In the thick of a global journey, Minted artist Shari Margolin feels braver, inspired, and slightly homesick

Minted artist Shari Margolin floats in the geothermal mineral water of the Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik, Iceland. (Photo by Josh Meister)

“We have no clue where we’re going next or how long we’ll be in Colombia—we’re flying by the seat of our pants,” says Shari Margolin, a Minted artist who’s on a stopover in Los Angeles for a few days before embarking on the final leg of a global trek culminating in Latin America. The graphic designer and her husband, photographer Josh Meister, have concrete plans to meet up with Shari’s sister and brother-in-law in Nicaragua in a few weeks, but the rest is sort of up in the air.

After spending eight months trotting around Europe and Asia as part of a “year-long experiment,” the couple’s not too concerned about the unknowns of Latin America. Which isn’t to imply that they embarked on this journey with a completely laissez-faire attitude. They began “loosely planning” and daydreaming five years before they set sail in June 2017 from their home base in Atlanta, Georgia. Shari and Josh saved money, minimized their stuff, found tenants to rent their home, researched the heck out of everywhere they wanted to go, and launched SocietyofEverywhere to document the trip. The impetus? “We’re both slightly obsessed with travel and, technically, we can work from anywhere in the world,” says Shari. She’s a self-employed graphic designer, and Josh is a photographer.

With three months left to go, here’s the story of what they’ve seen, how they’re feeling, and what they’ve eaten so far.

Skógafoss, a waterfall in Iceland that Josh Meister shot at midnight. “We had light almost 24 hours a day when we were there during the summer of 2017,” Shari says. (Photo by Josh Meister)

Minted: You just spent about four months in Europe, four months in Asia, and now you’re about to explore Latin America for the next four months. If you could do it again, would you do anything differently?
Shari Margolin: I’m glad we started with Europe because it eased us in to full-time travel—a lot of people spoke English, and it felt comfortable because we’ve traveled there before. But it was the most expensive region, and if we were to plan the trip again, I’d spend a little less time there and also visit more of Eastern Europe, for the cost savings and to get off the beaten path a bit more.

I’ve heard super good things about Sri Lanka and am bummed we didn’t make it there. A year seems like a crazy long time to travel, but somehow it’s just not long enough, and inevitably, we’re going to miss some good places.

A view from above of a section of falls at the stunning Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia. (Photo by Josh Meister)

What were some of the most memorable challenges you’ve dealt with so far?
The most challenging thing has been trying to research and plan as we’re on the road. The beginning of the trip in Europe was fairly planned out and maybe 70% booked ahead of time, plus we had friends and family meeting us who had done a lot of destination research ahead of time. For Asia, we had a general idea of our route and had done a decent amount of research on the places we wanted to visit, but not as much as on Europe. For each area we visit, we try to research top attractions, unique things to see and do, any events that may be happening during our time there, and the best cheap eats. We have to book transportation, figure out which neighborhood seems like the best fit for accommodations and decide if we should book a hotel using points or a guesthouse or an Airbnb. All of this while exploring and enjoying our time in each place! It’s definitely a balancing act.

Also, trying to get anywhere in China is hard. We have a very Google-based life, and Google and China don’t play nicely with one another, so we could barely use the maps we’d made, check email, or get reliable information. Something that would take us five minutes to figure out anywhere else took at minimum 30 minutes or just didn’t happen at all. We’re also primarily points travelers, and jugging points-based flights has been fairly challenging.

When she saw this alcove in Crete, Greece, Shari immediately “Instagram-husbanded” Josh into photographing her with exactly this framing. (Photo by Josh Meister)

What are the most memorable things you’ve eaten?
I love food, but I’m not the most adventurous eater—as opposed to my husband, who prides himself on not shying away from any meat. My favorite food experiences have included 6 a.m. gourmet breakfast sushi at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, a standing meal at  L’Avant Comptoir in Paris, incredibly rich ramen at a tiny spot in Japan where everyone literally stared at us when we walked in the door (it was clearly a locals-only joint), the pasta we made in a cooking class in Tuscany, and hitting up five pizza restaurants in three meals in Naples to gorge on the best pizza I’ve ever tasted. Some of the most memorable food centers around the weird as well as working up the courage to try it. That list includes kangaroo, crocodile, octopus beaks, and snake liquor.

