And So We Traveled, Part Two

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Words by Dalene Heck

(If you haven’t read part one, please do so before reading on…)

“I don’t understand why you and Pete just don’t go travel for awhile,” Nicole said with increasing frequency, as I began my usual diatribe of complaints about work and life.

“It would be hard to give up our jobs and this money,” was my automated response. Pete and I were both earning great salaries and making encouraging steps upwards. We had just financed our space in the suburbs and were awaiting the next step – parenthood.

But everyday I stared with longing at the pictures decorating my grey cubicle walls. Zip-lining and jungle hikes in Costa Rica. Pete and I gazing up at the leaning tower of Pisa. The white, white sands of Cuba. Such things were accessible for only a few weeks each year. That was how it had to be, right?



And then came the specific moment when that logic was decisively challenged – when the culmination of soul-shattering events finally forced us to change our point of view. We had spent several months staggering and hunting for missing pieces of ourselves, pieces that had been ripped out, torn up, and left to float on the wind.

Some of those pieces drifted beyond our grasp. We stumbled to find our footing, to return to the life we knew. All we found was emptiness and the absence of purpose.

And then, it was realized. That tiny light. Instead of it helping us find what was, it’s beam showed us what could be. We found new perspective. New possibility.


Pete and I were making the two hour drive from my parents house where we had just spent Christmas holidays. They were in another “on again” phase of the rotation and we had all come together for the first Christmas since losing Pete’s Mom and Nicole. We sought comfort in festive food, games, and each other.

It was awful. We had pinned our hopes on Christmas-cheer-healing-all, but it instead exposed the depressing reality: our families had been torn apart and would never again be the same.

We spent much of our drive home in contemplative silence. Pete cursed as he navigated the snow-laden roads, we both shuddered at the thought of returning to work in the morning. I jokingly offered the suggestion of selling-it-all-to-travel, a recommendation continuously repeated by my sweet departed sister, and forever in the back of our minds. It was usually stifled with a bottle of red, a good night’s sleep, and the perception of common sense.

But during that particular drive, the conversation went a little differently, as those things which derailed our discussions in the past suddenly seemed so irrelevant. In the space of a few kilometers on the highway, all sorts of questions were considered and mostly answered: What about money? Are we giving up on having kids? What do we do with our house? What if…? What about…?

We made decisions.

Real decisions that we stuck to and that immediately infused us with new energy.

We would divest of our burdens: the house and most of what it contained.

Kids would have to wait, or, not happen at all. And that would be okay, too.

We would start in South America.

The black hole began to fade and the light shone brighter as we ran towards it. We told our friends, our family. We quit our jobs, we sold our house. We entrusted our loving pets to good friends. We pared down our belongings and stuffed our lives into 130 litres of space. We said many, many, teary goodbyes, but never once wavered in our chosen path.


We have been asked several times, by the few people who did know our whole story in its entirety, if we would have ultimately still traveled had we never gone through such trauma.

I wish I could say yes, but the answer is probably no. And that just makes me awfully sad.

But as many can attest to, those at home and those on the road, the societal pull is strong. There is overwhelming pressure to follow the normal path, beaten into us with repeated proclamation that the unknown is something to be feared. We subscribed to that theory, we did all the ‘right things’ for many years. And I can truthfully say that we weren’t entirely dissatisfied with our lives, but there were definitely large crevasses that stood between ourselves and real happiness.

We had to be brought to ruins to realize that life doesn’t have to be that way. We didn’t have to submit to the norm and be subdued in the suburbs, driving a suburban. Our drastic life lesson, finally absorbed through tremendous pain, was too severe to be ignored – life can be abruptly short and cruel. We couldn’t waste another moment. Returning to our former reality was no longer an option, settling for anything less than pursuing our wildest dreams was unacceptable.

And now we know that the gutted state of existence we endured throughout 2007 was actually a gift. It was the gift of change, the ability to transform, to start anew. To design our short lives exactly as we saw fit, to discover what it would take to make our souls sing. To never compromise, to enrich, and to find our own purpose, instead of just waiting to take the prescribed next step. Once we realized we could be our own architects, it no longer became a choice.



We travel because we have to.

We crave the excitement it brings, the constant state of learning, the absorption into new cultures and the pursuit of understanding human nature. We need to walk blindly into new locales, to be unfamiliar with our surroundings and rise to the challenge of communicating, finding our way, and satisfying our basic needs. Travel is a necessary component of our personal fulfillment. It is our ultimate definition of happiness.

