How We Planned Our ‘Adventure Year’

We never imagined we would get to see places like this in Deadvlei, Namibia

WE QUIT OUR JOBS!  Now what???

Having the whole world as your playground is an incredibly liberating feeling. But have you ever had difficulty making a decision when there’s no focus? That was us.

At first, we were all over the place. No rhyme or reason to our travel plans, just jotting down countries or experiences that were on our bucket list.  Not a bad way to start, but we couldn’t seem to find any cohesion among locations and the cost to get from place to place was quickly adding up (yikes).

Last dip in the Pacific Ocean, California was our home for nearly 12 years!

Experts suggest to solve a problem, do it backwards: start at the end and slowly work your way back to the beginning. We considered this excellent advice because we knew (however sad it may be) that there would eventually be an ‘end’ to this travel. Right. We pictured where we would want to end up, what we wanted our lives to look like once these adventure came to a close. Lucky for us, both our minds immediately focused on Portugal. (Guess that’s what happens when you’ve been with someone for 14 years 😘). Four years ago we ventured through Europe and spent a week galavanting about the Portuguese cities & countryside. Those 7 days were like a dream and all it took for us to be fully hooked.

Portugal would be our final destination.

The iconic red tile roofs of Lisbon, Portugal

GREAT!! We had an End Goal! But there was still a large obstacle staring us down: what to do before Portugal? 

Ah yes – LEARN PORTUGUESE! The idea popped into my head when we were eating dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Nusa Lembongan, Bali (must have been the rum margaritas). It made so much sense: if we based the majority of our travels on learning the Portuguese language, we would have a huge leg up once we moved to Portugal and it would be something new and fun we could do as a couple. Thankfully Stefan loved the idea too and was fully onboard. Once we agreed on that, the rest kind of fell into place. 

The three largest Portuguese speaking countries are Brazil, Mozambique, & of course Portugal. There are several others, but for us these 3 stood out because of their drastic differences in location, culture, and accent of the spoken language. Seeing as we were starting our trip from the United States, heading to South America (Brazil) first was the most logical choice.

Relaxing on the ‘praia’ in Salvador, Brazil

And since we were making the journey to South America, we quickly realized we could add a few other countries into our itinerary as well 😎 The plan was finally coming together!

Based on the time of year (beginning of October, 2019) we quickly realized it was the ‘shoulder season’ in Patagonia and if we acted fast, could experience one of our major bucket list items: Hiking the W trek in Torres del Paine National Park in Chile!! So that is where our journey began – on an absolutely breathtaking 5-day hike through the most dramatic landscapes and micro-climates of Patagonia!

Admiring the massive Grey Glacier during the hike in Torres del Paine, Patagonia

From Chile, we traveled by bus + plane to Argentina and spent a rather rainy but fun weekend exploring the “Paris of South America”, Buenos Aires.  From there we hoped a flight through São Paolo and landed on the tropical Brazilian island of Florianópolis. This would be our home for the next 4 weeks!

Exploring Buenos Aires in the rain ☔️

Stefan really spearheaded the planning for this portion of our trip ahead of time, researching & signing us up at a local Portuguese language school, finding us the BEST host family to live with, & he managed to hire a rental car for the 4 weeks we would be in town so that we could maximize our exploring.

A golden sunset on the island of Florianópolis, Brazil

We fell hard for Brazil. The climate, people, beaches, music (and caipirinhas) consumed us completely. Floripa is a giant island and we barely scratched the surface seeing all it had to offer. We also made weekend trips to Salvador and Rio de Janeiro which blew us away. We couldn’t believe when it was already time to say goodbye. 

The Iconic Pão de Açúcar in beautiful Rio de Janeiro

From Brazil, we flew through Johannesburg, South Africa to reach the small village of Vilankulos in Mozambique. For those who aren’t familiar with it, Mozambique is located on the Southeastern coast of Africa on the Indian Ocean. Mozambique was colonised by the Portuguese in the 16th century and although they are now an independent Republic, their national language is still Portuguese. It is unfortunately one of the poorest countries in the world and over half the population lives below the poverty line.

Lifelong friends made in the seaside town of Vilanculos, Mozambique

We were nervous and excited heading to Mozambique knowing it would be very different culturally (neither of us had ever been to the continent of Africa), but we saw this as a perfect opportunity to expand our comfort zone & do some volunteer work!

Our amazing students from Kululeku, (Vilanculos, Mozambique)

Through multiple google searches we came across an organisation called KULULEKU which focuses on helping the local community of Vilanculos and their children by providing clean drinking water, building homes & schools, and providing English language classes for children of all ages. As volunteers, we would be living in a communal home with 8 other volunteers and working 4 hours a day as teachers at a school nearby.

Exploring the Red Dunes of Vilanculos, Mozambique

We signed up for 4 weeks of the program and couldn’t wait to get started. Although it was definitely a different way of life than what we had ever lived before, it was an experience we will never ever forget. Click here to watch our Vlog from our month in Mozambique!

From Mozambique, we took a few weeks to explore more of Southern Africa, traveling to Cape Town & Krueger National Park in South Africa, as well as venturing off for a 12-day car camping road trip through Namibia! These were experiences we had only dreamt of until this past year.

View from the top of Lion’s Head Rock, Cape Town, South Africa
Stoked at the top of ‘Big Daddy’ Dune in Sossusvlei, Namibia!

