By Karson Wilson
During the summer of 2017 Brendon Stinson (25, Lee’s Summit) and Karson Wilson (25, Harrisonville) caught a bug. But this bug is not just any kind of virus, there is not a doctor in the world skillful enough to cure its symptoms, not even a parent can console its effects. This bug is persistent and refuses to lose its strength over time. This bug is the Travel Bug.
Upon packing everything they could possibly need into two 37 pound bags they had no idea what to expect. From hiking up into the Swiss Alps, to hitch hiking the “Land Down Under” they were embarking on a 14 month trip around the world motivated by their lengthy Bucket Lists. Why? Because life is simply too short.
In total the adventurous couple visited 16 different countries, so far has walked over 1,700 miles and created memories with new friends from all over the world. How can such a young couple have the money to afford a trip like this?
“We worked five jobs between the two of us before we set out on this adventure. It was a lot of work, a lot of hard work but we knew it would be more than worth it,” said Brendon.
Even though they saved money before they left they still consider themselves to be on a very tight budget averaging $58 a day between two people which covers their food, transport, accommodation and entertainment.
“There are many different programs that aid travelers on such journeys. We use Workaway quite often where we have had the opportunity to perform work in exchange for food and accommodation. However the work is very new, interesting and informative. So far we have been Potato Farmers in Switzerland, Mushroom Harvesters in Austria, Vineyard workers in Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands, Olive Grove workers in Tasmania and we have worked in Marketing and Promotions in Sri Lanka and England. We also use a website called Couchsurfing which is a group of likeminded travelers all offering their couches and a cultural exchange for absolutely $0.”
With their budget set and their bags packed, they kicked off their trip around the world at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany where beers are served by the liter and dancing on the tables is encouraged! From there they took to the Swiss Alps crossing the Longest Pedestrian Suspension Bridge in the World and Bungee Jumping off the Verzasca Dam– famous for its opening scene in James Bond the Golden Eye.
“It was important for us to do things we would never do at home, and to step outside our comfort zones. That’s ultimately how you learn about yourself and what you are capable of,” Said Karson “Thanks to bungee jumping I now realize I am incredibly terrified of heights. But I can say I’ve jumped off of a 721 foot dam, and I suppose now if I’m strong enough to survive that I can do just about anything right?!” exclaimed Karson.
It has also been very important for the couple to branch off a bit and see things from a new angle or think outside the box. Many people around the world DREAM of visiting Venice, Italy and riding a gondola down one of the lengthy romantic canals but once they arrived they realized just how touristy that activity is. “It takes the romance away from the experience when you have to stand in line” the couple remarked. They then began to research a new way to experience the canals and found a woman named Anna who would then teach them how to ROW the gondolas themselves around the “streets” of Venice.
After disembarking Europe for the first time they took a flight straight to Abu Dhabi in the UAE where they spent Thanksgiving riding the Fastest Roller Coaster in the World! Before you are even allowed onto the coaster you must put all of your personal belongings into a tray including headbands, watches etc. In exchange they give you a pair of eye protection!
In order to complete everything on their to-do lists they have to remain on a pretty tight budget which calls for a lot of peanut butter and jelly, spaghetti, avoiding public transport as much as possible, and of course taking the most inconvenient and cheapest airlines possible. After four flights spanning 36 hours they made their way to New Zealand where they would spend a month visiting the Milford Sound, enjoying the company of the kiwi people, working on a vineyard, appreciating the incredible views and learning to hitch hike.
“We were scared to death of hitch hiking. When our host suggested it we shook our heads and looked at him as if he were crazy. I think what convinced us was the fact that he was a New Zealand police officer and he – of all people – was encouraging it!” said Karson.
After spending Christmas on the hot summer beaches of New Zealand where everyone was wearing swim suits and Santa hats while singing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” they took their hitch hiking notes from their host, they flew to Australia where they hitch hiked the length of the Great Ocean Road! It was important for them to visit the 12 apostles, the grotto and all the other famous sights along the way, but two very important problems presented themselves 1 – we don’t know how to drive on the left side of the road, and 2- we can’t afford renting a car! One evening as they were hitching they got a much unexpected ride.
