A New Season, A New Way

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

This time last year, we were flying from LA to Buenos Aires and pondering the coincidence, which felt more like fate than happenstance, that Morgan and I were starting our adventure abroad 25 years to the day after he first reached over to touch my hand and I leaned in for a kiss. (That was October 5, 1984, the fall semester of his senior and my junior year in high school.)

I’m always doing that: thinking of what we were doing this time last year. I’m also looking ahead and feeling anxious — excited, but nervous — about what we’ll be doing one year from now.

People ask all the time, “How are you doing? All settled back in?” That’s tough to answer. I usually say, “We’re doing well but still transitioning. We’re back home but not exactly settled.”

I wish I could either blog about new destinations or write a nice, tidy epilogue to the story of our trip. But we don’t have any noteworthy travel planned, and the story of what the trip meant and how it changed us is still developing.

So I want to share what we’re up to these days, and then, with some sadness and until further notice, mothball this blog. I hope the day will come when I have reason to give it a makeover and launch an encore edition. (more…)

One Year Later: The Time-Capsule Travel Letters and the ‘Eat Pray Love’ Backlash

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

Midway through our trip, my world-traveling friend Carolyn suggested that each of us write a letter to each other describing our feelings about the travel so far and our hopes for the remainder of the journey. This was in late January, when we had been away for five months and were living outside of Queenstown, New Zealand, for a couple of weeks. She told us to keep the letters secret and not share them until the trip ended.

Morgan, Colly, Kyle and I each sat down and wrote letters reflecting on the experience, showed them to no one else at the time, sealed them up, and then opened and read them out loud over dinner in June on our last night before driving home. Now, the letters sit on my desk as reminders of what the round-the-world trip was all about. Today, for a couple of different reasons, I re-read them to reflect on how the 10-month trip affected us individually and as a family.

One reason is the snarky backlash, prompted by the film release of Eat, Pray, Love, to long-term travel for the sake of change, education and self-reflection. (more…)

What A Long, Strange Homecoming It’s Been

Monday, July 12th, 2010

“Let’s sleep with the kids,” I said on our first night back in our house, which echoed from emptiness because our belongings remained in storage. Morgan agreed, and with relief I unrolled my sleeping bag on my daughter’s floor, putting her and Kyle on one side of me and Morgan on the other.

I wanted to hear their breathing and feel their closeness one more night before everything changed back to our non-traveling life — before the movers came and filled our house with so much of the furniture and boxes of stuff that I now feel ambivalent about owning, and before my kids moved back into their own rooms and we all established our separate domains in this house that feels too big and fancy. I wanted to curl up in my sleeping bag and fantasize we were camping the way we did on the banks of the Colorado River or on the beach of New Zealand’s Abel Tasman Park.

Everyone has been asking how it feels to return home. The short answer is: weird, and tiring! I haven’t felt this conflicted and unsettled since … well, since we pulled out of our driveway to start the trip on August 15, 2009.

The penultimate stop: We drove through Yosemite on our last day and arrived home about four hours later.

(more…)

83 Places, 5 Continents, 10 Months

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Less than 24 hours after our plane from Heathrow landed in Los Angeles, the four of us walked into a Noah’s Bagels on Sunset Boulevard for an early lunch. Our sense of time and place were thoroughly out of whack from jet lag and from the strangeness of waking up in Southern California, drinking Peet’s Coffee and tuning into the Disney Channel as though we’d never been away.

As we stood ordering bagels, we suddenly remembered we had eaten lunch at the same Noah’s on the day before we flew to Buenos Aires in early October. “I feels like we were just here,” Colly said, and I agreed while my chest hiccuped with anxiety.

It felt as though all those months abroad — which had stretched so elastically and netted so much in a single week, so that on the first of every month I’d express disbelief at how much we had experienced — had snapped back and condensed into a blip to make mental space for the task of reorganizing our lives and getting ready to move back into the house.

Checking out of a hotel in Marlow, England, on our last morning before flying back to California.

I’m feeling profoundly mixed emotions upon our return and need to think more about the transition before trying to write much about it. I got weepy on our last night in Marlow, a lovely town outside of London, as we checked out of a hotel a final time and toasted our trip; then, I got teary with joy as we approached my hometown of Ojai last weekend for a reunion. I also am in the process of thinking through the next phase of this blog, so stay tuned and thanks to all of you who’ve read it regularly!

In the meantime, I’m publishing the following list as proof and as a reminder to myself that we really went to all of these places. We called this our “sleepover list” and had fun updating it as we traveled. Most are linked to previous blog posts if we wrote about that destination. Three places are listed twice since we visited there twice, so the number of places totals 83, but the bottom line is that we moved and unpacked 86 times!

