Without question, 2018 has been the most intense year of travel in any of our lives. We visited 11 countries and traveled 11 states within the US! During a gap year it’s too easy to let the many incredible places and experience blend together and for some places to get overlooked as they sink further back in memory. We’ve rounded up some highlights from our 2018 travels – hopefully these will provide some inspiration for your own adventures in the new year! Keep reading to the end for some more personal updates and even a sneak peak into 2019.
Going, going… still going
When we set out to travel full-time as a family, we intended to travel roughly from September 2017 until June 2018 and then come back to the US and get settled somewhere in time for the kids to start school in the fall. The best laid plans, right?
We returned to the US in late July and, as of this writing in December, haven’t yet figured out the next chapter. But we’ve been having plenty of fun along the way! We rang in this year in New Zealand and subsequently visited Australia, Thailand, Spain, Morocco, Italy, Greece, Israel, Switzerland and France.
The second half of the year we’ve stayed domestic, but no less action-packed: (another) road trip across America from DC to LA including lots of exploration in Colorado and Utah; five weeks in Hawaii; and now winter in the mid-Atlantic region spending quality time with family and friends as we immerse the kids in important lessons in American history. I’m writing this update from Philadelphia – Pennsylvania marks our fourth state this week!
Though our initial intention was to homeschool/roadschool/worldschool our kids for one year (preschool for Shoshana, Kindergarten for Jacob), obviously we’re doing a second year now. The kids are doing great (most days) and we’re much better teachers than we were a year ago. We have one avid reader and another budding reader, so we’re getting to the stage where lessons about science and history can be much deeper and more meaningful.
This may be surprising, but we’re still processing some “lessons from the road” – perhaps because we’re still (mostly) in travel mode. I’m sure that in 2019 our thoughts will crystalize further and we’ll start to recognize the ways in which our time exploring together has changed us. For now, I’ll share one travel lesson and one personal lesson:
We were never the types to do a three-week, ten-city tour of Europe, instead preferring to spend at least four nights due to the logistics of travel with kids. But in 2018 we learned the beauty of “slow travel”. We know that busy work and school schedules rarely permit it, but spending two weeks (or a month… or more) in a place really affords you the opportunity to see beyond the “top 10 lists” and get a feeling for what makes a place unique. We took a few pauses during our whirlwind adventure to dig deeper in places and it truly makes us feel more connected to them. We look forward to slow traveling as much as possible in the future, even if that means spending a week in just one city.
On a personal note, we’ve learned that life on the road can be a lot simpler than life in one place. Sure, there are accommodations to book and flights to catch. But that’s usually the extent of scheduling. We don’t have to worry about who’s doing school pickup, who’s driving the kids to the doctor and when we’ll squeeze in grocery shopping between evening meetings. There’s a flow to our days and it’s rarely interrupted by those outside pressures.
2018 travel stats
Continents visited: 5
Countries visited: 11
States visited: 11
Longest road trip: 3,189 miles from Maryland to Los Angeles (approximately 100 miles shorter than our 2017 route)
Trains: 1 (and it was a doozy!)
Home Exchanges: 18
Most relaxing place – Margaret River
Long-term travel gives you the opportunity to see blockbuster sites around the world, but there’s something to be said for balancing with those that just bring you a deep sense of peace. The quiet pace of Margaret River, Western Australia is a wonderful counterbalance to the crowds and non-stop activity of the eastern cities. Don’t get me wrong – there’s plenty to keep you busy! But you could have a very complete day in lovely Margaret River by visiting a winery over lunch and then reading a book at the beach until the sun sinks brilliantly in front of you.
Busiest visit – north tropical Queensland
Tropical North Queensland may not be crowded like Sydney and Melbourne, but that doesn’t mean “boring”. Five days in Port Douglas was the perfect amount of time to learn about Aboriginal culture, explore the rainforest, snorkel the Great Barrier Reef and more… but WOW it makes for a busy schedule! If you like to have a new and different adventure every day, this is the place for you.
Favorite road trip – Sapphire Coast
More Australia? Yep. It’s almost as big as the US and just as diverse in its landscapes, cultures and wildlife. For a little slice of heaven, take the scenic drive between Melbourne and Sydney rather than the quick flight. The coast is dotted with quaint towns, towering forests and secluded beaches. We hope to do it again one day – at an even slower pace.
Most breathtaking – Switzerland
Our visit to Switzerland was a spur-of-the-moment trip because the flights worked to eventually get us back to the US and we were able to find a gorgeous Home Exchange house to borrow – complete with bikes to ride around the local lake. My only regret is that we didn’t stay longer. Here are some great tips for visiting Switzerland on a budget, which I wish I’d had before we went!
I’m a sucker for stunning scenery, and every single turn in Switzerland blew me away. Fairytale castles, towering waterfalls, snowcapped peaks and rolling green hills. Switzerland doesn’t do “ugly”. Just go, you won’t regret it!
Best food – Naxos, Chiang Mai, Rome, Israel
Four people, four different palates! Fortunately we didn’t visit any country where we hated the food, but we each had a favorite place to eat:
Shoshana is turning into a foodie traveler just like her dad. Rome was her favorite destination overall, and if you ask her way she’ll give you three reasons: pizza, pasta and gelato. We haven’t yet written up our guide to eating your way through Rome, but in the meantime don’t miss Pastificio Guerra, La Strega Nocciola and Otaleg.
