By Cindy Hval
As Katie Gensitskiy, 25, sat down to reply to her emails, sweat poured from her head, and her clothing stuck to her skin. She and her husband, Alex, 28, were on the island of Malapascua (north of Cebu). The remote island has no roads. Chickens, goats and pigs roam freely.
“There’s no AC,” she said. “And the temperature stayed at 85 degrees during the night. Every time we opened our door, tons of flying ants would fly in and attack us!”
In true “Adventure Couple” style, she added, “It was definitely a unique experience.”
Unique experiences are just what Katie and Alex hoped for when they set out to see the world on $82 per day for both of them. Since September 2017, they’ve been traveling and blogging about their experience. Their Instagram page has more than 11,000 followers.
Katie, a Cheney High School grad and 2011 Lilac princess, graduated from EWU in 2014 with a degree in recreation management.
Taking Barb Brock’s Intro to Recreation and Leisure class proved pivotal for her.
“I found my tribe,” said Katie.
She pursued a minor in Spanish and experiential education and facilitation.
“I feel like my degree prepared me for planning our world trip, budgeting and working with organizations and companies along the way.”
After graduating, she became a certified teacher at a private school and taught fourth grade for three years.
Alex, a journeyman electrician, grew up in Camas, Washington.
The couple met at a retreat for Christian kids’ camp counselors. A photo of Alex proposing on Thanksgiving 2014 went viral on social media when a photographer happened to capture the moment at Munra Point in the Columbia River Gorge.
Taking a year off to travel was something they’d always talked about, and a year after their 2015 wedding, they began to plan in earnest.
On their honeymoon, they’d met some long-term travelers and asked about their budgets.
“We learned that you can travel for a year on around $15,000 for two people. Our assumption was that we would need about twice as much to actually have a deeper experience in each country,” Katie said.
A website called BootsnAll helped them figure out how much they should expect to spend in each country.
They made sure they had no debt and worked to save the $30,000 they estimated it would take for them to travel for a year. They also wrote a list of pillar experiences, like visiting the equator at Quito, Ecuador, and hiking to Machu Picchu, and built their itinerary around it.
After purchasing the right gear, selling Alex’s car, downsizing their belongings, storing the rest with their parents and getting the vaccines they would need, they embarked on the adventure of a lifetime.
Since their departure on Sept. 2, 2017, the couple has visited 12 countries, including Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, India, Thailand and Vietnam. They’ve ridden camels, visited the largest temple complex in the world (in Cambodia) and saw rice terraces in Vietnam.
“At this point, our list of experiences that we want to have just keeps growing rather than getting smaller,” said Katie. “Some new things on our list – visit an active volcano, hike on a glacier, swim in Iceland between the two continents, go on a hot-air balloon ride in Turkey and explore Patagonia (southern part of South America).”
But first, a homecoming of sorts. From the Philippines, they’ll travel to Kyrgyzstan.
“It’s my home country,” said Katie. “It will be my first time back after leaving as a toddler when my parent immigrated to the U.S. I’m really excited to see the home that I spent my first three years at, visit friends, and discover the food, culture and the beautiful country of Kyrgyzstan.”
After a few weeks, they will go to Ukraine, which is Alex’s home country. His parents immigrated when he was six months old. They plan to visit relatives, learn more of the language and volunteer at a summer children’s camp.
Giving back is important to both of them.
“Our Christian faith impacts our worldview very strongly,” Katie explained. “Every culture is unique and beautiful. By being loving to others, we break down barriers.”
They spent 43 days in India (their longest stay in one country) and volunteered at a children’s home. Katie taught English and Alex helped with maintenance. Every day they played and did crafts with the children.
“It was a very special time, and we had a unique insight into life in India.”
Their shortest stay was a 10-hour layover in Colombia, which they don’t count as a visit.
They sipped coffee, walked the streets and listened as the local police gave an impromptu musical performance.
London proved to be their most expensive visit. A burger that cost 8.5 pounds is almost $12. But a sale on the London Pass the week they were there enabled them to explore to their hearts’ content.
Peru was their least expensive destination because they found lodging with a kitchen and were able to cook their meals.
It hasn’t been all excitement and thrills. They’ve missed their families, so they made a surprise trip home for the holidays.
Aside from missing family and friends, Katie said, “The hardest thing has been packing and unpacking every few days, falling in love with a city and then moving on.”
But the magic hasn’t dimmed – nor has their thirst for adventure.
“When we started our trip, we kinda assumed that after one year we’d be ready to settle down,” said Katie.” But after traveling the way we have, we have really grown to enjoy this lifestyle. Our money has not run out quite yet, and we are looking into ways to make money as we travel. Perhaps teaching English online, tutoring or working short-term in different places.”
They’ve launched a Patreon page to curate community support, and they also seek collaborations with hotels and travel companies for sponsorships or free lodging in return for posts and social media mentions.
“Our goal is to try to figure out how to keep doing this indefinitely,” she said. “We’re planning to teach English online while we travel. After a few months of travel in Central America, we hope to come back to the U.S. and outfit a camper van. The U.S. has so many amazing things to see and do!”
Stateside adventures they’re considering include visiting every national park, or visiting every state and doing the activity each state is known for – think singing in Nashville, Tennessee, or eating potatoes in Boise, Idaho.
Katie reflected on the ways travel has changed her.
“I’m more confident in my abilities and less afraid of new experiences,” she said. “I trust people more, and I’ve gotten to know, love and appreciate different cultures around the world.”
And working together on their blog and planning their adventures has strengthened their marriage.
“We’ve discovered each other in a deeper more meaningful way.”
She stressed that she and Alex come from modest backgrounds and are by no means wealthy, but they had a dream and decided to make it a goal.
“Not everyone can or wants to travel the world for a year,” she said. “However, we all have dreams that we are hesitant to turn into goals. That’s something that we can choose to do.”
Katie’s tips for travelers
- Don’t get so focused on your budget that it takes you away from experiencing things. Do things that are very cheap if those are things you enjoy doing (like riding a motorbike around to explore the countryside), but if there’s something more expensive that you’d really like to do, just do it!
- Travel isn’t just about travel. You also get to focus on your habits, read good books and establish new routines.
- Everyone experiences things differently. You may dislike some famous places that others love, and you may really enjoy places you’ve heard negative things about.
- The world is not as dangerous as popular media would have you believe.
- If the Travel Channel is talking about it, it’s probably over-commercialized.
About the author: Cindy Hval is the author of War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and book stores nationwide. Cindy and her husband, EWU alum Derek ’87, are pictured on page 6.