Why We Travel

Why do we travel — Why does anyone travel?

Let’s face it, traveling can be a royal pain in the arse. It’s expensive, it’s time consuming, it’s a risk, it’s often uncomfortable, but for a few of us it’s as necessary as oxygen.

The most common question we get when we start telling people about our crazy adventures is, why? Why would any sane person travel like you guys do?

Hey look, we get it.

Not everyone is born with wanderlust that drives them to the ends of the earth. We just happen to be that way. But we know lots of people who aren’t. Once on a bus trip while parked at a random Safeway somewhere in California, a couple walked by staring at our bus. This happens a lot, most people are overjoyed when they see us in our bus. But these two walked by slowly with looks of utter confusion on their faces. Finally, the woman turned to her husband and said, “That is my nightmare. Don’t ever make me live in one of those.”

Alrighty then! Give the woman credit for knowing what she doesn’t like. But, her nightmare is our playground. We love messing around on our bus. No matter if we are headed down the coast to San Diego, overland to Utah, or just up to Moss Landing for breakfast, we love being on the road, in a converted school bus.

I remember my first solo trip.

I was on my way to Puerto Rico to work in the rainforest with some crazy organization who my parents knew of from a family friend. All I knew was that I was getting on the plane and some guy was going to pick me up in San Juan and take me to the rainforest.

Years later my mom admitted that she had waited for me to turn around and give one final wave before disappearing down the jet way. I never did. It never even occurred to me to look back – why would I?

I had a backpack over my shoulder and a sleeping bag tucked under my arm. For the first time in my life I felt perfectly at ease. I was headed out, on an adventure, all was right in my world.

In college, I was known for bringing a packed suitcase to class so I could go straight to the metro and jump on a plane to skip across the Atlantic. Malone, too, was  famous on his own college campus for being the crazy sophomore who jumped on a plane to London over fall break. A few days before a visiting student from the UK had bet Malone he would never come visit. He called his new friend from a phone booth at Victoria station a few days after the bet.

The thought of jumping on a plane and walking down the jetway into an unplanned adventure, if only for a quick weekend, appeals to us.

When I was pregnant with Bryce a good friend of ours, Carlos Mota, pulled Malone aside and told him point blank to keep traveling. He regaled Malone with stories of traveling with his two kids, all the times he went into hotel kitchens to clean baby bottles, of creating makeshift beds in various places, of being so exhausted he was barely able to speak at his speaking engagements, but that it was absolutely worth it. His kids were not afraid of anything and he and his wife were able to see the world through the eyes of their children.

We both agreed we wanted that more than anything for our kids.

We felt lucky to have found our love for traveling and wanted to pass on that fearless nature and absolute drive to explore new places to them. Looking back we both can see that our love for adventure and willingness to put up with travel hardships was passed down to each of us by our fearless parents – but that’s a story for another day.

Our kids are rugged, resilient adventurers. True wanderers of the earth, ready to jump at a moment’s notice, to try anything – once. To set sail, dive deep, dance in the rain, sleep on the floor, go to plan C, or D, or E. To laugh when all else fails. We could not have asked for better traveling partners.

Back to the question at hand. Why? No really, why?

When we meet  people, or  get to talking to the people we already know, they inevitably ask:

Why do you travel? Why do you want to go there? What will you do? What do you want to see? Truthfully, I often don’t know. Does it matter?

Sometimes I simply want to breathe in the air that’s on the other side the world.

I’m not a planner so when we arrive at a new place I’m just as surprised as everyone else about what happens next. (don’t tell them that ) I love arriving. Stepping off the plane and getting that first whiff of air sneaking into the jetway from a poorly sealed portal. Or better yet walking down the stairs right onto the tarmac with the wall of  heat slapping you in the face as you stumble to find the stairs with your feet. Or watching the snow drift down and settle on the wings as you wait your turn to exit while you question your decision to pack the light weight jacket because it took up less space in the backpack.

Come on! How can that not be fun? I love traveling.

When we travel we put ourselves in other people’s way. We purposely involve ourselves in their world, their cultures, their lives. And often we put our very lives in their hands. Admittedly, that takes a special kind of faith in humanity.

The last time we were in Morocco we needed to get ourselves from Tangiers to Fez, which is about a five-hour drive, where we were to spend the night. But we also had planned to stop in a beautiful city called Chefchaouen known for its blue paint and magnificent streets, where we wanted to have lunch and a hike around the city. We had been told shared taxis were the way to go.

