Europe

Round The World in 1969 and Two Years of Family Travel

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Posted on / by Alex Berger

Camping in the Van

I’m extremely excited to share today’s post with you.  I had a very unusual childhood, one which instilled my wanderlust at an early age.  I owe a lot of who I am and the adventures that drive this blog to my parents. While you may have heard me write a bit about these formative experiences, what you haven’t heard is the other side of the story – that of my parents.  So, I recently reached out to my Dad and asked him to tell his story, a story which includes an incredible year-long, solo RTW trip which he took between 1969 and 1970.  

What makes it all that much more exciting is what he was doing during that year: studying the way different cultures educate their kids.  That trip, and the two years we spent on the road as a family recently came up in discussion as I worked with him on his new book Vital Lies: The Irrelevance of Our Schools in the Information Age in which he explores the shifting role of education, the impact of technology, and offers what I found to be fascinating insights into the role education has and continues to play in our society. 

Eager to share part of his story with you, I’ve asked him to tell what it was like to travel the world on a solo-RTW trip in the late 60s, and to explain what it took to uproot the family for two years travelschooling in Europe and the US.  He’ll be responding to questions in comments, so please feel free to chime in!  But enough from me, here’s his story:

Ed and Date Tree

Preparing for RTW Travel

Wherever you are is the center of the universe. As a kid, the center of my world seemed vast. In time, I came to realize that there were billions of other people – their centers of the world – equally important. I felt very small. It was like looking at a star-bright sky and wondering what part I played. I couldn’t go to the stars, but I knew I could travel into the spheres of influence of other people. I could move around the planet and see what they saw, sing their music, eat at their tables. I could touch and feel and learn what was real. That is how I became an explorer, an adventurer, a traveler into other’s places.

I took small steps at first, chaperoning a ski trip to Switzerland, traveling with buddies in Mexico. I knew I was ready to travel, but to start it took money, time, and a sabbatical leave with half pay. I sold my car, said goodbye to fellow teachers, family and friends. I would visit schools in 22 countries and lecture about American Education or Southwest Archaeology. In exchange, they would arrange for a native speaker who could take me into the local schools and explain what was happening. I felt safe, knowing I had places to go and check-in. I didn’t consider what a year with only American Express mailboxes to keep me connected with home would mean.

Ed at the Alhambra

Taking The Plunge

I was 29, in 1969, when I departed Colorado and headed for Hawaii and points West. I set out to wander for a year. My plan was to immerse myself in other cultures and places, without rushing through others lives and the planet’s awesome beauty. In reality, to friends and family, I disappeared. Until they got a letter, often weeks after I left a place, they did not know if I was dead or alive. In those days, there was no internet, no Skype, nothing but letters traveling by snail-mail, and static-filled phone calls that cost more than four days food and lodging; impracticable and hard to place.

It wasn’t easy getting away. A military friend of mine told me there was a good chance I would never survive the year. “Ed, you probably won’t come back. Your family will never know what happened to you.” Another close friend asked me, “How can you do that to your parents … and me?” I had no answers, but I knew I had to go. I was not prepared. I had never experienced loneliness. I had never been followed and stalked. I was an innocent – for about three weeks – until I learned that traveling alone required special skills. There were no hostels, few hotels that would not leave me scratching, and even fewer signs in English. When I was ill, I self-medicated and lay in a room until it passed. When I wanted to talk to someone, anyone, I made contacts at the schools I visited, talked to myself, or wrote in my journal.

When I came home, I learned how my parents had spent a year worrying. My school peers were threatened by what I had learned, and avoided me. I rekindled some friendships, but lost an equal number. I had grown. I was not the same person. I wanted to contribute to education and… But few people could comprehend what I had experienced; what I had learned. Yet I still dreamed of the world and people who were part of my ken. I held that dream, time passed. Then something wonderful happened.

Berger Family in Europe - 95

Family Travel

Married in the ‘70s to an amazing travel companion, then parents in the ‘90s, my wife and I studied our two sons, saw innate wonder, curiosity and natural joy. We figured out our responsibilities as their teachers. We planned a life together, for the four of us, where the centers of our worlds would be expanded to include other places, people and realities. We wanted them to run free on the beaches of the world, discoverers of living things, open time, and personal responsibility. When they were eight and eleven, we rented our house, collected our meager savings, and spent the next year, packs on our backs, letting whim and caprice, adventure and discovery lead us through Europe. Travel! Cars and boats, trains and planes. Most important, shanksmare through other places and lives. They could look at the stars and know who and what they were a part of. It made our hearts smile.

