A Travellerspoint blog

Why, How, and WOW!


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)

World Schooling -- Act 1

Homeschooling on the Road - Doing Our Homework

Getting ready to write part 2 - so re-posting part 1 for those who might want to read them together . . . IMG_1244.jpg

Act 1

"Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself." -- John Dewey

When we talk to other parents about our "year off" they usually say that they would LOVE to do something like that . . . but . . . what about school?

Schooling Doesn't Need to be a Deal Breaker

Doing OUR Homework

We've found that requirements for Home Schooling vary with each state. Washington is pretty easy. The Law basically states that:

  • We must file a declaration of intent with our local school district.
  • We must work with a certified teacher who meets with your student on the average of an hour a week. (Hey! Cool! Mom IS a certified teacher)
  • We must teach 11 required subjects -- reading, writing, spelling, language, math, science, social studies, history, health, occupational education, and art and music appreciation.
  • Students must take some sort of assessment annually (supervised by a certified teacher - could be Mom again)
  • We should keep some sort of records (not specified) of student instruction and progress.

We are also fortunate that Washington State's Grade Level Standards are spelled out for us to consult periodically. I will be meeting with the 5th and 7th grade teachers soon to let them know about our plans and get their take on essential skill areas we should cover. I bet they will have some creative project ideas for us as well.

Embracing a Teaching & Learning Philosophy

Just like when I was searching for the "perfect fit" Kindergarten, it has been easiest for me to start with what I DON'T want.
I don’t want . . .

  • schoolwork to be a separate and imposing add-on to our experience.
  • to lug around a bunch of workbooks
  • my kids to be bored or restless
  • them to return unprepared for their next year of school

We have a HUGE jump on making this happen because our kids have always loved their time at school. They have thrived at Thornton Creek academically, socially, and emotionally. I credit the Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound Model and excellent teachers for fully engaging them. My plan is to take what has been so positive about their experiences there and apply it to the world classroom.

Expeditionary Learning

Expeditionary Learning focuses on teaching in an engaging way while emphasizing learning by doing, character growth, teamwork, and literacy. The approach is experiential and project-based, involving students in original research -- with experts whenever possible -- to create high-quality products for audiences beyond the classroom. All subjects center around an assigned expedition that will spark students’ interest, support critical literacy, promote character development, create a sense of adventure and foster an ethic of service.

My experiences as both a learner and as a teacher have made me a believer of the effectiveness of this approach. It is easy to see how our trip itself can become our year long "Learning Expedition". I admit to being excited about the challenge and fun of guiding my own small class in the coolest classroom ever.

Gathering Materials


Both kids go through books like crazy and we can't imagine taking enough paperbacks with us - so we decided that investing in e-readers seemed prudent. After some research, we found that Nook Simple Touch made the most sense (Thanks Grandma and Grandpa for the Christmas gift!!). The reviews generally put the nook ahead of the Kindle because of the touch screen and lower price ($79 special offer).

We like that it has 2GB of internal memory and that we can expand that memory with a microSD card (up to 32 GB) -- That’s a TON of books! Noah figured out that we could get FREE e-books directly from the Seattle and King County Public Library and other sites - even overseas (I had my sister in Singapore try it out). There are advantages to being married to a technology geek. We can also share the same book on multiple devises - I'm thinking family reading group!

Our Favorite Portable Somewhat Educational Activities

A lesson learned from our travel experiences so far - there will be time to kill - so come prepared! Here are some easy to travel with games/activities that can be pulled out in the airport, train, bus station, cafe, etc.
Rory's Story Cubes and Rory's Story Cubes - Actions (We combined the sets for even better story making).
Crossword Cubes and Bananagrams (Word Games)
Ken Ken Math Puzzles both kids love and I find really hard! (We like the Will Shortz series) Puzzles are also available online.
Zeus on the Loose
Apples to Apples

Learning from the Experts

Some Great Family Travel Bloggers Have Written About Schooling While Traveling:

On Preparing for the Trip
On "UnSchooling"
On Learning Opportunities While Traveling (with 4 kids!)
Volunteering as a Family

I've found the reflections of Traveling Families once they have returned to be extremely valuable. Their End of Year "Report Cards" on schooling especially so -- Thank you bloggers!!
Wander Mom
Travels With A Nine Year Old
Six in the World

Home schooling Resources

Washington Home school Organization
Simple Home schooling
ADPRIMA (provides links to a variety of other Home schooling sites


Tune in Next Time!
Act 2 - Setting Ourselves Up for Success
What Will World Schooling Look Like for Our Family?


