Meet Sara Bitting and her husband Zachary Bitting who are currently traveling the world. They are originally from the US. Zach grew up in Maryland, moved to Taiwan for a few years when he was in elementary school before he and his family moved to McKinney, TX. Sara was born and raised in Texas and have lived in McKinney since she was 4.
Zach and Sara met in high school band. He played trumpet and she played euphonium. They got married very young when we both were at Baylor University together. This year will be their 5 year anniversary of marriage and 10 years of dating!
Zachary graduated with an electrical engineering degree and went on to work for Hewlett Packard, now Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE) in Houston. Sara graduated with a social work degree and went on to get her master’s in social work from the University of Houston. Before they started traveling, she worked at a substance use recovery clinic in Houston.
How did it start? Whose idea was it? Why are you doing this?
Sara Bitting: Zach grew up a traveler at heart I think. His family went everywhere – China, Taiwan, Malaysia, and road tripped around the US.
I grew up in a family where we went to South Padre Island in Texas every year and I loved it!
I think Zach helps me get out of my shell and I’d like to think I help him stay close with home and family. It’s a good balance!
Originally, Zach and I were talking about living overseas for a year – most likely Argentina or another South American country, because I wanted to get better at Spanish. We looked into jobs overseas and everything. Zach is an engineer and I am a social worker so we thought between the two of us we could find something. We had a hard time of this though. At least a hard time finding something we were both very passionate about. We thought about the Peace Corps but we’d both want to stay together which can also be difficult.
Then it switched to maybe doing 3 months in multiple places. Then it switched to just going everywhere because we fell in love with so many different places.
I remember one day in particular when it really solidified. We were driving home and we were talking about the potential of traveling for the umpteenth time. And I finally just said, “We need to just start telling people we are doing this. Let’s set a date and just tell people. That will hold us accountable.”
And so we did! We set the date of June 2016 and started telling people that. That date allowed me to finish my master’s degree and give us time to plan a bit and pack and what not.
It’s actually pretty funny because when we’d tell people that date they’d ask more questions and either Zach or I would answer what we’re doing or where we are going in such different ways from each other because all we had solidified was that date. We’d discover what the other was thinking more through these conversations with people. It was cracking us up so we eventually had to sit down together to get our story straight.
I think the biggest reason we are doing this is to see the world. That answer sounds so lame, but that’s just it. I am a huge history buff so I wanted to see everything I’ve read about and Zach just loves new adventures.
We both want to meet people too. To experience the culture. Not just hear about the things out there but to actually touch the cold marble of the Taj Mahal, eat the paella in Barcelona, meet the person who moved his family to Rome from the Middle East to have a better life for his children.
Zach jokingly calls this his quarter life crisis. Because we’re both the kind of people who are on the so called conveyor belt. You study hard in high school to go to a good college to get a good job or go on to get more education. Zach knew there is more to life than that and wanted more. So I think it was a lot him and some me. I don’t know it’s hard to tell. I think it was a morphing of both our ideas. He’s good at getting me out of my comfort zone which is a lot of what travel is and I like to think I help him in other ways with this travel life.
What was the first country you visited and what are some rookie mistakes you have done in your first trip?
We first visited England together for a month. This trip was a little different though because Zach had to be in London for work and I quit my job and tagged along and was later joined by my little sister. So it was our luxurious trip because we got to stay in a nice hotel and everything.
Though I did make the rookie mistake here and brought shorts with me. People dress very nice in London and no one wears shorts. So I had just a tad bit of waste in packing, but it was fine.
Shortly after this trip, Zach told his job he was quitting (long story short they granted him a one-year leave of absence which is quite the blessing!) and we took our first trip together where neither of us worked. This was a one-month excursion to Spain, France, and Italy. Our rookie mistake on this trip – one that we still kick ourselves over – is buying a phone plan for both of us in each country. Just completely unnecessary.
We relied on the internet just a little too heavily and by a little, I mean a lot in this first month. We looked up restaurants in TripAdvisor or would just Google everything first. Zach is huge on TripAdvisor. He likes to know if we are getting the very best.
We learned, especially in Europe, you are fine just using wifi and phone plans are very expensive. You can easily find wifi – Starbucks or coffee shops in general always have free wifi. And we really don’t need the very best place to eat. Food is food!
Now we did buy one phone plan in India and Thailand for maps and requesting Ubers, which we have found is a great way to get around in these foreign countries (yay for fixed prices!) but that’s all we use it for now. I think our addictions to our phones is decreasing, which is a great thing for many reasons!
How do you fund your travels?
