We are halfway through our year-long trip around the world with our two children in tow. We have had some wonderful times and some not so wonderful times. Over the holidays, I was feeling very sad and lonely. I missed my family and our loud, crazy, coffee-fueled, wine-filled Thanksgiving. I missed having lunch with my girl friends. Even though I am traveling with Chris and the kids, I missed interaction with other people. And sometimes we get on each other's nerves since we are together in very close proximity all day every day.

A few weeks ago I was really irritated with traveling and constantly looking for an appropriate place to stay that was within our budget and figuring out where to get groceries at each different town we visit. At the same time, I was dreading going back to "real life" because that means getting an actual job, and I haven't had one of those in almost two years, and I don't want to give up my nights and weekends and holidays with my kids. Then I put on my big girl panties and told myself I was fortunate to have a roof over my head every night and money to buy food to feed my family and a professional degree that would allow me to find a job without much difficulty. So Chris and I have both started the job search process, and we are trying not to let that get us out of the "nomadic" spirit. Here is a recap of the places we have been in the last few months:

The last RTW round-up I did was in October, and we were in Iguazu, Falls, Argentina. I loved Argentina. It was my favorite South American country, and I left there wanting to go back. While I loved Uruguay, Peru and Bolivia, I felt I had seen all I had set out to see there. In Argentina, there was so much we did not get to do, and we all want to go back to Bariloche, the chocolate capital of South America. This was one of my favorite stops! When Chris started his job search at international schools, I asked him to investigate if there were any available posts in Bariloche. I could totally see myself living in Argentina. 

 

When we were in Ushuaia, Argentina, we got really crazy and booked a last minute trip to Antarctica. The best way to see the frozen continent is to casually walk into a travel agency in Ushuaia and see if they have any empty cabins in the cruise ships leaving over the next few days. Chris and Kara loved Antarctica more than I did. Tristan and I loved it too, but we preferred to see it from the warmth of the ship lounge. We did manage to make a few landings, but they were short. We all got seasick crossing through the Drake Passage on the way to and on the way back. We actually handled it a bit better on the way back even though we sailed through a hurricane-strength storm for almost 48 hours.

Chile was a little disappointing after Argentina. We went to a small town called Pucon, where we visited some of the best hot springs ever. Nevertheless, the house we rented was freezing cold and had no heating and no wifi even though both of these were advertised. We learned to confirm amenities even though they are listed on Air BnB after this. Then we went to Valparaiso which I had been really excited about because I had just finished reading I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin and I loved the movie Il Postino (an Italian film about Pablo Neruda's postman while the poet is exiled in Italy). I felt let down because Valparaiso was a very dirty city, and it is difficult to navigate on foot. The people were very nice, but I had clearly romanticized the town and it did not live up to my impossible expectations. 

 

We spent a few days in Easter Island, which was a lovely experience. The downside was that Kara and I got a flu-like respiratory illness while we were here, but we still managed to have a nice time. The island is clean and breezy and the food is great though expensive even for Chile standards. Around this time is when my mood took a turn downward. After Easter Island, we went to the island of Moorea, French Polynesia. The weather was not cooperative in FP. We only had a couple days of sun. We spent the first half of our week in a house on the opposite end of the tourist area and the second half in a nice resort in an overwater bungalow (thank goodness for last minute deals again!). Well, we were bitten by mosquitos in the first house and Kara and I got dengue fever a few days after arriving. I highly recommend against getting dengue fever. We had headaches, agonizing bone pain, fever, fatigue, and weakness. We were bed-ridden for about two days. Kara was lagging about a day or so behind me, so she had to travel to New Zealand while ill. I am not usually a low-mood person, so I am wondering if the dengue fever precipitated the dark mood I experienced afterwards. Depression is listed as a symptom. That virus messes with your brain!

