Thirty-something Americans Audrey Scott and Daniel Noll are the married couple behind Uncornered Market, a touching and gorgeous blog that chronicles their almost-constant travels around the world since December 2006.
What they term a creative sabbatical has so far taken them across much of Asia, India, Europe and the former Soviet Union. Hungry to see the whole world, they’ve just begun the latest leg of their journey — seeing every country in Central and South America.
Through their personal interactions with people, they aim to, in their own small way, improve an often negative global perception of America. Through their written impressions, audiocasts and exquisite photos, they aim to humanize the world.
TWT: Daniel, what kept you from traveling overseas until you were 26?
DN: As a kid growing up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, I always had a desire to explore. But as I grew up, I was held back by student loan debt and the conviction that international travel would be my retirement reward. Once I’d dug myself out of debt, though, I began to see the possibilities…and that a life of short, yearly vacations wouldn’t cut it. My first destination was India, which seemed like diving into the deep end of the pool – a good way to test my travel mettle.
TWT: Audrey, you come from a family that traveled a great deal. Where did you all travel, and why?
AS: My parents were diplomats, so we moved around every few years – my childhood was spent in India, Cameroon, Sri Lanka, Gabon, and Tanzania. The place I lived the most in the U.S. was Vienna, Virginia, outside of Washington, DC. My grandparents were missionaries (one grandfather a doctor, the other a journalist), so the tradition of travel and living abroad goes back a couple of generations.
TWT: How did you two meet?
AS: We met in Monterey, California in August 1997, completely by chance. I drove with a friend from Virginia to Monterey to start graduate school, having made prior arrangements to live in a house with several other students. My first day in Monterey, Dan just happened to be visiting from San Francisco to see a high school friend…whose girlfriend was one of my housemates.
A few days later, we were all celebrating my birthday with a picnic in the Presidio — just perfect. I accidentally forgot a my shoes back at his place so he had to return them to me in Monterey. And yes, it was subconscious, despite what Dan says!
Soon, we started to commute between Monterey and San Francisco on weekends. Our first few dates, we went skydiving, hiked in Yosemite, and took scuba lessons to prepare Dan for a trip to Australia.
But nine months later, it was time for me to leave for the Peace Corps in Estonia. It was then that the real long-distance relationship began.
TWT: You say on your blog that you were separated for 27 months!
AS: Our time apart proved a test of communication and resilience; we saw each about every six months and were able to speak on the phone twice a week. We feel that the experience made us stronger; we never take for granted the time we have together.
That said, I still get emotional when I see couples saying goodbye to each other at airports, bus stations, train stations, etc.
TWT: How did you all reunite?
My second summer in the Peace Corps, June ’99, we met in Stockholm and took the ferry over to Tallinn, Estonia. His original idea was to propose on the ferry, thinking it would be romantic. He didn’t know it was the party ferry. With drunk Swedes everywhere, that plan pretty much failed.
His back-up plan was to ask me the night of Jaanipaev (Midsummer’s Night), the biggest celebration in Estonia. Legend is that a boy and girl go off into the forest together to find a blossoming fern; the reality is that ferns don’t blossom, so it’s just a ruse to allow couples time alone. The other side of Jaanipaev involves a lot of grilled meats, drinking, and jumping over bonfires…not the most ideal time to propose.
Dan was supposed to fly back to San Francisco a few days later, so he was starting to sweat it.
After talking with some folks at Jaanipaev about the Arctic Circle in Finland, Dan got it into his head that this would be the place. The next day, slightly hungover, we put the rental car on a ferry back from the island of Kuuresaare to mainland Estonia, drove to Tallinn, took another ferry to Helsinki, and then started driving north.
After two days and several flat tires, we found ourselves only so far as a small fishing village in northern Norway.
Here, he finally asked me to marry him…with a $5 ring he picked up a street fair in San Francisco. Since I always lost jewelry, the joke was that if I could keep the $5 ring for a year then I could “graduate” to the real one. (Well, that and he thought it might be awkward for a Peace Corps volunteer to have a diamond ring.) Happily, my real ring was safely tucked at home with him in California.
TWT: When and where did you finally get married?
Our initial plan was simply to elope, a seemingly convenient solution. After some consideration and encouragement, we gave our family and friends a few months notice.
Our September 2000 wedding was in Tuscany, just outside Pienza.We found a truly unforgettable agriturismo, Terre di Nano, a renovated medieval farmhouse with a tower dating back to the 10th century (that has possibly just been sold, so would now be under new management). 25 of our friends and family joined us for amazing food and an incredible setting; everyone enjoyed making a vacation out of the event.
It rained that day (the one day that month), and everyone in town was chanting:
“Spouza banata, spouza fortunata!” (A wet bride is a lucky bride.)
AS: It was during this time that we decided to live abroad together.
First we had to go back to California, though, where I finished graduate school. After a year, we returned to Europe on a month-long research trip to interview and meet people in seven cities throughout Central and Eastern Europe. We looked at a variety of factors like visa requirements, job opportunities, etc.
But ultimately, it was the people we met during this trip that helped decide Prague over Budapest, which seemed to have just as much going for it. The people in Prague went out of their way to welcome us and offer support, even though we were essentially strangers. A lot of our social and professional network in Prague stemmed from the people we met during this initial trip.
