Collette Stohler grew up in Morris County, as Collette DeBenedetto, and went to Mountain Lakes High School where she was a three-time state champion in track and field. Stohler graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and earned a master’s degree at the University of Miami. She moved to Los Angeles where she began working in film and television before deciding to take a break from the workaday world. She and her husband, Scott, are currently traveling the world.
1. How did you decide to travel the world?
Scott and I wanted to work and live abroad, but nothing was making us leave our comfort zone and actually do it. We wanted to transform the ideas we had of the world and of ourselves. I finally asked one day, “when are we going to live abroad? What is going to make us leave our comfort zone? When are we going to stop dreaming and actually do it?” At first Scott was resistant. Then after listening to a podcast by Tim Ferriss & Rolf Potts (“Vagabonding”), he was on board, and then I got scared. Once I listened to the podcast, about fellow corporate America peers who decided to vagabond the world, I was in. We decided to give ourselves the permission to follow our wildest dreams.
2. How long did it take from the time you had the idea until you left?
It was about 6 weeks from idea inception to getting on the plane to go to South America. For those 6 weeks, our brains were on fire. We created our website, Roamaroo.com, and we were churning out content, planning travel, and getting ready for the trip that would forever change our lives.
3. What were your occupations before you left?
Scott has a chemical engineering degree from Purdue University and was an operations manager at a chemical manufacturing facility.
I worked as the director of product development at Concepts TV Productions, writing and producing TV commercials and infomercials.
4. What were your biggest fears? How did you cope with them?
We’re both Type-A personalities, so we were very wrapped up in the hustle to success. I was very much in love with my job and the people I worked with, but I had this intense desire to discover the world. My fear was letting people down and losing my place in the corporate ladder. But then I thought about what I would feel like if I stayed and didn’t realize those dreams. And I realized at that instant that if I didn’t follow my heart, I would be risking far more than if I stayed. Other fears were financial. We own a home, cars, and have bills like most do. We were nervous that we wouldn’t be able to rent our home or sell our cars. Luckily, we rented our house and sold our cars so financially, we were covered. Scott and I kept saying, in 20 years, ‘Will we be proud of the decision we made vs. if we stayed?
5. How are you affording world travel?
We are savers by nature, especially when it comes to travel. Some people spend on shoes, others on cars. We spend on travel. We had been saving money for some time, in hopes of buying another home, so we had safety money. Once we decided we were leaving, we pinched pennies like mad, sold our cars, and sold everything possible on eBay. We also rented out our home so we’re covering our mortgage, plus making a little profit. In addition, I’ve always written freelance for various national news sources so that has awarded us a small amount of money on the side. We’re not making a real salary, but when you’re living in places that are under $50 a day, a little money goes a long way.
6. How long are you traveling for?
We had originally planned 7 months of travel, not wanting to leave the rat race for too long. But now that we’ve been traveling and we’ve learned so much about the world, we want to continue on, hopefully extending to a year.
7. What has been your favorite place?
Our favorite places have really caught us by surprise. We absolutely loved Cartagena, Colombia. The Caribbean walled city is filled with cobblestone streets, colorful colonial homes, and incredible flavor. Istanbul, Turkey for its presence of the past and delicious food. Buenos Aires, Argentina is definitely a city we could see ourselves living in – the people are nice, the food is incredible, and the country is absolutely beautiful.
8. How do you live out of a backpack and never check a bag?
Once you carry-on bags, there is no way to go back to checking. When you’re on the road, you realize how little you actually need. Like Miss Piggy says, “never eat more than you can lift.” For us, never pack more than you can comfortably carry. Our backpacks when we first started vs. now are drastically different. We unloaded lots of clothes we didn’t actually need. If we do need something because of a change of weather, we’ll buy it.
9. How do you decide where to go next?
Some of our travel is planned out in advance and others, we leave up to chance. Some of the point of long-term travel is to let go of the control we always struggle with in our day-to-day and experience the world for what it is. In the beginning, Scott and I made an excel spreadsheet of places that were must-sees for each of us, so we have worked off of that. But we also meet so many new friends along the way that give great local recommendations on where to go so we leave time open in every continent to explore.
10. What country has the best food?
I absolutely loved Argentina with all of its grass-fed meats and Malbec wine, readily available and at a very low cost. And you can never go wrong with Italy. We had some of the best pizza in Taormina, Sicily and incredible pici pasta in Florence. And Turkey had incredible kebabs.
11. What country has the nicest people?
Honestly, every country has been so welcoming to us. The Italians and the Portuguese are very family and food oriented, so we experienced people taking us in as their own in both Italy and Portugal. The Thai and Balinese people are very focused on hospitality and service.
12. What advice would you give to someone yearning for world travel?
Just go. There will always be a time to make money, there will always be bills to pay, but you will not always have time to travel the world. There will never be the perfect time in life so you must put yourself first and make that time for yourself. There is a life of learning outside all of the Ivy League schools we Mountain Lakers yearn for. A proper education is vital, but so is real world experience. I’ve learned more about the real world these past few months than I did at my time in Mountain Lakes or at an Ivy League school. It’s just not possible to grasp the depth and details of a place without actually going there.
13. Which country surprised you the most and why?
We loved Turkey, especially Istanbul. Prior to going to Istanbul, there had been some Anti-American attacks and chatter in the news, so we were hesitant to go. But the Turkish people were some of the kindest we met and the sights such as the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque were awe-inspiring pieces of history, and the food was absolutely delightful.
14. What do you miss most about The United States?
Of course, what we miss most about The United States is our families. We did visit my family in Long Beach Island on this trip and it was wonderful to hang out on the shores of New Jersey, grill out, and eat Jersey corn!
15. What are your favorite tricks and tips that you’ve learned in your travels?
A. When you’ve got wifi, download the map of your location on google maps. Once that’s downloaded, you can use the map even when you don’t have Wifi.
B. Life is a Negotiation: When someone sets a price for something, even if it is a hotel with a set price, ask the hotel if there is any way they can lower their price. You’d be surprised how much of life is up for negotiation by just asking. It never hurts to ask.
C. Always ask the waiter what they recommend: Release your control and have the waiter choose your meal for you. They know what tastes best in their own home.
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