Why We’re Doing It
After 16 years of marriage we realized our time with our kids is short (even though it often can feel the opposite!) and we needed to seize the opportunity to spend more time with them while they were still young and we weren’t too old. We love to travel and always dreamed of embarking on a Round the World adventure, so we spent about six months researching and planning and decided to take the plunge in summer 2007. Though our primary goal is building family relationships, we also hope to do some good along the way by volunteering and hopefully to teach the kids they have the power to make a difference in the world. Tom came up with 6 lessons that we hope to learn along the way and is grading us as we go!
How We’re Doing It
Work and School:
Tom used a 2-month sabbatical and accrued vacation time (roughly 2 months) as a start and was granted a leave of absence for the remaining 7 months.
Anne is mom first and freelance writer second. She can pretty much go where she wants when she wants…as long as she takes the kids with her.
We homeschooled for two years in Georgia after moving from California (culture shock) and so were well-versed in the specific legal requirements for our school district and curriculum planning before deciding to go. Each child’s needs are different. Here’s how we’re meeting them:
Dax is a freshman in high school. We met with his counselor before leaving and she recommended an online curriculum through an accredited program. Her top recommendation and our choice was BYU Distance Learning. Dax is completing 12 classes at a cost of $115 each. He can take all his tests, except his final exam online. For the final we have to find an approved proctor (or get someone to be approved) who agrees to administer a paper exam mailed to them by BYU. This is tricky since we don’t really stay in one place long enough to find someone or have the exams shipped. Dax will probably have to take five or six when we get back to the US in July…unless we can find a proctor in Argentina. Any volunteers?
McKane is in 6th grade. He is doing his math (pre algebra) through BYU so there is no question as to his standing upon return. He is informally taking Dax’s biology class. His language arts and social studies work are driven by our itinerary. He reads classic books we choose for him, e.g., The Iliad, The Odyssey, Beowulf, and popular books of his choosing, e.g., A Series of Unfortunate Events, Artemis Fowl. He also reads brief histories of the countries we visit. He writes for the blog and whenever his taskmaster mother forces him to.
Kieran is in 1st grade. He is working in an Australian 3rd grade math book and using handwriting textbooks we got in the US. He reads books we buy along the way and keeps insisting he needs meatier material. So far he’s slogged through sections of The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe and The Wind in the Willows. He loves learning about the animals, plants, rocks, and minerals we encounter on our travels.
Asher is in preschool. She uses books we bought at home to work on handwriting and basic math and reading concepts. We like to quiz her frequently on letters and numbers and teach her funny things to say.
All of us have studied Mandarin and Spanish together and listened to books on Tom’s iPod as we’ve traveled: Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country in Australia, Jonathan Spence’s Chairman Mao biography in China, V.S. Naipul’s Magic Seeds in India, Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country in South Africa. The older three of us have read print versions of Southeast Asia and India specific books and Jeffrey Sachs’ The End of Poverty. We’re still trying to figure out how we can do our part in Sachs’ quest.
House: We stopped all our subscriptions, made sure all of our bills (including the mortgage) were paid by direct debit or credit card, and found wonderful friends to housesit for us. They take care of any maintenance issues including the yard.
Cars: Tom’s is so old (1994) it wasn’t worth selling, so we turned in the tags to the DMV and parked it in the garage. Anne drove hers to Utah where she and the kids spent two months before leaving for New Zealand. Tom’s parents sold it–spinners and all–five months later. She’ll have to get a new one when she gets home and hopefully Tom’s will still be alive.
