Reflecting On Two Years of Travelschooling – 20 Years Later

It was more than 20 years ago when my parents called my brother and I into the living room. At the time I was 10 or 11 and I vaguely remember being more than a little confused.  We were going to go on an adventure. The specifics were still being hammered out, but we’d be packing our lives into backpacks, renting out the house we owned in Sedona, and striking out for a year-long exploration of Europe.

I remember a tumultuous combination of emotions. A mixture of excitement, of confusion, of wonder, and of fear. But what about our cats? The house? My friends? It was all a lot to take in. I knew that there were things I loved – knights, medieval history, mythology, fishing and exploring and as the son of travelers, I’d been exposed to travel before.  When I was six we re-located from Southwestern Colorado to Sedona and since birth I’d grown up familiar with road trips and visits to the Sea of Cortez in northern Mexico.  But those were month long trips…this? This was something different.

How does a 10 year old wrap their mind around an entirely different continent … one full of alien people, foods, smells and languages? Shadows of sensations stir in my mind as I try and recall that moment nearly 22 years ago. And time? What did a full year mean to me then? I know it seemed daunting…but how daunting? It has softened with time and the glossy shades of fond memories and rich experiences. Yet, it still stands out vividly in my memory – a tribute to how intense the experience was.

It is only as I’ve grown older that I’ve truly started to understand the incredible undertaking my parents chose to take. Sure, they were veteran travelers and experienced educators … but even to consider a similar trip today is daunting, and that with an amazing wealth of technologies, the rise of the internet and a (mostly) unified Europe.

On that spring day in 1995 the world looked very differently. Echoes of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the First Gulf War were still recent history. The nations of Europe were only beginning to contemplate the concept of the European Union and the internet was in an infantile state.  Though I know many of my parent’s friends were supportive, I’m sure many others looked on wondering and convinced that their bold abandon was instead dangerous recklessness.

NOTE: This post is Part One of a Three Part series in which I compile and share reflections, independently written and then compiled, from my parents, my brother and myself. Jump straight to Part II in which I share my mother and father’s reflections or to Part III where my brother, David, goes in depth and shares his thoughts, reflections and memories.  Have your own personal experiences or questions?  Don’t hesitate to post them in a comment!



Over the following months we pulled out an atlas and world map.  We sat as a family, my younger brother David and I leaning in and treated as equals as we planned. This was important and an incredible difference between my parents and most adults. We were co-learners and in it together. We were at the center of the trip and they truly meant it when they asked: What did we want to see?  Where did we want to go?  How silly and naive some of our requests must have sounded to our parents, and yet, they included us and structured our trip in-part around our interests. Mythology? Yes, we’d have to go to Greece.  The Eiffel Tower, that stunning feat of architectural accomplishment? Of course, Paris then was a must.  And what of Normandy where my Grandfather fought in WWII?

Slowly a plan came together. It was a casual plan, one that was fluid, free formed and largely limited to the first three months during which we’d have unlimited Eurail passes.  As ideas erupted before slowly evolving into their final shape we adapted – my father’s sister would join us in France for several weeks, we’d wander Western Europe and then end our three-month sprint in southern Italy at the conclusion of our Eurail pass. Then we’d hop to Greece by ferry, spend a month on Corfu and then continue southward aiming to travel slowly and winter where it was warm. Then from there?  It was all uncertain, except for a return ticket booked from Amsterdam 11 months after our initial arrival.

Preparing and Packing for a Year of Travelschooling

In the late summer of 1995, Jo and Ed Berger commenced their final preparations for an 11 month backpacking trip which would take them and their two sons ages 8 and 11 (hey, that’s me!) through roughly a dozen European countries. Just one short year after returning, they’d once again find themselves packing for a very different type of trip. This time, the trip offered more space: A 32 foot 5th-wheel trailer and crew-cab pickup truck, but came with added challenges such as different academic needs for the boys and a high-energy border collie which shared the back seat with two teenage boys.

In this interview I sit down with Jo and ask her to reflect on what ultimately worked, what didn’t, what she wished she had prepared differently, and gain insights into the thoughts and doubts she had before leaving for the trip with the unusual insight to weigh in on how those panned out now that the boys have grown up and 20+ years have passed.

You can view my interview with Jo and Ed where we discuss the trip and they reflect on their fears learnings and key pieces of advice in the full interview here.

Autumn In Jutland – Weekly Travel Photo

There is a special window each year. A window of time ever so fleeting and hard to track. It is never the same day, week, or month. Ever in flux it varies from valley to glen, coast to fjord. In places like Arizona it is nearly non-existent except in the high country and yet in Denmark the amber hues of fall and rich colds of autumn gradually spread across the landscape like a freshly fallen layer of snow.