We had to be torn apart so that we could figure that out.

And we tell this story so that maybe you don’t have to.

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  1. Wow….what a great couple of reads. I think your sister Nicole must be following you! We are great “comprehenders” of your decision. We are encouraged that you are doing so well. We only planned for a year to be gone and frankly our 12 year old twins are good sports but we know they are waiting to get back to their friends in our suburban cubicle. We aren’t sure where the path will lead…..just looking for the small beam of light!

  2. Thanks again for your continued honesty! I love that “settling for anything less than you wildest dreams was unacceptable”. It’s a great way to look at travel and move yourselves forward through something so difficult.

  3. Thank you again for sharing your story with us. This was truly moving. It’s really encouraging us all to make sure we go after our dreams because you’re right, it could all end too soon. I’m so glad for you both that you took the leap to travel and didn’t continue down the path that society tells us we should follow.

    1. Thanks Ali. I think we had come to a point where we just felt like we had nothing to lose – so why not do that one crazy thing we’d always been thinking of? 🙂 Turns out, it’s not so crazy, but is pretty fantastic, and we know we did the right thing for us! 🙂

  4. It’s sad that so many horrible events had to happen in order for you to realize that you could change the course your lives were on. But you are so right – life is short, and it’s so easy to come to the end without having done half the things you said you would, or that you wanted to do.

    I’m totally with you – travel now, because you have no idea what tomorrow may bring.

    1. Damn, but my sister was wise to be telling us to do it for so long. But it’s easy to put blinders on and go with the flow when you don’t know what is even possible! Now we can just be grateful for the lessons we were taught.

  5. Thanks for sharing your story with us. I have no doubt you have brought hope to a lot of people and that is a wonderful thing.

    1. I’ve had some people ask me privately why I would share such a story publicly – but then I’ve had so many other emails thanking me for sharing it. So I’m glad I did, even if I set off a spark in just one person…

      1. Loving your very personal story. There are lessons in it for everyone that follows you. Thank you for sharing!

  6. It’s amazing reading your rationale because it rings so true. That desire to see the new and be a little unsure of things when you move somewhere new is part of the adventure spirit that died out a bit over time, as everything was ‘discovered’. But it’s not discovered if you haven’t seen it yourself! Great to hear there are people out there like you.

    1. Absolutely Margyle – and you touched on one of the important parts of how we travel. We RARELY even read about places we are seeing before we get there, we like to see everything with fresh eyes and fresh perspective!

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this, Dalene and Pete, I teared up reading both parts. Finding the one thing that lets you turn darkness into light and grab onto life with both hands rather than sink into despair is never easy, but you guys have done it with gusto.

    I had a similar experience a few years ago – not nearly as devastating, but between the deaths of several loved ones and some hard personal and professional knocks over the course of about seven months (hmm…maybe this is a thing??), I was floundering. But the whole experience made me dig down and get a stronger hold on who I am, who I wanted to be and how I might get there…and eventually I ended up as a grad student in Australia, preparing for a future in fields I love and traveling as much as I can on school breaks! Traveling (mostly solo, for me) has taught me so much about myself and given me so many gifts – people, experiences, gorgeous memories, the ability to take things as they come and appreciate every moment.

    I’ve always loved reading your blog and following your travels, but knowing your whole story will have me reading with even greater appreciation for all that’s brought you to where you are now.

    1. Oh Jessalyn, I’m so sorry to hear about your ‘7 months’ too (maybe it IS a thing!), except for that it allowed you to dig deeper and get back to school doing something you love! By reading other travel blogs, I’ve heard so many incredible stories of trauma and loss teaching them to go after what they love – I find it so sad that the lesson has to be learned the hard way, over and over. But I guess the point is, that the lesson is learned!

  8. “…instead of just waiting to take the prescribed next step.”

    Sadly, it seems most folks live their lives simply “reacting”. Reacting to whatever happens. Day after day. Year after year.

    Tragic, ‘cuz (so sorry to harp here, but…) Seriously – THIS IS NOT A DRESS REHEARSAL! This is it folks. So grab your own life by the horns, and follow your dreams. It’s up to YOU to take control and make your dreams come true.

    No excuses. ANYBODY can do it (kids, debt, no matter your age.) Just DO IT… starting now, TODAY!