But, as I said, I’m not much of a planner so the plan was flawed and the hotel manager had concerns. He didn’t like the idea of us trying to find a taxi from Chefchaouen all the way to Fez at that late hour. He advised us to hire our own taxi, that he would arrange for us, all the way to Fez with an agreement to stop for lunch along the way.

That sounded like a terrific idea to us so we all agreed and off to the phones he went. All seemed great – there was no way the hotel manager would put us in a fake taxi, would he? No way. His entire livelihood rises and falls on trip advisor reviews so handing us off to someone who would rob us and leave us on the side of road would be bad for business, surly. Imagine the review! We felt all was well and we loaded our stuff and our children into the newly arrived taxi and took off.

However, things didn’t go as planned. Within a few minutes of our departure from the hotel our taxi driver got a phone call. He then excitedly told us that a buddy of his was from Chefchaouen and would take us because he just happened to be in town dropping off a fare.

Malone and I looked at each other and he immediately started calling the hotel. Our broken Arabic and our driver’s broken English might be part of the problem, but this seemed a little far-fetched to us. No answer at the hotel, no such thing as an answering machine, no better understanding of what was happening.

The boys perked up. They could tell something was amiss. The driver was excited, he didn’t have to drive all the way to Fez but would share some of the money. His buddy would get a fare all the way home. It was good to have friends in the same business, haha, life is good!

Malone took a deep breath and gave us all that look – stay calm but alert. We all sat up straight, we all listened carefully.

The boys took a photo of the driver.

The driver pulled onto a dirt road and stopped about 150 feet from the main road.

It was secluded.

We waited.

“He’s coming. He’s coming!” our driver told us. “No worry. Don’t worry.”

Here’s the thing. The vibe wasn’t wrong. That feeling you get when you know something bad is about to happen wasn’t there at all. The boys were joking with the driver, Bryce was translating as best as he could and giving me that eye that said this guy seems fine.

But we were stopped on a dusty side road, waiting for other people to arrive. I waited and hoped we hadn’t royally screwed up.

After a few minutes another car showed up and pulled in next to us. We all jumped out and introduced ourselves. Sure enough it was a lone driver in a nice car big enough for us and our stuff. Everyone moved our gear to the new car and our local driver did a thorough check to make sure we hadn’t left anything in his. Malone discreetly took photos of the two license plates, all the while laughing and joking with our new friends. We shook hands and piled into the new taxi.

The boys, ever aware, didn’t get into the car until we did, smart boys. We all piled in and roared off to Chefchaouen. We stopped for lunch while the driver went home and slept. He picked us up after a few hours and took us to Fez. It was good to have friends. There was no malice. No plan to rob us. He really was just a guy trying to find a fare back home.

It was a reminder of our faith in humanity. When we travel, we put ourselves directly in the path of other people and while doing so we have faith that they will do right by us. So far, 95% of the time, the people we have met do exactly that, thus keeping our faith in humanity high.

Maybe that’s why we travel. To remind ourselves that no matter who we are, where we live, where we come from, what we believe, what we are afraid of, or what we look like, people are thoughtful, kind, altruistic. Willing to help a crazy family. Willing to point the way to a lost soul. Willing to smile at a stranger. Willing to brighten the day with the only thing we really have in this world – ourselves.

A Quick Trip to Egypt

Egypt was originally on our list of destinations but at the time we were purchasing tickets the state department and others were advising strongly against traveling there. Over the nine months of travel before we decided to add it to the list, Egypt had become somewhat calmer and other places we had spent time (Turkey for example) had become less so. Egypt didn’t look quite as daunting from the road as it did from Carmel, California, a year before.

We flew into Cairo from Paris on EgyptAir. After two days in Cairo, spent  at the pyramids, in the Cairo museum and walking the central city by day and along the Nile at night,  we flew to Luxor. We learned of the loss of EgyptAir flight 804 on our way to Cairo airport for our flight to Luxor. We had flown the same route only three days before.

As you can see in the video, we encountered far fewer tourists than typical. While we enjoyed missing the crowds we had experienced in places like the Great Wall in China, it was clear that the lack of visitors was difficult for the people whose livelihoods depend on the tourist industry. Without exception, everyone we met in Egypt appreciated our decision to travel to their country.


