Navigating our Blog

We’ve been back for more than four months, but new people continue to visit our blog. Here are a few shortcuts and tips on navigating our site. As always, direct any questions our way. We love to talk travel and are interested in hearing from anyone who may be planning a trip.

The Hows and Whys (written before we left)

The Packing List and Favorite Gear (written the week before we left)

The Gear Post (written half way through our trip; I still want to write a wrap-up post on our favorite gear)

From Asia to Zambia (a summary of the things that we did during our 6.5 months away)

Our Trip: 20 Cool Facts and Random Observations (general observations about our trip, long-term travel and the world)

How the Kids Survived, Thrived and Changed (written after our return)

Itinerary Do’s, Don’ts and Favorites (written after our return, list of the places that we’d recommend and an evaluation of things we did right and things we’d do differently)

This time last year, we had just a month left before leaving and it was a mad scramble to finish the preparations. It’s hard for me to believe, and a little sad to think about, but it’s all behind us now. It was such an incredible experience: more challenging than we imagined, but deeply rewarding.

We've still got a few blank pages to fill

We’ve still got a few blank pages to fill

Dusting off the passports once again, as we have one more place in our big world to explore this year: Panama! We’ve already booked a zip-lining adventure and a cooking class, and look forward to seeing the mountains, the coasts, the Panama Canal and everything else! We’ll be traveling with Jenn’s parents.

Wishing everyone a happy 2014. What have you got planned?

Playa Coronado, Panama

(Note: I wrote this about two months ago but for some reason it never posted.)

Panama is a country in transition and the nation gearing up for vast economic improvements over the coming decades. From humble roots, where many still live in poverty, the president has a long-term plan to modernize the country; huge infrastructure projects are in progress. Given its fortuitous geography and an attractive tax code, many multinational corporations have based their regional operations in Panama and all around it seems clear that the country is modernizing.

In addition to foreign investments, retirees have recently discovered Panama and they are moving down in droves. My parents are two of the recent “snowbirds” who have moved to Panama part-time, and they – like others – have been drawn by the low prices, strong medical system, relative safety, modern conveniences and proximity to the USA. Panama even uses the US Dollar as its official currency. Both expats and retirees can live a very good life in Panama, as we recently discovered after spending a week in Playa Coronado, their new community.

Mango Haven, a name we loveling bestowed on their new home

Mango Haven, a name we lovingly bestowed on their new home. It’s hard to see the house, as it’s surrounded by trees and vegetation in every direction.

It was a pool and lush gardens everywhere!

It was a pool and lush gardens everywhere!

Never too old for a swing!

Never too old for a swing! The backyard at Mango Haven.

The beach is only a ten minute walk

My dad at his local praya. The beach is only a ten minute walk

The kids loved it!

The kids loved it!

Their community, one of the oldest resort areas in Panama, is only 90 minutes from Panama City’s international airport, making it convenient to hop back and forth to the USA. Many of their neighbors are also foreign retires, but there are also a lot of younger people, drawn to the opportunities that present themselves in communities that are changing. We met foreigners who work as contractors, or who run yoga studios, bakeries, restaurants, shops. We also met others who work for large international companies are posted to Panama for 2-3 years, while they work their way up the corporate ladder and await the next international move. If I was younger, I could see moving there to try something new. Or perhaps when I am older and not raising children. Yes, perhaps one day Panama may be a place where Tim and I spend time during our retirement years. Maybe one or two of my more adventurous friends would want to join us at some point (just planting a seed).

During our relaxing week in Coronado, our biggest decisions where what kind of tropical fruit smoothie to make, where to eat out or what time to go to the beach. It was lovely to kick back.

We did take one day trip to a small mountain town called El Valle. It is not as well-known as Boquete, but at just 2 hours away from Panama City (and just 45 minutes from Coronado), it was very accessible. I loved the quiet beauty of being in the mountains and would have enjoyed spending 2-3 days there. It was relatively cool there, being at altitude, so it was a pleasant escape from the steamy seashore.

The view on three sides from El Valle is like this!

The view on three sides from El Valle is like this!

Once again, we were back to shopping an outdoor markets. Oh, how I will miss all the tropical fruits and smoothies

Once again, we were back to shopping an outdoor markets. Oh, how I will miss all the tropical fruits and smoothies

Stray dogs everyone get a cuddle

My mom and Charlie saying hello to a friendly pooch

It may be 3-4 years before we are in Panama again, but there is more to explore. We didn’t get to see the San Blas Islands, one of the main tourist destinations. Also, I’d love to check back on the progress of Casco Viejo, the old quarter of Panama City that is gentrifying at a rapid rate. And, I would like to enjoy more sunny days while it’s cold back home! Here’s hoping that a new non-stop flight starts up from San Francisco, which will make getting there even easier in the future (I’ll spare you the horrendous stories of our long 7 hour layovers at the Las Vegas Airport during this trip).

We have no more international trips planned in 2014 and nothing on the horizon for the next 2-3 years. We’ll have to bask in the memories for our fabulous journeys from 2013.

Happy New Year from Panama

While we were on our big trip in 2013, my parents bought a house in Panama. They plan to be in this tropical destination for about six month of the year, escaping from the chilly temperatures in Wyoming during the winter and spring months. We hadn’t planned on any additional travel in 2013, but the allure of getting to one more place was strong. So, for the Christmas holidays, it was off to sunny Central America.

