Introduction to the Hillratt’s Voyage

Today I am jumping around the living room, because I’m that excited to introduce you to a new series for Reclaiming Wife. Long time readers will remember Sara & Stof’s rather amazing South African wedding (Sara is also a regular commenter, who comments as Saartjie). Well, the wedding was just the tip of the iceberg with those two. Since then they’ve been cooking up plans to sail half way around the world together and documenting it all on their blog Stofnsara. I’ve been excited by this project, and thrilled at the way the Hillratts are breaking the mold of what a marriage can be, and expanding my horizons. Because of that, I asked Sara if she’d write a little series about what she’s learning along the way. Well, actually, I planned to ask Sara to write the series, and the very same day she emailed me with a question about money and marriage, that we’ll tackle on Thursday. But today, Sara is introducing the project. The Hillrats leave at the beginning of February, and she’ll report in as she can. That way, all of us get to learn what she’s learning, and follow along as she sails around the world. What could be better?

Stof and I married last year in September. Like so many of the people who read this blog, I stumbled upon APW looking for wedding inspiration. Within a couple of weeks, I’d practically stopped even looking at all the “wedding porn” I’d been addicted to for months of wedding planning. I realised that our wedding would look like no other wedding out there (or, thankfully, that no other wedding would look like ours). I stopped being interested in what other weddings looked like, but in how other brides felt and thought.

We had a four-day wedding extravaganza at a venue that had never been used for a wedding our size (the reception hall had not been used as anything really for about 50 years). 180 of our friends and family trekked out to a nature reserve at least three hours away from their homes for a celebration that was full of copious laughter and memory-building. It felt like we had pulled off a party that was both spectacular and unassuming and so close to our personalities.

I re-hash the wedding story, because we felt like, together, we could do anything we set our minds to.

So we began to talk about the life we want to live: the family we want to grow into. Adventure, tolerance and the pursuit of fresh perspective were (are) central to many of those discussions. We want to introduce our children to a certain kind of life-philosophy for which travel will be the tutor of many lessons. But we decided that if we want to travel as three or four or more, we’d best be in the habit of adventuring as two.

At about the same time as we started mulling about these things, we were inspired by friends who had taken their own year-long adventures as couples. One couple lived in a small town in Argentina learning Spanish, another rode around India on a classic motor bike and another took off around Africa in a 4×4. Two more friends are just now coming to the end of a two year sailing circumnavigation. If our friends could do it, we reckoned, so could we.

We dreamt the craziest dreams about the trip we could take. We fantasised about the places furthest away from home (South Africa) and, on a semi-whim, we decided to travel around the Pacific Rim using all manners of different transport. Once we’d made the decision to do it, the rest of the plans have slowly evolved and (mostly) fallen into place. We have tentatively given ourselves two years of travels from February 2011. The first leg of our journey involves sailing across the Pacific from Mexico to Australia and then we have some other ideas of how we’ll traipse through a bunch of the countries bordering the Pacific. When you are from South Africa, that’s pretty flippin’ crazy.

I think Meg has asked me to share my growing experience as a ‘wife’ because we’re doing something as a couple that takes us out of our comfort zone – and there are so many young families that do that in different ways. We happen to be doing something quite splendidly wild, but there is nothing that qualifies us to do it more than the strength we gain from our partnership. Which doesn’t mean that we’re always strong. (It’s somewhat macabre, but we joke that if we come back together then nothing will be able to split us. If we’re apart, then it’s probably best that it ends sooner anyway.) I vehemently believe that couples who have a common vision have the most chance of pulling that vision off. Sometimes it takes quite some thrashing to arrive at that vision, and a darnside more thrashing to see it become a reality. But we’re realising (with each day closer to our departure) that it can be possible to pull off something really audacious.

Wedding photos by friend of the couple Rowan Pybus

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  • Rose in SA

    Hey Sara

    I’ve visited your blog before, but it will be awesome to see you writing here about your exciting trip. And I love seeing another Saffa around here. All the best for your final preparations.

