Sometimes you have to give it up to get it back together - but how far would you go to make sense of your world and your place in it? Kim Dinan does that while adding goodwill into the world in her memoir, The Yellow Envelope. We took some time to chat with Kim to find out about her series of time traveling with her husband as a global nomad, those she met along the way, what she learned and how she has assessed her time post the journey that was covered in her book.
ATHLEISURE MAG: We enjoyed this memoir, do you still go on nomadic adventures? How does it feel to be home with a routine etc?
KIM DINAN: I have not had a nomadic adventure since my husband and I returned to the states in 2015. The adjustment back to a “traditional” life was fairly jarring and we had a few months where we felt like we couldn’t tell the ground from the sky. Since we’d sold everything before we left, we came home with nothing. We rented a house, but it was completely empty. We didn’t own a bed, a couch, a car or dishes. So initially there was this out-of-control feeling as we re-acquired all of this stuff we’d purposefully gotten rid of. Then my husband went back to a 9-5 job and that was a real shock to the system. I had my book and freelance work to focus on, but all in all it just took a while to find our feet again.
There were bright spots too, though. I longed for a routine and was happy to have one again. Toward the end of our trip all I wanted was an oven to bake bread in and dresser drawers to organize my clothes. The small things that I used to take for granted in everyday life became things that I really missed. To this day, if it’s raining outside and I’m inside, I thank the universe to have a roof over my head and warm water in the faucet. Those things weren’t guaranteed when we were traveling, and there are many people that do not have such luxuries. I just don’t take those conveniences for granted anymore.
For a long time we said that we’d never do a truly nomadic trip again because the adjustment back was so hard—but of course now we are plotting our next big adventure. Though when we hit the road next time we’re getting a storage unit!
AM: Are you still in touch with Michele and Glenn?
KD: Absolutely! Michele and Glenn still live in Oregon, and while we don’t live in Oregon anymore, we keep in touch via email and Facebook and of course we see them whenever we go back to the west coast. A few months after we returned to the states Michele took a six-month sabbatical and Glenn quit his job and they set out on their own trip around the world!
AM: Inspiration and being a role model when you may not realize it is a theme that we kept seeing in your book. Besides Michele and Glenn, who else inspired you on this trip?
KD: I met so many inspiring people on our trip. I think the most inspiring thing was not one single person, but this realization that there are so many ways to live—and there’s no “right way.” In the U.S. there’s this belief that you should follow this very traditional and well-trodden path that’s like: high school, college (if you’re lucky), job, house, marriage, kids… you know it because everyone knows it. It’s just a part of who we are as Americans. There’s nothing wrong with it per se, it’s just not the only way.
It wasn’t until I set out into the world that I realized that there are people all over the world living in very different ways—and they were happy. Of course, I always knew this intellectually but to actually experience it was a whole new thing for me. There are people that have very little money, but are incredibly rich in community—their social fabric is so strong.
I met people that had traveled for years and were raising their kids on the open road. I met olive farmers and doctors and rickshaw drivers and holy men and women and what I realized was that, you know, we all need certain things to have a good life—clean water and air, food, access to a good education, community—but after that life can take so many shapes. You don’t have to do it the way everyone back home is doing it. You’re allowed to live life
in the way that makes you feel really alive, even if it doesn’t make sense to other people.
AM: You traveled for 2 years on this trip - what are 3 things you loved and 3 things you could have done without on the trip?
KD: We actually traveled for nearly 3 years! Not every country and experience made it into the book.
When I look back on the trip the 3 things I really loved was, first of all, the time. Every single day was wide open. I had the time to really look inward, to ask myself what I wanted out of life, to spend time mentally sorting through my life and truly getting to know myself. I feel so incredibly lucky that I had those years—they changed my life.
The second thing I really loved, and maybe this makes me sound a bit selfish, was that I didn’t worry about people. Since I wasn’t home and I didn’t have a phone I knew that I’d only hear about something if it was really important. I used to be the kind of person where, if the phone rang unexpectedly, I’d automatically think that something was wrong. I guess I’m a worrier by nature. But I stopped worrying because I was so far away from home and I couldn’t fix anything for anybody—and that feeling was incredibly freeing.
The third thing I loved was the food. Oh man, the food. Especially the Indian food—even the airplane food in India made me drool.
As far as the things I could have done without. Well, I really missed the people I loved. I missed being a daily part of people’s lives. You leave and the world keeps right on spinning and you realize that if you don’t show up for people they move on without you. I also could have done without the marriage tensions and problems that came to a head while traveling. But the thing is, I’m also grateful that I faced my deepest questions—about my marriage and myself—head on. It’s so easy to stuff uncomfortable thoughts and feelings down and ignore the truth and much, much harder to face it. No one wants to go through gut-wrenching times, but they’re necessary.
