One Family, One Year, Globe-Circling Vacation

Heather and Ishmael Davis and their sons, Ethan and Cameron, took a break from work and school for an entire year to travel the world, visiting 29 countries on six continents. Host Rachel Martin asks them how they pulled it off.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A lot of people find it hard to fit traveling into their lives: around work, family, a budget. But Heather Greenwood Davis and her family of four made it happen in a big way. This week on our travel segment, Winging It, we're talking to Heather and her husband Ishmael Davis and their two kids, Ethan and Cameron. They took an entire year off of work and school, starting in June of 2011, to travel around the globe.

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MARTIN: The Davis family joins us now from the CBC studios in Toronto. Heather, Ishmael, Cameron and Ethan, thanks so much for being with us.

HEATHER DAVIS: Hi.

ISHMAEL DAVIS: Hi, Rachel.

CAMERON DAVIS: Hi.

MARTIN: So, how did this happen, Heather? I mean, it's one thing to take a few weeks and go somewhere far away on an exotic adventure but an entire year?

DAVIS: Yeah. Well, Ish and I have been together for a long, long time. And we had always had his dream of traveling around the world. And once the kids joined us, it was something we knew we wanted to do together. So, as soon as they were sort of able to pull their own suitcase, we decided it was time to go.

MARTIN: And Cameron and Ethan, what did you think when your parents sat you down and said you were going to stay out of school for a year and travel around the world?

ETHAN DAVIS: I was actually a bit excited going around the world and a bit sad because I was going to miss some of my friends.

MARTIN: Cameron, what about you? What did you think?

DAVIS: I was a little excited because I was going to see new places that I'd never been.

MARTIN: Heather, I wonder if you had any hesitations about taking your kids out of school for a whole year.

DAVIS: Not one. You know, before we told the school that we were going to take them out for the year, Ish and I talked a lot about what if they say no or what if they threaten that they're going to hold them back a year? And we decided that even if that was the case, this was important enough to us that we were going to do it anyway. Luckily, when we went to school, it turned out that they were really supportive of it and they really contributed to their classrooms since they came back.

MARTIN: How did you put the finances together, if I may ask?

DAVIS: There are two things that came into play. One was Ish took a four over five. So, for four years, his office withheld 20 percent of his pay and he worked a little longer than usual. In the fifth year, they give him that money back as salary pay. So, every two weeks he would receive an income, as he had, for the four years prior. For me, I'm a travel writer. So, we basically just moved our life onto the road for the year. We rented out our home, we sold our car and we just offset all our expenses that way.

MARTIN: Ish, was there ever a point during the year when you all had some serious second thoughts and considered just bailing on the entire endeavor and going home?

DAVIS: No, not really. The whole year was very adventurous and not at one point I wanted to come back. Because reality, I'll have to come back to work.

MARTIN: Or I should put it this way: Did you just want to stay put somewhere and stop the traveling?

DAVIS: Once we got to India, I had second thoughts about not going on because basically it was so huge, everyplace you went was so different. So, I think that's probably one of those places that I would have stayed a longer time if I had a chance.

MARTIN: Heather, you did some writing while you were traveling and you chronicled your family's time in China and what it was like to be a black family in Asia. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that experience.

DAVIS: It was incredibly difficult. We landed in Beijing and we stayed in a place that was sort of off the beaten track. Nobody spoke English. It was really strange for us, which sounds silly - you go to China, you would expect that people speak Chinese, and I did. But the fact that there was no one, not the hotel desk clerk, no one, we quickly felt out of our element. So, we persevered and we met some people through social media, who put us in touch with a great guide who took us out. But we were the center of attention in a way we've never been the center of attention before. It got to be a little weary. At time, the children would be just sort of grabbed and taken off to take a photo because, of course, there was no way for them to communicate to us. And so, we'd look down and a child would just be missing. We had so many pictures taken of us that I'm fairly certain that there is a photo of us in many households across the nation.

MARTIN: So, Cameron and Ethan, were you ready to come home when the trip was over or did you want to stay out on the road traveling?

DAVIS: I wanted to go home because I missed my grandparents and some of my family and friends, so.

DAVIS: I was ready to go home. I was ready to see everybody because I was gone for a year.

DAVIS: I was not ready to go home.

DAVIS: Me either. I wasn't ready at all.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVIS: Not at all.

MARTIN: So, family, what is your best advice for people or families in particular who are hearing this and thinking, ah, that sound amazing but it sounds daunting. How do you help people make this happen?

DAVIS: You know, when we packed for this trip, we packed as if it was a two-week trip. And I said and you sort of have to think of it that way. If you think of it as we're doing this grand adventure, it's a year away, you can get quickly overwhelmed. I did. We hit 29 countries on six continents over the course of the year. But if you look at it as two-week spurts or a month at a time or whatever is manageable for you, it becomes that much easier to do it. And quite frankly, do it. You know, just do it. I've seen what this can do for families. It has made my family that much closer. I just don't know how else we could have done this. When do you ever get this opportunity? If you can make it happen, make it happen.

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MARTIN: The Davis family joined me from the CBC in Toronto. And you can read more about their epic journey around the world at GlobeTrottingMama.com. Heather, Ishmael, Cameron and Ethan, thank you so much, you guys.

DAVIS: Thank you.

DAVIS: Thanks for having us.

DAVIS: Thanks for having us.

DAVIS: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

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MARTIN: On a Sunday morning, you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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