What We Learned

After eight months in 11 countries, we’re finally home in Seattle.  Our re-entry to a comfortable home and a structured life begs the question: “What did we learn?”

Japan

Japan

Family is Everything. I have a close knit loving extended family and I know my parents would drop everything to help me in a time of need…because they already have. But I’ve learned I could reciprocate more. I’ll never forget spending the night in the Rio Gallegos, Argentina airport to catch a 3:45AM flight. As planes arrived and departed, whole families were there to greet or send off their loved ones. In the middle of the night. These weren’t curb drop offs either…this was holding hands, hugs, waiting at security to catch the last glimpse, then standing pressed against the window watching the plane take off.

We get so busy — putting work and our needs at times ahead of those most important to us. The priority I’ve witnessed being given to family and friends in EVERY culture we’ve visited has made me reaffirm my commitment to be a better daughter, sister, friend, coworker.

Family Time in Buenos Aires, Chiang Mai & Ollayantombo

Family Time in Buenos Aires, Chiang Mai & Ollayantombo

But Time Apart is Healthy! The three people in my immediate family are my most favorite people in the world. But golly I am sick of them! And the feeling is mutual. It’s not normal to spend eight months attached at the hip. We’ve spent half of this trip sleeping in the same room. We’ve played more UNO and cribbage then I could possibly imagine. We are all looking forward to more balance and privacy.

Cambodia

Cambodia

I Need to Give Our Children More Credit. I am a firm believer that adversity makes for a better person. Before the trip, I felt the children wanted for naught and had no idea how lucky they were. Long term travel drives adversity. The kids have slept outdoors on a hard bench during a typhoon, they have hiked through knee deep mud while picking leeches off their skin, they have had conversations with so many people of different cultures, they’ve seen kids their age working the fields instead of in school, they’ve bravely tried foods far outside their normal repertoire, they’ve seen that people live without heat, hot water, technology, new clothes. They have learned it’s ok to be uncomfortable. They reluctantly came along but they rose to the challenge and I am grateful for who they are becoming.

Laos

Laos

But My Husband is a Flippin’ Rock Star! I don’t know many 45 year old men who would put their lives on hold to follow their wife’s dream when that dream included a backpack, youth hostels, and little access to a good IPA and your football team’s 1st Super Bowl win in a long time. Now obviously Kyle is deeper than all that but this was my dream, not his and he was 100% supportive in living this past year through my vision. Love that man.

Thailand

Thailand

Every Government is Flawed, Some More then Others. Every country is struggling in some way…corruption, poverty, too much power. There is no utopian approach. We live in a powerful and free country and that comes with both pride and shame. In every country we visited, there was a common thread of war and covert involvement by the U.S., particularly during the 1960s and 70s. In Laos and Cambodia, we saw young men missing limbs from U.S. cluster bombs. We also met with young students in these countries learning English because they see it as the ticket to success and harbor no ill will against the U.S. In fact, these kids dream of a Californian life but likely will never receive the financial support or visas to do so. We heard from SE Asia to South America, “our government is corrupt.” It actually made me appreciate my own government more, however flawed.

Germany

Germany

But it’s the People that Make a Country. Discussing politics with Dew and Juan over pizza in Urubamba, Peru. Enjoying fresh baked muffins with an Austrian grandmother in Reutte. Discussing dreams versus obligations with a Japanese innkeeper. Universally, it’s the people that have created our view of the countries we visited, not the government and we hope the feeling is mutual.

Austria

Austria

We Don’t Need to Reinvent our Life. When we started this trip, I was looking for something. I felt trapped by material gains and wanted to simplify. Now, don’t get me wrong, we are not a “keeping up with the Joneses” family. We don’t drive fancy cars, or spend money on anniversary gifts, or own vacation properties. But we have our electronic devices, a big screen TV and, yes, I have an occasional rampage through Nordstrom.

And I’m ok with that.

Do we need to strive to continue to be better people? Yes. Do we need to give back to the causes and people that grabbed our hearts both before and during our trip? Absolutely. But I am 100% grateful and satisfied with our life…and it only took 243 days and 26,863 air miles to realize that.

Argentina

Argentina

This will be our last blog post.  I start back at work in two days and our heads are forward focused. Thank you for following our journey…we felt a lot of love while we were on the road. This blog now serves as a memory bank for my family and I hope a resource and inspiration for future traveling families.  There’s a vast, amazing world out there full of wonderfully warm people…go get it!

Bolivia & Peru

Bolivia & Peru

 

 

 

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RTW Vanity

Almost five months in seems like an ideal time for a frivolous topic…vanity. If you’ve been following our blog & thought I was a down to earth gal unconcerned with appearance, I will now disappoint you.

How does one keep beautified from the road? Not very well. Here’s the straight truth for my gal friends who appreciate a little maintenance.