It doesn’t hurt, though, that Prague is physically a truly magnificent place; we never got tired of looking at the castle lit up at night.
TWT: Back in 2006, you ditched your well-paying jobs in Prague and hit the road. Did a single straw break the camel’s back for each of you, or had the travel bug simply become too persistent to resist?
AS: When we moved to Prague in December 2001, we’d planned on staying for two years. Then we continued to explore the Czech Republic and neighboring countries…and one year rolled into the next. After around four years, we both realized we were in jobs that sounded great on paper but weren’t really testing the limits of our personal and professional growth.
We both had dreams of someday traveling around the world, so we decided the time was right to unplug from our traditional jobs and develop new professional skills along the way. We cast our net into freelance work to help offset some of the costs, and Uncornered Market was born.
TWT: How long did it take you to prepare for that initial journey?
AS: To go from serious consideration to handing in our resignations at work and making it happen took about one year. We had always lived simply – renting an apartment, avoiding owning a car. This lifestyle had always allowed us to travel frequently.
TWT: Back then, how did it feel to let go of most of your property and sally forth into adventure?
AS: When we’d left San Francisco for Prague back in 2001, we’d undertaken a similar process of selling most of our possessions. However, it was shocking to see how much we’d acquired in five years of living in Prague – in a furnished apartment, no less. The process of shedding things was stressful in the moment, but completely freeing in the long term.
We still have a storage unit in Prague and boxes stored in my father’s place – there are just certain memories and wall hangings with which we can’t part. But knowing that we can live happily out of a backpack is liberating.
TWT: You both work to support your travels. What are some of the paying projects you all have worked on since hitting the road?
AS: We’ve sold both articles and photos to AOL Travel. Since then, we’ve completed photography projects for and sold our work to a variety of organizations, including microfinance NGOs and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Additionally, we’ve had some corporate sponsorship on our website. We’ve also recently engaged in some website development projects. Our previous jobs had nothing to do with any of what we are doing now, so there have been some steep learning curves along the way.
TWT: What technology allows you each to work most efficiently from, well, elsewhere?
AS: Our primary need (also the hardest to find) is a reliable internet connection. The main tools we use to keep connected are Skype, gmail, flickr, Twitter, Facebook and of course our website, based mainly on the WordPress CMS.
We travel with two laptops: I use a Mac and Dan’s on a PC. We recently traded in our Nikon D70 for a Nikon D300, and we carry several lenses with us: 18-200mm, 18-70mm, fisheye, macro/portrait. Additionally, we have a handheld Casio that we use for a lot of our food photos and videos. Click here for all the gory details of our gear.
TWT: Clearly, since you’ve been journeying for three years, you two enjoy traveling together.
AS: The differences in our personalities work really well on the road. If you’re familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I’m an ENFP and Dan is an INTJ. I am a “feeler” who makes decisions with my gut while Dan is a “thinker,” meaning with logic.
Because we observe different things and have different skills in connecting with people, sharing our impressions of a travel experience becomes an enriched discussion.
We both share similar interests in food, people, markets, and culture. Neither of us likes dealing with details, so it works great for us as travelers that we both agree not to set a detailed agenda or itinerary for a day or week (or month). We have an outline of destinations and things we want to do and just let things happen as they come.
TWT: Have you ever hit a rough patch with each other on your travels?If so, what went down?
AS: Not really! We’ve learned to create mental space when we’re with each other non-stop. For example, it’s not uncommon for us to spend hours next to each other on a bus and not speak.
Most of our stress tends to be related to business. I can spread myself too thin, and Dan can get caught up in being a perfectionist. Sometimes, these tendencies can prove frustrating and even exhausting.
We do have occasional meltdowns, so it’s important that we take breaks from thinking about our work so we can just enjoy being travelers.
AS: In no particular order, for their natural beauty and, most importantly, people:
The Republic of Georgia, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Cambodia, the Pamir region of Tajikistan, Laos, Burma, Nepal, and Turkmenistan.
That said, it’s difficult to say you’ve seen the world until you’ve had a glimpse of both China and India.
TWT: You took a poll of your readers to help you choose the current leg of your journey, Central and South America. What appeals to you two personally about Latin America?
AS: Our main intent is to visit countries and societies undergoing change and observe how they are reacting to these changes. A friend active in international development mentioned to us last year that Latin America has undertaken many development activities that are unique and customized for local cultures. This appeals to us: to see communities working together to find new solutions to their problems instead of wholesale adoption of foreign ideas that may not dovetail with the local culture or environment.
We’re especially looking forward to the indigenous regions of Guatemala, Peru and Bolivia; the Andes Mountains to Patagonia; Nicaragua, Ecuador, Columbia, and Venezuela.
TWT: You’ve said that your trip is open-ended. If you ever stopped traveling, what do you think you would do…and where would you do it?
AS: We’d like to continue developing the skills and contacts to support and maintain a location- independent lifestyle – one that would enable us to live wherever we want in the world, or at least travel frequently to stay fresh. Another dream is to write a book, related to our journey.
Currently, Prague is the closest thing we have to a home; we still have friends there, a legal business (LLC) and a storage unit. But one of our goals on this journey is to find our next home – we’re thinking somewhere in Asia or South America. Stay tuned!
You can follow Audrey and Dan’s adventures on Uncornered Market.