A Family RTW Travel Adventure (2008-2009)
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Learning Curve


I have always been devoted to manuals.  I used one to prepare me for Caroline’s birth.  And after bringing her home, I consulted another about how to actually care for our new baby.

But here’s the thing: my in-car frantic final stage of labor was not in the book.  And none of those words in the baby-raising guide were really getting me any closer to feeling like the good mom I wanted to be.

The longer I kept my brow furrowed over things I read, the longer it took me to trust myself and my own experience.

I am embarrassed to say that in preparation for our trip I repeated this same mistake yet again and spent countless hours studying what to expect when you are traveling around the world with your family for a year.

How should we segment our time to include schoolwork?  What shoes should I take?  Should we schedule hostels well in advance, or do it on the fly?  I would read enough to have it all worked out and things would all run seamlessly.

Yet, no matter how much I’d read, until we actually got on the road, just like when we brought home that new baby, I couldn’t possibly have known what to expect.

At 4 months in to the adventure, I realize that my skills cannot really be improved with more reading.  (It’s exactly the same timeline as when I began giving myself permission to stop counting every single nap or baby feeding.)

Since July, we’ve become smarter packers.  Craig can find the cellphone charger in 20 seconds; Conor can replace dirty socks in the blink of an eye; Caroline can squeeze her overstuffed cubes filled with cute tops into her backpack singlehandedly!  I am no longer unraveled by the stacks of our omnipresent fleeces, raincoats, and travel towels.

And we’re getting more clever at how we spend money.

Grocery store food prepared in the hostel kitchen costs us far less than restaurants; we’ve learned how to walk through gift shops and markets in an admiring way without actually feeling the need to buy; we’ve replaced our earlier tendencies to hire a driver/guide or to hop in a cab, instead figuring out a city’s public transportation system and walking.

Books away, in everyday traveling (and parenting) moments, we’re learning little by little, and sometimes again and again.


1 Doug Spiro { 12.15.08 at 10:09 am }

It is like the wise woman once said, “Learn by doing.”

Reading about your adventures helps me get through the day. Keep them coming!!

2 Gillian { 12.15.08 at 10:49 am }

I’m feeling that way about my research – am I doing all this reading and preparing only to find that none of it will be relevant once we’re on the road? I’ve come to the conclusion that it is relevant, but that I have to expect that traveling may not be anything like what I’ve planned! Good post – I’m enjoying following you all.

3 Elizabeth { 12.15.08 at 12:06 pm }

Well said. Once you can relax into it and be bouyant with the flow, it becomes less stressful. That said, it takes a while to allow yourself to not feel the pressure to follow “the book.”

4 Claudette (James Family of the North) { 12.15.08 at 2:54 pm }

I couldn’t agree more. It’s a very hard experience to explain to others. You just have to learn by doing to know what works best for your family.

Keep up the great blog, I know it can be hard at times, but I’m enjoying re-living some of our trip through your adventures.

Have a Merry Christmas, and a great adventurous New Year.
The James’ of the North.

5 ST { 12.15.08 at 6:14 pm }

I’ve never been a manuals’ kinda girl,often to my detriment. I think it’s a constitutional distrust of authority.

I do rely on friends who are experts in the subjects of their passions.

But as a traveller, I’m a back pack & jeans, call for the cheapest flight to somewhere, get on the wait list, arrive, & g0 to to the Tourist Information Center for help finding best located, cheap accommodations.

I never read guidebooks. I like surprises. I miss great stuff. I find great stuff.

I like the experience of arriving in an unknown city–Moscow, Berlin
–& finding my way.

(Of course I would not approach traveling this way if I had younguns in tow.)

And sometimes I wouldn’t have over-salted the stew or overcooked the fish if I’d consulted a cookbook. On the other hand . . . . I wouldn’t have produced the glorious 5-day soup . . . . .

Love to you Dani, thinking of you, st

6 Kate Cohen { 12.16.08 at 11:25 am }

Are you saying that none of the books you read had tips like Shop at Grocery Stores and Take Buses Not Cabs in them? Or that you can’t really take in that kind of information if it’s not actually part of your daily life? Is there a place for the how-to? Is there anything you read that you HAVE found helpful?

I think there’s a strong urge, if you’ve gone through an incredible learning experience, to share all you’ve learned, to write that insider’s guide book, post the blog, advise your daughter-in-law. Is there a similar human tendency not to be able to learn it from someone else? Should I stop giving people advice on how to get their kids to eat vegetables?

7 Kay { 12.16.08 at 12:52 pm }

So true!

We spent nearly every weekend at REI, EMS, or on some online outdoor travel website doing WAY TOO MUCH research for the 18 months prior to our trip.

In the end, we should have just brought an empty backpack, passports, good walking shoes, a camera, and a change of underwear. Everything else you can buy/learn/make/do/get when you arrive, regardless of the continent!

Your posting brought a much needed laugh to my day, Thanks 🙂

8 Simon (TheBowmansTravels.co.uk) { 12.16.08 at 7:27 pm }

We found on our trip that with information comes the ability to make a reasoned decision what is appropriate for the situation.

If you have no information/background to a particular situation then you do not give yourself the best chance to making the right choice at that moment.

Whether information comes from the www/books/talking to other travellers it is all 2nd hand information that you have to assimilate and find the best reaction.

When we found ourselves outside a railway station on the darkest outskirts of Mumbai at 1am, we had to think fast and rely on all our assimilated experiences of the trip to get ourselves away safely and into accomodation. The ability to achieve this came form our total acquired knowledge – Books, internet, experience, hearsay, common sense, etc – All contribute to your given knowledge base at any given time in your trip.

..in my opinion. Please feel free to differ, loving your blog – keep loving the trip and don’t waste a minute – it’s a long time finished!


9 Longhorn Dave { 12.18.08 at 4:07 pm }

Great post. I say just do it!

I realized early on that research on the web can be a HUGE time suck. It is great to find every detailed bit of info you can on a place and have a nice plan on attack.

But most likely your plan gets thrown out the window once you land. It can be hard balancing the research time with the need to be informed and the benefit all that research actually gives you once you arrive.

We found a good small reference book is all we really needed for Argentina and we winged it most places we visited. Things turned out so much better than fretting for weeks about where and what to see.

10 Warren McBride { 12.26.08 at 7:07 am }

You’ve just described the best type of travel … MORE inexpensive but MORE interesting and MORE adventure ! ! !
The McBrides of Ottawa Canada (The “Snowfree” World Travellers)

11 Laura { 12.30.08 at 6:57 pm }

Just wanted to say I am incredibly inspired by you and your family. I completely get what you’re saying about relying on books – I tend to lean on them way too much myself! Bravo to you for being able to let go of some of your preconceived notions of what travel should be like. On a different note, I write a parenting blog, and I just wanted to let you know that I am going to be doing a little weekly update on the James family adventures. I would love to expose more parents (particularly here in the States) to the possibility of Round the World Travel. Good luck to you!

12 Monte T. { 01.01.09 at 10:05 pm }

Happy New Year from good old Silver Spring. We tried to stay up to midnight, but when Molly fell asleep in the car on the way home from an early dinner (and before heading out to a second party in TP), we lost our momentum and went to bed early. Today, Molly and I went to see the Majestic to see Baz Luhrman’s Australia (and thought of you). The movie is a classic Hollywood style ripping yarn and tear jerker, but with a powerful message of reconciliation. It could not have been done before this year (and Kevin Rudd’s decision to have Federal Parliament finally say sorry). Wait till you get home to see it — it will remind you of what a unique place Oz is.

Our our best and good luck on the rest of your wander.

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