As I write this, I am on the airplane, taking our final flight from Los Angeles to New York City. This is a very hard post to write, one that I have thought about for months, one that I knew I would have to write, and one that I have not looked forward to. As I sit here on the airplane, laptop in front of me, I have tears in my eyes and I am trying desperately hard not to make a fool of myself in front of everyone else on the airplane. Coming home is harder than I expected it would be, at least for me.
This year has been amazing. Not only just with what we have done but also from the love and support we have received from family and friends, as well as people we have met along the way, both through our travels and through social media like Facebook. I have thoroughly enjoyed writing these posts, my way of documenting what we have done and hopefully taking some of you with us. For those of you who have been following us, thank you so very much. I have enjoyed everyone’s comments, support, and suggestions along the way.
Sometimes, when talking to other travelers, we get asked the question, “what has been your favorite moment of the trip?” This is a hard question to answer as this year has been filled with favorite moments and amazing memories. But looking over the past year, I would have to say that our favorite moment was when our plane left the ground for the first time, taking us away from the US, transporting the four of us to Copenhagen, Denmark. The anticipation for an entire year spent outside of the United States, looking forward to new countries, people, and foods, and knowing that we get to spend this year together as a family, it was an incredible moment. Here is where our journey begins.
One Year Around The World
Europe: July and August 2014
Italy, The Vatican, Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland
Traveling through Europe for five weeks gave us the time we needed to get into the groove of traveling. It was an adjustment for the four of us, being with each other for every moment of every day. I would be lying if I said always being together is not difficult, but with always being together, we did grow a lot closer as a family. Now that Tyler and Kara had limited interactions with kids their ages, they were forced to play together, and I know that they have formed a bond that will hold them together for the rest of their lives.
In Italy we also adjusted to traveling on a budget, trying to stretch our money as far as possible. For the first time in our lives we were almost completely dependent on public transportation, which in Italy is terrible. Buses would consistently show up late or sometimes not at all, something that quickly became very frustrating. If things were like this in Italy, what can we expect in India or Nepal? Fortunately, Italy was the only country where we encountered this type of work ethic.
Now I look back at those first days in Europe with fondness. We were so fresh, so new to long term traveling, so naïve. Simple things like doing a load of laundry became an adventure, finding a Laundromat and then operating the machines that had directions in a foreign language.
We were traveling with just a few changes of clothing, had to get by with spending a minimal amount of money everyday, and had to learn how to balance out sightseeing with schoolwork, travel planning, and keeping this blog updated. We quickly realized that we were going to be much busier than we were at home, if that was even possible, but we were OK with it.
The four of us loved every minute of this new lifestyle. Plus, it helped that we were seeing world-class sights in world-class cities, eating pasta and drinking Chianti and Italian coffee, living a life I never imagined I could have. I would go back and relive those first days over again in a heartbeat.
Southern Africa: August and September 2014
South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Swaziland, and Lesotho
For six weeks we toured through southern Africa. Our mothers, Kathy Younkin and Valerie Richardson, who we now refer to as the G-Team, joined us for the first two weeks of our African adventure.
From Johannesburg, South Africa, we drove up to Kasane, Botswana, an adventure in itself, for one of our favorite activities of the entire year, a camping safari in Chobe National Park. The camping safari only lasted three days but these three days formed some of our fondest memories of the trip. Sleeping in tents, hearing lions roaring off in the distance, this was a real adventure. During the day Lance would drive us around in our safari Jeep, where we would spot so many animals that going to the zoo would never be the same again.
Our time in Kruger was almost as good, but Chobe was phenomenal. Once our moms flew home, we drove south, touring the best of South Africa’s coastline, traveling from St. Lucia to the Garden Route and on to Cape Town. The number of encounters with animals we had in South Africa was epic. How could we beat riding ostriches, diving with Great White Sharks, walking cheetahs, or feeding African elephants?
Things were about to change drastically. Looming out there was Nepal, India, and months traveling through Southeast Asia. Thinking about what lay in front of us was both exciting and unnerving, especially when traveling with a peanut allergic child.
