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We returned from our year on earth seven years ago this week, and now we’re back at it again–this time it’s three months around the world with two kids under five!  Follow along with our sure-to-be-wild adventures on our new site, One Family On Earth.


Eight months have passed since we returned home. In many ways, the trip seems like a dream. Without this website and the pictures hanging on our walls, it would be easy to convince ourselves that it never happened. How did we get so lucky as to be able to take a trip like that? And how did it all go by so fast?

The memories are so numerous that they almost blend together. Not a day goes by, however, without something triggering a vivid recollection of an experience we had during our year abroad. And then, for a minute, we’re transported back to someplace a world away–and a world apart from the lives we live now.

We know that we are privileged beyond belief to have completed such an unbelievable journey. The wisdom we gained can never be taken away from us. The shared experiences and challenges we faced deeply strengthened our marriage. Our respect for different cultures and the appreciation we now have for our own country could not be stronger.

While we’ve been lucky to see more of this beautiful world than most, we have still just touched the surface. There is so much more to see and experience–enough to fill several lifetimes. We can’t wait to continue the exploration!

To provide a short overview of our one-year journey around the world, we have created a slide show of some of our favorite pictures. Enjoy!

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We’ve been back in the States for a little over two months now.  As soon as we touched down in Nashville, we were caught up in a whirlwind of welcome-back parties, attempts to eat all of the favorite foods we’d missed for a year, time spent catching up with loved ones and dizzying trips through Target, where Shanna, in particular, marveled at the sheer quantity of products that were now available to her. And then, once again, we packed our bags and left the familiar–Nashville–for the unknown–new lives in Washington, DC.

We’ve stayed in touch with quite a few of the other long-term travelers we met on the road, and they had lots of advice for us as we made the transition back into “real life.”  As it turned out, pretty much everything they warned us about turned out to be true. They cautioned us that very few people would be interested in stories about our trip, and that some would not even question us about it.  This wasn’t at all true for us in the first couple weeks, when we were catching up with those who know us well and followed along with this blog, but we’re finding now that the vast majority of the new people we meet don’t seem to be very curious about our travels at all. 

More often than not, any mention of our travels is met with blank stares.  People here are less likely to have traveled themselves and, therefore, less likely to ask about it–the same way that we’d probably be reluctant to inquire about something that we don’t understand very well.  (Derek runs into a fashion designer.  Silence ensues…).  This is a big change from life on the road, where everyone was genuinely interested in our adventures, most likely because they were traveling themselves and, like us, wanted suggestions about where to head next. On the road, the first questions people ask each other after they exchange names are “Where have you been?” and “Where are you going?” Here, it’s virtually always “What do you do?” During our year on the road, we heard the “What do you do?” question literally less than five times.  That’s a big adjustment.

Our fellow long-term travelers also warned us that we’d miss each other once we were no longer spending every minute together. And we do. After 366 days of almost no alone time, we now have it in spades.  Shanna’s new job often keeps her at the office fairly late, so we sometimes only get to see each other for an hour or two before it’s time for bed. That’s a huge change, and one we’re having trouble getting used to.

In better news, though, we’ve enjoyed many of the perks of a more settled life. It’s nice to wake up in the same place every morning and to always know where the bathroom is.  It’s great to have food in the refrigerator so we don’t have to eat out all of the time and to be back in a familiar culture, where we rarely have to worry about whether we’ve just unintentionally but seriously offended someone.  It’s good to have an address and a phone number and the feeling that we’re starting to build a life here. 

And parts of our new life reflect things we learned from the trip. We’re far more likely now to seek out adventure, and we’ve already taken a couple of quick trips outside of the city.  (A couple of weeks ago, we spent a day on the Chesapeake Bay, devouring (and we DO mean devouring–we have the Old Bay-stained shirts to prove it…) piles of delicious Maryland blue crabs.)  More than anything, our travels have provided us with invaluable perspective on life.  We recognize and are deeply grateful for the amazingly blessed life we have here in the USA and know that we are capable of overcoming virtually any challenge that presents itself. 

