Just Decide—Then Jump

The vast and beautiful land of South Africa has been calling our family forever. PHOTO COURTESY OF SHAMWARI GAME RESERVE


I’ve been watching videos from some YouTube-famous families that have decided to go adventuring. And the thing that sticks out to me most is how they identify as “average.”

I mentioned this to the Adventurer and he shook his head, too—they are NOT average families. They are young, they are wealthy, they have major savings accounts and massive audiences, so they’re sponsored by resorts and airlines around the world.

How is that attainable for regular people? For most families, a life like that seems utterly out of reach.

Then there’s us: We are not wealthy by many standards, but neither are we average. We have come to this moment by making it full circle through hardship and poverty and struggle in the last decade—which no one would ever know by looking at our life now.

I left the Boston Herald in the mid-2000s, amid cutbacks to the newsroom that left the last journalists standing doing four times the usual production.

Beach Bill
The Adventurer (dancing above on a beach in Africa) used travel throughout his career to reinvigorate himself, to find motivation to be fit, to fill in the gaps of drudgery with exciting and perspective-filled world travels. Now we’re doing the same for our family, revisiting one of his most memorable places. MYLIFELIST FILE PHOTO

The Adventurer had left MacQuarie Bank in Australia, a life that also ran him bell to bell without a breath, in similar misery. Travel was our solace and our inspiration.

We could have stayed, without fulfillment, safely in our chosen paths. The difference, the Adventurer says, comes down to mind-set and choices.

We chose to leave stable careers to take a shot at innovation, and as a side bonus, increase our quality of life. We have reaped different rewards beyond the financial. Time together. Different kinds of stress.

We chose to build technology that would help others discover new experiences and meet new, like-minded people. We built a supportive, adventurous community around us.

watching safari
We’ve been prepping the Captain with videos about safari animals. He wants to hear for himself the Roar of the Elders from an actual lion, and he likes to refer to us now as our own pride. PHOTO BY SHELAGH BRALEY

We chose to move into a hotel before the purchase of our house was complete. (Who does that?) We had contingency. If it didn’t work, we were going to hit the road. But we believe in what’s possible more than what conspires against us in the universe.

We want for nothing. Everything I love in my life, I can fit in my backpack. Everyone I love has stood by me in my hardest times. The rest is ephemeral and could come and go, and I would still be OK. When you’ve lived on the edge, with everything at risk, you learn what matters. That’s all we seek now—to bring these dreams to life before time has passed and the opportunity can’t be recaptured.

I have always been motivated by two words: Yes and Now. It’s part of my DNA. It’s my personality, it’s my optimism, my ambition, my mettle, my impatience, my Piscean nature. I believe in going for it and figuring it out along the way.

The Adventurer was featured in a book called “The Power of Persistence,” because he is the same, though he gets there differently, by working through the details. His methodology for living a different life is “Create, Act, Celebrate.”

To accomplish goals, he says you have to create a list of experiences you want to have (actually put them in writing—this is a Life List), act on your goals with well-planned, tactical steps (if that includes travel or pretty much any other goal, those steps have to include saving money). And then, you have to engage others’ support and celebrate with them when you make it. Actually share what you’ve learned to help other people who want to reach the goals you’ve accomplished. This rings true from losing weight to where to stay on safari in South Africa—because don’t you want to know you’re staying somewhere safe and Malaria-free? Who knows that better than someone who’s been there?

In moments of frustration (because with my drive comes a great deal of intolerance for the passage of time), he zenfully says, “Let it evolve.” There’s a trust required there, to let life move on, to let more doors open on their own schedule. And it’s not that easy, especially for my deadline-wired brain, but it’s necessary to creating a different life.

I had been wondering about the psychological process that leads some people to take a traditional path while others veer right off the road, when I found a blog by Blaire Palmer, a former BBC journalist and radio producer who has become a digital nomad and speaker on the concepts of “making a living without forgetting to live.” Her site, abrilliantgamble.com, echoes many of the concepts we’ve been touting for a decade. I read a post titled “The 3 Way We Decide Anything” and it really makes sense.


Let’s find out. Do you:

  1. Research then decide
  2. Decide then research
  3. Act then research

Many people are apparently capable of having a thought, holding pat, doing the research, THEN making a decision.

I am not in this camp. (Hence, shark diving.)

Radar and I are going to have the thrill of a lifetime in Gansbaii on a Pure Africa Experiences’ shark-diving excursion. Bust out the GoPro. PHOTO COURTESY OF PURE AFRICA EXPERIENCES

I move with my gut and my heart, then my brain. With good facts to base decisions on, I am comfortable betting on myself to get to the finish line. I’m also not afraid to fail any more, because even at its worst, failure moves you forward in your life. Palmer is on this team, too—decide then research. Working on deadline requires this level of split second decision-making, and that neuropathway gets baked into the rest of your life somehow.

Unfortunately, some of life’s hardest decisions are made for us.

Taking our teenage daughter out of the traditional school experience didn’t feel like a choice; it felt like survival. Since then, we have had to throw ourselves into full-time learning mode. We’ve researched homeschool requirements, created a curriculum and signed up for the virtual classes that were beyond our scope of teaching for her grade level.

Then came the fun part, the part that makes us different: We all made new Life Lists. We have had a blast as a family, identifying where we want to go in the world and why, researching the best time of year to go, tracking fares to get there, places to stay and activities to reserve, capturing what we’ll study there and what materials we’ll need to pick up in advance (like complementary novels and other learning tools). This process has given us new energy and excitement we haven’t felt in years.

My strong suit in journalism has always been behind the scenes—copy editing, research, fast and accurate. Once we decided on a destination, I compiled 30 pages of detailed information that we “might” need along the way, working hours online at a time. I’ve reached out to hotels to find out how they would accommodate a preschooler and a teenager, so we can create personalized itineraries that suit them both. The Adventurer has been stalking airfares and flight patterns to create the most comfortable, long-haul travels for the kids.

The continent of Africa has been in the Adventurer’s blood since before we met, when he did his first night safari in the Kruger National Park. He leaped the world’s tallest bungee, 216 meters from the top of the Blaukrans River Bridge near Plettenberg Bay. He rode an ostrich there at the Highgate Ostrich Showfarm in Oudtshoorn. He went whitewater rafting on the Zambezi River. He climbed the larger-than-life Table Mountain and toured Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was kept for 18 of the 27 years he was imprisoned.

There is so much to learn here—the kind of learning that’s luscious and exciting beyond the scope of a school and a backpack full of books. Not even Instagram can re-create what we could experience in Africa.

So our first big trip will be South Africa. Radar is turning 16 this year, a milestone birthday worthy of a Life List experience, from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town. We’ll ride on safari through Shamwari Game Reserve, and attempt shark-diving in Gansbaii through Pure Africa Experiences. And maybe, if she’s brave enough, Radar will convince the Adventurer to take one more grand leap of faith off the Blaukrans.

Stay tuned. This is about to get good.

Shelagh Braley is a Boston-based luxury/adventure travel journalist. She and her life-listing husband, teen and preschooler share their REAL tales of finding the awesome as they travel together. Come along with us! #mylifelist #findwhatmatters

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