We spent much of the first week traveling with my parents, Rusty and Susan, to two of the most popular destinations in Panama: the small town of Boquete near the border with Costa Rica, and Panama City, the large capital where most of the population of the country lives. We stayed in places that were a lot nicer that our typical traveling digs, and we enjoyed the comfort of some first-class accommodation!

Boquete

This mountain town is the action-adventure spot of the country and there were signs for all sorts of tours: zipline adventures, jungle walks, hiking, motorbike riding. Our family enjoyed a day in the mountains, ziplining at high speed between platforms anchored to the tall trees. It was a fun way to pass the morning, although the kids were disappointed that they had to ride with a guide (having not yet reached the required weight of 100 pounds).

Ready to ride!

Ready to ride!

The zipline area

The zipline area (if you look closely, you can see a small figure flying across the cable)

As regular blog followers know, we like to seek out cooking courses wherever we go and this time around we took a baking course from an old artisan baker who retired to Boquete (after working as a lawyer in the USA for decades). This was not a Panamanian-style class, but the fabulous reviews on “the Rye Guy” were too much to pass up. Jenn, Charlie and Rusty spent several hours learning how to measure, mix, proof, shape, roll and bake baguettes at Morton’s Bakehouse. The end result was amazing and professional!

Baking bread with my father and daughter. It was a wonderful day!

Baking bread with my father and daughter. It was a wonderful day!

During our stay in Boquete, we were in a beautiful house overlooking the mountains, which was very relaxing. Also, we had some great food as this area is known for its excellent restaurants (the Panamonte and the Rock are two highly touted options). However, overall we were disappointed with Boquete. The town itself wasn’t much of a draw. The shops were there to service the local population and we could find nothing of interest during an afternoon stroll. It’s a long drive by private car from Panama City (6+ hours) or Coronado (5 hours), which diminished its appeal. Not sure I can recommend it as a place to visit, but we did enjoy our two days there.

Our fabulous house in Boquete

Our fabulous house in Boquete

Much more spacious than our typical traveling digs

Much more spacious than our typical traveling digs

Panama City

After Boquete, we spent two days in the capital. The first afternoon we were taken to Casco Viejo, the old city which is undergoing a tremendous revitalization. This project began only about five years ago and already a few dozen buildings have been restored to their former glory. There is still much to be done – most of the residences are either crumbling to the ground or barely liveable – but what has been rebuilt is fabulous. The area is home to new residences, boutique hotels, restaurants, cafes and small stores. This is where I’d recommend staying if visiting Panama City. There wasn’t much to do there, but the atmostphere was wonderful and I urged my parents to invest in a place before the prices climb higher. I would love to spend more time here in the future.

The main church is Casco Viejo

The main church in Casco Viejo

The new and the old

The new (still under construction) and the old (nearly falling down)

Old places ready for an upgrade

Old places ready for an upgrade

There were trees growing out of some of the buildings

There were trees growing out of some of the buildings

Charlie at a cafe

Charlie at a cafe

Taken from the old city, looking in the direction of the business district

Taken from the old city, looking in the direction of the business district

The following day we set out to see the feat of engineering for which Panama is best known: the Panama Canal, of course. We visited the nearest lock, Miraflores, and noted that the canal was completed exactly 100 years ago. At the time, it was the largest man-made structure to be built and it was a several decades long endeavor (started by the French in the late 1800s and then completed by the Americans in1914). This was a tremendous project, undertaken at a time when we didn’t have the technology and tools available to us now, nor the medical knowledge to fight the sourges of the day: malaria and yellow fever (which killed workers by the thousands).

The Miraflores Lock - 100 years old

The Miraflores Lock – 100 years old

However, the ships move through the locks at a relatively low speed and for the kids felt somewhat akin to watching paint dry. In other words, there was a lot of waiting and not much action. We did enjoy the short 3D movie about the canal and the museum itself was pretty interesting. We also learned that Panama is building a new canal next door to accommodation longer and wider vessels.

At the end of the first week, we said goodbye to Tim who had to return to the USA for work. He has been working part-time, but is now more or less fully employed. The kids and I stayed on for another week, this time in Playa Coronado, the beach town that my parents call home. More details on Coronado in a subsequent post.

A Gamble in April…..

…paid off in September with the arrival of our new rugs!

This past spring, we visited the Jawalakhel Handicraft Center in Kathmandu, Nepal, and ordered two custom rugs to be woven by Tibetan Refugees (read the original post here). We paid for them in advance, but weren’t completely sure they would arrive. So, it was awesome to finally get a call that our order had arrived at San Francisco International Airport.

The package arrived!

The package arrived!

Neatly rolled up, just out of the packaging

Neatly rolled up, just out of the packaging

The rugs are lovely and exactly what what we recall ordering six months ago. Now they are on our floors and are yet another reminder of our trip.

Living room rug

Living room rug

Soft and nice

Soft and nice

In context

In context

Bedroom rug

Bedroom rug

The pattern upclose

The pattern up-close

Fortunately, we did buy a number of souvenirs, which jog my memories about various merchants that we met, markets that we trolled and cities that we explored.

