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Off the Grid: Around the World, Family-Style

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When Kaye Caldwell was diagnosed with a brain tumor, it was a wake-up call to travel the world with her family.

Caldwell Family

Think you can't make your wanderlust dreams come true? Think again. Three kids and a house didn't stop Kaye and Jim Caldwell from packing up and embarking on a trip around the world with their three kids: Sam,12, Ruby, 10, & Henry, 9.

momlogic: When did you decide to pack up your family and travel around the world?

Kaye: We had talked of the possibility of a trip for years ... maybe 5 years. The idea of taking off with the kids was Jim's first idea. Not actually a life-long dream, more of an idea of an interesting twist to the everyday life of kids, sports, and school. In reality, there is a pretty small window between kids being old enough and too old to go.

We actually decided we were really going to DO IT around April or May 2008; by June, we were getting the house ready to rent out and really starting to focus on it. By August, we bought tickets to Australia.

I'm not sure my health issues were such a direct connection to the trip (Kaye was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had surgery). However, after I was sick and then got well, I started thinking more about doing things that were good (or at least fun) for my family and me, over what I "should or could" do. And I was certainly aware there are no guarantees I get to live to be 80.

momlogic: What was your life like before taking this trip?

Kaye: I retired from selling software to raise my kids. I've since built 2 houses and sold one. Jim is an engineer and has spent most of his career in marketing/sales related to engineering. He left his job in the beginning of 2008 to pursue an invention he was working on as a side job. Getting the capitol together proved to be impossible -- or very poorly timed. Both of us have been very involved in our community -- from Jim leading a local school-funding initiative (parcel tax) full-time for months, and coaching kids' basketball and volleyball, to me being the chairperson on a fund-raising auction for the Hermosa Education Foundation (again, public schools) and volunteering to teach second grade PE and 5th grade art.

momlogic: As a mother, were you concerned your children would be missing school or their friends?

Kaye: Not really -- I thought of it as a huge opportunity. The kids were all doing well in school, so I wasn't afraid they'd fall behind (but I underestimated the work involved in self-schooling while on the road).

Caldwell Family

momlogic: On what date did you leave home for your trip? And what was the game plan?

Kaye: Jim and the boys left around August 20th. Ruby and I left a week or so later. Our first stop was Queensland, Australia. My thoughts were, stay out of the really expensive parts of the world like Japan or England, don't have a set schedule, stay in one place for 8 weeks, then travel for a month or 6 weeks to the next home-base spot. We checked world climates to try to make the most of the locations. (We mostly hit springtime around the world.)

We wanted to see different cultures and experience normal life. Our itinerary was talked about, but not set when we left. Here's what we did:

First stop: Queensland, Australia (late August-October). We traveled from Sydney to South Island, New Zealand/Manly Beach.

Second stop: Thailand (November-February). We traveled just around Thailand. We planned to see more of South Asia, but never got there.

Third stop: Cape Town, South Africa (February-April). We traveled for 2 weeks, driving the Cape to the east coast and then took a cruise ship to Italy.

Fourth stop: Izmir, Turkey (May-June). We are flying back to the United States on June 24th, but won't be home in Hermosa until after the 4th of July.

momlogic: Can you summarize your trip so far?

Kaye: In short, our plan was to go to a new continent, stay there for 2 months (renting an apartment or house), and while there, plan our next stop as well as the travel connecting the locations. This way we would have 4 major stops and be gone for between 9-11 months.

momlogic: What are some of the most memorable things you've seen, done, and learned?

Kaye: We learned the value of friends. Being away from loved ones and the impact of not having MY friends was a surprise. I was worried my kids would miss their friends, but I really missed mine too. We had some long-time friends living in South Africa, and we really looked forward to the times we could see them.

Caldwell Family

We've seen so many animals ... from Australia through Africa, we've had amazing animal experiences, including seeing wild animals, deadly jellyfish, and dive-bombing birds.

East vs. West cultural differences can be seen, felt, and tasted. Then there is the isolation of language challenges: We're getting good at international charades, but it's not always easy!

We saw townships (slums, like those in "Slum Dog Millionaire"), Transkei (a state or territory in South Africa), and separated black areas in Africa where there is terrible poverty and also great people.

We learned that politics are really messed up around the world! While we have our challenges, it's nowhere near as challenging as other places we've been.

