Announcing “Meet, Plan, Go!” for Extended Travel and Career Break Planning

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

I haven’t posted here recently because I’m now working on my other blog, The Runner’s Trip, but I’m back to share the link to The Runner’s Trip’s latest post because I think it’ll interest anyone who followed this blog in the past—that is, anyone interested in meaningful long-term travel.

I’m hosting an exciting event in San Francisco on October 18 that’s part of a nationwide network of events called Meet, Plan, Go! to help others plan and fulfill their extended-travel dreams. I hope you’ll read more about it—and find out why we went on our journey, in spite of a list of reasons not to, and concluded “it’s the best thing we ever did.”

Happy New Year and New Blog

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

To all the subscribers who regularly read this blog: Thank you, happy new year, and please visit my new blog!

I launched a new site a few days ago to combine my passions for running and travel. It’s called The Runner’s Trip, and the tagline is Run Long, Travel Far, Discover More. The first post and about page describe its mission. In many ways it’s an outgrowth of this blog and my first running blog. I’m mothballing Away Together and encouraging readers here to subscribe to the new one.

I greatly appreciate all who followed our family travel blog and shared their comments on our posts. I look forward to traveling more with my family and blogging about the destinations on The Runner’s Trip.

Thanks again for taking the time to read this. I hope you find the new blog inspiring, motivating, informative, and entertaining.

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…)

Essential Gear For Long-Term Travel

Monday, May 31st, 2010

A year ago, as we packed up our house and got ready to go, I scanned various lists developed by travel experts of essential items to pack, and I invariably ended up more conflicted about what to bring for our round-the-world trip. We made a commitment to travel light — just one easy-to-carry clothing bag each, plus a communal gear bag and as few carry-ons as possible — and yet all these lists were telling us to bring so much stuff.

After 10 months of family travel, I don’t have a comprehensive packing list to share (here’s a good one for starters if that’s what you’re looking for), but I can detail some of the gear and clothing we found indispensable. (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…)

How To Plan A Year-Long Family Travel Itinerary

Monday, February 15th, 2010

After I posted this, I wrote a different — and in some ways, better — version of the story for one of my favorite travel websites, almostfearless.com. That article is called, “The Biggest Mistakes to Avoid While Planning Long-Term Family Travel.” I hope you’ll check it out!

The lookout next to our lodge in the Blue Mountains (click to enlarge).

The lookout next to our lodge in the Blue Mountains (click to enlarge).

The alternative title for this post could be, “How We Ended Up Off A Beaten Path Near The Blue Mountains.”

Our home for the week is at the end of a road in a thick, misty gum tree forest where wild parrots fly overhead and the cliffs of the Blue Mountains plunge into a forested canyon. In the mornings, the parrots flock for a feast of birdseed offered up by Colly and Kyle’s outstretched hands.

"A bird in the hand is worth a loo in the bush" -- the parrots make up for some of the funkier aspects of this eco lodge.

"A bird in the hand is worth a loo in the bush" -- the parrots make up for some of the inconvenient aspects of this eco lodge.

We’re exploring nearby trails, enjoying the offbeat towns of Blackheath and Katoomba, and unplugging at a cabin at the Jemby-Rinjah Eco Lodge, which is deep in the woods with no traffic noise, no Internet access and very few other guests. I love the simple, natural way of life — but I admit I was shocked to discover that the cabin’s toilet lacks what we all take for granted: running water and a flusher. It’s just a seat above a pit, a.k.a. “a roto loo composting system.”  At least I have good reason now to argue that the others should put the lid down when they’re done!

Whenever we find ourselves in a weird and wild place like this, I think to myself, We’re a long way from Piedmont how did we get here? The simple answer is that we reserved this cabin about two months ago. We figured we wanted a rustic setting after two weeks in Sydney, but didn’t want to drive too far or spend money on a flight to elsewhere in Australia. The Blue Mountains National Park seemed like a no-brainer. Our research turned up a New York Times article recommending this affordable eco-lodge, and that was enough to convince us to book it.

As the above example suggests, planning an itinerary is a very unscientific and subjective process that involves looking inward at values and priorities as well as looking outward at the world of possibilities. It’s always a balancing act between dreams and reality — that is, limitless interests versus limited time and resources. Sometimes it’s fascinating, but just as often it’s frustrating. (more…)

Halfway There Together: Surprises and Changes So Far

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Morgan's view of the Sydney Opera House during a recent ferry ride.

The Sydney skyline as seen from a ferry.

As you can guess from the photo, we’ve started the five-week Australian leg of our journey! This past week was a blur as I left Morgan and the kids for a short trip back to California. The three of them transitioned from New Zealand to here, and I rejoined them midweek.

I felt the way this guy looks after I crossed the date line twice in a week. Morgan shot this photo while on a trip to the Sydney Zoo with the kids.

I felt the way this guy looks after I crossed the date line twice in a week. Morgan and the kids saw this koala at the Sydney Zoo.

At first I felt as bushed as a koala who looks drunk on eucalyptus midday. (Little-known fact from Friends of the Koalas: “Contrary to popular belief, eucalyptus leaves do not make koalas drunk. Koalas appear drunk or lazy because they have developed a low-energy lifestyle to compensate for their extremely low-energy diet.” What a bummer to discover — I liked the idea that this lovable species had evolved to be fat, lazy and perpetually buzzed.)

In the midst of the past week, each of us took time to mark the halfway point in our journey by doing the following exercise: write a letter to ourselves and the other family members. Reflect on the trip so far, making note of what memories stand out and our feelings about the past six months. Then imagine the second half of the journey (when we’ll go from Australia to Hong Kong, Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey) and write down some hopes and expectations for those months. Don’t share the letter with anyone yet; seal it up and set it aside. Then, on the last night before returning home, open and take turns reading them to one another and reflecting further — not only about where we went and what we did, but also why we did it, how it affected us and what we’ll do next.

I have my friend Carolyn to thank (the one who hosted us in Queenstown, who’s an accomplished educator and world traveler) for suggesting this exercise, because it prompted me to think more deeply about how this trip has changed and surprised us. There’s no way I can fit all those ideas into a blog post, but I’d like to share some.

Here, then, are some surprises and revelations  in no particular order: (more…)

When It Rains…

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Morgan and I spent a lot of time last week doing travel research and making reservations while the stormy weather kept us mostly inside.

Morgan and I spent a lot of time last week doing travel research and making reservations while the stormy weather kept us mostly inside.

Before Morgan and I left in mid-August, we talked a lot about how there will be times when traveling gets tough, when we feel fatigued and worried about the myriad consequences of uprooting for a year, and when we second-guess our choices. We knew we’d feel homesick not just for home per se, but for friends and familiar routines, and we might feel pangs of regret. That’s why we added the “no regrets” phrase to our tagline — not because we’re blithely traipsing off in the world with nothing weighing us down but our backpacks, but rather because we knew from the start that doubt might haunt us, just as first-time home buyers flirt with buyers’ remorse when the repairs pile up and bills come due. “No regrets” is shorthand for “no turning back, so let’s make this work, and in the long run we’ll look back and be so glad we did it.” Or in Spanish, vale la pena. It’s what we say to each other and to ourselves to bolster confidence and commitment, because what we’re doing takes an occasional pep talk.

Last week was one of those weeks. (more…)