  9. I have that normal, safe life in the burbs with the husband, kids and lovable pet. Almost daily I dream of selling it all and traveling the world… then I talk myself out of it. Your honesty is inspiring, thank you for sharing your story with us.

    1. I hope you get to travel to your hearts content Myra, although I can only imagine how hard it is with kids. But there are many great traveling families out there who manage to make it work. It can be done!

  10. Your story is so powerful and it was the perfect time for me to read it again – halfway through my trip around the world. There are days on the road when I feel exhausted and overwhelmed with the poverty and struggle I see, but I also feel incredibly blessed by the connections I have made with locals and with fellow travellers/volunteers. Thank you for being willing to be vulnerable and to share your story. It will touch people and help the out of their own black holes – I promise you:) Hugs from Zanzibar!

    1. Thanks so much Terri, and I’m glad it may have helped you even a little bit on your grand adventure! Those times on the road can be rough, but just think about all you get to reflect on, and how much it is going to impact you in the long run. You are very brave!

  11. I always love reading about a travellers ‘moment’. That defined time when the hill is crested, the decision is made, and clarity and calmness take over. The trauma and sadness you experienced to get there makes my heart ache but the result is the same. Society’s pull is very strong but it’s stories like these that show others that there is another way.

    1. Thanks Gillian. When I look back on it now, I still can’t believe that we stuck with the decision, really. 🙂 We had had that discussion so many times in the past! But, like most things in life, it just takes one big YES to start something grand.

  12. Societal pressure can be cruel. But to raise above it and to show society that they are wrong is legendary! Happy Travels 🙂

    1. Well, I don’t want to say that society is entirely wrong, there are wonderful people who slug it out everyday and are a huge inspiration to me! It’s just not our path, that is all.:)

  13. We, fortunately, did not have to lose family members in order to make the decision to travel. However, any time we wavered in our resolve it was easy to find a reminder of the shortness of time. Usually it came in the form of co-workers or their friends. It was not unusual to get an email about someone’s funeral, usually within a year or two after their retirement. Those constant reminders kept us focused. Life is short…

    1. The reminders are everywhere – but not everyone pays attention. Good for you guys for recognizing that, we needed to be beaten with a stick, repeatedly!

  14. So often it takes upheaval in our lives to help us see what is important to us. I’m so sorry that in your case the upheaval was quite so tough 🙁 But from the bad.. comes the good. I’m sure those who have left you would be happy that you found a positive life out of all the negative.

    1. Of all the people close to us in our lives – Pete’s Mom and my sister would have probably been the MOST ecstatic with our choices. And probably would have joined us at some point. That makes me happy! 🙂

  15. I am so sorry you had to pass through all this, but I am extremely happy for you that you emerged from all the pain stronger and happier than before.

  16. Thank you for sharing Dalene and Pete!
    You so very eloquently expressed that, more often than not, profound heartbreak is a necessary component (phase) to prompt finding fulfilling and lasting peace & happiness.

    I am honored to have connected with you in the early stage of your journey!

    1. Thanks Genny. It was an unfortunate component for us (and you too, if I remember correctly), which I hope isn’t the case for most people. It is a tough way to learn!

  17. I think it’s a very brave thing you both did, leaving the security of your careers is not something anyone would do without serious apprehension.

    I hope you find something on your travels, or just have a great time and make the most of it before looking for security again.

    1. I have to say that we are not looking for anything on our travels – maybe we were at the start – and what we found is now a fantastic way of life that we have no plans of abandoning. What is security anyways – a house? A 9-5 job? Those mean nothing to us, as it is clear that we can live the life of our dreams on our own terms.

  18. Thanks for sharing your story. I’m glad for you guys that you had the wisdom to search for the happiness that you knew could be out there. It’s an inspiring story, and touching first chapter to the book your life has become.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Erik. We’ve been overwhelmed with the support that we have received from these posts and are really touched by the comments of our readers, so thank you.

  19. I got so much out of reading your story guys, and I think you really HAVE got it, that thing that I try to grasp at, but seems to allude me at every turn: appreciation of the present moment, of life, of love. Of being enough. Of finding the joy in everything again. Thanks to reading wonderful words like yours I’m getting closer to being able to see what is already here- the perfection of now. Thank you.

