Halfway done: “We have a new normal”

by the Whole Family

Sometime around the end of March — right around the time we were in Ghana– our Big Trip hit its halfway point.  Of course the “halfway point” is not well-defined, since we still haven’t finalized our exact plans for the end of the trip.  At some point we’ll know when we’re getting home.. but we don’t yet.

You may have noticed our blog has a “FAQ” .. but we’ve never completed it.  Until now.  Many of you have asked questions in email, in blog comments — but we wanted to get some experience under our belts, and now we’re going to answer them in this, our “Halfway done” blog post and FAQ.

A few days ago we arrived in Morocco (the kids had already written their answers below) and one of the students we know well was joined by his mother who traveled to Marrakech from Minnesota.  We were all together on an SAS trip touring the chaotic city..  filled with scooters and noise, jaywalking and cars cutting each other off; donkeys in the streets.  At lunch she said to us “I can’t believe that you all barely seem to notice the insanity in this place” and we realized that after 3 months visiting the diverse cities around the world… we have a new normal.

In the spirit of our “new normal”… enjoy the Q&A below, covering everything from

  • Are you MORE EXCITED or less about the trip than when you started?
  • Explain the VOYAGE and what you do each day.  Are you BORED?
  • What STUFF are glad you brought?
  • What do you MISS?
  • What have been your FAVORITE THINGS so far
  • What has been the WORST EXPERIENCE of the trip.




So, your big trip is halfway over… how has it ACTUALLY compared to what you hoped and expected?   Do you like it or do you want to go home!?


As we’ve travelled, sometimes my Dad asks us the question “Okay kids, we can either go to the airport right now and go back home–  you’ll go back to normal school for the rest of the year–  OR  you can say no to the airport and stay on the big trip. WHICH DO YOU CHOOSE?

I’ve thought about it a million times. At first my answer was “GO HOME” … but for the past two months I’ve chosen to stay on the trip.  I’ve liked it just a little more than I’d expected, but don’t get me wrong, I will be excited to get back home… especially with summer vacation coming.

As an example of how things have turned out better than I expected: Myanmar was one of the countries that I was least excited for…  but that was before I’d ever seen the Schwedagon and Bagan.  Now, Myanmar, out of the eight countries we’ve spent legitimate time in, ranks four or five, whereas I thought it would end up as number eight.


I expected it to be very bad. It turned out that the trip is going great and I am loving it. I am a lot more excited than when I started the trip. For me the trip gets better and better as it goes along. The only down sides are some of the food, I didn’t bring Penny, and the weather (hot!). I am happy because I’m meeting new people, seeing amazing things and the experience. I hope that we get more days in every country.


Well the big trip has been better than I thought it would be. The good things that happened on the trip were when I played in the snow in Japan and when I got ice cream in cape town.  But the best thing that happened was going on a safari in South Africa.


I had high expectations to begin with and they have all been met/exceeded.  Shipboard life has been great, never a dull moment.  The kids were not looking forward to life on the ship before the voyage, so It was very fun to see how excited they were to return to the ship after spending a couple weeks in our first country, Japan.  They’ve also been quick to develop friendships with other young children as well as college students on the trip.

The big surprising highlight for me personally, though, has been learning!  I’ve learned so much on the voyage from three different sources:

  1. Travel – (usually 5 days+) in a variety of countries with differing cultures, religions and level of development.
  2. College classes – For most of the voyage, I’ve been attending Social Psychology, Psychology of Gender and Civil Rights & Education.  More recently, I’ve been sitting in on Intro to Comparative Politics, International Public Policy and Intro to Public Health.  There are some professors on the ship who are outstanding lecturers, we’re thrilled to have been in their classes and to have gotten to know them as individuals. Great people!
  3. Conversations with other Lifelong Learners and Professors on the ship.  The ship is full of people with a large variety of experiences and expertise.  The Orris Family has been hosting “Deep Dive” discussions inspired by their Aspen Institute experience which involves reading a short article or watching a short video/TED talk as the foundation for a “values” focused discussion.  There’s no right/wrong answer, but the discussions highlight the tension among values and pushes us to think about what questions should we be asking others and ourselves as individuals.


You’ve spent about 25 days at sea, on a ship with “nothing to do”.  Have you gotten bored? 


WHAT????  BORED????  I like the ship days better than the port days.  Look, homeschooling is STILL torture, but… there’s also a sport court, a ping-pong table, a room with board games and poker chips, and… THE BEST SMOOTHIES EVER!!!!!!  Yeah, sure Dad.  “Nothing to do”.  If you hadn’t put the quotation marks there, I wouldn’t have even answered this question.