The Sleepover List: August 15, 2009 – June 15, 2010: (more…)

Eat, Run, Love

Friday, April 30th, 2010

A view from the Cinque Terre coastal trail, with the town of Vernazza coming into view.

Last night I read Goethe and ate divine pesto, and this morning I ran across a mountain and climbed back into bed with Morgan.

It’s all about life, Italy and the pursuit of happiness.

(Bear with me while I explain what Goethe has to do with it …)

I didn’t expect to pick up 18th-century German Romanticism more than twenty years after my last college lit class. I’ve been eating up delectable novels and memoirs like Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and told myself I should ingest some historical fiction or classics (similar to how I reach for bran flakes and skim milk to balance out the pasta and wine).

Then, around the same day, we serendipitously stumbled upon Goethe. His name was everywhere. We were in the town of Malcesine on Lake Garda, a giant drop of blue in Northern Italy hanging like a bead off the skirt of the Alps, and were spending five nights there for no better reason than because three months earlier, in New Zealand or somewhere, Morgan had looked at Italy on Google Earth, saw the splotch of blue and the steep topography around it, and said, “I wanna go there!”

Kyle on a snowy ridge in the Alps above Lake Garda during a hike he took with Morgan.

As we drove the freeway up from Verona and the steep mountain pass down through Turbole, we started noticing inns and restaurants named after the German literary great.

Once we settled into our lodge, Morgan logged on to research why Goethe was such a big deal in this neck of the woods. “You gotta read this,” I soon heard him say. (more…)

Playing Around Rotorua

Friday, December 18th, 2009

We spent the past week in Rotorua, a North Island city famous for adventure sports and stinky geothermal sites. Perhaps no other city in New Zealand, or anywhere, has come up with more ways to thrill tourists (and make them part with money) with “adventure” broadly defined. You can luge, river raft, sky swing, sky jump, bungee jump, jet boat, kayak, off-road race and mountain bike. Plus, there’s the ZORB, a giant rubber ball that bounces down a hill with a person sliding and rattling around inside it. We went on the luge and let the kids try the ZORB (just once, because of its exZORBitant prices):

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The Rotorua Tourism Board will probably be upset to hear me say these activities generally seem overrated and overpriced. Our best times around Rotorua involved spending free time for free. (more…)

The Sappy Departure

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

All packed up and ready to go. Goodbye, home!

All packed up and ready to go. Goodbye, home!

“Why are you crying, Mom?” Kyle asked this morning as I pulled away from my next-door neighbor’s hug. “Are you sad or happy?”

I thought about what had unleashed the tears: the final walk through our bedroom, where the hardwood floors echoed from emptiness because nearly everything is in storage. Then the last good-byes. It hit me that I will miss our home and neighborhood terribly. It also hit me that everything we had planned during the past six months had come down to this moment, and all the work and difficult decisions had made us ready to go — and we really, finally were ready to go — so I was crying tears of relief. And also, I was indeed happy that at this crossroads in our lives, when a great deal is transitioning personally and professionally, we had chosen to go in a direction that Morgan and I believe will keep changing us for the better even after the trip is over.

“Both,” I finally answered.

“Well,” Kyle said, “if you’re sad and happy, that makes you sappy.”

I am sappy, so much so that the family began mocking my sentimentality last week. “This is the last time we’re going to Crogan’s,” I said the other night as we approached a favorite pub. “Awww,” said Colly, her voice dripping with pity, “and this is the last time we’re touching this crosswalk button!”

“The last time” became a running joke until Morgan got the last word on our final morning at home. He marched to the bathroom after coffee and Cheerios and proclaimed, “This is the last dump!” (more…)

“Back to School” Becomes “Leave to Learn”

Friday, August 7th, 2009

People keep asking (somewhat skeptically), “What about school during your trip — are you homeschooling?” I keep answering (somewhat defensively), “No; our kids will do the same work as they would do in school, with real teachers assigned to help them, so they won’t fall behind.” I expound on the educational benefits of the trip and explain that we’re taking the year off largely for the kids’ sake. But inwardly I’m less confident, and all summer I have worried about “back to school” — about the transition to schooling our kids on the road.

My "roads scholars" pictured earlier this summer near Tahoe.

My "roads scholars" pictured earlier this summer near Tahoe.

I know it’s kind of crazy, because we’ll encounter extraordinary educational opportunities at every turn. Plus, most wise people recognize that learning takes place all the time and is more apt to blossom outside the confines of a classroom. So why the worry and resistance to the idea of homeschooling? (more…)

Two Months To Go

Monday, June 15th, 2009

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. (more…)