We are huge savers. We have lived very frugally the past couple years before we started our travels and saved up a good chunk of change. Our plan is to just use pretty much all of it and whenever we run out that’s when we know we have to go back to work!
How many countries have you visited so far? Which country is going to be next? How do you choose the destinations?
We have visited 14 countries so far! We use the “been” app to track our travels personally. Love it! We are currently in Laos and are planning to head to Cambodia next. There is a hospital there (Sonja Kill Memorial Hospital) that we are planning to volunteer with for a week or so and then moving around Cambodia and see other sites!
We have chosen a lot of the countries based on if we can get a cheap flight or not. We subscribe to Scott’s Cheap Flights to find cheap ones. For example, we found a two week round trip ticket from Houston to Amsterdam for $200 each. That one was our best deal. And then from Amsterdam, we just went to neighboring countries based off suggestions from other people or just personal desire – Belgium, Germany, and the Czech Republic. We just both really wanted to visit Germany!
I think we choose countries for a lot of different reasons, though. We spent a month in India because Zach’s parents go to Bangalore for 10 days every year helping out with a local business school. We’ve heard them rave over it so we wanted to see it too! So we went with them for 10 days and then traveled around India after they went back.
We’ve also been home between trips because we’ve had a lot of family weddings to attend so we’ll always look for cheap flights out of Dallas or Houston and I think that’s a big deciding factor too.
What is your favorite and the least favorite country? Why?
I think we both agree that India was probably both our favorite and least favorite country.
India was just a bigger culture shock than any other country we have visited. And without meaning to sound rude or posh I will try to explain why this was a struggle.
There is a high level of sexual assault against women in India, which can even be felt through the stares you get from everyone. Albeit if you are a white person – male or female – you will be getting lots of stares. Zach was like a celebrity at times – so many people asked to take a picture with him. But the stares towards women felt wrong. Plus more than once, I caught people masturbating to me in the streets which was just a whole other fun issue. I was groped a couple times on the streets as well so that was not great to experience. Just the respect for women is a lot lower it feels like. And I pride myself on my woman’s rights so it was a big pill to swallow at times in India.
Because I couldn’t do anything. What do you say to someone holding their penis in their hand who doesn’t speak your language and has no shame while they just have this dead pan stare at you? I couldn’t think of anything to say or do so if anybody has any tips I am all ears. I tried ignoring them and that seemed to be the best solution for a long while. But then the social activist inside me didn’t feel right to just let this continue going without consequences. One day, in Agra when I saw way more penises than I would have liked, I let the anger take hold of me. I flicked one guy off, yelled at another. It meant nothing to them. They kept doing their thing – literally. It’s maddening. Then I just felt worse overall for letting my anger control me so I went back to ignoring it. It just sucked.
It takes longer to do “normal” things there too. One day we needed to get proof of our flight printed to show the guards once we got to the airport. We went to three different places that advertised printing services before we found one that would actually print for us. The first two places denied the services even as we pointed to it on their sign. It’s no worries though if you go in knowing it might not work the first few times you try things, even if everything points to that it will work. It’s all about mindset. Go in with expectations lowered a bit and it’s easy not to get upset or pissed off.
But there are fantastic things about India too! We visited this little village in Rajasthan and stayed at a homestay. The owner led us around on a tour of the village where they don’t have many tourists at all. We learned how they live there – still on a barter system for the most part. The owner’s family are traditionally weavers and make rugs which they trade or sell. They own a couple cows and trade milk for the neighbor’s water pots he makes from scratch. We even got to try our hand at making the pottery on this hand spun giant cement wheel this family uses daily. The family just invited us in to show us this craft even though we can’t even speak the same language. They were so nice! Of course this family makes spinning pottery look like the easiest thing in the world and the cups Zach and I made (with lots of help) I’m sure would get remodeled into better cups once we left but the family was proud of us all the same.
The women in this village still wear traditional Rajasthani clothing with lots of bright colors and a sheer cloth covering their faces when they are in the presence of elders. They let me try on one of their outfits and I think if I had to wear the cloth over my head full time I would be ten times clumsier than I already am – and I am very clumsy.
The owner’s wife and her sister-in-law also taught me how to cook some of the traditional dishes of the area. And while I struggled to cut one tomato in my hands (I have a new appreciation for cutting boards now) they were already through with 15 tomatoes and beginning to cook them over an open fire in this small cement building that served as their kitchen with open air flowing freely through.
Their hospitality in India, in general, was just so amazing. Always welcoming you into their home and preparing so much food I felt like I was going to pop. We ate with one family Zach knew through work and even though they had us over for lunch in their home they still sent us away with small gifts and even more food.
