Many families take their school-aged children on vacation, usually traveling for a few days or weeks during school breaks. But the Rivenbarks made plans for a longer vacation. The Maryland family is on a yearlong trip around the world, visiting 30 countries.
“We want to see as much of the world as we can," Julie Rivenbark said, halfway through the trip. "We have been through Europe, southern Africa; now we are kind of working our way through Asia. So we have been to a bunch of big cities, like Dubai, Johannesburg, Rome and Bangkok.”
They have also spent time in the countryside — kayaking in Italy, flying in hot air balloons in Myanmar, hiking to the Everest Base Camp in Nepal and going on safari in South Africa.
“We’ve ridden on ostriches," Tim Rivenbark said. "We’ve ridden on an elephant. We’ve ridden on camels. We had gone shark cage diving. We washed elephants.”
But making new friends is one of the most interesting experiences of the trip.
“People have been extremely friendly, very welcoming, love our kids. Interacting with them, seeing their reaction to see our kids enjoying themselves in their country, has been rewarding. We gave them our [web]site so they leave comments and feedback. So it was great to see responses from these folks we met along the way.”
Eleven-year old Tyler has enjoyed learning about the people they have met. “I learned in Africa that people have very different lifestyles than in America." His sister, 9-year-old Kara, discovered that she liked Thai food.
That's one of the benefits of spending several weeks in each of their destinations, Julie said.
“They really see the kind of differences in the world that they may not if we had just have taken a one- or two-week trip to some of these countries," she explained. "So I think the longer that we travel, the more impact it has on how they see the world. And I can see them changing more than they can see themselves.”
She said the five-week stay in India was an eye-opening experience for Tyler and Kara.
“India has totally impacted how they see the world," she said. "They realized what we have at home, something as simple as a clean, quiet street to walk down — they used to take that for granted. It goes further than that, now having to brush their teeth with bottled water all of the time or worrying about how clean their food is going to be when they eat it. We've been living through that now for three months.
"The other thing that Tyler is learning, Kara and I are both learning Mandarin because in six weeks we will be in China and Taiwan. So he has that on his plate as well.”
Both kids are also learning Mandarin because the family will be in China and Taiwan for six weeks. Kara knows that will be important. “At first people really understood English," she said. "Then after India, a lot of people did not know English very much.”
It took the family a year to prepare for the trip, and simplifying their life was the first item on the agenda. They sold their house and cars, Julie quit her job as a physician’s assistant, and Tim took an unpaid leave of absence from his job. As they travel from country to country, their only luggage is a backpack filled with lightweight, washable clothes and whatever else they need.
“Everything that we are bringing with us on this trip, we have to carry on our backs," Tim said. " So there are a lot of details, such as try to stay in warm climates along the way. It is essentially an endless summer.”
His wife called it a very liberating experience. "It is great to be able to carry what you need on your back," Julie said. "I really do not miss the things that we have at home. What has become more important to me is making memories as a family and taking those with us instead.”
Staying in touch
Tyler and Kara each have iPads so they can communicate with teachers and text their friends to stay up to date with their schoolwork. Tyler is also creating a 365-day video blog.
"Each day I take all the video of everything that we did," Tyler said. “So all the clips of the video that we had for that day, I kind of put them together, edit them a little bit. I kind of come up with this one video of the day of everything that we did and post them on YouTube for everyone to see.”
And there are many more posts to come. The Rivenbarks still have six more months on the road. They will keep heading east, visiting Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Australia.
To follow their adventures, visit their website: earthtrekkers.com.