Ted: In 2013, Jen and I quit our jobs, sold all of our possessions, and began a 6-month backpacking adventure around the world that would lead us to our new home in Sydney, Australia. Before we left, we started a blog so we could share photos and stories with our friends back home, so they too might be inspired to go on an adventure of their own.
The blog was very different to what Thrifty Nomads is today, and it also had a very different name: Roadmaps to Happiness. Our inspiration was that you only have one life on this earth, so you should do whatever you can to take that leap of faith and go on the trip of a lifetime.
But this mentality doesn’t just apply to travel. It’s about changing careers to pursue the job you’ve always dreamed of. Or taking the opportunity to live in a new city. Or publishing that novel, or starting that business, or launching that website.
Or sometimes scariest of all, ending a relationship that is no longer serving you.
In 2014, Jen and I discovered we had a knack for finding clever and affordable ways to travel. So we rebranded the website to Thrifty Nomads with the goal of helping others see more of the world, for less.
Since then, we have been extremely fortunate with the success of our site. We aren’t the biggest blog out there, but we’ve been able to make this website our full-time career, to hire other writers, and to travel the world while doing it. It’s been a huge blessing, and we’re so thankful to our readers for making it happen.
But as we all know, the photos that we see on social media rarely tell the full story – especially when you’re a travel blogger.
Jen: I don't know exactly when our 16 years together first began to unravel. Looking back, it was much like the silent breakdown of a wristwatch. At some point, the machinery wavers a few seconds behind. Seconds blur into minutes, minutes become hours, hours stagnate into days. Eventually the minute hand gulps its last lithium and dies.
“Was it COVID?” many asked.
“Have you tried therapy?” my mom offered gingerly.
“You both just need normal jobs,” a friend blurted.
It's difficult to summarize why after spending half your life with someone, you'd walk away. On one hand, our lives were saturated with adventure. From selling all of our possessions (twice) to long-term travel for several years, to ditching our conventional jobs to start this blog and ultimately settle in Australia, rarely was there stillness.
Simultaneously though, there was conflict. Albeit, not without genuine efforts at repair (and yes, therapy). In the fewest of words I can say that whilst there was loving companionship, eventually suffering outweighed the nourishing aspects of our relationship. As a good friend put it, “sometimes love is not enough”.
Ted: From 2014 through 2020, Jen and I spent almost every waking minute of every day together. In most places we traveled, we only had each other. When we finally settled permanently in Sydney, we made almost all the same mutual friends, we worked together all day to build Thrifty Nomads, and we spent most nights together in our apartment. Aside from our hour-long gym classes, almost all of our activities were shared.
In short, we spent more time together than any couple we’ve ever known, and it took its toll. Bad habits and impatience deeply embedded themselves in our relationship. We spent years in relationship counselling, hopping between therapists, only to go back to tackling the same problems we’d had since we first sat on the therapist’s chair.
And then COVID hit.
Almost overnight, we saw our website traffic drop by 80%. The unthinkable had happened – the entire travel industry was brought to a standstill. Income streams that we had relied on each month fell to almost nothing. Many travel companies we had been affiliate partners with were forced to shut down their programs entirely, no longer paying for the bookings being brought to their website.
But more than that, we were stuck with each other. There were no trips to escape on, no parties to distract ourselves with, and barely any business worth staying together for. It was just the two of us, confined to our apartment in lockdown, forced to face the demons of our own relationship.
Jen: When I envision our time together, I see a Pollock-like piece. Erratic splatters of laughter, hurt, joy, and change. Life with Ted was a spontaneous, colourfully layered composition of miles crossed and memories made. Looking back, it still turned out beautifully, pain and all.
I can readily write about this now, but being at peace with this gut-wrenching rewrite of my life took some time. And time alone, by the way, doesn't heal all things. If you rely solely on the passage of time to fix you, then know that you can stay distraught for an eternity.
I know this because until I accepted the reality of my new future, anxiety smothered me like a thick marinade. Contemplating a future without Ted propelled me into full blown panic attacks. Some days I'd lay sobbing on the kitchen floor, writhing like an earthworm in denial of our impending separation. My cat, Matcha, would lay on my chest as I wept, nuzzling my face and mopping my tears in her fur. The weeks leading up to my moving out were truly some of the hardest and darkest of my life.
Call it a sign from the universe (or whichever form of confirmation bias you like), but as soon as Ted and I agreed on breaking our lease, a one-bedroom apartment became available right across the hall. This reduced a huge amount of stress both for myself and presumably our recently acquired cats. I packed my things haphazardly, sometimes day drunk, often teary, in a hollowed state.
On a winter's Wednesday we carried one cat each across the hall and placed them on the floor of my new place. The sun was beaming through the windows, illuminating the questionable wall paint shade of coffee stained teeth. Unlike our old apartment, this one was tired and unkempt. The cockroach infestation had been addressed at my pleading, and I'd since vacuumed up their lifeless corpses.
