Betsy and Warren Talbot always dreamed of traveling.
But like most people, life got in the way. They were both moving up in their successful careers, living in the suburbs and accumulating cars, a house and stuff to fill it with. They ran through their busy lives "like hamsters on a wheel" working towards a comfy retirement as their prize.
Then, everything changed. Her brother had a major heart attack at age 35. One year later, their friend suffered an aneurysm. As their 40th birthdays approached, with two people close to them battling life-threatening illnesses, a mortgage crisis and global economic meltdown taking hold, they began to wonder: what if retirement never came?
"We were in love with each other, but not with our lives," said Betsy Talbot.
One night over a pitcher of margaritas at their favorite Mexican restaurant, they wondered out loud: what if they never made it to 40? If they knew they had limited time left, how would they choose to spend it?
For them, the answer was easy: travel the world.
"The funny part is that we never traveled for longer than a week before this journey -- as is true for most Americans -- though we always loved going places," Betsy said. "It just never occurred to us we could make it a lifestyle."
That all changed the next morning. Over coffee, they decided life was too short. They didn't want to wait, hoping time was on their side. They wanted to live their dreams now.
After some research, estimating and discussion, they set out to save $75,000 in just two years, for two years of travel. Soon after making their decision, they started their website MarriedWithLuggage.com, to share ideas and update their family and friends on their progress and write about the drastic changes happening regularly as they inched toward their goal, one dollar at a time.
To save, they sifted through clutter to look for things to sell (and eventually wrote a book about the entire process), cut back on unnecessary expenses like cable and eating out and took side jobs to amass more cash.
As with all lifestyle changes, some were easier to swallow than others.
In their first book Dream Save Do, which chronicles their step-by-step process, they shared disastrous home haircuts, ever-present temptations like a lemonade pitcher from a Crate and Barrel catalogue and how changing their spending habits slowly changed other areas of their life.
"When you connect with what drives you most, and it is different for all of us, all the other things you do to soothe yourself now -- overeating, mindless shopping, superficial relationships -- will fall away," said Betsy. "When your soul is being filled, you don't have room for all the other crap."
As the savings piled up -- partly thanks to what they dubbed their "dream porn" or a huge map posted on their wall to keep them motivated -- they decided to up the ante. In the end, they left their jobs, sold their house and everything in it and embarked on their dream adventure, celebrating their 40th birthdays at the onset of the trip.
During their two years so far on the road, they have spent five-and-a-half weeks crossing the Atlantic Ocean by ship, felt the earth rumble beneath their feet from an erupting volcano in Ecuador and spent a month in Mongolia where they helped a family celebrate the life of their 94-year-old matriarch with a reunion in the Gobi Desert.
"You can't overstate the value of living the life you really want. It isn't the travel; it is the freedom, the stimulation and the constant change of place we crave as well as the huge number of interesting people we get to meet," said Betsy Talbot. "These things are important to us, and we weren't getting enough of them in our old lives."
This year alone, they have traveled by bus, train, camel, horse and foot through Thailand, Laos, China, Mongolia, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Slovenia, Italy, France and Spain.
They have challenged themselves to be open to new experiences, reaping the rewards and opportunities that arise when you simply say "yes," continued writing and building websites (which helps bring in additional cash) and have grown closer than ever.
"For me, the surprise has been in our relationship. I was really worried this 24/7 togetherness would cause difficulty in a marriage of two strong-minded, independent people," Betsy said. "What has happened is completely opposite of what I imagined. Our bond has gotten deeper, we fight more productively now with a solution in mind instead of laying blame and we are more polite to each other on a daily basis than ever before. I like to call it marriage therapy with a passport!"
And they aren't ready to give up their dream life anytime soon.
"Once we sold our house, we had the inkling. We joked we would keep traveling until the money ran out, and it wasn't a big leap to adapt our thinking to generating just enough money just like we did in eliminating all that was unnecessary in our lives before," Betsy explained. "It is a thought process of 'just enough' that permeates everything we do. So we began thinking of how we could continue this journey long-term, and taking the most popular subjects from our website and turning them into books seemed like a perfect fit in our quest to do more heart-centered work and make enough money to live our dream lifestyle."
As they continue their trek around the globe, planning to travel for as long as they are able, they are trying to help others live the good life, too. Their website not only chronicles their travels (even posting their expenses to show how they make it all possible) but they also offer encouraging, no-nonsense advice on how people can make any dream possible, whether it be starting a business, traveling or buying a house.
"Our way of living isn't for everyone, and that's the point," Betsy Talbot said. "What is it you've always wanted to do, and why aren't you doing it already?"
Follow Kathleen Fordyce Rohan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/KathleenFordyce