Matt and Alana’s excellent adventure
The story of a couple that dropped everything to spend more than a year traveling the world
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — Plenty of people dream of quitting their jobs and setting off on an adventure to see the world. Then reality sets in, and the weight of various responsibilities — jobs, children, school, bills — crushes the viability of the dream. That, however, was not the case for Matt and Alana Elderbrook.
Matt is a Marshfield native, and Alana is originally from Wausau. The pair met as seniors at UW-La Crosse. Like many young couples, they were working away and building towards something they thought they wanted while living in Minneapolis. They had longed dreamed of dropping everything to travel the world, but it seemed that the timing was never right or that they were not on the same page about exactly how and if they should really do it.
Prior to living in Minneapolis, the now 32-year-olds owned a home in Madison, which they sold when they moved west one state. Without realizing it, selling the house laid the groundwork for their dream journey. Without a mortgage weighing them down — they rented in Minneapolis — they had one very large responsibility taken off their plate. While in Minneapolis, Matt worked in sales and Alana in e-commerce/buying.
“We did the transition without really realizing we were doing it,” Alana said. In 2013 Matt and Alana took a two-week vacation to Nicaragua and met a couple who had left their jobs and were now working at a small resort in a remote village. In the couple Matt and Alana saw the real life manifestation of something that they had previously viewed as a pipe dream.
“We just kind of thought, ‘Well, so it is possible.’ They quit jobs that a lot of people would think, ‘Why would you ever quit?’” Matt said.
Alana said initially when they would talk about making a long-term trip around the world, she was more open to it than Matt, who was concerned with planning a solid financial future. The move to the Twin Cities, however, was not the change the couple had hoped for, and unbeknownst to Alana, Matt started seriously looking at how to make their trip happen.
Finally, the couple bought a one-way ticket to Tokyo and gave themselves nine months prior to departure to get everything in order, reduce extraneous spending, and save enough money to fund the trip. Their initial excursion lasted about nine months, and after visiting central Wisconsin for a few weeks, they are now back on their world tour for an additional four months. They will return and likely conclude their adventure for the foreseeable future in December this year.
“At some point we are planning on going back to work and getting on with our lives,” Alana said.
Japan kicked off the trip in September of 2014 and was followed by time spent in South Korea, which turned out to be their least favorite part of the extended retreat. They stayed in Seoul, South Korea’s capital city, and in general the parts of the trip they most enjoyed were away from major population centers and traditional tourist attractions.
They then traveled to the Philippines, where they spent three weeks island hopping. Breathtaking scenery, time on the beach, and friendly people highlighted their time there. Indonesia was the next stop, and the couple did some house- and pet-sitting to offset expenses.
Throughout the trip the couple used airbnb.com to find places to stay for a short while in some relatively remote parts of the world. They tried to stay away from major hotels, which they found tended to lead them toward a more touristy experience and away from what they were looking for, which was to understand places the way that natives of the country do.
“It’d be hard to say, ‘How do you go see the local culture?’” Matt said. “Sometimes you have to be willing to ask questions or talk to someone locally. A lot of times if you’re staying at a hotel, you just won’t have that opportunity.”
After Indonesia they visited Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia and then in the beginning of February flew to Africa to begin a two-month trip through eight countries, starting in Kenya and heading south. They traveled in a large truck with about 20 other people and at night would camp out under the stars. For both Matt and Alana, the time in Africa was one of highlights of their trip.
“We saw everything. I don’t know how we got so lucky,” Alana said. “We saw all the animals you could see. I think every day I just looked at Matt and was like, ‘I cannot believe we’re seeing this in the wild.’”
“This makes giving up whatever we gave up worth it,” she added.
For much of the trek through Africa there were “no toilets, no (running) water, no electricity,” Matt said. From seemingly endless sand dunes, to star-flooded night skies, to lush jungles and salt flats as far as the eye could see, the landscapes of Africa transported Matt and Alana to another time and place.
“It’s from one extreme to the next, and we never expected such a thing,” Matt said.
While they were at times homesick, they said that with the technology of Skype and FaceTime, they were likely in touch with their family more often during their trip then when they lived within a few hundred miles of them.
Matt and Alana said that in deciding to take this trip they had to break from a very traditional American mindset. People here struggle with the concept of taking off from work, taking a chance, and eating into their savings. Matt also said that during their trip he sometimes missed the sense of accomplishment one gets from work, even pining for an Excel spreadsheet just to be able to do something job-related.
They both now place an added importance on the work-life balance, which they said is inherently valued by so many countries but seems to be somewhat of an afterthought in America.
“A lot of corporate America … people will pride themselves on, ‘Well hey, I worked 60 hours this week,’” Matt said. “It’s just a very different mentality in almost all other parts of the world to be honest.”
They said that when they do return to workaday lives they will be much more particular when considering potential jobs.
“I think we’re going to be a lot more picky moving forward about who we work for, what their values are,” Alana said. “Before I wanted the house with the white fence and nice things in it, and I don’t have that anymore. The freedom to have time to do things is amazing.”
For many people the primary focus of their lives is to make money and acquire more by sacrificing time. For Matt and Alana the equation is flipped, and they are willing to sacrifice some of the finer things in life if it means more time to do what they want, spend time with family, and live according to their values.
The couple has now resumed their world tour in Turkey and will travel through eastern Europe and Guatemala before they return home for good in December this year.
Matt and Alana have put together their own blog so that others may keep up with their travels and also gain further insight and tips on traveling the world. To keep tabs on the world travelers, visit greatbigglobe.com.
To watch video from Hub City Times’ interview with Matt and Alana, click here.