“This was one of those absolutely perfect travel moments,” Shari says of this photo taken in Bordeaux, France. “You can research and plan as much as possible, but the unexpected and spontaneous instances are the best. We were checking out the Bordeaux Water Mirror when music started blasting and a local group began an impromptu dance party that lasted for about 20 minutes. We took a few pictures and then jumped in to join them.” (Photo by Josh Meister)

What are the most memorable places you’ve seen so far?
We started the trip in Iceland, which is just stunning in its natural beauty. Other highlights include Greece as well as Japan—the history and respectfulness mixed with future and tech focus, the people, the food obviously, and the wackiness just make it such a unique country and culture. I also loved Vietnam and Indonesia—both are terrific budget destinations with gorgeous landscapes and incredibly happy and friendly people, and tons to see and do.

Shari and her husband Josh ride a hot air balloon somewhere over Tuscany, Italy. The couple have been married nearly nine years and met in graduate school in Atlanta, Georgia.

Who are some of the most memorable people you’ve met?
We’ve met incredible people. We had the most amazing Airbnb hosts in Bordeaux, France, who we’ve kept in touch with regularly. They let us stay longer for almost nothing and lent us their car so we could take some day trips they thought we shouldn’t miss. In China, we met a man during our Huashan trek who helped us so many times, we started calling him our Chinese fairy godfather. We bonded with a Japanese family in Takayama who invited us into their historic home and sake brewery. We’ve also met some other great long-term travelers, one couple with whom we even joined forces to share an Airbnb in Indonesia. We meet Australians almost everywhere we go, and always get along great with them.

“Visiting less popular destinations often pays off,” says Shari, referencing Puglia, Italy, which is the heel of Italy’s boot and way less crowded than a lot of other destinations they visited everywhere else in the country. (photo by Shari Margolin)

What art or design destinations have you visited?
In Europe, we went to a million museums; the Foam photography museum in Amsterdam is an overall fave. Throughout our travels, we visit galleries whenever we get the chance. Venice had a ton of art offerings, and we happened to be there during La Biennale, a citywide art exhibit held every other year.

Japan is a wellspring of design—the kimonos, the dishware, the signage! Vietnam’s street art scene is super cool, and Indonesia has great locally designed stationery, art, and clothing.

A little boy playing on the drowned books staircase at Libreria Acqua Alta in Venice, Italy (photo by Shari Margolin)

Were you artistically inspired by any of your surroundings?
This trip is one big inspiration binge! There’s so much to take in both visually and experientially everywhere we go. I love exploring the visual symbolism and traditions of different cultures as well as the language.

Golden Lock Pass on Mount Hua Shan, China, is not as dangerous as you may have heard. “It was extremely physically difficult and slightly scary at times to climb, but not dangerous, and you don’t have to hike to get there—there are two sets of cable cars most visitors take. The dangerous part comes in as an optional trail, ‘The Plank Road in the Sky.’ It’s an out and back trail consisting of three to four flimsy wooden boards attached to the side of the mountain and two-way traffic. You’re harnessed in, but still, terrifying! There was no way in the world I was attempting it, but Josh love it.” Click photo to read more about their experience. (photo by Shari Margolin)

Do you still feel the same way about the fact that you can work from anywhere?
Sort of. I do love that about design—I’m not tied to a specific location to make a living. But I’ve also found it pretty challenging to work while traveling, mainly because we’re constantly on the move, and there’s always so much to explore. We already spend too much time on devices researching destinations, making bookings, and using social media, so sitting down in front of a computer to do work is often at the bottom of my list, although I have tried to design a few things for Minted competitions.

Shari took a break to swing at one of the beaches they came across during a coastal hike on Koh Tao, Thailand. (Photo by Josh Meister)

How do you feel now compared to how you felt on a daily basis in Atlanta?
I’m a lot more tired now! At the pace we’re going, it’s both physically and mentally exhausting, but I like that I’m actively participating in the world around me. As a designer in Atlanta, I felt accomplished and content but sedentary, sitting on my butt all day in front of a computer. I worked from home and didn’t leave my house or neighborhood much.

