Meet Manuel Gros and Carolin Eckseler. Prior to their journey abroad Manuel and Carolin called Germany home. A simple comment offered in discussion back in 2014 has resulted in a 4 year adventure, to date, travelling to 20 countries and working all over the globe. It has not always been easy for them, but it has most definitely been worth the effort. Continue reading below to hear their story…
To start, what made you decide to drop everything and pursue traveling the world?
Manuel: Hehehe.. that is quite a funny story. Back home in good old Germany we were both still living in our respective hometowns, which were roughly 160km away from each other. Eventually we thought about moving in together, the big question was just where? It would mean one of us had to give up his or her flat, job and social environment to move to the other ones. Quite a big step neither of us was prepared to take just yet.
Carolin: So one night as we were having that debate again, I finally cracked and yelled: “This all sucks. Let’s just sell everything and go abroad. At least that’s fair.” That was it for that night, but three days later Manuel suddenly said: “You know what? What you said the other day – let’s do it!”. We never looked back.
How did your family and friends react to your dream turned reality?
All in all – pretty good! When we first opened up about our idea, naturally our families had a few reasonable concerns, but after we answered all their questions they were very supportive and never doubted we would follow through… at least not to our faces…
In general most people were more like, “I knew it!” followed by “But aren’t you scared?” and “What about your pensions and entitlements?”. In the end everyone was pretty happy and excited for us.
How long was the planning process for your journey? What was the most challenging aspect to get in order? Who is the main planner between the two of you?
Carolin: Roughly one year went by from the day we made the decision until we boarded the plane. The first six month we did not tell anyone about our plan, we just concentrated on sorting out our finances, changing our lifestyle and cutting back expenses to be able to set aside enough money to fill up our travel budget. The second half of that year it got much more serious: applying for visas, updating vaccinations, cancelling subscriptions, flats and jobs and selling all our belongings.
None of that was technically challenging, but some of it was emotionally. I really liked my job! It was very hard for me quitting that. For Manuel it was saying goodbye to his friends.
Manuel: Who is the main planner? Definitely Carolin! While I immerse myself in photography, Carolin gets busy researching and planning the next steps of our journey.
How did you decide where to begin your travels? Do you have a set travel plan or do you pick a place when its time to move on from your current location?
Carolin: We sort of narrowed it down step by step. Manuel wanted to go to Asia, I wanted to see South America. We didn’t have enough money for both so we knew we had to work in between which is easiest for us in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. In Oz and NZ we get a work and holiday visa till the age of 30, in Canada until 35. So, to work and travel in turns we decided on: Central Asia, Australia, South East Asia, Canada, South America.
Once we agreed on that we worked out a rough guideline of countries we wanted to see and since we wanted to travel over land geography decided the rest. Anything more detailed than that we just plan as we go.
Manuel: Some things need to be arranged upfront, but you don’t want to miss out on opportunities because you are already tied up in other commitments. To add, if there is one thing we learned while traveling it is that nothing ever goes as planned anyway! Lots of the time we change our minds and adapt our plans, because of all the wonderful people we meet on the way and their travel stories and recommendations.
What kind of jobs have you been working and how do you find them?
Manuel: First of all, keep in mind that back home Carolin was a purchasing manager and I worked as an insurance agent.
In Australia we started out with a classic backpacker job: fruit picking! Carolin picked lemons and I sweet potatoes. In just a few short weeks we got lucky, and a new opportunity presented its self. Carolin’s sisters friends were looking for some helping hands on their drove. It doesn’t get much more authentic outback Australian than that! Living outside with a herd of 700 head of cattle moving to new grazing grounds every day. Carolins dream job! Mine not so much. It’s quite the experience, but after two very intense weeks I’d had enough and moved on to Melbourne. Carolin followed 4 weeks later. In Melbourne we both found jobs as labourers in construction on Gumtree.com.au.. Carolin for a builder and carpenter, me for a team of bricklayers.
In Vancouver we were first looking for something similar, but by chance, Carolin found an add on craigslist.ca and we ended up working in tourism this time. She is a tour guide/ carriage driver in Stanley Park and I work in the Info Booth.
What was the hardest thing to adjust to with life on the move? Being away from home and the familiar, are there things you miss and/or are there things that you don’t miss that surprises you?
One thing we certainly had to adjust to was going from a weekend relationship to being together 24/7. Luckily that worked really well. Since we travel fairly low budget and mainly stay in hostel dormitories, we sometimes find the lack of privacy a bit challenging. Don’t get me wrong: meeting new people from all over the world is one of the most enjoyable parts of traveling, but every now and then it is nice to retreat and shut out the world around you.
Of course you miss your family and friends, but luckily nowadays social media makes it a lot easier to stay in touch. We also sometimes miss a couple of cultural things: bread for example. Germany has a huge bread culture. And of course the Christmas markets in December.
One thing we surprisingly do not miss at all is our possessions. It has been such a relief not owning much of anything, it is one less worry on your mind. It is hard to describe. You feel very free, because you can just pack your backpack and are ready to head off with everything you own right by your side.
Being from Western Europe how have countries received you? Has it been generally a warm welcome or have some places been colder than others?
Without exception people have always been nice to us, we never feel unwelcome! Truth be told, we travelled a lot of countries where we did not speak the local language. So who knows what they were actually saying. Just kidding. In general people were always very warm and welcoming. We were often blown away by how people would go out of their way and the effort they put in to welcome, help or just talk to us.
There were of course cultural differences in how strangers would be received, but there was more of a difference to be noticed depending on how touristy an area is.