Jacob is a fan of any and all Thai food, so the eating in Chiang Mai totally spoiled him! Amazing, fresh pad Thai and tom kha gai for just $2 per portion? Done.
Ronnie continues to be happiest when eating in Israel. He loves all of the traditional foods like falafel and lafa, but also appreciates the creative, internationally-inspired options that dominate the scene.
As for me, I was thrilled with the catch of the day we found at every restaurant on the laid-back Greek island of Naxos. The island is able to produce nearly all of its own food, so it’s likely that your salad, cheese, fish and even liquor have only traveled a few miles to your plate.
Best beach – Lanikai beach, Oahu
It’s hard not to love Lanikai beach. It’s fronted by snorkel-ready crystal-clear turquoise waters leading to the twin Mokolua islands, backed by the lush green Ko’olau Mountains, and the fine what sand makes for perfect r&r. Take me back!
Biggest challenge – Morocco
Travel isn’t all roses and smooth sailing. Morocco was full of unique experiences and we’re glad we visited, but it was also a place with some unexpected challenges. It definitely opened our eyes to the realities of traveling independently in a new part of the world.
Most moving experience – D-Day sites in Normandy
Visiting Normandy to pay respects to the heroes who saved the world is an experience I’ll never forget. We opted to visit on our own so that we could go at our own pace and explain things to the kids in a way that would be meaningful to them – and I think doing it this way made it more meaningful for us as well.
Longest stretch staying in one place – Oahu
We’ve spent 2018 bouncing all over the globe, which has its pros and cons for sure. Our longest stretch staying in any one place was our Home Exchange in Hawaii. Many visitors to Hawaii complain that Oahu is too developed and crowded, but we felt that staying on the residential Windward Coast offered the perfect balance of the true Hawaiian feel and access to all of the island’s fun, kid-friendly activities. Being in one place for five weeks was amazing and by the end it truly felt like home! And no, no island fever for us.
Place we just couldn’t seem to leave – Israel
Our original plan was to stay in Israel for just two or three weeks; after all, it was to be my fifth trip, the kids’ second and Ronnie’s seventh. But once we got to our Home Exchange in Tel Aviv and got into the groove of visiting family and friends, relaxing on the beach, enjoying the amazing restaurant scene and taking day trips around the country we just couldn’t seem to pull ourselves away.
We extended our stay in Tel Aviv, and then extended it again. And then we booked a Home Exchange in Jerusalem, and then we extended that one too. It took dozens of questions about when we’d be shipping the rest of our stuff before we finally sucked it up and bought plane tickets to leave. Israel will always be our second home, drawing us like a magnet to the buzz that fills the whole country. We have tons of advice to help you plan your own trip to Israel, and email us if you have any questions we haven’t answered on the site yet!
Place we’re itching to go back to – Australia
It may seem like we spent a lot of time in Australia, but with seven weeks we still felt like we were scratching the surface. We can’t wait to go back to see family and friends, revisit old favorites and explore areas we missed on our first visit.
Favorite Home Exchange – Oahu
As I alluded above, we loved our Home Exchange on Oahu. The location on the Windward Coast was perfect and it came fully equipped for our stay: great kitchen, boogie boards and snorkel gear for beach days, a second fridge so we could save money by buying in bulk at Costco, separate bedrooms for the kids and and extra rooms for the grandmas to come join us. We could have stayed there forever and the Home Exchange made our long visit to Hawaii extremely affordable.
Favorite hotel – The Ridgeline
Some hotels are so cool that they’re a destination in their own right. That’s how we felt about our stay at The Ridgeline in Estes Park, Colorado. It was the perfect place to call home after spending our days exploring Rocky Mountain National Park. Spend your evenings roasting marshmallows at the fire pits, watching a movie while you splash in the pool or show your kids a thing or two in the game room.
Check out these great gifts for National Parks lovers!
What’s in store for 2019?
Unlike most of our readers, our travel plans for 2019 are still a work-in-progress! Our travels are deeply tied in to our family’s slow and deliberate path to eventually settling down somewhere. We don’t know yet where we’ll be residing or when so we’re keeping our travel calendar flexible out of necessity. But, as always, we’re mulling over a few ideas.
But we do have one thing planned for sure… While we’re still exploring the east coast of the US, we’ll be fulfilling the kids’ travel dreams with a long weekend in New York city! It took a lot of inquiries on HomeExchange.com, but we scored a great place on the Upper West Side and we’re currently deciding how to prioritize our very limited time there. We can’t wait to hear your suggestions!
What about the blog?
The Family Voyage has a lot to celebrate as we close out the year! When we started this project in March 2017 we didn’t really think about what it would look like as a small business, but that’s just what it’s become. We’ve reached over 200,000 readers this year and, more importantly, have received wonderful feedback from fellow-travelers who genuinely appreciate the candid, practical advice we provide. Thanks to all of you for letting us be part of your journeys!
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Wishing a happy, healthy and adventurous 2019 from our family to yours!