From time to time, we’ll ask each other this question: “Someone offers you the chance to leave tomorrow morning and do the whole trip again.  Do you take it?”  We’re split on that decision.  We’ll leave it to you to figure out who’s ready to grab a backpack and head out the door.

After an article was recently published about us in The Tennessean, a morning radio show in Nashville (Mix 92.9) contacted us for an interview.   The interview was broadcast on September 15, 2008 and is available by clicking HERE and scrolling down to “One Year On Earth – Newlywed Travelers Trek the Globe to Perform Acts of Service – September 15, 2008.”  Enjoy!

homeward_2After visiting 40 countries over a period of 366 days, we are leaving for the airport in a few minutes to board our final flight of the trip–one destined for Nashville, Tennessee. By the end of the day today, we’ll be home. It’s hard to even estimate the number of times we’ve thought about this day–about how it will feel to step off that plane onto U.S. soil, about what it will be like to hear English spoken everywhere we go, about how nice it will be to talk to our loved ones in person, rather than over email. Now that the day is actually here, it feels a bit surreal.

We already know that the experiences we’ve had over the past year are usually reserved for fairy-tales. The things we’ve seen, the people we’ve met and the challenges we’ve overcome are difficult for us to even comprehend. In fact, as we look back at some of the pictures over the past year, it’s hard for us to even believe that they ever really happened. The trip has gone far better than we could have ever imagined. We’ve been incredibly blessed and lucky–as well as safe–at every turn. While we are incredibly excited to get home, we are also overwhelmingly sad to be leaving our journey behind us. We know that it has been a defining moment of our lives.

It’s hard to come to grips with the fact that it will soon be part of our past. We will spend the next two weeks visiting friends and family in Nashville and Rochester, Michigan before driving to Washington, DC in mid-September to start our new lives. During that time, we will post several entries about our return home and our post-trip reflections on the past year, and we’ll make sure to share some of our favorite pictures, too. Stay tuned!

We don’t have much left to say about our incredible Tanzanian safari, but a few of our pictures were just too good to keep to ourselves. Without further adieu…

The following is our first GUEST BLOG, written by Shane (Shanna’s brother) and Leyna (his girlfriend), who met us in Santiago, Chile for four days
Pablo Neruda, the unofficial poet of Chile, was reputed to only write with a green pen, as green was the color of Esperanza (which means “hope” in Spanish).  Once, presumably talking about one of his many wives or mistresses, he wrote, “I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride; so I love you because I know no other way.”  He could have just as easily been talking about Chile.  Chile is familiar and yet strange, frantic but peaceful.  It is a country where 70% of its inhabitants declare themselves Catholic, and yet entwined lovers can be seen on any available flat surface.  Remnants of Pinochet’s rule can be seen in the utilitarian architecture, devoid of any aesthetic value, but their vibrantly painted exteriors speak of renewed hope and a lust for life.
Our first dinner was in the Bellavista district, at Azul Profundo, home to excellent seafood, colorful buildings, sidewalk cafes, Pablo Neruda, and the only mountaintop zoo we’d ever seen.  During our first full day with Shanna and Derek, we rented a car to make the drive from Santiago to Valparaiso, a Pacific port city sometimes compared to San Francisco.  A wrong but fortunate turn took us through gorgeous winding mountain roads, and we arrived on the coast after a four-hour journey.  After exploring Valparaiso’s hills and extravagantly painted back alleys on foot, we ate lunch at a wonderful restaurant overlooking the ocean.  We soon noticed that our plates were being continuously speckled with pieces of ash.  Though people at the surrounding tables were smoking cigarettes, this ash was mysteriously thick.
After dinner, we made our way down to the coast of the neighboring town, Viña del Mar.   It was there that we noticed a huge plume of black smoke being belched from the mountains behind Valparaiso.  We had read that Chile had over 2000 volcanoes.  We had apparently found one!  The ashy cloud coated the sky and the setting sun, providing a beautiful walk on the beach and several excellent photos.  In fact, two Chilean “Golden Girls” temporarily commandeered Derek’s camera in order to take our picture in front of the ashy sun, screaming and laughing in Spanish, while Derek anxiously analyzed any potential exits they might suddenly take advantage of with his camera.