Kids Are Ready to Go!

Posted by annevl 17:00 Comments (2)

Shoot Me

Travel Immunizations (from Noah)


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)

Volunteering as We Travel

Anne's Thoughts on Voluntourism

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.
(Aesop, "The Lion and the Mouse")


I think of volunteering on our world trip not as a chance for us to change the world – it is more like giving the world the chance to change us.

Why Volunteer?

I came upon this compulsion to volunteer quite naturally. It may be genetic. My parents are Peace Corps Volunteers (I don't say "were" because even though their actual volunteer time was over before I was born - I've always considered it an integral part of their characters). My three sisters and I were raised in a home brimming with guests from different cultures, exchange students, and expectations of community service. Their stories of volunteering in Malasia (Mom) and Thailand (Dad) were filled with anecdotes of how much they had to learn - rather than accolades of what the locals learned from them. I have taken that to heart.

Volunteering provides a unique opportunity to get involved in something bigger than ourselves – to forge relationships and open portals to understanding. I do believe that we have something to contribute, but I expect that the line between teaching and learning will be blurry at best. I am most looking forward to the people we will meet and the experiences we will share. I have SEEN things that have changed my perspective - but it is in the DOING, that risky leap of faith, the willingness to LEARN – that changes lives. I want that for myself and for my family. We can stretch ourselves to be more than tourists. For me, volunteering as we travel is more important than merely “seeing the world”.


Can you be a volunteer and a tourist at the same time?

Yes, of course! However, all you have to do is Google "volunteer thailand" to come face to face to face with the overwhelming number of options out there. I've found that narrowing them down requires time, patience, and clear personal "want/don't want" criteria.

While researching volunteering possibilities, I've found the term "voluntourism" or "VolunTourism" used predominantly by tour operators marketing a "unique experience" and a chance to "give back" to the communities involved in their specific trip. The package deals seem to cater to mostly "gap year" backpackers and retired folks - but some accommodate families - and look really cool. It is certainly tempting to have someone else in charge of arrangements - but I would say that paying to have the volunteer experience quickly went on the "don't want" list. There is no shortage of free or almost free volunteering opportunities the world over - they just require a bit more creativity and planning to arrange.

Our Version of Voluntourism

Well, we ARE on a budget, have limited time, and are travelling as a family - so we pretty much need to piece together our own opportunities. If we can do it - anyone can! Here is the WHERE, WHEN, WHAT, and WHY of the volunteer experiences we have lined up so far . . .

  • PERU July - October 2012

Cusco - We have made a personal connection and enrolled in 6 weeks of classes at an immersion Spanish School (AMAUTA) and their affiliate Travel Agency (DOS MANOS) in Cusco, Peru. We love that they have arranged for us to stay with a Peruvian family, the rates are super reasonable, and that Alex and Leah will have a teacher all to themselves. They also have contacts with local volunteer projects including a school. After 6 weeks of class we will be free to decide how to spend our time and where to stay - we'll be leaving ourselves open to opportunities. I'd especially love to put my ESL Certification to good use. Our hope is that spending four months in Cusco will give us time to participate in the community, learn some of the language, and appreciate the culture more richly.

  • CAMBODIA March/April? 2013

Ponhea Kraek - Our sponsored child, Neng, lives in this rural Cambodian village. We have been exchanging letters for the past 2 years and are excited to meet each other in person. We are asking Plan to make arrangements for us to spend time volunteering at the local school and hanging out with Neng and her family.

  • THAILAND May 2013

Chiang Mai -
Elephant Nature Park Oh, yeah, the kids are super excited about this one!
To volunteer here as a family we submitted an application, were accepted, and signed up months ago for our two weeks in the middle of May. This experience will be not only about the elephants. We will be living in a hut with no running water, getting up early, helping prepare communal meals, and putting in full days of labor - How could we not learn and grow from that? There is a fee associated with volunteering but the money goes directly to supporting the rescue and advocacy efforts of Elephant Nature Park - so I'm OK with that.
More articles about the Elephant Nature Park:
The Nation (Thailand)

  • CHINA June 2013

We are still working on setting up specific arrangements for volunteering in China - but we have a couple of great contacts there who have offered to help us with placements at:

a Panda Sanctuary outside Chengdu, and

an Orphanage near Beijing

Staying Connected

It is inspiring to read about the adventures of other travelling families. The Earlywines are my favorite. Here is a link to their blog about volunteering in Peru. Vagabond Family is also proving to be a great tool for connecting with families engaged in long term travel. Special thanks to BootsnAll for their Indie Travel Challenge and "giving back" blog posts that inspired this one.