No not really, we have school to keep us busy. And when we are done with school we will play cards. We are doing a movie and I am the co-director so I am really busy on that. I am also the costume director. We are making a lot of friends that we play with. The card game that we play the most is speed… it is a new game for us. It is a lot of fun.


On the ship I have not been bored because I have lots of work to do every day and I have a lot of friends on the ship so in my free time we play card games and mafia. Mafia is a game were one person kills one person and a different person save the life of a different person. On the ship we are making a movie and I’m in it so I also film the movie in my free time.


Describe a TYPICAL DAY while on Semester at Sea…  


It’s a big difference whether we’re AT SEA – which is about half the scheduled 100 days—or IN PORT.   Our family actually cut the number of “at sea” days by A LOT because we flew ahead from Hawaii to Tokyo, and then flew ahead from India to South Africa (with stops in Maldives and Dubai).

At Sea, we’re usually:

  • Waking up around 7 or 8, eating breakfast as a family … or maybe one of us adults is meeting with a student for breakfast
  • Homeschooling!  Helping kids with math, reading, writing,  etc.  And for us adults… attending some classes.  Kristina has gone to a lot more classes than I have, though.
  • Exercise…  I’ve run on the treadmill every day we’ve been at sea.   And the treadmill has been an ideal ‘platform’ to utilize my Surface Book’s detachable screen… I’m nearly done watching the last season of Breaking Bad!
  • Reading/writing/photo and video editing … hanging out outside if the weather is good.  I’ve read more books on this trip than I have in the last 2 years combined.

A few things you should know we DON’T do:

  • Weekends!  There are no weekends on the ship.  The schedule is defined by “A-days” and “B-days”, which have different class schedules. EVERY DAY on the ship is a school-day for everyone (including our kids), with just 2 exceptions while we were on board for “Sea Olympics” day and a study day.
  • We never watch TV or movies or video .. the only video watching is when I’m running on the treadmill or a VERY OCCASIONAL family-movie-night when the girls finish a Harry Potter book.  (that’s Harry Potter 2 and 3)
  • We essentially do not have internet.  The ship provides an email service, but each passenger only gets 100MB of internet data for the whole 4-month voyage, and it’s dog-slow and sometimes doesn’t work at all.


ON SHIP:  For us (unlike the students and profs), we view ship time as an opportunity to rest and catch up on our sleep. The ship days are incredibly helpful in-between the (sometimes-grueling) port days.

On a typical day, I attend 2 classes/day and attend an educational meeting for Lifelong Learners in the late afternoon.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve also had 1-2 meetings per day with college students wanting advice about their resume or job search.  In between classes and meetings, I set expectations for the kids about homeschool, review/correct and provide feedback on their work.

We all eat dinner together as a family around 6:30. Often there are talks/presentations by Profs at 8pm related to our upcoming port.  Sometimes the kids attend, but when they don’t, they read in their room and go to sleep.  About half the nights, Joe and I will go to the Fritz Bar (no students allowed) to catch up with the other adults on the ship.

IN PORT:  When we’re in port, the days tend to be long and packed… we try to maximize our days (typically 5) in a particular country.  With the exception of Japan and China, we signed up for multi-day excursions through Semester at Sea.

On these “SAS field trips”, we’re often up by 7am (sometimes earlier– many have met at 3 or 4am to get started with a flight), eat local food at a breakfast buffet and then board a bus with a guide and the students/Lifelong Learners/faculty to the first location on our tour.  In general, the tours have been great and guides have provided a lot of information – it’s been a very efficient way to see and learn a lot about countries we’re visiting for the first time.  Dinners on these days are usually around 7 or 8pm and we get to our hotel rooms sometime from 9 -11pm.  The days are long, especially for the kids, but they’ve been great about “toughing it out.”  Occasionally, they’ll skip or fall asleep at dinner.


There’s one thing you must know.  A typical day on the ship is better than a typical day in port (if there really is a typical day in port…).  A typical day on the ship… well, you wake up at 8:00, finish breakfast by 8:30, then start homeschooling by 8:45.  You homeschool until 10:00, and you get recess for an hour, then it’s back to homeschooling until 12:00, when lunch hour starts.  Homeschooling restarts at 13:00, (we run on a 24-hour clock) then lasts until 14:15, when enrichment starts and some student talks to us about something educational until 15:00.  We’re done for the day at that time, and until our 18:00 dinner, I will play ping-pong, poker, or something fun.

