It sounds like such a romantic notion: Leaving everything behind but the family you’ve created together and heading out to see the world.

And in many ways, the trip I took with my husband, Ish, and our two sons, Ethan (then 8) and Cameron (then 6), was exactly that.

And in so many ways it wasn’t.

Making new friends in Kenya. (Photograph by Heather Davis)

Making new friends in Kenya (Photograph by Heather Greenwood Davis)

Our around-the-world-trip was not borne out of well-thought-out planning or a “budgeting to the penny” lifestyle. We were simply a young family struggling under the weight of routine and obligation. We wanted something different. And we went out into the world to find it.

When you become a parent, routine is your salvation. Our kids needed to be trained to sleep, to eat, to talk. There were social norms they had to learn early so they could grow up to be “model citizens.” All the rule-following and conventions didn’t often come naturally, but soon enough I had two little people who did exactly as they were told.

Except, that wasn’t who we wanted to raise.

My husband grew up in a downtown housing project in Toronto, where his world was confined to a 24-block radius. At the same time, on the other end of town, I was growing up in a pampered suburb. As a child my family traveled farther than his — hitting spots across Canada, the U.S., and the Caribbean — but our trips were almost always to visit friends or family. Ish and I knew we wanted more for our kids.

As our passion for travel grew, we took trips farther afield. Road trips across North

The Davis kids clowning around in Angkor Thom. (Photograph by Heather Davis)

The Davis kids clowning around in Angkor Thom (Photograph by Heather Greenwood Davis)

America led to a month-long trip across Southeast Asia and eventually to Peru. The more we saw, the more we wanted to see.

And as the kids began to join us on travels, we couldn’t help but wonder what kind of people could they become if they grew up thinking of the world as their neighborhood. How would it change them if they knew more about a place than that a tsunami had hit it or that people there were “poor?” How would it change their lives to have a friend in Thailand, or Cairo, or Paris? Who could they become if their eyes were opened now, as kids, before they started believing the stereotypes they saw all around them?

We wanted to find out.

And so in June 2011, we set out for one year of seeing all we could. We left home with one bag each, a list of countries we’d try to get to, and only a few plane tickets and fixed dates in mind. The plan was to abandon our routines: We’d sleep when we were tired and wake when our bodies told us to. We’d eat when we were hungry, not when the lunch bell rang. We would focus all of our energy on each other, our experiences, and the people in the places we were visiting.

It was a magical year. Kids who could barely swim when we left were suddenly confident enough to jump into (seemingly) bottomless lakes in Thailand, a place where their curiosity led them to street-side checker matches with men three times their age and had them pointing out Canada on a map to orphans half their age.

Cameron feeding an infant at an orphanage in Shanghai. (Photograph by Heather Greenwood Davis)

Cameron feeding an infant at an orphanage in Shanghai (Photograph by Heather Greenwood Davis)

As parents, we were tested with questions we couldn’t answer (“But why would anyone make them slaves, mommy?” in Zanzibar, and “So she’ll never leave Vietnam, ever?” in Mui Ne), and rewarded with a chance to bear daily witness as our children grew. Soon we had kids who never questioned women in burkas or men in sarongs because they understood that “that’s just the way they do things here.”

For our family, it was a year of transformative joy. Without the confines of soccer schedules and school days, we found each other again and again — in the Thar Desert, in the Valley of the Kings, on the river Nile. We held hands more, four of us across or two by two. We climbed on the backs of camels and elephants and ostriches. We sailed on zip-lines, crammed into packed buses, and rocked along in overnight trains in China. We traveled with our eyes wide open and came home with the memories firmly imprinted on our brains.

And as it turns out, that’s exactly what were were seeking: The ability to close our eyes at any moment and be there again. Just the four of us, exploring the world together.

Heather Greenwood Davis and her family were recognized as Travelers of the Year by National Geographic Traveler in 2012. Learn more about their journey by reading Heather’s blog, globetrottingmama.com, and following her on Twitter @GreenwoodDavis.

Comments

  1. Kathy Buckworth
    Mississauga Ontario
    February 4, 2013, 4:38 pm

    Heather and her family are inspiring in so many ways. Love hearing more and more about her trip every time we get together. So deserving of this award and looking forward to her sharing more stories.

  2. Dianne / Smilenwaven
    February 4, 2013, 4:44 pm

    It was the great *trip* for us also… around the world on Heather’s shoulder!! What a treat!

  3. Alyson Schafer
    Canada
    February 4, 2013, 4:48 pm

    What a fabulous year you created for your family! There are no words, no dollar amounts that you can put to such things. I am in awe just reading these short few paragraphs. Imagine experiencing it first hand – for a year – at age 8 and 6.
    Alyson

  4. Maureen Dennis
    Toronto
    February 4, 2013, 5:55 pm

    Take me with you next time! You are a true inspiration and I would love to read more stories about your adventures!

  5. Racheal McCaig
    February 4, 2013, 5:55 pm

    I would love to hear more about what seems like such an incredible trip.

