A Family RTW Travel Adventure (2008-2009)
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Category — Pre-Trip

The Story So Far

If you’ve just arrived and want to know the backstory to this adventure, check out the posts we link to below. Or you can skip ahead to Quito using the link in the upper right hand corner of this post.

Since this blog first launched in November 2007, subscribers to this site have:

Read these posts and you’ll have a pretty good understanding of what led us to this point. Or, skip the backstory and just enjoy the travelogue. Either way, we’re glad you stopped by.

Last night I was doing some final packing, shuffling favorites on my iPod. Just as I was about to call it quits for the evening, a Bruce Springsteen song put the trip in perspective for me:

Now all that’s sure on the boulevard
Is that life is just a house of cards
As fragile as each and every breath
Of this child sleeping in our bed.
Tonight let’s lie beneath the eaves
Just a close band of happy thieves
And when that train comes we’ll get on board
And steal what we can from the treasures of the Lord.


Next stop: Quito.

July 23, 2008   11 Comments

Toot & Puddle

When our kids were toddlers, Dani and I would take turns reading to them each night. Both loved to hear the adventures of Toot & Puddle, two endearing pigs from Woodcock Pocket.

These two best friends couldn’t be more different. Toot is an adventurer, longing to see the world.  Puddle is a homebody, most content when enjoying familiar rhythms and routines.

One day, Toot takes off to see the world. He invites Puddle to come too, but being the home-pig that he is, he decides to stay in Woodcock Pocket.

Throughout his year of travel Toot sends postcards from exotic destinations, sharing his adventures with his friend at home. Toot scales cliffs in the Alps, visits an Italian pastry shop, swims with hippos in Africa, takes a camel ride through Egypt and more.

Puddle, meanwhile, enjoys life at home, celebrating everyday moments in familiar surroundings. He spends his days gathering maple sap for syrup, playing in spring mud, painting a self-portrait, or trying out a Halloween mask.

At the end of a year, Toot and Puddle reunite and share their experiences.

As we make our final preparations to leave, each of us seems to be alternating between the sentiments of Toot and Puddle: Eager for new experiences on the one hand; deeply wistful for our everyday life on the other.

Emotions are running high around our house. We are looking forward to our once in a lifetime journey.  At the same time, we are looking forward to our return, and will be eager to hear from family and friends about life at home.

For now, we are content to enjoy a few final hometown adventures until this time next year.

Caroline Swimming

Dani and Craig

I have a feeling that if Toot traveled today, there’d be no more postcards.  He’d be blogging his way around the world. And Puddle would enjoy it all the more.

[Note: Thanks to John Whealan for the wonderful pictures of Caroline, Dani and Craig.]

July 20, 2008   7 Comments

Gearing Up

I’m the first to admit it’s a bit twisted to talk about the gear we’re buying for this trip so soon after I’ve written about how good it feels to get rid of our belongings. What can I say? I’m a walking contradiction.

Not to mention a gadget freak.

So here are some of my “finds” – gear that may or may not be useful on our trip.

The ASUS eeePC (below left) is an amazing little computer – not big enough to be a workhorse laptop – but definitely more useful than a Blackberry-type device.

The Nokia E61 (below right) is a very nice unlocked quad-band phone. I’ve installed a MaxRoam world SIM card and TruPhone software that provides the option of low cost international calling over wi-fi networks.


The Leatherman Wave. 18 Tools. A Million Solutions. Say No More.


Dani found the SteriPen – a UV device that will sterilize water. Not something to use every day, but when you need it, you really need it.


This little gadget is truly amazing – the Aiptek HD video camera. It shoots nice quality HD video and fits in the palm of your hand. Best of all – it cost just $140.

Aiptek Camera

Finally, there’s the IronKey, an encrypted USB flash drive that comes preloaded with Firefox. It facilitates safe web surfing in Internet cafes and helps to protect your passwords. It may not be foolproof, but it does give another level of protection.


And, it is worth noting, the picture also contains the best pen on the market today: The Pilot G-2 Gel Pen. Combine it with a Moleskine notebook and you become a bonafide travel writer.

July 14, 2008   12 Comments

Roadschooling Too


When we last discussed the issue of roadschooling, we were considering working with Learning Community International, a Maryland-based organization that initially seemed excited about working with us.

But when the time came to put together a course of study, we felt their interest in working with us had waned (to put it charitably), and we decided to look at other options.