To some, travel means that if it is Tuesday this must be Paris. Wednesday? London or Madrid. For us, it was sharing our son’s 8th birthday on the Eiffel Tower, as he looked down at Paris and then followed a pigeon, round and around, on the iron decks. Six months later, it was celebrating Greek Independence Day and our oldest son’s birthday In Crete. In between, experiences so powerful and mind-changing, so inspiring and filled with wonder, that they are as real to us now as they were then. The year ended, and we were sad. We could have traveled forever. We had to slow down and get back to the old reality.

Back home in Arizona, we expected too much. We were used to mind-broadening experiences and interactions with wonderful people. Sitting in classrooms and trying to be awake, didn’t serve our boys well. We decided to venture out again, this time in the US. We had an old 5th wheel trailer and a Chevy Crew Cab truck. We left in the fall, the day school started. Our classroom for the next year would be on the road. We melded into communities and the lives of others. Our 32’ trailer was home and school. We didn’t have to can things and bring them into class. The real world was outside our door. We moved from Arizona to Canada and then let winter push us south down the East Coast. We stopped every time we saw a new community, museum, or factory … whatever caught our eyes. We parents didn’t have to teach. What we learned we learned together. What we knew, we shared as it applied to the environments and cultures we cozied into. We called it “Travel Learning,” and started a web site to connect and share with others. On the road, we discovered many other families using travel as school. We let winter push us to Southern Florida and the Everglades. We fished, explored, and learned local history and customs. We experienced an America unknown to most.

Dad and I

We all travel now, every chance we get. The boys are grown, one at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. The other, in Zambia, Africa serving in the Peace Corps. They are part of communities and feel connected to the worlds of others. We are always growing, exploring, getting the pulse of our planet and other people. That is what TRAVEL means to our family.

You can read Ed’s blogs on education on his site – EdwardFBerger.com, where you can also find out more about his new book Vital Lies.  He is on twitter via @EdwardFBerger You can also see my post from the Alhambra Spain, which takes photos from my visit and matches them up with shots Ed took 40 years previous.  If you’re curious about my brother’s Peace Corps activities, he has a series of amazing blogs on his site DavidBerger.net.

Have a question for Ed?  He would love to hear what you have to say – just post it in a comment, or connect with him on twitter. 

Alex Berger

I am a travel blogger and photographer. I also am involved in academic research into the study abroad and backpacker communities.

19 Comments

  • Miruna
    March 25, 2012

    Amazing post! Thank you for sharing is. You should write a book:)
    Regards.
    Miruna

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      March 25, 2012

      Thanks Miruna for reading! His book is a great read! Definitely well worth it!

      Reply
  • Bob R
    March 25, 2012

    Great story. And wonderful to see that everyone’s journeys continue.

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      March 25, 2012

      Thanks Bob, it really is an amazing adventure and fun to see it unfold!

      Reply
  • Greg Linster
    March 26, 2012

    Alex,
    You are one lucky guy! What a great way to learn about the world and receive an “education”.

    Ed,
    Great story! The rise of “online learning” coupled with learning through travel experiences seems to be a great way to receive an “education” (at least in some subjects), yet part of me still thinks that something important is missing in this style of education. I’m curious, what role (and purpose) do you think the formal classroom should serve in the future?

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      March 26, 2012

      Ed is on the road today and tomorrow, but should have the chance to respond shortly. Thanks for the kind words and an exciting question. It really was a spectacular way to be exposed to the world at large and framed (inspired?) a lot of my passions, interests, and relationships.

      Reply
  • Ed Berger
    March 27, 2012

    Greg, you really get to the heart of what education must be. All the things we do to enhance education are based on mastery of the essential skills as taught K-12 in Whole schools with curriculum in at least 10 disciplines. No mastery of foundation skills? No amount of experience or supplemental education can make up for that. At some point, hopefully while the brain is in its most formative stages, the foundations are laid. That is why present moves to skip-over essential skills education are so damaging to students. The Bush-era stupidity mandated tests in two areas. Reading and math. Now, those two subjects are pushed at the expense of every other learning foundation. We must guarantee that every child masters the essential skills. No amount of travel and experience will repair them. At some point those damaged must learn the basics or go through life with little understanding. Ed

    Reply
    • Greg Linster
      March 30, 2012

      The idea of classroom-less education seems to be gaining steam in some educational circles and, in some ways, it meshes well with the other types of education we are talking about. I think some subjects, namely math and science, are perfect for learning remotely. Like you, I think the classroom is important too. Since the other harder skills (like math and science) can often be learned remotely via digital technologies, I think the classroom-style learning should shift to emphasize the humanities more. Perhaps when students are out learning about the world through traveling they could combine that with remote digital learning online.