The United Arab Emirates: September 2014
Since we had to fly through the UAE to get to Nepal, we plopped ourselves down here for just three days, just enough time to get a taste of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Three days was enough time to learn that it is uncomfortably hot here, shopping malls are one of the main attractions, and Burj Khalifa is a crazy tall building. It is going to be a long time before another building knocks Burj Khalifa from its number one position as tallest building in the world.
Nepal: September and October 2014
Entering Nepal did not just take us outside of our comfort zones; it smashed our comfort zone to pieces. Nepal was one of our most anticipated destinations but it was also so intimidating.
I still remember arriving in Kathmandu, fighting for our bags in baggage claim, then being driven to our hotel through the crowded, dusty streets. It was nighttime, motorbikes were honking as they passed our car, the writing was unfamiliar, and everything seemed so loud and chaotic.
We checked into our hotel room, a room with two double beds, dirty floors, and a nasty bathroom. There was a bucket catching the water dripping from the pipes, the shower was moldy, and the toilet, even though it was a western toilet, looked scary. Dogs were barking outside, we only had one light running because of the scheduled power cuts, and we were on the lookout for cockroaches on the loose in our room.
All of a sudden, we had to worry about safe drinking water and clean food. And in just two short days we would be trekking to Everest Base Camp. It was a terrifying, exhilarating time, a time when so many things were uncertain. We just entered a whole new level of traveling.
We spent a month in Nepal, touring through Kathmandu, trekking to Everest Base Camp, and making our first long distance bus journey out to Pokhara. How wonderful it was that we got to stand together on the top of the world, Himalayas towering all around us.
We were in Nepal during the avalanches that took the lives of hikers in Annapurna. Six months later we would listen with shock and horror when the earthquakes ravaged Kathmandu and surrounding villages. We have kept in touch with our trekking guide, Indra, and were relieved to find out that he was OK but saddened to learn that he and his family, like so many others, lost their home during the earthquake. He spent months living in tents and temporary housing and now it looks like his house is being rebuilt.
As we have traveled, we have made new friends, like Indra, and this has been one of the many gifts that we have received this year.
Bhutan: October 2014
Bhutan, a tiny country that many people are unfamiliar with, sits tucked away in the Himalayas, wedged between India and China. It is a small country with a huge cost to visit ($250 per person per day) but entirely worth it. Visiting Bhutan was like stepping back in time. We visited ancient buildings, drove through stunning scenery, and had a nice break from the chaos of Nepal before heading into the craziness that is India.
India: October and November 2014
Oh, India, how you have changed our lives. Our five weeks here was eye opening, challenging, and so memorable. The trash, the constant attention from the people, our constant fear of food borne illness, the noise…it was all inescapable and the longer we were there the more frustrating it all became.
It was here I got sick with Dengue Fever on my fortieth birthday, making me feel miserable for a few days and causing us to shorten our plans to go on a camel safari.
India is filled with awesome sights (the Taj Mahal and sunrise on the Ganges River stand out the most) but it takes a lot of gumption to get through it. For us, it got to the point where we were counting down the days until we left India, all of us desperately wishing that we had only scheduled three weeks in this bamboozling country.
Looking back now, it was all very worth it. Like things that seem hard and painful at the time, sometimes these are the moments that are the most rewarding later. I had once heard that if you can travel through India you could travel anywhere. I would have to agree with that. Traveling through India made everywhere else we visited seem so easy.
Myanmar: December 2014
Myanmar was awesome, a country that I am so glad made it onto our itinerary. My mother joined us here, flying out from Maryland all by herself, staying in the Humble Footprints Hostel in Yangon with us. It was a new way of traveling for her but for us, by this time, hostels and homestays began to feel so normal.
The Shwedagon Pagoda was unbelievable but it was the temples of Bagan that were the real standout in Myanmar. Like Bhutan, it was almost like taking a step back in time. We loved the sunsets, cycling through the fields, and meeting the people.
Myanmar is a country that should be on everyone’s list to see.
Thailand: December 2014 and January 2015
In Bangkok, my brother joined us for a few days, and it was here that we sampled as much street food as possible. We were gaining confidence in our abilities to try new and crazy foods and our GI systems were slowly making the adaptation as well. The street food of Bangkok is one of our favorites. Where else can you eat Pad Thai that tastes phenomenal while sitting under an overpass?