“Hitch hiking is a very eye opening experience. At first you become very self-conscious and aware of everyone looking at you like you are crazy. But then there are times when a limo pulls up and offers you a ride – and that’s when you know you’ve hit the jackpot!” said Brendon.
After spending three months in the land down under and celebrating NYE on the Sydney Harbor overlooking the Sydney Bridge and Opera house, holding a koala, and kayaking the Sydney Harbor, they made their way to Indonesia where they swam with Manta Rays, hand fed bananas to monkeys, and visited the largest lizards in the world – the Komodo Dragons and even watched the sunset over one of the many active Indonesian volcanoes, Mt. Agung. You may have recently witnessed Mt. Agung in the news for its latest eruption in November of 2017 just four months before this young couple arrived at its base.
Next on the list was Thailand where they joined in the Songkran Festival which includes thousands of people from all over the world celebrating the Thai New Year by squirting each other with water guns, and dodging trucks filled with locals and trash cans filled with water and actively dumping them on every person they passed! Here they also spent some time exploring the Phi Phi Islands, visiting James Bond Island and rock climbed some of the infamous rock faces of the country!
After leaving Thailand they made another 30 day layover in Sri Lanka. They could not express enough just how genuine they people were and how much they enjoyed the local culture. Here the trains travel on the sides of mountains overlooking tea plantations for as far as you can see. And the best part is no one is keeping you in your seat! You have the opportunity to lean out the doors and windows and really take it all in.
“Since the beginning it has been important for us to embrace each culture we visit. Which is why we travel so slowly. We spend at least one month per country which allows us to get to know the locals, the environment and immerse ourselves into new cultures, new religions, and new ideas. Just taking the time to listen to someone who lives a completely different life than you, can change you.” Said Brendon.
By month number nine of globetrotting, they had already circled back around to Egypt which allowed them to chalk up tally mark number 5 towards their goal of stepping on all seven continents! Facing the brutal and unrelenting heat of the desert sun, they explored the inside of the great pyramids, ate a cactus fruit straight off the plant, sand boarded in the World’s Largest Desert – the Sahara, swam in the Nile and paid respects to the young King Tut.
“The best part about Egypt for us was being able to experience Ramadan. The local people do not eat until 7:00pm in which they invite as many friends and family members into their houses as they can hold to break their daily fast (Iftar). It is in this moment and at these mealtimes where there is a contagious celebration of life. We were invited to many different Ramadan parties with different families in the evening which gave us the opportunity to speak with the locals, eat local food and ultimately experience something we knew nothing about. Their invitations were so kind and heartwarming; it’s hard to believe that anyone thinks Egypt is a dangerous place,” said Karson.
After Egypt they made their way back into westernized culture, Brendon with a bigger beard, and Karson with a heavier bag from collecting a vast amount of souvenirs. Over the last four months they have spent with a whole new appreciation for the western culture in the countries of the Netherlands, Belgium, and France where they rode bicycles across the canals of Amsterdam, tasted the “Best Beer in the World” in Belgium and watched the sunrise over the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
“If I knew then what I know now, I would have left sooner. Life is too short not to take chances. Life should not be spent at the office. Life should not be spent without laughter or family time. Many Americans refuse their lunch break just to eat at their desk and keep working. This isn’t LIFE. In the end we’ve only got one chance at this and we want to spend ours LIVING,” said Karson.
These two small town Missourians are wrapping up their 14 months abroad in the United Kingdom. They have dipped their toes in many different cultures around the world and their ultimate goal now is to encourage others to do the same.
“Many people are afraid of what is out there, afraid of leaving what is comfortable. I think a lot of the times people don’t want their beliefs to be tested. But we PROMISE that if you take those steps to embracing new cultures there is absolutely nothing to lose, and everything to gain!” Brendon exclaimed.
After reading this article, I think one thing is for certain – the travel bug is contagious.
You can see more of their travels on Facebook at: The Flyway Effect or on Instagram at: The Flyway Effect!