Every week Tim sports a new soccer jersey while he coaches Charlie’s team, reminding me of our time in Zambia or the weeks we spent hopping around Europe. The wooden bowls from Africa make me smile as I recall the enthusiastic artist and his or her relief at having sold a piece of work. Tim and I joke about the beautiful water color painting we purchased in Myanmar for $9; our driver scoffed at our poor bargaining skills and told us it should have been $2 (we made some family really happy that day). The hand painted numbers by our front door remind me of our carefree days cruising around Antalya, Turkey. Every piece is connected to a memory and I’m just not ready to forget anything yet.

A taste of Turkey on a ranch style house

A taste of Turkey on our ranch style house

Beautiful wooden bowl in our family room

Beautiful wooden bowl in our family room

Finally, we blew up about 75 photos to 11×14 inches. We will rotate these in our house, displaying about 25 at any given them. Here’s what they look like:

Photos on our wall

Photos on our wall

A mix of our experiences (yes, the kids counted to make sure they are in the same number.... of course)

A mix of our experiences (yes, the kids counted to make sure they are in the same number…. of course)

How the Kids Survived, Thrived and Changed

Our trip was an amazing experience for our family, and our kids grew in ways that I couldn’t have anticipated. We appreciated the time to have fun with the kids, explore new things and bond with them in different ways. Their childhood is fleeting and I’m keenly aware that they are about halfway through their years with us (assuming they don’t become boomerang kids who come back to the family nest after college).

The journey together was our opportunity to hold them closely before they drift towards independence and mature into tweens, teens and adults

Jenn getting some love from Charlie!

Jenn getting some love from Charlie!

A.J. goofing with his dad!

A.J. goofing with his dad!

The Mostly Good

Our kids have turned into great travelers and have gained some important life skills. They can keep track of their things, pack their bags, carry their own stuff, keep busy on long trips, learn about other cultures, make conversation with local people, navigate foreign streets, do currency conversions, observe different ways of life, go to the bakery or store on their own, try new foods, buy subway tickets etc. All great things and I’m proud of all they accomplished.

A.J. surprised us with the depth of his empathy for people less fortunate, and he often worried about the poor, the old and the handicapped

A.J. is a natural born traveler and risk-taker who thrives in chaotic, busy environments, loves sightseeing and makes friends across cultures. He loves bike tours and walking around cities, but dislikes museums or cultural outings. He is very creative about inventing little games to keep himself busy and he developed a patience for traveling beyond his years. He actually stopped saying things like “I’m bored” and “how much longer” and “can we go home”. He can sleep anywhere, is disturbed by nothing and can drift off within 30 seconds of hitting the pillow. We’d love to travel with him more as long as it didn’t involve home-schooling. I can see him backpacking in Asia or South America one day, seeking out the tasty waves and adventurous activities. Or, maybe, doing some charity work with the poor.

Catching some zzzz's at a rug shop in Nepal

Catching some zzzz’s at a rug shop in Kathmandu

A.J. inventing a game with balls and corks, while on a train in Europe

A.J. invented a game with balls and corks while on a train in Europe

A.J. making friends!

A.J. makes friends wherever he goes!

Charlie cared deeply about all the street animals and would say a good luck prayer to all of them (we often saw dozens or hundreds a day so this was a constant mantra)

Charlie is nearly the opposite of her brother. She is a sensitive soul who is easily overwhelmed by busy environments, and was occasionally driven to tears in certain cities (Kathmandu, Istanbul etc) by the noise, pollution and crowds. She doesn’t particularly enjoy sightseeing, and often had to be talked into joining us (she would later admit to enjoying most of our outings). We’ve realized that she values having quiet time alone – to read, mostly. Unlike her brother, she is very easy to home-school as she is self-motivated and driven to complete her work. She happily blogged about her experiences and she’s a natural writer. She was more open to the cultural experiences and was better able to pick up on the historical aspects of the places we went. She wants to travel again, but realizes she best suited to first world destinations. I look forward to seeing more of Europe with her in the future.

Charlie reading in New Zealand

Charlie reading in New Zealand

Charlie with "Little Peaches", one of her favorite street cats in Istanbul

Charlie with “Little Peaches”, one of her favorite street cats in Istanbul

Blogging, a favorite pastime

Blogging, a favorite pastime

The Bad

I’ve spoken to other families who have traveled long-term and many of them report that their kids were on good behavior and really bonded together. They were surprised at how well their children got along. This wasn’t the case for our two children during large parts of the trip.

Things started off well enough, and January and February were a honeymoon period. Everyone was excited for our epic adventure and enjoyed our many new experiences. There were also a few opportunities to for the kids to visit with or make new friends in those first couple months. In New Zealand, in March, I fondly remember the kids playing “model and film-maker” for hours at a campsite in Christchurch. But shortly after that, patience among the siblings wore thin and anything would set them off.

Someone creeping over the invisible line in the car or taking the last cookie became a reason to scratch, hit or yell

But by April, when we were in Nepal and Kazakhstan (two of the least comfortable countries), their relationship was fraying. I was losing patience and wondering whether we’d made a mistake in forcing all this together time upon them. The kids bickered terribly and physically fought frequently.

Let the pushing begin!

Get away from me!

Hard to be happy when you have to share the pull-out couch in Kazakhstan

Hard to be happy when you have to share the pull-out couch in Kazakhstan (note the pillow dividers)

On a couple of occasions, we even had to have a family ‘intervention’ because we couldn’t stomach another argument over some trivial point. On one such occurrence, in Budapest, we threatened to cut the trip short and come home. This was a ‘wake-up call’ to the kids that we would not tolerate their dynamic and promises were made (and largely kept) to try harder.