As darkness fell, we began our journey home.  Within 10 minutes we encountered a crash and had to detour.  In the US, detours generally take you along flat country roads.  On the Chilean coast, detours apparently take you through treacherously narrow and hilly urban roads that only consist of hairpin, 175˚ turns.  Thanks to the kindness of a Chilean cab driver, who allowed us to follow him through some alleys and down some hills, we made our way back to the highway and home to Santiago.
That night, while Shanna and Derek retired to their hotel, we decided to sample the Santiago night life.  Leyna discovered the citrus-veiled evils of Chile’s specialty drink, the pisco sour (“Vicious and delicious!”), and Shane found out that there is a reason Chile is known for its wine-production, rather than its beer exports (“Awful.”).  We awoke to find that, not only did our heads hurt, some cash had “disappeared” from our hotel room.  Though our money was stolen, our passports were thankfully left untouched. After spending a day at the Concha y Toro winery, located on a beautiful expanse of land in the countryside, we soon forgot about the unfortunate occurrence.
After our short stay, it was time to return home.  Upon arriving at the airport, we were informed that our nine-hour layover at the São Paulo was prohibited by the Brazilian government, which institutes an eight-hour limit on layovers for travelers without visas.  This was shocking, as our 13-hour stay on the way down was not a problem and this information is nowhere to be found on the internet.  The airline wouldn’t budge and calls to our online travel broker proved to be frivolous.

When all hope began to fade, Shanna and Derek arrived at the airport to catch an unrelated flight.  Upon hearing about our situation, they morphed into an efficient and relentless double-pronged lawyer machine.  Their ease of navigating such a stressful situation made our feeble attempts at handling the predicament look laughable.  It was like a major league ball player pinch hitting for the ninth batter on a 2nd grade tee-ball team.  Although we never made it onto our original flight, Derek’s Jedi-mind tricks allowed us to purchase two relatively inexpensive tickets back to the US, and we managed to make it home without any additional delays.
Like Neruda, we aren’t sure what is was that made us fall in love, but we did.  We fell in love with Chile during our short stay there.  It is not the most glamorous place we have traveled.  Not the cleanest.  Not the sexiest, nor the most worry-free.  But there is something about it that immediately feels like home.  It manages to excite in the most unassuming way.  The people are genuine, the food is fantastic, and the landscape can be surreal at times.  Chile makes no apologies, as our interactions with hotel staff and airlines can attest, but it is that same honesty that makes the journey worthwhile.

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In structuring our itinerary for this trip, we have tried to stick to places that are new to both of us.  We are making several exceptions for places that one of us has visited before and truly loved.  When we knew we were meeting Shanna’s parents in Delhi, India to attend a wedding there, there was no doubt that we would add Agra to our itinerary, regardless of the fact that we’ve both been there before.

Agra is famous the world over as the location of the Taj Mahal, which, in both of our opinions, is the most beautiful building in the world.  On top of the fact that the architecture and symmetry of the building is beyond belief, the place has an incredibly romantic history.


While India is predominately Hindu now, much of the country was once controlled by Muslims (who were called Mughals).  Mughal rule in India began in the early 16th century when Babur, a descendant of Genghis Khan, marched into India from his capital in present-day Afghanistan.  Babur’s successors ruled much of India for a few hundred years before their power faded and eventually passed to the British in the early 19th century.

The Mughals’ many conquests in Asia made them incredibly wealthy.  They used these excess funds to build grand mosques, forts and palaces throughout India.  One of the greatest Mughal emperors adopted the name Shah Jahan.  (This moniker, incidentally, translates to “the king of the world.”)  Shah Jahan assumed his duties in 1627 after executing (!) all of his potential rivals to the throne.  His majesty demonstrated his penchant for building when he constructed the Red Fort in Delhi and converted the Agra Fort into a beautiful palace that housed himself, his 3 wives and his harem.