  • A-L

    Wowee, wowee, wowza, wowza, wow! I am giddy and jittery with excitement just to be able to read about Stof and Sara’s adventure. I’ve always thought it was interesting and cool when people decided to take an extended amount of time to travel around, but never gave much thought to the marriage-building aspect of these trips before. I’m looking forward to reading what they learn, and what they see. Bon voyage, Stof and Sara!

  • Amazing!! I can’t wait to live vicariously though Stof and Sara and hear all about their travels and experiences!

    I feel I could only daydream about doing something as large and splendid as traveling the world for two years…perhaps this is something I should work on…

  • I’m so excited to follow your journey. I can’t even imagine what you’ll learn by taking on such an audacious trip, but glad you want to share with us. I think tackling something so brave so early in your marriage will definitely set the tone for future bravery, traveling, and excitement. Bon voyage!

  • Lily

    “We want to introduce our children to a certain kind of life-philosophy for which travel will be the tutor of many lessons.”

    My parents moved my family to Barcelona, Spain when I was a Sophomore in high school and my brother was in sixth grade. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. I could go on and on about times when I was pushed outside my comfort zone and ways those experiences strengthened me. I could tell you about how slowly I became confident, slowly I learned that I was strong, and, probably most importantly, learned to laugh at myself and my flaws.

    I wouldn’t trade that year in for anything. When I came back to California as a tenth grader, I was so different. So confident and so happy. It helped me escape the pettiness that is so prevalent in high schools. I am sure that it helped me get through college, allowing me to see the beauty in others who I did not understand at first (also inspiring me to study Linguistics). Now that I am in graduate school, I am trying to go back to the place where I do not expect to do things perfectly the first time.

    I was so angry at my parents for making me leave my friends and work so hard at things that were supposed to be so simple (why can’t I just SPEAK?) but I would never, ever trade that experience in for another year in an American high school. I am so happy that other families have this philosophy, I think the benefits are absolutely unmeasurable.

  • Carbon Girl

    Yea! What an inspiration, I cannot wait to hear all about it! I love this part:

    “I vehemently believe that couples who have a common vision have the most chance of pulling that vision off. Sometimes it takes quite some thrashing to arrive at that vision, and a darnside more thrashing to see it become a reality. But we’re realising (with each day closer to our departure) that it can be possible to pull off something really audacious.”

    It makes me think of our long term goals and dreams and how they seem so far off. From this though, I get the impression that when we feel the time is right, when we are ready, we will be able to tackle them.

  • ddayporter

    kapow!! I recently remembered that she mentioned their incredible plan of adventure a while ago, within the past few weeks I have been wondering when they were going to set off. So exciting that we’re going to get some posts from her along the way!! incidentally, I enjoyed this post about 5 times more when I re-read it in my best attempt at a south african (afrikaner style) accent. I miss SA so much! OH I know. while you’re gone, my hubs and I can come stay at your place and watch your pup. ;)

    • Well, if you DO visit SA in our absence, you will have to take Cowboy for a walk at least! But we sold our house to buy a boat, so there’s the issue of your accomodation…

  • Leahismyname

    So, so jealous of your traveling time. And can’t wait to see updates.

    But your point about deliberately putting yourselves as a couple outside your comfort zone is really a good one. I mean, it doesn’t mean much if we can get along in the same ol’ day to day routines, does it? The true test is in breaking out of the comfort zone. I’d love to do this with my soon-to-be husband some day, preferably sooner rather than later. Trouble is, he’s practically shackled to his job.

  • Erin

    I am beyond excited for you and Stof, Sara. I found out about your adventure planning right around the time my new husband and I bought a little Sunfish sailboat. Next summer I’ll pretend That Lucky Old Sunfish is the Laura Takalani cruising the Pacific as I follow along with your stories. We’ve found that learning to sail is very healthy for a new marriage ;) Best of luck to you both, and thanks in advance for sharing!

    • The Lucky Old Sunfish is a ridiculously cool name! Happy sailing with her.

  • That trip sounds absolutely amazing and makes me quite curious about the logistics of pulling it off. What kind of careers do you have that can withstand a two year departure? Do you save up for this kind of trip? Do you take an inheritance and run? Do you not have any family care obligations (sick grandparents, etc.)? Of course, you don’t have to answer as I know these are personal questions, but all of these things I feel are standing between us and a great adventure.

