For one couple, a year abroad is the ultimate honeymoon
By Katherine Lacksen Mahlberg
Photos provided by Will & Caroline Lacksen + South & West Photo
“If you have someone you think is the one, take them and travel around the world. Buy a plane ticket for the two of you to travel all over the world, to places that are hard to reach and hard to get out of. And when you land at JFK and you're still in love with that person, get married.” ― Bill Murray
Bill gave this advice when he crashed a bachelor party in 2014. Though the order of events differs ever so slightly, the sentiments are the same for two local newlyweds. On July 23, 2019, just three weeks after saying “I do” at the Corry House in Union Point, Will and Caroline boarded a plane together for Paris with their passports, small backpacks, and one-way tickets. They had started talking about their shared dream of international exploration four years prior while they were attending the University of Georgia.
They agreed to have an early morning video call with me from their small apartment in Nha Trang, Vietnam. The day before they had taken a seven-hour train ride passing by endless rice fields and dragon fruit plantations. Vietnam won their first Southeast Asia Games football gold that night, beating Indonesia 3-0. The road outside their room had traffic and parties all night long with fans celebrating the victory. Even though they didn't sleep well, neither seemed frazzled or even slightly annoyed. Part of the key to their success as they travel through countless countries over the course of a year is their flexibility and openness to new experiences. They’re taking it all in stride - the good, the bad, and the unpredictable. And now, I’ll turn it over to the people who can tell this story best: Will and Caroline.
Where were you and what were you doing when this idea of doing a world trip came up?
CAROLINE: Freshman year at UGA, we were sitting in a hammock one spring day on campus. We were still getting to know each other and had only been dating a few months. We discovered we had a mutual love for traveling and sharing adventure stories from family trips. We talked about the idea of how cool it would be to go on an around the world trip.
WILL: My sisters were on a backpacking trip in South America at the same time we started dating. I thought that was so cool and knew I wanted to do something like that eventually.
Why did you decide to quit your jobs and travel the world together?
WILL: Do we have a good reason? (laughs) Maybe for the experience, more than anything. We have both lived in Georgia our whole lives minus two months in Oregon for me and two months in Costa Rica and Italy for Caroline. We knew this experience would allow us to see some different places and get a taste of what the rest of the world is like.
CAROLINE: Both of us were fortunate to be students who did dual enrollment and took AP classes. When we went to college, we had the advantage to graduate with undergraduate and master degrees in four years. Both of us were confident in our fields - forestry for Will, and education for me. Given that we knew what we wanted to do and being fortunate to have access to jump right into it after our four years in Athens, we both were looking ahead and felt like it was coming a little quick. We figured traveling now would be easier to do than waiting a few years when we were settled into our careers.
You are young, recently out of college, and newlyweds … how are you funding this trip?
CAROLINE: We have had a lot of help over the years. For example, my parents bought me a car that allowed me to commute to work the year prior to leaving.
WILL: Graduation gifts from high school and college helped. My parents were generous enough to let us live a year rent-free. That low expense year prior to leaving was game changing, and we watched our spending. Our wedding gifts were cash for the trip, not typical items off of a registry.
CAROLINE: Zola.com was very helpful in allowing us to customize a registry. Our family and friends could click on a picture and description for a cash fund that allowed us to share why those would be meaningful gifts. We had categories for once in a lifetime experiences, food, airfare, and room and board.
In the near future, you get two weeks of vacation time, and you get to go back to one spot you’ve visited so far. Where is it?
CAROLINE: Croatia in mid-September when crowds are gone, but beaches are still warm. Food was amazing and there was so much to do and see. The parks are gorgeous plus it is cheaper than Europe.
WILL: I liked Portugal a lot, but yeah, Croatia would probably be first place.
Let’s talk packing. How in the world do you pack for a round the world trip?
CAROLINE: You really don’t need as much as you think you do!
WILL: I have three t-shirts and it’s too many. One of them I don’t even wear. It’s uncomfortable.
CAROLINE: A big part of what we’ve done is follow mild weather. We left Europe before it got too cold. If you really need something, you can buy it just about anywhere. I bought a pair of shoes in Europe, got my $30 out of them, and then left them behind before going to Morocco. We didn’t bring anything on this trip that we would be devastated if we had to get rid of or throw away.