With a lump in my throat I assured the cats, “this is our home now”. They cautiously tip toed about, sniffing boxes of familiar things, inspecting the dismantled couch and other pieces of our lives strewn about. I watched on with a mosaic of emotions.
In the weeks that followed a familiar heaviness blanketed me. Fear. The desperate kind that comes with the upheaval of one's life – something I've felt before. First when I boarded a train to Montreal at 14 years old to move out, then again 8 years later when Ted and I bought one-way tickets to Colombia, leaving behind our lives in Canada forever.
Ted: Our separation was the biggest leap of faith we ever took since we first left Canada to travel in 2013. We had been together for so long that we had to learn how to be independent from scratch. Jen had been the cook in our relationship, so I spent months trying my hand at different meals and watching YouTube tutorials, while Jen took on my old responsibilities like managing finances and paying bills.
The beginning of our separation was a lesson in becoming comfortable with my own company. As silly as it sounds, 16 years of operating as a couple left me barely remembering what it was like to simply be myself. We each had to re-integrate ourselves into friendship groups as individuals, reaching out to friends when we need a listening ear rather than each other, and learning how to become radically self-reliant.
Jen: In the early days, my fear was paralytic. There were excruciating truths I had to face, but couldn't. My marriage is over. I live alone. I'm unemployed. My mental health has gone to shit. I wanted to smash each fact like a whack-a-mole and retreat back beneath my bedsheets in denial.
The newfound isolation was deafening. Some days it felt as though I lived in a museum, like the apartment was a sterile display of my former life. I'd never lived on my own before, and doing so screamed the reality of our break-up in my face like nothing else. A few nights I slept on friends couches just so I could go to bed and wake with another person nearby, as I'd done for over a decade.
I delayed what pain I could for as long as possible. I didn't tell my family about the break-up or my moving out until several months later. It was easier to grieve behind a curtain (living on the other side of the world readily facilitates this). I didn't want an audience, even if they'd be sympathetic.
Eventually, I knew I had to embrace what was. It made me coil inside but I asked friends for help and let them know that I wasn't okay. I tried to keep busy. I looked after my cats, and they looked after me. The relentless support of my friends, family, therapist, and cats kept me upright during this time.
Therapy helped me to reflect and rearrange the pieces of myself, and still does. The most useful skill I've learnt is called radical acceptance, which is based on zen buddhism. It's the idea of accepting things as they are, without resistance or bitterness. This is invaluable, since rejecting reality will never change it. Denial and rumination only make us suffer.
There's a quote I heard which encapsulates this nicely. “Acceptance means letting go of the hope for a better past”. In my experience, the only way forward was to stop looking back in search of answers as to why this had to happen. Of course, initially I still needed a time to process, mourn, and hurt; the path out of hell is through fire.
It must be said that practicing acceptance won't make you invincible. When I stumble on my boxed up wedding ring, I still feel a pang of sorrow. Ten months on, the sight of scrapbooks from high school, anniversaries, and our wedding feels like salt on third degree burns. I'm still human; strong, but delicate too.
For awhile it was difficult to envision how, if at all, we would continue Thrifty Nomads. It felt pointless to maintain if we were no longer together, since that's how it all began. Not to mention, I didn't know how I'd ever find the words or confidence to justly summarize our split.
In truth, our separation is a poignant example of the very ethos this blog was founded on. Back in 2013, the leap to quitting our jobs, selling everything, and leaving Canada was terrifying. At the same time, it was a necessity. We were no longer content with the idea of seeing the world on snippet North American holidays for the rest of our lives. I was burnt out as a nurse and we were itching to venture long-term and live abroad. In short, our situation was no longer serving us. So we cut the cord of familiarity and embraced the free fall.
Fast forward 8 years on, and this notion has come full circle. When Ted and I honestly examined the current state of our relationship, it was taking more than it could give. Even though walking away was excruciating, doing so ultimately made us happier.
Ted: It was a scary first few months, but just like when we left to travel, this leap of faith was absolutely worth it. The conflict is over. We have more space and energy for our work and our hobbies. And while we still care for each other deeply, we are far better as friends and business partners than we ever were as spouses. Above all else, we are both finally at peace.
Jen: Now that we're on the other side, Ted and I want to keep this blog alive and its message to live authentically and richly. Whether that means helping a dream trip come to fruition, or showing you how to sell everything you own because adventure is calling – we'll continue sharing tips and anecdotes to help chase what excites you.
Ted: We have truly had dream jobs, and it’s thanks to the support from readers like you. We hope that by sharing our experience, you’ll be inspired to take your next big leap of faith, whether it’s traveling the world, taking a job, or leaving a relationship that no longer serves you. As cliche as it sounds, you’ve only got one life, and you’ll never regret living each day as if it were your last.
Jen: If you've made it to the end here, thank you for reading. I hope this post invokes the courage to re-evaluate things in your own life that might be holding you down. Life is too short to be wasted wishing things were different. Take an honest look at what's making you stuck and cut the dead weight. You're far more buoyant than you think.
– Jen and Ted