Plane Tickets: We cashed in 840,000 Delta frequent flyer miles to purchase 6 round-the-world tickets @140,000 miles each. We paid the international taxes on the tickets so they ended up costing about $250 each. They give us 6 stops anywhere Delta or its partner airlines fly. The only rule is we have to fly in a continuous east to west or west to east direction. We chose west to east. Our six legs are as follows:
1. Salt Lake City, UT to Auckland, New Zealand (Routing through Delta and Korean Air = Salt Lake City to San Francisco to Seoul, Korea to Auckland); flown August 27-29, 2006
2. Brisbane, Australia to Beijing, China (Routing through Korean Air = Brisbane to Seoul to Beijing); flown October 15-17, 2006
3. Bangalore, India to Johannesburg, South Africa (Routing through Air France = Bangalore to Paris to Johannesburg); flown February 27-28, 2007
4. Capetown, South Africa to Istanbul, Turkey (Routing through KLM = Capetown to Amsterdam to Istanbul–we got purged from the KLM system and were rerouted through Paris on Air France); flown April 2-4, 2007
5. Prague, Czech Republic to Tunis, Tunisia (Routing through Paris); flown May 18, 2007
6. Tunis, Tunisia to Buenos Aires, Argentina (Routing through Paris); flown June 1, 2007
7. Lima, Peru to Atlanta, Georgia; flown July 20, 2007
We bought other flights as necessary but tried to stick to ground transportation as much as possible. Here’s a list of the other flights we took:
Auckland, New Zealand to Sydney, Australia
Chengdu, China to Guilin, China
Bangkok, Thailand to Singapore
Singapore to Chennai, India
Chennai, India to Delhi, India
Mumbai, Indian to Kochi, India
This is usually the biggest expense in travel, so our strategy was to stay in backpacker lodges, hostels, and inexpensive hotels. We planned on some long-term stays where we would rent apartments or houses, but thus far have only done so in Australia.We rented a campervan and stayed in caravan parks in New Zealand. In China we stayed in hostels and the occasional Sheraton using Tom’s Preferred Guest points (aaahhh…) Throughout Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand), we stayed in inexpensive hotels. These are the norm rather than hostels in this part of the world. In Africa, we bought a few tents and sleeping bags and threw camping into the mix, which was a fabulous way to save a LOT of money. We’ll let you know what we find in Turkey, Eastern Europe, Tunisia and South America once we get there.
How Much It Costs
This is a sensitive subject, but I realized when Oprah asked me flat out what our budget was that it would be more helpful to share it than hide it. The bottom line is we’re not rich and extended travel doesn’t cost nearly as much as people think it does. We were lucky to have frequent flyer miles to cover our long haul plane tickets, but we’ve met many people in our travels who are able to fly on the cheap without them. We originally thought we would need to spend about $300/day to house, feed, and transport 6 people and do a few bungy jumps along the way, but that was only true in Australia and New Zealand (only because we crashed the campervan in the latter). Everyplace since has been far less. China and Southeast Asia are the cheap traveler’s paradise where we were able to sleep well, eat a ton, and have fun on as little as $75/day, averaging around $120/day. Our friends from Canada were spending exactly half of what we were and there’s only two of them, so we thought we were doing pretty well.
During our volunteer time in India we got by on very little since we were living in a volunteer home, working with kids all day, and having our groceries delivered to the house. Our Rajasthani romp cost us far, far more than we had planned, mainly since we decided to take a few flights and the travel agent we used completely ignored our budget even though he promised to honor it in the beginning. On a personal level we found him to be a great guy, but business in India is never straightforward and always seems to be full of ugly surprises. Had we gone it our own we could have stayed much cheaper, but after our volunteer time we didn’t want to deal with hassles in every town (which are a given in India as well). Others tell us it is one of the easiest and cheapest countries to travel, so you’ll have to take their word for it. In the end, after averaging our service time and our travel time, we ended up spending about $200 day.
Even with camping, Africa ended up costing around $200/day since we had to rent a BIG car and pay on a per person basis at campgrounds and backpacker lodges. That x6 factor really starts to add up! Had we left Asher home, we could have cut our car cost in half, but we figured she’s cute and was worth the extra money to bring along. Food is much more expensive than in Asia and we were sad we couldn’t order 8 entrees for $1.50 a piece like we did in China, especially since they’ve got heaps (a NZ/Aussie word) of meat everywhere. (You really develop a craving for meat after two months in India.)
Turkey cost a lot more than we anticipated. Other travelers who had visited as recently as a year or two earlier painted pictures of dirt cheap food and accommodation. We knew car rental and gas would be expensive but were willing to eat the expense to gain a little more freedom. Unfortunately the Turks hiked their prices and began charging foreigners in dollars a few years ago and switched to the Euro last year. The local currency is still the lira, and we tried to use only establishments that charged in it. With the Euro at a 40% premium over the dollar, paying Euros was especially painful and made the tourist areas hard to stomach. In the end we spent just under $200/day.
Many countries in Eastern Europe have joined the EU or are in the process of doing so. If they don’t already use the Euro, their local currencies are pegged to it, and again, the penalty is steep for Americans. Even with the universally weak dollar, costs fluctuated wildly between regions. Bulgaria was a dream; inexpensive on all accouts. Romania wasn’t bad, but Budapest was serious bucks on all fronts–food, transportation, and accommodation. Ukraine is probably one of the world’s best bargains for Americans and highly recommended. Though accommodation to Western standards can be expensive, food, transport and attractions are almost free. Poland was more expensive, though comfortably so, with cheap, delicious food. Czech Republic was more expensive than Poland but surprisingly cheaper than Hungary. Go figure. When averaged together as a region, Eastern Europe cost us $240/day.
