Round The World in 1969 and Two Years of Family Travel

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.