Things did get better after that, helped by the relative comfort in the back half of our trip, friends visiting us in Turkey in June, homework ending and going on our guided safari in July. Our trip ended on a high note of cooperation and cohesiveness. They starting calling each other BSFs for Best Sibling Forever. But it was a long, bumpy road to get to that point.

Trying harder in Budapest

Trying harder in Budapest

Playgrounds helped them heal their troubles

Playgrounds helped them heal their troubles

A moment of peace in Montengro as they both get into their books

A moment of peace in Montenegro as they both get into their books

Sibling dynamics vary greatly from family to family, obviously, so our experiences may be unique to our family. But, darn, there were moments when I wish we could have sent them off to summer camp and continued the trip without them!

The Ugly

A.J. absolutely hated having his parents as teachers. He disliked downtime in our hotel or apartment, and would often pitch a fit over doing his school work. This was a great frustration for all of us and would often derail an otherwise pleasant day. We took their school work quite seriously and felt that A.J. needed to do a certain amount of reading, writing and math work to progress to the next grade (as did his teacher back home). Getting through the mountain of work was a daily battle and, although it was a necessary evil, homeschooling A.J. was the worst part of the trip for me. Once summer came and the homework cloud lifted, things improved dramatically for our family.

Learning fractions in Nepal

Learning fractions in Nepal

Tim teaches the 'easy student'

Tim teaches the ‘easy student’

What They Learned

The biggest thing about the trip that they can take away is something very obvious. The world is a big, diverse place. It’s full of amazing things, kind people, beautiful sites, deep history, widespread poverty, crowded cities, tall mountains, sandy beaches, stray dogs, wide-open spaces, friendly kids, street cats and so much more. The center of their universe used to be the comfortable suburbs of the San Francisco Bay Area, but now they know there is much more out there.

They can see beyond their immediate horizons to the far corners of the earth. They have become more worldly people, interested and concerned about global happenings. They appreciate the comforts and opportunities that they have, especially after seeing many people who don’t have basic necessities, let alone luxuries. Charlie and A.J. overcame many challenges while on the trip. Sometimes they faced these difficulties with tears or frustration, but increasingly it was with grace, patience, creativity, cooperation and resilience. Hopefully they have been forever changed by our travels.

We survived the epic adventure for 6.5 months!

We survived the epic adventure for 6.5 months!

Itinerary: Do’s, Don’ts and Favorites

We’re on our final wrap-up posts now, but wanted to pass on some information about places that we loved, some that we didn’t and a few other tips on itinerary and travel planning. Maybe these thoughts can help others planning of their own big trip, or even anyone who may be looking for a good vacation idea for a couple weeks.

A nod to The Pullens, a family who traveled RTW a couple years ago, who first produced a post on a similar topic. We’ve copied their format (although we’ll cover gear in a separate post to come). We shared some of the same thoughts too!

Favorite New Places – Our Top Picks from the Trip

Namibia (new for Tim): dunes, deserts, wildlife, it was all fantastic

Slovenia: small country with a lot to see

Salzburg, Austria: beautiful, old buildings, bike tours, pretzels & beer

Bagan, Myanmar: land of 3,000 temples

Plitvice, Croatia: amazing walkways amid the scenic waterfalls

Sukhothai, Thailand: our bike tour of the ancient ruins and visit to a true elephant sanctuary

Dubrovnik, Croatia: the old city fortress and setting was stunning

Pamukkale, Turkey: unique natural beauty

Salkikent Gorge, Turkey: a super, fun day of canyon walking

Our Villa in Kas, Turkey: nicely decorated with scenic views, it was very quiet and peaceful

Old Favorites that were Still Great

Ephesus, Turkey: the ruins are amazing

Istanbul, Turkey: large, vibrant with with a lot to see

Antalya, Turkey: great day in the scenic old city

Namibia (Jenn): as fabulous today as my first visit in 1995

New Zealand (Tim): beautiful with tons of outdoor options

Places we could have done without

Nepal: the only country we wished we’d dropped

Bangkok: hot, polluted, lots of traffic

Hong Kong: very polluted, difficult to see scenic vistas (we met in Hong Kong and still have friends there, so I’m still glad we stopped)

Zadar, Croatia: didn’t need another scenic coastal stop in Croatia

Fethiye, Turkey: no reason to stop here when there are better places at the coast