A typical day in port… WHAT KIND OF QUESTION IS THAT!!!!!?????  That’s like asking me what’s the similarities between these three things:  rocket ship, cow, and Elvis Presley.  Exactly.  Look, there’s NO typical day in port.  The only similarity, they’re all on land.  We’ve gone to Disneyland and orphanages, we’ve hiked Table Mountain, and sat around on a bus for 7 hours.  Nothing is the same.


A day on the ship is 5 hours of home schooling and then at 2:00-4:00 we play cards or have recess outside and from 4:00-5:30 we do different things—right now we might film a scene in the movie we are making. In port we would go off the boat at 9:00 and go walk around and sight see or go on a semester at sea excursion and talk to friends. I would prefer to stay on the ship then go sightseeing unless it was in China, Vietnam, India, Maldives, Dubai and South Africa. I loved all of those countries.


Well, a day in port is we get up early have breakfast and explore the city and go to a museum or something. A day at sea we would have a lot of homeschooling and right now we are filming a movie and every day at sea we have yummy snacks.


FOOD.  Travelling around the world definitely means you don’t have the “normal food” at home.  How has it been to eat all the different food on the trip?


SHIP FOOD:  In general, I’ve been pleased with the healthy options on the ship.  For lunch and dinner, there’s always a salad bar, at least one grilled/steamed vegetable, a fish, a meat and a pasta.  I’m happy when they have a gluten/dairy free soup option into which I’ll add vegetables.  A quarter of the way into the voyage, I started looking forward to being in port for the food.  The salad bar, grilled/steamed veggie options don’t change noticeably day-to-day.  Being gluten-free has been a little limiting.  I was unsuccessful at convincing the ship to switch from flour to cornstarch for the gravy generally included with every meat dish.  As a result, my gluten free meat option is usually a bit dry.

PORT FOOD:  I feel pretty good about some of the new food I’ve tried, including sea cucumber, chicken feet and mopane worm.  Admittedly, Joe & Alexander have been the champs with respect to trying new, more challenging food (eel liver, baby squid stuffed with a quail egg, snail).  I loved the food in Vietnam — the best gluten free, dairy free options.  I think the food in Ghana was my least favorite, but it wasn’t bad…just not as good as the other countries.  I’m still trying to figure out what creates the slimey stuff in their okra stew…I’m thinking it can’t be plant matter. Animal meniscus maybe?  eeew.


I’m entirely happy with the food on the ship… it’s ideal for what I want to do which is “eat HEALTHY on the ship, so I can eat WHATEVER I WANT in port”.  On the ship for lunch it’s salad + vegetables + meat and that’s it.   In port, well, everything from worms to lamb-shoulder… yum yum.


In port, there’s not many places where the food is the same as what we get at home.  I especially miss all the tacos and burritos.  Some of the weirdest foods I’ve eaten so far are eel liver, sea cucumber, and snail. Oh .. and I was psyched that one of Mommy’s professors gave her an extra cricket… I was the lucky one in our family who got to eat that! Crunchy!

The food on the ship is similar (except for breakfast) to the food that often gets cooked at home.  There’s always a salad, a fish, a meat, and a pasta for lunch and dinner.  For breakfast, there’s always a fruit, a meat, eggs, and a bread.  This is half the reason why I like the ship so much.  THE FOOD!!


A day in port has good and bad food. The bad foods are Mopani worms, chicken feet, fish and some other bad stuff. The things that I liked most are Vietnamese coffee and Chinese pork dumplings.  The ship food is Ok. Breakfast is the best by far. Lunch and dinner are boring. They are salad and some meat. I would rather be at home having mommy cook the best meals ever. I love her fried rice.


Well, on the ship the food is normal. You know, chicken or fish, lots of vegetables, some pasta and of course some desert. On a day in port we would eat cultural food like in China we had chicken feet.


STUFF:   What stuff did you bring that you’re SO GLAD you have? 


I spent a fair amount of time putting together lean packing lists for the kids and me.  I think we would be amongst the leanest packers on the entire ship.  Overall, I think we brought the right amount of clothes and stuff.  Some unusual things I’m really glad I brought include:

  • Inflatable globes.  We use a sharpie to mark where we’re from and give them to the kids we’ve met in different countries
  • Propel packets (Thank you Kristine Shields!) Sometimes the water on the ship doesn’t taste the best so adding a Propel packet helps a lot.
  • Rainpants & boots.  We only needed them in Japan and China, but I’m really glad we had them!
  • Extra Microsoft Lumia 950 phone (Thank you Joe!) I broke my phone 2.5 weeks into our voyage.  I’m so glad we had a backup.