 

We spent three weeks in New Zealand. Kara and I were already on the mend though we were not feeling completely recovered. Chris was happy to be in an English-speaking country, and I was happy to be in Middle-Earth. We rented a car in New Zealand, and I highly recommend this as the way to travel down there. In South Island, we spent a few days in Queenstown, which we loved. We watched the third Hobbit movie down there, and we went to a place called the Fear Factory, which is a haunted house and really scary. We took a cruise through Milford Sound which was very beautiful and also went on a dolphin cruise when we were in Dunedin. While in the town of Greymouth, exactly two weeks after the dengue, I developed a rash, horrible joint-pain, abdominal pain, lip-swelling, and weakness. I of course started googling the crap out of my symptoms because I was terrified this had something to do with the dengue. After much self-diagnosing research, I think I had Henoch Schonlein Purpura (HSP), which is an immune-mediated reaction, usually to a virus. As a pediatrician, I have seen HSP many times before in children, so I was caught off-guard by my age. Whether it was HSP or not, it definitely was some kind of immune-complex mediated reaction to the dengue virus. So the dengue did rear its ugly head. 

 

The highlight of our trip to New Zealand was renting a house on four acres near Rotoroa. From there, we took a few day trips including one to the Hobbiton movie set. The kids had a blast at the Rotoroa house, especially since Tristan for once had room to run around. By the time we went to visit the Hobbiton movie set, my joints did not hurt as much and I was actually able to enjoy the experience. 

 

We left New Zealand and flew to Bangkok, Thailand, where we spent two weeks. We did some fun stuff like take the kids to KidZania and take cooking classes. We also got back into the swing of homeschooling which we did not do while we were in Tahiti and New Zealand. I started the job search process in Bangkok and was feeling really depressed about it. I desperately wanted to back "home" (USA), but I did not want to go back to work outside the home. My outlook changed while in Cambodia. 

After our two weeks in Thailand, we went to Siem Reap, Cambodia. This country has carved itself into a special niche in my heart. I was uplifted to see the strong entrepreneurial, self-less, and welcoming spirit of a people that just two generations ago were affected by one of the worst genocides in the history of humankind. The temples of Angkor were beautiful and an insight into the history of Cambodia. Our hosts in our home stay in Siem Reap and the young man that drove us around in his tuk tuk were kind, helpful, and patient with us. We also visited the War Museum and I left horrified yet humbled and inspired by what I saw and learned there.

 

We also spent a few days in Phnom Penh, where we rented an apartment from a Cambodian multi-lingual engineer. He and his wife also owned a restaurant in Phnom Penh which was delicious. The apartment was away from the tourist area. The first night, we went to a local hot pot restaurant around the corner from our apartment. At first, we did not know what it was. We just saw an assortment of meats (brains, squid, and other stuff) and vegetables on skewers at a table in front of the restaurant. With a lot of pointing, big hand movements, and speaking slowly, we finally figured out that you had to pick the meats/vegetables from the table, put them on a tray, take them to your table, and cook them in the hot pot. I think we provided entertainment for the locals. We did not know that you had to take the meats/vegetables off the skewers first. I think I ate a pork rind that I thought was a rice cake. Then we had a hard time taking the noodles out of the pot. Kara dropped some of the hot water on herself and dropped her bowl in the hot pot! A sweet old lady at the table next to ours came over and taught us how to do it after that.

When we told our landlord about our dining experience the next day, he gave us a look as if we were crazy and then politely said we should avoid eating at those restaurants because we could get sick. "They are not clean," he said. We did not get sick. In fact, we have not had any food-related illness this trip at all. We have had altitude sickness, flu, dengue, and bizarre immunological reactions, but no gastroenteritis! 

The highlight of our visit in Phnom Penh was the trip to the Killing Fields. What an emotional experience! The site is a memorial to the millions of victims of the genocides perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot's regime. Pol Pot and Hitler could have been drinking buddies. 

 

I was impressed by the number of restaurants and organizations developed in Cambodia to help the people. In Siem Reap, we ate at a restaurant called Manrum, which serves as a training restaurant for marginalized youth. Here, we learned about Child Safe, and its effort to keep children in Siem Reap safe from abuse and trafficking. In Phnom Penh, we ate at a restaurant called Daughters of Cambodia Sugar and Spice, which served as a training restaurant for women escaping the horrors of the sex industry.

My mood improved after our stay in Cambodia. I don't know if it was the after-effects of the dengue lifting or resetting my perspective after everything I saw in Cambodia. I am in a better place emotionally. I am enjoying the traveling for the incredible experience that it is. I am looking for a job with enthusiasm. I will make wiser choices about my work-life balance. I will continue writing stories. 

