The close of another year. This is a special year for us as it is the close of a year traveling as a family full-time. We actually just celebrated our 19 month anniversary on Christmas! As a celebration of the new start of 2020, I want to share a recap of our trip around the world thus far.
What have we learned? So much. Too much to really encapsulate in a post. Instead, let’s visit together some of the fun takeaways from each country!
Table of Contents
Trip Around the World Stop 1:
We started our full-time family trip around the world in our own backyard– the USA! Why? We set off looking for a new life and a new way of life. What do we really want out of life? Do we want rural or city? What kind of house and how big? When we first set out, we didn’t really consider living internationally. Funny thing is now that is ALL we really considering, at least for the immediate future.
Why leave the beautiful US of A? It’s hard to say. Perhaps it’s a draw to new cultures, which is incredibly strong. Perhaps it is that we have found a lot less contention outside of the USA. We LOVE our home country. I expected as we left and saw the world that we would miss the USA too much and need to return. However, that isn’t the case so far.
There are many conveniences I miss. Oh, how I miss a good Target run (although our budget doesn’t!!). I miss Hobby Lobby. I miss not having a language barrier with everyone around me. However, these things drive me to immerse more in a new culture. I want to learn Portuguese, Italian and French right now. I want to learn about their school projects and holiday traditions. Perhaps that’s just my personality… I don’t give up when accepting a challenge.
We did fall pretty hard for Hawaii, and if you’ve read any of my personal posts before, you’ll know Chris still would move to Kauai in a hot second. We loved the family focus, the laid-back nature, and the INCREDIBLE beauty.
Oh Bali. A Bali vacation is NOT what you see in Instagram. Life isn’t what you see on IG either, but there is a much larger delta between real Bali and IG Bali. Those pictures aren’t fake… there is amazing beauty. What you don’t see is the hills of trash (or ditches full of trash) or the beaches covered in trash. This shocks most people. Since we went planning to work with a fabulous non-profit, East Bali Poverty Project, and would be seeing some of the worst poverty in the world, it didn’t shock us. It’s a fascinating place. You can go as a tourist, never leave the little pocket of your resort and surrounding touristy streets and NEVER KNOW there is another side to Bali.
All of that being said, the people of Bali are some of the best in the entire world. They are deeply religious, loyal to their families and beliefs and are so kind. The LOVE children and it’s not uncommon to have a person ask to hold your baby or entertain your young child while you are eating dinner at a restaurant. We loved this pit stop on our trip around the world, and can’t wait to go back some day!
With recent events in Hong Kong, I’m not sure when this will be a tourist attraction again. I’m so glad we got to see it. It’s very much like a New York. We stayed right downtown in an expensive yet micro-apartment. The Chinese have some funny customs. For example, it’s not rude to push. In lines, in crowds, they just push you forward or out of the way. It is normal to them, but quite bizarre to us Americans! They will also butt you in line if the room is available.
The food is delicious and there are some fun things to see. Disney Hong Kong is always a draw and Lantau Island had some great attractions on it.
While I should have known, I didn’t expect Taipei to be so western as yet so much like China. Taipei goes out of its way to be more Western. There are amazing French bakeries all over the place! Now that we are in France, I can attest they are legit as well.
What surprised me most about Taiwan was the vast natural beauty. We visited one national park, Takoro National Park, and WOW. Some of the most beautiful sights we’ve seen worldwide.
We’d move to Singapore without a problem. I like to describe it as I heard once: Asia Light. If you want to get to Asia, but are nervous, go to Singapore! English is a national language and almost everyone speaks it very fluently. It is incredibly clean and organized. It can be expensive, but locals find hacks to make it less so, such as eating cheap. Head to the hawker centers!
I could write for days about Thailand. We visited three different cities here and I loved all three for different reasons. We went to Bangkok, Krabi and Chiang Mai.
Thailand is my favorite Asian country so far (and we have visited quite a few throughout our trip around the world) and will be the first we visit for a second time (we have an extended layover in Bangkok on our way to New Zealand). I love the people of Thailand. They are hard-working, humble and welcoming. The food is sooooo good. Satay, Pad Thai, Mango and Sticky Rice. We could happily live on Thai food for years.
