The Enchilada
Cape Cod Times 11/21/02
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Garvin and Karen's 'enchilada'


Like a lot of grooms, he didn't want to know anything about his fiancee's wedding dress until he saw her walk down the aisle. So the bride-to-be and her mom used a code word when they wanted to talk about the dress.

They referred to it as "the tortilla."

Garvin Thomas Snell and Karen Crocker Snell practice their hitchhiking technique along Route 132 in Hyannis. They're quitting their jobs as Boston TV-news reporters to spend a year traveling around the world.
(Staff photo by STEVE HEASLIP)

After their Sept. 22, 2001, wedding, Garvin Thomas Snell and Karen Crocker Snell began talking in earnest about another secret, one that had been on their minds for several years, "something bigger than a tortilla," he says.

The new code name: "the enchilada."

The new mission for the Snells: Spend a year traveling around the world.

Why all the secrecy about the trip? "You hate to be the people who always talk about it and never go," says Garvin.

They're going. On Dec. 1, the Snells (who use Garvin Thomas and Karen Crocker as their on-air names in their jobs as reporters for Boston TV stations) will pull out of the driveway of Garvin's parents' Yarmouthport home. They'll drive to California, leave the car with relatives and fly to New Zealand. After that they plan to travel to Australia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, China, Russia, Europe, South Africa, Namibia, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica and Mexico.

"There is so much preparation: taking care of visas, vaccinations and plane tickets," says Karen. "Reading the tour books is something we look forward to. People ask what we look forward to the most. It's the places we don't know about yet."

Except for some overseas flights, they'll be traveling by car, bus and train, with some hoofing it here and there. They spent last Friday morning researching backpacks suitable for carrying the tent, sleeping bags and few belongings they'll be toting.

'Luxury' items

Contestants on TV's "Survivor" get to bring a luxury item with them when they go to a remote area. We asked Garvin Thomas Snell and Karen Crocker Snell if there were any not-absolutely-necessary-but-sure-want-to-have-it items they plan to bring on their globe-trotting trip.

For both: "Running shoes," says Garvin. "As we were going through our packing list, we realized those were things we didn't 'need' to travel around the world, but it just wouldn't be us if we didn't go for runs in some of the great places we're going to be."

For Garvin: "Maybe a shortwave radio to listen to the BBC in the middle of nowhere and find out what's happening in the world," he says. "But we run the risk of being too connected. It seems like every bar in the world has CNN. Part of the idea of the trip is to get away from that."

For Karen: "I'm not skimping on the moisturizer," she says. "I am a woman."

"We spent so much time on pre-trip planning, putting stuff in storage and getting our finances in order that getting a backpack is about the last thing we're doing," says Garvin, a 1984 graduate of Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School.

"It was such a big adventure we were planning," says Karen. "We started buckling down a few months ago, figuring out how could we make this work."

To take the trip, Garvin, 36, is giving up his job at WHDH (Channel 7), where he's won New England Emmy Awards for reports on the deadly 1999 Worcester fire and the 2000 presidential debates. Karen, 29, is leaving her job at WBZ (Channel 4).

They didn't ask for leaves of absence; as Garvin says, "That's not the way the TV business works."

"There's always someone right behind you to take your place," says Karen.

"People change jobs all the times," says Garvin. "It's not like we're on track to be partners in a law firm. It's a career where you can drop out for a year. There's no reason we can't come back to better jobs. We don't take leaving our jobs lightly, but we're confident enough in our abilities to know we'll be able to survive when we come back.

"We'll be different somehow after the trip," he adds. "We'll figure out whether we still want to do this ..."

"Or live in a hut and teach tai chi," says Karen.

The Snells say their bosses, work colleagues, friends and family have all reacted the same way.

"People say, 'Great, good luck. I've always wanted to do it.'" says Garvin.

"We've been trying to figure out what makes us different," says Karen.

Garvin thinks he knows. "We couldn't think of a reason not to do it," he says.

Once they decided to do the trip now instead of after raising children, the couple began saving as much money as they could. That meant, among other things, fixing brown-bag lunches at their apartment in Boston's South End and giving up dinners out. Then they moved out of the apartment and moved in with Garvin's parents, commuting to Boston for their last month of work.

"There's no trust fund," says Karen. "We're backpacking."

"Anywhere we'll be, we'll be trying to spend as little as possible," says Garvin. Their budget calls for an average of $60 a day for food, lodging and ground transportation.

The Snells created a Web site ( to let friends and family know the details of their plan. After their journey was mentioned in the Boston Herald's gossip column and an e-mail newsletter for broadcasters, they started to receive a steady flow of advice.

When it comes to travel knowledge, Garvin says, "Everybody sounds like a rocket scientist to us."

Karen says the most helpful information has been the list of contacts they've compiled.

"For this to work, we have to have a mix of hostels, camping and staying with people," she says. "We're reaching out to the people who say, 'Stop in when you're passing through.' We're staying with them."

Adds Garvin, "People who say, 'Call my Uncle Joe in Australia' - we're calling Uncle Joe."

The Snells expect that home stays will give them a more in-depth way of seeing places and experiencing people.

"We want to get just enough off the beaten path to meet people who don't meet Westerners all the time," he says.

From a travel book, they culled the idea of assigning themselves a mission for the trip.

"Instead of opening a tour book, if you're into musical instruments, you find the person in that town who makes them," says Garvin. "It's a contrivance to get to meet people who don't meet tourists every day."

Karen's mission will be to collect recipes during the trip, as a way of getting into people's kitchens and spending time cooking with them. Garvin says he hasn't decided on a mission yet, but hopes to discover one on the road.

The Snells will take along a digital camera and plan to update their Web site now and then, but will not file any reports for their television stations.

They make one prediction: "God knows we're going to be lost a lot," says Karen.

So while they're in their final days of working in Boston, they've made it a mission to assist tourists there.

"We go out of our way to help if we see someone who looks lost," says Garvin. "We'll cross against traffic to get to them."

"I was so anxious to help someone that I think I startled them," says Karen.

"We want to build up a reservoir of good karma," says Garvin.

(Published: November 21, 2002)