A Travellerspoint blog

Germany

A family of travellers

written by Birgit

I guess that before talking about anything else, the question on the why, where and when needs to be answered...

So where did it all start? The idea of doing a long term trip or round the world trip probably started well over ten years ago. Both of us (that is Birgit and Sam) probably dreamed of doing such a long trip already before we even met. And these ideas definitively got much more pronounced since we're together. At some stage when we still lived in Romania, there was the idea of going to Mongolia on motorbikes and Birgit even took driving lessons to get a motorbike license. Well, but plans change: before realizing the trip (and even getting the license finished) it was clear that before too long it would not be just the two of us, but three.

When Max joined us as our third member in the family, our travel plans did not come to an abrupt halt. Rather the opposite: By the time Max was 6 months old, he had been to Germany (well, that's where he's born), Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Sweden and Denmark. And by the time he was 2 years old, he had already been to Romania, Switzerland, Liechenstein, Namibia, South Africa and Ireland. South America followed the year after with Chile and Argentina, and some smaller trips to Portugal or Spain. In other words: Max has traveled by now quite a bit and we know that he likes traveling and even more so: we love traveling with him as our companion (and world class door opener to the locals).

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 22:40 Archived in Germany Comments (1)

Bringing a vague idea to life

written by Birgit

Thinking about doing a trip around the world is one thing, but then there's this big step to actually start doing something about it.

In our case there was no clearly pronounced key moment when we suddenly said 'yes, let's do this now'. It was much more of a step wise approach that eventually got so far that the pieces of the puzzle coming together started to look like actual preparation for a world trip.

The very first active step was actually a rather bureaucratic matter: German law requires young parents to apply with their employer before the child's second birthday in case they'd like to reserve up to a year of parenting time which then can be taken before the child turns eight years old. Once the employer's agreement is granted, the option of taking up to a year off work can be requested at any point in time with 8 weeks notification lead time for the employer. So this is what we did: we formally requested to reserve this one year of parenting time for both of us and a couple of days later we had a formal letter in our hands granting us this right. Easy. Soon after that Max turned two and we celebrated the event with going on a long weekend to Ireland.

Whenever we were asked about our plans for the next couple of years, we would always mention a trip around the world both privately and at work. And as we all know, once you start spreading the word about these thoughts, eventually the thoughts come to life with one thing leading to another. I talked with my boss sometime in summer 2014 about potentially taking a sabbatical at some stage already made things become a bit more real.

If you now believe that we started plotting out the when and where of our world trip right then and there, you might be disappointed. Then for quite a while trip planning was very focused on getting our upcoming vacation to South America worked out, such that our minds were concentrated on travel plans anyhow without having to go into even larger plans.

But after that trip, the Christmas holidays and the start into 2015, we can actually talk about the real start of the preparation phase. First thoughts on the 'where' were clearly still influenced by our original idea of driving to Mongolia. Sam preferred the option of buying a 4WD car or truck with the plan of going there and back (motorbikes were ruled out, as we did not want to have Max riding endless distances with us on a motorbike). I rather thought along the lines of taking the Transsib through Russia via Mongolia further into China, Tibet and Nepal, then flying on via South East Asia to Australia, New Zealand to the South Pacific.

The 'when' was defined by a logical sequence of thoughts. We had concluded that we wanted to maximize our time off. In other words: we would take a sabbatical of three months as offered by our company, followed by our one year of parenting time as granted by German law. We were also clear that we wanted to come back a couple of months before Max would start school such that we don't force him to go from a fairly free and non scheduled daily routine into a very disciplined school environment. And last but not least there were some financial considerations: by splitting the time off evenly between two calendar years, we would get a tax benefit due to Germany' progressive taxation of income. Factoring all of this together, March or April 2015 sounded like a good time to start. As March would have been and potentially too cold to go East in direction of Russia, April 2015 is what I communicated at work as the starting point for our time off.

