In 2020, Allison Andrews plans to visit 50 places she’s never been. It’s all part of a plan spun from unexpected life changes — and a determination to adapt.
by Vanessa Infanzon
Three years ago, Allison Andrews questioned the direction of her life after her 23-year marriage ended. It didn’t help that it coincided with her decision to leave a longtime job as a local television producer.
“I felt like everything was coming at me at once,” Andrews, 49, says. “I needed to decide what it all meant.”
During the turmoil, Andrews woke one night with a revelation: She hadn’t considered what she wanted for more than two decades. Long ago, Andrews chose to focus on her family rather than follow a childhood dream of becoming a reporter. Now, she needed to find out what was important to her.
These realizations led to Andrews creating Milemarker50, a project to anchor herself to a better future. It’s about Andrews turning 50 on February 8, but it’s also about figuring out her next steps as a single working mother.
“We all have stuff that happens to us, in us, around us,” she explains, “and there are people who roll with it better than others. There are others who dig their feet in and don’t want to change. For me, it’s making the decision to adapt to my new circumstances.”
Andrews was born in Charleston, S.C., but grew up in Indiana, the oldest of six siblings. She lives in Mooresville with her daughter Sidney, 15. Andrews is CEO of Andrews Creative, providing content for corporations, producing for local television — she worked at WCNC for 17 years before going out on her own — and speaking at conferences about women entrepreneurs. Her freelance writing has been published in The Washington Post, Good Housekeeping and the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her first children’s book, Adventures of Sid and Eli, will be released in the spring.
Over the next year, Andrews has decided to visit 50 national and international places she’s never been. She has set a few guidelines for the project. For example, a stay must be at least eight hours and include exploring and talking to the people who live there — layovers in an airport don’t count. But Milemarker50 is more than just a travel adventure for Andrews — in planning this project, she began to realize that she can do things she’s never done.
“Milemarker is about what do you do with those moments that change you,” she says. “It’s more than trips for me.”
Significant changes happen to everyone. Many of these milestones are associated with the end of a relationship, a health diagnosis, job loss or loss through death, says Patricia Fisher, a licensed clinical social worker in Charlotte. When something unexpected happens, people feel threatened or frightened, Fisher says. They operate with the effects of stress where options seem limited. The brain kicks into survival mode, and then it’s difficult to embrace the change or recognize how there can be growth from the experience, Fisher says. She recommends people find a balance between reflecting on a substantial shift and finding a healthy distraction to move forward from the pain.
“Our minds prefer to stay in a certain rhythm,” Fisher says, “and I think that whenever we can step into new situations and projects, it can serve as a ‘waking up’ to a broader vision of who we are.”
Worrying about how to fund this project has been Andrews’ biggest concern. It’s taken two years of intentional saving to fund Milemarker50, and even still, she worries she might not have enough. She’s cut back on eating dinners out, taken on extra work and canceled services such as lawn care and house cleaning. She saved most of her tax refunds and hasn’t taken any vacations for two years. A couple of recent real-estate investments helped boost her savings.
Sidney Andrews — who describes herself as her mom’s sidekick — is helping Andrews in her own way. “I have supported her by helping her save money, and I even got a job so I can buy things I don’t need, but I want.” She’s also been helping by showing her mom new ways to promote her travels on Instagram.
Committing to Milemarker50 forced Andrews to buy life insurance for the first time and complete a will and power of attorney forms. It’s also meant investing in her health.
“I didn’t want to start all this travel and not be physically ready,” Andrews says. “So, I’ve made every appointment I’ve skipped in the last few years — mammogram, annual exam, eye exam — and I’ve started boxing at RockBox with my daughter to train for the more strenuous trips.”
Charting new territory
As of early December, Andrews had mapped out more than 30 locations for Milemarker50. Hilton Head and Tybee Island are on the list. For one trip, Andrews will hike to the site of an old plane crash off the Blue Ridge Parkway. She’s heading to Spain, Italy, Greece, France and Iceland. Sidney will accompany her mom on a few of next year’s trips, including one to Paris to celebrate her 16th birthday.
Parts of the schedule are fluid, and some itineraries will be based around her book release date and seasonal pricing and activities. Andrews and her daughter want to include a mission or service-oriented trip. She’s also applied for a permit to hike the Wave in Arizona with a longtime friend. It’s a 5.2-mile hike to a red sandstone formation near the Utah/Arizona border in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.
She’s also using this project to face — and hopefully overcome — a few fears.
“I’m taking a solo trip, which totally terrifies me,” Andrews says. “I’m not sure how that will go, but people tell me their solo trips were their favorite trips ever.”
She’ll spend her birthday with her four sisters and mom in Key West. Andrews’ sister, Rene Monnot, understands how this journey is about becoming stronger.
“I think Allison has always paired physical doing with where she is emotionally, spiritually and mentally,” Monnot says. “Over the course of the last several years, she’s been going through changes and deciding who she wants to be and how she wants her life to look outside those changes. This is her way of getting back to her ability to dream, her way to facing fear and doing things on her own.”
Giving up control is another test in Andrews’ journey. For at least one trip, she’s enlisting the help of Pack Up + Go, a Pittsburgh-based online travel company that plans three-day excursions based on travel type (by air or car), budget and interests. Andrews won’t find out where she’s going until the day of the trip. The company arranges transportation, accommodations and a suggested itinerary.
Andrews starts Milemarker50 this month with a mother-daughter trip — and an open mind and heart. She’s challenging herself to talk to strangers during her travels. She wants to ask people about their mile markers, and how they’ve handled change in their life. She wants to connect and spend time with the people she loves and let the experience take her where it may.
“This project is keeping me grounded and helping me dream on my own again,” she says. “It’s giving me purpose and control. It’s reminding me what I’m capable of.” SP
Once Andrews started sharing her plans for Milemarker50, others began sharing ideas for saving time and money when traveling. Here are a few tips she’s using this year to make her adventure easier and cost effective:
• Sign-up for Scott’s Cheap Flights (scottscheapflights.com) for free access to deals on international flights. Or, pay $49 a year for premium features such as mistake fares and rare deals.
• Leverage credit card points for airline miles. Use your everyday purchases to gain points that could be used for travel.
• Join hotel programs for perks and free rooms. Get special attention when you remain loyal to a brand. Find out which hotel works best for you and rack up points whenever you stay there.
• Follow the free booze. Hotels such as Kimpton, Embassy Suites and Drury Inn offer free happy hour drinks. Some also offer free food.
• Get TSA Precheck before traveling. It costs $85 and is good for five years. It allows you to go through a separate (and typically shorter) security line, with no need to remove shoes or jacket or take out your laptop or toiletries from carry-on bags.