Rockin' Bugs Away Gear in Tokyo

Rockin’ Bugs Away Gear in Tokyo

Hair

My much beloved flat iron sits back at home. Less than a quarter of the places we stay have a blow dryer. My stylist back home, who kept my locks blonde, does not do rtw housecalls.  In going brunette again, I was confronted with an army of gray hairs. Safe to say, a good hair day is a rare sight.

In Lao, I desperately needed a cut.  There was a rumor in Luang Prabang that all hairdressers cut with razors — that only one stylist has an actual pair of scissors & that’s the one the falangs go to. I had also heard that the stylist was a “lady boy.” I spent my appointment trying to ascern whether my hair dresser was really a man or a woman but more importantly learned that one inch doesn’t translate and I became the owner of a very short & very uneven Prince Valiant bob. Alas, hair grows.

Lao barber shop

Lao barber shop

Massage

Those who travel to SE Asia insist that you must get regular massages. They are ridiculously cheap…$7 or so for an hour!

In Luang Prabang, I asked my Aussie neighbor where to go.   This is almost verbatim what she said, “I go right around the corner. There are three blind men. It’s only $6 & its very basic but they’re quite good. There’s a simple mattress you lie on…I think its actually their bed…& they just go at it.” Now, this is a well put together professional young woman so I knew I wasn’t getting the full picture. But I thought to myself “Can I lie naked on a blind man’s bed?” Decidedly no.

Red Cross massage room...a very good cause

Red Cross massage room…a very good cause

When I did finally get a massage, I learned that one doesn’t strip down as we are accustomed to in the U.S.  Instead one wears somewhat loose pajamas.  And after investigation, the blind masseurs turned out to be a very reputable Red Cross organization.

Footwear

Tevas — did I mention how much I hate my tevas? You can be svelt & tall with long flowing locks & an adorable outdoor outfit from Lulumon but you put on those tevas…and you’re just another granola hippie. Now I can say this because I grew up surrounded by granola hippies…my parents were granola hippies…I KNOW the look & I don’t want to replicate it so why on earth did I buy Tevas?? Yech. Hate them. First thing in the trash when this trip ends. DYING for my FitFlops. Yeah, say what you want, it’s the truth.

Tevas...hate. Keens...love.

Tevas…hate. Keens…love.

Face

I’m a corporate girl. I have a corporate face. MAC helps me put it together each morning. I hadn’t planned on bringing make up on this trip. In the end I did bring down a pared down bag. What’s been interesting along the way is when I’ve felt the need to put it on. At home, it was EVERY day. On the road, I admit I’ve been influenced by where we’ve been. Cambodia? Nope, not a lick. Tokyo? Every day!

It’s been a great lesson for me how, even at 44 years old, I let myself be influenced. Being in a modern city like Tokyo or Munich, where the women around me have coiffured hair, make up & beautiful clothes…I can feel inadequate. The only thing I can do some days — short of a shopping spree, which is NOT what this trip is about — is put on a little blush & mascara & pretend my tevas are stilettos.

Bad hair? Check. No make-up? Check. More relaxed & happy than ever? Check!

Bad hair? Check. No make-up? Check. More relaxed & happy than ever? Check!

Clothes

Oh lord. There is NO variation in my wardrobe. I have to say, I do love my Ex-Officio Bugs Away pants. Good thing, I wear them almost EVERY day.

Smart wool socks. They are the bomb. Nuff said.

Shirts. I alternate two t-shirts from Everlane — they are identical v-neck shirts but one is black & one is navy. They were produced in the US, inexpensive & I love them.  They are not quick drying but I can put on a necklace & sort of fool myself that I’m dressed up.

A cooling towel as a fashion accessory.

A cooling towel as a fashion accessory.

Weight

In the U.S., we are snackers. Oh, it’s between meals? I must eat a snack to tide me over. In Japan & SE Asia, this was decidedly not the case & between the lack of snacking, amount of walking & small meal sizes, I lost weight. Sweet!

Of course, within two weeks of our landing in Germany, this was reversed. I HAVE NEVER SEEN SUCH BIG PORTION SIZES IN MY LIFE.  And yes, thank you, I’m aware I don’t have to eat it just because it’s in front of me.

Light snack in Germany

Light snack in Germany

Exercise

Kyle and I do a 7-minute work out app on the ipad daily. Is it effective? Uh, it’s a 7-minute work out.

So there you go…vanity on the road. It still exists & surges in cosmopolitan cities but there’s little recourse whether in a small Lao village or in downtown Buenos Aires, I can only rock my Ex-Officios…and I’m ok with that.

How much do I really need?

How much do I really need?

Three Months In

We’ve been on the road three months now and we’ve learned so much about the world and ourselves in it. A few thoughts.

This Is Hard!

