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Meet Gary Hawkins, Yafei Zhu and Xaria Joy Hawkins

Today we’d like to introduce you to Gary Hawkins, Yafei Zhu and Xaria Joy Hawkins.

Gary, Yafei and Xaria Joy, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Gary Hawkins – Like many Americans, my wife and I are immigrants, although it seems an old-fashioned word to use when we live in such a multi-cultural society. Yafei was born in China and came to New York State in 1992 to continue her university schooling. I came from South West England and journeyed to the East Coast for work and a fresh start in 1995. We met in Arlington, Virginia, after a mutual friend suggested we should have lunch together. Fortunately, this good friend had realized the year before we had visited each other’s hometowns while traveling, and the rest is history. That was a little over twenty-five years ago 🙂. Wow, how time flies!

We got married in 2000 in New Jersey. After trying for over a decade to start a family, we were blessed to adopt our newborn daughter, Xaria Joy in January 2015. Finally, years of anguish were over for us. We named her Xaria Joy, the American meaning of the name Xaria is, “gift of love.” We like to believe Xaria is “our gift of love” from God, and so began another new and exciting chapter in our lives – it is truly a dream come true. Xaria is five now and is smart and fun-loving. Blue-eyed and blond-haired, she surprises many with her fluency in Chinese, as well as English. She has deep dimples and an infectious smile. She loves the simple things in life – family, pets, cuddly toys, plush blankets and the outdoors. She has a big soft spot for dogs, dirt and rollie pollies. Put two or more of these together, and she’s the happiest kid in the world.

We have both worked and held key positions in the telecommunication industry for the majority of our careers. While the jobs in corporate America were very rewarding, we believe there are other life experiences worth having. We had been discussing and preparing to retire early since 2009 in order to pursue other passions in life, and the arrival of our daughter further consolidated this plan. I started to develop our travel plans from 2017, and in September 2018, Yafei made the monumental step of quitting a long career with Qualcomm Technologies. Later that year, we started traveling the world with our daughter. Yafei and Joy (she’s quick to tell you she doesn’t like the name Xaria, she prefers her middle name Joy) initially traveled to China for two months, and Joy participated in a local Chinese preschool, which was a fabulous experience and really brought on her Chinese language skills. Then a ten-week trip to England followed shortly afterwards. After traveling to Mexico and New York in 2019, we have now started three months travel in New Zealand.

I had planned on retiring to pursue my passions in my early fifties inspired by my working-class parents who achieved the same goal thirty years earlier, while Yafei wanted to be a fully engaged parent during Joy’s formative years. Different goals in life have led us both to explore alternate lifestyles and ultimately transition away from the traditional American Dream to a simpler, family-centric traveling lifestyle.

As I planned our forthcoming adventures in 2018, my book titled ‘A Life Redesigned’ was born and this was published on Amazon in June 2019. Hours of research, planning, and pages of notes and information suddenly became something worthy to share with others. Our travels are not based on the usual sense of short-term trips to tick off another item on a bucket list. Rather, we try and visit places for weeks to months to get a feel for the community, experience the local culture and customs, and see how different peoples live. This experiential travel is focused on preparing our daughter for a rapidly changing future.

People may ask, “How can I afford this lifestyle?” My book, ‘A Life Redesigned’ puts travel in a whole new light. It is an A-to-Z Travel Bible that long-term travelers have been searching for, perhaps all their lives. This informative and , comprehensive book covers topics like how to take advantage of a wide range of accommodation options, including house sitting and co-living spaces, making money on the road by leveraging the rapidly growing digital economy, and how to successfully travel with children, including homeschooling. 

It also emphasizes the importance of sound financial planning to ensure you are on a sustainable path and looks at the many logistical issues that need addressing before you leave on your dream travel adventure. No matter whether you are getting close to retirement, a Millennial, or from Generation X, ‘A Life Redesigned’ gives you the tools to prepare for extended travel. Discover how to break free from the 9-to-5 grind that was the only option for the older generation. Follow your passion and start living life to the fullest – it’s never too late for A Life Redesigned!

