Chattanooga couple Mike and Angela Ballard wanted to do something special for their 10th wedding anniversary. They came up with a whirlwind 11-month travel adventure to seven continents and 150 countries/territories. They officially embarked on the journey last June and have been writing about their adventures.
This is a contributor-submitted Voices piece. Want to join the conversation? We invite you to write for us. Learn how to share your voice here.
By: Mike Ballard, We Married Adventure
My dad thought he would live forever. He was wrong.
And within six months of his passing, we packed our bags and left town. Disappeared into the wilds of the world to find closure or adventure or purpose; I knew not what, exactly. Only that I had to go.
It was a trip that Angela and I had been planning and modifying for nearly two years. What started as a two-week vacation to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary quickly turned into a three-month extended tour. But when Dad was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and I saw how quickly he succumbed, the need to unreservedly live my own life became imperative.
Overnight, three months turned into a year-long sabbatical. An obligation to experience everything this world has to offer. All seven continents, 150 countries and territories. At the very least, it would be a good start.
We left from Chattanooga and flew one-way through Canada, Iceland, Faroe Islands, and Great Britain, experiencing coastal waterfalls, glorious gardens, and rare scotch along the way. From there, we visited every other country in Europe. Literally every one of them, along with side trips to Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Georgia, and Armenia.
After a Mediterranean cruise to celebrate the actual date of our anniversary, we spent a month exploring Cyprus and the Middle East. I turned 50 walking among the Nabatean ruins of Petra, Jordan, and offered up supplications at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Not to invoke health or safety, nor for riches or fame, but for an open heart and a clear mind to seek out the good in this world. And the wisdom to recognize when it was found.
In Africa, we experienced the genuine kindness of strangers who quickly became good friends. In Rwanda, we drank strong coffee and discussed social reform with locals. On the Kazungula ferry crossing, we motored through the international four corners: Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Botswana in one go. The only place on earth where four countries meet.
From the dramatic coastal tides of Kenya and Tanzania to the kelp forests and penguins of South Africa, we saw much of eastern and southern Africa. Swimming in the Devil’s Pool at Victoria Falls. Canoeing with crocodiles on the Zambezi River. Watching incognito constellations turn in the flawless Botswana night sky. Enduring the force of monsoon rains in the Seychelles.
Today we bid farewell to Sri Lanka after a week of elephants, temples and impossibly green rainforests. With Hong Kong, Macau and China in our immediate future, we embark on the Asian portion of this trip in earnest. And there is still Oceania, Antarctica, and South America to come.
People sometimes say this is the trip of a lifetime. While they are not wrong, I don’t really like to think about it in that way. That implies a conclusion, an accomplishment, a victory that cannot be surpassed. In short, a bucket list.
But buckets can be filled up. And, when they are, your task is done. Instead, I like to imagine travel—and life—as a series of waypoints on a never-ending quest, an infinite choose-your-own-adventure game.
As Hunter S. Thompson said, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, ‘Wow! What a ride!’”