Day 1 – November 24, 2018
Preparing for a trip is never easy. It’s like life – you can’t take (have) everything you want, but the reality is you have more than you will ever need.
Going “on the road” for three plus months at this stage of our lives seemed improbable and impractical. For 19 years we’ve had an amazing opportunity to build a great company and see it grow. It’s provided our family with great opportunities, but has also caused it a lot of stress. As we transition from Spaceflight Industries to “The Next Chapter”, we had a unique opportunity to do the improbable and impractical and take a sabbatical. This trip has long been a dream which finally became a possibility in July and August, but only became a reality the last few months.
This trip is about reconnecting as a family, and also about getting perspective. For our three kids: Ellis (17), Ethan (15) and Ava (13 – will be 14 before we get home); they are transitioning into adults. It’s about giving them the confidence and tools to explore the world on their own. It’s about experiencing other people and cultures to teach them (hopefully!) that there is a difference between what you want and what you need. For Marian and I, it’s to reconnect and get perspective: to understand what’s important as we embark on the next chapter of our lives.
So how do you plan a trip through SE Asia for 99 days? Marian and I are organized, but we are not planners. When it comes to our free time we find adventure in spontaneity (it’s also hard to be disappointed when there weren’t any expectations in the first place). In 2001 we took a three week trip to New Zealand which was to be our last trip before Ellis was born. We bought airfare and a Lonely Planet guide. We landed in Aukland and opened the book…for the first time. Our decision was: do we drive north or south? We drove north and had an epic time.
That approach wasn’t going to work with a family of five traveling through eight countries over three months. We probably should have called a travel agent, but that seemed so 1995 (do they still exist?). Instead we googled “six weeks in SE Asia”. This lead to searches titled “10 days in Thailand”, “where to stay in Bali”, “things to do in Laos”, etc. We watched youtube, read travel blogs and talked to friends who have traveled through the area. From this, a plan started coming together.
The first stop is South Korea. The family has never traveled to Asia and being half Korean heritage, it was the must do stop. We had tried going there several times over the past two years, but work and geopolitical factors got in the way. We put it on the front end to avoid the cold winter months and are bringing Marian’s mom, who immigrated from there many decades ago.
After Korea we are going to Japan. Why? Because everyone wanted to go there and it was so close. I went to Japan for the first time in February (2018) and it was amazing. I couldn’t wait to go back and take the family so it was put on the itinerary.
After Japan we are going to the Philippines. Originally we were going to go to Australia to see the Great Barrier Reef before its gone, and also be in Sydney on Boxing Day for the start of the Sydney – Hobart Yacht Race. However, Australia became challenging for a number of reasons and Ethan said “how about the Philippines?” It wasn’t even considered until he brought it up and google revealed the beautiful islands and crystal clear waters. So now we are going to the Philippines.
From the Philippines we head to Thailand to begin a mostly overland trek across Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Ethan and I traveled to Vietnam in May as part of his school’s global studies program and I fell in love with SE Asia. It is a part of the world that the family needed to see and experience, and it also has a cost of living that would support an extended adventure.
We conclude with two weeks in Bali, a place I’ve wanted to visit since I was a kid.
While the schools have been supportive of the trip, they have also been clear that our travels should be intentional. To the maximum extent possible we are staying in houses (AirBnB/VRBO) so that we can spend the evenings following the curriculum at home and researching the local culture and history. We also have several amazing activities / opportunities: in Thailand we are volunteering at an elephant preserve for a week, in Laos we will be working at a school, and in the Philippines we are getting open water dive certified.
We’ve spent the past several weeks mining old frequent flyer accounts and discovering unused credit card and hotel point. We’ve now locked in “most” of our airfare and accommodations for the first month and also booked a flight home to the US on March 2nd – making this a 99 day adventure. We hope to learn a lot about what we should be doing once we get out on the road and meet other travelers so there is still a lot of flexibility (i.e. the months of Jan and Feb) for spontaneous decision making. Should we travel north or south? Someone said we should visit Bhutan…
We have now condensed our lives into six suitcases (four checked bags and two carry-ons) plus personal backpacks. One of these bags is for our “cold weather clothes” and it will be shipped home as we depart Japan for warmer waters. Over the course of the next 99 days we will come to learn, both literally and figuratively, what we want versus need to exist on this trip and hopefully in life. And that, really, is the point of this whole adventure.