Diving and Exploring Bali and Thailand

Our time in Bali included a magical few days at Villa Bukit Segara a private residence that has been converted into a 4 room hotel. The staff are wonderful as is the hotel and grounds. As you will see in the video, the boys spent most of the time in the pool and Aleix and I relaxed in the shade reading books. It was a welcome break from the more intense traveling we had been doing for months, and set out on again after our stay there.

We circumnavigated Bali over a few weeks and in Thailand we explored Bangkok and then traveled to Phuket. Both countries presented us opportunities for unexpected experiences and interactions with nomadic travelers from elsewhere in the world as well as Balinese and Thais who wanted to talk about the world and share their life experiences.

Turkey: Hot Air Ballons, Underground Cities, and Adventures

We were welcomed with warmth and hospitality during our time in Turkey. At the time of our travels, the Russians were engaged in a war of words with the Turkish government over the downing of a Russian fighter in Syria/Turkish airspace and terrorist attacks had recently hit Ankara and Istanbul. We weighed the pros and cons and elected to proceed, being alert in Istanbul and avoiding the border regions impacted by refugees and the Syrian war.

Some of you may be familiar with a song that talks about Constantinople’s name change to Istanbul. Throughout our time in the city, we were humming the tune. Younger folks will recognize the “They Might be Giant’s version” but the song was originally recorded in 1953 by “The Four Lads.” It is a catchy tune..

Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it’s Turkish delight on a moonlit night
Even old New York was once New Amsterdam
Why they changed it I can’t say
People just liked it better that way
We found Istanbul to be an incredible city of history. Having just been in Asia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, Istanbul was as advertised–where Asia and Europe touch.
After a few days in Istanbul we headed to Cappadocia where we explored underground cities some dating back to the 8th-7th centuries BCE. A highlight of our trip to Cappadocia was also the chance to go hot air ballooning as a family.

Adventures in Jordan

Our time in Jordan was too short. The exceptional sense of history and natural environment was only trumped by the warmth and hospitality of the people.

We stayed in a Bedouin encampment, we approached Petra from the North overland by camel and a dramatic hike through the mountains, floated in the Dead Sea and got to know Jordan and its people.

It is Bryce’s favorite country of the trip so far. Wadi Rum was an adventure and everyone we encountered was thoughtful in our conversations about the state of the world, and the difference of opinion on that topic made these conversations fascinating for us and the boys.

I have a collection of photos of our experience that I will post, along with some of the stories, in the weeks after we return home

Diving The Great Barrier Reef, Sydney New Years, and New Zealand


When the boys were young we had a cassette tape (remember those) of Australian kid songs. One of their favorites was “Christmas in Australia” that listed the joys of having Christmas in the middle of summer with typical Australian humor. As we set our plans to travel the world it made sense to spend Christmas in Australia and of course New Years in Sydney, ideally under Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Thirty years ago I spent 4 months as a “ringer” on an outback cattle ranch, riding horses everyday and hearding cattle on a 300,000 ranch. I finished my time in Australia by driving to Cairns and meeting my mom from whom I get much of my adventurous spirit. The two of us spent a few days on Heron Island out on the Great Barrier Reef.

Heron is a magical little 40 acre island that juts a few feet above sea level. The bird life is incredible and you can walk and dive the reef within meters of the shore.

From Australia we traveled to New Zealand where we “went mobile” living in a camper van.

Coming from Asia, we suffered some first world shocks but also enjoyed the benefits of traffic laws, ease of communication, and lack of humidity.

South Africa: Cities, Coastline, Safaris, and Soweto

It is hard to capture several weeks in South Africa in three minutes. We traversed several wildlife parks including Thula Thula, the park established by Lawrence Anthony the author of The Elephant Whisperer. In Pilanesberg (a self-driving park) armed with water, snacks, and our camera we spent the day maneuvering our compact rental car up dirt tracks and down dry river beds periodically passing signs that read, “Do not get out of your vehicle. Dangerous animals.” Within feet of elephants, lions, rhinos, water buffalo, warthogs and other animals we sat quietly in awe.

While in an open jeep tracking two young lionesses we realized that we had inserted ourselves between them and the prey they were stalking. The wild elephant matriarch and her herd at Thula Thula are described in detail in Anthony’s book. We were lucky enough to encounter her and her family on two different days. To meet her and look into the eyes of a 30-year-old elephant whose story we had read, as she considers you across a few feet of open space was incredible.

