Traveling couple Warren and Betsy Talbot have had an exciting year. For one thing, they’ve just bought a house in Spain. And their new book, Married with Luggage, launched recently to quite a bit of fanfare. I had the pleasure of interviewing them about their relationship, their new book, and their self-publishing experience.
Interview With Traveling Couple Talbot
KIM: I have to admit that I relate to your new book Married with Luggage: What We Learned About Love by Traveling the World since I’ve also been traveling the world with my husband and we’ve spent 24-7 together for the last 2 years. Tell me about what the adjustment period was like for you both when you went from spending evenings and weekends together to the 24-7 lifestyle.
WARREN & BETSY: It was the most joyous and aggravating time of our lives. We’d achieved a big dream together, saving and downsizing for two full years to make it happen, and then we were living it. At the same time, we were getting a full-on dose of each other’s quirks and habits and adjusting to a lifestyle with very little personal space or privacy. When we weren’t feeling like the luckiest people on earth, living out a love story for the ages, we wanted to kill each other. Those first months were the most rewarding and frustrating of our lives.
K: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about love from this travel-relationship boot camp?
W&B: There are so many lessons we’ve learned! Fight Fast is one of our favorites because we use it all the time. Each fight is only allowed one topic, and we’ve become masters at resolving issues and moving on in minutes. That’s what it takes when you travel like we do because often we’re in a situation that requires teamwork, and that won’t happen if we’re fighting (like camping in a storm, rushing to catch a train, or learning to herd and milk goats). We still fight a lot, but it’s never about the same things over and over again like it used to be. We resolve it because we don’t cloud the issue, and then we move on.
This is such a handy lesson for any couple because it makes each person think about the issue before bringing it up. Is it worth fighting about, or is it just our own tiredness or bad mood making us testy? I’d say this rule helps us bypass just as many fights as it helps us resolve.
K: Sometimes I think that I barely knew Brian (my husband) until we started spending every moment together. What did you learn about each other once you were on the road that you didn’t know about each other before?
W&B: One of our biggest a-ha moments was at a farmhouse in Slovenia. I was talking with a good friend about being an introvert, and how I needed alone time to recharge. Warren overheard us when he came into the kitchen to get a glass of water, and later that night in bed he told me it was like lightning bolts going off in his head.
He never “got it” that being in social situations drained my battery and being alone is what charged me back up. He is completely different, a social butterfly and an extrovert to the extreme. He doesn’t want to do anything alone.
Until I expressed my introversion in that way, like a battery going down, he didn’t quite understand it and took my need for alone time as a sign there was something wrong or that I was irritated with him.
That night we had an eye-opening conversation about how we gain and drain energy, and it transformed the way we managed our relationship. Now we both get plenty of what we need (and less of what we don’t) with the help and support of the other person so we can be our best with each other. For instance, I’ll go to a big party with him, but he gives me a few hours alone before so I’ll be able to maintain my energy. Then we both enjoy it (though I do get to leave early if I want with no hurt feelings if he’s got friends to hang out with).
This understanding skyrocketed the maturity and satisfaction in our daily lives. I can’t believe it took us eight years to figure that core piece of our personalities out.
K: Did you ever want to throw in the towel: quit traveling or quit each other?
W&B: Funny you should ask that because we ask each other this question every year. Our marriage is based on a verbal Love Contract. Every year on our anniversary we talk about the overall trends we like in our relationship and those we don’t. We talked about what we’d like to see more of and what we’d like to change. And then we give each other a no-fault out: “Do you want to stay together another year?”
If the answer is yes, we commit to the change we just discussed in concrete ways, listing out exactly what we’ll do (or keep doing) to improve our relationship.
It’s this regular reevaluation and renewal of our relationship that keeps it growing. We don’t take each other’s love and commitment for granted and work to earn it every single day. So far we’ve always agreed to renew our Love Contract, and that’s in no small part due to the reevaluation and work that we both commit to every year.
As for travel, we can’t imagine stopping but we have evolved our travel style. We just bought a house in a small village in Spain this year and plan to spend about six months of the year there as we write and create, but we’ll continue seeing the world in those other six months. We’ve barely scratched the surface!
K: If you could share just one piece of wisdom or advice for those struggling in their relationship what would it be?
W&B: Assume the best intentions of your partner. He or she may not say things in the way you want to hear them or do things the way you want, but it doesn’t mean they’re out to get you. They aren’t trying to aggravate you or make you unhappy. It’s probably not about you at all. Each person is generally doing their best, and knowing your partner loves you and wants to spend his or her life with you should carry far more weight than what specific word they chose to use or how they loaded the dishwasher.