24-7 with ones family on the road isn’t easy. Quarters are tight, there’s little-to-no privacy & we’re living out of backpacks. Tweens bring a daily hormone induced drama of some form or another. Parents get grumpy. It is not a holiday.

Cramped quarters! Our bedroom in Kanazawa...the kids are actually under the comforters!

Cramped quarters! Our accommodations in Kanazawa…the kids are actually under the comforters!

But Human Nature Is To Remember The Good

Despite some crazy hard days, we look back and only remember the positive. We are poetic about the order and attention to detail in Japan, forgetting how difficult it was to simply order dinner. We dream of the lush hues of green and fragrant flowers in Cambodia, not the garbage strewn down the street. We remember the lazy, calm days of Lao, not the family bickering. How wonderful that this is the human condition.

Water cures all!

Water cures all!

Homeschooling Sucks

People choose to do this permanently? Really? Why? The whole family agrees…the parents lack of ability to teach and the kids lack of ability to listen make for a painful partnership. Seattle Public Schools, they are all yours come September 2014.

Having fun yet?

Having fun yet?

But We’re Learning So Much!

So maybe we’re lapsing with the book smarts but our world smarts are growing. The kids exposure to currency rates, languages, religions, geography, history, food, music, even a potential political coup… it’s an avalanche of world schooling. Feeling earthquakes in Tokyo and then studying them at the museum of emerging science, conversing with Lao students honing their english at Big Brother Mouse, touring the Land mine museums in Cambodia and Lao, visiting Hiroshima in Japan and then Hellfire Pass in Thailand to see interconnected brutal war histories. The list goes on and on.

Sean sitting through his 1st Japanese team ceremony at the insistence of a man who'd had a bit too much sake at lunch. Now if that's not learning, what is?

Sean sitting through his 1st Japanese tea ceremony at the insistence of a man who’d had a bit too much sake at lunch. Now if that’s not learning, what is?

Expectations = Disappointment

I have an active imagination. It leads to fully imagined locales before we’ve even arrived. Oh we’ll find a charming colonial rental on the river, I’ll do yoga every morning while eating fresh baguettes, mangos and drinking iced coffee. Our new neighbors will welcome us into their homes with an authentic local meal.

It never turns out like this.

Keeping an open mind and lowering expectations leads to a better experience overall. Plus I didn’t do yoga back home, so why did I think I’d make time for it here?

Launching lanterns in Chiang Mai for the Loy Krathong festival...something we were really looking forward to that ended up being a bit too chaotic for us.

Launching lanterns in Chiang Mai for the Loy Krathong festival…something we were really looking forward to that ended up being a bit too chaotic for us.

But Serendipity = Pure Delight

We’ve had many unexpected moments that are serendipitously delicious.  Stumbling across a tiny blues club in Kyoto. Typing in “bring us your recommendations” in Google Translate and settling into one of the best Japanese meals ever.  Having a schedule snafu that unwittingly put an unscheduled week at Care for Dogs in our lap and hearts. It’s easy to play it safe while traveling but the incredible moments happen when you leave your comfort zone.

Traveling up the Nam Ko River with Grandma Cindy & Papa Phil

Traveling up the Ou River with Grandma Cindy & Papa Phil

iPads are Both Good and Evil

They are one stop khan-academy-number-crunching / kindle-app-reading / write-at-home-online-class-writing / Ted-talks-learning / music-listening / movie-watching / video-game-playing madness. They have saved us and they have led to our biggest family fights. We love them. We hate them.

Minecraft & Macklemore

Kids, look, we’re in Japan. Kids? Kids?

But We Have Them. We Have Everything. How Did We Draw This Card?

It’s not for me to judge whether one life is better than another. (My kids actually told me this.) But I’ve met young women whose families won’t let them travel. I’ve met young women whose families won’t let them learn English. I’ve met young women whose families WILL let them travel and learn English but they don’t have the funds to do either. Or can’t get a visa.

Today I watched a young boy play with his kite in the wind. Actually it was a white plastic grocery bag and a stick.

Hmong village's fishing boat

Hmong village’s fishing boat

Eight Months Is An Awfully Short Amount Of Time

I thought eight months was a lot of time. When I was sweating homeschooling, long term travelers told me “heck, eight months, that’s a flash in the pan, don’t homeschool at all.” And I was offended, like my BIG eight months were being belittled. Well they were right. It IS a flash in the pan. It’s the right amount of time for us but its fleeting and I’m learning to not sweat the small stuff.

Not sweating the small stuff in Prachuap Khiri Khan

Not sweating the small stuff in Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand

I could go on and on…there’s so much that we’re learning. For today, I am simply in tremendous gratitude for a life of opportunity.

Taking Travel for Granted

Equals Access

U.S. Passport = Access

There are obvious hurdles in planning a RTW trip — time and money top the list.  But what if you had the resources and simply weren’t legally welcome to visit other countries?