What followed were long sessions of brainstorming potential travel locations (Russia and the former Soviet states, Mongolia, Tibet, India, the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific, South America, North America, the Caribbean, Africa...) and travel forms (road trip with camper van, road trip with 4WD vehicle, traveling with public transport, taking a bike trip or walking over large distances...). And there were long discussions trying to decide between the pleasures of an adventurous plan to countries where we don't speak the language and where bureaucracy might sometimes be grueling vs. an easy plan taking us to tourist friendly destinations where we speak the language.

The final agreement was that we wanted a plan that allows us to be outdoors a lot in plain air, nice landscapes and nature. And even though we wanted to move around that we wanted to take a fixed home base with us. In other words: we will be doing roadtrips with either a campervan or doing classic car camping. We also agreed that while we wanted to visit a couple countries, we'd rather spend more time in each one of them vs. trying to cover too much in too short time.
We also had to take some conscious decisions on where we did not want to go: after some research we ruled out any countries with risk of Malaria. And we decided very practically not to go to destinations that can be easily reached from Central Europe in two or three week vacations.

The end result - or I should rather say the current version - of our thoughts can be seen in the travel map: we'll start in April 16, will spend five months in North America incl Mexico and Canada, will then spend another months in the South Pacific followed by about 10 weeks each in Australia and New Zealand. This leaves roughly four months of travels to be identified at a later point in time...

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:48 Archived in Germany Tagged preparation planning Comments (0)

Busy months of preparations

written by Birgit

Since it's introduction in September 2015 our action list has grown to a sheer size of over 180 line items. Sometimes we're surprised ourselves, how much there's to be done before we're actually able to leave.

Because at first glance, there's not too much that needs to be done, right? Tell our employer, buy flight tickets or some kind of vehicle, do a bit of research on our destination, get international travel insurance, potentially a couple of vaccinations and just go... Just like any other vacation. Well, not quite.The significantly longer duration of the trip mandates a couple of actions that we simply would not have done for any short trip.

Let's start with the money: we'll not be getting our usual salaries for 15 months. Not earning money dictates the need to drive down any discretionary costs. We've cancelled all kinds of memberships and subscriptions. We've sold a lot of stuff that actually we did not need anymore - children's cloths, our baby stroller, electronic equipment, books, games, bags and much more. For all of our vehicles we defined a plan - Sam sold one of his motorbikes; his other motorbike, the trailer and Birgit's car will be used by members of Sam's family during our absence and Sam's car will lose it's license plates and will stay in our garage waiting for us to return. And our house will be rented out to tenants while we'll be gone. Some of these activities are fairly straight forward and easily done, others (like the last one) require quite a bit of work.

Then there's a whole lot to do all around getting formal documents and insurances in place. This starts with formally requesting a leave from work, getting new passports, applying for visa, getting international drivers licenses, effecting new insurances and cancelling others. Let me tell you: this part is not necessarily what I consider fun. Unfortunately such a trip is simply not possibly without these steps. And anyhow there's no reason to complain: comparing the documentation effort required for our relatively easy destinations like the US, Mexico, Canada, Australia or New Zealand with the original plan of going via a couple of former Soviet states to Mongolia, China, Tibet and Nepal I suddenly feel very happy again that things are so easy and straight forward.

But there are also more fun elements to preparation: thinking about what to take (and what not to take), is one of them. As an effect of this, we can now call ourselves the proud owners of lots of new electronic equipment, such as a light laptop with long lasting batteries, an up to date smart phone with lots of helpful apps (such as an app providing world wide navigation), an outdoor waterproof loudspeaker and a couple of new memory cards. Our already existing and well traveled large backpacks did not need any enhancements, but they are now joined by a nice colorful Osprey pack featuring rolls which will be Max' piece of checked baggage. And to save some weight and volume, we did splurge a bit in the departments of some outdoor outfitters - some of the light weight clothing, shoes or towels were just too tempting.

