David and Stephanie Bunten felt like they were stuck in a rut. After nearly 30 years of raising kids in the family home they owned in Cumming and building up two local businesses, the couple was more than ready for a change.
Their youngest son moved out, and as empty nesters, they knew they needed to downsize their life. They struggled to find out what exactly they wanted to do going forward.
They thought about possibly buying a small plot of land and continuing with what they have always done — going to work, coming home and enjoying the company of nearby friends and family.
They entertained the idea of even moving to the Caribbean, staying there and getting to know the area on one of the islands instead of just staying for a short visit — something they have always dreamed of doing.
Then, not too long after, they stumbled across some sailing videos on YouTube, and they started watching video after video. After hours of watching, the couple decided they could learn sailing too.
“When we started watching sailing videos, it just kind of dawned on us,” David said. “We don’t need to live on one island, we can live on all of them.”
So in 2017, they made a life-altering decision — they would sell their home, businesses and most of their possessions so they could take to the sea and sail around the world.
“We have always loved traveling,” Stephanie said. “We are water people, and we want to be in the Caribbean.”
The idea of making their dream into a reality was exciting for the couple as they started to make plans and take steps toward a new life together.
“Once you make that commitment and make that decision, then it’s a matter of … we have to start unwinding all this,” David said.
The two of them ended up starting the process by putting their house up for sale back in 2018. Selling the house took much longer than they expected, but they finally sold it and moved into a small apartment in North Forsyth last year. Then, it was time for them to start looking at boats.
After some time shopping, they ended up making an offer on a 41-foot catamaran sail boat located off the coast of South Carolina. David said they flew back to Atlanta after making the offer, and their broker met them at the airport to let them know that the offer had been accepted.
“We’re sitting in our hotel room, waiting for all of this to happen for us to actually own the boat,” David said. “And I remember when I got the email, it was like, ‘Honey, we own a boat now.’ Both of us looked at one another and we’re like, ‘Oh no, what do we do now?’”
Stephanie and David said they had many moments like this while selling their home and businesses, and they continued to have these moments all the way up until they were on the boat and ready to start anew.
“The emotions are like: Yes, I want to do this. This is exciting. I’m really pumped up about it,” David said. “And then when each little milestone comes, you’re like, ‘Ahh, this is going to happen.’ You freak out almost.”
David and Stephanie told themselves early on that if anything happened or if they decided life on the sea was not for them, they could always come back home, sell the boat and find an apartment again.
“There is nothing we can’t undo,” Stephanie said. “If we decide to come back in a year … It’s not a big deal. We can start where we left off.”
They had assurance that it was not a permanent change to their lives, but still, the process has been difficult for them at times. David said that anytime someone goes through a huge change in their lives, it can be scary and stressful.
“There’s periods of shock and anxiety and just, ‘Oh lord,’” David said, laughing. “When you’re changing 30 years of your life, something that you’ve always done, you question are we doing what we should be doing? And not [asking] should we be doing what everybody else is doing, which is continue to work until you’re 70 years old. That’s the mental battle there.”
David and Stephanie said that support from family, friends and community members has helped them to overcome some of the anxiety that has come with this change over the past couple of years. More than anything, looking ahead to when they are out on the water, enjoying their new life and looking forward to new adventures, has helped them to finally live out that dream.
Now, Stephanie and David are finally out at sea, enjoying some care-free time in South Carolina before sailing down to the Florida Keys to meet family for the holidays.
With the novel coronavirus still in full force, they don’t have a solid plan on where they want to go because they don’t know where ports will still be open. After spending Christmas in Florida, they hope to go south to islands near the coast before eventually reaching the Caribbean.
They are still unsure of where they might go after that, but the couple said they are going to plan as they go. To follow their adventure, family, friends and community members are following the couple through social media. David said he has been trying to get more in-tune with technology the past year or so to be able to document the trip.
They named their Facebook, Instagram and YouTube accounts ‘Sailing From Samsara,’ referring to a belief in Hinduism and Buddhism that a person lives, dies and is born again. It’s an endless cycle of rebirth until the person is able to reach Nirvana, a state of enlightenment.
David said he felt the name was perfect as this is their opportunity to escape from samsara and try something new after years and years of living habitually.
They also wanted to take the opportunity to share their journey and how they got to where they are with others who might be thinking about changing their own lives.
“First off, I want to be honest with people,” David said. “It’s not easy to change your life. So many times you see these things where they did this thing, but you have no idea how they did it. It’s like ‘Oh man, we’re out here sailing around the world or we’re out here living in an RV,’ and it's like OK, but what did it take to do that?”
They believe their story might be able to help others who might be questioning if they need a change. For now, the couple is also just excited to be able to begin their adventure, along with their cat, Ginger, and enjoy living in the moment.
“We’ve had the business and the home and the nice cars,” Stephanie said. “Now we want to create experiences and memories and not have all the material things.”