A sustainable world tour as sabbatical

Carolin Muschalik and Lukas Figge-Muschalik met in 2014, when Lukas was doing a PhD and Carolin was finishing her master’s at Maastricht University. One year ago they left on a trip around the world, intending to explore, enjoy life and satisfy their curiosity, but also to contribute to a more sustainable world. Exactly where it would take them, they didn’t know. And they still haven’t returned. “We’re going with the flow, going with the slow. We’ll see where we end up.”

The photos and videos on their Instagram (@green.kangaroos) are enviable: Swimming with turtles in a crystal-clear sea in Belize, riding horses in Mexico, exploring the stunning landscapes of Costa Rica and Guatemala, surfing the coast of Nicaragua. And the couple appears to be deeply in love. “Things are going well,” Carolin agrees this Monday in April via a WhatsApp call from Popoyo in Nicaragua.

“We’ve been on the road for exactly a year now. We had to get used to it at first, find a rhythm. A hostel room for two is a far cry from a spacious apartment in Maastricht, where we each had a job and a social life. And there was the urge to see everything, to experience it all. We thought we had to go to Latin America, Australia, Southeast Asia. We put pressure on ourselves. We’ve let go of that now. Instead of rushing all the time, we realized that we want to take it slow, that we want to be absorbed in life. Be with people and nature, learn, roll up our sleeves and contribute in a meaningful way. And it works for us - there’s a great sense of freedom this way.”

Fragility of nature

Exactly, Lukas chimes in. “We don’t want to be the wealthy Westerners who just come to dabble in the culture. We’re looking for that connection with culture, nature and sustainability. We do volunteering and work-exchanges from time to time; for example, here in Popoyo we’re working in a small hotel focused on surf tourism (@cafeconlechenica). It’s a hotel that supports the local community, with an eye for the beauty and fragility of nature. We have to be careful with our planet, and that’s something we try to convey through our social-media posts. Between the two of us we split a daily eight-hour shift in the hotel. The rest of the time we spend surfing, doing yoga, watching sunsets, and connecting with guests and locals. Going with the flow, with the slow. Wonderful.”

Golden ticket

Lukas is 36, Carolin 35. Not the typical ages for travelling. “Probably not,” Carolin says. “I’d been planning to travel for years, but hadn’t got around to it. After my bachelor’s and master’s at the University of Duisburg-Essen I had the opportunity to do a master’s in Health and Social Psychology in Maastricht. It was a golden ticket. I’d heard so many good things about Problem-Based Learning, the collaboration, the lack of hierarchy and access to lecturers and professors. I didn’t want to pass that up for a gap year. And I’m glad I didn’t, because Maastricht University lived up to all my expectations. I really enjoyed it. Then I was offered a PhD position, another golden ticket. After that corona happened.”

Not to mention the relationship with Lukas, who moved to Maastricht in 2007 for a bachelor’s in International Economics, followed by a master’s and PhD at the Maastricht Sustainability Institute. After that he worked as a Lecturer at the SBE for four years. “We met during a vegan cooking workshop,” he says, recalling that unforgettable day in the spring of 2014. “We got talking, sparks flew and we turned out to have a lot in common. An interest in sustainability and nature, among other things.”


Taking the plunge

The idea to travel the world with an emphasis on sustainability gradually took root. “Particularly for Carolin”, Lukas admits. “I always said, ‘I’ll join you.’ We got married in 2019 after living together for a few years, and the travel plans were more or less ready. Corona threw a spanner in the works, but fortunately we both had jobs. That meant we could save. Early last year we took the plunge. We made a plan, cancelled our rental contract, sold almost all of our furniture and left in April 2022.”

A brave decision for two young people just getting established in their careers. “I only had a temporary lectureship,” says Lukas, “and besides, I didn’t—and still don’t—know exactly what I want. I may change careers completely and do something with adventure travels. During this trip I have arranged internships for SBE students in the Emerging Market specialization, and I continue to supervise MBA students remotely.”

Practical experience

Carolin has no clear-cut plan either. “But we’ve already gained some great practical experiences, working in a conservation project for turtles or a farm with rescued horses. On an organic farm, in an eco-dive and research centre, at a community project that cleans beaches. As for later, I see myself as a therapist who helps people through contact with animals. We’ll definitely return to Europe, probably Germany. Thanks to Maastricht, where we laid the foundation for this wonderful adventure.”

Text: Jos Cortenraad
Photography: Carolin Muschalik and Lukas Figge-Muschalik