And the best comes last: the actual preparation of the trip. This is by far the most exciting part of preparation. And in our case also the most expensive part. With an investment of roughly 5000€ we have secured reservations for the three of us bringing us as far as Sydney with stops in Chicago, Tahiti and Rarotonga. Add another 1200€ for the luxury of an Air Tahiti airpass allowing us to visit the islands of Maupiti, Bora-Bora, Raiatea and Huahine. What sounds straight forward required in fact quite a significant bit of research. Nice and at the same time affordable accommodation is hard to be found in French Polynesia and we wanted to make sure that where ever we fly to, we will also have a place to stay.
In contrast to these plans, we've spent very little time to plot out the details of the North American, Australian and New Zealand bits of the journey. Having a rough plan in mind will need suffice and the detailed plans will be taking shape as we move forward. We have spent significant time though on researching rental and purchase options for various types of vehicles. For North America we have already found and bought our camper: a Ford Econovan Westy 1999. Well, actually it was Phil, my former host father from the time when I were an exchange student in Chicago, who helped us to check, buy and register the RV and it's now sitting in the driveway waiting for us to meet it. For Australia and NZ, we've done a lot of research, but are still a bit undecided on what to do - so more research ahead of us.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 12:47 Archived in Germany Tagged preparation money documents Comments (0)

Emotional turmoil before hitting the road

written by Birgit

sunny 14 °C
View Around the world 2016/17 on dreiumdiewelt's travel map.

Admittedly I’m exhausted. The last two weeks were a bit tougher than expected. Even though we thought that we were well prepared, there are simply certain things that one cannot really prepare for.
And emotions are up and down. Hard to predict. In some moments life is just fun and it’s about enjoying and taking in every second of what’s happening. That was the case for all the parties we got to celebrate. And there’s so much to be celebrated: the first fare well party was at work. Celebrating the last working day for this year on April 14 with friends and colleagues with traditional Austrian ‘Kaiserschmarrn mit Apfelkompott’ was really nice and the starting point for a series of parties. And with every good bye party, things start getting more real. Well, relatively that is.
To a certain degree, there’s just so much which feels just like normal. A last day at work including saying goodbye to colleagues and friends... One should think that this is sufficient to start believing that now the excitement will start. Still, quite frankly, even despite all the shaking hands and saying good bye, for the time being it just feels like going into any regular vacation. Even the following day - a Friday - will probably just feel like a 'normal' long weekend.
And that Friday… What a party! We had so much fun, so much pizza and a good share of good drinks. It’s hard to tell who had more fun: the adults sitting inside having a relaxed chat and lots of laughter or the kids jumping around in the garden, the street and the playground until late at night. And luckily all the fun was documented in our guest book – our great repository of fun memories (we’re still so thankful to Simone for giving us our first guestbook as her welcome present when visiting us in Romania!).
Unfortunately, with every emotional high, the low point did not wait for too long: the waking up in the next morning usually came with the bitter note of panic realizing that there’s still so much that needs to be done before we’ll be able to head off. And when I’m writing panic, I’m meaning panic… Sometimes to the degree that the panic makes you just sit in a frozen state not knowing where even to start. Once that state was overcome and I got started moving with just about any task, the panic usually subsided after a while. And what took over was rather a kind of mindless frenzy with just trying to get things done and actions ticked off.
And there’s so much that had to be done that it’s hard to get it all sorted in retrospect. Some items were easy and straight forward, others trickier than expected. E.g. parking a vehicle in a garage sounds way too easy to be even mentioned as an action that requires completion. Well, Sam spent quite a while just doing that in the last night at our place: Contrary to many other vehicles which we either sold or will borrow to others while we’ll be gone, we decided to simply keep Sam’s car in the garage. Easy. Well, it would be easy if the car would in fact fit into the garage. As we usually only kept my car in the garage, we had not realized that Sam’s car is actually just a bit too high to fit. Once again easy: Sam takes his tools, cuts off an unnecessary long holder of the drive of the garage door. Now the height fits. Except that backing into the garage, Sam realizes that he would be hitting the construction he built to hold his equipment… A couple of discussions and pondering different options of rearranging the contents of the garage later, he tries to fit the car into the garage the other way around. And incredibly enough: this time it fits – by a mere 10 cm. Letting down the garage door is an adventure in itself, but hooray it works! Disconnecting the battery (which is a recommendation when not moving a car for longer periods of time) was quickly done – only to realize that the electrical windows were still down. Connecting the battery again, closing the windows, disconnecting… Done!
The other task that kept us busy that last night (and the weeks before that for that matter) is clearing the house: Roughly two weeks ago we signed a rental contract for our house with our new tenants. And as part of that we agreed which items of our furniture they’d be happy to use while we’ll be gone and which ones we should rather pack away. What sounds straight forward at a first glance is in fact a massive task at hand. Yes, we thought that we had sold already a lot in the last couple of weeks. Looking back, we should have sold a lot more. Big houses tend to fill up and there’s simply way too much we have that we actually don’t need anymore. That was the single biggest task we had to tackle. And wow – at the end the rooms we did not rent out were really full with piled up boxes…
And last but not least we also had to pack our suitcases or rather backpacks for travelling. The advantage of packing the contents of our house was that we touched everything anyhow and were simply starting to pile everything that we might want to take on our travels.
And after a very short night and a hectic day in getting the last bits and pieces sorted, finally on April 22nd around 4:15 pm we left our place, waved the neighbors good bye and drove off in direction South East towards my parents’ place.
One would imagine that leaving our house for more than a year is a very emotional event with tears of good bye and a bit of melancholy. That’s at least what I imagined it would be. Very wrong. Quite frankly I was at that point just way too exhausted from the last days that the only feeling left was relief. Relief to be done with packing, to have no more boxes to be carried around and to know that we’re on the road.
We’re on our way – world, we’re coming!
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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 22:23 Archived in Germany Tagged leaving goodbye Comments (2)