Has it been a smooth road?
Yafei Zhu – I guess if you just look at our Facebook or Instagram feeds, you might get the impression this is the perfect life. However, if you read our blog (https://ourgiftoflove.com/), Gary’s book, or the many comments we post when answering questions on the travel forums we participate in, you’ll know this life certainly has its challenges.

2019 was particularly difficult relating to dealing with family dynamics while on the road. Being together 24/7 takes some getting used to. We probably dove into homeschooling a little overzealously and Joy rebelled. This caused us quite a bit of consternation, and we reached out to the homeschooling forums for advice. Based on feedback, we now take schooling less seriously – for one thing, Joy is still pre-school age – and she just soaks everything in she experiences, and thus learns naturally. Of course, we still try and teach basic reading and writing skills, but we don’t stress over how quickly these are being picked up because we see Joy is developing so rapidly in other areas like critical thinking.

Our travel in 2020 is starting off much better. Joy is now five, much more mature, more open to schooling and we’re much happier as a family unit. Now, we’re facing smaller challenges like finding the oven is not working, dealing with the fact we have no microwave, trying to reconnect Internet after maxing out the homeowner’s plan, persuading the dogs we’re looking after to go in their kennels, or dealing with a sick calf. These are all issues we’re tackling as we house-sit a one-hundred- acre farm in Featherston, New Zealand. We’re looking after a cat, four dogs, nine sheep, a dozen chooks (chickens) and fifty beef calves. To be honest, the sheep and the cows mostly look after themselves, although we do check them twice a day to ensure they all look healthy and secure. This involves ‘running the fences’ on the ATV. It’s the favorite part of Joy’s day, and way better than any ride at Disneyland.

I’m sure we will experience many more challenges in our future travels but if we keep a level head we can deal with them in the best way as a team. In some ways, the challenges make it much more fun and interesting, and that’s what life should be all about. This year we will travel for about seven months. In addition to New Zealand, we have plans to visit the Cook Islands (on the way back to the US from NZ), Alaska, Canada and attend the Grand Canyon Star Party – one of the largest astronomy gatherings in the South West. Our travel is made easier by a group of very supportive friends back in San Diego – they help us look after our house and Yafei’s aging parents.

Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
Gary Hawkins – As the author of ‘A Life Redesigned,’ I’m proud that the book is informative and reads well (my content and copy editors did a fantastic job), and that the book is opening people’s eyes to the possibilities of alternative ways to live. It’s one of the few books that cover long-term travel for couples or families. There are some great titles relating to backpacking as a younger person, but few books address the needs of families traveling for an extended time.

As someone that had a pretty successful career in the telecommunications arena, I’m also proud I’ve transitioned to being an author and a champion of alternative living. I’m way out of my wheelhouse and have redesigned my life to the fullest, and that makes life so much more fulfilling. Of course, I’m most proud of being a father, and someone who can offer their child opportunities that not everyone is lucky enough to have.

Yafei Zhu – I’m proud of a fifteen-year corporate career working for a Fortune 500 company. I’m now delighted to be a mother and “walking-the-walk” relating to embarking on a new and exciting lifestyle focused around our family. We are so blessed to be able to travel around the world with Joy and want to let people know that with the right preparation, this lifestyle is more accessible than you might think. Now I’m learning new things like social media, blogging and filmmaking as we tell our story to a wider audience, and enjoy being an ambassador for more sustainable and simple living.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
Yafei – We have been living in San Diego for twenty years. It’s a wonderful city – obviously, people come to vacation here all year long for the incredible climate and beaches. One of our favorite areas is the desert. We spend a lot of time camping and off-roading in an area that is beautiful and special. We also love the ocean, snorkeling, boogie boarding, walking along the beaches and hiking at Torrey Pines. In years gone by, Gary was a very active scuba diver who did over five hundred dives in the cold Pacific waters along our coast. In his opinion, these waters offer some of the best diving in the world if you’re appropriately equipped to deal with the cold water.

We have to say that things have changed in San Diego over the twenty years we’ve been here. Gary doesn’t like the increasing traffic or ever-increasing suburban sprawl, but people want to live so that needs addressing. That being said, it’s still an incredible city and we have no plans to move on.

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