    • meg

      We’re going to talk about this a little Thursday. They are obviously very lucky to make this work, but they are also really brave. We could make this work if we decided we were going to to it, frankly, but I’m no where near brave enough (in that way) to see it as a real possibility. So I think it’s a mix of luck, really hard work, and just pure bravery. But it’s ok, even if we can’t do this exactly, it can inspire us to make braver choices in our everyday lives.

    • Jen

      I second a post about these issues too! The down and dirty logistics of such a trip is the fear which would stop such an adventure for myself and fiance, and an inside look into these issues would help stomp on the doubt that such an adventure is possible for the ‘average’ person.

      I am SO looking forward to this series! Meg is right – a story of people going outside their comfort zone to accomplish such a grand goal really does serve as inspiration to make even subtle differences and changes in our everyday lives!

    • Meg’s right (again… of course): it really comes down to taking a bit of a gamble, but it’s a gamble we felt was worth taking. But thanks for the list of questions, whatever doesn’t get covered in Thursday’s post, I’ll try deal with on our blog.

  • SO awesome!

    And it reminds me of another sailing couple who recently untied the lines and are now living their dream and blogging about it… and who also happen to be my big sis and future brother-in-law. :) They’re currently off the western coast of Mexico, heading (eventually) for NYC.

    Also, a related good book with a lot of wisdom about relationships is “The Motion of the Ocean: 1 Small Boat, 2 Average Lovers, and a Woman’s Search for the Meaning of Wife” by Janna Cawrse Esarey. One of the best lines? “Choosing a mate is like picking house paint from one of those tiny color squares: You never know how it will look across a large expanse, or how it will change in different light.” It’s a glorious book. :)

    • tupelohoney

      I love that line! Think this book just went on my list…

      • Amanda

        Hmm…potential next book club book maybe…Meg??? =D

    • How awesome would it be if we are in the Sea of Cortez at the same time?! It looks like their schedule is a bit ahead of us, but maybe they’ll be seduced and hang around for a bit longer.

      And I had heard about that book and definitely marked it as reading material for the boat (right now we’re all about preparation). I particularly like how she seems to focus on their relationship and dealing with her own issues. I’m even more excited to read it now because of your endorsement.

  • Liz

    this is awesome! my husband and i planned to live in spain for a year, and it never panned out. (whoops. baby.) this is so inspiring!

    • Tony and I are planning to spend a year abroad studying when my son graduates from high school. It’s my graduation gift to me, and will hopefully help me get over that first Empty Nest year. I like having it as a long-term goal because wowza, it’s going to cost an arm and a leg.

      • The people we bought our boat from were a really inspiring couple who similarly needed a “gap year” once their children hit college. They spent that year sailing from northern california to mexico. It had been a long term goal for them as well, but they stayed committed and had a spectacularly special time.

        • Oh, cool! Thanks for sharing that detail. It makes me feel a little crazy to be planning something that’s not going to happen for 15 years.

      • Oh I love that idea of the year after graduation. If we end up having kids, I think that’s going to be a new goal of mine. :)

  • Oh you guys, so psyched! As Liz said, inspiring. Super awesome to see someone dream big and do it, and it helps inspire my dreams too. Love, love, love.

  • Wow, this sounds fabulous – really looking forward to following the blog. Oh and very very jealous. This is something I would love to do but don’t think I could ever be quite brave enough!

  • I’m so happy to hear about couples taking grand adventures like this! I think sometimes the idea of travel can be daunting (too expensive, too much time away, unfamiliarity- and I LOVE travel) but what always gets me is the realization, and this happens every time I finally buy the plane ticket, that it’s just a CHOICE. You make the choice, you buy the ticket, and it’s done, it’s really happening, you’re going. Easy.

    So with that said, I am totally interested to hear about the financial/practical aspects of this particular journey. We would love to spend a year abroad, and sometimes I think the only thing holding us back is making the choice!

    Can’t wait to read more!