Enjoying the last couple of days before our departure

written by Birgit

all seasons in one day 2 °C
View Around the world 2016/17 on dreiumdiewelt's travel map.

Having left our place, we realized how much stress was suddenly falling off. And seven hours later we reached Kirchanschöring. Max sleep deeply by the time we arrived, but my parents and aunt were still up, such that we could enjoy a glass of champagne celebrating our arrival at our first destination. I'm not sure if it really counts as the first stop of our around the world trip, but definitively it was the first stop away from home. And we absolutely felt the need to celebrate.

The celebrations continued for the full weekend, supported also by Sam's family. It was fun and also emotional to see everybody and to eventually say good bye for quite a while. We also waved good bye to my car, which will have come fun time exploring Styria for the upcoming year.

After two more days of visiting family and having our favorite foods, it was time to leave Kirchanschöring. The weather these days was typical German 'April weather', i.e. sunshine, rain and snowfall were alternating in regular instances. We were fortunate at the train station to enjoy perfect sunshine. Arriving two hours later in Munich we were greeted by heavy snowfall. Walking from the train station to my sister’s place, we carried our bags for the first time for some distance and recognized that the extra 'luxury' pieces of luggage that each of us decided to pack did not necessarily help... Still, given that we could have easily packed another 20kg without getting to the limit, there's no reason to feel bad about the luxury items. And we'll have the chance to shed any unnecessary items before heading off to French Polynesia.

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Saying good bye in Munich featured some of our favorite pastimes, excellent food and a great sunny outing to the Munich zoo. Just to realize that it's actually very easy to observe kangaroos, penguins, polar bears, roaring lions, giraffes, baboons or rhinos - without having to take a round the world trip.

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By the end of these six days since leaving our house in Wehrda, we're now relaxed and ready to head overseas without risking appearing like a being very strange, hectic and stressed out bunch of people.

And the German beer we had on that last night before saying good bye to my sister's family certainly helped as well to go into a good night's sleep - the last one in Germany for quite a while...