Right now, we are in Vietnam. After spending a few days in Saigon and the Mekong Delta, we rented a beautiful villa in foodie-paradise, Hoi An, for the bargain price of $50 per night! I enjoyed the slower pace of Hoi An after the bustle of Phnom Penh and Saigon. After Hoi An, we spent a few nights in Hue (at another wonderful homestay with a local family), and we are currently in Hanoi. 

You can follow our adventures at the Thomson Family Adventure Blog. We provide them with a weekly article about our round the world trip. 

I am writing as we travel and we are homeschooling the kids. If you have any questions about our trip or any suggestions for a round the world trip, let me know in the comments section!

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AuthorNoemi Gamel
CategoriesWalkabout Fun

I wanted to use this blog post to recap our round the world trip. Since embarking on this crazy adventure on July 5th, we have been to Peru, Bolivia, Uruguay, and we are currently in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina. Iguazu Falls are arguably the most formidable waterfalls in the world, with some travelers ranking them higher than Niagra or Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe/Zambia). I have never been to Niagra, but I have been to Victoria Falls, and I agree. 

We have had some crazy adventures on this trip, most of them involving buses:

On our way to Cusco, Peru the kids got altitude sickness in the middle of the 18+ hour bus ride. Imagine having two kids throwing up at 3 am on the bus on a narrow, windy mountain road so it cannot pull over without risking falling down the mountainside! We now affectionately refer to this bus ride as the "bus ride from hell."

On the 8-hour bus ride from Uyuni to Sucre, Bolivia, we stopped at a small building so people could by a bowl of soup to eat. I asked where the toilets were, and I was directed to an open field behind the building where the llamas were grazing. That's right! Just squat and go in the tallest bush you can find. It helps to have a sense of humor when you are traveling in Bolivia! 

In Montevideo, Uruguay, I was hang-drying our laundry in the balcony of our 7th-floor apartment on a gusty day. Unfortunately, one of my underwear was blown off the balcony. A few days later, as we were headed out to dinner, Chris noticed a black pair of undies on a table in the lobby of the apartment building. Upon closer inspection, I realized they were my underwear that had blown off the balcony! I guess they had fallen into the balcony of an apartment below and the person there left them in the lobby figuring they belonged to someone else in the building. The kids were literally on the floor laughing at the "underwear that came back."

You can follow our adventures at the Thomson Family Adventure Blog. We provide them with a weekly article about our round the world trip. 

I am writing as we travel and we are homeschooling the kids. If you have any questions about our trip or any suggestions for a round the world trip, let me know in the comments section!

Sharing is caring! Click on the Share button on this page to share this post with your friends. 

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AuthorNoemi Gamel
CategoriesWalkabout Fun

Costa Rica was my home for one year.  We are currently back in the United States visiting family before we embark on a round the world walkabout trip in July.  I was very happy in Costa Rica.  The decision to leave was difficult because Chris, the kids, and I seriously considered making Costa Rica our permanent home.  Even though we became involved in small town drama and the ATMs would run out of money for days and there were times I could not find olive oil (or dandruff shampoo) anywhere in town for weeks, in the end I came to understand what happiness really means in this tiny country.  

I realize that some aspects of our happiness were independent of living in Monteverde, Costa Rica. For example, the fact that I was a stay-at-home-mom and Chris was working out of the home while we were living in Costa Rica contributed significantly to our happiness, but had nothing to do with geography.  Below are some features inherent to Costa Rica, and specifically the small, highland cloudforest town of Monteverde, that I will miss the most because they did impact our happiness there.