We flew back to the States to spend time with our families for the holidays and after the start of 2020 made our way back to Portugal

We chose to live in the heart of the city of Lisbon in the historic neighborhood of Alfama. I had enrolled in more intensive Portuguese courses through a local language school, Portuguese Connection, and Stefan was enrolled in an app-building computer coding course through the program Le Wagon. We were full-time students again!  We both loved the experience of living in a city (first timers) and the utter convenience of being able to walk literally everywhere.

The view from our flat in the Alfama District of Lisbon, Portugal

We stayed for 3 months, really investing ourselves into the city and way of life and our intention was to stay and set-up residency to become longterm residents when…the notorious COVID-19 pandemic spread worldwide in what seemed like overnight. We left the city of Lisbon and drove to the Southern region of the country called the Algarve temporarily to isolate ourselves, but unfortunately things just progressively worsened and we had to make the difficult decisions to return home to the US to be with our families. 

The stunning cliffs of Lagos, Portugal in the southern region of Algarve

We were heartbroken leaving Portugal without any idea of if or when we might return. But you know, there is a silver lining of this pandemic and it’s this: we spent more time with our loved ones this year than we had in over 20 years. We were able to slow our pace, reevaluate our priorities, and really enjoy some quality time with family and friends (in a responsible way, of course). We own a condo in a small beach town in North Carolina called Carolina Beach which we normally rent out on Airbnb. With COVID causing a halt for all travellers, we decided to take advantage of our beach-front condo and stay there to ride out the ‘Covid storm’.

Deserted Carolina Beach, North Carolina during the nationwide shutdown in March, 2020

Fast-forward 2 months (May 2020) and things were starting to progress in the right direction with Covid. Cases were dropping and states were slowing reopening. At this point we were getting a little stir crazy and ready to get back out exploring! 

But how? ROAD TRIP!!!!!

Home for the night with our Nissan Frontier “Ruby”, outside of Moab, Utah

Stefan’s 2002 Nisaan Frontier was still in pretty good condition and we saw Ruby (as we soon-after named her) as our golden ticket. Stefan spent 2 weeks with my Dad performing all the necessary tweaks and maintenance getting Ruby ready for her biggest adventure yet: a 2 month cross-country USA road trip that would also take us south-of-the-border all the way to the bottom of the Baja peninsula and back up. ! It was a CRAZY idea (or was it?).  There were naysayers…many of them.  But you have to trust your gut. While we appreciate the opinions and advice of others, ultimately we make decisions based on what is best for us as a couple. And our guts were telling us to go for it!  

The view from our free wild campsite outside of Telluride, Colorado

Over the course of a few weeks, we gathered up all the camping gear we thought we would need, devised a make-shift bed in the back of the truck bed, and plotted our course. Since we would be car-camping on our ‘Pandemic Road Trip’ we had a lot of fluidity with our plans which was very different than our usual style of travel.  Typically we have things planned out pretty well with hotel reservations, plane tickets, etc. but this was more of a real adventure and the freedom was incredibly refreshing. And don’t worry, we made sure to pack TONS of hand sanitizer, masks, and Clorox wipes to keep us safe throughout the journey. 

Corona Arch Hike in Moab, Utah

We began in North Carolina and headed West, stopping off in places we had always wanted to explore but just never had the time to see. From the Mountains of Tennessee + Colorado to the canyons of Utah, we quickly realized that although we consider ourselves “beach people”, we also have an innate draw to the rugged wilderness.

Walking amongst the Aspen trees in Telluride, Colorado

We cruised the classic coastline of California on down to the tip of Baja California, Mexico where we decided to spend a full month. Empty waves, cactus forests, and the starriest skies we have ever seen – it was a true paradise. Click HERE to watch our 4 videos from Isla Coronado, TPC Danzante Bay, Villa Santa Cruz, & Scorpion Bay!

Stefan perched on the natural rugged cliffs of Baja California, México in El Pescadero

It was really hard to say goodbye to Baja in early August, but we continued up to Northern California to visit some family and hike a few mountains before ending the journey in San Diego, CA. All in all, we covered over 8,000 miles in 2 months and somehow at the end, we were left still wanting more!

Cooling off from the hot August sun in Lake Tahoe, CA

We would have kept going but we needed to head back to the East Coast and start making plans for our move to Portugal. We gave Ruby a good tune-up and sold her to the sweetest couple from San Francisco. We sold all the camping gear we accumulated on Facebook Marketplace (amazing if you’ve never tried it!) and after spending 2 weeks with our friends in California, flew back to the East Coast to live temporarily with our families which is where we are today.

Our last photo with Ruby before selling her to her new owners

As soon as we got back East, we began researching the necessary visa for Portugal and like any government task, it seemed daunting and utterly confusing. After hours of searching, we decided to hire a third party Portuguese Company to assist in our applications to ensure everything was done properly without any concerns of being denied.

Right on par for 2020, what promised to be a 1 month process is now going on month #4 without approval…the second wave of Covid and the extreme detail of the application process have made us go nearly insane, but WE ARE SO CLOSE NOW! We have appointments in Washington D.C. on December 7th to submit our applications which is huge! We are hopeful if things go smoothly, we should receive our visa approvals by mid-December and make the big move to Portugal right after the Christmas holiday. Fingers crossed!!

In spite of all the setbacks, we still got out and enjoyed the changing of seasons this Autumn

So that’s where we’re at! Thanks so much for reading our story, it’s been a wild ride for sure. Stay tuned for updates on our visa approval and our return to Europe in 2021!


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