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 23:27 Archived in Germany Tagged zoo preparation relax goodbye munich april Comments (1)

Back home

Sorry for the blog post coming so late. I wrote it in July, but have been way to busy an pre-occupied with other things ever since... but finally: here it is!

sunny 20 °C
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After 17 days of staying with our families and spending a fabulous time, we felt the urge to finally go all the way home to our own house. It had been 14 months to the day that we had left our house. Still, it just felt like home. A nice feeling.
As we had rented the house out while we were gone, Sam and I were relieved to realize after a tour of the house that there were no major damages. The only thing that was obvious: we’d need to spend a lot of time in the garden, as there was lots of work in the form or weeds and wild growth waiting to the tackled. Once the house was checked, we headed on a tour to greet our neighbors, to say hello and to invite them for the ‘we’re back home’ party on Friday.
Then it was time to empty the car of all the stuff we had taken with us – just in time for Sam to pick up my dad and Max from the train station and to get some food from the supermarket. In the meantime, I had a surprise visit of the girls of my knitting group (at least that’s the cover name we use for meeting regularly to drink some cocktails). It’s amazing: despite being so long gone, it feels just like a couple of weeks.
The next hours passed quickly: amidst everything we had packed up before we left, we tried to find the essentials: bedding and linen and basic kitchen utensils. And over the next days we prepared for the party. Finding tableware, tablecloths, glasses, outside furniture was a must. But once all of that was in place, we could concentrate on the optional items such as setting up the TV to show pictures from the trip.
The party was great fun. We had lots of neighbors, friends and colleagues over. The big group of kids was having fun in the garden and the little playhouse. And we enjoyed having so many faces around that we had not seen for such a long time.
But we did not only party: there were many things to be organized. Sam’s car had to be started, inspected and registered again. There were calls to be made to our bosses at work, things needed to be organized for Max’ kindergarten, the official handover of the house to be done with the tenants and much more. We did not get bored. But at the same time, we did also not get stressed out at any moment. Even though our efficient German / Austrian minds continue to be wired such that everything should be completed as soon as possible, we have learned to realize that the stress to do so is simply not worth it.
A couple of neighbors commented on the state of our garden and that they would have a hard time accepting the poor state it was in. We agree: there’s much to be done. But everything at its time. Our first priority was to be able to live in the house again and to get the car registered. Then it was about celebrating to be back. And yes, in the next weeks, there’s no doubt that we’ll spend much time in the garden to get it fixed. But I will not feel bad if this will take a while. After all, the garden is supposed to be there for our relaxation and pleasure. And it should not turn into a direction that we’re the slaves of our garden and not able to enjoy life or do what we like to do until it is near perfect.
Despite the many things to do around the house and the garden, I did take the liberty to take a day trip to Kassel together with my parents. After all, the exhibition of contemporary art ‘documenta’ is only taking place once every five years and renown worldwide.
At the time of writing, we have spent four weeks in our house. The garden is back in shape (more or less that is), many boxes have been unpacked (but not all) and Max is feeling comfortable in his new kindergarten.
While everything around us seemed not to have changed too much, we certainly have changed during the last year. Having lived comfortably with the contents of three big pieces of baggage throughout our travels, it feels strange to be confronted with boxes over boxes of stuff. We used the opportunity while unpacking to sort out our stuff. Part of it has already been scrapped or donated, part of it sold or is waiting to be sold.
In that respect, we envy our Swiss friends. They got back from their travels two weeks after us. But as they had sold practically everything before their travels, they now get to start from scratch – being able to define where and how they want to live and work. This part of getting rid of everything unnecessary, is what we still need to do now. After all, there are three important phases of a world trip like ours: the preparation phase, the actual traveling and the re-integration. And if the cleaning out did not take place in the first phase, it will need to happen now.
We hope that that the process of re-integration will continue to be fairly easy and straight forward: we reserved the two months of June and July to spend time with family and friends, to get Max back into kindergarten and to get everything in the house and garden done such that we’ll be ready to start working again as of August.
