is a math teacher. I think I can say for both of us that we chose these careers because we knew family and friends who were in the same fields and loved it.
Teaching has some obvious perks if you want to travel such as predictable work hours and good vacation schedules. Teaching at the college or university level can also include travel on grants for research or writing. Orthodontics has turned out to be really conducive to our travel goals as well because the work schedule is very easy to control. It can be full-time or part time. It’s easy to take a couple weeks off. The hours are flexible. I can work for someone else, have a partner, or be my boss and own a business. These jobs (as well as most other jobs in education and healthcare) do require specific schooling and licensing, but we’ve found the extra time and effort to be well worth it.
I really believe that finding a job you like is important. But it’s equally important to find a job that gives you the freedom to do the things you want to do outside of work, both now and in the future, because that makes the work itself much more enjoyable and fulfilling. For us, this is the best of both worlds.
6. How do you pick where you go next?
We are travel opportunists!
When people invite us to visit them where they live, we take them up on it. This has already resulted in trips to Paris and Prague and a plan to visit Singapore next year. When friends plan skiing and backpacking trips that sound cool, we ask if we can come. When one of us has a work-related meeting or a friend getting married out of town or out of state, we try to go together and make a vacation out of it. We also try to set up group-friendly trips once in a while so that other people can tag along with us.
This approach to travel doesn’t allow for the “I must go to all these places on my list or I will die unhappy” check-mark-making that some people like to do, but it is fun, flexible, and much more budget-friendly than if we did all our traveling as just the two of us. It’s way more fun to get a guided tour of a new place from a friend who is a local than to stumble around with a travel book and I love it when I get the chance to show off the places that I know and love to people who want to explore them.
7. How do you save for/finance your travels?
There are lots of ways to do this, but here’s how we make it happen:
1. Have a budget. Record EVERYTHING you spend. Literally everything. Look at it at the end of every month, always know where you are with respect to your budget. If you don’t have a budget, make one.
2. To pay for travel expenses, keep spending under budget for a few months. This is easy to do once you look at your expenditures and realize that you spend a lot of money on non-essentials. Many people could pay for a flight to New Zealand with what they spend on Frappacinos and take-out in a couple of months and they don’t even realize it.
Brewing your own coffee, eating at home for most or all meals, and limiting alcohol purchases can add up to a lot of money in your travel fund.
3. Don’t go into debt for travel (see number 8.4 below). Road trips are cheap. Camping is cheap. Even backpacking and skiing are cheap if you can rent, borrow, or find used gear. Stick to mini-travels while you save up for your trip of international awesomeness.
4. Realize that once you get to your dream destination, your day-to-day expenses can be similar to your expenses at home. Look for by-owner vacation rentals instead of hotels and visit local markets or food stands for most of your meals.
8. What tips do you have for others who want to live travel-filled lives andstill have a home base and a full-time job?
1. If you’re thinking about a future career or about changing your current career, this is the best advice I can offer (paraphrased from advice that was given to me years ago): Don’t just pick career that you think you’ll like. Decide what kind of life you want and pick a career lets you to have that life. Do not confuse your career with your life. They are not the same thing.
2. Once you’ve got #1 straightened out in your mind, weigh your options and decide what your lifestyle vision (including work and travel) really is – for the next one year, five years, and ten years. Then (pay attention to this part) find people who are a decade or two older than you who have done what you want to do and learn anything and everything you can from them.
3. Don’t let your children be your excuse to avoid adventuring. You can bring babies and little kids into the outdoors and on overseas trips. I’ve watched my parents and my friends do it for years and my husband and I are excited for that phase in our own lives. Kids will change the way we do our adventures a little bit, but only for the better.
4. Avoid the self-defeating notion that you have to book a 10-hour, multi-thousand dollar flight to have an adventure and ignore the story-toppers who only want to talk about their two-month private cruise to a private island with butler service. You don’t need any of that. Take a weekend off from your job or your normal routine, get a guidebook and a map, and explore what’s around you. You’ll be amazed at what you find.
9. Any favorite places?
I have genuinely loved most of the places that I’ve been. But, off the top of my head and in no particular order: The Great Barrier Reef, the Australian outback near Ayres Rock (Uluru), the Hawaiian Islands, anywhere in the Alps, Northern Italy, and really all of the American West – but especially the Colorado Plateau and the San Juan region (this is made up by Southwest Colorado, Southeast Utah, and Northern Arizona and is basically Shangri-La for outdoor adventurers).
10. Where are you off to next?
Ha! I always think of that song from The Lion King when I have to answer this question: “There’s more to see than ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done!”
We’ve got a bunch of new places we’re planning to ski this winter in Colorado, which I’m really excited about. We also want to explore a little more of Canada and Alaska sometime soon; I’d love to see the Northern Lights.
I’m embarrassed to say that in all my travels I have never been to my own country’s capital, Washington D.C., so that needs to happen too.
As for trips that will take us further from home, we’ve recently talked about heading back to Italy, checking out the wilderness in Patagonia, and spending some time on the beaches of Southeast Asia. And I’d like to see Antarctica. Maybe tromp around in the snow and find some penguins.
I guess the short answer to this question is: No idea. But wherever it is, I’m way excited about it.