Welcome to a new online series we call ‘Off the Beaten Path’, where we showcase the many inspirational folks from across the Blue Ridge who have stepped away from the mainstream path of everyday existence to live a more intentional and adventurous life. From thru-hikers and van-lifers to off-the-grid warriors and tiny house disciples, we’ll be bringing you the true stories behind some of the region’s most interesting and inspiring characters.
This time around we’re featuring the incredible global sojourn of a family of four from Asheville, North Carolina. These days Maria Rusafova is back in her Asheville home readjusting to normal life, but for some 450 days she and her husband Kuba Markulis and their two children lived a nomadic, globetrotting lifestyle, staying in hostels and camping while soaking in the cultures of such countries as Laos, Cambodia, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, South Africa, and many, many more.
“One day I woke up with the idea to take the family around the world,” Maria, who is an architect by trade, writes in a meticulously well-kept blog that chronicles nearly every aspect of the life-changing journey. “It surprised me that (my husband) Kuba cheered me on. The kids—8 & 10—were psyched. Together we told all of our friends about our plan, to prevent us from flaking out, and then spent two years working our bums off and saving while waiting for our US passport application to get approved (originally I am from Bulgaria and Kuba is from Poland).”
Read on for Maria’s first-hand account of this epic family odyssey.
BRO: What inspired you to leave home and take up a life on the road?
Maria Rusfova: Taking up a life on the road was a spontaneous decision. We had happy lives here in Asheville – the kids were going to a great little school, we were content with our architecture business which was picking up pace and we had a wonderful community of friends. Still, I was itching to leave it all for a while and explore the world.
I felt like our life was too fast paced and we weren’t spending a lot of quality time as a family, but most of all I was suffering from wanderlust. Selfishly I wanted to run away from chores and everyday responsibilities and live a lifestyle of surprise and adventures. At the time the idea seemed like a dream. Now, two months after coming home, the 21 month trip seems even more like a dream that the four of us shared. I am happy that we decided to keep a blog as we managed to keep a tangible memory, however tiny, of what we saw and experienced in words and photos.
BRO: Where did your journey begin, and what kinds of places did you discover along the way?
MR: We started the trip in Asia getting a taste of Japan, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Nepal, India, and Sri Lanka. At first our pace of travel was fast – we were curious and hungry to experience as much as we could. With time we slowed down and started to veer away from the backpacker trail that sneaked through this part of the world.
We noticed that we prefer visiting less popular spots and spending more time in one place, lingering and meeting locals instead of other travelers. By the time we reached India we were very comfortable traveling with no idea of what is coming next and where the road would take us. We truly started living in the moment. This blog post captures our feelings 6 months into our journey.
BRO: Where did you stay while on the road? Was there a lot of camping involved or were you mainly in hotels and hostels?
MR: Our accommodations varied. We never stayed in hotels, instead we did tons of camping (Africa and South America), couch surfed, crashed at hostels, and guest houses. Whenever we could we stayed with friends we met on the road or supported local home stays which brought us closer to the culture of the place we were visiting. This way of travel was not only more rewarding but also cheaper.
BRO: Of all your extensive traveling, was there one place that you and your family enjoyed the most?
MR: There is no such place. We often hold a sweet spot for a place because of a certain memory or a friend we made or a food we tasted, but I can’t even begin to rate them all.
BRO: Where did you find the best food on your journey?
MR: The food was such a highlight of our trip and such an incredible way to explore a new culture and get immediate connection with the people preparing the meals, but it is impossible to rate our food experiences.
I was surprised how easy it was to find good food anywhere in the world, but if I close my eyes a few meals stand out – the incredible feast prepared by our Sri Lanka friend in Colombo, our very first meal on the road prepared in a tiny Tokyo restaurant by an older lady, the colorful food cooked by Anisha, our hostess in Kerala India, our friend Mashka’s cooking in South Africa, the Banh mi sandwiches we got addicted to in Hoi Ann, Vietnam.
Of course there was the fresh pad thai on the streets of Thailand and the Bulgarian food in a little restaurant in Istanbul run by a Macedonian man who became our friend and gave us extras of everything. The list is endless and we will need hours to recall all the fantastic meals we have had along the way.
Before flying home we spent two weeks in Dominican Republic with my brother’s family and in terms of food these two weeks had the greatest impact on our current lifestyle. Our sister in law is a great cook and she taught us how to bake bread, make simple and healthy meals and best of all bake delicious black bean cupcakes!
BRO: How did you get around?
MR: We traveled by buses, cars, rickshaws, scooters, bicycles, boats, pick up trucks – anything that moves. We took a few flights only, the rest of the time we traveled by land. We also walked a whole month in Nepal and took short hiking trips in pretty much every country we visited.
BRO: What advice would you give other families that want to follow in your footsteps and take up the mobile, travel-based lifestyle?
MR: I would advice them to embark on a journey like ours with no preconceived expectations and notions of how things are supposed to be. Enjoy every moment with all the good, bad, or ugly an adventure like this would inevitably bring you and keep an open mind.
BRO: What is the most challenging or trying thing that happened along the way?
MR: Nothing specific comes to mind. Mainly it was the daily challenge of having to constantly adapt to what was happening around us and to search for balance and home whenever we went. Yet overcoming those same daily challenges gave us an immense feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment. We learned to cherish challenges and difficulties as they provided not only entertainment and stories to recall, but also invaluable lessons of patience, compassion and resilience.
BRO: You are back at home in Asheville, North Carolina now. Tell is about your life here and where you plan to go next.
MR: Everything in our life is back to how it was but a little different. The kids go to new schools, we work for ourselves now and life is slowly getting busier and denser. We are determined though to keep fostering the strong family bond this trip gave us and make time for each other and we would love to be able to travel during the school breaks. We are going back to Dominican Republic for Christmas, Cuba in April and hopefully during the summer we would either hike the AT or visit Spain – the family is divided in two on that decision.
BRO: Has it been difficult to readjust to a traditional lifestyle? How has the journey changed the way you approach your everyday life in Asheville?
MR: It has been surprisingly easy to readjust back to living a traditional life style. We enjoy having our kitchen, our kitty and all of our friends back in addition to our beautiful Appalachian Mountains. Yes, we did go through a culture shock, but we consider ourselves lucky to call Asheville home. In terms of how we approach life differently – we can live with less and we try to leave as much free time so we can all pursue the things that make us happy.
After the trip we don’t take for granted what we have and are full of gratitude about all the opportunities for growth we have experienced as a family.