International Travel - Oh Joy!

Bye-bye, Field Trip! The kids watched her fade into the distance with mixed emotions. “I’m excited to go to the US, but sad to be leaving home,” Michael sighed. Sometimes I forget that over half his life has been spent living aboard. As we set off for our trip to the US, he feels like he’s leaving his home, and I feel like I’m heading home. Our inverse homesickness briefly overlaps at that moment - his just beginning as mine was anticipating the familiarity of America.

We puttered along in a water taxi stacked high with the precious cargo that we were bringing back to the US with us - handwoven baskets, intricate wood carvings, and all the one-of-a-kind gifts given to us by villagers across the Solomon Islands and PNG. Field Trip was definitely floating a bit higher now, with more room available to stow away the memories that were yet to come.

Our trip home would cover 10,365 miles and take a total of 74 hours, crossing 10 time zones! We brought back 300 lbs of luggage, four rolling carry-ons, and one laptop bag. At times, we can travel lightly, however, this was definitely not one of them!! Our bodybag-sized duffel bags were filled with mostly things we’d leave in the US (those gifts I mentioned earlier, clothes we didn’t need anymore, and the past few years of homeschooling materials), along with two vacuum-sealed bags of clothes we’d wear while there. The actual amount of personal luggage made up only a small percentage of the entire load, but we were quite the spectacle going through the airports pushing two carts overflowing with luggage!

International travel is seldom seamless, and this trip was no exception. We took the fast ferry from the marina to Bali, then checked into a hotel, leaving all the bodybags in storage in the lobby and organizing a taxi the following morning to the airport at 10 a.m. For the rest of the afternoon and evening we wandered around Bali, even splurging on a $7 one-hour massage after dinner. After a good night’s sleep and the hotel’s breakfast, we began readying ourselves to head to the airport. Mark did a quick check of the flight times and suddenly, his countenance changed.

“Oh no. We’ve got a problem.”

Mark rebooking flights!
We all gathered around his phone, realizing that our 1 p.m. flight today was actually a 1 a.m. flight to China! We shouldn’t have even gotten a hotel room, or that blasted $7 massage!! For the next two hours, Mark sat out on the balcony, laptop opened on his lap, passports and credit card splayed out on the table beside him, cell phone to his ear. Would we ever make it back to the states? And if so, how much would this little mistake cost us??

The folks at China Southern were über helpful. They rescheduled us on the evening flight to China and moved us onto another flight to LAX without ANY change fees!! Seriously, I wanted to jump through the phone and hug their necks!

Everyone regrouped, carefully reviewed flight times again and again, and we set off - better late than never! At the aiport, something in our luggage set off alarms at security. Turns out, it was the Epirb device Mark had packed in order to get it serviced in the US. No one knew what it was, and trying to explain the device to security officials proved to be quite a challenge. In the end, we decided to store it at the airport in a locker and rely on our friends Matt and Jen on SV Perry to pick it up for us when they came to the airport to drop off her parents. Saved by sailor friends once again!

China airport with luggage at 2am!
We arrived in China well past midnight to a ghosttown of an airport. All of the luggage arrived with us, and Mark somehow found a luggage storage desk that was still opened where we could leave our bodybags until our flight the following day. Easy peasy... but not for long. When we attempted to call the hotel for the free shuttle service they’d advertised, we realized our cell phones didn’t work - duh.

At the help desk, a sweet young girl did everything she could to help us. First, she tried to get us signed up for the free airport wi-fi, but that didn’t seem to work. Then, she tried calling the hotel herself, but no one answered! When she asked where our hotel was, we pulled it up on our TripIt app. Unfortunately, though, she couldn’t read it - it was in English! The Mandarin and English alphabets are completely different, creating a huge language barrier! Thanks to technology, though, she snapped a photo of our phone screen with her phone, then used a translation app to read it!

Eventually, she walked us out to the taxi stand personally, and attempted to explain to the driver where we needed to go! It was a good thing we were here when no one else was - I can’t imagine getting such personalized service in the daytime crowds!

Somehow we got to the hotel, reviewed our upcoming flights, and quickly crashed into bed, exhausted, yet not even halfway through our journey.

Eating noodles Chinese style! :)
Our brief time in China was eye-opening. We couldn’t read any signs or communicate with many people. It was such an isolating and scary feeling, being so dependant on the patience and kindness of strangers. Everyone was so helpful, though, and did all they could to accomodate our needs.

Finally, it was time for our trans-Pacific flight. We’d be riding in the economy part of the largest passenger airplane in operation today - the Airbus A380. All of the first class passengers were directed to their luxurious seats upstairs, while the rest of us shuffled along to find our seats below. With all our flight changes, I wasn’t sure if we’d end up together, but sure enough, we got the four seats in the center section, the kids in the middle with Mark and I on each end. I’m not sure how much sleep any of us actually got between the meals and movies, but the 17-hour ride wasn’t too bad. I love traveling with our kids at this age - less stuff needed to entertain them and they have become quite the independent travelers - carrying their own bags, putting them through security, and taking care of themselves. It’s a beautiful thing.


Arriving in LAX after being in China was a shock. Suddenly, we could understand everything that everyone was saying around us, and our senses were inundated with an overwhelming amount of incoming data! We only had a little over an hour to pick up our six bodybags, go through customs, and get to the Southwest terminal which is on the opposite end of the airport! Chuck the bodybags onto two carts again - each adult push one, kids pull two carry-ons each, and we hoof it down crowded sidewalk after crowded sidewalk (stopping a few times to catch my breath!), re-check the bodybags, painstakingly endure a shift change of the TIA agents in the security lines, and literally run up the ramp to be the last to board the plane. We all had to sit separately, but somehow each of our carry-ons found a spot in the overhead bins. For me, we’re almost home. For Michael, we’re now half-a-world away.

The plane landed in Denver at 1 a.m. and we finally stepped into Mark’s mom’s house at 3:30 a.m. Phew! What a trip! But the adventure was just beginning. During our stay in the states, we planned to reconnect with family and friends, research high schools for Elizabeth to possibly attend, order ten thousand things from Amazon.com, get doctor, dentist, and optometrist appointments done, and purchase the next year’s boatschooling books! Of course, we’d also compiled a list of the restaurants we’d missed and the first-world landlubber luxuries we wanted to indulge in, like bicycle-riding and ice on-demand from the refrigerator door!!

We’ll try to keep the television turned off and our island attitudes turned on as we re-enter our old lives once again, holding tightly to the precious lessons we’ve learned during our sailing years so far…

Less is more.  Quality time is the best gift to give and receive.

Slow is pro.  Life is good, linger a while.

Comments

  1. I could not refrain from commenting. Exceptionally well written!

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  2. Great read and hope you had an awesome time in the US! We have just completed our circumnavigation, and are now back home in Madeira Beach, FL....its great to read your blogs and remember the simple life of cruising ;) My wife Gudrun had contacted you guys before we left regarding homeschooling and the advise you gave her was great, so thank you again!!! Its a little tough adjusting back to "normal life after being gone for 2 1/2 years, but we have no regrets...best thing we ever did!!! Enjoy the rest of your time and have fun. Cheers Dave, Guds, Ben and Gaby Hibberd from Cool Runnings (Lagoon 400) www.svcoolrunnings.blogspot.com .

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