Places that we wish we’d seen – the New Bucket List

St Petersburg, Russia

Prague, Czech Republic

The Baltic Countries

Chile, especially Patagonia

Argentina

Morocco

Ireland

Things we did right

  1. Just going! It’s awesome to realize a dream of more than ten years! We talked about taking this trip before our kids were even born!
  2. Keeping a blog and posting two out of three days! Also, sharing blogging duties as each post takes hours to produce (mostly on sorting, re-sizing and uploading photos; we didn’t always have internet access and it was often very slow).
  3. Taking lots of photos. We had three cameras with us (iPhone, small point and shoot and Tim’s digital SLR with two lens) and capturing the moment made all the difference.
  4. Seeing friends wherever we could. We saw people in Hong Kong, Singapore, Auckland, Vienna and Turkey. These were special days for us and it was cool to reconnect and share experiences with people we care about.
  5. Planning most of our itinerary and booking most of our accommodation before we left. This freed us up to enjoy being on the trip without being tethered to a computer scrambling to figure out our next destination. It also meant that we could get the best accommodation in our budget by planning ahead.
  6. Occasionally having several days open, here and there, to see something new or unexpected. Our last minute side-trip to Budapest happened because we kept some days free.
  7. Moving at a fast pace, usually every four days. We wanted to see a lot of the world and we maxed out our time away. We did sacrifice depth in favor of breadth, but that was a trade-off we undertook willingly.
  8. Flying instead of going overland in most cases. We flew more than 50,000 miles because we had a limited amount of time and wanted to get places as quickly as we could.
  9. Mixing up standards and styles of accommodation. We spent $100 per night on lodging on average, and mixed in some $10/night guesthouses in Nepal with some $200+ apartments in Salzburg, Queenstown and Dubai! It was great to treat ourselves to more spacious digs once in a while.
  10. Doing some of the ‘hard’ places first. We did the least comfortable places in the first half of the trip, when we were fresh and ready for the adventure. In the back half of the trip, we appreciated nicer places and having access to more amenities.
  11. Using frequent flyer miles. Our first leg (San Francisco to Hong Kong) and our last leg (Lusaka, Zambia to San Francisco) were on miles, which saved us more than $5,000.
  12. Buying small souvenirs along the way and mailing them home. It’s a great reminder of our journey to see all these special items around the house now.
  13. Regularly re-evaluating our backpack contents and ditching gear along the way.
  14. Traveling with kids at the ages of 9 & 11. Old enough but not too old.
  15. Taking A.J. to his birth country, Kazakhstan. To him, this was the most special part of the trip and it will continue to resonate with him in more ways that we know.
  16. Not traveling for 8-12 months (a common length for RTW traveling families). Six months or so was a good length of time for our family. We still saw a lot, but didn’t get too worn down or travel weary.

Things we’d do differently

  1. Wouldn’t have gone to Nepal. Why didn’t we think about nearby Bhutan instead?
  2. Wouldn’t have spent six straight weeks on the Mediterranean Coast. Too long.
  3. Would go to more new places and fewer places we’d been before.
  4. Would consider coming home for a couple weeks in the middle of the trip (especially if it was over the Christmas holidays). This would have gone a long way toward refreshing us for the back half of the trip.
  5. Would try to convince family to join us somewhere. It would have been great to share part of the world with those we love the most.
  6. Want to say carry less stuff, as we traveled heavier than most, but the reality is that I liked having multiple changes of clothes and a few little extras too!

If anyone has any questions or comments, I’m always happy to talk travel! Let me know if I can help!

The Beer Post

I am not normally a big drinker, but ever since college I have been known to enjoy a beer on occasion. After traveling a few months, I started to make an explicit goal of trying different beers I came across (rarely did I have one twice, even if I really liked it). Therefore, to honor those who enjoy beer (cough Adam cough among others), I present my Global Beer Rating.

Beer and pizza is a match made in heaven, or Zagreb

Beer and pizza is a match made in heaven, or Zagreb

The beers are organized by where I had them, not necessarily country of origin, so any country comparison is more of a “who has better distribution” than “who makes the best beer”. Also, I put the beer in the first country I had it, so there are no duplicates.

Rating Key: ++ = Excellent; + = Good; 0 = Fair

Hong Kong

Whatever was on tap at the HK Yacht Club (no rating- wasn’t doing it yet, but I think it was ok)

Thailand

Le- 0; Singha +; Chang 0; Tiger +

Beer was good, setting better

Beer was good, setting better

Myanmar

Lao 0

Singapore

Red Dot- Hefeweizen ++; IPA ++

Beer, always better with friends!

Enjoying a Tiger with Adam. Beer, always better with friends!

New Zealand

Mac’s Shady Pale Ale ++ (thanks Les!); Speights 0 (I bought a case and had to work my way through it; this was before I decided that variety is the spice of beer life).

Celebrating in Auckland with the Sherrys, another family traveling RTW

Celebrating in Auckland with the Sherrys, another family traveling RTW

Nepal & Dubai

n/a (just not into beer for these countries)

Kazakhstan

Don’t remember the names; had one in Almaty, one in Uralsk- they were both nearly undrinkable and definitely unpronounceable. Nepal through Kazakhstan will be known as the thirsty weeks.

Austria

The best overall!

Erdinger Weissbier ++; Budweiser Czech +; Weiden Brau Light ++; Weiden Brau Medium ++ (Weiden Brau was a brew pub in Vienna, and it was great)

Great beer and great pretzels make great evenings

Great beer and great pretzels make great evenings

Hungary

Dreher 0

Slovenia

Lasko 0; Paulener Hell 0; Union Pivo 0; Paulener Hefeweiss ++

Better than the King of Beers

Better than the King of Beers

Croatia

Tomislav ++; Ozujsko Limon 0 (not really a beer, but I tried it and regretted it); Staroprmen Selection ++; Hajducko +, Kaltenberg +, Karlovacka Draft +, Staropramen +

Croat beer was tasty

Croat beer goes with homemade soup

Montenegro

Jelen ++; Niksicko +; Lav +

Turkey 

This was an odd country, as Efes must have 95% market share. Hard to find a lot of non-Efes branded stuff, but I had time to seek out other varieties.

