Archive for August, 2011
After 225 days of travel, we are looking homeward now. It’s been quite a journey. And though I don’t know exactly what we dreamed it would be, it surpassed any dreams we may have had. We saw beautiful, magical places. We ate all kinds of fantastic and unique foods. We traveled by plane, car, commuter train, night train, subway, camel, ferry boat, long boat, elephant, horse, tram, cable car and by foot. We met people. We met so many kind, helpful, funny, entertaining, gentle, smart, compelling, interesting, and wonderful people, it blows the mind. Most importantly, we spent time together. We learned together, we grew together, we talked to each other, we argued some, and we cuddled a lot. We gained a new perspective of both the world and who we are as a family.
So now, I venture to give some advice to our family as a reminder of why this journey has been so important to us. This is what I hope stays with us as it all fades into a happy memory.
To the girls: You MUST have adventures. It is such a vital part of living, and the easiest, hardest, most fun, most challenging way to grow. When I say adventure, I don’t mean you must go gallivanting around the world, though I heartily support that option. No, an adventure is doing anything that makes you say, “That is REALLY cool, and I’m a little scared to try it.” Maybe it is learning to speak Swahili. Or starting a community service project. Maybe it is speaking in front of your school, or submitting a poem to a contest. Maybe you decide to try rock climbing, or go to trapeze school. Whatever your adventure is, it must come from your heart, and personally, I think it should include a moment when you think, “Oh my goodness, what am I doing??!!” before you dive headlong into something new and exciting.
To me and Per: We MUST have adventures too. There is nothing that makes us feel quite so alive as stepping outside our comfort zone. It is especially wonderful when we can do it together. It also gives us the opportunity to appreciate all the good things in our lives.
To the four of us: We will all have our ups and downs. Life isn’t always easy, but it truly is beautiful. If nothing else comes from this journey, we know that we can count on each other. Let’s learn new things together, support each other, and have fun. Let’s do our best to lead with compassion. And if all else fails, remember what Baba David says… ‘Hakuna Shida’.
The old adage says, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. I can think of no way to better describe our two weeks in Sweden….
Now that the trip is almost at an end, I am finally addressing the much asked question about packing. What do you pack for 23 countries, many climates, and 8 months on the road? As little as possible.
Our original goal was for each person to have one backpack. We added a daypack/tote for each person to the mix in order to keep schoolwork, paperwork and reading materials easily accessible on airplanes or trains, but that was it. The key is we can all carry our own bags. And we do.
I have already spoken about our limited wardrobe, and if you have looked at our pictures, you are undoubtedly familiar with our travel clothes. Though we are all looking forward to putting on a cotton t-shirt when we get home, there is no denying that the fast-drying clothes we brought have been incredibly functional, and have worked out really well. We spent most of our trip in spring/summer climates, and packed layering pieces for our colder destinations, which also worked out just fine.
So, what did we pack?
- 2 pairs of shoes (1 multi-purpose and flip-flops)
- Jacket (Per and Sian sent theirs home after New Zealand)
- Hat and gloves (sent home after New Zealand)
- Fleece jacket/pullover (Per sent his home after New Zealand)
- Bathing suit – and rash guards for the girls
- Shirts – 4 short sleeve, 2 long sleeve and 1 sleeveless
- 1 pair of convertible pants, 1 skirt and 1 pair of capris for the ladies
- 1 pair of convertible pants, 1 pair of regular pants and 1 pair of shorts for Per
- Long underwear
- Socks and undies
- PJs – shorts and a shirt that could be used for other occasions as necessary
- Scarf for the ladies
- Toiletries – we refilled as we went. We bought toothpaste all over the world!
Other random supplies:
- Hand wipes
- First aid kit
- Prescription medicine (buckets and buckets of Malarone since we spent a lot of time in malaria areas)
- Duct tape
- Bicycle locks (to lock luggage – only used once)
- Eco bags (fold up bags for groceries, etc.)
- Small bag of laundry detergent (refilled in Chile, South Africa, Dubai, Laos, Singapore, New Zealand, China, and Greece)
- Clothes line – Flexo-line brand – it was awesome! Just add 2 carabiner clips and we could use it anywhere
- Travel towels
- Sleep sacks – silk travel sheet/sleeping bag liner – very handy!
Carry-on bags/day packs:
- Travel paperwork
- School work folder
- “books” (Kindle or iPad)
- Stuffed animals
Per will be writing a separate blog about all the electronics we brought.
How to keep it organized?
Packing cubes!!! Each person has a set of packing cubes (we use Eagle Creek) in various sizes and each person has their own color. In the rush of packing it is clear that the red cube in the corner is Sian’s and the blue one on the bed is Linnea’s. I cannot tell you how invaluable the cubes have been. Repeatedly, Per and I have said (the girls too, for that matter), HOW have we been traveling the past 20 years without cubes???? Everything is organized, easy to find easy and easy to move around.