Tunisia was another rude awakening. We knew renting a car was out of our reach since rentals there cost more than in Europe. Transport and supermarkets were cheap, but food in the tourist areas was geared for Europeans at European prices. We cheated here and stayed the majority of our nights at Sheratons using points. Like Turkey, the farther you get off the beaten path, the cheaper the country gets. With only two nights out of 17 paid for, we averaged $136/day in North Africa.
South America was fabuloso. Argentina is still a haven with a peso so devalued it makes the dollar look strong. The food is some of the best we encountered in the world and a pretty good bang for the buck. Accommodation in Buenos Aires can be expensive but everywhere else was relatively cheap. We got around exclusively by bus since flights are considerably more expensive and covered great distances for anywhere between $30 and $50 each. Just a few years ago these same fares were half their current levels, but what are you going to do? Tourism is coming to Argentina fast and furious and prices will probably continue to rise.
Chile is steep in tourist areas like San Pedro de Atacama, but many, many people assured us it’s not so bad if you get away from the hotels. We only had a few days in the country, which cost us $276/day, so we’ll have to take their word for it.
Bolivia should have been cheap, but we didn’t get to experience much of it due to the pervasive strikes. Other RTW travelers told us it was the least expensive country they visited, but again, you’ll have to take their word for it, not ours. Peru was a bargain in Puno and Arequipa, but Cuzco was more expensive. Machu Picchu costs a lot no matter how you try to get to it and inevitably will drive the cost of a Peruvian vacation up as will a flight over the Nazca lines. Busses are cheap, food outside the tourist areas is a bargain, and local markets are stocked with deals for end of trip souvenirs. Our out of pocket in Bolivia and Peru combined was $206/day.
Total cost of actual travel = $ (totals being tallied–check back soon)
Gear/Electronics = $
How to Stay Healthy
We proved far healthier travelers than we ever have been homedwellers. After 11 months of travel, we can count on one hand the number of days any of us were sick (and even then we had nothing worse than sniffles or a tummyache). Maybe we just moved too fast for the germs to catch up with us.
We were prepared, however, for almost any illness to strike. We were immunized against a litany of diseases and carried a formidable supply of medications, ointments, and palliatives.
Getting to this level was much more difficult and expensive than we ever imagined. Travel health in the United States is an obscure specialty not covered by most insurance companies. I consulted a few private clinics who wanted to charge hundreds of dollars just to talk to us but declined their services since these fees did not include charges for the shots, or jabs as the Brits call them. I went to the County Health Clinic in Atlanta, one of the few places where the more obscure vaccines are available (regular doctors don’t stock them), and found the nurses there knew less than I did about what was appropriate for where we were traveling. We ended up getting all the routine American shots–Hepatitis A and B, Polio, MMR, Tetanus/Diptheria, Hib–at our normal doctors and the remaining ones–Yellow Fever and Typhoid (pills)–at the Utah County Health Clinic in Provo. The big boys were eligible for Meningitis vaccines from our pediatrician while Tom and I got them on a big special ($11 instead of $90) at the Clinic. We opted not to get Rabies or Japanese Encephalitis shots since all the doctors we consulted assured us the risks associated with the two diseases were not worth the trauma, effort, or expense of acquiring them.
The most difficult thing to deal with was the malaria prescriptions. First we had to figure out roughly how long we would be in malaria zones and which drugs were appropriate for those zones. Since our itinerary was flexible, we simply had to guess. Our normal doctors wanted to prescribe Lariam, which works in all malaria zones and is a once weekly dose. I flatly declined since it’s been know to cause psychotic disturbances, anxiety, sleeplessness, and depression in a small number of users. (Ask Tom about drugs and rare side effects; that’s how he ended up with an artificial hip). We opted to go with the cheap, all purpose Doxycycline for the oldest four of us and the preferable yet expensive Malarone for the little kids. I also got a moderately expensive supply of Chloroquine for Costa Rica, which will get thrown out since we’ve deleted it from the itinerary. EarthLink moved heaven and earth to get our insurance company to release a year’s supply of the malaria drugs as well my allergy medication so we wouldn’t have to buy any on the road (a practice the CDC strongly discourages).
We also brought supplies of different types of antibiotics so we would be armed against ear infections (Zithromax), traveler’s belly (Ciproflaxin), bronchitis, strep throat and a host of other ailments that would normally afflict the six of us over the course a year. Fortunately, they all sat untouched in McKane’s backpack for 11 months, doing nothing more than raising a few eyebrows at border crossings.