On the other hand, when I worked at home, I felt like I was really making a difference for clients and for Minted customers who chose my stationery designs and birth announcements. Now I’m not doing much design work, but I’m constantly moving. I’m interacting with and learning about the world, which is refreshing.

Getting ready for sunset at Pre Rup Temple in the Angkor Complex in Cambodia. (Photo by Josh Meister)

How have you changed as a result of your trip?
I’m braver. I’ve faced a lot of challenges I never would have seen myself being okay with before this trip, such as arriving somewhere new with absolutely no plans or bookings, overcoming a rational fear of not being able to breathe underwater in order to get scuba dive certified, riding a bicycle in a crowded city, and swimming with sharks. Travel also often brings perspective, and I’ve definitely been affected by the different socioeconomic situations we’ve encountered. I’m not sure how that impact will play out in my day-to-day life, but I’d certainly like to contribute more. Before we left, I read a lot about long-term travelers realizing they could live with so many less possessions, and to an extent I feel that way, but I’ve also realized the quality of those possessions is so important. I agonized over the clothes to pack for this trip, and at least half of them were not right. I’m still switching out gear as we go and have high hopes that by the time we’re finished with the trip, I’ll have perfected my long-term travel wardrobe just in time to stop living out of a suitcase.

Kinkaku-ji, or the Golden Pavilion, a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan, sparkling in the sunlight. (Photo by Josh Meister)

What are the top three things you’ve learned during your year-long journey?

  1. The world is not a scary place.
    People are generally good and very similar the world over. Everyone wants the same basic things: to make a decent living and to have joy in their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Yes, there are some places that are well-known for scamming and robbing, but overall, people are good and kind.

2. Positive vibes.
This is an ongoing challenge! Stuff will inevitably go wrong—you will pay too much, miss a flight, wind up ordering something disgusting. It’s easy to get in a funk about problems, but it’s part of the experience and makes the adventure that much more memorable, so I try to get over mishaps as quickly as possible and put a smile on my face.

3. The United States is not the center of the world, and the media messaging we get can be pretty one-sided.
We’ve talked a lot about current and recent politics with people we’ve met as we’ve traveled and learned about American history from some other viewpoints. I think I now have a much better understanding of, and interest in, politics outside of the U.S. bubble, especially the role Asia is playing.

Evening on the Thu Bon River in the adorable ancient town of Hoi An, Vietnam (photo by Josh Meister)

How do you feel about returning home to Atlanta when you finish the  year-long trip in June 2018?
It feels simultaneously very soon and yet very far away. It feels bittersweet—I’ll be sad to end the trip, but it will be so nice to be close to family and friends again as well as have a space that’s comfortable and ours. It’ll be hard to go back to life as it was, and I think something will change, but I don’t know what it will be. I want to be more service-oriented and involved in different communities like we have in our travels.

One of the friends Shari made in Europe insisted on besos, or a kiss on each cheek, when they said hello and goodbye, which inspired Shari’s art print “Abrazos y Besos,” Spanish for “hugs and kisses.”

Do you think you’ll keep traveling at this kind of scale?
I don’t think we can afford it! It’s been the adventure of a lifetime, and we are so grateful to get to do it. Traveling will always be a priority for us, but constantly packing, moving, and researching takes a ton of work and stamina, and we miss our friends and family as well as having a dog. On the other hand, the more we travel, the longer our destination wish list gets, so you never know.

“Round the World” baby shower invitation by Shari Margolin

“Seven Wonders” art print by Shari Margolin

Shari Margolin’s Minted Artist Store
Shari and Josh’s travel website,
Shari Margolin on Instagram
@societyofeverywhere on Instagram

About the Author: Amy Schroeder, Minted’s Community Content Manager, founded Venus, the magazine about women in the arts and DIY culture, and has written for Etsy, West Elm, Pitchfork, and NYLON. Connect on Instagram @thevenuslady.

Published March 30, 2018

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