  6. Katja Wulfers
    Canada
    February 4, 2013, 8:11 pm

    Your family trip around the world is inspiring. Your motivation even more so. We travel as often as possible with our kids and have done so since they were born. Every trip is an adventure and we’re grateful for the experiences.

  7. Theresa Albert
    Toronto
    February 4, 2013, 8:19 pm

    What a beautiful treasure! I didn’t believe anyone who told me that my child would grow up very fast but those kinds of snapshots in time are worth everything now.

  8. Julie Cole
    Canada
    February 4, 2013, 9:03 pm

    Truly inspiring. What a family!! I love reading about their adventures. Thanks for sharing with us all, Heather!

  9. Gaurav Bhan Bhatnagar
    New Delhi
    February 5, 2013, 2:03 pm

    Wonderful post. Truly authentic sharing. It is very inspiring for me as I want a life partner who can go around the world with me. It is still a little unknown in the society I live in……..

    • Heather Greenwood Davis
      February 8, 2013, 11:52 am

      I hope you get the chance to experience it Gaurav!

  10. Jen Reynolds
    February 5, 2013, 6:09 pm

    What an amazing experience you had and what a gift of love and understanding you have given to your kids. This sounds like a great beginning—what is your next adventure?

    • Heather Greenwood Davis
      February 8, 2013, 11:53 am

      Thanks! We’re planning out something for the Spring we hope. Ethan is already asking about summer plans too. :)

  11. Jen Reynolds
    February 5, 2013, 6:12 pm

    And I swear that I was in the exact same spot as you in the Thar Desert—I recognize that sand dune and ripples. :) (Any dung beetles there?)

    • Heather Greenwood Davis
      February 8, 2013, 11:53 am

      ha! Could be!

  12. Laura Madrid
    Atlanta, GA
    February 7, 2013, 8:54 am

    We do a great deal of family journeys, Around the World and maybe just part way. If you are interested in someone to assist in planning an exceptional family voyage, please contact http://www.resorttolauramadrid.com or check out our blog at https://lauramadrid.wordpress.com/

  13. M
    Boston
    February 7, 2013, 9:22 am

    Amazing! A dream! Can you say something about the financial requirements by way of guidance?

    • Heather Greenwood Davis
      February 8, 2013, 11:56 am

      Thanks M. The financial requirements vary according to how much you want to do, where you go and how long you stay. We estimated that our trip for four people cost about $120-140K with more than half of that being flights. To cut costs I would a. stay longer in places (hotel costs add up vs apartment rentals), b. choose countries that were less expensive and c. hit fewer countries (cut the flight costs). There are lots of people who are doing this for a lot, lot less. I’d encourage you to search out other Round the World travelers online and you’ll see that lots of people of varying means have done it in a variety of ways.

  14. linda gerena
    roslyn heights, new york
    February 7, 2013, 10:11 am

    I so much wish I could do this your trip was so inspiring! Maybe I would like to do this, but just in a small scale. Do you want to do this again?

    • Heather Greenwood Davis
      February 8, 2013, 11:58 am

      YES! We are hoping to go again in 5 years (or sooner if we can swing it). Next time we’d stay longer in fewer places for a more immersion-like experience.

  15. Helen
    Toronto
    February 7, 2013, 11:08 am

    I am in awe of you and your husband to step `out of the norm` and give your beautiful children such an amazing opportunity. Your photo of young Cameron feeding the baby at the orphanage is one of the best pictures I have ever seen, it speaks volumes of the love and compassion you and your husband have shown and taught your children.

    • Heather Greenwood Davis
      February 8, 2013, 11:59 am

      Thank you! Watching the boys help others and accept the giving of that aid as “normal” really meant a lot to me. They had so much fun with the kids at that orphanage and taught me a lot too.

  16. Marcia
    Connecticut
    February 7, 2013, 12:20 pm

    I am having conflicting feelings right now. One is:”What a fabulous family, fabulous trip, how exciting, what joy and pride you must have having done this for and with your family.” The other is: “Oh, how I wish I could have done this with our 3 kids, but it is too late now.” Our “kids” are 55,52,&48 ! Even our grandkids are older ! What a world this would be if everyone had an opportunity like this family.I too loved the picture of your son feeding the Chinese child in China.. Just special to read this.

    • Heather Greenwood Davis
      February 8, 2013, 12:00 pm

      I understand. I wish it for every family too. One of my regrets was that we weren’t able to keep schools connected with us as we traveled. So many kids could benefit from seeing the world as bigger than their backyard.

  17. Jo-Anne Wallace
    Toronto
    February 7, 2013, 2:06 pm

    I followed Heather and her family on their year long journey and was amazed the entire time. What a wonderful treat for her kids and as well for those of us lucky enough to following along. Congrats Heather and family on a well earned award.

    • Heather Greenwood Davis
      February 8, 2013, 12:00 pm

      Thank you. The support we got online was incredible! And the advice absolutely changed the trip. Grateful for it all.

