Travelers of the Year: Dalene and Peter Heck
House Hoppers—Minimalist travelers max on the moment
House-Sitting Around the World
Their motto may be minimal—“No possessions. No plans. Just travel”—but their first task was monumental. In 2009, Dalene and Peter Heck sold everything and reduced a 2,100-square-foot home in Alberta, Canada, to 200 liters of backpack space. “We went from riches to rags,” jokes Dalene.
Since then, the bloggers (www.hecktictravels.com) have volunteered in Bolivia, became godparents in Honduras, kayaked around Patagonia, swung a scythe on a farm in Romania, studied history in Turkey and Spanish in Argentina, witnessed a violent workers protest in Cambodia, and explored the nooks and crannies of Greenland and Jordan.
“Our mission is to travel simply and prove that a life with very few possessions can be more fulfilling,” says Peter. Their vagabonding ways would not have been sustainable without a watershed discovery. The chance to house-sit in British Columbia led to a similar six-month stint in Honduras, and from then on, the now peripatetic house-hoppers have saved a fortune while spinning the globe. They’ve turned their discoveries into an e-book to share their tips with other travelers.
“We are changed human beings,” says Dalene. “We learned that we don’t need what we think we do and that the world is not as scary as everyone says it is. Instead of finding fear, we’ve found the most hospitable people we could ever hope to meet.”
—By George W. Stone
National Geographic Traveler: Why did you hit the road?
Dalene Heck: We were spurred on by several tragedies that we both endured in 2007 that changed our perspectives irrevocably. We weren't unhappy with the corporate/suburban lives we were leading, but we knew they could be so much more. So in the fall of 2009, after the sale of our house and our belongings, we headed south with a one-way ticket to Bolivia. We haven't looked back since.
NGT: What motivates your travels and mission?
DH: We’re continuously motivated by the desire to learn more about the world we live in. With our slow travel style, which allows for far more enriching experiences, we like to spend two to three months in any region or country to try to get to know it better. We learn new languages—although we are admittedly quite terrible at it—and try to deeply experience the culture and make new friends. We have also done some volunteering work along the way, enjoying the feeling of giving back, no matter how small, and also seeing it as a way to get to know a community. One of our favorite travel memories came from living in rural Turkey for three months. We wrote a fun blog entry on the experience.
NGT: Your blog is loaded with juicy stories, tips, and ideas.
DH: We love to share all that we learn! And not just the good stuff, although let’s admit it, 98 percent of travel is awesome. But we also write about things that cause us grief throughout the world. Like just this past year when we witnessed tragic garment worker protests in Cambodia, explored an abandoned, rotting air base in Greenland, and visited Auschwitz for the first time. Our mission is to travel simply, experience as much of the world as possible, and prove that a life with very few possessions can be endlessly more fulfilling.
NGT: Tell us about your e-book.
DH: Thought you’d never ask. How to Become a House-Sitter and See the World gives all the secrets behind our house-sitting success. We’ve had more than 14 jobs in nine countries, and saved over $50,000 in the cost of accommodations as a result. Along with a thorough analysis of the big house-sitting websites, the book is full of advice on how to be a good house sitter and plenty of resources for planning your house-sitting gig. Plus there are quotes from experienced house sitters and home owners from around the world.
NGT: How long can you stay on the road?
- Nat Geo Expeditions
DH: At first, we lived solely off of our savings and money earned from the sale of our house. But now we’re building a social media consulting business to sustain this lifestyle indefinitely. With it we can continue to work from anywhere we want in the world, and only take on the number of projects we need to keep us going so that we can continue to focus attention on our first love: travel.
NGT: What destinations does the future hold?
DH: We’re pretty true to the “No Plans” part of our blog tagline and will wait to see where opportunity takes us. All we know is that we will keep going.
NGT: You don’t sound like you miss your old lives.
DH: Our only regret is that we wish we started this lifestyle earlier!