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Peace Corps, Gateway to the Travel Bug: On the Road with Michelle and Jedd Chang

This is a traveler case study. (Read others or nominate yourself.)

I first heard about Jedd & Michelle through a blog submission… but then I got the chance to work with them at WDS this summer. They were two of our most reliable and hard-working ambassadors (volunteers), and I loved hearing their story of serving abroad in Jamaica. Here’s more.

Tell us about yourselves.

We’re Jedd and Michelle. In 2011, we left our “real jobs” to take a sabbatical – a time set aside to experience new things, learn, and grow. After an epic road trip and house-sitting, we made the life-changing decision to serve with the Peace Corps in Jamaica.

Our time away made us realize that we didn’t have to return to a typical, career-centered life.  We believe we don’t have to wait until retirement to live our dreams. By making intentional choices, there are out-of-the-box ways to make travel a consistent part of our lives, now.

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Can you tell us more about your journey from “real jobs” to the Peace Corps?

By a stroke of fate, we had the opportunity to reconsider a housing purchase and realized we weren’t ready to settle down. Jedd and I agreed that the freedom to have adventures was a greater priority than comfort and stability.

That choice completely changed the trajectory of our lives. In deciding we wanted our lives to look, and feel, completely different, we applied for the Peace Corps.

How did the Peace Corps challenge you?

Branded “the toughest job you’ll ever love,” our Peace Corps service absolutely lived up to their motto. Our experience was not always easy, but we learned a so much from living and working in Jamaica.

Some challenges were small, but we quickly learned how to squeeze into public buses, shop at the bustling farmer’s markets, wash our clothes by hand, and sprint outside to take our clothes down from the line when it rained.

Others were huge, like trying to teach in schools where resources were scarce, and almost every student had a reading level of below grade 1. But we learned to do a lot with very little. And amazingly, after two years, we saw the impact we were making. I may never know for sure how, but hopefully my students lives will be better because my involvement. I know mine is because of theirs.

Since your experience, have you continued giving back while on the road?

Yes. We signed up for a Help Exchange account on HelpX.net. Through them, we’ve been able to look for places to stay where we can learn news skills and give back. For example, we were recently connected to a beautiful chateau bed and breakfast in the French countryside where we can do a little work in exchange for free room and board.

While you do forfeit some freedoms and luxuries, you have the opportunity to share life among a community you would never otherwise have the chance to experience. The idea is that you live at the economic level of your local counterparts and through daily life and work, promote cross-cultural understanding.

How did you earn the Frequent Flyer Miles or save the money you needed for your trips?

Early on, we paid for trips outright. I was skeptical of travel hacking at first because I associated credit cards with irresponsible spending, but I realized it didn’t have to be that way. I bought Frequent Flyer Master and became a regular visitor at BoardingArea.com.

We’re building up miles through Alaska Airlines, using their personal and business cards as well as the Starwood Preferred Guest cards (which can transfer to Alaska Air). To meet the minimum spend requirements, we use the Amazon Payments method.

How many miles/points have you earned in total (and in which programs)? How many do you have banked now?

Our initial round of cards got us 150,000 points, not including the Alaska companion tickets and the frequent flyer miles we already had in our Alaska account.

The great debate: Aisle or window?

Michelle: Window.

Jedd: Aisle.

Both: Anywhere together.

Tell us something that has surprised you on your travels, or about something you learned. Or both!

As our Jamaican host mother would say, “People are people.” No matter where you go, human beings actually do share much in common. And they all deserve dignity and respect.

Have you met any fun or interesting people on the road? If so, describe an experience or two.

In Jamaica, one of our favorite bus drivers, Bodo, was well-known and well-liked in the community for his outgoing demeanor and winning smile. His bus, however, was the most rickety, unreliable vehicle on the road.

One evening, Jedd and I were caught outside in a very serious thunderstorm, 15 miles from home. Feeling desperate, we saw Bodo’s rickety bus pull up nearby. Water was coming through various holes in the ceiling and the front windshield looked like a dark, foggy waterfall. We watched, wide-eyed, as Bodo inched forward blindly along the road,

Bodo inched through the storm, dropping off each of his passengers at their front door, even if it meant leaving the regular route. He took care of all of us at a time when we desperately needed him.

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Best travel tips. Go: 

Diligently research and plan ahead, but be flexible in the moment.

When you know your options, you can make informed choices while still having the ability to adapt your plans based on how you’re feeling each day.

If traveling with others, discuss in advance what your travel goals are.

Travel means making a lot of decisions together. Make sure you’re on the same page about how you want to spend your time and money in order to prevent awkward misunderstandings or arguments during the trip. Just because you’re friends with someone doesn’t automatically make them a compatible travel companion.

Where are you headed next?

Honolulu, Hawaii to spend time with Jedd’s family. A few weeks after that, a road trip through Washington, British Columbia (camping in Banff and Jasper National Parks), Glacier National Park in Montana, and Colorado. In September and October, we’ll be going to France and Switzerland.

Follow Michelle and Jedd’s travels on their blog, Simply Intentional, or via Twitter @int_travelers

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