The country is also vastly different. The beaches are amazing, the jungles and elephants feel like another world. We stayed in a remote Thai village and saw local life. Elephants also happen to be the animal I enjoyed the most so far as well.
We hit a bit of a rut in what we picked to travel in Vietnam. We went to see Ha Long Bay, which we loved, but I’ve learned we didn’t get a good taste of Vietnam overall. I’m itching to go back and visit Hoi An. Traffic is insane. I had a medical emergency and had to visit Hanoi alone for a night. There are no traffic signs or lights on side streets! It’s like a game of chicken at every intersection, but they make it work. It reminds me of a beehive… very busy, not overly welcoming but not unkind.
We did a tour of China and loved everything we saw. We also loved working with China Highlights, a fabulous tour company. We were intimidated to travel in China and figure out all the details alone. After going, I am so glad we had help!
China is a goldmine of incredible history, beauty and culture. However, it’s a big learning curve to getting things right. We laughed when some women in a morning market asked our guide how we got around the one-child rule. How could we have five children? They were genuinely surprised.
We loved what we saw in China and, for the most part, enjoyed the food. However, we were sick more in China than anywhere else!
I dreaded going to Japan and now can’t wait to go back someday (perhaps on our second trip around the world). It’s a hard place to visit with a big family. Finding somewhere to stay was almost unreachable and overall massively expensive. It is such a unique, special culture and people and I am so glad we were able to go for two months. The people are fascinating, extremely polite, extremely clean and safe. It’s a wonderful place for children. Our children are super loud for Japan, so I don’t think we could fit in long term. 🙂
Our first European love and one we still love dearly. Portugal was a real surprise for us! It’s basically another California in its landscape, beaches and weather. It’s super affordable and the people are so wholesome. It was such a relief after Japan to have the Portuguese people love and embrace the chaos of our family and our kids. We were invited to dinner in so many homes and felt so loved in Portugal. If going, be sure to visit the Duoro Valley. We loved both Porto and this valley where Port, the wine, actually originates. We aren’t wine drinkers ourselves, but happily drank up that amazing beauty.
I had seen some of the incredible beauty of Croatia on social media and couldn’t wait to make it a stop on our trip around the world. It really is a stunning place. I think some of the national parks there are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen (which is saying a lot after Kauai!!). Be sure to visit Plitvice National Park and KRKA National Park. The people are not as welcoming at first, but very kind overall. The life seems to be hard there for locals. We learned it’s very hard to find and keep a job as so much of the jobs are seasonal. We had a wonderful time there and would happily go back.
Italy was a bucket list item for me, I always knew it would make an appearance on our trip around the world, and did not disappoint! The history is like a feast for the mind. I could do history tours all day in Rome and be a happy camper. We also visited Naples, Venice and Amalfi and all of them were incredible. There is a good reason Italy runs on tourism! They are great at selling, smoozing and can be a bit dishonest at times. However, you’ll feel like a movie star while they do it! Haha. The food was delicious, transportation is a breeze. It is perhaps the easiest place to be a tourist in the world.
Latest Stop on our Trip Around the World:
After hearing for so many years how much the French were grumpy with tourists, I was nervous for France. Now? We LOVE it. They are, in fact, grumpy a lot. Especially in Paris :). However, if you make a small effort with French (at least start with Bonjour!) and stumble your way around a bit, it goes a long way. France is stunning in its beauty. From the tree-lined country roads to the frosty mountains to the City of Lights itself, France is a feast for all the senses. It is clean, modern and FOR SURE has the best food in the world. Everywhere and everything is delicious on a new level. Customer service can be quite a disaster, but that seems to just be part of the package. As always, we have found some of the kindest people and made wonderful friends. France is tied for our favorite in Europe with Portugal. I’m so glad we were able to spend so long here thanks to a bilateral agreement between France and the US. It’s not rock solid and I’m a bit nervous to fly out of Paris in a couple of weeks, but you can read more about it here.
When I’m burnt out or homesick, it’s so good for me to reflect and see what incredible experiences we’ve been able to have on our trip around the world. I want to give a huge thanks to YOU also, our faithful followers, as you encourage us and help us in our journey! We really are searching for a new life and making new friends around the the world is such a rich blessing.
Here’s to an amazing 2020 for all of us!