10) Wind and Rain

We moved to Monteverde in June 2013 which was at the beginning of rainy season.  The rain was falling as we drove into town our first day, and continued on a daily basis until mid-December.  As the rains stopped, the winds picked up.  I am talking about strong, harsh, whipping-your-face winds that threatened to blow me off the face of the mountain when I went on on my morning runs.  When people think of Costa Rica, they think of heat and humidity because it is in the tropics.  All bets are off in Monteverde, which is located at an elevation of 5,000+ feet above sea level.  The winds and the rain cool it off very nicely.  Most importantly, the winds and rain are my lullaby at night.  Through out the rainy season and the windy "transition" season, these staples helped me fall asleep at night in a town where our house offered no insulation from the noises outside, including barking dogs, passing motorcycles, and the music from the bar down the street.  In March, when the dry season signaled the end of the winds and rain, I found I could not sleep as well without my lullaby.  Without the constant background noise, I could hear every little noise in the middle of the night.  I really missed the winds and the rain our last few months in Costa Rica.  

9)  Walking

We did not have a car in Costa Rica.  I loved it.  We walked everywhere.  We walked to the grocery store, the farmer's market, our favorite restaurants, and to visit friends.  The kids walked to the school bus stop.  We lived steps from the bus station and the post office.  Whenever we were going somewhere that was too far to walk, such as the kids' guitar teacher's house, we took taxis.  All that walking had a positive impact on our health, sense of community, and stress levels.  I never missed having a car.  In fact, after the walkabout, I would like to settle somewhere that I don't need a car to get around.  Anyone know of a place like that?

8)  Children's freedom

One of the most culture shocky experiences we had when we first moved to Costa Rica was when we realized the amount of freedom children have here.  We saw children younger than our children's age (11 and 6 years old at the time we moved) walking to town and to school.  Of course Kara and Tristan quickly used this as ammunition to convince Chris and I to let them walk everywhere on their own.  It took a few months of adjustment, but eventually we did give them a lot more freedom than we would have ever given them back in the US.  They walked to the nearby "Super Liquorera" (supermarket/liquor store).  They would meet us for lunch after school at our favorite restaurant in town.  They would go buy supplies at shops in town on their own.  They would walk to the school bus stop without me.  This was one of the greatest aspects of living in a small, safe, low-traffic town where every body knows everybody.  We will all miss this not only because of the convenience ("Hey, can you go get me an onion from Super Liquorera?"), but also because we know that recreating this aspect of our life in Costa Rica is not likely possible in most places in the world.  

7)  The forest/nature

We lived minutes from one of the most beautiful and biodiverse ecosystems in the world.  We would go hiking in the cloud forest at least once per week.  The kids went to school in the cloud forest.  Kara had her lunch stolen from a "pizote" (aka coatamundi) several times during the school year.  This was apparently a daily occurrence! Each morning, I would awaken to the morning chorus of birds and howler monkeys.  The inspiration and happiness I derived from living in Monteverde will be difficult to parallel.  

6)  MFS Library

The Monteverde Friends School Library was a 45 minute walk from our house.  We would visit the 24/7 volunteer-run library at least every month.  This library houses the largest collection of English language books in Central America.  You don't know what you got till its gone.  

5)  La Feria de Agricultor and my CSA yogurt

My weekly saturday trip to the Feria de Agricultor (farmer's market) was the social highlight of my week.  Not only that, each week I had the privilege of purchasing mostly local and mostly organic produce.  Our fruits and vegetables intake went up dramatically after we moved to Costa Rica.  We rarely ate processed foods, mostly because many of these foods (granola bars, frozen meals) are not available, and if they are, they are prohibitively expensive.  I also obtained fresh-made organic yogurt, homemade bread, and organic, local veggies from our CSA.  I will miss eating food that I bought directly from the farmer, who was usually the guy selling produce to my favorite restaurants.  

4)  Coffee! and coffee shops

I have turned into a coffee snob because Costa Rican coffee is the best in the world.  Move over Starbucks.  In the US, I used to drench my coffee in International Delight creamers.  I would not touch that stuff now.  Milk and sugar is enough when  such a magical liquid is gracing your cup in the mornings.  And the coffee shops here became my second home.  I will miss Cafe Orquid and Choco-Cafe.  I did much of my writing for my books at Orquid.  I laughed and cried with many friends at Choco Cafe.  With the exception of the occasional tourist, no one ever bought a coffee "to-go" here.  The concept is foreign in the Tico world.  If you are going to drink a cup of the most delicious coffee in the world, you are going to sit and enjoy it with a friend.

3) View from my front porch

Words won't do it justice, so I will attempt with a picture. 

