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...or, "What a long, strange trip it's been"
...or, "All things must pass"
The World Trippers on July 16, 2001 -- the day we left
The World Trippers on July 5, 2002 -- the day we returned
Exactly one year ago today, we walked out of our front door in Cupertino, California, and set out on the adventure of a lifetime: a one-year trip around the world. We left our house, automobiles, and possessions in the care of others, and we took little more than one suitcase each. Many of our friends and family wondered if we would make it all the way around (or, for that matter, if we would actually leave at all) -- indeed, during the next several months, we met many other families who had tried the same kind of adventure and turned back part of the way through.
And now, here we are back at home twelve months later. Our passports show that we have been to Raratonga, New Zealand, Australia, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Mauritius, Kenya, Tanzania, Switzerland, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. We have endured blinding snow, pouring rain, and 100° heat (both humid and dry). We have built sandcastles in the South Pacific and thrown snowballs in the Alps.
We did it. We made it all the way around, and we have lived to tell the tale.
The hardest part of our year abroad was not the endless traveling. Nor was it living out of suitcases, doing without just about every comfort imaginable, being constantly poor, going through continuous culture shock, or even juggling the monumental amount of logistics required to pull it off. The hardest part, by far, was being with each other. In "One Year Off," the book that served as the inspiration for our adventure, the Cohen family warned:
"...a trip like this simply won't work if you're not on very good terms with your spouse... when all of your social interaction takes place within a very small hermetic group for months on end, little peccadilloes become incredibly irksome, and slights are easily magnified. If anything, we learned that a trip like this accentuates problems rather than solves them."
At the time, we took these comments rather lightly. Now that we are through, we understand exactly what they were talking about. The four of us were continually in small spaces with only each other, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There was nowhere that Russell could go in order to get a break from Gail. There was no one that Gail could talk to in order to vent about Russell. We had only each other, and every tiny bad habit and irritation became magnified beyond our wildest imaginings. There was no time for conflicts or bad feelings to linger. All arguments had to be resolved quickly, and in front of the children. We omitted this entire aspect of the trip from our letters, but we cannot emphasize enough how major it was.
On the other hand, David Cohen adds this comment as well:
"Of course, if you do manage to spend twenty-four hours a day with your spouse for a year and live to tell the tale, then I think you can assume that your marriage is on very solid ground."
We are still together, a notion that we would have thought impossible at certain points in the trip. But even more, we are stronger as a couple and as a family. We have gained incredible insights about ourselves and each other, and we know where we need to work on ourselves and our relationships. This journey never ends.
We are most impressed with Cameron and Joss. They left home as children, and they have come back as young adults. We didn't realize how much they had changed until we were back in our own house, and we could see how differently they now interact with their old environment. We can leave them to their own devices for an entire day. They amuse themselves, they entertain each other, they fix their own meals, they clean up after themselves (mostly), and they manage their own time. We can leave them alone when we go out and run errands. Their greater independence undoubtedly results as much from our own comfort level as from theirs.
The boys now see and notice things that they used to be completely oblivious to. They are much stronger about expressing their opinions, their likes, and their dislikes. Cameron is wonderful with his younger cousins (and nephew), and we feel very comfortable leaving him in charge. Joss still throws himself at others in order to hug them, and we have to keep reminding him that he's getting too big to hang on people.
None of us was ready for our trip to come to an end. Joss, who had cried so much before we left a year ago, cried equally as hard as we made our way back home. Shortly before our return, Gail lamented, "We're just starting to getting used to the routine. We need to stay out for another year, so that we can really get the hang of it." But as tempting as it seems, real life beckons.
In just a few weeks, Russell will return to Hewlett-Packard, where he will work in Executive Communications for the HP Services business. Joss will return to the French American School of Silicon Valley, where he will enter the 4th grade (CM1). Cameron will attend a public school for the first time in his life, when he enters 7th grade at Kennedy Jr. High School.
This leaves Gail with the ongoing tasks of putting our home and yard back in order (the first day that she's alone in the house, we expect her to do a gigantic "happy dance"). With most of our supplies and much of our furniture sold off a year ago, there is a lot of catching up to do. Gail has already begun to hang new curtains in the windows so that the place doesn't look so bare. All of us have been gradually digging out, going through the accumulated mail and boxes. There is an entire room packed from floor to ceiling that we haven't even touched yet. And we still have to file our income taxes.
But we are back in our own home. We are enjoying home-cooked meals; new clothes; American books, news, magazines, movies, and television shows; and visits from family and friends (we have seen our grandson Keegan just about every other day since we've been home). We still find ourselves wanting to repack things after we use them, and to take a picture of something every five minutes.
And we now live in a different place than the one we left behind twelve months ago. Cameron asked why there are so many American flags on people's houses and cars. Joss wonders why he is not allowed to walk down to the park by himself. But if having lived in other parts of the world makes us see our own country with new eyes and new insights, then we are all the richer for it.
We would like to thank all of you who sent us well wishes and welcome home messages, and for your constant support throughout the last year. We hope that in reading our adventures, you have felt even a fraction of the joy and amusement that we had in living them. We hope to keep our Website active for as long as possible; we have been amazed by the number of people who have stumbled upon it and written to us. What's next? Russell has already started chatting with Gail about taking a year to walk across America. Stay tuned...
Our front yard, July 2001
Our front yard, July 2002
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