We spent two days and a night in Soweto with a family whose elders were forcibly moved to Soweto when the Apartheid government demolished Sophiatown, a thriving mixed race area in Johannesburg, in 1955. We toured Soweto with a woman who had been a student in the Soweto student uprisings of 1976 as a young girl. The youngest of the students marched in the front of the protest in hopes that police would not fire on them. Between 200 and 700 students were killed that day. Our guide was shot and subsequently arrested and interrogated.

And, we spent some time in a shantytown with a young man and his brother. They live in one of the hundreds of shacks; no plumbing, no heating, and one electric light run off of a hotwire that is tapped into a nearby electric pole. The government places portable toilets around the periphery of the town that are emptied twice a week. Drinking and cleaning water is drawn from communal taps.

In contrast to our time in Soweto, we spent two nights in an airbnb with an Afrikaner host, a semi-retired financial and political journalist who spent 30 years writing for an Afrikaans language daily paper, in one of the most affluent section of Johannesburg. He shared a direct and articulate critique of today’s ANC and its current leaders. A critique that aligned with what we heard in Soweto and elsewhere.
There is a sense that the ANC is living off of its legacy. One black activist we spent time with in Soweto argued that the racial apartheid of the past has morphed into an economic apartheid that benefits current corrupt political leaders, regardless of race.

Our adventures and experiences in South Africa rival anywhere else we have been.

New Zealand and “Stan the Van”

After months of youth hostels and cheap hotels we stepped up the quality of our lodging with a move into an RV in New Zealand. We arrived in Auckland late in the evening from Melbourne and spent the night in the equivalent of a Motel 6 motor lodge near the airport before an early morning taxi to the RV rental facility.

The boys settled in to read and “guard” the luggage while Aleix and I signed a stack of forms. We decided against “blown over” insurance. Insurance to cover the cost of damage when high winds blow you off the road and the vehicle onto its side. I questioned the wisdom of our decision a week later when we were hit with howling cross winds on the South Island.  The RV handled like a sailing dingy on the Monterey Bay under a wind advisory.

An impressively efficient operation Maui RV processes hundreds of folks each morning who arrive, usually direct from the airport via a Maui shuttle, and within about an hour go forth onto the roads of New Zealand in vehicles bigger than anything they have driven, most of them “on the wrong side of the road.”

If you have driven on the “other side” you recognize the highest risk and most confusing moments occur when making a turn, whether in a congested city or a rural intersection with no traffic, and no signage. On past trips in the UK we established the “Hodges turn safety system” which consists of Bryce and Colin repeating the mantra, “left side, left side, left side” through the turn, much like the ding of a turn indicator. It sounds ridiculous, I admit, but it saved us on several occasions. Once confident I am headed to the correct lane, I say, “got it.” The boys stop and await the next opportunity to protect us from head on collisions.

The checkout procedure on the RV entails a 10-minute tour of its quirks by an 18-year-old college student employed by Maui for the summer. He demonstrated how to add water, empty the waste, operate the stove, and start the heater. He also emphasized that the handbrake is THE parking brake. Without the brake engaged the RV would roll…until something stopped it. Apparently a common problem. I took the opportunity to ask, “What is the wildest story you have about renters and their failures?”

His response: “I would not believe it if I hadn’t seen it myself. We had a couple from China rent a fairly large RV. As they drove away a colleague looking out of the plate glass window at the front of our building let out a shout. I turned in time to see the RV jump the curb on the access road and roll into the field until it came to a stop. The couple got out; the supervisor and a couple of the other guys walked out to see what had happened. With much hand waving, pointing, and nodding, the renter got across that the cruise control hadn’t worked. He engaged it then got out of the driver’s seat and stepped into the back to help his wife make tea. Shortly thereafter the RV jumped the curb.”

Wishing to not add to future stories collected by the Maui rental staff, we loaded the van, which the boys christened “Stan the van,” and headed to a nearby grocery store for supplies.

Over the subsequent two weeks, Stan would carry us over thousands of kilometers around the South Island, along the coast, via ferry to the North Island, and finally into Auckland.

With long summer days we drove into sunsets that seemed to last hours, explored beaches free of people, experienced the solitude of the open road and a refreshing sense of isolation late at night under the stars far from cell phone coverage and the sounds of mankind.

Laos in Under Three Minutes

So far on our trip Laos was the most unexpected. We added it to our list intentionally as it was the least traveled of the countries we considered and the one about which we knew the least. It also has a long and admittedly painful relationship with the United States.

We found the Lao people to be warm and engaging and the country beautiful even if at times challenging. It was an adventure and all four of us are excited to return to Laos.