  • Wow, so amazing! I am so excited to hear about your travels.

    “I vehemently believe that couples who have a common vision have the most chance of pulling that vision off. Sometimes it takes quite some thrashing to arrive at that vision, and a darnside more thrashing to see it become a reality.”


  • I have been following Sara for a little while now and I am so proud of her and Stof for going for it, living their dream and inspiring me.

    While my dream is not to sail around the world (although Sar we will meet up with you anywhere and sail for a week or two), I do dream of living in our cabin full time and “homesteading” in a way. Trying to figure out how to make that happen.

  • Wow, that sounds awesome! It’s so encouraging to hear that there are couples doing things so far outside the norm. There’s often so much rhetoric about how there are so many things (and travel is always near the top of the list) that you can only do properly when you’re single, or at the very least before you have kids. As a team that intends to alternate our time in Canada with time overseas for 2-4 year stretches (dog, future children, and all), it’s really frustrating to hear that kind of talk, and so fantastic to have living proof that it’s not crazy and can be done (okay, at least that it can be done).

    I look forward to reading about your adventures, both here and on your blog!

  • Alyssa

    AHH! Bravery and love and adventure all wrapped up into one! I’m super excited about this!

    And it’s for real excited, because even though Meg told me about this in one of our meetings, I don’t read the posts ahead of time because I still want to be a reader and get the “OMG, THAT IS SO FUN!!!” feeling when I read something new and surprising.

    Like I did today! I can’t wait to read these ongoing adventures! (There will be lots of pictures, yes? Please say yes, Sara…)

  • “splendidly wild” – I love that phrase! And macabre though it may sound, you’re probably right. If you can survive super-close quarters like that, for 2 years, you’ll be golden for 50. :)

    I’m SO looking forward to reading about this. We have our own crazy visions that we want to carry out – totally different from this one, but a bit crazy nonetheless – and it’s inspiring to see a couple actually going after theirs. Good luck with all the last minute preparations!

    • Alyssa

      Absolutely. The Boy and I lived in a one bedroom apartment for a year and nearly stabbed each other on a weekly basis. Still madly in love, we just need a little SPACE in the long term.

  • Mallory

    Like an earlier commenter I’m interested in the logistics of it all but I really hope these series will inspire me to be more brave when it comes to travel. I never studied abroad for a variety of logistical reasons and have always been a little sad about it. Recently Pat and I discussed trying to go on an extended honeymoon (~2 months) and do a bit of backpacking abroad. It would have to fall between both of our eventual change in jobs but I really hope we can be as brave as you and just make it happen.

    • Mallory – You are totally that brave… just setting the intention and dreaming it tells me that. Go for it! :)

  • april

    So excited for you both! And a bit envious, too of such a bold undertaking. My husband and I both LOVE to travel, have vacationed all over the world but have yet to take a really “BIG” adventure. You’ve inspired me to start planning our own next trip…Although I must admit, I don’t have the bravery you both do for sailing round the globe! That is really something bold.

    Thank you so much for sharing your plans. Fair Winds & Following Seas!

  • I read this post and felt all kinds of emotions: excitement for Sara & Stof, adoration of their bravery and view of life, jealousy that they’re making it happen (and I am not), a realization of my own fear of making something like this work which includes encountering and convincing the hefty bit of fear-of-new-things that my husband likes to carry around with him, disappointment at not (presently) having a job and therefore an accumulation of funds that could lend itself to travel, validation that before my husband and I have kids we must travel at least a little, thoughtfulness about our goal to one day have kids and questioning what I might be setting my sights on if I weren’t thinking of parenthood as (like yesterday’s post) a bit of a martyr.

    That’s all to say, I think this is an AMAZING journey, and if this short post can stir up this many emotions and avenues for reflection in me today, I’m curious to see how my vicarious journey with you will benefit me and the rest of the readers! Go Sara!