We considered a broad range of possibilities:

  • Nonschooling (probably the best idea, but it’s hard to make the leap);
  • Unschooling–I swear, this is a legitimate movement;
  • On-line schooling presented by Maryland’s Department of Education (sadly, ironically, the county we live in does not yet approve our state’s online curriculum);
  • Making up our own customized “curriculum” to reflect the places we would be visiting;
  • Purchasing the Montgomery County curriculum and administering it ourselves, figuring out how to manage the legally required periodic reviews by homeschooling office personnel (fly them to Thailand?, Budapest?);

However, none of these options would put us in the best position to accomplish Caroline’s ardent wish: To graduate high school with her peers.

It’s important to her, and we didn’t want our wanderlust to put her ability to graduate with the class of 2012 in jeopardy.

Ultimately we settled on the most “conventional” of the unconventional choices open to us. We enrolled Caroline and Conor in online private homeschool programs that have been accredited by Montgomery County, Maryland.

Both kids are enrolled in Griggs International Academy’s online homeschooling program. The school provides a comprehensive, county and state accredited curriculum and will supervise and grade schoolwork and provide transcripts at completion.

We also registered Conor in a math class at the impressive Calvert School.

One thing we learned so far in this process: The text book industry is far, far behind in the digital revolution.

We have had to dedicate one piece of luggage to text books. There are no online or CD-ROM versions of books the kids will be using in their studies.

At some point, not long from now, I imagine text books as we know them will be a thing of the past. But for now, they represent about forty extra pounds we’ll be hauling around the world.

RoadSchooling Kit

July 9, 2008   7 Comments

Shedding Our Skin

Junk in the Trunk

We didn’t have to call the folks at Junk in the Trunk, but we could have. Instead we stuffed our Ford Freestyle with 15 years worth of things we probably didn’t need to begin with and delivered the load to a local charity.  (And soon the Freestyle will be gone too).

As we purged belongings I was appalled by the sheer volume of stuff that had come to rest in our house.


I have to admit: I am looking forward to shedding my skin, traveling light, and learning once again what is essential. This trip is an opportunity to drop weight, physical and psychological.

A friend asked: “How do you pack for a year?” I said: “You don’t. You pack for 4 days and repeat 90 times.”

We each get to walk out the door with a backpack and a small personal bag. We have a large-ish rolling suitcase that will contain the kids’ roadschooling materials. That’s it.

Bruce Springsteen said it better than me: “We’ll take what we can carry, and we’ll leave the rest.”

Packed Up

Even so, as I look at our bags, I am reminded of the saying —
When traveling, take half as much stuff and twice as much money.

July 2, 2008   5 Comments

Comings and Goings

It’s become habit.

Each morning I log on to my computer to check for dispatches from the dozen or so families and travelers I have been tracking around the world.

RSS reports arrive from far-flung places like Puerto Montt, Tokyo, Cairns, Siem Reap, Cappadocia and Durban. Each post brings a new adventure, a new lesson or a new idea for a place to explore.

As our departure date approaches (under a month), I’ve started to think more and more about these travelers, where they are in the arc of their journeys, and where they are headed next.

Some are heading home, others just starting.

Below I’ve listed a few of the blogs I’ve been tracking. They are the perfect distraction if you are looking for travel information, inspiration, or an interesting story.

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June 25, 2008   16 Comments

Fear of Flying


No. It’s not what you think.

But insects – the flying kind that buzz and click and clumsily bump into you – cause a knee-jerk, gut-level, stone-cold panic in me.

Once, driving my Miata on a curvy parkway at night, a huge, loud cicada dropped onto the dash and if it weren’t for Craig grabbing the wheel as I flailed and screamed, I don’t think I’d be here writing this.

The sight of an approaching bee (or sometimes even a large lumbering fly) has had me tossing a full picnic plate in the air, sprinting for safer ground.

At an outdoor coffee shop, I leapt into the lap of our teenage babysitter when a big bug dove toward our table. Another time I tore off my T-shirt at a campsite when, minding my own business, I wandered into a swarm of yellow jackets.

The summer of 2004 was almost the end of me as thousands of cicada larvae in our region pushed through the ground to adulthood and dried out their wings to fly around for a few weeks. I still have nightmares thinking about their enormous orange eyes and the crazy clacking sound they make.

My friend Martha got married outdoors 17 years ago during the previous cicada invasion. She tells a story about the ceremony: Industrial lawn vacuums sucked up the bug corpses that littered the lawn before the wedding. Later, at the reception, ladies’ hats and hairdos were made macabre by the ancient creepy creatures, their legs tangled in tulle and chignons.