The view from our front porch in Monteverde, Costa Rica

The view from our front porch in Monteverde, Costa Rica

2)  Burger night

Almost every Friday night, our friend Greg would host Burger Night at the Monteverde Butterfly Garden.  Not only did he make the best meat and veggie burgers in town, the event provided a wonderful venue to socialize with other families in the community.  The kids would run around with their friends and we could sit and have adult discussions with our friends.  When we lived in the USA, we all led parallel social lives.  Burger Night was a weekly reminder of our new social structure of a much more integrated family.  

1)  The people

I will miss my Tico and expat friends.  There are so many of you that I cannot mention everyone.  But if you are reading this you know who you are.  Meeting you made our experience in Monteverde wonderful.  You helped us build wonderful memories during that year.  And for that, I thank you.  

Have you ever lived outside of your home country and then moved away?  What do you miss the most?  Let me know in the comments section. 

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AuthorNoemi Gamel
CategoriesWalkabout Fun

Whenever Chris or I mention to friends or family that we are embarking on a year-long walkabout around the world, one of the first questions we are asked is, "What about the children's school?"  We keep our answer simple and let them know that we will be homeschooling them on the road.  

That answer satisfies most people, but you have to understand that many of our friends and family are Type A professionals with multiple advanced degrees whose Bible is the book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother".  They want to hear more details such as the specific curriculum we plan to follow, our assessment strategy, and the bench marks we will use to make sure that the children are covering the minimal national educational standards.  At that point, I shrug my shoulders and confess the truth:  We do not have a structured curriculum planned.  Cue gasp!

You have to know our background a little to understand my tongue-in-cheek attitude regarding my children's education for the following year.  I am a physician.  Not only that, I am a pediatrician who was on faculty at a medical school for eight years after residency training, and I was a nationally-recognized leader in curriculum design and medical education.  I presented workshops at national conferences where I would teach doctors how to teach.  Chris has a PhD in Biology, but his career has focused on teaching instead of research.  A few years ago, he left the classroom to become a course design manager for Laureate Education, a private higher education company that builds courses for universities around the world.  Yet here we are pulling our children out of a structured school environment to go on a walkabout for a year.  

Our children attended a Montessori School for their entire educational life prior to us moving to Costa Rica during the summer of 2013.  In Costa Rica, they attended a private bilingual school that focuses on environmental education.  Chris and I both have come to an important conclusion after spending thousands of dollars on our children's education:  Our kids are going to learn no matter what.  Thanks to their Montessori training and the hands-on approach at their Costa Rican school, they are internally motivated to learn.  They see the whole world as their classroom.

The best type of learning is student-centered, active, self-directed, and applied.  The worst learning strategies for retention rate are lecturing and disembodied reading assignments, which are unfortunately the main teaching strategies at most educational institutions.  The best learning strategies are peer to peer teaching, group discussion, and practicing by doing.  

With that in mind, this is going to be our general approach to homeschooling the kids during our walkabout:

1.  Structured math exercises.  

When I go back to the USA in June, I will acquire a structured math curriculum for both of them that I can take on the road.  My goal is for each to complete a two-year curricular cycle in math.  Kara will complete 7th and 8th grade math, while Tristan will complete 2nd and 3rd grade math during our walkabout.  I know it seems ambitious, but they are already above grade level so this strategy is not a big stretch for them.  I know I sound like a total Tiger Mom, but I have objective data that tells me my children can handle this.  We plan on working on math for 30-60 minutes each weekday.  

2.  Applied reading assignments anchored by discussions.

The kids will read every day.  We will not be reading from textbooks, but rather historical fiction or other more engaging reading materials that will be related to the activities we have planned.  For example, we plan to visit the Anne Frank house while we are in Amsterdam.  Before arriving, we will read The Diary of Anne Frank together as our bedtime read.  While we are in Amsterdam, they will read about  the holocaust and World War II.  When we visit the Anne Frank house, they will teach each other about what they have learned from their readings in context.  The discussions can continue at dinner time or other "down-time" as Chris and I will be aware of the material they are covering since we will be the parents and teachers.  I will also have them read books related to the natural history of each place we visit so they learn science.  Reading inherently will also improve their grammar and language skills.  This portion of their curriculum will encompass science and social studies.