Efes +; Efes Dark +; Tuborg Fici +; Leffe (a Belgian beer) ++; Bomonti +; Bomonti Filtresiz +; Tuborg Gold +; Efes Xtra +; Efes Fici 0

Namibia

Windhoek Premium Draught 0 (couldn’t finish it); Windhoek Lager +; Tafel Lager +; Castle Lager +

Don't let the Turkey shirt confuse you- this is Africa

Don’t let the Turkey shirt confuse you – this is Africa

Botswana

St. Louis Lager (Light) +; Hansa Pilsener +

Zambia

Mosi Lager +

Obviously I tend to prefer the lighter lagers and weiss beers, so take it for what it’s worth. Most beers were fine, some were really good, and a few were bad. Anyway, if someone wanted to sponsor additional research I could be talked into a more detailed study.

Our Trip: 20 Cool Facts and Random Observations

1. The world is a very big place! Even after a fast-paced 6.5 months RTW trip, we have touched just a small piece of it.

We're branching out and seeing more things!

It’s time to branch out and see new things, at the Singapore Orchid Garden

2. Our trip is the craziest, most difficult, most adventurous, most memorable thing that we’ve ever done. I don’t think we’ll undertake anything as life alternating or special again (as a family unit), but we will continue to travel and find new experiences. We also will make a big effort to eat dinner together, even when life gets busy and the kids grow older.

Cooking in Kathmandu

Cooking in Kathmandu

3. We thought that Asia would be cheaper and Europe would be expensive. Though this was generally true, the gap was smaller than anticipated. In Asia, accommodation was more affordable, but eating out 2-3x a day added up. Also, there were more paid activities in Asia (rafting trips, guided hikes, zip lines, boat trips, etc). In Europe, we ate nearly all meals at home and many of our activities were free or cheap such as walking around town, scenic drives, nominal entrance fees to museums and spending time at the beach.

Beautiful, pedestrian-friendly Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia

Walking in beautiful, pedestrian-friendly Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia

4. Bike rentals and tours are the best way to see the city sites and our guides were generally fun and knowledgeable. Being on a bike also appealed to our kids.

On bikes in Zagreb. Croatia

On bikes in Zagreb. Croatia

5. Almost everyone has a mobile phone. This included villagers in Africa that may not have electricity, rural settlers in Nepal that don’t have running water and Buddhist Monks in Myanmar that don’t appear to have any other possessions.

Monks with phones and mobiles!

Monks with mobile phones!

6. Having 6 socks, underwear and shirts each means that we can get by for almost a week without doing laundry. This was very helpful when we were moving frequently or didn’t have opportunities to wash clothes.

Bonus Point: T-shirts worn daily (like our sleep shirts) will be thread-bare, with holes, after 6 months

7. A good night’s sleep was hard to find. Between hard pillows, soft beds, thin curtains, barking dogs, loud music, crowing roosters, honking cars or all of them put together, slumber was often elusive.

Melrose House in Pamukkale was the only round bed that we had!

Melrose House in Pamukkale, Turkey, was the only round bed that we had! All four of us were in one room.

8. Internet is universally available, nearly every place we stayed (free except for New Zealand) and can be accessed at many restaurants too. This was true even in third world countries.

9. Being English-speaking is incredibly useful. The vast majority of signs (road, museum, billboard, etc.) and tours that list a second language use English. English is increasingly taught in schools around the world.

It may be broken, but at least it's spoken...

It may be broken, but at least it’s spoken…

A good sign can communicate anything! (seen in a Bangkok taxi)

A good sign can communicate anything! (Seen in a Bangkok taxi)

10. Pizza, pasta, french fries and Coke are almost universally available menu items, but you generally won’t find things like mac and cheese, veggie burgers and quesadillas.

If you are determined, it is possible to be vegan anywhere! We made it!

If you are determined, it is possible to be vegan anywhere! We made it! Sign from Budapest, Hungary

11. We were lucky to travel on an American passport, which offer easy entry, usually visa-free, to most countries. However, sadly, there are too few of our countrymen seeing the world. C’mon Americans, what are you waiting for?

12. Most of the time, we had the sites to ourselves! With only a few exceptions – Phuket, Vienna, Dubrovnik, Ephesus, Istanbul – we were away from large groups, tourist buses, cruise ships and the crush of other visitors. In Nepal, there were many independent travelers, but not a mass of people moving together.

Where is everyone? Sukhothai in Northern Thailand was great!

Where is everyone? Sukhothai in Thailand was great!

13. Guidebooks are becoming irrelevant. Over the years I have owned dozens of Lonely Planet books and sought out few for pre-trip research. However, once on the road, I consulted Trip Advisor (TA) and online travel forums almost exclusively. Restaurants and guesthouses now rely on TA reviews.

Guidebooks are outdated

Guidebooks are outdated

Trip Advisor rules!

Trip Advisor rules! Sign from Cirali, Turkey

14. We encountered no hostility anywhere toward Americans, but we did have a number of people express concern about the proliferation and use of guns in the USA. We have those same concerns.

Bonus Point: People were friendly and helpful everywhere we went

15. The world is a safe, more honest place that I give it credit for. We were generally caution – some would say paranoid – but we didn’t have anything stolen, nor did we ever feel unsafe or targeted.

16. Having survived with just a bag and day pack each, we can get by with very few things. Now that I’m home, I want to simplify and declutter.

