First, Jason and Rachel Napoli quit their jobs. Then, they put their Chicago condo up for sale, moved their belongings into storage and hopped on a plane, beginning a 15-month, around-the-world backpacking trip that will wrap up in Naperville before the end of this year.
ABC7 producer Lisa Lubin of Chicago did the same thing, and graphic artist Megan Kearney just returned home to South Barrington from her second globe-trotting trip.
Then there's Randy Eccles and his fianceé, Sarah Phillips. They, too, quit their jobs, but it was so they could spend the summer driving across the U.S. to visit 62 small towns -- some for an hour, some for a few days -- in search of one they could call home.
All of these people are travelers, yes. But they have something else in common: They're all bloggers.
While it's not unusual for people to give up the rat race to feed the travel bug, it is new for people to blog about their adventures.
Blogs have become an easy way for travelers to communicate and share photos. All it takes is Internet access (with their own laptop, or a quick stop at an Internet café) and they can post stories and photos for family, friends and even strangers to view.
The Napolis' blog, for example, donkeycrossing.blogspot.com, is regularly read by a librarian in Spain whom they've never met but who stumbled upon their site and got hooked.
The best part is that people back home can follow along -- at their leisure -- and interact if they choose through e-mails or posted comments.
"With the blog, if they want to read about it, they can. I don't have to send these long e-mails they don't want to read," said Kearney, who writes at www.me-go.net/rtw.
Blogging while traveling has other benefits as well.
Lubin, who's traveling solo, says her blog, www.llworldtour.com, actually lifts her spirits when she's feeling lonely.
"Through my laptop, my friends are still cheering me on, encouraging me, giving me feedback and 'being there,' just like they would if I was home, and in some ways, even more so," writes Lubin, in an e-mail from Turkey. "Sometimes, I feel like I'm more in touch now than when I was back in Chicago living my super-busy life."
Travel blogging does have a downside in that not everyone who visits interesting places writes interesting stories, says David Elliot Cohen, a world traveler and author of the book, "One Year Off."
"It can be very cool, but it can also be like making people look at your vacation photos," he said.
Most readers, however, view the blogs as a chance to see the world vicariously.
Jason Napoli's father, Marty, feels that way.
"I was brought up in an old Italian family. I went directly from living with my mother to being married. I love my wife dearly, but would I have loved to try this? You betcha," said Marty Napoli, of Naperville.
Those brave enough to quit their jobs and roam the world see the experience as life-changing, but none describe it as "easy."
Halfway into Megan Kearney's first around-the-world trip in 2004, her father was diagnosed with lung cancer and given six months to live. She cut her trip short to be at his side. Last June, a few years after his passing, she resumed her journey.
When she left, Kearney's career as a graphic designer was going strong, and she questioned whether the time was right to leave.
"If you say, when is the opportune time in my career to leave? Or, when is a good time in my life to leave? You're never going to make it happen," said Kearney, now 30.
Being an artist, her blog is attractive and contains pictures of her doing cartwheels in front of more than 100 of the world's landmarks.
She returned home Aug. 7, and quickly received a few freelance assignments. After crisscrossing the globe, she is still transitioning back to the American way of life. Even at a McDonald's drive-through, she instinctively hands the cashier money with her right hand, as it's disrespectful to use the left hand in certain countries she visited.
Blow dryers, water pressure and toilet paper feel like luxuries, and while she enjoys "not living out of a backpack," she's debating whether to return to the graphic design world or venture into a new field. What she'd really like to do is start a consulting business for people who want to take around-the-world trips.
"If you ask me for help, I'll help you," she said.
The LL World Tour
Earlier this year, everything fell into place for Lisa Lubin to take the "trip of a lifetime."
The 34-year-old broke up with her boyfriend of five years, her beloved cat died and she felt uninspired at work. The time was now, she decided. So using her savings and some of the proceeds from her condo sale, off she went.
"Many people assume that traveling for a year must be very expensive, but that is just not so," she said. "For me, staying and living in Chicago would have cost me much more than this trip."
Lubin has spent the past year surfing in Costa Rica, working at a sandwich shop in Australia, biking through Vietnam and sand-boarding in the dunes of Dubai, among other things.
Her blog, like her personality, is organized, energetic and full of conversational writing.
"My adventures have been amazing, but the best part would have to be all the wonderful people I've met from all corners of the globe," she said.
Lubin's having so much fun, she isn't sure she wants to come home.
"Now that I am 'out here' in the world, it just seems so much easier to keep going than to come home and try to get away again," she said.
When Jason and Rachel Napoli told their families they were taking this trip, no one was surprised.
After all, they had both caught the travel bug early in life. Before he even graduated from Naperville North High School, Jason, now 31, had already taken bike trips in Utah and Europe.
He met British-born Rachel in Ecuador, where they both worked as English teachers. Shortly after marrying and moving to Chicago to start their careers (Rachel as a human resources manager, Jason as an academic supervisor), they started making plans to leave.
"Traveling around the world had always been a dream, but we wanted to do it properly," said Jason, in an e-mail from a remote area of China.
First, they created a "travel fund" and put away as much money as they could for three years.
"Next, we bought a wall map of the world and stuck pins in all of the countries where we have friends or family, plus other places of interest," Rachel said via e-mail.
They left one year ago, and have explored South America, Africa, Asia and soon, Europe. Their blog captures their adventures as well as their time visiting friends all over the world. They're expected back in Naperville for an "emotional homecoming" at Thanksgiving.
Jason's father, Marty, worries about them finding jobs when they get home. Jason's assured him they've saved enough money to cover their post-trip transition time.
"No matter how proud I am of them ... as a father, I worry," Marty Napoli said.
Small town search
Before taking their cross-country road trip, Eccles and Phillips had many long talks about what they wanted in life.
At the time, Eccles was working 60-hour weeks as a promotions director at KTAR-AM in Phoenix, Ariz. His life had always centered on his career. In recent years, that didn't feel like enough.
"I thought, 'If money was no object, what would I do?' I wanted the feeling that this is what I've chosen," said Eccles, 43, a former assistant program director at WGN Radio in Chicago.
At 27, Phillips had spent her entire life in Phoenix and ached for a change of scenery.
They both wanted their lives to be simpler and have more quality. They wanted to start their lives together living by a lake, near a university and be able to enjoy a somewhat thriving business district with nearby biking and walking paths.
Together, they researched small towns that met their criteria and then set out to visit each one. When they arrived, they picked up the local paper, walked around, talked to Realtors and stopped in a coffee shop to update their blog, www.smalltowntour.blogspot.com.
"It's pretty instinctual," Phillips said. "In two hours, we could make a mistake."
Their blog is a his-and-her-opinion report of the towns they visited, along with a running list of favorite places and those "also visited."
As of press time, they were back home in Arizona and hadn't made a final decision (their top three were Marquette, Mich., the Quad Cities, and Springfield, Ill.), but they say their June wedding will take place in their new hometown.
What happens if they move to a small town and decide they don't like it?
"The good thing is, I can see our lives in a lot of these places we've been," Eccles said. "If it doesn't work out, we tried it. We can always go back to Phoenix. And that's more rewarding than if we never did it."