I hope that we will all catch the volunteering bug during our trip - and don't recover from it when we return to our life in Seattle.

Thanks for reading, I look forward to your comments.

Posted by annevl 15:33 Tagged peru thailand china spanish family volunteer teaching esl language_school Comments (6)

"Must Have" Travel Gear

Anne's Favorite Things


As we prep for our trip - my ears have been to the ground for news of gear and products that could make our travel lifestyle easier.
Behold some of my old tricks and new discoveries!

Staying Fresh

I always travel with body powder (I get sample size bottles of Gold Bond) as a quick fix for moisture issues. It really helps with stinky shoes and sweaty backs AND can even get stubborn sand off your feet. I had not, however, heard of a powder shampoo. Turns out there is such a thing and it actually works! Oscar Blandi Pronto Dry Shampoo is perfect for transforming that day 3 without a real shower greasy hair into a more fresh smelling and presentable look. Love it!
Wet Ones Wipes and Pocket Pack Kleenex hang out in my purse whether I'm travelling or not but I have found them especially wonderful to have in scary bathrooms and napkin free eating situations - definitely "must haves".

Water Bottles

- Our house favorite is from contigo. You don't have to unscrew the top or squeeze the bottle, it doesn't leak, is PBA free, and the top is a built in clip.

Sun Protection

Protecting our fair skin is really important and not something to skimp on while travelling. We will bring and acquire the bigger containers of sunscreen lotion - but I've also found a good portable towelette for those times when we forget to bring lotion or need to reapply. We tested the SunX 30+ Towelettes this summer and I'm thinking they will come in handy for faces, necks etc. when we are exposed to the sun but not hanging out on the beach.

An Australian friend recommended these sun hats (Outdoor Research Oasis Sombrero), and although I feel a bit odd wearing them here - supposedly they are a standard wardrobe item down under. She insists that they are less expensive to buy in the US than "back home" and she was stocking up! Who knew?

Washing Up

Travelling light means there will be times when we'll be washing our clothes in the sink. Success in this endeavor comes down to 3 things in addition to quick drying clothes. . .

  • stopper for the sink - Any "universal plug" will do - but I've heard that they can be hard to find overseas.
  • soap/detergent The "Tide" Travel Sink Packets work pretty well and don't need to conform to the liquids requirements for carry-on luggage.
  • a drying system - We got the Rick Steves' Travel Clothesline which is basically a braided stretchy line that requires no clothespins.



Living in Seattle means we are all about comfort and layers - a good fit for travel, I'd say. Conveniently, we have both REI and ExOfficio stores nearby - so I can troll the sales. It is hard to believe that one (carry-on friendly) set of clothes will work perfectly for a Cusco Winter, Great Barrier Reef Summer, and a Mongolian July - but here is what I have collected so far . . .


ExOfficio Storm Logic Coat Love Love Love this coat! It is light (20 oz) but warm, has great pockets, and even folds into a built in stuff sack to become a travel pillow!
Ibex Women's Shak Vest - a soft-shell, stretchy, and less bulky option to the fleece vest. I've been wearing mine for both work and fun for over a year with virtually no wear and tear.


ExOfficio - absolutely the best.
Long Underwear - Lands End Silk



  • Women's BugsAway® Baja™ Long-Sleeve Shirt - I bought this on clearance and was then tickled to see primatologist Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas in Borneo wearing the same shirt while hanging with orphaned orangutans in the "Born To Be Wild" movie - took that as a good sign.
  • Tank Top with built-in "real" bra - These are great for those of us who need more than the elastic "shelf" provided by most tank tops and want the connivence of an all inclusive lowest layer. I have the Perfect-Fit® Cami but am still on the hunt for a more perfect fit . . .

Also bringing a couple of light cotton T's - just because . . .