Kristina covered what you’d expect, but here are a few “extras” that I’ve been psyched that we have with us:

  • Ukelele!  Our family got a lovely ukulele at “The Lobby” conference a few years ago, but none of us have known how to play it… until now.  Alexander and I are locked in a death battle to see who can progress as a ukulele player faster.  He crushes me in number-of-chords-memorized (his 11 vs my 4) and strumming/picking technique… but I’m blowing him away on actual-singing-performance.  Every night when I say goodnight to the kids I sing them my original hits “goodnight little monkeys” and “snugglepuppy”.  They love it!  (cough)
  • Cameras You’re gonna assume I brought more of these than I did.  Two.  (1) Sony RX100  (a FANTASTIC camera and the source of MOST of the photos on this site) and (2) Canon 70d with a 70-200mm lens.  I rented an extra lens in South Africa and an underwater camera/housing in Mauritus.  The resulting pics were totally worth it, don’cha think?
  • Computers.  We are an all-Surface family on the ship.  I *love* the Surface Book, and YES, I convert it to tablet mode OFTEN – the screen (1) gets strapped onto the treadmill whenever I run so I can finish Breaking Bad and (2) gets disconnected to pass around ALL THE TIME to show people our photos.
  • Harmonica and holder.  This came in handy for my Piano Man rewrite in the ship’s talent show.  If you’re lucky, I’ll embed a video someday.
  • Packet of magnets.    You CANNOT hang anything on the walls of the cabin (no tape or pins permitted) … but you CAN put stuff on your door if you bring magnets.


Well, I’m really happy l brought Blankey to sleep with and my kindle to read on because I love to read and I started Harry Potter book one at the beginning of SAS and now I’ve finished book four. It is so much fun. I’m really glad that me and Sydney got Surface computers to use on the ship too for Khan academy and writing in our journals (but mommy and daddy almost never let us play games on them!)  I’m also very happy that I brought clothes. Of course!


HOME: You’ve been away from home for 3 months… what do you miss most?  What are you most excited to see or do when you get home?


Yes, I miss home.  Duh!!!  Who wouldn’t!!  I want to sleep in my bed, not some couch bed on the ship (That is probably the one thing I hate most on the ship.).  I will be very happy to eat at Azteca, our local Mexican restaurant.  I’m ready to take advantage of EVERY LITTLE THING in our house.  I miss home.


I miss all my family members, friends, Penny, mommy cooking, Mexican food, my bed, home, school, stuffed animals, TV, minivan, iPads and other things. I also wouldn’t mind going on semester at sea again instead of going straight back to home. Or I would want to go back to the Bahamas. And go to Atlantis there. I don’t want to go straight home. Even though I wouldn’t see family.


We’ve been away for three months?! You did not tell me that dad! Well, I really miss my stuffed animals and my bed and when I get home I want to have a nice dinner at Tokyo Steakhouse and I want snuggle with my stuffed animals.


I miss family and friends and only occasionally Mexican food, reliable wifi and my bed.

I do NOT miss meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning up the kitchen after meals, doing laundry, picking up/cleaning the house, driving the kids around to their various activities, maintaining the house, paying the bills.

I’m excited to catch up with family and friends in person when we return home.  I’m also excited to host “Deep Dive discussions” (see above).


You know,  I’ll be the outlier here–  I don’t really miss home, since unlike all the students on the ship… I have my closest family and the love of my life right here with me!   This is a great adventure and I could just keep right on going.  (that said… I will admit that challenges that “local foods” create with my intestines, plus the exhausting pace of some of the ports IS A BIT TIRING.  But that’s OK, we can sleep when we’re dead.


FAVORITES!       Tell us

(1) your FAVORITE COUNTRY so far… has it changed?
(2) FAVORITE CITY … did it change?


My favorite country so far:  Vietnam.  I loved the food and the opportunity to explore rural areas which were beautiful.  I love Japan, China met my expecatations of being epic, Myanmar was cool — but Vietnam surprised me.