What has been the most stressful thing for you on the road?
WILL: We learned quickly that moving every two nights was not good. You need longer stays mixed in. We talked to a fellow traveler and he said that if you are moving from one city to another, that should be the only thing you have planned that day, even if it’s only an hour away. It takes a lot of mental energy to pack up, navigate transportation, check in to a new place, and all while you’re most often working with another language. We realize that we can slow down and it’s okay because we have a lot more time than money. So go slow and enjoy it.
CAROLINE: We have to remember that back home you can sit and watch a movie. There is definitely some guilt being on the road traveling if you didn’t have a super productive day. But some days, we might just go to the post office to mail a postcard and call it a day.
Being on the road for this long certainly has its unglamorous moments. Travel plans go wrong, laundry needs to be washed, you feel homesick. What are you finding works best when you need to reset?
CAROLINE: It depends. Once a week or so, we will go to a park or a cafe to journal or read a book. It can help put you in a bubble, especially when you are in a place that is so different from home. There is so much sensory overload and we find this helps to balance it out a bit. I find reading very soothing. Will also reads or goes out for a run. Also, Facetime is amazing. We Facetime home about once a week.
WILL: The holidays are tough. We miss being with our people. Listening to country music has been soothing when we’re feeling sad about being away. I think our favorite might be Chicken Fried by Zac Brown. We have also listened to the UGA football games.
Would you recommend a trip like this to other newlyweds or married couples celebrating an anniversary?
WILL: Yes, if you want to know everything about the person you are traveling with. (Laughs). We have learned a lot about each other in the past six months.
CAROLINE: That quote by Bill Murray, the same sentiments are there, we just did it backwards. I think we annoy each other more than if we were back home because we spend so much time together here - literally every moment of each day. When we do split for the day and come back together, we have so much to talk about. I think we’re going to be able to manage well when we get back.
I know you’re not even to the halfway mark of your trip yet, but how has this experience so far changed who you are as a person and as a couple?
WILL: I think it’s cool to get a different perspective. I like seeing things that we want to do when we get home - like foods we want to try and cook and ideas for our future home. I like learning as we go and noticing how it is changing my perspective about certain places. For example, Morocco gets snow in certain areas, and I had no idea. People go skiing there in the winter.
CAROLINE: It’s forced me to be more introspective. Rather than just being a tourist getting the cool photo or story to write about, it’s forced me to reconsider my preconceived ideas about cultures and religions. I think a lot about how I will incorporate my experiences from this trip back into my teaching when we get home. For me, it has revamped the notion of being a lifelong learner. As a teacher, one of our most important roles is to be a learner, because how can we continue to teach if we don’t continue to learn? As a couple, it’s encouraged us to have more difficult conversations, and have them more frequently.
WILL: Yeah, because there is no one else to talk to. (both laugh)
CAROLINE: True, but it forces us to ask questions and have lengthy, difficult conversations about ethics, perception of history, sense of responsibility, etc. We can’t ask questions like “how was your day?” because I was with him all day and know how his day was. So the questions are more geared towards feelings and perceptions. I have learned a lot about how Will perceives the world. How he understands a situation is very different from how I understand a situation because of our different upbringings and life experiences.
Close your eyes and imagine that you’re sitting down with your grandchildren. They are asking you about this trip in 2019 that you left for just three weeks after getting married. What will you tell them?
WILL: If it’s something that interests them, then I’d tell them to go. You can see the pictures and watch all of the National Geographic documentaries, but to be there on your own and figuring it out is so interesting. You learn more about the things that you like and dislike about your own culture. And you see the aspects that you want to take back and apply to your own life. The southern European cultures are very good about relaxing during the middle of the week. They just go to a cafe, have one drink, and sit there for two or three hours just to catch up and talk. It was less of the ‘try to do everything’ approach than we have here in the United States.
CAROLINE: I would tell them it was a dream and didn’t seem like a realistic thing to do, but we made it work. We share everything, even the ugly parts like doing laundry in the sink and the really amazing things, too. It is a good reminder that life can be what you want it to be. One of my favorite quotes is “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.” And I’m getting to do it with Will. 🖤
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This story appeared in Lakelife magazine, Volume 14, Issue 1 and is the property of Smith Communications, Inc. No portions of the story or photos may be copied or used without written consent from the publisher.