Incomparable Things set out to understand the truth behind the age-old saying, “travel is the best test of a relationship” and provide some useful advice for people taking the relationship-adventure leap. To do this we talked with adventure veterans Stefaan duPont and Sarah Murphy – a couple of eleven years that left their successful New York City design careers to take an eighteen month adventure around the world. In the end they experienced new places and cultures, and tested their adventurer’s spirit and the strength of their relationship.
We interviewed them separately for both perspectives in a two part series about life on the road as a couple. Part two are the words and photos of Stefaan duPont, the other half of Miles & Miles and lead designer for Incomparable Things. Don’t miss Sarah’s perspective in Part One of the series.
Duration: 15 months
Countries visited: U.S., Canada, Iceland, France, Italy, Croatia, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand.
Adventure mobile: Modified 1996 Toyota Tacoma pickup truck
Avg pace: 4 days in each place
Preferred latitude: 65 N (Iceland)
Preferred season: Fall
Website: Miles & Miles
Great adventures can be inspired by huge visions or small projects
I didn’t consider myself an adventurer before Sarah and I decided to leave our jobs and travel around the world. Actually, the whole idea of the trip really made me uncomfortable. The fact that I was going to be so far away from home without anything familiar and that I wasn’t coming back until a set date – that was a situation i’d never experienced before. But I loved the idea of changing up work – I wanted to know what it was like to not have a full time job.
Sarah was a bit more gung-ho from the start and had a better idea of what she wanted the trip to be. I just tried to hide the fact that I was freaking out about it and focused on the aspects I was excited about – like living out of my truck.
My kind of adventure is definitely based on living out of a vehicle and being able to go wherever we want at our own pace. We planned to start the whole trip by exploring the U.S. out of the back of my truck for 3 months, which was really easy to get excited about because I identify the truck with who I am. For me It was a perfect gateway to the larger, more foreign adventure plans that lay ahead. In the end, knowing what got each of us excited about the trip (we also share lots of interests) was helpful in planning and plotting the kind of adventure we both wanted.
Appreciate each other’s effort
Over the course of preparing and traveling with Sarah, she was always trying to get me involved in the planning and could tell I wasn’t researching our next move like she was. The planning never stopped, every single day. I never realized how much she did until we were really in it – the ridiculous amount of energy she had been and continued to, put into planning every day.
In that respect, Sarah was the captain – the planner. Let me be clear, I’m not talking about our relationship, but definitely on the trip. She was constantly in her free time trying to figure out where we are going to stay in the next place and the thought just hadn’t crossed my mind yet. But I realized she was just more of a natural at it than I was, so I tried my hardest to provide moral support and remain positive through some annoying situations. She was so willing to take that responsibility that I owed her anything I could do. Now even off the road, I notice her natural ability and the amount of energy she pours into planning things for us all the time. I am so appreciative of her.
“Winging it” is actually more stressful
When we first got to Europe, the plan was to “wing it”, like we had in the states, and travel in a tiny Citroen. But randomly choosing our destination from the road didn’t work very well. We were also traveling very fast and didn’t have a good gauge of how long we were supposed to be in one place. We had a romanticized idea of what Europe would be like: beautiful restaurants, over-stuffed beds, everything going right. Movie stuff. Our vision was definitely not sleeping in a car at rest stops and smelling like crap in a hatchback. As a result, the different places we stopped never met our expectations so we just kept going without giving them a chance.
On the road in the tiny Citroen was the most tense time for us. We got into arguments because we were trying to figure things out from the road with limited internet and phone. I had never dealt with that before. I’ve always felt that if I can think or work hard enough, any problem is solvable. But there were times out there that we were miserable and I couldn’t do anything about it. As we traveled more, we realized the whole concept of ‘winging it’ wasn’t working and we needed more structure. Sarah and I started using Airbnb to find apartments. We didn’t account for this in our budget but that was when we found our rhythm and the trip slowed down and became enjoyable.
Be confident in, and build on, what you already have in the relationship
Going into the trip, I never thought of it as some sort of test of my and Sarah’s relationship. I have never doubted Sarah or our relationship. We’ve been together long enough and we know each other very well. Of course, that doesn’t mean it was always pretty. When we climbed Mount Kilimanjaro – we were covered in dust, hadn’t showered in a week and had to bathe with wipes. There were definitely times where I felt more like an animal than a human. Ultimately, we got through it and just realized how truly comfortable we were with each other. We’ve been through the worst situations, as well as the best, as a team. I am extremely proud of everything that we endured and did together out there. That being said, I am very proud of everything we have done together before the trip too.