Funny enough, one thing repeated over and over in Central Asia. People instantly associated our nationality with two things: soccer and cars! The moment we said we are from Germany they replied with, “Ahhh…Mercedes, Audi, BMW…very good car!” or various names of german soccer players.
You guys have been to a plethora of countries and have experienced many different cultures. Where did you enjoy the best food? What culture was the easiest to settle into? Why?
Manuel: Uuuhhhh tough question! There are SO many good dishes in each of the countries. We have loved all the food so much. Carolin has even taken a couple cooking classes during our travels and has written her own cook book with recipes from every country.
But if we have to choose one county as our favourite it would be China! That’s us cheating our way out a little, because within China there are at least as many different cuisines as there are in Europe. They are equally diverse too. It’s just a bit harder for us to tell them apart.
Carolin: The culture easiest to settle into was probably Australia. This was due to a few reasons: because I had already spend a year in Australia after school, but also because it was the most similar to home. We could suddenly understand everybody and read and write again.
To be honest though: you do not start traveling to find what is easiest!
Carolin: From the very beginning we wanted to travel slow. When you simply fly from A to B the distance doesn’t mean a thing. We didn’t want that. We wanted to get a feeling for how big or small a country is and really get in touch with the people. Originally, for monetary reasons we chose public transport over buying a car, and that was the best decisions we ever made. Public transport is one of the best sources for good travel stories. We have travelled by: train, bus, ferry, taxi, scooter, Tuk-tuk, bike, on horseback, on foot and hitching a ride. It sure can be unnerving, even stressful and frustrating at times and it is not always comfortable, but it is true. You gain a much better understanding for a country and you meet the most extraordinary people that way.
Manuel: As for travel stories, here are some of our most memorable adventures:
We travelled on the Trans Asia Express from Turkey to Iran and did a 3 day horse-trek to a remote mountain lake in Kyrgistan. On a (totally normal and modern) bus in China we suddenly awoke to the driver packing a herd of noisily protesting goats into the luggage compartment. In Australia we scored a ride on a road-train through the Outback. In Sichuan we endured a gruelling 6 hour ride with a total of 9 people + luggage in a 7 seater car to get to a remote and unauthorized monastery town on the Tibetan plateau. During a two day hike along the Great Wall, we did what the Mongolian hordes tried for centuries, we successfully climbed the Great Wall… because we had to leave it for a section earlier and the staircase to get back up again was locked, not to rampage through the nearby villages.
Your currently in Vancouver, BC which has notoriously high rent. Which place, out of the countries you’ve travelled too, did you find to be the most expensive and which place was surprisingly less so?
To be honest there were no real surprises. When you hear the name of a country you usually have a pretty good idea if it is going to be cheaper or more expensive than at home.
Naturally it makes a big difference which level of comfort you choose and for how long you stay, but also how big the country is and if you stay in a city or in the countryside. In general Australia, New Zealand and Canada have very similar costs of living, which were only topped by Singapore and Hong Kong. The cheapest countries we have been to were Kyrgistan and Cambodia.
What kind of job have you guys been working while you travel? Has language been a barrier at all? What advice would you give someone wanting to live a similar lifestyle?
Luckily language has never given us any major issues. While traveling we were of course not able to learn ever language of every country, but we would always learn at least a couple of words, like yes, no, hello, goodbye, thank you and sorry. You would be surprised how much of a difference it can make, when you approach people with their local greeting.
When it comes to work, we only had to deal with english. English is the first foreign language we learn at school, so the basics were already there, but for living and working in a place you need a much larger vocabulary than for traveling of course. You want to be able to have a proper conversation and not just get by. The best thing to do is to jump into the deep end, mix with locals as much as possible and keep away from other people that speak your mother tongue so you won’t be tempted. Usually after 3 month you’re able to communicate with a level of confidence.
For anyone who fancies the idea of traveling: Do it! Stop overthinking and just do it! There will always be people that give you a hundred reasons not to. Some of them are worth considering, but a lot of them are also rather narrow minded. If there’s something you want to do, there is also a way to do it. Yes, it can be scary! Things are not always going to work out the way you plan them to, but you will find a way to deal with it and it will only make you stronger.
Having traveled to many different countries, have you experienced difficulty entering a new country based on places you have previously visited?
Carolin: Ha ha ha… that did happen! After having spent a full month in Iran we were about to leave to Turkmenistan and as the Iranian officials checked our passports I was called aside to please explain, why I have a US stamp in my passport. Just to make sure I was not an American trying to pass through on a second passport. I explained that I visited the US for work, to buy almonds to produce chocolate and it turned out that that chocolate was one of their favourites. We were on pretty good terms after that.
Manuel: A similar thing happened vice versa a couple of weeks ago. We wanted to go hiking at Mt. Baker in Washington, US. We were having trouble getting an international travel visa online for address reasons, so we decided to do it right at the border. NOT so smart! Since we have been in Iran after 2011, and that is one of the seven countries Trump blacklisted as “country of concern”, we were not granted entry into the US. Additionally we are now banned for life from participating in the visa waiver program. The officers were very nice and even slightly apologetic about it. It took them five hours to process us, taking all our details and even biometrics. In the end they escorted us back to our car and ensured that we left back into Canada. We never got to hike.
Carolin: In hindsight, a huge fail on our part! We should have done a little more research and as a result waited a few more years till our passports expired. With a new passport and no stamps from a country that the USA blacklisted as a “country of concern” we would have been granted entry. However, now if we want to visit the US we have to go to an embassy and apply for a proper (and fairly expensive) visa. Additionally, whenever we book flights we have to be careful not to choose any flights with stopovers or layovers in the USA, which has proven to be a rather large and costly inconvenience. Things you learn along the way.