K: You have a very successful self-published portfolio and are living off of the profits of your books. Why did you decide to self-publish instead of going the traditional route?
W&B: I think it goes back to our questioning of the status quo and permitting ourselves to change it where it suits us better. We’ve done it in many ways: being childless by choice, rejecting the religions of our upbringing, selling everything at 40 to travel the world, and now buying a house in another country.
We didn’t want to wait for someone else to permit us to share our story, especially when we’d earn so little on every book from it after a publisher’s cut. We questioned why we had to spend months (or years) pitching our proposal, waiting a year for the book to come out, and then waiting another six months to start (hopefully) earning royalties from it.
We’re practical people, and we question the rules daily. And the rules of traditional publishing just didn’t fit us – especially now in the age of ebooks and indie publishing. This is perhaps the best time in the world to become an author if you’re serious about quality and willing to work as your indie publisher, not just a writer.
We had a big audience from our website, so it just made sense to publish ourselves and see if would work. And it did! This is our fourth book, with four other writing projects in the pipeline.
K: What is your writing process like? How long does it take you to write a book start to finish?
W&B: We write as a team, though we have very different jobs. Warren creates the structure of the book and holds us to all of our deadlines (we set our deadlines before we write the first word – a key step in actually getting it done). Then I write it. It goes through several rounds of review before final professional editing, including me reading it aloud to him as well as an in-depth review with comments by at least five trusted people.
We’ve never written a book that didn’t have a false start, usually resulting in trashing 30,000 or so words. But once that’s done, it usually flows pretty well. Because all of our books til now have been related to our knowledge or experience, it only takes me about six weeks to write them, relying heavily on our notes, website, photographs, podcasts, and videos. We have a lot of research material because of our website.
But then there’s working with a designer for the cover art, editing, time for review copies to go out, PR work, and setting up blog book tours and live tours, much of which falls to Warren, so the entire time from concept to publishing date is more like four to six months. Because of the way we’ve structured the workload, only one of us is a crazy person at a time.
K: Tell me the ingredients to a successful self-publishing career (Great book design? A fabulous editor? A stellar marketing plan?)
W&B: It sounds simple, but first you have to put your ass in the seat and write. If you’re actually “working on your book” you should have daily or weekly word counts that are in alignment with your desired date of publication. Successful publishers need something to publish, and a lot of aspiring authors fail at this critical step.
For us, having deadlines and a game plan for the entire project and treating it like that – a project – is the key to success. Take one day before you start writing and map it out on a calendar; you’ll be glad you did. We map out when the first draft should be done when beta reader feedback should be done, when to get the cover and title finalized, and when final editing should be done. We have a list of marketing activities and how we want to promote the book over the next two years. It’s a long game, and if you’re in it for overnight success you’ll likely be disappointed.
You have to put out a professional product. If you’re a writer, odds are you are not also a terrific designer editor or publicity expert. It’s important to bring people into your project who can polish your message in a way that invites your ideal customer to buy it.
Last, you have to be able to commit to your book. The day you hit publish is just the start of the journey. Without your continued focus on sharing it with your ideal market, it will gather dust on the live or virtual shelf, negating all your hard work. And that’s a damn shame.
K: You’ve just bought a house in Spain. What’s next?
W&B: Big plans! We start the International Love Affair tour on May 14, where we’ll travel to 12 European cities in search of famous love stories, romantic activities, and sexy food and drink. It will be a six-week trip full of romance to promote the publication of this book.
We’re also giving away two rail passes from our sponsors at Eurail to one lucky couple so they can adventure around Europe, too. The drawing happens on May 15, so check for details on entering.
In the summer we’ll be at home in Spain, working on the next book on our roster. And then in the fall, we’re headed to the Pyrenees for a 3-week trek. We love the outdoors as much as you and Brian and have committed to doing a couple of these longer treks a year.
K: What are your long-term goals? Do you want to keep traveling or settle down in Spain? Do you want to keep writing books? What do you hope the next 10 years hold for you?
W&B: Our long-term goal is to continue doing what we love for as long as we love it. We can’t imagine ever not wanting to travel, but if that day comes we’ll stop. And we can’t imagine not wanting to write – we have four book ideas in our calendar right now, so there’s no shortage of inspiration. We bought this house in Spain as a long-term investment, so I hope we’ll continue living here for part of the year and become part of this warm and vibrant community.
We’re open to what opportunities will reveal themselves as we continue moving toward the life we want: one of adventure, mutual love, and respect, and surrounded by interesting, supportive people. What we’ve learned over the years is that you don’t have to know all the answers; you simply have to keep moving forward as a strong team and everything you need will be revealed.