A Travellerspoint blog

USA

Why, How, and WOW!

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When we talk with people about our upcoming year-long trip, we typically get one of the following responses - “Why?”, “How?”, and “Wow!”. I have started to call this the “WHOW” effect. Here’s some of the background behind the “Why?”.

Both of us grew up in families that valued travel as an important part of life. Anne’s parents are both Peace Corps volunteers, and she grew up in house with lots of exchange students. She and her sisters have all spent time living and travelling overseas -- one of them has even made her home abroad. Noah traveled with his family every year growing up, and he has been moving around the country since his early teens.

We have traveled both internationally and domestically with the kids and learned some lessons. We took Alex to Europe when he was 16 months old, and took both kids to Switzerland shortly after Leah was born. We “enjoyed” those experiences traveling as a family, although traveling via airplane with kids between 1-3 is pretty tough (they always want to run up and down the aisle on the airplane, go into first class, etc.).

For us though, it’s not really about the travel itself - but the shift and shared memories that make it worthwhile. As a family we value experiences -- learning by doing -- which is why we chose an alternative school that used the Expeditionary Learning (ELOB) approach. Our concept for this trip emerged primarily from that core value.
“Is there a way we have the ultimate expeditionary learning experience together?”
Talking about this, Anne floating the idea that “we COULD take the kids out of school for a year and travel” and Noah agreeing, was what could be called our “CONCEPT” phase.

Most folks travel in their 20s when they have few responsibilities or in their retirement when they have fulfilled them. We thought we’d try splitting the difference.

We talked a lot about whether we wanted to travel in-between school years, or take the kids out of school for the whole year. This decision was made a bit easier by the fact that Anne is a teacher, and we can homeschool the kids for the year without major impacts to their overall school journey (see entry on “Worldschooling”).

The timing of our trip is no accident - it’s based entirely on Alex and Leah. The 2012-2013 school year is 5th grade for Leah and 7th grade for Alex, and we wanted to avoid them missing a transition year if possible. Middle school in Seattle is 6-8, so Alex will miss the middle year of middle school. Leah will skip her last year of elementary school, but will hopefully return to join Alex at the same middle school. Additionally, the kids are old enough to carry their own luggage and fully participate in our adventures, but not full-blown teens yet. Once we picked 2012 as our target year, we entered “INTENT” phase.

Once had the intent, all of our decisions took on a “Does this work for the trip?” filter. Purchase it, or borrow it? Do we really need this? One of the great side-effects of the trip prep has been the opportunity to purge all of the cruft that had accumulated over 13 years of living with 2 kids (and multiple dogs) in our house.

We’ve been planning this for about 6 years, but we entered “COMMIT” phase when we booked (with a deposit) the first activity for the trip (Thailand Elephant Nature Park). Of course, booking the airfare was also a big commit.

It’s hard to believe that it’s finally upon us - we are getting more excited (and stressed) every day. In the past week we have finalized the rental of our house, sold both of our cars, had our last day(s) of work, forwarded our mail, ended our gym membership, and relied heavily on the generosity of family and friends. We know that we will make it, but this last week is going to something of a marathon.

We are looking forward to sharing our experiences, but the big bonus will be hearing that we have inspired someone/anyone else to take a similar step. Think about it - this might very well be something that you can do too.

Posted by noahv 12:45 Archived in USA Tagged why Comments (3)

Shoot Me

Travel Immunizations (from Noah)

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I got shot today. Twice. And I asked for it!

I visited the UW Medicine Travel Clinic today and started my travel vaccinations. I talked with a very knowledgeable PA about our trip itinerary, and all of the risks that we will be facing. I say all, since Linda was quick to point out that although diseases and infections are out there, and they can be immunized against (in some cases), you are much more likely to be hurt or killed in a motor vehicle accident or in some sort of vIolent crime. However, although you need to be vigilant and aware when travelling (of course), you can get immunized against some of diseases upfront.

Linda did a great job of reviewing our itinerary with me, and creating a report for each country that we will be visiting, outlining the diseases and other risks for each area. She recommended an online site called TripPrep (run by the same company that provides the Travax system that she used in the office). Once we reviewed the report and discussed the options, she created a customized document for me with the recommended vaccinations (in my case "Twinrix", which is a combo-Hepatitis A/B vaccine, and an adult polio booster), as well as scrips for Cipro, Azithromycin, and a Typhoid vaccine (I already had my TDAP).

We talked about, but didn't act on, immunizations for yellow fever, Japanese Encephalitis (JE), or rabies. Yellow fever, although a possibility in the Amazonian areas of Peru, is not prevalent in the high areas of Peru where we're going (Cusco and the Sacred Valley). JE, although a very nasty disease, is very rare for travelers (1:1,000,000). Rabies is probably a good bet for us, given the risk that all furry mammals have the chance of carrying rabies, and our kids (especially Leah) love all animals. However, the rabies vaccine is not typically covered under insurance, and has a cost of about $950 per person. Our thought is that since SE Asia is our highest risk area (lots of feral dogs and monkeys), we'll investigate getting vaccinated in SIngapore (which is considered first-world for medicine). We'll follow the same plan for getting our malaria meds (Malarone or Doxycycline).