    1. Thank you for your beautiful words Sarah. At times it is still elusive to us as well, but we do the best we can, right? And even though I would give it all up to have my sister back, I am happy with the lessons she gave me. 🙂

  20. It’s humbling to think of you writing this. I believe in the all-encompassing and fulfilling nature of travel but I’m sorry you had to go through that to find it. Really appreciate your sharing your hearts.

    1. Thank you for your very kind words Natasha. It is the most popular question asked of us, I thought it was time to come clean fully. It was painful, but worth it to share. 🙂

  21. A beautiful, inspiring and encouraging post. My boyfriend and I are currently on our RTW trip and have thus far weathered my grandmother’s death as well as another tragic, more sudden death in the family. It’s in these moments that I realize how lucky we are to have this opportunity, and the importance of traveling, as you say, because we have to. Thanks for sharing. Cheers!

    1. Archana, Thank you for your comment. I’m sorry to hear of your losses. You are right that it is these moments that make you reflect and realize the opportunities we need to create for ourselves. I wish you safe travels in your journey(s). Cheers!

  22. Dalene. I just read this post again and it was even more powerful. Your choice of words to describe these abstract, emotional concepts of grief, faith, fate and happiness are nothing short of exquisite. BTW thank you so so much for the shout out in your newsletter, I’m sorry I couldn’t find your email to thank you both personally, and a huge congratulations on this well deserved award.

  23. Thank you for sharing your story. The societal pulls of house in the suburbs and the well-paying job are certainly strong, so I can understand how it was only from trauma that you could jump off this big cliff and go for it. It’s sad that it takes death to make us realize the precious gift of life … I’m so sorry for your loss.

  24. “We had to be brought to ruins to realize that life doesn’t have to be that way. ”

    This is amazing & powerful stuff, and thank you for sharing with us. It seems so much for two people to have to weather.

    I went thru the trauma route as well when I pulled up & left two years ago to travel and work on the road—and while no one wants it that way, when I got out to the other side, I began to be grateful in bits and pieces each day.

    I am glad you are out traveling and growing stronger!

    1. Thanks so much for your note Janine. I’m so sorry you had the trauma route as well, but happy that you turned it into something great. 🙂

  25. Guys, I have just discovered your blog and wish you many lovely trips! I also wish you very much that all things go well for you and your close friends and families.

  26. Thank you for this. I am planning an extended trip to Europe with my boyfriend. There is always the fear of breaking away from the norm and being forgotten. What continues to ring through my head to get away from that fear is that I have a loooong life to live. I have only done 29yrs of it. There is more to go. Why not allow desire to drive me vs societal norm? This is a big world. There is more to be seen and experienced. My boyfriend needs to hear this too. I am hoping he finds his passion and sees there is more than just the 9 to 5 through this trip. There is something rumbling in his soul and I have a feeling this will help to release or discover something for him and for me just a great reason for release and acknowledgement of existence.

  27. you are both truly amazing. to go through such gut wrenching emotional trauma, loss … it’s really incredible what you’ve done! am really enjoying reading your blog … all the adventures… but also the learning, and sharing of what’s happening in the world around us. wishing you many more moments of joy and adventure! glad i found your blog, i feel inspired! xo

  28. I have just started to read your blog and follow your instagram photos- you two are an inspiration. I realized about 6 months ago that I need to stray away from the live that I am living to truly be happy. I feel suffocated by the “American Dream”. I finally have my girlfriend on board and we are taking steps to pay off our debt, save some money and take off. I have a ton of student debt to pay off first and it feels daunting and often I feel very discouraged. Hopefully your blog and similar ones will provide the motivation I need- along with my own dream of course!

  29. I stumbled across your blog via another travel couple I follow and I’m so glad I did. I have been glued to reading your posts, and have even re-read your reasons of why you started this whole journey in the first place. Your personal experiences speak so clearly to me and I find myself asking the hard questions I never dreamed of asking, but secretly have been craving to ask out loud. Thank you so much for your sincere honesty and the ability to articulate your words into something we can all relate to – trying to find our place in this crazy world.

  30. Thank you for sharing your personal story and journey with us.
    My husband and I love to travel as well and have been to all 6 continents and over 25 countries in less than a decade, and still counting. We travel because we want to and because we can. Life is too short. It saddens me that it took such tragedies & dramatic events for you guys to decide to travel, and that you probably wouldn’t have traveled if not for those events. I just want everyone to know that you can travel whenever and wherever you want. It’s that simple. You just have to have the desire and the rest will fall into place.
    Cheers and keep on traveling!

