Our trip begins in Thailand, the sky ablaze with floating lights. Having experienced Asia in 2014 when I travelled to Delhi and Chennai in India for the World Down Syndrome Congress, I knew I wanted my family to experience that vibrant and chaotic side of the world, and I wanted to do so in an authentic way. I can think of nothing more authentic than attending a festival, and Loy Krathong is a big one. Yee Peng, the lighting and releasing of lanterns into the sky, is a small festival within Loy Krathong. In this way, Thailand became our official starting destination; we would work backwards – or rather – around the world, from there. But where to next, and how best to get from Canada to Thailand and avoid dreadfully long flights?
While we hadn’t been having the best of luck with travel agents to date, I decided to give the travel agent game one last try. This was a good move. While there are challenges working with others: waiting for email replies, trying to convey your vision, explaining why 24-hour flights won’t work to a person without children…our travel agent has proved invaluable, especially when it came to booking our flights, and helping us to form an itinerary that makes sense.
Nancy came to us with an understanding of flight paths, how to best organize plane tickets, and industry connections and knowledge. She taught us there is a real thing known as an Around-the-World ticket, or as it’s short-formed, RTW ticket. Booking a RTW ticket through Star Alliance, which is what we are doing, is saving us more than half on ticket fares for each destination. This is worth spreading and repeating. If you’re planning a trip with multiple stops, RTW tickets save you money – loads of it!!! I’m talking 45 days of travel to five destinations for five people for under twenty grand. This is not an insignificant chunk of change by any means, but I can assure you that number would be well over twenty grand if we booked each ticket separately. If I had been left solely in charge, I shiver to think of the financial consequence.
Which brings us next to destinations. Dan and I have long discussed a trip to Hawaii to celebrate our ten year anniversary, which passed this summer – why not work Hawaii into our RTW trip we reasoned? We therefore decided to leave Canada and head around the world in that direction. We had to decide between Vancouver or California as a stopover point on our way to Hawaii to break up the long flights. We decided on San Francisco, California for two reason. One, none of us have ever been there, and two, because of the coastal redwoods and Muir National Park which houses the ancient sequoias, the largest trees in the world with some as old as 1,200 years. THAT seemed like a sight to see that the kids would enjoy. Also, who doesn’t delight in a large bridge and an island prison?
After a short four days in San Francisco, we fly to the Big Island of Hawaii. I was locked in to flying to Big Island (Kona airport) to see the volcanoes the island, and the region, are famous for. Hawaii is made up of hundreds of islands, but there are eight main islands, with Hawaii (Big Island) being the largest. Based on our next destination of Japan, which Dan and I decided would be “neat” to see, to say the least, according to our trusty travel agent we needed to fly out of Honolulu on O’ahu (different island). This meant splitting up our week-long trip to Hawaii into two sections. With the inter-island flight lasting only an hour, the situation wasn’t terrible. While not ideal, we’ll get to see what we want to see, explore more islands this way AND stay in not one, but TWO awesome beach houses. Win win. We are hoping to surf, view sea turtles and check out an active volcano in Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park along Crater Rim Drive. Lava, I want to see lava!
From Honolulu, we are flying to Tokyo, Japan. Japan has been on my list of places to stop since the inception of our RTW plan. I just think it will be otherworldly. I was disappointed many cruise lines didn’t include it on their RTW itineraries, but geographically speaking, the island is a bit out of the way. Flying gave us the freedom to choose, and choose Japan we did. Hawaii to Japan made sense, in terms of the flight path, and it got us closer to Thailand.
I’m in the process of planning our accommodations for Japan right now, which can feel overwhelming. I love the ‘translate this page’ option, with translations off Japanese sites like, “Please enjoy original dishes mainly on Japanese food that is kind to your body and mind.” And “The dining room is a dining room where you can enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of adults using stone materials.” I can only imagine what barbaric translations our websites must spew into Japanese, with expressions like “all you can eat buffets”.
Our Japan leg of the trip is going to be exhausting. Not only is there an eleven hour time difference, but we have plans to arrive in Tokyo, travel to the Kawaguchiko Lake region to view Mount Fuji, travel back to Yokohama, Japan’s second largest city near Tokyo to catch the four hour bullet train ride to Hiroshima; then plan to travel by train to Kyoto and finally to Osaka, our final Japan destination. We have eleven days to do this. I’m working on it. I’m extremely excited about this leg of the trip. The only hitch is that the Rugby World Cup is being hosted in Japan at the same time we are there. This will make the whole country much busier than usual, but it also means we get to be caught up in a part of history, the first time the cup match is being held outside of Australia/ New Zealand, and experience some of the hype. Remember the authenticity I was now striving for? We’re going to dive right in in Japan.
From Osaka, Japan, we fly to Bangkok, Thailand. Through one of my guide books (I prefer Lonely Planet) I discovered there’s an amazing jungle about an hour outside of the city with some fantastic short hikes. We’re talking about the opportunity to experience the jungle and all its inhabitants on a one to two kilometer jaunt. As a family who loves to hike, this seemed like a must. Next, we’ll head to the North of Thailand to Chiang Mai, an excellent place to stay and take in the festival of Loy Krathong, and the best place to get to an elephant sanctuary for rehabilitated animals.
After all of this travel and stimulating commotion, it seemed only natural that we unwind for a week on one of Thailand’s stunning family-friendly islands. We plan to do just that on the island of Ko Samui. From Ko Samui, we fly back to Bangkok, before a monster twelve-hour flight, the longest on our trip, to Frankfurt, Germany. After a less than twenty-four hour stopover in Germany (so that it doesn’t actually count as one of our stops on our RTW ticket), we fly a few hours to the southern-most part of Europe, Lisbon, Portugal. We debated other European countries, but by this time, mid-to-late November, most of Europe will be cooled down, and we tried to stick with moderate to warm climates. Japan is the exception, in that it will be fall when we are there in late October to early November. Light jackets and sweatshirts are easier to pack than winter gear.
We plan to spend four days in Lisbon, taking in Europe’s cobblestone streets and cafes, giving the kids enough of a taste to whet their appetite. We know we will be back to Europe, so we can justify this short stop tease. From Lisbon, it’s an eight hour flight back to good ol’ Toronto, Canada, with enough family memories, I’m sure, to last a lifetime.
I can’t wait to see what we’ll learn, experience, feel, each of us on our own and as a family. This trip will be a stretch for us all, to be sure, but more than anything, I hope it is quality time living life together, and the first of many more amazing travel adventures to come. While our trip encompasses several countries and continents, North America, Asia, Europe… we haven’t forgotten about South America, Africa, the rest of Europe… the question, as always, is what will it take to get there? While travel is a luxury, and certainly not one everyone is able or willing to afford, for many of us, it is only beyond our reach if we aren’t willing to prioritize and make the necessary sacrifices to make it happen. And if you’re like me, and you want it all, maybe you can have that to. I wish that for you.
I plan to write about this trip like it’s everybody’s business, but I can’t promise when it will be posted because I want to be in the moment, not writing about it. What I do guarantee is that at some point I most certainly will be posting about it, maybe in the form of a book turned Master’s thesis.
Until then, we have the summer together before we leave this fall. WE LEAVE THIS FALL!!!!
I hope you will dream big, travel far and do life as a family the way you would do you. Do you. Be happy.
As I’m learning in Japanese, Oshiawase ni! May you be happy, and Yoi tabi o! Have a good trip.