Page 29

My first question to Mike and Tara Shubbuck is one they’re often asked in the hostels, hotels, campsites, and strangers’ houses that for the last year they’ve called home: “How are you feeling?” “Great,” Mike replies from Bangkok, Thailand. His voice, whisked instantaneously through the ether by the miracle that is Skype, is crystal clear. “We haven’t had food poisoning in at least two weeks.” He laughs—they both do—and you can hear the joy in his voice even as he recalls the pain in his stomach. They had unwittingly fought a battle with Indian water—more on that later—and lost, but even in the 11th month of an around-the-world trip, they had already classified the malady as nothing more than a hiccup during a once-in-a-lifetime travel feast. Mike, SOC/BA ’03, SOC/MA ’09, and Tara, SOC/BA ’07, aren’t simply fulfilling their wildest wanderlust fantasies, they’re fulfilling them together. They met at AU—she took a photography class, he was the lab assistant— and married on March 3, 2012. For their honeymoon they chose to go . . . everywhere. “We were looking at the next steps of our lives—do we want to stay in D.C., do we want to stay at our jobs?—and it became, why can’t we just travel around the world?” Tara, 27, says. “We said, ‘Well, why don’t we?’” Tara quit her job as a production coordinator at the Washington Post, and Mike put in his notice with the AU library. Did it make them nervous? “Absolutely,” Mike, 32, answers quickly.

They began selling their books on Amazon, their furniture on Craigslist, and shed most everything else through a sale in their apartment building. What’s left of their worldly possessions fits into a few suitcases and boxes now stowed in Tara’s uncle’s attic, and the packs they carry on their backs. Planning began more than a year out. “It was intense,” Tara says. “It entailed everything from health and travel insurance, the best credit cards, the best bank accounts, power of attorney. We had to create a will.” Serious stuff. Settling on a route was easier. They would chase an endless summer, zigzagging through Europe, Africa, and Asia in pursuit of the sun. Money, of course, is always a factor. They budgeted $50 per person per day, a figure they found to be meager for Europe but princely in Asia. Flights from New York to their first stop, Reykjavik, Iceland, cost $300 each. n 1895 Mark Twain sailed around the world on a steamship, recording his thoughts with a pen on paper for a book that became Following the Equator. The Shubbucks’ blog,, is the twenty-first-century version of the same exercise. They’re remaining in touch with their friends, families, and fellow travelers through the blog, Facebook, and a Twitter feed that has more than 2,400 followers. The connectivity of the world has been a pleasant surprise; even some remote African locales and isolated countries like Myanmar are hooked into the web. They’re traveling with a MacBook Pro and an iPhone, and they have gone through several cameras, which apparently don’t like sand, dirt, or moisture. Preserving the experience, through words, video, and photos, is a priority. The blog is populated with several helpful advice pieces, like his-and-her tips for packing for long-term travel (Mike suggests silk sheets; Tara a BaByliss PRO travel hair straightener), but also poignant reflections on places and situations most readers will never experience. The journey has included euphoric highs and frustrating lows. In Zambia, they jumped into Devil’s Pool, on the edge of Victoria Falls. Mike held Tara’s legs as she peered over the abyss, simultaneously thrilled and terrified. In Zanzibar they were shaken down by a cop who pulled over their rented scooter and grinned while he asked, “Do you know what bond is?” Eventually, he let them go.

They camped for 37 straight days in Africa, couch-surfed in Johannesburg, and were feasted upon by bed bugs in Milan. They bathed an elephant, cage dived with great white sharks, and learned to say “hello,” “please,” and “thank you” in Finnish, Russian, Turkish, Arabic, Croatian, Italian, Spanish, French, Thai, and Burmese. hen there was India, where their resolve was challenged during their more than two-month stay. At a $5-per-night hostel in Alleppey, they discovered the water was coming directly from the channel, where people wash their clothes and themselves, and cows do whatever they please. That explained the mysterious green goo seeping out of the showerhead. Even though they had boiled the water for tea, the episode was unnerving. “The water always tasted off,” Tara says. Cheesy pizza and real Q-tips occasionally pop into Tara’s mind. Mike misses soft toilet paper. Yet their yearning to see, to meet, to do, to live life their way, together, trumps the longing for home. Their travel insurance was set to run out on July 4, so they extended it. The new plan was to spend more time in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam and return home on July 31. “Traveling long-term makes you re-evaluate your life, because it becomes your full-time job,” Mike says. “If you want to improve yourself, if there are parts of your personality that you don’t like, you can focus in on doing that. If you had a temper, suddenly, because you don’t speak the language, you can’t go off and start screaming at people. You’re no longer encumbered with a full-time job, so you can take away from the experience whatever you want.” Along the way, people from all walks of life have seemed curious about the same things. Aside from inquiries about their general wellbeing, they’re often asked if they’re sick of each other yet (they’re not); if they’re tired of living out of backpacks (Mike is at times, Tara surprisingly isn’t); and what their You’ve read plans are when about the Shubbucks’ they get home thrilling trip and their hiccups. (who knows?). Send your most memorable travel What’s the tale to rush? Their The reader with the best story will receive a print of Hannah honeymoon’s Lloyd’s cover illustration. still not over. Entries must be received by August 31.

American magazine, August 2013  

The flagship publication of American University. This magazine offers a lively look at what AU was and is, and where it's going. It's a foru...