    • meg

      Whoa. That was a lot of thoughts… I like it. Thinking of parenthood as martyrdom, hum. Now you’re making me think. This makes me think back to all the weird, “Parenthood is living hell, when are you doing it?” conversations people had with us right after the wedding. I just found it so puzzling, because I always wanted to say, “If it’s really that bad, I’m not doing it and why would you suggest it?” And then I’d talke to my sane mom posse, and they’d say, “Meg, it can be wonderful if you want it to be, hard but wonderful. These people are being nuts.” And that would sound a lot more true.

      • Yes, my sane parent posse has reminded me of that too. Thank goodness for them! And, I don’t really think of parenthood as total martyrdom. Instead, I think I’ve been anticipating the necessity of giving certain things up that, lately, I’ve been realizing are just somewhat arbitrary barriers I’ve imposed on myself… probably in part because of the sort of cultural understanding that in order to be a “good mother” you live for your child first and yourself second. Or maybe third. Or not at all. (Which I personally think is total crap, but I still find those ideas swimming around in my head sometimes before I punch them in the face.) And that’s also why I think Sara and Stof are so cool… because they’re prepping to have an awesome traveling family by making sure that they have an awesome traveling baby family, first.

  • Sounds like it’s going to be a wonderful journey! I’m looking forward to hearing about it.

  • ka

    This. Is. So. Awesome. You guys are so courageous, and I cannot wait to read all about it!

    I’m also interested in the logistics of such an undertaking, as the boy and I have this backburner-ed dream of spending a year or two house-swapping all around the world, but we need to fix up our house (anyone interested in living in a cute little ranch halfway between NYC and the beach for a few months?) and make our careers mobile first….

    I also loved this line: “Sometimes it takes quite some thrashing to arrive at that vision, and a darnside more thrashing to see it become a reality.” Because yes, yes it does, and that’s OK.

  • So excited about this. And travel as tutor? AMEN! Not just for our kids, but all of us.

  • JT

    I am so excited for this series! And a little bit jealous- the adventure of the first few years of my marriage will be surviving medical school, which just doesn’t sound like as much fun as Stof and Sara’s trip. I have a feeling, though, that many of the lessons will translate.

    • meg

      TOTALLY. That’s exactly what I was going to say. Surviving law school was stressful and hard, and done in pursuit of a bigger goal. Traveling can be a lot like that sometimes. Especially when you’re sailing. Talk about hard. But also, amazing.

  • This is a spectacular journey & I’m so excited to read about it. Best wishes!!

  • SarahAustralia

    My face burst with joy when I opened up APW and saw that gorgeous picture of Sara and Stof’s wedding in front of the tree – that celebration of a marriage is still one of my all time faves on APW. I can’t wait to hear Sara’s take on being a wife set in the spectacular backdrop of, oh, um, the whole world!!

    My bloke and I set off 6 years ago for a 5 month backpacking trip around Europe (he didn’t even have a passport before we decided to go). It was 6 months into our relationship, and the things I learnt about myself, him and us in those 5 months meant that I have known for the last 6 years that what ever comes up we can look at it, take a breath and deal with it – together! And the pressure of money stress, constantly moving, culture shock and really bad hangovers in foreign countries, well – it has made for great stories that have filled the first pages of our little baby family’s history book. But we did that while we were still at uni, I’m awe of the bravery you guys are showing doing it as real live grown ups!

    Go Sara and Stof – Have a ball!!

    (and if you want a bed on solid ground for a few nights when you get to Oz, give me a bell!)

  • What an amazing post-I’m totally floored by this amazing couple!

  • WOW! This sounds awesome! Sounds like it’s gonna be wonderful!
    I have completely fallen in love with your blog, great job!

  • “We want to introduce our children to a certain kind of life-philosophy for which travel will be the tutor of many lessons.”

    Yes, yes and yes.

    There are so few people one can really travel with–this said from a girl who jaunted solo in third world countries for fun–and if it’s your husband who’s part of the the tight-knit circle, you are in for a true adventure.

    I realized while traveling with my to-be-hubby that, just as in real life, knowing each others’ needs are paramount: I need quiet, daily self-reflection time. He needs exploration into the unknown. We both need to listen more and love just as much in the quiet spaces as we do when we giggle-belly-ache laugh.