That's all we had!

That’s all we had!

17. The airlines of the world are doing a great job! We had no cancellations, no time changes, no significant delays (nothing over an hour in 31 flights), no bags lost and no bad experiences. We flew everything from local airlines to discount carriers to well regarded airlines like Emirates and Qatar.

Boarding a flight in Uralsk, Kazakhstan

Boarding a flight in Uralsk, Kazakhstan

18. We saw a lot of poor people, but few beggars anywhere, except occasionally people who were very old or handicapped. Even the economically-disadvantaged seemed to have food to eat and the kids appeared healthy. Several people in different countries said if you are willing to work hard (in many cases, that may mean working your own land to grow food), you will not go hungry.

Which friendship bracelet to buy from the friendly Tibetan refugee in Nepal?

Which friendship bracelet to buy from the friendly Tibetan refugee in Nepal?

19. Our children are brave, courageous, empathetic, aware, patient, creative, sometimes independent and increasingly worldly little people. Much of this is because of the trip. They can still fight like crazy, but they have also started to call each other BSF or Best Siblings Forever. A post specifically on the kids is coming soon.

Fun times at a campsite in Africa

Fun times at a campsite in Africa

20. It’s okay to have an occasional down day or to do something that isn’t sightseeing or furthering your travel experience. When you are traveling long term, you can not go full-steam every day. Don’t forget to make time for errands, laundry, food shopping, afternoon naps, movie nights and do-nothing days. Families traveling during the academic year may need to set aside quite a bit of time for home schooling. Also do things that are fun but may not be unique. For example, we loved our day at a water park in Dubai.

Kicking back in Croatia

Kicking back in Croatia

Bonus Point: There is no place like home!

Notes from the Road: July Summary

July was a busy and varied month, with a lot of high points. We started the month with a trip to Ephesus, Turkey’s most famous Greek and Roman ruins, on 1 July, then we enjoyed a full week in Istanbul where we lived like locals. This was followed by three weeks in Africa, exploring its natural beauty and looking for exotic animals.  Everyone was generally in a good mood, staying present in our travels, but aware that we would soon be returning home to friends, family and life as we knew it. We arrived in the USA on 30 July, ending our family travel sabbatical after nearly seven months on the road. It is with mixed feelings that I write this final monthly summary from our sunny, comfortable home in Northern California.

Highs and Lows

Tim – Best: floating over the Namibian sand dunes in a hot air balloon and seeing the baby lions in Botswana. Honorable Mention: Victoria Falls and the ruins at Ephesus.

The shadow of the balloon is visible on the dunes on the right

The shadow of the balloon is visible on the dunes on the right

The library at Ephesus

Tim and the library at Ephesus

Jenn – Best: seeing the sun rise atop the dunes was just as amazing this time as it was 18 years ago when I first saw it and standing in awe of the majestic Victoria Falls. Honorable Mention: Watching the elephants, especially the babies, at the watering holes and in the rivers.

Ah, Victoria Falls. It's amazing.

Ah, Victoria Falls. It’s amazing.

We loved seeing the elephant families and the little babies

We loved seeing the elephant families and the little babies

Charlie – Best: being on safari and seeing all the different animals and giving food & love to the many street cats in Istanbul. Honorable Mention: seeing the jewels of the Sultan’s Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.

Charlie and a kitty we named "Baby Nectar"

Charlie and a kitty we named “Baby Nectar”

A.J. – Best: hanging with the neighborhood boys in our local flat in Istanbul and running down the sand dunes in Namibia. Honorable Mention: Being on safari and camping in Africa.

A.J. and his Turkish posse

A.J. and his Turkish posse

The worst was the same for all of us. Our long, LONG series of flights home. Door to door, it took us 35 hours to return home to the San Francisco Bay Area from Lusaka, Zambia. It was a four flight saga: Lusaka - Addis Ababa - Rome - Toronto - San Francisco. That said, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The knowledge that we were headed home increased our patience and the miles on the road have made us adept at passing the time. A.J. watched several movies, Tim read a book, Jenn happily binged on season 6 of Mad Men and Charlie thought of all the things she wanted to do upon return.

Our Travel Stats

Countries Visited: 17 and the full list is Hong Kong, Thailand, Myanmar, Singapore, New Zealand, Nepal, Dubai, Kazakhstan, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Turkey, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia. It’s 23 if you count our brief transit stops in Qatar, Germany, Bosnia, South Africa, Ethiopia and Canada. It was a great cross section of our big world. There are only a few things that we’d do differently, but we’ll cover that in another post.

Miles Traveled:  60,077 total

We traveled 52,461 miles by air (31 flights, no significant delays and no bags lost, impressive),  623 miles by train,  593 miles by bus and at least 6,400 miles by car.

Nights Away: 197. This breaks down to 85 nights in a self-catering unit with a kitchen, 75 nights in a hotel or guesthouse, 11 nights in a villa, 11 nights camping, 10 nights with friends, 5 nights on a red-eye flight.

One of the nice campsites in Namibia

One of the nice campsites in Namibia

Tabonina Guesthouse in Zambia was a comfortable place

Tabonina Guesthouse in Zambia was a comfortable place

Number of different places stayed: 69. We moved places an average of every 2.84 days.

Random Info and Stats

Items lost: Nothing of value lost, left behind or stolen. Yay!