AM: What lessons that you learned on the trip do you still do to this day?
KD: One of the biggest things I learned on the trip was to let go. I stopped being a control freak. I used to think that I was just born that way but, nope, it’s a learned thing and it can be changed. Now I know that the only thing I can control is my reaction in any given situation. So I just roll with things now. It’s so much better not getting worked up about small things!
Because of the yellow envelope gift we were given, I also learned a lot about giving. I learned that giving will always be awkward and uncomfortable but that's no reason to avoid it. To this day I still give yellow envelopes away and I’ve even started something called The Yellow Envelope Project (find it on Facebook @yellowenvelopeproject) where I mail yellow envelopes to people around the globe and they use their envelope to perform an act of kindness.
AM: Prior to leaving on this trip, what are 3 things that you would have never done in your old life, but find yourself enjoying now?
KD: I used to be a planner, but now most of the time I just show up and figure things out when I get there. It leaves room for spontaneity and adventure.
I also used to be so guarded of my time, but now I’m more open. I make time for people—I almost always say yes to an invitation, whereas before I said no because my life was so scheduled and regimented.
I’m also just more curious about people and more trusting. I mean, I traveled the world for three years, relying on strangers the whole time, and time and time again people proved to me that humans are generally good and willing to help as long as you are open to receiving. That’s the thing; I wasn’t open to receiving things before. Now, I let people help me. And I do everything I can to help other people. We’re all in this thing together.
AM: What are your favorite mountains/hiking trails?
KD: Oh, there are so many!! First, I have to start in my own backyard because the United States has some of the most stunning natural beauty in the world. The National Parks are a national treasure—I could spend the rest of my life just exploring states like Utah, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.
I have a very soft spot in my heart for the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile pilgrimage route through Spain that I walked solo (though it didn't make it into the book - maybe another book!). The Camino de Santiago is a special experience, there’s nothing else like it on earth.
I also have to give a shout-out to Nepal. My husband and I walked the Annapurna Circuit. That was some of the hardest trekking of my life (we crested a 17,000-foot pass!) but also some of the most magical. It’s not just the mountains, which are amazing, but also the villages that you walk through. It’s a special part of the world and I can’t wait to go back.
AM: What places/countries have you yet to visit that are on your bucket list?
KD: Namibia, Tanzania, Iceland, New Zealand, Ireland, Bhutan, Tibet… should I go on?
AM: Are you still in touch with the women you met in India or those that were on the biking trip in Vietnam?
KD: Somewhat, yes. Thanks to the wonders of Facebook and Instagram I’m able to keep up to date with most of the people I met on my trip.
AM: There are many people/experiences that you share - is there a moment that didn't make it in that you or Brian were impacted by?
KD: I think of a thousand small moments that impacted us—people stopping to ask us if we needed directions when we looked lost, people that asked us curiously about our life back home, just small moments when others took the time out of their day to assist us in some way. I think in general we’re all so caught up in our own lives and moving so fast that we rarely take the time to look up and see how we can be of service. I try to pay more attention now to small ways that I can help.
AM: Culturally you walked in the shoes of others throughout your journey as you experienced various "culture shocks". Share 3 with us and why is traveling to places different than your own so important?
KD: Traveling is so important because it teaches you what it's like to be a foreigner. It’s hard to be the odd man out like that. It’s impossible to know what that feels like and not have more compassion and understanding for people having similar experiences in your own country. Traveling teaches you that your way is not the only way. You don’t have
to get on an airplane and fly halfway around the world to learn this lesson. If you live in the country, go to the city. If you live in the city, head to the country. Be open and curious—you’ll learn something.
As far as culture shock goes, I think the biggest culture shock came when we transitioned from western to eastern cultures. In western cultures, thinking is very linier and logical. In eastern cultures, it seems like there is more wiggle room. If you try to use logic to make sense of the way some things go down in places like India, you’ll go nuts. But if you can just learn to laugh and accept things as they are, you’ll be fine. That was my experience.
AM: What was your favorite country and/or city covered in the book?
KD: Well, when I look back on the trip I know that some of my feelings about certain places are clouded by my own personal journey. I was battling a lot of internal unrest in South America, so when I think back to some of those countries it's hard for me to separate my own unhappiness with my overall feelings about a place. On the other hand, I am in love with India. I loved the country, the people, the culture—but I also had a bit of an awakening in that country, so I’m sure the fact that I kind of came out the other side of things and found balance there is also part of the reason why I love that country so much. I’m almost afraid to go back because I love it in my memory just the way it is.