Fulfilling many years of intent and planning, Noah Van Loen, his wife Anne, their 12-year old son Alex and their 10-year-old daughter Leah recently embarked on a one year long journey around the world, which will take them to Peru, New Zealand, Cambodia,China and many other countries.
The Journey is the Reward is the travel website penned by Noah and Anne (with occasional insights from their kids) that gives readers a first-hand account of the adventures, cultural differences, struggles and joys they are facing on their year-long trip. The website also tracked the family’s trip planning process and worldschooling plans, and serves as a useful guide for those who are considering extended trips of their own.
In this interview, Noah give us his honest and inspiring thoughts on his biggest fears about taking his family around the world, advice for anyone who is currently planning a long trip, and tips for sharing a travel adventure with an online audience.
1. You’ve known for a while that you wanted to take this trip with your family. What made you and your wife decide to share your journey with the world by creating your website?
We decided to create a website for our trip for a number of reasons communication with our friends and family, keeping track of our adventures along the way, and sharing our thoughts, lessons learned, and challenges with other travellers (and perhaps inspiring others to also try a crazy adventure like this).
2. What were your initial fears about traveling with your children for such a long period of time, and how did you overcome those fears?
As parents, you are always worried about your kids. Our most important jobs are keeping our kids safe and learning/growing. Part of our planning process for our itinerary was to determine the right mix of locations for us as a family. Another fear about traveling as a family for such an extended period of time is “will we all be able to get along with each other when we’re basically together 24x7?” There are times of stressful travel, times when we’re all sharing the same room in a hostel, or when we’re all tired and hungry - those are challenging times for our group sanity. But they’re also great learning opportunities for us as a family - that which does not kill us, etc. etc.
3. You spent six years planning for this journey! Do you think that’s typical for a trip of this length? How much planning time do you recommend people take before they set off on a year long trip?
Although we’ve been talking about this trip for 6+ years, the actual planning didn’t take that much time. It took us a bit to determine our itinerary for the trip, although that was more broad brush-strokes of places we wanted to visit, less so details about every day on the road. We wanted to leave time in our schedule to be open to opportunities that arise on the road, so we were careful not to overplan before we even left home. Once we had our basic itinerary (and the tickets), the majority of the planning was related to getting out of our house (renting it, cleaning it, moving our stuff out) and other departure-related trips. We also made a conscious decision to spend more time in our first location (3+ months in Cusco ,Peru), which has enabled us to spend time on trip planning during the trip itself. For a year-long trip, this has been a great chance to start travelling while working on plans for the rest of the journey.
4. When you were choosing what to share on your website, was there anything you decided would be off limits?
Not really - although it’s easy to just post easy pieces on our travels, that would never accurately represent our experiences. It’s not easy to travel, especially as a group/family, but it’s a wonderful challenge to have. We try to make sure that we all get a say in what we post - including the good, the bad, and the ugly. Of course, if there’s something that one (or all) of us are uncomfortable about sharing, we decide that as a family.
5. What is your best trip planning advice for beginners who want to travel for extended periods of time?
Don’t let your fear of the unknown stop you. There are a ton of reasons for you to say “I can’t do this”, but commit to the trip.
There are a ton of good planning sites / communities on the internet (Meet, Plan, Go! and BootsnAll to start with) - connect with those and start your planning. It may seem overwhelming, but start by breaking it down into smaller chunks - where to go, finances, insurance, medical, departure, etc. Once you have manageable pieces, the whole task will no longer seem so daunting. Specifically, we used a MindMap to do a brain dump of all the items we were thinking of, and then broke them down into smaller pieces for action.
6. Between volunteering, educating your kids and exploring new cities, how do you and your wife find the time to update your website on a regular basis?
Honestly, it’s tough. At any one time, we have 3-5 stories in progress, and try to make time to work on them daily (usually first thing in the morning, when the coffee is strong and the kids are quiet). We also do quick updates on our Facebook page, as well as our Twitter account.