Open Roads and Changing Aspen – Weekly Travel Photo

With one arm resting half-in, half-out of the diver’s side window of  our white Chevy Crew Cab pickup truck the wind raced over my skin, cooling it, while tugging gently at my arm hairs. A periodic errant gust would collide with my skin before diverting inward to tickle my face and fill my ears with the sound of the fresh black tarmac whizzing by beneath rugged truck tires. My eyes locked forward on the road, one hand on the wheel casually navigating the high mountain two-lane highway that threaded through the passes near Silverton in south-western Colorado.

The Night Rider’s Lament

Family in Europe - 95

(Family Photo, Europe, 1995)

There’s an old country classic that has always resonated with me.  It’s one of my favorites and always touches my soul in a way few songs are able to.  The song, Night Rider’s Lament, is an old cowboy song about a cow hand reading a letter from a friend late at night. The song talks of the things he’s given up or delayed to pursue the lifestyle he’s chosen.  It talks about a wonderful woman passed over, life choices, opting for a road less-traveled, and forgoing many of the things we’re culturally told we should love and define our lives by.  It then follows with a chorus about the beauty of nature, the glory of the seasons, the majesty of the world, and the different types of companionship we might experience.

I like to think that, perhaps, I inherited a sliver of the old cowboy’s soul by way of my folks and had it ingrained in me as a young kid. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on my dad’s lap on an old 1940’s Ford tractor grading the road to our house in southwestern Colorado. Despite these slightly more country roots, I’ve spent a majority of my life immersed in big cities. These cities are also where I often view myself as most comfortable and at ease.  This is the opposite of another piece of my core essence, which will always view the rural valleys deep within the San Juan Mountains as the place I think of as home when I close my eyes and let my mind wander before drifting off to sleep.  Despite that strange contrast, I’ve chosen to prioritize travel in my life. Where others invested their time and energies in passionate pursuit of a spouse, a job, a house, and a family, I’ve spent my early life chasing the horizon. To the extent that when I explain my lifestyle over the last few years to people who wonder at the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen, all I can do is shrug, smile, and explain, ‘No mortgage, no dog, no girlfriend’.  It’s not that I don’t value those things or that I don’t want them.  It’s just that for now, they’re not the thing that drives me forward.  It is a sentiment that many serial travelers may understand even though the nature of our relationship with discovery and the unknown is always different from individual to individual.

Earlier tonight as I sat besides one of the lakes here in Copenhagen, enjoying unusually warm weather on a still-crisp March evening, I took in the light of the moon, the stars, and the twinkling reflections of buildings as they cast their light across the still surface of the lake.  Lost in the moment, listening to my music as I sat smoking the tobacco pipe I picked up in southern Turkey several years ago, Night Rider’s Lament came on and it left me reflecting on where my future lies. It’s also likely no coincidence that my 29th birthday is just around the corner and with any birthday comes an added sense of introspection.

The song, combined with decisions about my future which I’ll likely be making in the next few weeks, left me thinking about choices, responsibility, distance, and family. Some might assume that when my brother and I both chose, within three days of each other, to head abroad for three-year periods with few opportunities to return stateside or to be co-present with family, that we lacked close family bonds. Yet, as I sat there staring out at the water through a small cloud of vanilla-scented smoke, I felt reunited with the rest of my loved ones. Where we’ve chosen to pursue paths that have placed us on different continents, thousands of miles apart, we still share one of the closest familial relationships I’ve ever encountered. We communicate with each other regularly, often daily, and when we do have the opportunity to come together – that’s been about once a year – we take to the road and travel together. These collective trips allow us to break free of the monotony of sterile routine and old memories, while forging new experiences which we create and share.

As I sit beneath the stars and a lazy partial moon, the smoke before me isn’t something that leaves me sitting behind a wall of solitude.  It is a connection that leaves me partially in the moment and partially reflecting on similar evenings shared with my brother, father, and mother. Sitting with our pipes, cigars, or guitars while enjoying similarly crisp spring air with views out over the Zambian bush, San Juan Mountain range, and the Scottish Isles. It is a wondrously rich experience which I treasure more than anything I own or the vast majority of my more material accomplishments.  It also puts my spirit at rest, as I wonder if I’m making and have made the right choices and if I should press forward, continuing to pursue the path I’ve chosen.

It’s no easy thing to be far from loved ones without the sense of security and permanence more traditional lifestyles provide.  Especially when we face challenging decisions, new opportunities, or the biting sense of isolation that comes with hearing about the loss of extended family, familial health issues, or in the moments where we discuss, across great distances, our fears, our frustrations, or our failings. In these moments it is tempting to pack it all in and rush back to the security and comfort that a more traditional lifestyle would offer.  Yet, it is also in these same moments that the most self growth, discovery, and realizations are born.

