The young woman sits with her husband at the dining room table of her parents’ Peachtree Corners home about to embark on the trip of a lifetime.
Jessica Baumgart is 29, a graduate of Duluth High School and the University of Georgia. And her husband, Nate, 31, hails from Evanston, Ill., where he graduated from Evanston Township High School and Wesleyan University of Connecticut. She is a former director of education and development for the Lurie Cancer Center at Northwestern University. And he is a voice-over actor and corporate events planner.
They met about 4 ½ years ago in Chicago while volunteering for the Windy City’s children’s theater, sparks flew and last year they headed to the altar to make it official. They were married July 3 in Chicago.
They are a handsome couple, educated and, from all appearances, really quite normal.
Then they tell you about another kitchen conversation in which they decided to quit their jobs and take a trip around the world and you start to wonder about that last part because who does that?
A lot of people apparently. And sometimes even complete strangers.
For the Baumgarts, the idea began to blossom two years ago. It took root something like this.
“I remember standing in our kitchen and suggesting it,” Jessica said.
Before tying the knot, they had been talking about moving from Chicago to a place that was warm and cheaper to start a family; about how that would mean leaving their jobs and their circle of friends.
“What if we did a trip in between?” Jessica asked. “What if we went for a month?”
She didn’t stop there. What if they went on a six-month trip? Then finally, what about a yearlong one?
That was it. For a year, they’d throw caution to the wind and set out on a journey, a kind of extended honeymoon, to see the world in all her splendor.
But first they needed a plan and a whole lotta money. They took to the Internet. They found a seemingly endless number of blog posts from like-minded couples who’d taken a so-called gap year to explore the world.
“One of the interesting things about living in the information age is that you don’t need to meet or know personally someone who has done this,” Nate said. “You can just find them online.”
Nearly every blog included detailed accounts of budgets, down to the price per day, per country. All of them were less than $75,000 a year per couple.
“We tried to pick a number we thought would be doable,” Nate said.
In short, they preferred a short fun trip over long-suffering. No couch-surfing, you see.
They agreed $75,000 seemed about right — $50,000 for the yearlong trek, and when it was all over, $25,000 to live off while they looked for new employment.
They chose January for the departure date and then decided exactly how much they’d have to save each month to make that happen.
First they’d have to keep their low-rent apartment even though it flooded during heavy rain. They got rid of cable TV. Instead of eating out, they cooked. Airbnb guests brought in about $800 a month; private dog boarding another $35 a day.
They agreed not to spend at all during the entire month of September. They saved both their salaries.
“We did a lot of shared Google docs to see where we were along the goal line and how much we were saving every month,” Jessica said.
As the year drew to a close, they tried selling everything they had save a couple of tubs of clothes, beloved kitchen items, old journals and photos. What they couldn’t sell friends took. What their friends didn’t want, the Baumgarts donated to Goodwill.
In December, they hit their goal, packed their 2010 Hyundai Sonata and drove here, where their black Lab mix, Lily, will remain with Jessica’s parents, Jon and Cathy MacLean.
On Jan. 8, they boarded Spirit Flight 1376 to Cartagena, Colombia, the first leg of their journey.
They will spend three months in South America, traveling through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia; then two months in southern Africa, a month in Europe, and a month in India before flying to Southeast Asia, where they will spend the last four months of the year.
Along the way, they will document their journey, this final adventure before the kids and the mortgage and the minivan on their own travel blog: roundtheworldcouple.com.
I’ll be checking back in occasionally, but after arriving in Cartagena early this week, they told me they simply felt grateful. For good friends and supportive family. For having found each other. For being able to make this journey together.
Imagine that. We all should be so lucky.