Number of sports jerseys purchased from countries around the world: 10

Tim couldn't resist getting a shirt in many of our stops

Tim couldn’t resist getting a shirt in many of our stops

Number of bike tours taken: 5 at Lake Inle, Sukhothai, Salzburg, Budapest and Zagreb. An excellent way to sight-see!

Bike Bike Tours in Zagreb

Bike Bike Tours in Zagreb

On Bikes in Budapest

Charlie deciding that bike tours can be long and boring

Times we were sick in Europe and Africa: 0, but A.J. did need to see a doctor to help with a small rock that smashed into his fingernail

Times we were mistaken for Russian (due to A.J. wearing a Russia hat): about a dozen

Tired after a long day of sightseeing

Times A.J. said “I’m bored”: incalculable

Seas in which A.J. dipped his toe (at minimum): 6, South China, Andaman, Tasman, Adriatic, Aegean, Mediterranean

Times we crossed the equator: 4, all by airplane

Combined weight of our checked bags coming home: 88 pounds - more than 30 pounds lighter than when we left (we donated a lot of things on our way out of Africa)

The kids hand out cookies to some Namibian school kids

The kids hand out cookies to some Namibian school kids

Blog Hits to date: 20,002 (another milestone)

Number of different airlines: 15

Number of blog posts: this one makes 141

Number of photos taken: more than 11,500

Once again, our family photographer!

Once again, our family photographer!

Number of countries from which people have viewed our blog: a remarkable 151 countries, including such places as Sudan, Tonga, Saudi Arabia and Guatemala.

Number of Followers on our blog:  Yay, we broke a hundred! We peaked at 104, family, friends and many not known to us. Thanks for tuning in and sharing our journey with us. We love comments and emails, so keep them coming.

Our two in a rare peaceful moment. I love this photo!

Our two in a rare peaceful moment. I love this photo!

We especially like hearing about how people found our blog and whether you are planning your own trip. Please drop me an email or post a comment and let me know!

Entering Bodrum Castle, Turkey

Entering Bodrum Castle, Turkey

Looks Like We Made It

We are home. It was a very long trip, as we left the hotel at about 12:30pm on Monday July 29, and got to our door at 2:30pm the next day; counting the time zone change of nine hours, our transit was 35 hours in total. I’m not sure you can construct a longer set of flights (Lusaka-Addis-Rome-Toronto-San Francisco), but everyone held up pretty well through all the travel. It’s nothing some food and good sleep can’t cure.

Getting ready for the Ethiopian Dreamliner

Getting ready for the Ethiopian Dreamliner

It’s remarkable how fast we can adjust to being home. A few things are different, but the vast majority is as we remember it. A.J. is off playing with a neighbor; Charlie’s reading on her bed; Jenn’s putting food away. Sitting at my desk, the last six months seem a blur: did we really go to Bagan? That seems a long time ago. Weren’t the pretzels in Salzberg great? Wasn’t I just being chased by baboons at Victoria Falls? It’s a lot to process.

I think this is in Addis Ababa, but my memory is a little hazy

I think this is the Addis Ababa airport, but my memory is a little hazy

The longest leg, from Rome to Toronto

The longest leg, from Rome to Toronto

Happy to satisfy the hummus craving on the plane!

Happy to satisfy the hummus craving on the plane!

Tired and bored after 30+ hours of traveling

Tired and bored after 30+ hours of traveling. A.J. watched more than 6 movies!

Charlie looks out in the directtion of the San Francisco airport, excited and nervous about being home!

As we approach SFO, Charlie’s excited and nervous about arriving home!

After all the planning, all the anticipation, it’s hard to believe it happened and it’s over.

Now what?

We have all manner of first-world “problems” to address. Some are trivial: I need a new pair of shoes, after I gave mine to a staff member at our Livingstone guest house. We have a lot of cleaning to do at home. We need to make the rounds at the various supermarkets, stock up at Costco and visit our favorite restaurants. The cable needs to be hooked up again. Our car battery had died, so I have to find the code to reset the car’s radio (no idea what to do with that one). Bike tires are flat, the garden is overgrown, everyone needs dental appointments and Charlie’s due to get braces. The kids have outgrown most of the clothing from 2012 that we left in their drawers. There is a long list of things to do.

Some issues will be more substantial: time to find employment for me (I’m looking for part-time CFO roles); kids will be back at school soon. We need to drive up and get our beloved dog Ruby (she has been residing in the country, but it’s a seven hour round-trip to the farm and back, so that will have to wait a few more days). I will be looking for a new car. We have to unpack and re-organize again, go through pictures, etc.

Did I mention unpacking would be a chore?

Did I mention unpacking would be a chore?

This is not our last post, but wanted to pause to say thank you to everyone’s comments. We appreciate all of you who have taken the time to read about our journey and also those among you who have dropped us an email or a comment on the blog. Particular recognition goes to Jenn’s Mom, Susan, who commented on nearly every post we wrote, and to others including Aunt Carol, Chris P, Eve L, Dayna B and the Collisters, all whom we heard from on a regular basis. Thanks for the comments guys- it helped keep us motivated!

We started writing this blog as a way to chronicle our trip for ourselves, friends and family. That other people who didn’t know us before this adventure have taken the time to read our little musings is humbling. We aren’t great writers, but hope that people have enjoyed our updates and drawn some measure of inspiration to do their own trip. There is much to see and do in our very big world.