  31. your story is so amazing, and inspirational and as i sit here in my cubicle after a very tough year i yearn for even a little of what you both have done with your lives. My husband and I have committed to making travel an important part of our lives because as you said it, life is too short! its not something you wait for! we are eagerly planning our next adventure and i am hoping my blog will be able to touch many people as you have done here! i cant wait to read some more entries! thank you for sharing your story!

  32. Hello Darlene and Pete,

    Just came across your blog and decided to start from the beginning by reading your story. Could not have been easy to go through much less write. Thank you for sharing it with us, it is inspiring to say the least.

    The blog and stories also look really good so i will have to come back and read up some more. 🙂


  33. Hi Darlene and Pete,
    Thanks for writing this. I remember Camille telling me your story before and reading it now I’m both heartbrokened and relieved by what’s happened. People start traveling for all sorts of reasons and heartbreak is someones one of those reasons.

    I love how you’ve openly shared your hearts, being vulnerable and allowed us to peek that tiny light. When we travel we’ve had the privilege to listen to other storytellers both at home and on the road. Taking the leap to go out and long-term travel has opened up conversations from people in our pasts and from new friends we meet on the road. A lot of them full of sadness, regret, and others full of love and happiness.

    I can’t imagine what it’s like to have such losses you described but I imagine in travel you’ve found so much to be grateful for. You’re living your own lives creating your own destiny and accepting what comes both good and bad. Life doesn’t have to be the way society says it is. I hate that there’s such a strong pressure and pull that shapes many of us.

    Glad to join you both on your journey through your blog.

    Thanks again for writing this!

    Love from the Philippines,
    Mark and Camille

  34. ” [I] crave the excitement . . . the constant state of learning. . . absorption into new cultures. . .the pursuit of understanding human nature. . .need to walk blindly into new locales. . .the challenge of communicating, finding [my] way, and satisfying [my] basic needs.”

    The bright light has been on my horizon and the years pushed it farther away….not gone.

    Your posts, writing, photography and sharing your hearts is an exquisite pleasure. Thank you.

  35. Thank you so much for sharing your story. My family & I have been through many recent tragedies as well that has made my husband and I rethink what we really want our lives to look like. Finding blogs like yours have been inspirational and have pushed us from dreaming to actually planning our own escape out of the “prescribed” life steps that society makes you think you should do. I look forward to following your adventures!

  36. I just came across your blog as I’m googling “how to make money while traveling”. This sentence really hit home with me “It was usually stifled with a bottle of red, a good night’s sleep, and the perception of common sense.” Oh how it hit home. My husband and I are both absolutely miserable in our jobs. We have a beautiful home filled with lovely, but unnecessary possessions. Work is sucking the life out of us. Like so many others, we completely bought into the societal measure of success. It’s hard not to when you’re younger. College, job, marriage, house, career. That’s all just part of living. I’ve sat in a cube for the past 15 years dreaming of travelling and the experiences that come with it. In those 15 years, I’ve gotten older obviously, gained a significant amount of weight, gotten into debt as the economy has dealt us some unexpected challenges. For what? For us to continue sitting in cubes and dreaming of a 2 week vacation. There is more out there and we know it. We want it. We just need the courage to go get it.

  37. This post brings up so many emotions that I don’t know how to limit my comment to just this one little box!
    While I don’t know what your motivation was for writing this piece; maybe it was to get it off your chest, maybe it was to bring beauty out of the tragedy (for indeed, your words are beautiful); but there is no doubt that your story and the way you’ve shared it, has touched hearts. Your writing connects with people in that sometimes hard-to-reach space where our compassion meets our own hopes and desires.
    I am loving reading your blog and being part of your social media following. You affirm to my husband and I, that there are still so many good things to enjoy even though we haven’t been able to attain that joy of being parents. We knew it. It just REALLY helps to see other people living it too. Thank you.

    1. Thank you so much Michelle for your very kind comment. My motivation was mostly to get it off of my chest – writing is such a cathartic experience. But also just to share – I don’t believe that there is enough of that in our world. It allows us to connect, find common ground, and maybe a little peack among us. I’m sorry that you’ve had problems with having children as well, but yes, there is definitely still joy to be found in the world!

  38. Thank you for being so brave and sharing your story! Stay strong for yourselves and each other and you will make it trough this difficult time. Your travel stories are a great inspiration and proof that you’re living your life to the fullest.

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