We’re not at the end of phase three yet – if there ever will be an actual end. As one thing is sure: this trip of a lifetime will be something we’ll never forget. We’ll be thankful forever having had so much time together as a family and being able to see so many parts of our beautiful world. Our experiences have shaped us and made us stronger as a family. Having lived so close together - often also in the limited space of a campervan or tent – was surprisingly easy, but also required the respect of each other’s wishes and needs. We learned a lot about each other and are probably closer now than we’ve ever been before.
We’ve been asked by many of our friends and family what we liked best on our travels. That’s a really hard question, as it’s simply impossible to compare sights as different as the city of San Francisco, Canadian National Parks, the islands of the South Pacific, Australian wildlife, Cambodian temples, the Himalayan mountains or Mongolian nomad life.
And even comparing by theme proves to be extremely difficult. We have seen wildlife as different as deer, prairie dogs, bears, salmon, manta rays, corals, turtles, dolphins, dugongs, sharks, koala bears, kookaburras, possums, spiders, goannas, monkeys, camels, horses, sheep, goats and many more. Every single encounter was special in a way. And while I would not have minded to skip encountering any ticks, all the rest was just simply great. We would not have wanted to leave out any of our experiences.
And the same is true in respect to the various countries and landscapes we’ve seen, the people we met and the cultures we’ve experienced. They were so varied and these contrasts made our journey so exciting. From the lush jungles of Rarotonga to the steppes of Mongolia, from the shows of Las Vegas to the prayers of Buddhist monasteries, from snorkeling the warm seas to the cool glaciers of Canada or New Zealand, from South Korean technology to the buffaloes on the rice terraces in Nepal, from island hopping by plane in French Polynesia to the Transsiberian Railroad, from the depression in Death Valley to the slopes of the Annapurna… Those opposites seem hard to grasp and when looking at the pictures of our journey,
No matter where we were, we were fortunate to meet mostly friendly and open people. There was not a single situation where we were robbed, misled or deceived by anyone (ok, to be fair: there was one: DriveBeyond still owes us the bond we have paid for the rental 4WD vehicle in Australia). Rather the opposite: our hosts made extra sure that we were doing well and were having a great time. There was not a single reason to ever be worried or afraid that anyone would do us wrong. Everyone – no matter of which race, belief, country, language or background – tried to do his or her best in the context of their environment.
We hope that we will never forget that no matter where we were as foreigners in other countries, we were always greeted with respect and a hospitality that often surpasses the standards we’re showing towards foreigners in our own home country. Hopefully, we’ll get the chance of being able to return the hospitality we experienced – towards the friends and acquaintances we made along the way, but also towards people we do not know who might become friends.
There are too many people to say thanks to list them all. We were thankful for the support from our families, friends, colleagues, bosses and the many people we met on the road. Without their help, it would have been much harder or nearly impossible to take up such an adventure.
Those of you who know us, will have no doubt that we’ll continue to explore the world. With Max starting school next year, the trips will be shorter, but for sure no less adventurous. There’s still so much of the world that we have not seen so far, that we’ll probably start exploring countries and regions we’ve not been to. Iceland, Iran, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Southern France, the Baltics or Costa Rica come to mind. And once Max will be a bit older, we might take up travel to malaria or higher altitude regions again, i.e. Peru, Bolivia, Vietnam, Vanuatu or African countries will continue to tempt us. And I’d be surprised if the friendliness of the Russian people and the vast Mongolian landscapes would not pull us back to visit again before too long.
And while we love being abroad, we also love the beauties of home, of having friends and family around. And while we’re home, we always like to have visitors over who bring the world into our home.
While this concludes the story about our journey in the virtual world, it will continue in the real world. It will be fun and exciting! And maybe our example will spark the wish to go out and explore also in others. I’m sure it will be a great experience.

Thanks for following our journey and all the best!

Sam, Birgit and Max

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 13:23 Archived in Germany Tagged home house party boxes learning thanks unpacking Comments (0)

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