Turkey has more Roman Artifacts than Italy and Greece put together.

We experienced fabulous foods and scary local markets. Some examples of scary foods: giant beetles in Thailand used for seasoning; pigs' heads in most every market, also in Thailand; Walkie-Talkies (bags of chicken heads and feet) are in every freezer in the poor areas of South Africa, plus they sell "smileys" (roasted sheep's heads) ...

momlogic: Describe a typical day-in-your-life while traveling abroad.

Kaye: When we are in a home-base location, we get up around 8:00 AM, have breakfast, and start school -- all 3 kids write a journal and/or stories and they all do math. Henry, our 9-year-old, also studies cursive. We all read a lot (mostly at night). We also straighten up the house, empty the dishwasher, run a load of laundry -- normal daily activities with a family of 5. We can be done with all of this as early as 10 AM or it could be noon. We then head for some type of adventure: beaches, or an archaeological museum and ancient bazaar. We try to cook local food at home, with mixed success. Then we sit around after dinner, walk out for an ice cream, play backgammon (very very Turkish), and watch TV, if there is anything on in English. If not, we read.

Caldwell Family

momlogic: How are you financially able to support your family while traveling abroad? Are you working while traveling?

Kaye: No -- we rented out our house to pay our bills at home and had savings for the trip. And we live pretty inexpensively. We arrive in a city, with a hotel booked for a couple nights, and start talking to locals about finding a place to live for a month or two. We've had great luck.

momlogic: What are some of the unexpected things you and your family survived or encountered?

Kaye: The stock crash and loss of our savings was the biggest shock. We would have most likely never left if the global crash happened before we were actually gone. We had some really long nights in September/October trying to figure out what "smart people" would do now.

Aside from that, we've really worked hard to learn about the cultures and people and politics everywhere we go. It's much easier to sit inside and watch the Cartoon Network ... especially if we happen to have TV in English. We have really had great luck with most everything, from housing to towns we've chosen to people we've met.

momlogic: As a woman, wife, and mother, what is your goal for taking this trip?

Kaye: I really wanted to do something different with my life. After having 3 kids in 3 years, then getting into the mom mode of taking care of everyone for around 10 yrs, I was ready to do something. As for the kids, they get pretty used to "home" and I wanted to open their eyes (and ours) to the world. I wanted them to realize there is more than one way to do just about everything (including more than one way to speak English). Before we left, they thought it was a hardship not to have their own computers.

momlogic: As a mother, what do you hope your children will learn from this?

Kaye: Tolerance. How lucky we are to be middle-class Americans.

momlogic: Why did you and your family decide to share your journey online? What do you hope others will take away from your blog?

Kaye: The blog was a way to keep in touch with family and friends, without having to e-mail people individually. Plus, it was a way of keeping a travel journal for ourselves. It's changed a bit in my mind since the site has been printed for the public and more, or unknown, people may go read what we've written. And I feel a bit more (self) censored as I'm writing.

momlogic: During these hard economic times, it seems many families are taking less conventional roads and going "off the grid" -- doing things they may not normally do. What message do you have for moms who often contemplate doing this but fear they just can't?

Kaye: It's easier not to do it than it is to do it, but in the end, that only leaves you wishing you had done it when you had the chance. Also, think about what is good or fun for you and your family and use that as a priority or a filter for what you commit to do. You can never do enough for the world, so focus on those you care about. Step back and think about what you really want -- it's too easy to try to do what others want of you (even your kids). Sometimes it's hard to even think of what you want, because it gets buried so often.

next: Bad-Ass Pregnant Bounty Hunter!
3 comments so far | Post a comment now
Sherrie June 24, 2009, 2:56 PM

What an awesome gift to give your family-the gift of time and memories! This is something they will never forget and maybe be inclined to pass on to their own children one day. I’m inspired! (And, I don’t think she should have worried too much about the self-schooling-what a field trip!) ;)

Oliver J. June 25, 2009, 1:26 AM

Wow. It is really fun to take a leave of your usual routines. To experience something different, something new. With your loved ones. this will be one of the family’s most unforgettable experience. This family is one of the example of DOMA, where a family or marriage is suppose to be for man and woman. i just I hope that thy will live longer. At least they are able to experience something where all of the family will love.

Anonymous June 25, 2009, 12:29 PM

They must have alot of money. Most normal middle class) families could not afford to do that.

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