A strange, wonderful email landed in my inbox last night when I was fuzzy-headed with exhaustion and Chardonnay after a day that started at 3 a.m.
I had woken up ridiculously early and couldn’t go back to sleep due to stress about a work project, a writing deadline, a parenting conundrum and countless mundane concerns, such as cleaning dog pee out of the rug and mailing a birthday card. Plus, I wanted—needed—to run. So I got up to work for an hour and run eight miles before waking the kids up at 6:30 and getting them off to school.
Yesterday was the kind of stretched-thin multitasking day that deepens my appreciation for those precious mornings of serenity when I wake to the sound of sheep and elk outside a Colorado mountain cabin, or to the sounds of city life and foreign conversations drifting through the window of a quaint European hotel.
I didn’t recognize the name on the email: Mihai Dascalu. It’s not someone I know personally.
Hi Sarah, How are you? Are you fully adjusted to your American life?
We exchanged the emails below, more than a year ago, and now we are 30 days away from our departure! We leave on October 17 for Japan, and I cannot tell you how excited we are.
Just wanted to drop a line and thank you again for the inspiration that your travel and your blog has been for us. I don’t know if we’ll be able to keep a blog like that, but we will try.
Huh? I tried to blow the cobwebs out of my brain—tried to reconnect with the person I was more than a year ago, when I was transitioning back from our long round-the-world trip. While we traveled, I corresponded with families all over the world who contacted me through my now-mothballed family travel blog to ask advice about how they could carry out the seemingly crazy travel dream they secretly nurtured.
I clicked through to the URL below Mihai’s name to learn more, and I found this lovely summary from a post called “Crossing Into the Other World“:
We are a family of five Romanians from upstate New York, and we are going around the world. …. After learning of some families who traveled extensively with their children, we started to talk about it. In July 2009 we decided to do it. A few months later we realized that we have to do it. We can pull this through, and we owe it to ourselves and to our children. Jokingly or not, we can make it part of their homeschooling. We kept this hidden, just among the five of us, we waited to break the news face to face to our families in Romania. We did it in December 2010 during our winter vacation, and they took it pretty well. After we came home, we started to share the news with some of our friends and with the people I work for/with. … As my daughter put it, we want to discover a “slice of the world,” not just monuments and resorts, but people and cultures from four continents.
I carved out a good deal of time yesterday—when I really needed to be getting other work done—to organize and promote the October 18 Meet, Plan, Go! event that I’m volunteering to host. The thought crossed my mind as I handled multiple emails and tasks related to the event, “Why exactly am I doing this?”
Mihai’s email delivered just the kind of reminder I needed: I’m hosting the event and evangelizing long-term family travel to help inspire, inform and connect people who see the value in deviating from the path they’re on, and leaving their comfort zone, to travel far and learn from the world. I’m also doing it to keep myself inspired and to meet interesting people from all over the world.
I scrolled down and saw that Mihai contacted me in July of 2010 to ask about how we budgeted our travel. At the time, I wrote him back:
Truthfully, it’s hard to put a price tag on the trip because I’m embarrassed to admit we didn’t have a real budget, so it’s hard to say how much you should save. We just tried to do the best we could—that is, spend as little as possible without making too many sacrifices to our ability to fully experience a place—wherever we were. The reason we didn’t have a set budget is because the costs varied wildly depending on destination (e.g. Argentina vs. Switzerland) and type of accommodation, and whether we were renting a car, and it felt too difficult to make a detailed budget since our itinerary changed quite a bit. We just kept an eye on our monthly balance, tried not to spend more than we were receiving in rental income for our house (4900/mo), and transferred money from savings as necessary. Here’s some advice:
- Check out oneworld.com or airtreks.com for a sense on what RTW tickets cost.
- If you need to rent a car, as we did off and on, that adds up, so that’s another major cost to factor in.
- Know that cities are always more expensive than outlying towns; we tried to limit our time in big cities. Also, hotels are much more expensive than apartments or condo-type hotels with kitchenettes. Our food costs varied hugely depending on whether we were renting a place with a decent kitchenette so we could cook meals, or whether we mostly ate out.
- We tried to spend 200/nite or less on average for lodging. Sometimes this was very easy; for example, our cabanas in Argentina or campground units Down Under cost less than 100/nite. But in places like Hong Kong, Venice and London, it cost way more than that. Beware of hotels in big cities, too, if you’re traveling as a group of 4 or more, because they’ll make you rent 2 rooms or get a suite-size room to hold all 4, which gets very expensive. We could have saved money by moving around less and renting apartments for longer term, but we wanted to be on the go more in certain places such as New Zealand and Switzerland.
I concluded that note to Mihai: We were not real budget travelers—we could have gone cheaper, that’s for sure, and we occasionally splurged (e.g. staying in a nice hotel in Hong Kong and visiting HK Disneyland)—but we did a pretty good job, in my view, of spending money wisely and frugally so we could really appreciate the occasional splurge.
One year later, Mihai and his wife have figured out a way to afford their trip—see their FAQ for details—and homeschool their three children, ages 16, 14 and 11. They have an intrepid itinerary and map to crisscross the globe. They are riding the emotional roller coaster of jeopardizing their security—Mihai, a doctor, resigned his position in a medical practice because of their trip—and facing pivotal choices such as when or whether they should return. It sounds so familiar to what Morgan and I went through in early 2009, before our departure. Their story reminds me of how risky, scary and exciting it feels to embark on a family journey like this.
I’ll end with a note to Mihai: Go for it. The bookends of the trip—getting ready to go, then coming back—are the hardest parts, but you’ll work through it. The experiences you’ll have as a family, and the education and character-building that the trip will give your kids (and you), will make it all worthwhile. Best wishes to you and your family on your journey. Now YOU have inspired ME.