So even though some people made it terrible sometimes, people are what always made it great at the end of the day there. It was the people we loved and appreciated.
Thankfully we never got sick over there either. If you are careful – only drink bottled water, don’t eat fresh fruits or vegetables – then you’ll be fine. We played it cautious and it was worth it not to spend a couple days in bed with stomach pain.
It was just amazing and chaotic and rough and magical all rolled into one. We would definitely go back when we have the chance if that clears up any questions.
From your experience, which countries would you recommend to never visit and why?
We have not yet been to an unsafe country. We were actually going to try to visit Myanmar (Burma) while we are in Southeast Asia for the next couple months and then we read in the news that fighting there between the government and a small minority group has gotten very bad so we decided to skip that this time around. That’s what we recommend to other travelers – just staying up to date with the news for places you are planning to visit.
I think the closest to unsafe right now we’ve been is close to the border between Pakistan and India. We went to a small village in Rajasthan for a few days which we loved but closer to the border we don’t think it would have been as great. There’s a lot of fighting on the border and disputes over land. Many military bases are there too so we avoided it.
We had a long layover in Mexico City where we got to visit the city some. We got into the city around 5 am when it was very dead and pretty sketchy. We don’t recommend that. We even found Wi-Fi in this park and texted Zach’s parents to let someone know where we were because we did not feel super safe. But once the city woke up – around 8 am it was wonderful! We want to go back and spend more time there.
Travel.state.gov – that’s a great website we check sometimes for travel warnings put out by the US government if people are curious!
What was the most affordable yet the most exciting experience? How much money have you spent on that trip?
One of the most exciting adventures we have been in is staying in a tent for 4 nights in the heart of Paris. We found this organization – Le Grand Voisins – that converted an old hospital into temporary accommodation. Aside from travelers, they house people who are homeless, artists, and other residents of Paris. They even have a school for people to become midwives and a little shop for the local artists to sell their work. It cost about $20/night for a tent for 2 and one of the best parts is you’re in the middle of Paris!
So it combined the best of both worlds. We met some really great Parisians at night and some fellow travelers and discussed the politics of the world. We talked about women’s rights, gun control, national pride, the refugee crisis, political corruption in such an open and respectful way that it was a breath of fresh air. It’s absolutely freeing to talk to people!
And during the day we could also visit some great monuments and cultural spots. We visited the Louvre on its free day – the first Sunday of each month. This was a huge cost saver, plus we visited the Holocaust Museum – which is also free. We did spend money to visit the Palace of Versailles (25 euros each) and went on a hidden gems tour of Paris (15 euro tip for the both of us). We love walking tours so those are always worth the cost to us.
One night we did the totally cliché thing of buying bread, cheese, and wine, and sat in front of the Eiffel Tower eating and drinking. It was seriously one of the best meals we have had while traveling – to sit back and relax and look up at the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower. It was beautiful and we just had a fun time bonding together. I mean, it’s cliché for a reason, right? That night cost us $15 max and that’s with splurging on a really fantastic bottle of wine! But don’t forget the corkscrew like we almost did!
Anyway, I think with all that it cost us about $200 without the cost of all meals, but we did those for cheap by going to grocery stores and stuff. Of course, this doesn’t include the flight there, which was about $400/person but we had a round trip ticket for a month in and out of Barcelona.
I guess I don’t really know how to quantify it. I think if you want to do something you make it work. We’ll go cheaper on food some days so we can take a trek through a jungle or we go cheaper on accommodations and have a few nice meals out. You just balance it out – especially when you don’t currently have an income like us!
Do you have a travel blog to monetize your experiences or you are just having fun on Instagram?
We do have a blog – TheRoamAndRamble.com – but not to monetize our travels. Same with our Instagram account. I love to write and it’s a great outlet for that. Zach loves taking pictures for our Instagram so it’s a great balance! They’re just for fun and to remember our trip later in life.
What is the worst & the best part about being a traveler?
The worst part is not being at home with all our friends and family. I am personally such a homebody that it’s been very hard at times. My older sister recently got engaged and my whole family was there to witness it and I’m very appreciative for today’s technology because I got to FaceTime in, but it’s not the same.
Plus some of my friends and family members are going through a hard time so I feel like I am abandoning them when I am off gallivanting around the World.
I have to keep reminding myself there’s no good time to be away though. It doesn’t matter if we had gone a year earlier, we still would have missed things and not been there as much as we could for friends. But if I were at home I would most likely be yearning to go visit another country or have another adventure. So it’s really about learning to appreciate where you are in life. Love each day for what it is and not thinking about or over analyzing what “could have been.” And as a Christian, I’m working on loving the path God has laid out for us and being thankful.