My favorite city so far:  Cape Town, though before that it was Tokyo.  I love the variety of Cape Town along with the beauty of Table Mountain and the sea.  It was very educational spending time in a township and visiting schools and community centers for disadvantaged kids. It was also fun walking through the waterfront area and enjoying the shops and restaurants.  I love Tokyo and all the lights and energy.  It’s so interesting to see the stores and restaurants what they’re selling.  It’s an easy city to visit, because it’s very safe, the people are extremely polite and it’s unbelievably clean.

My favorite new food so far is Vietnamese Banh Chung (sticky rice cake filled with green bean and pork)


Favorite country: The Maldives: Beaches and snorkeling all day, every day.  Just like Hawaii, except better

Favorite city: Hong Kong: One of the cities I was most looking forward to, I loved Hong Kong.  Whether it was climbing up The Peak, or going up all 110 floors to the Ritz Carlton, I had so much fun in Hong Kong.

Favorite new food: Uncooked peanuts: Myanmar has the best peanuts ever… but I’d already had normal, roasted peanuts.  Uncooked peanuts tasted like cabbage, but were still REALLY addicting.  In my opinion, the country with the best food was (big surprise coming) Ghana.  Every meal, amazing chicken and rice.  So good.


My favorite country was either the Maldives or south Africa. The Maldives was amazing for the underwater creatures. South Africa is for the animals on land. I have had a lot of favorite country along the trip witch I am going to tell you about. At first my favorite country was China then Vietnam then India then Maldives and South Africa.

My favorite city was probably Suzhou. I think I liked Suzhou because of the Microsoft tour. We got an awesome van to ride in. And we got to try HoloLens again. We had a great time. We also had some great dinners.


My favorite city is Washington D.C. because I really like seeing the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Memorial. My favorite Country was the Maldives because of all the beach’s and pools it was like Hawaii. My new favorite food is pho because it tastes like noodles and soup.


This is an impossible question.  It’s like asking which of my kids is my favorite. (OK, it’s Piper!)   Since you are forcing me to do the impossible…

Favorite country:  Maldives.  South Africa and China and Japan all come VERY VERY CLOSE.  I want to go back and see a whale shark.  Let’s face it, I’m a child of the ocean.  Maldives fits.

Favorite city:  TIE between Shanghai and Capetown.  I think if we had visited Shanghai Disneyland, there would have been a clear winner.  Look out though, Paris could take this one.  Or Seville.  Or maybe if recency-bias wasn’t coming into play, it’d be Hong Kong which has been a huge favorite of mine for a long, long time.

Favorite new food:  (I’m cheating here because I’m posting this later than everyone else wrote)… Pastilla in Morocco!  WOW, that is DELICIOUS!  A unique blend of filo bread, meat and sweet taste.  Surprising and yummy!


What’s the WORST EXPERIENCE you’ve had so far on the trip?


I was quite disappointed when our trip to Cambodia was cancelled because the ship was stuck in Hong Kong an extra night due to rough seas.  So sad.    A close second has been having to deal with Piper’s lice (!) and dysentery (!) both happening within a 12 hr span.


Toss up between (1) Piper’s upset stomach and the parenting that accompanies it for all hours of the long, long night…  and (2) man, even my iron stomach has been “not-quite-right” for about 10 days since we arrived in Ghana and I’m getting tired of that unsettled feeling.   Of course, these are a small price to pay, though!  You’ll probably note from this section that our family has become a LOT MORE COMFORTABLE talking about our digestive disorders!


Probably having diarrhea in both Myanmar and in Ghana.  I was having stomachaches and was feeling horrible.  The whole time, I just wanted to lay in bed and rest.  I didn’t want to walk anywhere in the hot sun… I would just sit in the bus while everybody else went sightseeing for hours at a time.


Probably having a really bad stomach ache and then having diarrhea after Myanmar or throwing up in the two-hour car to Ella and Serena’s house.


I think it was the bike ride in Vietnam. It was horrible. 16 miles and I was so tired after the bike ride. There was no water, lots of hills, and one big hot sun!

5 thoughts on “Halfway done: “We have a new normal”

  1. Ghana to Morocco, crossing the equator on the sea. I think you flew ahead and missed the last sea crossing? Did King Neptune come aboard and initiate the newbies into the shellback club? This may have involved kissing his larded fat belly, getting your head shaved and thrown into the pool. Or not.


  2. The thing that enters my mind most when I read your travel summaries is that your comments really mention a small percentage of what you are experiencing.I am not discounting your efforts at all but knowing how you operate you turning over most of the rocks you can to see what’s there. I’m sure your travel book will be a best seller. See you all in a week. Ed

    Sent from my Windows Phone ________________________________


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