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



A close friend leaned in, trying to get to the root of it all. “So,” he said, followed by a long pause.  “What’s changed as a result of this trip?”

He wasn’t the first person to ask.

For weeks I had stumbled for an answer, trying to absorb what we’ve experienced and what it means.  I mumbled something and changed the subject. But now an answer that feels true is coming into focus. 

What’s changed? Nothing.  And everything.

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July 15, 2009   11 Comments

The Luckies


On the 17th day of our trip around the world, Conor came within inches of being swept from the deck of the GAP II into the Pacific Ocean.

I remember it all too vividly:

The day was bright and clear as we made our way from North Seymour Island to Chinese Hat Island in the Galapagos. The captain had the boat near top speed – seven knots – as we covered the open ocean between the two islands.

The boat was headed into the wind and the prevailing current, and there was a light chop on the water. We were five hundred miles off the coast of Ecuador and five miles from the nearest point of land.

The four families aboard were on deck, enjoying the sunny day.  Hanzel, our tour guide, was napping.  The captain was on the bridge and the crew was below deck.

Most of the kids were sitting on the metal benches at the bow of the boat, holding on to the rails and dangling their legs over the edge.

As the boat powered through the chop, ocean spray would fly over the bow, giving the kids a light shower. With every wave the kids would squeal with delight.

Conor was sitting inside the main cabin, missing the fun.  His friend Meg ran to get him.  I helped position Conor on the bench and told him to hold on tight, but I’m not sure he was really listening.

Within moments I saw a large wave heading towards the boat – the biggest so far.

“Hang on,” I said to the kids.  “Here comes a big one.”

The wave hit the bow with such a jarring force it sent kids flying.  The metal bench was suddenly slick as ice, making it hard to hold on.

Conor was knocked flat on the bench and was perilously close to slipping through the railing into the ocean.

Chris, a twelve-year-old who was sitting next to Conor, was thrown outside the boat and was suddenly clinging to the railing, calling for help.

Dani and I dashed across the deck.  I threw myself on Conor, who was lying semi-conscious on the bench after hitting his head on the metal railing.

Dani grabbed Chris, and with Cam McPherson’s help, managed to pull him back in the boat.  In less than thirty seconds both kids were safe. But it felt like a lifetime.

Once things settled down and Conor was resting inside the main cabin, I went below to our room.  I staggered into the bathroom and threw up.

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July 8, 2009   3 Comments

The Space Between


As we roamed Madrid we found ourselves living in the space between when one thing ends and something new is about to begin.

Our great adventure, conceived over lunch in a neighborhood restaurant two years earlier, planned in great detail for nearly a year — and lived for the previous ten months — was coming quickly to an end.

Endings, no matter the circumstances, always come as a surprise to me.  Where did the time go?

It seems like just yesterday we were wandering through Old Town Quito, wondering if we’d made some kind of crazy mistake by taking this trip.

Now, home was on the horizon: We’d be touching down at Washington Dulles airport in less than 48 hours.  The fantasy we had been living would end; “normal” life would begin again.

On one level, we all knew it was time to head home.  We were road weary and ready to experience the pleasure of a familiar place.

But I know my wife, and something was troubling Dani deeply.

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June 24, 2009   8 Comments

Signs II

Our Tokyo taxi was about to pull away from the curb when there was a rap on the window.  An older Japanese woman was standing next to the cab peering in.

When she had our attention, she began pointing to the rolling backpack on the sidewalk.

Our rolling backpack.

If there hadn’t been heavy traffic, we would have pulled away and left it behind.

Inside were two laptops, two Ipods, a video camera and a point and shoot camera.  One of the laptops held all our photos, our music, our videos — documentation of our life on the road.

For nearly nine months we had moved from place to place flawlessly, never once misplacing a piece of luggage.  Was leaving the backpack a sign, perhaps, that we were losing our travelers’ edge?

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April 29, 2009   11 Comments

You Can’t See It All


I didn’t believe my wonderful New Zealand contact Joanne Black when she advised in her email that, based on the dates I’d given her and the distances we’d planned to cover, we wouldn’t be able to fit in Golden Bay.

We had a rented car and, for the first time on our trip, had easy control of our logistics.

Craig wanted to get as far south as Dunedin.

Our list included the penguin colony in Oamaru, zipping over to Queenstown, cruising in Milford Sound, up the west coast to the Franz Josef Glacier, a stop-over in Nelson and back to Picton before heading back on the ferry to Wellington.

No problem! (I am out of breath just remembering the list.)

The trouble was the five to seven hour drives in between our destinations. One night here, one night there, we had to keep moving to fit in everything. After all, we might never be here again.


But reality hit us when we pulled in to the hostel in Greymouth. The receptionist cheerfully asked from where we’d traveled that day.

The four of us looked at each other. We’d spilled out of the car after yet another long, curvy drive surrounded by New Zealand’s typical gorgeous scenery.

And no one could remember that morning’s awesome hike to the icy end of the Franz Josef Glacier. Too much amazement in too little time.

We learned this in New Zealand: You just can’t see it all. And if you try, you’ll be rewarded with a blurry, cross-eyed, sort of dizzy feeling.

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February 2, 2009   2 Comments

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.

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December 15, 2008   12 Comments


It has become a habit of ours, on long rides or over dinner, to talk about all that we are thankful for:

Love and support from our families. The incredible thoughtfulness of our friends at home. The many kindnesses we have received from strangers.

Most of all, this Thanksgiving, we are thankful for the opportunity to share an incredible adventure.

We take none of it for granted. And count our lucky stars each night.

November 27, 2008   4 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

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

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

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