Not the most fun time I've ever spent (especially since both of my arms are sore now from the shots I got), but I really appreciate the time and attention that I got from Linda and the UW Medicine Travel Clinic. I recommend them for anyone in the Seattle area that needs this type of service (in our area, the local King County Public Heath department provides a similar service). Anne is heading there next week, and so will the kids.

Posted by noahv 21:45 Archived in USA Tagged health vaccines immunizations Comments (0)

Career Break

from Noah

“Then there is the most dangerous risk of all– the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.” — Randy Komisar, The Monk and the Riddle

One of the top 3 questions that I get when we talk about the trip is "what about your job?" (specifically, my mom asks me this a lot). She doesn't like my answer that I'm taking a Career Break, which is probably why she continues to ask me this question over and over again.

Fortunately, I work in a field that is project-based, meaning that my professional life has a cyclical nature. This makes it relatively easy to take time off of work - I can finish one project, take some time off to travel, and then come back to the next project. Of course, this is just a working theory up to this point - our upcoming trip will be the first time we put this into practice (hopefully it won't be the last time...)

Taking time off of work has always come with its share of challenges. Besides the obvious impact to your income, the prevailing wisdom is that gaps in-between jobs on your resume showed that there's some sort of "issue" with your ability to hold down a job. Therefore, leaving a job to travel (or do something otherwise non-job-related) was a potential negative for employers to identify as they reviewed your resume.

What we are seeing now is the start of a movement towards taking a "Career Break". Similar to a Gap Year for students (which is much more prevalent in Europe and Australia than the US), a Career Break is an opportunity to take time off of work (think "sabbatical") for any number of reasons, some of the most popular of which are for travel and volunteer work.

Taking time for yourself (or your family) gives us the opportunity to reflect, to learn new skills, to share our experiences, to give our time to something that is important to us. While most all of us need to work in order to keep on top of the mortgage etc, I would wager that almost all of us would not list "going to work" at the top of the list of things that we want to be spending our time doing.

You're right though, these are tough economic times that make it difficult to contemplate doing something other than working. Anne and I have been thinking about, discussing, and planning this trip for a couple of years now, so although the timing around the job market doesn't seem optimal right now, it's not going to stop us. Besides, we're both lucky to have built very strong networks that we are looking forward to leveraging when we come back to Seattle and get back into our professional careers (if we choose to).

I've been happy that the Internet has made it possible to have found a strong community of other like-minded Career Breakers. There are a number of people who are dedicated to helping people like me (and you) dream, plan, and take a Career Break. Meet, Plan, Go! has some great resources (and is also a fantastic bunch of people); same with the Career Break Secrets site. A quick search will net you a ton more sites.

I admit - getting ready to spend 13 months on the road is both exciting and scary, and I will be quite interested to see what it will do to/for my professional career. I do know that I fully agree with the following quote though -

"Nobody will say on their deathbed: 'I wish I had spent more time in the office'."

- and gauging by the interest and feedback we've gotten from the people that we talked about our trip with, we're not alone. One of the many outcomes I hope for from our trip is that someone else might be inspired to take a Career Break of their own. Why not you?

Posted by noahv 22:15 Archived in USA Tagged career_break Comments (6)

Kid Trip Musings

from Alex and Leah

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One of the top 3 questions that we get when we start talking about the trip is "what do your kids think about this?"

Good question - so we thought we would ask A & L directly. Here's what they said:

What will you miss?

  • A: Mostly my friends, but playing on the computer too. And Zillah, our perro negro.
  • L: Our dog Zillah! I don’t want anything to happen to her while we’re gone!

What scares you?

  • A: Going to places we’ve never ever been before.
  • L: That someone might get hurt or die.

What are you looking forward to seeing? (e.g. Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat)

  • A: Great Barrier Reef - it looks awesome and the snorkeling will be epic.
  • L: The big heads on Easter Island - and beautiful sights all over.

What are you looking forward to doing? (e.g. riding horses, bungee jumping)

  • A: Snorkeling, riding horses, and trying new foods.
  • L: Riding horses, and working with pandas and elephants.

Do you think your parents are crazy?

  • A: Pequeño.
  • L: Yeah.

Note: I think that they might have given the same answer here even if we weren't going on the trip!

What do your friends say now?

  • A: That is seems really awesome and they wish they could come.
  • L: That they are really jealous and will miss me a lot. They want to come too.

What do you think your friends will say when you get back?

  • A: Can I see the pictures of you and the baby pandas?
  • L: How was it? Glad you’re back - can I see the pictures?

What do you think you will learn? About people? About places? About food? About yourself?

  • A: People don’t live like we do in America. And that I can do stuff that I didn’t think that I could.
  • L: People do stuff differently than us, and I’ll have to learn to eat new foods.