3.  Writing in a journal every day.

Kara and Tristan will write in a journal every day.  The journal will have three sections: self-reflection, natural history, and creative.  For the self-reflective section, they will write about their emotions and perspectives on the country/city we are visiting.  In the natural history section, they will review what they learned that day with a particular focus on the flora and fauna.  If they learned any new words in a new language, they can write it down in this portion of their journal.  We will also encourage them to research any topics they find interesting in more depth using the Internet.  The creative portion of the journal will be reserved for writing stories set in the country/city we are visiting starring characters based on the people they meet.  I will not require that they write in each section every day, but they will write in at least one section daily.  Writing will also by design strengthen their grammar and language skills.  

So that is how we are homeschooling our kids during our walkabout.  We are essentially winging it and hoping for the best.  I know all you Type A professional parents are squirming in your chairs.  All I can say is..... 😝

I will let you know how our experiment goes as it unfolds.  We may fall on our faces sometimes, but we will simply get back up and try something new.  Worst case scenario, the walkabout will at least serve as the subject of their college entrance essay, which will be titled, "I survived my crazy parents....."

What are your thoughts on non-traditional education strategies?  Also, if you have any books or resources that you would recommend we use while we educate our kids on the road, please share them in the comments below.  

If you are home schooling and would like to include multi-cultural stories as part of your curriculum, be sure to download The Black Rose And Other Scary Stories That Really Happened To Me from Amazon.  The four scary short stories in this collection are reminiscent of Mexican folktales such as La Llorona and Dancing With A Ghost.

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Who doesn't remember the scene from the 80's movie Crocodile Dundee where Paul Hogan's "Michael" explains that he went on a "walkabout" for 2 months that was really 18 months?  It is a great scene that shows us a lot about Michael's character but also introduces the concept of a walkabout to the American public.  A walkabout is an occasion in which an Australian Aborigine goes on a long walking journey on land that is far from towns and cities.  The purpose is to provide a time of self-reflection and to experience and learn new things.  

Chris and I are not Australian, but the idea of going on a nomadic trip to learn about the world is certainly appealing.  We will be using airplanes, trains, cars, and buses to supplement our walking journey though!  Our family is not new to the life of adventure.  During the summer of 2013, Chris and I sold our home and most of our possessions and moved to the highlands of Costa Rica.  Our kids, Kara and Tristan, attend a local, private, bilingual school while Chris works remotely for a private education company called Laureate Education, and I am a stay-at-home mom and writer.  I spent the last year working on The Black Rose and The Iris of Issoria.

We fell in love with Costa Rica, but after a lot of agonizing soul searching, we have decided to leave the land of Pura Vida in June.  Instead of returning for another year in Costa Rica as we originally planned, Chris and I decided to embark on our very own walkabout.  Starting in July of 2014, we will travel through South America, New Zealand, Asia, and Europe over the course of one year.  

We left the United States to give our children the opportunity learn about other cultures and to learn a simpler way of life.  We did accomplish our goal to teach our kids that you do not need a big house, a massive car, or a lot of toys to live a happy life.  With the walkabout, we want to take the lessons to a higher level.  We want to teach them that they can live with only the possessions that they carry on their backs.  We want to teach them to roll with the punches and adapt when life doesn't go their way, such as when the bus is late or a hostel loses our reservation or a restaurant doesn't serve mac and cheese.  We want to teach them to appreciate the value of an education when they see that there are so many children in other countries that don't have that privilege.  We want to show them the beauty of other cultures and people.  I know that we will hit many bumps on the road, literally and figuratively, but I also know that this is a great decision that will have a profoundly positive impact on Kara and Tristan.  Or maybe we are just a crazy family....

Noemi, Kara, Tristan, and  Chris

Noemi, Kara, Tristan, and Chris

I will continue to write while on the road.  You can subscribe to my blog or follow me on Twitter to  keep track of my adventures as a nomad writer.  

Have you ever thought about leaving your current life to embark on a brand new adventure?  Have you done a nomadic year?  Let me know in the comments below.  

 

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AuthorNoemi Gamel
CategoriesWalkabout Fun