Spending Christmas in a foreign country was a new thing for us. At home Christmas is almost sacred. The music, the presents under the tree, the cookies, the decorations…Tyler and Kara were very worried about what Christmas would be like without all of that.
To our delight, we learned that Myanmar and Thailand celebrate Christmas, at least a little bit, putting up some decorations and playing Christmas music (and later, all the way up until March, we would still see Christmas decorations on display, even in Zhangjiajie, China, believe it or not!).
We bought a Charlie Brown Christmas tree and hung decorations in our hotel room. These small touches plus spending Christmas in Krabi, Thailand turned a holiday that our two kids were almost dreading into the best Christmas ever. What was even better about this Christmas is that Tyler and Kara (and yes, even their parents) learned that Christmas is not about a bunch of presents under the tree, it is about time spent with friends and family. As we missed being with friends and family back home, we learned just how important they are to us.
Laos: January 2015
We spent a week in Laos, a country that totally surprised us in its beauty. Honestly, we were dreading the slow boat down the Mekong River, doing it only because it sounded like one of those things that you just had to do. Well, it was amazing. Sitting huddled under blankets, drinking cup after cup of instant coffee, relaxing, watching some of Southeast Asia’s best landscapes drift by, was a memory I am glad we made.
Luang Prabang, where we spent five days, was just as awesome…a small French town in the jungle. Unexpectedly amazing.
Cambodia: January 2015
Then came Cambodia. Siem Reap is a place that we fell in love with. Touring the temples was awesome, but there is also one of the best shopping and dining scenes in Southeast Asia in this town. Here we could eat great meals at cheap places, dine on tarantulas, and hit happy hour everyday if we wanted to (and yes, we wanted to, which was what led us to eating tarantulas!).
We all got a dose of history when visiting the Killing Fields just outside of Phnom Penh and then some chill time in the small town of Kampot. Like Laos, we all liked Cambodia more than we were originally expecting.
Vietnam: February 2015
Our tour through Vietnam, from bottom to top, lasted a month and gave us a look at the entire celebration of Tet. Like Christmas, this holiday has a big build up followed by the main day of celebrations and then a quieter time when families come together and business shut down.
We heard mixed reports on traveling to Vietnam during Tet, most people warning us to avoid the country during this month. We ignored the advice, took our chances that we would still be able to find food when everything shut down, and it was well worth it. To watch Vietnam go through this transformation and to be a part of it, at least just a little bit, was another eye opening and life changing experience this year.
China, Hong Kong, and Macau: March 2015
The adventures continued as we traveled overland into China.
Yangshuo quickly became one of our favorite places, with its postcard perfect scenery, misty mountain peaks, and snaking rivers. We learned calligraphy and Kung Fu, cycled through villages, and Tyler and I got to practice our Mandarin. We couldn’t speak much, but it was just enough to surprise the local people, earning us giant smiles and then excited ramblings in Mandarin that we could not make sense of. To speak a little Mandarin in China opens up so many wonderful interactions with the people and they were so appreciative at our attempts to speak their language.
Zhangjiajie, home of the landscape that inspired the sets for Avatar, was one of Tim’s favorite places and where Tyler turned 12. Then it was off to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, and being reunited with the G-Team once again. The Great Wall of China was awesome, as was seeing the Forbidden City, the famous skyline of Shanghai, and the view over Hong Kong from Victoria Peak.
Taiwan: March and April 2015
Taiwan felt like an easier version of China. Food was easier to find here, there was a little more English, and the food at the night markets was so much fun to try. We got to do some world class hiking, enjoy views that reminded us of Hawaii, and once again were blown away by the unexpected beauty of these countries that we previously knew so little about.
Fiji: April 2015
Out of everywhere we have been, Fiji definitely has the best beaches and the best sunsets. Here we spent one week in paradise, snorkeling, surfing, paddle boarding, exploring some of the smaller islands, and getting in some much needed rest and relaxation.
New Zealand: April and May 2015
It would seem that it would be hard to say goodbye to Fiji, but not when you are heading to New Zealand. All four of us are in agreement that New Zealand is our favorite place in the world. This was our favorite month of the trip, bungy jumping, hiking, paragliding, mountain biking, and touring the islands by car.
