Two Months To Go

In 2008, my most adventurous plan for 2009 involved swapping our living room and dining room. I put it on my to-do list as the Big New Year’s Project and thought a lot about window treatments.

Then, life took a turn. Or you could say my husband Morgan and I both switched off the autopilot and had one of those “blink” moments where we knew what we needed to do, and it felt strangely right. Instead of hiring a decorator and moving furniture around, we researched countries on five continents, purchased One World airline tickets to sixteen destinations, developed an independent study plan for our daughter and son, and found tenants to rent our house for at least 10 months.

We're packing up and leaving our home sweet home in Piedmont.

We're packing up and leaving our home sweet home in Piedmont.

Now it’s summer — the kids just got out of school — and my stomach feels knotted when I consider the two months left until our departure, which is August 15 (give or take a day). The details to debate and arrangements to make leave me short tempered and quick to cry, like an amped-up wedding planner in her third trimester of pregnancy.

Between now and August, we will clean out closets, pack away personal belongings and repair miscellaneous broken things. We’ll organize finances and copy important documents, and plan and scan the kids’ lessons for their 3rd and 6th grade curriculum. We’ll go to the dentist, get shorter-than-usual haircuts and fill prescriptions for things like Cipro. We will synch and streamline our laptops and cameras, untangle and condense all the cords that go with them, and smartly pack our suitcases with multipurpose, easy-care outfits that we will find time to buy.

We’ll try not to drink too much when we throw a goodbye party, and try not to cry when we give our dog to my in-laws. And in my free time, I will practice Spanish, learn new software and read novels set in countries we’re visiting.

(If I say all this like I believe it, perhaps it will increase the chance of these things actually getting done.)

People keep asking where we’re going, which is easy to answer (check out our map) — and in some ways not as relevant as it may seem. Going anywhere is the point. We will try to follow advice we read somewhere that travel, to be meaningful, should be less about where you go and more about what you do and how you interact with the people and environment wherever you find yourselves. The more interesting question — what we’re still sorting out — may be, how did we get to this point? As David Elliot Cohen described in his book One Year Off, it’s one thing to dream about chucking it all and going around the world; it’s quite another thing to actually decide to do it and get ready — and not chicken out before you go.

On some level, nearly everything we’ve been through and all that has shaped us for as long as we’ve been together (nearly 25 years) pointed us in this direction. On February 10, we sent an email to family and friends with the lofty subject line, “big news — a dream is coming true.” It read in part: “For a number of reasons, we have decided to travel for an entire academic year, August ’09 through summer 2010. Several factors make this the best and most practical year to do it with the kids. …We feel strongly we want to get out of Piedmont, broaden our perspectives, experience adventure and have a year of learning on the road — quasi-homeschooling — before the kids are too old.  … The itinerary is a work in progress; we’re choosing a number of destinations where we would like to get to know the community. … We’re going to spend a lot of our savings and offset some expenses by renting the house. As you might imagine, this trip is linked to potentially big changes in Morgan’s career and his position at the firm. … We’ve both thought long and hard about the concept sometimes called ‘repotting’ — of needing to uproot, replenish and settle into new circumstances enriched by that change — and his view is, if not now, then when?”

My schedule would be full enough without this trip preparation; I need to transport the kids to summer camps, plan meals and cook, do laundry, pay bills, run, walk the dog, volunteer and write. I thought that making lists would foster a greater sense of control and well being. Instead, more often than not, I wake between 3 and 4 a.m. envisioning cross-referenced and overlapping lists with bulleted points that feel like they’re firing at my brain:

  • the big to-do list on my laptop’s calendar (“review insurance and get traveler’s ins.” … “prep for renters — give away old stuff, transfer utilities, make repairs, etc” … “clean out files and destroy old docs” … “make evite for party” …)
  • the daily to-do list on my laptop e-sticky note (“dog to vet” … “set phone conf with CPA” … “stove repair” … “Spanish lesson, tengo que estudiar!“)
  • the kids’ schooling list (“get access to online versions of textbooks” … “relearn 6th grade math” … “school supplies??” …)
  • the packing list, with cross-ref’ed categories (“computers/photography/electronic stuff” … “clothing” … “meds & first aid” … “other toiletries” …)

Enough already. (Basta ya.) As Morgan said recently, “We’ve got the lists down; now we have to start checking things off.” I remind myself of what he is going through, which gives me a kick in the pants to get stuff done. He is dealing with complicated issues at the small law firm where he is a partner, and he must navigate a transition that is difficult for all involved.

It could be that I’m obsessing about the lists to divert my attention away from underlying fears about this transition and the impending departure from our comfort zone. I admit it: I crave control, follow routines and fear flying. Which is why this trip may be the hardest and most important thing I’ve ever done.

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  1. Pingback: Make the Run a Journey | Sarah Lavender Smith on February 6, 2010
  2. Pingback: What Marriage Taught Me About Running (And What Running Taught Me About Relationships) | Sarah Lavender Smith on July 6, 2010


  1. David W. Lavender, July 8, 2009:


    I think this site looks fabulous–even if it is “under construction.” You’ve got me hankering for you to get up and go, just so that I can follow your adventures through your postings!

    Love to all,


  2. Rachel, July 30, 2009:

    Oh Sarah you’ve brought it all flooding back! Two years in two minutes! I so rememeber the ‘out of control’ feeling that there was just no way that it would all get done, but you know what? That’s what makes it so much sweeter when you’re on the plane.
    The fact that you have to fight so hard to make it fit, that you’re not 19 with no commitments anymore and that you are troubled by parental guilt at 4am (what if they get sick, fall behind in school, never make friends again – it will be all MY FAULT) is all part of making your trip even more amazing than you dared hope.
    We still feel totally empowered by the achievement of just making it out the front door with no future plans, let alone the incredible 12 months that followed.
    I will of course be following your blog avidly, please do drop me a line if you have any questions…
    Best wishes
    Rachel, Chris, Fin and Sadie xxxx

  3. Sarah, July 30, 2009:

    Rachel, thank you so much for your encouragement! Families like yours have made us feel we can in fact do this, and we’re not crazy.
    To others of you who are reading this — Rachel’s family maintained a blog that I read in preparation for our trip. They’ve now published their articles and photos in a book, which I’ve ordered and am looking forward to receiving so I can glean all its wisdom and inspiration! Check out

  4. Rachel, August 3, 2009:

    Hope you like it! Let me know what you think…xx

  5. Kara, September 22, 2009:

    I can’t wait to read about the next place you visit… I am inspired to reach my own dream of traveling for a year. Please, keep writing. Thank you.

  6. Mike Hedge, November 12, 2009:

    so epic. fun times ahead!

  7. Shelly VanB, November 17, 2011:

    Oh my gosh, I could have written this as well. We are now two months out and the lists are being written but I’m afraid to start checking things off in case it means we really are doing this! We are planning to head to Africa for 3 months and then on to Holland and then ??? Crazy. Not always socially acceptable. Irresponsible? I don’t know…these things are what keep me up at night. I was losing sight of why we’re doing this until I read your note. Thank you.

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