Citizens of the U.S., Canada, Australia and the European Union generally can travel anywhere.   For our trip, no visas are needed for half of the countries we’re visiting, and a turnkey tourist visa will suffice for the other half.  That’s not the case for the majority of the world’s population.  If you remove the socio-economic barriers of travel, the simple FREEDOM to travel is not a given for many.

Take Barbara Adam’s family for example.  Barbara is an Aussie married to a Vietnamese man.  Their family resides in Saigon, where they run a popular street food tour business, http://www.saigonstreeteats.com.   Barbara is well traveled and planned a vacation to France for her family.  But try as they might, France would not grant her husband a visa, believing that he presented a risk of staying in Europe to gain a “better” life.  Read her story here: http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/1451562

Or meet Mina Mahrous, a 20-something Egyptian male studying to become a pharmacist.  Mina is highly interested in seeing the world…and has been consistently turned down for visas and held to higher standards to secure visas.  He wrote an excellent blog on access to travel: http://www.somedayillbethere.com/2012/04/no-not-everyone-can-travel-a-bubble-burster/

I understand that countries need safe guards – this is not a post on the politics of immigration.  Simply, it’s recognition for yet another liberty that I have that others do not and consciousness raising for my small family that global access is currently not a freedom that everyone shares.

Sedona, Grand Canyon, Moab, Oh My!

Devils Garden in Arches

Devils Garden in Arches

I was planning our spring break trip to the Southwest National Parks at the same time as researching our fall in SE Asia.  There was something about the color and vibrancy of Thailand that made Arizona and Utah seem barren, dry, and, frankly…bland.

Wrong again.

The southwestern U.S. is akin to going to Mars (except you wear shorts instead of a space suit).  The landscape is other worldly…pillars of space age rust rock jutting up from mile after mile of dusty, rocky barren land.  The vibrant orange hue of sandstone monuments and arches against the ever reaching blue sky.

The kids and I shared hot Navajo fry bread dipped in honey after a strenuous hike through the vast Grand Canyon…peering down at the deep green Colorado River carving its way as we munched.

It’s all a reminder of the geographic and cultural diversity in my own country.  Our rtw trip is about an overseas experience but our spring break trip was a good reminder that there’s so much to explore in my own backyard.

photo

Newtown

Joan Didion describes grief as choking and its true.  It lodges in your throat – chest aching, mouth pulled down.  Some hours it’s numbing and others so terrifyingly painful, you don’t think you’ll live through it. 

It’s hard for any of us to think too deeply about what happened in Newtown this week because we simply couldn’t function.  To the families in pain, it must feel unreal that the world will continue to spin, that people will continue with their daily habits, that Christmas will be happily celebrated by most.  It seems only fair that these parents should be able to wear a badge that reads “I just lost my child, he was taken from me violently” so that all of us circling around daily life can stop and live their pain with them.  I imagine, no, I know that there is bargaining going on right now, “One more hug, if I can have one more hug.” Or “Can you bring her back? I’ll do anything.” Because life without your child is unimaginable.  And the pain in thinking of and trying NOT to think of their final moments unbearable.

We cannot take away these families’ pain.  They have lost the most precious of all.  But we can live in their honor.  Tragedy reminds us to be present for those we love.  It teaches us to be patient and kind and take the time to show others that we care.  It pushes us to live to a higher standard and to put our family first.  That’s the legacy of 26 souls in Newtown.

Candle Light 027

Is It a Mid-Life Crisis?

Reactions to our trip among friends, family and colleagues have been mixed.  We are fortunate that we have a wonderfully supportive extended family.  Thus hints of disapproval are subtly displayed…perhaps in a nervous smile or quizzical look.  I read through the lines concern for the kids – one of whom particularly does not adapt well to change.

In the end, there are many reasons NOT to take this trip…just a few:

  • Work
  • School
  • Aging Family Members
  • Beloved Dog
  • Newly Remodeled House
  • Money
  • Fear

What’s helped propel me forward?  Knowing that I have yet to read of a family who has done this who hasn’t said it was the most amazing family experience.  My kids live a blessed life – they are loved and they want for not.  I’d like to show them a world without shopping trips to the mall (I will be secretly thrilled to never have to enter another Justice store again!), the quest for the next video game system, and pleas to go to Menchie’s.

And it’s not as if Kyle and I aren’t immune from the accumulation of stuff – we are just as guilty.  Case in point, Michael Kors shoes that I’ve worn only once because they nearly crippled me.

ouch

ouch

One of my siblings spent last year teaching in South Korea and he took this picture while traveling in Vietnam.  Ahhh, perspective.

Abe in Vietnam

Abe in Vietnam

This is not a mid-life crisis.  It’s personal evolution.