Royal Robbins Discovery Skirt (23in) -- Has a flattering fit, just below the knee, quick dry, lots of pockets, modest but still light - seems like a good choice.
ExOfficio Women's Nomad Roll-Up Pant - Had the best fit for me of all the convertible travel pants I've tried.
Women's Go-To™ Palazzo Capri - So comfortable and versatile I wear them to work AND use them as PJs. I think they will be perfect for jumping on scooters and nice enough to wear out to dinner.

BIG QUESTION -- Jeans or No Jeans? Please weigh in on this important decision!


A buff!

Yes, like "Survivor". I know, it seems a bit gimmicky - but Leah and I both got one for Christmas and have become converts. Here is Leah modeling her's:
Pashmina Shawl / Wrap / Stole - I've had enough veteran travelers tell me that this will be an indispensable accessory (blanket, scarf, pillow, etc.) that I went ahead and bought one. I'll keep you posted on its usefulness during our trip.


I've been testing out a number of different brands and styles and found 2 that top the list (Both Men's and Women's) for durability, comfort, and breathability :
My favorite darker, cool weather sock: smartwool (wool blend)
A great lighter, warm weather option - that feels like cotton but holds up much better and wicks moisture is ecosox (made of bamboo fibers).


Help! I am at a loss here. Can I travel in my 18 year old Sambas?
I don't plan on packing hiking boots and have heard that flip-flops work well for SE Asia, but is there such a thing as an every day sturdy shoe that can look presentable with a skirt and still survive the Inca Trail? I bought these Jambu Cherry Terra Sandals on Sale at REI but am open to suggestions.
What are your favorite shoes?


A valuable piece of advise I received from a travel savvy friend was to "test drive" and "beat up" our luggage before our trip. New luggage becomes a target and untried gear, a liability she said . . . I believe her -- So -- behold our luggage!

  • Travel Purse --Pacsafe MetroSafe 200 Shoulder Bag -- Juanchi gave me this for my Birthday and it has been my "go to" purse ever since. It has everything I need -- cross shoulder, medium size, not too many pockets, security features- basically a great bag :-)
  • Noah as the big Daddy gets to shoulder the responsibility of our biggest bag. It is flexible -- duffel, wheeled bag, or backpack-- but will need to be checked when we fly. The High Sierra 26 Inch Drop-Bottom Wheeled Duffrite can carry our liquids and overflow items that wouldn't otherwise fir in our carry-on bags.
  • Convertible Carry-Ons (can be a wheeled bag or a backpack)

The rest of us have carry-on sized luggage - 2 Eagle Creek bags and 1 Tumi. It was fun to shop Ebay for the best deal.

Packing Cubes

In addition to a supply of ziplocks, we will be attempting to pack efficiently with cubes, etc. We have a couple from Eagle Creek and LewisNClarke. I especially love the colorful ones my sister sent.

Little Gifts

We are looking forward to volunteering and working with children in Peru and SE Asia and wanted to bring along something (NOT candy) to share with them. It helps to have a school teacher in the family. So far we've collected pencils, stickers, and blow up globes.

"Down Time" Gear


E-Readers & Portable Activities

We like that the Nook Simple Touch Reader has 2GB of internal memory and that we can expand that memory with a microSD card (up to 32 GB) -- That’s a TON of books! Noah figured out that we could get FREE e-books directly from the Seattle and King County Public Library and other sites - even overseas (I had my sister in Singapore try it out). We can also share the same book on multiple devises.

A lesson learned from our travel experiences so far - there will be time to kill - so come prepared! A deck of cards is a "no brainer" but here are some additional easy to travel with games/activities that can be pulled out in the airport, train, bus station, cafe, etc.

Rory's Story Cubes and Rory's Story Cubes - Actions
Crossword Cubes
Zeus on the Loose
Apples to Apples
Magnetic Travel Chess

How We Feel About Our Gear at the END of this Trip Will Most Likely Make for an Amusing and Informative Tale. Can You Hang in There Till Then?

We Have Officially Booked our Flights From June 2012 through January 2013 (Peru, Chile, Easter Island, Tahiti, New Zealand, and Australia) with the Remaining Adventures (Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Mongolia, and Russia) to be Arranged as we Go. It is Feeling REAL!

Please Share Any Thoughts and/or Insights! We Would Love to Hear from You!

Posted by annevl 21:11 Comments (5)

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