After seven months of traveling through Asia, no longer did we have to worry about clean drinking water and food, something that now seemed like luxuries. New Zealand was a different type of paradise for us, one that we could get out and be active, enjoy some of the world’s best scenery, all while getting our adrenaline fix. This was a place that was hard to say goodbye to.
Australia: May and June 2015
Our dose of the first world continued with a month in Australia. Australia was wonderful, but like New Zealand, it was very expensive. Surprisingly, Australia had one of the worst Wi-Fi speeds out of everywhere we have visited, competing with Nepal for slowness. It may sound petty, but when you rely on Wi-Fi as much as we do, it becomes a huge deal.
We had a busy schedule in Australia, trying to hit all of the big sites like Uluru, Sydney, and the Great Barrier Reef. We loved Tasmania, an island that does not make it on most fast paced travel itineraries, but is absolutely worth it. We loved the Tasmanian Devils, sampling craft beers, and the ghost tour at Port Arthur. Melbourne has become one of our favorite cities in the world…a place we would consider moving to if only it wasn’t so far away from the rest of the world.
Bali: June 2015
We had two wonderful weeks in Bali to relax and take things slower before the final push at the end. Here we worked on our surfing skills and our tans, took morning walks in the rice fields, and stayed in one of our favorite hotels, the Bali Villa Ubud.
Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and South Korea: June and July 2015
We jumped from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur to South Korea, checking off items on the bucket list like crazed travelers before our traveling time came to an end.
Japan: July 2015
We loved Japan, mainly because it is so different from everywhere else we have been. The people are the most polite in the world, everything is so orderly and runs on time, the food is amazing, and the temples are beautiful. On TV, they watch physics and baseball, not Honey Boo Boo or Jerry Springer like we do in the US.
This is a place that Tyler has fallen in love with and talks about moving to one day. Japan is perfect for him, with its robotics programs, karate, and physics on TV (Tyler has been self teaching himself physics, Mandarin, and computer programing since our home schooling ended in March…he’d fit right in here in this nation of over-achievers).
As our time came to an end in Japan, we ran out of traveling steam, and actually started looking forward to coming home.
Back in the USA: July 2015
Before we knew it, we were flying back to the USA. By the time we reached our 396th day of travel, we were all done, totally ready to go home, and actually looking forward to it. But it was still sad to see this trip come to an end.
Now we are left wondering, how do we ever live a “normal” life again? Will we really be able to settle down? How long until we get that itch to pack up and go again? Only time will tell.
Our trip took us through 35 countries over 396 days. During this time we stayed in 149 accommodations, averaging just 2.7 days per location. We were moving A LOT and we loved it. Here are some more numbers (Tim carried a GPS data recorder the entire trip, logging every mile we walked, flew, rode in car, and even rode on camels and elephants).
Total miles covered: 87,314 miles (140,518 km) which is 3.5 times around the equator.
Number of nights without a bed: 4 (overnight flights)
# of times someone “lost their lunch”: 7. Kara is the winner with 4. Tim was the only one who never puked.
Here Is Our Route Around the World
Things We Have Learned
The main thing we learned is that the world is a safer place than popular media and the news leads people to believe. Of course, we were not traveling through places like Syria or Mali or Iraq, but for the most part, the countries we visited were much safer than the United States. The main threats to our safety were not people but unsafe drinking water, ill prepared food, and mosquitos. For Tyler, add peanuts to the list.
We have also learned that things that seem so simple, like refrigerators, sidewalks, and clean drinking water, are luxuries in other parts of the world. So much of the world lives at a level of poverty not seen in the United States and it is hard to believe it until you see it with your own eyes. Traveling long term really opened our eyes up to this, because we were not just traveling right through it, we were living in these places as well.
How Have We Changed
That is a hard question and one that may take several months to truly answer. We now have more appreciation for the things that we once took for granted, like fresh, clean produce at the grocery stores, clean drinking water, power that runs 24 hours per day, and the opportunity to go to school and live the American dream.
Taking a trip like this does not extinguish any wanderlust we may have had at the start of this trip. In fact, for every destination we checked off the list, five more got added in its place. Our quest to see as much of the world as possible, to fill our lives with memories and not tangible things, will continue way past the last day of this trip. Now we are faced with the obstacle of once again balancing careers with time away to travel, all while raising two kids. Traveling has also taught us to quickly adapt to new surroundings and situations, so it will be interesting to see how long it takes us to adapt to a settled life back in Maryland.
