Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jim Stingl column [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]
(Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Oct. 26--Alissa and Dan Monfre are binge travelers.
They quit their jobs, sold or gave away most of their stuff and headed out in search of adventure.
Most of us in a lifetime won't see as much of the world as this young couple has visited since February, and they're just getting warmed up.
"We both wanted to travel extensively, but don't want to wait until we're retired to do it," said Dan, 29, who grew up in New Berlin.
He met Alissa, 28, at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and they married in 2009. She grew up in Rhinelander. After college, they landed good jobs in Minneapolis, he in online sales for CBS and she as a user experience designer for a digital agency.
But you know how it goes when you start working full time. You get a couple weeks vacation a year, and it's impossible to make time for serious traveling.
So they quit, but only after aggressively saving enough money to keep them traveling for a year or two, which they estimate boils down to about $100 a day for them both. They are running a web development business from the road, so that helps pay the bills. Plus, they have a few small sponsorships.
In an early entry on their entertaining travel blog, ThisWorldRocks.com, they wrote: "We finished packing today, and we were able to fit everything into two carry-on bags and two backpacks. We had about three rounds of eliminating clothes and items that just wouldn't fit."
Besides clothes, other essentials include laptop computers, iPads, cellphones, cameras, water-purifying bottle and toiletries.
They left Super Bowl Sunday, because fares were lower that day, and flew to Sydney, Australia.
Their pace was a new country every two to three weeks, and just under three nights per bed on average. They have logged 50,000 miles so far.
After Sydney it was Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Brisbane, Cairns, Perth, Indonesia, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Laos, Myanmar, Chiang Mai, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea (and one step into North Korea), Philippines, Hong Kong, China and Tibet, London and Amsterdam.
Right now, they're on a vacation from vacation for six weeks in the United States to visit family and friends. Then they head for India in November, then Sri Lanka, Dubai, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Israel, Turkey, Poland, Hungary, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, France, Brazil for the World Cup next June, Costa Rica, and they're not sure after that.
As you can imagine, their families worry about them being so far away and on the move.
"We get a lot of email from mostly the moms of, you know, a plane crash in Bangladesh. It's a lot of 'Are you going here?' and 'Don't go there' kind of emails. But they definitely are excited about the trip," Dan said.
Alissa was bitten by a dog in China and received a series of rabies shots in four different countries. Dan had a bicycle stolen in Amsterdam. But they have managed to stay mostly healthy and safe, if you don't count the cockroaches and bed bugs that have shared their accommodations.
It's best, they found, to get out of the big cities and refuse to follow everything the travel books recommend. Often the "stumble on" experiences are best, like the local in a Green Bay Packers cap they encountered in a rural area of the Philippines.
"Every time we get to a new country, right as you get out of the airport there's 10 things you didn't know existed. The way people do things, the way they eat, the way they dress. It's fascinating, and you don't have to go to the big tourist attractions to see it. We always try to pretend we're locals the best we can," Dan said.
Many of the people they meet think of America as the country with too many guns. Most have never heard of Wisconsin.
The language barrier is a challenge, but the couple has been amazed by the kindness of strangers in helping them get by, or board the right train, or identify the food they're eating. Dan and Alissa try to learn a few basic phrases in each country, but sometimes the confusion becomes humorous.
"I needed a laxative pill in Myanmar and we were at this little pharmacy in this small village. I knew they had it there, but how do you do sign language for that?" Dan said. "Google Translate is a cool tool we've used. I had a few entire conversations in Japan with people just passing an iPad back and forth."
The Monfres meet many other world travelers along the way, and they all have places to suggest. "I think our to-see list has actually doubled as we're checking stuff off," Alissa said.
They are amassing so many memories. The orphanage they visited in Cambodia. The trek they took on horseback with Tibetan yak-herding nomads. Their stay at a tourist-free village of thatch huts and no electricity on the volcanic island of Ambrym. Snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef.
They talk about taking their kids to these places someday, when they get around to having kids, that is.
"The good news," Alissa and Dan shared on their blog in August, "is that we can still stand each other after six months of seeing each other nearly every minute of the day."
Call Jim Stingl at (414) 224-2017 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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