By all accounts, Shah Jahan’s favorite wife by far was his second one.  Far from trying to keep his preferences a secret, he awarded this wife the name “Mumtaz Mahal,” or “chosen one of the palace.”  Mumtaz Mahal apparently returned his affection–she gave birth to 14 children in only 19 years of marriage!  All of this child-bearing finally caught up with her, and she died during the birth of her 14th child.  Shah Jahan was inconsolable; legend has it that his hair turned grey overnight.  Soon after her death, he set out to create the greatest monument to love ever conceived. With the help of 20,000 artisans and 1,000 elephants, the Taj Mahal was completed in approximately 1643, and Shah Jahan’s beloved Mumtaz Mahal was finally laid to rest.

Sadly for the Shah, he didn’t get to enjoy the Taj for long. He was imprisoned by his own son, Aurangzeb, who took over the throne in 1658. Either as cruel torture or as a gesture of compassion, Aurangzeb locked his father in a room of the Agra Fort that afforded the elder a clear but distant view of the Taj.  When Shah Jahan died 8 years later, he was buried alongside his wife in the Taj Mahal, unaware that his final resting place would later become known as the most beautiful building the world has ever seen.

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Happy Thanksgiving from Kathmandu!  Although we’ll probably be without the normal Thanksgiving trimmings this year (not a lot of pumpkin pie to be found in Nepal…),  we’re so glad to have a day to reflect on how much we’ve got to grateful for.  Happy, happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Including Macau, Hong Kong and Tibet, we’ve spent almost a month and a half in China.  Along the way, we’ve observed many things that were different from our preconceptions of China and others that seemed just downright odd.  In no particular order, here’s a list of a few of them:

  • Items You Will Not Receive When Sitting Down at a Chinese Restaurant:
    • Napkins – Either the Chinese are the most careful eaters in the world, always inserting each bite into their mouth flawlessly, or they have a lot of dirty shirt sleeves.
    • Water – At home, we’re used to downing glass after glass of free water at any restaurant.  This is not the case here, where it seems as if the Chinese drink little, if any, fluids while eating.
    • Rice and Soy Sauce – Judging from restaurants back home, you would assume that these two are staples of the Chinese diet.  However, rice is rarely served in most restaurants that we’ve seen.  To get soy sauce (assuming they have it, which is rarer than you would think), you have to make a special request.
  • Spitting
    • You may have heard rumours that a lot of Chinese people spit in public.  We’re here to confirm that those rumours are 100% true.  Male or female, old or young, rural or urban — there seem to be no boundaries to letting the phlegm fly.  The Chinese are aware of Westerners’ discomfort with this habit, and have even started a campaign to hopefully eradicate the practice prior to the Beijing Olympics in 2008.  We wish them luck!
  • Items Not Often Found in a Chinese Restroom:
    • Soap
    • Paper Towels
    • Toilet Paper
    • Western-Style Toilets

 We quickly learned to always come armed with our own soap and t.p.

  • Lines
    • Simply put, they don’t exist.  No matter what you’re in line for – a train ticket, an ATM machine, anything – there’s a good chance you will be elbowed by a tiny Chinese woman aiming to get in front of you.
  • Mattresses
    • A Chinese woman we met told us that many Chinese people believe that hard mattresses promote healthy bones.  If that’s the case, the Chinese have the strongest bones on the planet. 
  • Split Pants
    • Upon our arrival in China, we noticed a unique component of many toddlers’ pants.  They seemed to be split up the back.  Upon further observation, we came to understand that this feature was a way for parents to save money on diapers and save time spent on taking bathroom breaks.  In one swift movement, the child is free to relieve him or herself wherever and whenever the need arises.  We’ve witnessed this phenomenon in Tiananmen Square, on sidewalks, in parks, in trash cans and in the middle of the street.  Privacy and sanitation seem to be of no concern.

We’d love to see a similar list prepared by a Chinese tourist visiting America for the first time.  We’re sure it wouldn’t be pretty.