Six months…I can’t believe that we are at the halfway point already.
I can still remember stepping onto to the airplane at JKF Airport, that first airplane that would fly us away from the US and out into the big, wide world. We were bursting with excitement and anticipation, and maybe even with a little fear. In these six months, how much we have seen, done, and changed from that moment. In some ways, it feels like that moment was years ago. For that I am thankful…I want this year to last as long as possible.
This, without a doubt, has been the most amazing six months of our lives. Everyone who has been following us has seen the photos and watched some of Tyler’s videos. There is a lot that we have lived through, good and bad, which never gets publicized. We’ve tolerated 10 hour bus rides, lived through Dengue Fever and food poisoning, met amazing people and made new friends, dealt with homesickness, spent sleepless nights on airplanes, been attacked by dogs, and have seen some of the most beautiful, most amazing places in the world. These six months has been everything we were hoping for…memorable and challenging, very rewarding but also very trying at times. It definitely has not been easy, but nothing worthwhile in life is ever easy.
We have only been away for six months but we can now see how other countries view the United States of America as a shining light. I was not expecting, ever, to see the US this way myself, but I now see the promise and the opportunity that the US represents to many people around the world. America is a country where anything is possible, regardless of race, social class, or gender. Many people in the countries we have been visiting will never have the opportunities that Americans do. Also, most of the countries that we have visited love the United States. So far, Myanmar has been the biggest fan of the US, as taxi drivers and people on the streets wanted to show us where Obama spoke and toured through Yangon when he visited in November. People always ask us where we are from and most light up when we tell them the US. American culture is everywhere…on people’s clothing, in the movies they watch, in the products they buy, and in the food they eat.
The four of us have adapted to being with each other 24/7 very well. It was hard at first, mostly for me, never having any time alone. Most of the time we are all sharing one hotel room with one bathroom. All four of us, sharing one sink, two beds, and a little bit of floor space, day after day. Having a third bed, or even a second bedroom, is a total luxury. We have always been close but this trip has brought us a lot closer together. When being together every minute of the day you are either going to end up loving or hating one another at the end of the year. Fortunately for our family it has gone the nicer route.
We have become a family of five. Kara adopted her stuffed lion, Simba, at a gift shop at Kruger National Park in South Africa, and since then, this little guy has not left her side. Simba goes everywhere Kara goes, always carried in her hand or the crook of her arm, day after day. It’s one thing to see a young, blond girl walking down the streets of Kathmandu or Yangon, but a blond girl carrying a stuffed lion…adorable. Kara is the most stared at person in our family, and the biggest receiver of hugs and kisses and pinches on the cheeks from strangers. And Simba just may be one of the most beloved stuffed animals in the world.
Tyler’s peanut allergy has taken on more importance once we reached Myanmar. He has a life-threatening allergy to peanuts, requiring us to walk around with an arsenal of Epi-Pens. Peanut farming is one of Myanmar’s major industries, which we learned about while standing in a field of peanuts in Bagan. Tyler, the first of us to notice where we were standing, quickly accused us of child abuse and then got himself onto safer ground. Peanuts are used in many of the dishes in Myanmar and Thailand, and this trend will continue all of the way through Taiwan. Many people in this part of the world do not understand the concept of food allergies, and with the language barrier, asking about the safety of the food is almost impossible. Whenever possible, we eat at western restaurants or buy Tyler separate, safer food at Pizza Hut or Subway (they are almost everywhere) while the three of us eat the local food. Tyler’s food allergy was one of the things I worried about most before starting the trip, but so far, knock on wood, it has been easier to deal with than I was expecting. Having America infiltrate every nook and cranny of the world with McDonald’s and Starbucks has worked out in Tyler’s favor.
With long-term travel there are the usual bouts of homesickness. It would seem that with exploring new places, meeting new people, and having days full of adventure, that there would be no time or place for homesickness. Kara and I have learned that this is not true at all. She and I both dealt with bouts of homesickness in India. Mine came when I was sick with Dengue Fever. This illness really messed with my head. I had days where I missed home terribly…I would flip through pictures of home on my computer, listen to my old music, and even (oh my gosh!!!) dream of ending the trip and flying back home. It was terrible. Here I was, doing what I have dreamt of for five years, and I was miserable and wishing it to be over. I hated it. But there’s nothing like a one night stay in a five star hotel (and finally getting healthy) to set my mind back on track and banish all of these unthinkable thoughts from my head.
Kara’s homesickness was less dramatic but longer lasting. She really wanted to travel the world, as much as I did, but she says that this trip is a lot harder than she was expecting. This is not a vacation, where we stay in nice hotels, rent cars or fly everywhere, and spend money on food and activities without a care in the world. We stay in budget hotels, travel by bus and public transportation, and eat at cheaper restaurants. This type of travel, combined with our five weeks in India, which was really hard on Kara, has worn her down a little bit. Before traveling on to Myanmar, Kara was getting a little depressed and really missing home. Our two weeks in Bangkok and Krabi has brought her back to her normal self, but Kara still really misses her friends. She is looking forward to seeing everyone when we return home this summer.
On the other hand, Tim and Tyler have enjoyed every minute of this trip. No homesickness for them, no wishing they were home. Like Kara, Tyler misses his friends, but communicating with them over the Internet has been sufficient for him. It was Tyler who was the most resistant to traveling around the year for one year, mostly because he was going to miss his friends, so I am amazed at how easily he has adapted to this long-term travel. To stay happy, Tyler needs a good Wi-Fi signal, some free time every night, and a decent hotel. Throw in a pool and he is in paradise.
Home schooling has been really going well. Tyler’s goal is to finish our lessons by March 2, the day before his 12th birthday. That would give Tyler and Kara six months off of school until matriculating back into our local public school system.
In preparation for China and Taiwan, Tyler and I have been learning Mandarin using Fluenz software on our computers. It is challenging but I am really enjoying learning a new language with my son. He picks it up so fast (much faster than me) and speaks it so well. I am really looking forward to watching Tyler use his new skill once we arrive in China. Six weeks of immersion should advance our Chinese and I am hoping that Tyler continues to learn Chinese once we are home from this trip.
Tim and I are busier now than when we lived at home. Our days are filled with visiting whatever new sites are outside of our door, homeschooling the kids, trip planning, and updating this blog. We are still making plans for the final few months of this trip, and once that is done, we will have to figure out how we are going re-enter the “real world.” I look forward to coming home but thinking about this year coming to an end makes me feel very sad. I still wonder how I will ever resume a normal life again.
The thing that Tim and I miss the most is our workout routine. Yes, we walk a lot now, go for the occasional run, and get some exercise in other ways, but nothing compares with how active we were at home. Tim and I feel like we are really getting out of shape. We miss the gym, cycling, swimming, and triathlon training. The lack of training, combined with eating out on a daily basis, has caused me to put on a few extra pounds. Renewing our membership at Lifetime Fitness will be one of the first things we do once we return home.
Traveling around the world is awesome, but my favorite part of this trip has been the chance to spend everyday with Tim, Tyler, and Kara. To share this adventure with them has been a dream come true. I love being able to see their faces everyday, learn new things with them, and to make these memories together that we will be talking about for the rest of our lives. Here’s to another amazing six months!