Mike and Anne Howard met in 2006, married in 2011 and left New York to begin their honeymoon on Jan. 22, 2012. No big deal, right?
Except that more than 600 days and 28 countries later, the honeymoon continues. They were headed into the Irish countryside by camper-van the last time I checked, and were thinking of coming home to the U.S. – from Turkey – just in time for Thanksgiving.
So it'll be a 650-day honeymoon, more or less. He is 36, from Pennsylvania; she is 31, from Hollywood. They say they're far from being millionaires.
But they're clever. And cheap. And their around-the-world trip turns out to be part intimate adventure, part commercial venture. Drawing on his background in digital and social media strategy (and photography, seen above) and her background in writing and editing, the two have not only been selling stories and photos from their trip, they've been compiling a round-the-world handbook and keeping a lookout for deals with travel companies "that would like to align their brands with an energetic couple" circling the world.
They don't just have website, Facebook and Twitter accounts of their trip going, they've got a brand name – HoneyTrek – and plan to hire themselves out as a "Trip Coach" team to others considering round-the-world trips. Between budget lodgings, they alight for free in luxury hotels, thanks to a non-cash deal to write about high-end destinations for a honeymoon-planning website.
Even in the current age of global sharing and endemic sponsorship, this is not the sort of private/public venture that every pair of newlyweds goes looking for. But it has made a lot possible.
"We want to show people that you don't need to be a millionaire or hippy to do this," wrote Mike Howard in a recent email. "Global travel is achievable for anyone with an adventurous spirit, a modest savings account, and some smart preparation."
At first the trip was going to be 365 days. They started with South America. Then Africa. Then Asia. In the first year, they counted 16 flights, 14 trains, 32 national parks, 20 islands, six hitchhikes, five vehicle breakdowns, 38 luxury resorts, 19 nights without a bed, too many buses. Then they extended to 500 days. Then they added Europe.
His backpack and daypack together weigh about 55 pounds. Hers weigh about 45. They drink a lot of tap water – after running it through a SteriPEN water purifier. Their favorite lodging so far: Wildebeest Apartments, an 18th-century coral-and-thatch house filled with paintings and "incredible energy" on Lamu island in Kenya. Least favorite: the Rio de Janeiro bus station on the last night of Carnaval. (They missed a bus and the next wasn't due until morning.)
Priciest lodging: digs at the Ngorogoro Crater Lodge, Tanzania, which would have been something like $3,100 (but was free as part of their honeymoon-planning website gig). Cheapest lodging: couch-surfing in Christchurch, New Zealand, with a home brewer and lobster fisherman.
Here are their email answers (edited and condensed) to eight questions about what they've spent, how their hitchhiking in Mozambique worked out, the surprise west of Thailand, and what they'll set on fire once the trip is over.
How did you hatch this idea?
Anne Howard: Mike returned from Oktoberfest in Munich a few years back and said, "You will not believe this trip I heard about." A German guy and his girlfriend had just returned from the most fascinating 12-month journey around the world. As Americans doing all we could to squeeze in one ten-day vacation each year, it had never occurred to us that a trip of this magnitude was even possible ... but once it entered our minds, we could not shake it. We thought, "We are young, we have some savings, no kids yet, and we're planning a honeymoon.... Other than the fear of the unknown, why shouldn't we do this?" From that moment on we started plotting.
How much have you spent?
Mike Howard: Our total spend (including meals, lodging, activities/excursions, buses/trains/flights, visas, gear, everything) is just under $40 per person, per day. This is an average, with places like Australia and Japan running closer to $60 pp/day and Laos and Nepal more like $15 pp/day. We've earned some money through my photography and Anne's freelance travel and design writing, but that is paltry compared to what we have gained thanks to the partnership we have with www.Honeymoons.com [writing about trip-worthy destinations].
Anne Howard: It was nearly dark on the side of the road at a small junction in northern Mozambique, and we waited for a hitchhike for four hours with zero cars in sight. Adding to the uneasiness, an intoxicated man kept talking to us in Portuguese while a mentally ill person circled us with his dance moves. Just as the sun was setting, a pickup truck pulled up. The driver said he couldn't take us as far as our intended destination but said that we could sleep on the floor of his cousin's mud hut. This was looking like the bright side of the day until we attempted to sleep and the mice started running across the packed-dirt rafters, knocking mud chunks on us. If it wasn't for fits of delirious laughter, we would have never made it out of that day.
Mike Howard: We are ambassadors for the nonprofit Muskoka Foundation and were asked to scout an English language program in a tribal Red Tzao village outside of Sapa, Vietnam. To do this, we signed up as volunteer teachers for the week – and not just any week: seven days before the Tet celebration of the new year. The students were so grateful to have English lessons that they thanked us with countless invitations to pre-Tet dinners, sacrificial rituals, and a very exclusive New Year's spirit cleansing ceremony. To be accepted into this tribal community during one of the most familial and celebrated times of year was definitely one of our greatest travel highs.
Three favorite smartphone aps?
Mike Howard: XE Currency, which can convert between any two currencies in the world, is always up to date, and is amazing when dealing with dodgy money-changers at the border. Audible.com, for passing time on long treks, windy roads, or night buses with audiobooks. And possibly our favorite app is Maps With Me. We found a way to have highly detailed maps of every country we've visited and turn our iPhone into a fully functional GPS ... without WiFi or a data plan!
Where didn't you go, and why?
Anne Howard: The Maldives is a commonly cited "dream honeymoon destination" so without much thought, we threw it on our list. But once we started to travel to tiny islands off Africa and remote Asian beaches, the Maldives started to sound like a tourist trap for the rich. While I am sure the Maldives are beautiful, we realized that our favorite destinations are the ones you rarely hear of. Also, Bhutan would be such a fascinating place to travel but the daily tariffs and mandatory tour operators seemed a bit restrictive for us.
Mike Howard: Myanmar was easily the biggest surprise of the trip, especially since it wasn't even on our original list. En route through Asia we heard so many incredible things from fellow travelers that we decided to experience this former military state for ourselves. To this day I remain baffled by the sheer kindness and warmth of the Myanmar people and when you combine that with some of the most beautiful temples and landscapes in all of Asia, you have an unbeatable combination. If you go, please spend at least half of your trip outside of the "big four" tourist destinations there – that is where the magic happens!
What will you burn first when this is over?
Mike Howard: My hiking shoes, which have seen more than their share of muddy cliffs and riverbeds, even though Anne would probably prefer I burn my extremely well-weathered "Indiana Jones" hat.
Anne Howard: My 'going-out' tank top. In dim lighting from a distance, this tropical-leaf halter is still pretty cute, but in any bar with more than 10-watt bulbs or, God forbid, in broad daylight, it looks about as good as a dishrag.