I added this image to my ever-growing list of bug horrors.

It has occurred to me that possibly, just maybe, there might be a few flying insects along the way as we travel around the world. Some, perhaps, in the Amazon; a couple more in Australia… could there be any in Southeast Asia?

As I considered how to deal with my “issue”, I found a very helpful post at Women On The Road, a great travel site for women.

The author suggests that maintaining a sense of denial about your fears and assuming that you can work it out in the moment is definitely NOT the best strategy. “The worst thing you can do is keep pushing forward while ignoring your travel phobias or thinking they’ll simply disappear.”

Craig is afraid I’ll jump off a cliff or out of a moving bus if surprised by a buzzing flyer. So, I suppose I’ll call the Ross Center for Anxiety Disorders after all and ask for an intense session sometime before our departure.

But I think I could resolve the whole problem most easily by purchasing one additional item of travel clothing: The Bug Suit. I would look really good in this – and no doubt, it would be the calmest you’ll ever see me in the great outdoors.

bug suit

June 18, 2008   4 Comments

Father’s Day

Layered Fields

My father was 51 when he died.

In the year after his death, he appeared to me regularly in vivid dreams. But one day he stopped appearing; later I stopped dreaming all together.

A few weeks ago, after nearly twenty years, he reappeared in a dream:

I was on a bus. Something like a school bus. My father, my brother, me.

I was sitting next to my father — his younger, healthier self. My brother was in the seat in front of us.

My father and I were arguing about something. I’m not sure what. I was getting more and more frustrated. I couldn’t get him to understand or agree with me.

Finally, exasperated, I got up. I moved several seats ahead and sat staring out the window at a field that stretched on forever.

The bus rolled on and on.

After a while my father moved forward, sat down beside me, put his hand on my shoulder. We looked each other in the eye, but neither said a word.

We rode on together, through the fields, in silence.

And I, still dreaming, found comfort in that.

June 15, 2008   2 Comments

The End of the Beginning

A new American Idol was crowned. The LOST season finale has come and gone. The long wait for Indiana Jones 4 is over. And the Democrat primaries have produced a worthy nominee.

The first half of the year simply disappeared.

Now, with Caroline completing middle school and Conor finishing elementary school, we have arrived at the end of the beginning of our adventure.

Last week a friend advised me, quite rightly, to stop planning. No more surfing the Internet late at night, checking bus schedules from Iguazu Falls to Salta, Argentina.

No, there are more immediate concerns, like getting a rental property insurance rider for our house and renewing my driver’s license.

But before we focus fully on final preparations, Dani and I wanted to congratulate Caroline and Conor for successfully navigating the many hazards of another school year.

These were particularly emotional promotion ceremonies, and we offer our sincere thanks to the very dedicated teachers who have taught our children over the past nine years.

Conor Graduation

Caroline Graduation

June 13, 2008   5 Comments

Let’s Get Social

A story that I hope doesn’t turn into a metaphor for a couple of aging boomers blogging their way around the world:

Recently a friend was bar-hopping in Georgetown, a trendy neighborhood in Washington, D.C. It’s the kind of place you could find yourself in a restaurant or bar sitting next to a second-tier actor, a reality TV star, a cable news pundit or a Congressman who should be home with his wife and kids.

On the night in question my friend was in and out of bars filled with young people. Though nearly 50, he felt younger as the night wore on. I’m sure it was the atmosphere, the company, the drinks. Okay, maybe it was the drinks.

It was getting late, people were pairing off and heading home, and soon my friend found himself chatting with a very attractive bartender. He was on his game. And though the bartender was considerably younger, he could feel the connection.

When closing time came he decided to make his move. The beautiful bartender brought his bill. He started to speak; he wasn’t slurring his words too badly.

Before he could finish his illicit thought, the bartender took his hand, looked him in the eye, and said very directly: “You old guys never know when to go home.”

Sometimes, when I’m exploring a social networking site like Facebook or Twitter, I feel like my friend must have felt that night. There’s this great party going on, and people at the party will let you hang around, but really, you’re too old to be there and shouldn’t you be home anyway?

So what is this “social web,” “social networking,” and “social media” – and what does it have to do with a travel blog?

Quite a lot, I’m finding. A significant percentage of The Wide Wide World’s traffic now comes from communities on the web where we have a presence.

Here’s a quick roundup.

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June 10, 2008   3 Comments

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