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Making travel work
By Kevin Revolinski ’90

No need to wait a lifetime for the journey of a lifetime, say those who’ve made it happen

Kevin Revolinski '90
“Professional ADD” has taken Kevin Revolinski ’90 to stops along the way like Angkor Wat, the 12th-century temple in Cambodia.

My first real step into the overseas work and travel world was when I accidentally ended up in Turkey. Back in 1997, I was less than enthusiastic about filling out dozens of applications for part-time, part-benefits teaching jobs in the Midwest. So I submitted my materials just once to an overseas teaching job fair and thus killed 130 birds with one stone. I drove to the University of Northern Iowa’s superb job fair expecting to land a position somewhere in Latin America. Spanish was something I figured I could tackle. But I had no experience beyond student teaching and in the end I got an offer from … Turkey?

Call it kismet. I still consider the year I lived there one of the best of my life. Learning the culture from the ground up, the language, the food, the people. The history that had been touched upon in my studies came off the pages and into the camera lens as I explored Istanbul, Ephesus, Antioch and even ventured down to Damascus in Syria. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. So I was 29 and realized I didn’t have to save my whole life and go on a package tour. I could be a responsible adult (depending on whom you ask) and make a living, save some money and live an adventure.
Web extra
Enjoy a chapter from “The Yogurt Man Cometh,” an account of Kevin Revolinski's year in Turkey. >>MORE

But professional ADD pushed me from country to country – Panama, Guatemala, Italy; Texas … – until finally I needed to change jobs altogether. In the highlands of Guatemala I met a traveler from Sweden who told me he was financing his backpacking trip just by writing for his hometown newspaper. Intrigued, I looked into a few travel magazines and submitted my first piece to Student Traveler. One clip after another, I accumulated professional writing experience, and several years later had even managed my way into The New York Times.

It’s an addiction, and the challenge of hawking your words and photos has a certain satisfaction. Paying for it all was another trick. I did everything from couch-surfing and tent-camping to hitching a ride in the back of a local pickup, plus constant accumulation of air miles by applying for and canceling reward credit cards.

But seeing print budgets shrinking and magazines folding, I took some of my eggs out of the travel-writing basket. I found an ESL school in Wisconsin that needed someone to visit education consultants in key markets in Asia. (Again, kismet, I think.) So for a simple wage and an intermittent travel schedule, I took the work because it meant that now I could get a paid flight to Asia, extend the ticket, and piggyback my travel writing on that. Plus, I convinced them I could rent a room in a boarding house for three months for about the same cost and thus stay longer for both of us. Win-win!

I’m by no means the only one out here finding a way to live a life on the road. In Shanghai I met a graphic designer who stumbled into a permanent position at a Chinese magazine. At every dive destination I’ve ever been, there is a foreigner who became a dive master and worked his or her way around the reefs of the world. In Thailand, I know people who design websites – either there or for clients back in their hometowns in the U.S. Mobile phones and the internet make a home office a matter of having a place to plug in your laptop. A coffee shop in Saigon? On a cruise in the Galapagos? In a campground at a national park? “Yes” on all counts.

Few are getting money-rich in this footloose world of whimsical wanderlust, but the treasures of travel aren’t measured in baht, yen or dinars. That moment when you happen to board a $2 chicken bus and sit next to a Maya day keeper who loves to chat about his beliefs is priceless.

No matter how cheap it is, it’s not free, but it’s easier than one might think to finance the adventure. Whether it’s your mother tongue, computer skills, technical knowledge or an ability to make a really good hamburger, there is likely a niche for you if you know where to look and you are flexible. Got kids? That complicates things of course, but I know several travelers who have risen to the challenge, taking an online business or a needed skill with them to spend a year in an enriched learning environment where the children can attend a private school with locals or other expatriates.

The world is indeed your oyster. Not everyone will find a pearl – but you won’t go hungry, either.

Making travel happen

When Michelle and Jonny Richard ’96 got engaged, they vowed to continue making international travel a priority. Both had already spent time abroad and their goal was to take a round-the-world trip within five years.

And so they did. With only backpacks, the Richards set off on a 10-month excursion that circled the globe and took them to 22 countries. They learned to cook Thai food in Thailand; climbed a glacier in the Swiss Alps; swam with a whale shark in Australia; and saw the Euro Cup Soccer Championship in Berlin.

Such an adventure may appear a luxury for young professionals like the Richards – in particular, since Michelle had just started a new business. “Many people make assumptions that we must come from wealthy families to afford such a trip,” Jonny says. “The truth is, we set a goal, worked hard for it while making sacrifices along the way, and made the dream a reality. Many people think it is impossible to do something like this, but when you have enough desire, you find a way to make it happen,”

“It took five years to save the money and then took about a year to plan for the trip, with the majority of the decisions happening in the final five months,” Michelle says.

Planning included the logistics of destinations and getting there, and packing, of course. But they also had to arrange for mail pickup, property storage and immunizations; and Michelle to leave her business – Coalesce, a marketing agency in Appleton, Wis. – in the hands of a trusted partner.

“After you challenge yourself with something like this,” says Michelle, “you carry a new confidence with you that you have the ability to accomplish anything.”

Kevin Revolinski is the author of “The Yogurt Man Cometh: Tales of an American Teacher in Turkey” and several Wisconsin guidebooks. A new edition of his "Wisconsin's Best Beer Guide" is out this summer. His articles and photos have appeared in a variety of publications including The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He keeps his things in Madison, Wis. Check out his website and read his blog at, or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Summer 2010 Magazine

Web extraLook here for web-only content that expands on topics presented in the current St. Norbert College Magazine (PDF).

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Reflections by President Tom Kunkel in Trusteeship magazine.

VideoJohn M. Perkins speaks
The civil rights statesman interviewed on campus.

VideoPaul Tagliabue opens Sport and Society conference
The former NFL commissioner delivers his keynote address.

GalleryCommencement 2010
A gallery of images from “a ridiculously fine day” in May.

GalleryGwen Ifill’s Commencement address
The journalist and newscaster spoke to the Class of 2010.

VideoOn the road
Images and reflections from a sabbatical journey undertaken
by Brian Pirman (Art).

Text ExtraThe Yogurt Man Cometh
A chapter to enjoy from this travelogue in Turkey, recounted by author Kevin Revolinski ’90.

GalleryThe faculty in action
Professors as educators: teaching, advising, demonstrating, mentoring and working with students.

Story ideas? Your ideas for future magazine stories are most welcome. Write to the editor with any suggestions or comments.

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