There’s some evidence that the travel gene is genetic – that some people just have the urge to wander, and some just don’t. If so, both Ivo and I definitely have it. Even our meeting proves the point – we met over breakfast in a youth hostel in St Petersburg while we were both travelling.
We tested our new relationship by driving to Spain on back roads in a small car
and took a motorcycle trip of a few weeks when I was five months pregnant, about a month before we moved to the Netherlands.
We even went for a weekend trip around the Netherlands right before L’s Monday due date.
Travel is what makes us happy. As Robert Louis Stevenson said: “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”
But while I have done some fairly long trips in the past – notably four months backpacking in Central America and four months on Barney through Europe,
I have always wanted to do an even longer trip and go around the world, preferably by motorbike. But then I got pregnant, and although it was by choice, I thought that choice meant that I couldn’t do my trip, at least until the kids were grown up, which was a long time away when I’d be pretty old. So as I settling into the Netherlands with an ever-growing belly, I started getting a bit sad.
Then I happened on the story of a couple who had just finished travelling the world with their four kids aged 4-14. Wow! It was possible! Though maybe not by motorbike (yet?). After I finished reading their blog, I went looking for more. Reading the stories, I found that there were many families doing it and that everyone returned positive about their trip and thought it was the best thing they had done. Families were closer, kids’ schooling was enhanced rather than suffering, and they had a head full of bright memories engraved in their brains.
I started to discuss it with Ivo while I was still pregnant with L, and I’ll just say it was a good thing I started working on persuasion that long ago, because at this point he’s totally on board, which he might not have been if there’d been less lead time. He may love travelling, but was less certain of the length of the trip and the complete break from our normal lives.
After figuring out that it was possible, I started to think about when the best time to go would be. I wanted to go at a time when kids are old enough to understand their experiences but before they start thinking parents are rubbish. And, I also had to take the Dutch school system into account, with its tests and separated high schools.
So, it turns out that that time is now. The kids are at a great age for the trip. They’re past needing special equipment and can carry their own (small) packs. They’re fairly experienced travellers already – at 8 and 6 years old, they have been to 19 and 17 countries respectively.
They can read and play games to pass the time. And, most importantly, they will be interested in the places we go and the people we see and meet. L will be back for the important test that determines which level of high school he can go to and is far ahead enough that he’s unlikely to run into issues academically (and actually, a year of home schooling is likely to be really good for him right now, for a variety of reasons). K is young enough that such considerations are far in the future and there are no academic concerns with her either.
As for us adults, well, we’re hoping that the trip will also be good for us as a couple, since we’ve had a difficult few years with Ivo being gone a lot for work. He’s had to give up his job but he’s OK with it, figuring it’s time for a change anyway.
And, well, you know that story that inspired me? Tragically, the mother died of cancer a couple years after the trip. You just never know what life will bring. I always think it’s better to live now than to wait for a future that might not come or might be completely different than expected. As Mark Twain didn’t say: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
We had already planned a trip to Sweden with my mother and aunt to see our extended Swedish family, so we’re starting there. Then, with my aunt in tow, we’re going to visit Tallinn before the proper start of the trip in St. Petersburg – choosing that as the symbolic starting point for obvious reasons. My aunt will be with us until Moscow, and then she’ll go back home and we’ll head off on the Trans Mongolian Railway, stopping several times along the way, including at Lake Baikal – I’ve currently planned to Ulan Bataar in detail but then we’ll probably revert to our normal form of last minute travel as much as we can after that. We definitely plan to visit Korea (where I taught English at the end of the last century) and Japan, before we head to Southeast Asia, India, Australia and New Zealand. We’re going to end the trip in Vancouver with my family and may fit in some North American travel around that. We’re very open to specific suggestions and recommendations from others who’ve been where we’re going.
We’re planning to travel mostly by train and other public transport, though we may rent/buy cars or other vehicles in various places when it makes sense to do so. We will need to fly a little as there’s no other easy way to get places like India and Australia. We’re going to be travelling with backpacks. We’re also going to be looking for low-cost options, especially for accommodation, though maybe not quite as low-cost as when I backpacked Central America at the age of 24. And, definitely unlike that trip, we’ll be taking advantage of internet options for finding places to stay. We’ll also be open to housesitting and couch surfing type options because it’s nice to get to know people where we go. We’ll also try to stay longer in some places so we don’t get travel fatigue.
There are two main parts to the long-term planning – finances and mental preparation. Financially, we had a bit of savings and we tend to put what I earn towards this trip, living off Ivo’s salary for the most part. We’re pretty frugal and tend to be pretty careful about what we buy in general and we keep our fixed costs as low as possible. It’s hard to give an exact number of what we think it will cost since expenses for a trip like this tend to be very variable – obviously travelling in Scandinavia is a great deal more expensive than Thailand. And every budget is different. We like hostels and cheapish hotels, so our budget reflects that. We have a rough estimate in our heads of 90 euros a day, but obviously this will be on average. We are also making sure to have a bit of a buffer for when we come back just in case Ivo doesn’t have a job when we get back.
Mentally, I’ve been prepared my whole life, and as I said, I’ve been discussing it with Ivo forever. We’ve also been preparing the kids for a long time, discussing it with them and treating it like something that was definitely going to happen. And, of course all the travel we’ve done with them has gotten them used to it.
For the short-term planning since we decided that now was the time to go we have been using lists. Lots and lots of lists. Lists of things that we need to cancel or change the address of, bureaucracy that we needed to deal with, vaccinations, house and other arrangements, visa requirements per passport and country and a packing list and things that needed to be ordered or bought (I’ll talk more about packing in a later post). Then we checked all of those items off. It was a pretty busy few months and if I were to do it again I might try to start a bit earlier with getting things done. But I think that’s almost always the case – things tend to expand to fill the time they have. And now we’re done and underway and we’ll be filling you in on our adventures to come.