      Reply
      • Ed Berger
        March 31, 2012

        Greg, as parents we realized we were not the best teachers for every subject. We also knew our kids were missing some powerful learning experiences interacting with other students and different teacher personalities. I am not happy with what I have seen of on-line education. If the interactive part is missing, they might as well read a book. Education must also include an application phase. That is where the learner turns the concept in her head and applies it to another problem or, more enlightening, explains it to another. Much of what we see of digital approaches misses these steps. Games are also interactive, or can be, and when structured as educational progressions can be very useful. Most of all, the interactions and shared learning between parents and children have no substitute. That is where the love of learning and the freedom to explore come from. Not a desk in a classroom or a trip through the looking glass into a virtual space.
        Thanks, Ed

        Reply
  • Dan
    March 30, 2012

    Great post! Makes me want to begin my year of travel as soon as I can! 🙂

    Reply
  • Bret @Green Global Travel
    March 31, 2012

    Ed, this is honestly one of the best posts I’ve read on a travel blog in quite some time. The fact that you’re able to touch on the trials and tribulations of solo RTW travel, the importance of family travel, and the lessons learned along the way in one sharp, succinct post is the mark of a truly great writer. As a father myself, I frequently write about trying to give my 10-year-old daughter great travel experiences (we’re going to work/study with a marine research institute in Bermuda in 2 weeks) that will hopefully help expand her world view considerably as she gets older. Would love to read your book, as we’re trying to find ways to use our site to educate and inspire people.

    Reply
    • Ed Berger
      March 31, 2012

      Bret, thank you for the supportive comments. It is hard to capture the wonders of being a family out in the world, bonding and sharing and learning together. I’m writing this from Mexico, as my wife and I visit friends and reconnect with the wonders of the planet. I have always been challenged by education – maybe learning is a better description. My book, if I can get it out there where it is read, may help guide our way into the Information Age and the Interactive Age. For every parent, I sincerely hope they get this type of information about what they need to do for their kids in preparation for the future. I hope you can follow my blogs at edwardfberger.com. I’m having trouble posting from Mexico, but I will be back in Arizona on Tuesday and I’ll put up another blog about testing. I would like to follow you on Facebook and keep in touch.
      With awe and verve,
      Ed

      Reply
  • Ryan
    March 31, 2012

    Sorry just to be clear, are you definitive christian?

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      March 31, 2012

      Howdy Ryan, thanks for reading. I’m not sure I see or understand the relevance? Which of us are you asking?

      The answer to your question for my part is no, I am not Christian or religious in the least.

      Reply
  • Caanan @ No Vacation Required
    March 31, 2012

    What a fascinating post. On a very base level, it is terribly interesting to think about travel prior to the Internet. On a much deeper level, it is amazing to think about the courage it would take to strike out like that in 1969 – to simply fly off to explore the unknown.

    Even today, with the constant access and unlimited streams of information, deciding to explore the world is very disruptive. Making the choice to step outside of the mutually agreed upon dream that we all live in – the center of the universe as your dad so aptly refers to it – is a still quite bold. I can only imagine the fear and concern with which your dad’s decision was met. We can Skype our parents from almost anywhere in the world and they still respond to our lifestyle with muted terror. 🙂

    Reply
    • Ed Berger
      March 31, 2012

      Caanan, imagine the explorers who set out knowing they would have no contact for years. If they had trouble there was no one outside of their immediate company who could help them. If they died… Well their spirits may still be trying to get home? I still go through a mental checklist when I venture off the traveled path. Jo and I are in Mexico now, and perfectly at peace and safe. However, that is not how our friends see us. The fear generated by the drug lords is all we hear about. Still, we are safer than in downtown Phoenix or LA. Of course, we aren’t traveling through war zone border towns. We wouldn’t drive certain highways. There are few American tourists here, and that is their loss.
      Thanks for the comments,
      Ed

      Reply
  • Alexander Berger
    August 26, 2012

    I can relate to your experience in a way. My parents took me and my siblings on trips to Greece and Israel at a very young age. I have always loved traveling since.

    I really enjoyed the pics, by the way 🙂 Reminds me of the Hawaii beaches…

    Reply
  • Jake@education tour
    November 21, 2012

    Really inspiring post! Sometimes when you want a child to receive the best education tour in the world is the way to achieve it. It can teach them so much about the world and its people that could never be learned in the restrains of a classroom, and it allows them to see for themselves the importance of what they are learning.

    Reply

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