We have been very, very happy with our backpacks. Per and I carry the Osprey Porter 46, a 46-liter travel bag that converts into a backpack. This is a huge advantage because, unlike camping backpacks, we can fold away all the straps for airline travel, making it much easier to check through. It is also a small enough bag that it could be taken as carry-on, though we never did.
The girls carry the REI Comet, a 35-liter backpack made for kids. It’s a great pack, and the girls did take it as a carry-on about half the time. Because it is a camping pack, it has tons of straps everywhere. This meant that checking the bags for a flight involved about 10 minutes of tucking straps everywhere, and then crossing our fingers that nothing got broken. We finally broke down in China and purchased an “over bag” for each girl (for $3!!) so at the airport they just pop their backpack into the over bag, zip it up and off it goes into the bowels of the airplane.
The daypacks and carry-ons have changed throughout the trip. Per has used his black work backpack as a carry-on throughout the trip, and it looks as good as it did the first day. I used an old tote for a while, and then bought a silk bag in Thailand (it can be worn as a backpack, messenger bag, or tote) that has been great. The girls bought bags in Thailand which started to fall apart, so they then bought “designer” bags in China. Not sure how long they will hold up either, but they are fun and the girls love them.
At first, all the packing and unpacking, arranging and rearranging was a bit overwhelming. However, as we got into the groove of being on the move, we really started to appreciate how streamlined it was. Would we make any changes? Of course! But the changes would only be small ones like choosing a different jacket, or packing even less from the start.
Now, for the final question: How many times on our 42 flights did our carefully packed, and much used luggage get lost? Not once.
After seven months; six continents; 23 countries (and three more where we just spent time in or close to the airport); 42 flights; trains, boats, cars, busses, riding of all sorts, and walking; countless new friends and experiences; and enough memories to last a lifetime, we arrive at our summer home in Osterlen, Sweden. Sian and I have spent part of every summer in Sweden since we first met at Miami University in the fall of 1988 – wow, 23 years ago! And since 2000, we’ve had the girlies in tow – just like we do wherever we go – as a family. We consider this our home, just as we do Topsfield, MA. And this homecoming was different from any other – given that we took the really, REALLY long way to get here.
I sat next to Linnea on the plane from Paris to Copenhagen (Sian and Kajsa sat a couple of rows in front of us). We listened to our iPods while looking out the window – tears trickling down our cheeks (streaming down mine). Tears of joy that we’re here; tears of sadness that the grand adventure is almost over (at least physically – it will continue to play in our minds for the rest of our lives); tears of relief that we made it without any complications (on the contrary, it was surprisingly easy once we found our rhythm); and tears of anticipation (will we still love Osterlen and Southern Sweden now when we have seen the world?) So much was going on for both of us that we didn’t do much talking – listening to “Cry” by James Blunt probably didn’t help either.
Osterlen is a unique place on the Eastern shores of Southern Sweden. When Swedes think of Osterlen, they think of an unspoiled countryside with the resonance of Provence and Tuscany. A magical place where the blue sky meets the blue ocean meets the gently rolling green and yellow fields, forests, and meadows. It’s a place that has attracted artists for generations – often rumored to have the most number of artists per capita than any other place in Europe. They come for the light and they stay for the quiet and simple rural life in this part of Skane where the clock ticks at a distinctly slower pace – inviting everyone to slow down and live in the now. It’s as the song by Michael Saxell goes; “heaven is closer in Osterlen.” And it’s a place where it’s impossible not to believe in the magic of life.
And this summer, more so than maybe any other summer that I can remember since growing up in Skane, Osterlen seems more special than ever. The Himalayas have rugged and awe-inspiring beauty. But Osterlen has a certain gentleness that you can wrap your arms around – like a favorite fuzzy blanket. Tierra Del Fuego has deep magic. The Serengeti has raw magic. The Middle East has ancient magic. The Far East has magic on a scale unmatched elsewhere. And New Zealand has the one ring that rules them all. But Osterlen has the kind of magic that is easy to believe in – it’s simple, rural, and easier to understand. It’s a place where Mother Nature shows off her gentle side – like a nursery.
We all felt it as we arrived. We all feel it as we stay here. Osterlen is home away from home. How many times have I heard the girls say “oh pappa, I’m so happy we are here”? Too many times to count. It really is true, you have to see the world to appreciate what you have – and maybe even to make what you have just a little bit better.
So we are here – our last stop on the journey. Surrounded by everything that is familiar to us and that we love; friends, family, nature, food, and absolutely the best fika in the world – bar none! We’ve seen the world and we love Osterlen even more because of it. It’s a little more than two weeks before we return home to Topsfield and begin thinking about reconnecting with our old life again. We intend to spend these last days on our journey recovering, reflecting, and maybe more than anything, just living – the four of us together – in a place where our hearts and souls spend summers (and for me, maybe more?)
Voila, as Thomas would say!