7. What are the top three things you’ve discovered since you’ve embarked on your travels?
We’re stronger than we think.
You don’t need “stuff” to be happy.
There are few things as good as a hot shower with good water pressure.
8. How do your kids feel about the website? Do you think they’ll become more involved with writing for the site?
The kids love being able to share their experiences and thoughts on the website, and will continue to be involved with posts. We have some good ideas for increasing their engagement with the blog, including interviews and video clips.
9. Was there anything about the trip that you wished you’d done a better job of planning for?
Certainly- this is one of the areas that you can never just “nail”, especially when you are on your first extended trip as a family. There’s stuff in our bags that we don’t need, and stuff that we wish we had packed. But nothing major; nothing that can’t be gotten on the road (probably for cheaper than what it would have cost you at home).
We’re learning that we can all get by with less stuff...
10. You mentioned that one of the most difficult parts of traveling was being away from your friends and community for so long. How do you keep in touch with your loved ones back home? What role does your website play in helping you stay connected?
Skype has been great to keep in touch with family and friends back home (especially grandparents who don’t have computers - using SkypeOut to call them direct has been wonderful).
Facebook (posts and messaging) has also been great to keep connected with our friends. Our website is a great tool to really share the details of our adventures - it allows us to tell a longer story than just a quick post on Facebook, and allows our loved ones to really get a feel for what were are experiencing while we are on the road. It’s also fun for the kids to be able to write up their experiences from their own perspective.
11. Which leg of your trip was the most difficult to plan and why?
They all have challenges, but right now we’re struggling with our planning details for SE Asia . There are so many interesting places to go and see, and a ton of information online to wade through. We know that we will be spending May in Chiang Mai,Thailand, with a couple of weeks volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park, but the rest of the time that we have in that area is still relatively open. We’d like to visit Myanmar, which recently opened up for tourists,
as well as visit our foster daughter in Cambodia, plus some beach time and a visit to Angkor Wat, so trying to fit it all in is very difficult!
12. You took a career break in order make time for your trip. Do you have any insights or advice for other people who want to do the same, but aren’t sure how to proceed?
Career Breaks are becoming more popular in the United States , and are no longer being seen as a negative for employment/career purposes. If you are considering a Career Break (and want to stay with you current company), talk with your current employer about whether there might be a possibility for part-time work while you’re on the road (or perhaps a leave of absence). Many times, an employer would rather retain talent in a part-time role if you are interested in returning after the trip. Keeping connected with your company can help with insurance coverage, not to mention the benefit of a little additional income on the road. If you are not interested in staying with your current company, then don’t be afraid to promote your Career Break. If you are proud of it (as well you should be), then focus on the positives of the break - exposure to different cultures, ability to deal with new people in challenging situations, increased problem solving skills, financial planning and management skills, perhaps even a new language. All traits that make you even more valuable to an employer when you return.
13. What do you want readers to take away from reading your website and following along with your travels?
That extended travel (even with your family) is possible, fun, and eminently worthwhile. That the opportunities for growth (as an individual and as a family) are so important and valuable, that the reward of travel (and getting yourself out of your “normal” routine) can not be underestimated. That this is possible - there are any number of reasons to say “I can’t do that”, but that you really can.
14. When you return home from this trip, do you think you’ll continue to blog about your future travels?
We think so - although this is the biggest trip that we’ve done as a family, we know that the road is long, and there will be many other adventures even after we return from this trip.
15. After your kids have grown into adults, how do you hope they look back on this experience?
We hope that they look back on this experience with eyes wide open - at all of the good things (and challenges) that we experienced on the trip; at the fact that the way we used to live is not the only way to live; at the lessons learned. The greatest joy we could have is to inspire our kids (and others) to take a trip like this themselves at some point in their lives.
Just saw this about Career Breaks - good stuff: http://bootsnall.com/articles/11-02/five-reasons-to-take-a-career-break.html