Life was good for Linda Benton a few years ago. The Sydneysider was 28 and successful - she loved her job managing an architecture studio and dreamt of travelling in South America. And then she was made redundant.
But that was just the start of the story.
Within two weeks of losing her job, Benton was introduced to a young tax manager who had also just lost his job - and they fell head-over-heels in love. Within three months, Benton and David Rule were getting to know each other on a massive round-the-world backpacking trip. And two weeks after they left Australia he proposed to her on top of the Andes.
"A lot of people looked at us and were, 'Are you sure you want to do this?"' Benton admits with a laugh. "But it was love at first sight for us, we just knew it was right. And so within 12 weeks of packing up our lives and all of our belongings we were on a plane to Argentina. And we spent the next nine months just immersing ourselves in various cultures."
They fulfilled Benton's dream of travelling South America, climbed to Macchu Pichu, and moved on to the United States, where they fled gunfire in Chicago and (equally terrifyingly) drove in New York. They meandered through Britain, tried to camp on a volcano in Italy and Benton split her pants on a bus in Albania. Finally, they came home via Tokyo. It was a fairytale love story and like every fairytale it ended in a white wedding, in the Hunter Valley, once they were back in Australia. Now Benton and Rule have turned their story into the part-memoir, part-scrapbook Two Feet Forward and are coming to Canberra on the weekend to tell the story at Paperchain bookstore.
Was it a shock being made redundant? The answer is yes and no. Rule, who worked for an investment bank, was on holiday in London when he saw Lehman Brothers had crashed - a move that would soon have a flow-on effect on his own job. "So he had an inkling when he got home that there would be redundancies on the table," Benton says. She knew she was likely to be out of a job because she was managing a Sydney architecture studio and was expecting to hand over to another manager once she had finished organising the studio's workflow.
"That being said, however, we did lose a couple of key clients within a few weeks and our studio went from being 25 people to eight. So there was no one really there for me to manage."
Benton didn't panic when she found herself suddenly at a loose end.
"I was upset because I loved the job and I loved the people but I also felt that life had thrown me this golden opportunity to go and live my ultimate dream which was to travel the world," she says. And just weeks later one of Benton's friends mentioned that her brother had also been made redundant and suggested the two have a chat. Benton had met Rule briefly at a party once before, but knew little about him.
When they caught up at a tiny cafe in Lane Cove to share banana bread and cups of coffee, there was an instant spark. "Sometimes you meet people and you feel like you've known them your whole life. It was like we were old friends. And I suppose that's what really made it special," Benton remembers. Rule was so smitten he accompanied her grocery-shopping after their coffee date - and the rest is history.
When they discovered a mutual love of travel, Benton's ultimate dream became a shared one.
It was a huge gamble. "But it was something we felt in our hearts was right. I had been saving for a trip for a very long time, this had been my dream for five to 10 years. And David had also been saving," she says. The sudden relationship and life-changing trip raised eyebrows among their friends and family but Benton and Rule both have "a lot of common sense" and took a cautious approach to their sojourn.
They even gave themselves a "get out of jail free" card. "We only planned the first two months of our trip, because we thought that's a good enough plan, that's a good enough timeframe to get to know each other and know whether we want to continue travelling together."
They never needed to use it. In Peru on the first leg of their trip, Rule kept disappearing to change money and got mysteriously sick in Cuzco before they climbed the Inca Trail to Macchu Pichu. When they reached the lost city, after a three day trek, he got down on one knee on a grassy patch at the edge of the city overlooking the Andes. It turned out he'd been frantically searching for an engagement ring during his disappearances. Benton says yes, they were pretty much on top of the world when he proposed. "We were dizzy from the altitude anyway but after that we were on cloud nine," she laughs.
There are particularly special memories of Tuscany and the Cinque Terre. "We stayed in a seminary in Volterra which was beautiful. It was sort of up in the hill, outside the castle walls," she says. "You have this beautiful view over the valley and the vineyards and you can't hear anything except for the clock that struck every hour. And it was such a peaceful place."
The artist in her also enjoyed the rich landscape of the Cinque Terre. "I loved the colours of the buildings, the rich reds, the ochres, the yellows, I found that just breathtaking," she says. "Between the towns you're hiking through the vineyards and the olive groves and the lemon groves -- the backdrop is beautiful, beautiful blue ocean." Rule especially loved Sicily, where they could wander freely among ancient Roman ruins, and had his heart set on camping on a volcano at Stromboli (a practice that turned out to be banned, much to Benton's relief).
Travel is often a sharp corrective blow to any relationship - crowded days spent at close quarters, often unwashed and under pressure. But Benton swears there was no friction. Though there was a moment of terror in Chicago when a car pulled alongside them on a quiet suburban street as they walked to their hotel.
"We heard the driver yell out, 'Bang bang,' and his passenger... shoots a gun at us," Benton recalls, breaking into laughter that's still a little nervous. "And so we hear these pellets ricochet off the street sign about a metre in front of our heads and we literally ran the final three miles to the hotel. So that was quite a terrifying moment, I can laugh now but I was terrified." She has no idea why the man shot at them. "Probably just to scare us. I think they were just bored and wanted to have some fun at someone's else's expense."
Coming home after nine months abroad was exciting rather than an anti-climax. They wanted to share their engagement joy with their friends and family, and they were confident they would pick up jobs again. "We didn't think it would be a problem getting work when we came back, which was the case - David went straight back into the same company he had left nine months previously. So it worked out really, really well."
Two Feet Forward is billed as a memoir about "spending it all and seeing it all" and though the trip may have drained their savings, Benton says it was liberating to have nothing.
"It was wonderful to start our lives again from scratch, from nothing.
"We were both on the same level... you build the foundation of your life together," she says.
The idea of writing a book was always in the back of their minds while they were travelling. To learn the ropes, Benton - a graphic designer - took a contract job at a publishing house when they returned to Australia. Mindful that the book could end up being a mundane rehash of their massive trip, the couple turned it into a scrapbook, filled with photographs, journal entries, stories and recipes. And it's filling up their spare time - although they're working again, they're out promoting the book and the couple are hosting travel and food sessions with a Sydney cooking school. Benton manages the whole project. It's busy, she says. Like a full-time job.
Two Feet Forward by Linda Benton and David Rule is available in bookstores and online at twofeetforward.com.au.
They will appear at Paperchain Bookstore in Manuka on Sunday at 2pm. Bookings on 6295 6723.
The story Life was good - then losing their jobs made it even better first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.