A couple years ago we were living what some would consider the “American Dream.” We both had great jobs (like the kind people dream of landing), solid professional networks and careers that were moving along an upward trajectory. We were making the salaries necessary to support living in two of the most expensive places in the U.S., with solid benefit plans, health care coverage, and 401k contributions. Life was good and we felt secure.
When we met and decided to move in together, we could have combined our savings to buy a (somewhat) nice (tiny) apartment in SF, or a newish home near the beach on Maui. But instead, an inspired, lovestruck craziness set in and we saved enough to circle the globe, visit 21 countries, and come back with a little nest egg to start something new. Even though this was the option with more risk, less security and less long-term investment, we felt the investment in experiences and memories was well worth the cost.
There’s something equally crazy and magical that happens when you travel for a long period of time. Maybe it’s the realization that you can be happy and comfortable without many things. Or how you define “home” and what (or who) you need to find it. Or it could be seeing how other people in different parts of the world live and what they value most. Or maybe it’s just as simple as assessing how our precious time and hard earned money are used. But, with the risk of sounding completely cliche, travel changed our perspective.
We decided early on that our next career move required two things: 1) the freedom to live the kind of life that brings us happiness and 2) a contribution to something bigger. So as we were traveling, we started a website focused on sustainable and socially responsible travel. We worked along the way, telling stories, seeking out the best, most responsible (environmental and social) hotels and activities. Building a website and writing stories gave us routine and a purpose on the road. Not surprisingly, it also led to connections with some very cool business owners, employees and philanthropists. Without even realizing it, our professional network had expanded around the world and we found that this - helping people experience the same freedom of travel and satisfaction of making a contribution to the places they visit - was really, really rewarding.
Earlier this year, in safe little Sonoma, CA, we spent hours on the business plan for Cohica 2.0 - evolving our previous passion project into a real, money-making business. We became officially accredited by IATA, meaning we can book travel to those amazing places we visited at rates that are not accessible to the public. We reached out to our network of sustainable hotels, voluntourism, and responsible tour operators throughout the world. And now, half way through the year, we’re proud to offer both experiential travel packages and custom/curated trips that are unlike anything you can find online.
Oh yea, and we moved to Spain. The low-cost of living and public benefits (virtually free, high quality health care!) here provide less financial pressure than we would have starting a business in the US. Living in Valencia still does require a regular income (we need to support all that wine drinking, after all), so while we’re getting Cohica up and running, we’ll each be teaching English for about 15 hours a week starting in September.
If we can make this work, then we will really be living the American, um, expat dream. We will be working on something we believe in, offering experiences that are both inspiring and responsible. We’ll have time with one another, time to travel and have the incredible gift of feeling challenged, humbled, scared and alive. It’s not for everyone, but it’s our dream. And, with time, effort and patience, we’re slowly getting there.