Interesting Things We Have Noticed While Abroad:
Things You Can Find All Over the World: Pringles, McDonald’s, KFC, Colgate toothpaste, M&M’s, Oreos, and homes with satellite TV.
Things That We Almost Never Could Find: Crest toothpaste (we only found this in Cambodia and China), quality deodorant and tampons, and strawberries that didn’t cost a fortune.
Best TV Stations in the World: The USA, Nepal, and India
Worst TV Stations in the World: Thailand
Our Ten Favorite Meals:
1 Sushiro in Japan. We ate here at least ten times during our two week stay in Japan. Conveyor belt sushi…one of the best inventions ever.
2 Street Food in Bangkok. We were finally brave enough to sample some mystery food. It was here that we ate scorpion, tastier and crunchier than we were expecting.
3 Every meal in Italy.
4 Breakfast at Thong Bay (our hotel) in Luang Prabang, Laos. Every morning we were brought plates of pancakes and bowls of steaming soup, all to be enjoyed on our deck with views out over a tributary of the Mekong River.
5 Moondance Café in Pokhara, Nepal. For a restaurant that serves a little bit of everything (pizza to salad to Indian food to pasta), everything was amazing. We felt guilty for going back so often with so many other restaurants to try, but the Moondance Café was one of our favorite dinner places of the year.
6 Pho Bo in Vietnam. This is not a restaurant but a dish. Such a simple thing, noodles and beef in beef broth, but it is delicious. This was something I could not get enough of.
7 Din Tai Fung, in Taiwan and Singapore. This is a chain restaurant that serves delicious Taiwanese food. We were repeat eaters here as well.
8 Mr. G’s of Bangkok. German food in Thailand…doesn’t seem right, does it? This was by far the best German food we have ever had. Talking to the owner over pints of beer was a lot of fun, as well.
9 Dinner in Seoul, South Korea. I don’t know the name of the restaurant, but I do know that Tim and I had a blast trying new foods, making new friends, and drinking too much Soju for a first-timer.
10 Dinner on the beach on Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam. We picked out fresh barracuda that was grilled right on the beach. We dined on fresh fish, drank Saigon beer, and watched the sunset. What a beautiful night.
Where Are We Going From Here?
Now that is the million-dollar question. With the upcoming school year fast approaching, we only have a little time to figure out what to do in the near future. At the time that I am writing this, we have no set plans.
A year ago, not having a plan would have totally stressed me out. Now, we are going with the flow, knowing that something will work out in the end. Tim and I are still very much type A people, but we are a bit more relaxed with how we take on new situations.
For now we are planning to settle back down in our hometown with no real expectations for the future. After a trip like this, I think we need a little time to process what we have done and how it has affected us. We may find out that we love staying put or we may get antsy and want to move on in six months. It is a question we do not have an answer to and only time will tell.
What is the Future of Earth Trekkers?
Another million-dollar question! In the near future, I still have much to write about. The blog posts will keep coming. For those of you interested in taking a trip to a far off land or to a place just around the corner, we would love to help. Feel free to comment below with questions or send us an email.
Even though our future is the most uncertain it has been in our whole entire lives, we have so much to look forward to.
Tyler and Kara will soon be reunited with their friends and then going through the adventure that is middle school. Hopefully, the things they have learned on this trip will help them adapt to a new normal, as they have to sit through seven hour schooldays, take on a multitude of extracurricular activities, and become very busy in a much different way than they have spent the last year. It sure will feel strange to watch the two of them step onto that bus and drive off to a new school, the first real time that we will be separated in over 14 months. I may just feel like a parent of a child going to their first day of Kindergarten. How weird is that?
Tim and I will start adjusting to life in Howard County, not unpacking every three days, driving on the right side of the road, actually enjoying grocery shopping and preparing meals, getting back in shape, earning money again, and doing all of the mundane things that we actually started to miss. We are about to start our next adventure, and even though we are not entirely sure where we are heading, we have so much to look forward to.
This post was written in July 2015 during the final days of our trip around the world.
Did you enjoy reading about our recap of traveling around the world? Do you have dreams of traveling around the world also? We’d love to hear your plans and answer any questions you may have!!
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