En Route to Buenos Aires, November 5

We're back in travel mode, winging our way to Argentina. Coming home for a month was both odd and ordinary. One goal was to regroup and get ready for the next leg of our travels, but that didn't occupy the entire month. In fact, we settled quickly and solidly back into our old routine: the office for Alex and Jennifer; school for Emily and Tim (more on that topic below); the kids even temporarily rejoined their sports teams and resumed music lessons. Going back so completely to our busy, highly-scheduled suburban lifestyle sometimes made it feel as if Part 1 of our world odyssey didn't even happen.

To gauge how the family felt about the month home, here's everyone's answer to the question: Was it too long, too short, or just right?
  • Jennifer: Too long -- we could have done what we needed to do in two weeks and I was chomping at the bit to get back on the road. On the other hand, drawing a couple of paychecks was helpful budget-wise, and our graduate students appreciated the contact.
  • Emily: Too short (though not by a lot) -- I would have liked to spend a few more days with my friends, and some fun projects and parties were coming up at school.
  • Tim: Just right -- I enjoyed relaxing at our house, the earthquake was interesting, and it was fun to be home for Halloween, but I'm ready to start traveling again.
  • Alex: Just right -- I'm a family-consensus kind of guy, and our average family opinion suggests it was the right amount of time.
Taking care of "personal maintenance" was a good use of our time at home. We visited the dentist and orthodontist, got flu shots, and Jennifer had a her smashed finger checked (diagnosis: not bad, and should continue to improve for a year).

Plopping the kids into school for a 4-week stint, six weeks after the school year had begun, was an unknown. It turned out to be smooth sailing for Emily -- her elementary school had saved a spot for her in a 5th grade classroom with a flexible teacher who'd even been reading some of our travelogs with the class. Middle school was a little more difficult, and Tim was quite discouraged after his first day: He was assigned the locker nobody else wanted, reprimanded for not having his swimsuit in P.E. (how was he to know? shouldn't they have been happy he managed to bring his gym clothes?), he was the sole French Horn player sight-reading music the rest of the band had practiced for weeks, and he'd arrived smack in the middle of the biggest project in 7th grade -- the dreaded cell model & report -- and was expected to catch up. Tim was ready to drop school at that point, but he stuck with it. (Actually,  we didn't give him a choice.) After a week of hard work he'd created a lovely amoeba (photo 5), and he was well on his way to mastering the Horn music. He enjoyed the remainder of his time in school quite a bit.

While home, we learned that we're not as unique as one might think:
  • First, while browsing a web site for hotels in Thailand, we came across a category of accommodation described as flashpacker, right in our price range. We'd never heard of flashpackers, but a web search quickly revealed that flashpacking describes us, to a tee! The only unique angle we have over the Wikipedia description is children-in-tow.

  • Then we learned of the Higham family in neighboring Mountain View, who two years ago took a year-long round-the-world trip with children about Tim and Emily's ages; they're now writing a book about it. They have a terrific web site, Armageddon Pills (the name is explained on the site), with sample book chapters and a number of other entertaining facts and writings about their trip. As we pored over their web site we were amazed by the similarities in attitude and experiences to ours, not to mention a number of destinations in common. We contacted the Highams and they immediately invited us to dinner; it was a highlight of our visit home.

  • Finally, and most dramatically, the day before our departure for South America there was a New York Times article specifically about families taking a year off to travel: "... A growing number of American families are turning their wanderlust into reality ... Many of the children taking family trips around the world fall between the ages of 9 and 12 ..."
In other news, here's a surprise happy ending to a sad saga. We'd long ago given up on getting a refund from Travelocity, or even having a sane conversation with their customer-support ecosystem. But we definitely hadn't given up complaining. After hearing us out, Jennifer's step-mother suggested we contact Chris Elliott, a travel consumer advocate with a column that appears in the San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere. (His How to fix your trip page is particularly interesting, at least to us.) Chris responded right away, saying he was contacting Travelocity on our behalf. Sure enough, ten days later Travelocity refunded our credit card the full $1650. Now that's clout! Despite the positive outcome, and Travelocity's friendly note accompanying our refund:

We appreciate your business and want you to know that only Travelocity guarantees your entire travel experience on top of having a low price guarantee. We're contacting you today to make good on this promise. Please visit us again soon. We look forward to serving your future travel needs.

we do not plan to have Travelocity serve our future travel needs.

When we arrive in Buenos Aires we'll pick up our rented motorhome, buy mountain bikes for Alex and Jennifer (the kids' bikes are on the plane with us; photo 4), and hit the road. Since we'll be unpacking and packing exactly once, and never carrying all of our stuff on our backs, we were considerably less restrictive about what we brought on this leg of the trip (photos 1-3). Tim convinced us he needed his French Horn, to go along with Emily's computer-attachable piano keyboard (indispensable for your musically-inclined flashpacker). We have one duffel bag devoted solely to books -- guidebooks, hiking books, wildlife books, school books, reading books, you name it -- that barely comes in under the 50-pound limit for individual baggage items. Also along are some favorite foods to get started with camper-cooking, and a somewhat expanded suite of clothes and other travel gear. Provided we manage to stow everything comfortably in the camper, we'll be living in style.

The one thing we'll probably cut way back on, at least compared with Europe, is internet. We don't know how often we'll pass through towns with convenient internet access, and we won't be seeking it out for onward travel planning as we did on the first part of the trip. It's likely that our "Motorhome Diaries" will be somewhat less regular than our European postings were.

Year Off home page
Travelogs page