I think Zach would say one of the hardest things about traveling is meeting a lot of great people and then leaving it at that – a lot of times you may never see or hear from them again which is so sad! I mean sometimes you might friend people on Facebook, exchange numbers or something but we all know that’s not the same as spending time with people. So that can be really difficult as well.
The best part of traveling though is meeting all the people! Whether or not we are able to keep talking to them or not. It’s fascinating to see how other people live firsthand in different parts of the world.
Happiness is a cross-cultural thing. We all just want to be happy in the world. And it’s so interesting to see how people find their version of happiness. Whether it’s living in a small village in Thailand where you hunt for your meat that day or live in an apartment on Champ de Elysees in Paris studying theatre or adopting your daughter in India where daughters aren’t as highly desired. Meeting all these people with all these different backgrounds just really makes you think. It makes you realize our differences but more than that you can see how truly similar we all are. We all laugh, feel pain, feel heartbreak, smile at beauty.
We are all just people looking for happiness. And instead of constantly comparing ourselves and getting into long tangents about right and wrong ways to live we can instead appreciate the many ways that are available to live. There’s so much beauty in the differences and yet knowing that we are all still connected – trying to live in a world that can be impossible at times but also a world that can give you so much opportunity and love if you just let it.
I go off on a tangent and I can talk about this forever so instead I’ll just leave it at this:
It’s a beautiful thing to meet people who live in this world with us.
What are the most essential items for world travel?
Honestly we do not bring that much with us. We are not on the lowest end of the spectrum in terms of bag size (we’ve seen travelers with not much more than a single change if clothes), but we learn that way. We each bring one carryon size backpack. So beyond clothes – which are probably the most essential thing – I would guess my kindle and my journal. Probably even my journal above my kindle. I try extra hard to keep up with journaling everything – not just the big moments. I want to remember the little things – accidentally getting on the wrong train visiting the leaning tower of Pisa, ordering a “taco” in Paris and getting something not at all resembling one. Stuff like that. Those are the moments I think I am most likely to forget but the ones I most want to remember.
I’ve also brought an actual book along with my kindle to some places because I just really don’t enjoy e-readers as much as a good ole book, but I didn’t may have room for one on our Thailand trek.
And we definitely don’t forget a towel! Over the many hostels we’ve stayed that could’ve added unnecessary cost to rent one.
I think Zach would say his most essential item is his camera. As much as my journal means to me, Zach’s memories are captured through his pictures. I think that shows a difference in our personalities – one I really appreciate! I love his pictures. I already have plans for hanging up lots in our future home. Though we have gotten in our fair share of spats on getting pictures together in places. As much as Zachary loves pictures he does not like pictures of himself which is one thing I love! Luckily he lets me win those arguments and we get pictures of ourselves too.
How long are you planning to keep this going? Do you have any plans for future?
We are hoping to travel for a full year – Zachary’s job conditionally let him take a full year off with hopes of returning after one year. We get back to the US from South Asia on March 7 with plans to go on an American/Canadian road trip! That was one of the original plans for our travels too – just a year long road trip. We have a Toyota 4Runner that we’ve converted to fit a futon mattress in the back instead of seats. And we have a shelf for some belongings and camping gear and such. So when we get back we plan to hop in the car and just drive! We want to hit 49 states – maybe Hawaii in the future. I’m pulling for it at least. Zachary’s already been so he’ll hit all 50 before me.
In September we’ll most likely return to Houston, Texas where Zach’s job is located. I have nothing lined up yet. We’ll see where God takes us!
Tell me a secret (or travel hack) you learned after traveling all these time?
“Pack light – you don’t need as many clothes as you think you do. It makes every step of the journey easier.” Those are Zach’s words. He’s short and sweet and to the point. But I agree it’s so much easier not to lug lots of things around even if I do miss my ankle boots and scarf collection. Traveling with only one carryon size bag each has saved us countless time and expense over the last few months.
“Ditch the guide books and TripAdvisor once you get there. Research doesn’t hurt, but once you are traveling it’s better to live in the moment.” Zachary says this but he still struggles with wanting to check TripAdvisor on lots of things. He’s working on it though and that’s all that matters.
Scott’s Cheap Flights is I think our biggest travel hack. It is such a lifesaver not to pay full price for flights! And really not necessary to pay full price.
I would say my biggest tip is to have confidence even when you don’t think you can muster any. I hope that makes sense. There are many potentially nerve-wracking things while traveling – new people, new languages, new cultures, new experiences. Fake it until you make it! You’re going to make mistakes – but just laugh it off and keep chugging forward.