It’s been a long time since the initial concept of a sabbatical trip reared its head around the Bungey dinner table. A large quantity of wine and much data has been consumed discussing its possibilities, routes and merits. It has remained, like a good economist’s forecast, interesting, entertaining but always 24 to 36 months away. It was our intellectual hideaway. In our friends’ eyes, it’s the thing we waxed on about, they indulged us but no one really believed we would execute. Ironically, the move from there to a fixed date was relatively quick. Last year we started to "put a peg" in 2019. A conceptual date but no longer on a rolling forward basis. Planning two years hence proved to be odd. It was real, yet still abstract. The focus remained on the future at work, school, next deal or the next holiday. It took a close friend and advisor to say, "What are you doing? If you are going to go, go. Otherwise, don't!"
We moved it into the real tangible space 2018. Now it’s here, it’s very real, 320 days until we lift off on the Bungey World Tour. Like most dreams, they are both exciting and frightening as they begin to materialise from the fog of an idea into practical decisions and steps. There is a level of real life detail and planning to be navigated. What is most interesting, is that even at this early stage, without leaving the shores of South Africa, there has had to be some serious self-reflection and lessons learned.
Whilst I wouldn't classify Michelle or myself as A-type personalities, there is a common streak of wanting to organise things and tick things off a list. As a consequence of the corporate quagmire, I am probably even more guilty, in that I obsess about execution. (Steve Jobs: To me, ideas are worth nothing unless executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions) The net result was two people who, once we decided we were going, wanted to peg down “the route” as quickly as possible because the Gantt chart dependencies mostly flow from that. That’s exactly what we did. Having found the most amazing trip planner www.travellerspoint.com we set about plotting our adventure. We did the major stops initially with only two major constraints, stay predominantly in summer and try not to fly.
This is probably a moment to digress. In one of the wine infused evenings, we found the site www.seat61.com probably the best train travel site covering railways in most of the countries of the world. This lead to looking at the Orient Express, then the trans-Siberian Express and suddenly we had decided to travel around the world largely overland and oversea, not by air. A leap yes but who knows what we drank that night!
On that basis, as the major cities itinerary developed we began to fill in the travel blanks. Travellerspoint has the ability to show you all the options of travel, and the time each one will take between two places. So, quite quickly, two task driven people had a neatly mapped out route around the planet with dates. We were happy. We started to look at other logistics, ask advice and look at other information. We asked advice of friends who had travelled extensively, we trawled travel blogs and we listened to lots of podcasts. The most informative and interesting podcasts to date have been An Epic Education. It is curated by Jason Andrew Jenkins who in addition to travelling with his family, interviews a family travelling with children, each week. Whilst, as you would expect, there were a lot of differing opinions, there were also some strong common themes. Interestingly these were corroborated by the referrals and people we chatted to in person.
Another digression, this is where it gets interesting, at least for me. As someone who has been involved in financial markets and money management for better part of 25 years, I am acutely aware of “confirmation bias.” Defined it is, “The tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms one's pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses.” This is exactly what Michelle and I initially did. As information came in that agreed with our plans, we nodded sagely. When people disagreed, we politely ignored it.
It took the bluntness of a quintessential American Jewish lawyer for us to wake up. One evening, as we proudly described our planned route, he looked at both of us and said, “Nice idea but I think you are &&^*ing crazy! Travelling with kids you need to spend time in places and get into a local rhythm. If you constantly travel, you won’t last 6 months. When you travel, travel. When you get to where you want to be, stay for a while and explore. See less but see it properly.”
Suddenly all the common factors from our reading and listening came into focus. Several people had mentioned that round the world "slow-travel" i.e. overland and oversea was a 3-year project. Others had pointed to the constraints of only having 11 months and suggested that one needed to fly to make sure one wasn’t constantly on the move and had sufficient time in the places one wanted to visit. Quite literally, we were back to the drawing board. We wiped our newly installed whiteboard clean. All three of us confirmed our "have to destinations” on each continent and started to solve for the most time-efficient way to get around the globe.
So what are the major lessons?
Firstly, fluidity, adaptability, agility! Ironically this is all the stuff that Michelle preaches and teaches in her consulting to corporates. We need to take some of that on board. As a family, we are going to need to learn to not be so task oriented. At the risk of using a cliché, we need to learn to change, if the information changes!
Secondly some perspective! Despite the fact that the trip is entirely of our own making and choosing, sometimes the prospect of all the organisation and detail can be overwhelming. Particularly when we do concrete things like confirm with the school that Charlotte will not be there next year or I walk into a shop and look at travel gear in earnest. Someone we’ve asked to help us with looking into the practicality and affordability of Round-The-World air tickets responded to our mail requesting her help with, “You are living a lot of people’s dream”. As Michelle said, her comment strikes a chord deep inside and prodded us to be present about this adventure and embrace the fun parts and the uncertainty. Our family is embarking on an amazing adventure that will surely shape the rest of our lives, and yes, it the dream of many to do this type of trip that will be a reality for our little family… how incredibly fortunate we get to live our dream!