On that note, I’ll finish with an original song my mom gifted my brother and I which mirrors this evening’s musings and always serves as a wonderful reminder to press forward along the path I’ve chosen.  Even when it’s uncertain or uncomfortable.

Highest Paved Road in the US – Weekly Travel Photo

David - Rocky Mountain National Park

In the midst of Rocky Mountain National Park is a lone winding paved road.  It slowly crawls between imposing peaks, and makes its way through gorgeous meadows and along pristine streams.  The road is lined by grazing elk, deer, bighorn sheep and the occasional moose as it starts a gradual climb towards the heavens. Our route took us past aspen as they just started to begin their transition from rich greens to golden reds and yellows, and then wound up and along Trail Ridge Road.  The road, which is daunting by today’s standards but which must have been a borderline rollercoaster ride when it first opened to car traffic in the 1920s, is (I believe) the highest paved road in the continental US at 12,183 feet.

As we reached the top and paused regularly at the many overlooks we were greeted by dramatic skies with lots of blue, and massive white puffy but windblown clouds that had just dumped a light dusting of snow on the mountain tops.  At one of the overlooks we set aside some time to relax and for a quick snack. As we did, and tiny snowflakes blew past us under sunny skies, David went through a series of exercises.  I snapped this shot as he stood on the edge of a rather large cliff and made the most of the majestic vista that stretched out before us.

It’s one of the more gorgeous drives in the US and a definite must-see if you get the chance.  Both for the natural beauty as well as the incredible up close encounters with wild animals which often accompany the drive through the park.

Stay tuned for more photos from the Colorado Rockies and San Juan Mountains.  I’m currently working my way through the 2,200 photos I shot.

Would you like to see previous Weekly Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

Social Network Revelations – When Mom Joins Facebook

Listen to this post:

Audio Blog: When Mom Joins Facebook

Something happened today that left me rather surprised.  It was one of those powerful epiphanies that don’t necessarily change your views on things, but rather re-affirm and clarify what you already knew in such a powerful and clear cut way that it leaves you a bit shell shocked.

To set the stage – I got a call last night from my mom.  She was interested in setting up her own account and giving Facebook a try. For the last year or so I’ve let both of my parents log in on my account to view my photos (especially trip photos while traveling) and periodic postings.  We got her account set up fairly quickly as I answered several of her initial questions over the phone and before long she was making her way through her basic profile adding information and updating settings. I suggested a few friends and then left her to play with the site. While a traumatizing thought for a lot of young adults my age, that’s not the source of the revelation.

You see, my parents and I have an extremely close relationship.  I typically call home on a daily basis as I make my 20 minute commute home from work and during the call we exchange ideas, reflect on the day, and brainstorm.  They are both incredible mentors that I work and talk with on a regular basis.  A relationship made that much closer by the 2 years we spent on the road together when my brother and I were younger – 1 year backpacking through Europe and another year across the US. To that end, we all know a lot about each other. They are as much parents as they are mentors, and as much mentors as they are friends.

So, you can imagine my shock when I checked in on my mom’s Facebook progress and found not one, but two pieces of information I had completely wrong about her.  I’ve always thought that she received her masters in education similar to my dad’s doctorate in education as they have both been heavily involved in education for years.  The reality is that her masters was in Planning and Community Development – an equally fascinating field but completely different than education, as I’ve spent the last 15 some odd years believing.  The second revelation came in the form of a date. I always assumed, but had no real idea, she’d received her masters years before I was born. Here again Facebook set me straight. The degree pre-dated my birth by 2 years, not the 5-10 I’d envisioned.

I’ve decided to share these details with you, not because of their individual relevance, but because I believe it is a compelling illustration of the power of social networks as an informative tool offering insights into our friends, and even close family. Before yesterday, if you had asked me if I’d learn something new about my mom through her Facebook account, my answer would have been a confident “no”. Obviously, I was mistaken.  Social networks can provide powerful insights into those we associate with and affiliate with. They collect, sort, and display insights into us that might otherwise never come up in casual conversation but are highly relevant to our relationships. A lot of the dialogue about Facebook and its impact focuses on how social networks connect us with people relationally (eg: 6 degrees of connection) but this experience has reminded me that social networks offer insights far beyond how we connect.  They offer us insights into who we connect with as well.

Today I learned a bit more about one of the three people I’m closest to and it was through Facebook. What a surprising day.

Similar experiences?  Thoughts?  Please share them in the comments!