    So isn’t travel, really, when the boat is far from shore and the nights are long and the rations short, like the hard days of marriage?

    Cheers to you, and Traveling Mercies! May you play many card games and spy pods of leaping dolphins and enrich yourselves and each other beyond imagination. Your children–when they come–will be so lucky for your journeys.

  • hey :) i’m not really sure the rules for this situation, but i wanted to let you know i’ve written a post about blogs that i love and i linked yours to it. i’m pretty sure only like 2 people read it, but i thought you might like to know :) and i wanted to tell you that you inspire me. happy tuesday!

  • Very exciting! Such a brave adventure…Isaiah and I talk a lot about how we want to live out of the country at some point…but for some reason, it seems impossible. I know it’s not, but it feels that way…leaving our families and getting jobs and my practical Ms. Hyde gets the best of me sometimes. Best of luck on your journey, can’t wait to read your check-in points!

    • I feel you on this. It is one of my lifelong dreams to live abroad. I get scared and wonder how can I work, live, etc. I lived in France for six months after college but I found it so difficult to find a way to stay beyond that I ended up leaving. All the logistics freaked me out and I couldn’t figure out the confusing visa laws. When I look back on that, I know I was youg and overwhelmed. I know I could make it stick if I give it a go, plenty of people move across country lines and make it work. But I still get scared and freaked out and reading about adventures like Stof and Sara’s is incredibly inspiring and a great reminder of all that is possible.

  • Cassandra

    How lovely an idea and how brave you both are to get ready to take off and live your vision. Sounds delightfully more fun than finishing out the next 4 or so years of PhD both the boy and I have to go.

    When I first read this post this morning I was thinking “Damn, that’s exciting! How do people decide to up and go off somewhere new and travel and wander? I’m jealous!” Now that I’ve spent the day thinking about it and thinking about my own life, I’ve realised I *do* do that – I go off to Africa for fieldwork sporadically and have my own adventures but what I realised at the end of the day is that I’m jealous you’re doing it with your partner. I need to find realistic ways of doing that! I’m left inspired by your choices and conspiring on how to bring to the boy and the small person we’ve already created along on my next big adventure…

  • Wow-wee! Thank you so much for all of your encouragement and excitement. I really can’t think of a more esteemed group of people to be privileged to share some of the more reflective aspects of our journey with. Grin. Grin. Grin.

  • This reminds me of a dream I had in college of driving from Cairo to Cape Town! Maybe I’ll get to do it one day :)

    I love the idea of sharing common dreams and having a united purpose. Our pastor asked us before we got married what we planned to do together as a couple that we could not have done on our own. It was a great question that started so many discussions…

  • It’s funny… we actually live abroad and instead of dreaming of a trip like this, I fantasize about going back home! What I would give to have a winter Christmas or a Dr. Pepper or dinner with my mother! I hope you all have an amazing trip… I’ve always been the sort of wanderlust kind of person and I really find that living abroad/ traveling abroad for an extended period of time really changes you for the better!

  • Alexandra

    HOW neat! ;D

    Sounds like a fabulous adventure. My man & I have traveled quite a bit stateside, and are looking forward to some out of the country excursions in the next few years. Inspiring. ;)

  • Oh hooray! I’m so excited to read about your adventures and travels—and *especially* your journey through the first couple years of marriage. My husband and I, while not sailing (which sounds totally cool and if either one of us knew a lick about it, might be doing that instead of a van), but we have just set off on a year-long trip around the country in a van.

    It’s been a long-time planning (since before we were engaged) and then we got married last July (’09), packed everything into storage, and up and moved to Hawaii for 8 months… then returned to the mainland, bought our van and spent the past five months converting it (we thought it would only take two, so ended up living with incredibly gracious friends and their 6-year-old for five months).

    But now we’re on the road (ten days in) and this post comes (and as a series, no less!). The growth, challenges and experiences we’ve dealt with as a new couple and family have been incredibly valuable, wonderful and amazing so far… and confusing and challenging and frustrating at times.

    Thank you Meg and Sofa for sharing this… I can’t wait for more. :)

    • Ack! And thank you Sara!! :-)