  18. lynn
    apache junction, arizona
    February 7, 2013, 7:15 pm

    where can i read about the whole trip, do you have a book, or somewhere you’ve written the trip? thanks, what a wonderful way for young kids to see more than just their world.

    • Heather Greenwood Davis
      February 8, 2013, 12:02 pm

      I am working on a book (slowwwwwly ;) but for now you can read snippets of the trip on my blog http://www.globetrottingmama.com. And I’ll be sharing here as well.

  19. Sue Callahan
    Arroyo Grande, CA, USA
    February 7, 2013, 10:31 pm

    I envy your experience. I literally had to drag my son everywhere we went in Europe, Hawaii, Guam and Japan. He did not appreciate his travel opportunities one bit and made me very unhappy. So, I guess this dream is not for every child.

    • Heather Greenwood Davis
      February 8, 2013, 12:04 pm

      True, I think the personality of the child will play a role in how “well” the trip goes. I know many adults who wouldn’t do well traveling like we did either. ;) I do believe that we gain things from travel whether we aim to or not, so although he may not have enjoyed it I bet it affected who he is today.

  20. kaamna
    San Francisco ca
    February 8, 2013, 9:34 am

    what a truly inspiring year for you and your family. i absolutely agree that what these kids learn on the road they can match nowhere else and we as parents are doing our bit by raising aware, unprejudiced, accepting human beings. I wrote this a while ago, I think you will like it!
    http://momaboard.com/general-travel-tips/lifestyle/why-i-travel-with-my-son/

    Congratulations again!

    Kaamna Bhojwani-Dhawan
    Momaboard.com

  21. Yolanda Scales
    Atlanta, Georgia
    February 8, 2013, 10:54 pm

    Heather,
    I really enjoyed reading your article. You are truly rising young men who will see the world with a different perceptive. I hope one day they come back and tell you how much they appreciate you and Ish’s insight and love for them. I wouldn’t be surprised if I one day I see one or both of your sons as world leaders. They are off to a great start. Keep up the good work! I hope more and more parents catch on to the trend, as Keith Bellows put it, “The passport is the new diploma.”

  22. BeyondtheDiploma
    February 16, 2013, 12:30 am

    Great way to keep family together, experiencing all the fun and adventure out there. Away from the very common lifestyle and a best way to enjoy life. Very nice. Hope to hear more of your adventures!

    Marie
    http://www.BeyondTheDiploma.com

  23. swoonforfood
    February 18, 2013, 12:28 am

    So inspiring! I loved that you guys did that!!! I would love to just drop everything and do this too one day with my husband and son. In fact I have always wanted to visit all of Africa for 1 year with them but my husband is a bit of a wimp. Haha.

    In the mean time, we have traveled to quite a few places already with our 4 year old. I also show videos of other places in the world for my son to see. Mainly so that he would appreciate all the things he has more – lol. Thanks for sharing!

  24. Duncan Faber
    February 24, 2013, 11:43 pm

    Our trick to make travelling with kids more bearable: audiobooks, and lots of them. There’s lot of great sites to download them. We just got a couple for free at this one, if anyone is interested. http://www.twirlygirlshop.com/stories-for-kids

  25. Claudette
    Vienna, VA
    February 9, 8:25 pm

    Hi Heather,
    LOVED your blog! You are special parents and your children are going to be a gift to the world. Encouraging and teaching a child to have respect and a love for all people is the best lesson a parent can give. Thank you for sharing. We start our family adventure in August and we are all looking forward to our year abroad. I just found your blog as I was looking into places to view the aurora borealis!

  26. Sheneeza Kanji
    Maple, ON
    March 3, 5:47 pm

    We couldn’t agree more with your perspective! We have four children (2 girls and 2 boys) and we travel 3x a year with them. We call it “family give back vacations” where we visit orphanages and broken -in need of repair schools, experience eco-tourism, absorb new cultures and connect with our own self of identity outside the context of home, work and school. It has been an amazing 15 years of doing this. Our children are so open-minded and grounded from these experiences. On another note, please see my book “Amazing Canadian Kids!” At INDIGO or Amazon etc. Proceeds to charity! Thanks!

  27. Ann Brewer
    United Kingdom
    March 11, 8:10 am

    This sounds amazing. My husband and I have talked about doing this with our son (now aged 5), probably in 3 years time. I know what he will get out of a trip like this, but have 2 concerns. The main one is that he is an only child – maybe travelling with just your parents will not be so beneficial? The other is schooling – can he keep up? Can you make any comments on these points? Did your boys settle back in easily on your return?

  28. Jason Park
    S. Korea
    June 11, 7:41 am

    My wife and I just got married about six months ago and ever since we were dating, we spoke of something like this. We wanted to do this once our kids (we don’t have any yet) are old enough to understand the world and can be comfortable being with us for a whole year. If you plan to come to Korea give me a holler~