What do you think will be the hardest part of the trip?

  • A: Adjusting my body clock to different time zones.
  • L: Having to rent our house to people we don’t know; leaving my friends and my dog!

What do you think will be the most fun part of the trip?

  • A: Taking bunches of photos, and going to the panda sanctuary and the Elephant Nature Park!
  • L: Taking care of animals and going to Tahiti.

There you have it - apparently animals figure large in the thoughts of our kids. More to come from A & L as we go forward!

Posted by noahv 21:41 Archived in USA Tagged children kids Comments (2)

Fair Airfare

(from Noah)

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One of the biggest expenses for any RTW trip is airfare - no surprise there. Also no surprise is that doesn't seem to be an "easy" answer to the question of "what is the best RTW airfare ticket for me?" Depending on your itinerary, duration of trip, flexibility, and frequent flyer miles, you'll need to do some research to find the best fit for your needs. Luckily, there are a number of sites that have done a lot of the legwork for you. Since we just went through this entire process for ourselves, I can also share the outcome of our decision.

Short answer is that we went through AirTreks for our tickets. This is a company based out of San Francisco, that focuses primarily on RTW travel. They were recommended to me from someone I met a while back from one of the Meet Plan Go! get-togethers (I wish I could remember who - but thank you!).

I initially reached out to the AirTreks team over a year ago, just to understand what services they provide, and had a great conversation with a consultant, during which I learned a couple of important items:

  1. we were way to far ahead of the airfare booking window (typically 11 months) for any sort of fare estimates,
  2. we might not have to book the whole trip at the start (and, for a trip duration of over 12 months like ours, it might not be possible),
  3. Daniel (my consultant) had personally been to many of the places that we are planning on going to, and had some excellent itinerary insight that went above & beyond simply getting the best deal on airfare.

During this same time, I was researching other options via some great sites - I started with an article by Tim Ferriss, which pointed me to Chris Guillebeau (who also runs the Travel Hacking site). I considered joining the Travel Hacking Cartel, but (since I'm a geek) decided to try it on my own. I also looked at the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forums, since they are typically useful for all sorts of travel info and advice.

From there I did some poking around with the airline alliance sites, before I stumbled on BootsnAll. Through the BootsnAll sister site Round The World Tickets and Meet Plan Go, I realized that I had a good solution with AirTreks.

Note: what works for me/us may not work for you. We are a family of four, with some flexibility in terms of destinations and timing, but also some hard targets that we wanted to hit. We did not have a lot of FF miles to work with, nor were we comfortable with doing point-to-point airfares on the fly as we needed (we didn't want to get split up on multiple flights out of a given location - however this might be more attractive to single or pairs of travellers). For those of you with gobs of FF miles, even across multiple airlines, playing the FF miles game to consolidate these and using an airfare consortium to book a true RTW ticket. The FlyerTalk forums is a good place for this research.

Flash forward to Jan 2012, and Daniel and I reconnect for serious discussions on our initial itinerary (from the US to Peru through Chile to New Zealand via Rapa Nui and Tahiti, and ending in Sydney for New Years). Daniel was a great guy to work with - listened to what we were interested in doing, answered our (dumb) questions, gave us info from his personal experience that we would not have gotten otherwise, and helped us come up with a solid itinerary (places and dates). Daniel then took that info away and came back a week later with flight recommendations and cost estimates. Anne and I got on the phone with Daniel for an hour review session, revising and tweaking the dates and destinations (Daniel came prepared with options), and, at the end, we pulled the trigger and booked the airfare for our family.

AirTreks offers trip insurance as well - basic insurance is included with every airfare purchased (for US and Canada residents), which is a great deal. We opted to do the Full Monty and purchased the additional exclusive insurance, which includes double medical coverage, trip cancellation insurance, and double emergency evacuation coverage. Hope we never need it, but just in case something bad happens before or during the trip, we are guaranteed to get our money back. Since we're going to be on the road for such a long time (with kids) we felt this was an important item to have. Again, ymmv based on who you are and your risk profile.

End result is that we have the flights that we wanted, on the days that we wanted, with solid insurance behind it. I don't feel like we paid a premium to get it either. Sure, maybe in this age of the Internet we could have done it a bit cheaper if we did it all ourselves online, but based on the customer service from AirTreks, the personal guidance from Daniel, and the fact that we can always contact AirTreks for help on the way (like a real travel agent), we're very comfortable with this outcome.

One final note, with any big purchase comes the inevitable "buyer's remorse". Sure, it got our adrenaline flowing and the butterflies in the stomach flying around when it came time to give our credit card digits for the purchase, but this is certainly tempered by knowing that you have a partner in the purchase - that's the way we feel with AirTreks. If you want more info, please leave a comment!

(full disclosure: links to AirTreks are referrals on this page. This does not change our opinion of the service or products that AirTreks provides).

Posted by noahv 10:35 Archived in USA Tagged tickets rtw airfare Comments (1)

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