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How to Survive Holiday Travel

Alums Share Advice After Round-the-World Journey

By Karen Shih ’09

Holiday Travel

Illustration by Kelsey Marotta

Illustration by Kelsey Marotta

Thanksgiving and the holiday season are just weeks away, bringing sweet potato pie and presents—but also airport security lines, lost luggage and cries of “Are we there yet?” from the back seat.

We turned to world travelers Tim ’93, M.S. ’96 and Julie ’96 Rivenbark for advice. Last summer, they sold their house and cars, packed up their kids, 12-year-old Tyler and 11-year-old Kara, and embarked on an 87,000-mile, 396-day journey through 35 countries. Their adventures included biking with zebras in Swaziland, catching dengue fever in India, bungee jumping in New Zealand, and spending Christmas at a resort in Thailand, where they decorated their room with a tiny plastic tree and ornaments purchased in Myanmar.

Now, the Earth Trekkers, as they call themselves and their blog, are back in Columbia, Md., and planning a travel consulting business to help others create itineraries that are off the beaten path. But first, they have some tips for your impending holiday travels:

PackPack Light

With all the baggage fees these days, it’s best to bring as few items as you can if you’re flying (just a carry-on, if possible). Use sites like Amazon to ship gifts to your destination, recommends Tim.

To pack less clothing, says Julie, “bring clothes that can be mixed and matched (neutral colors help) and for women, bring a scarf or two along to mix it up further.” Shoes are bulky, so find one versatile pair that will carry you through the time you’re away.

Though you won’t have four laptops like the Rivenbarks, who homeschooled their kids during their year abroad, you’ll likely have some electronics—so don’t forget the charging cords and keep them easily accessible, in case you can plug in at the gate or on the plane.

EarlyGet There Early

“Give yourself plenty of time and expect delays. It’s not worth the stress of trying to catch a flight or train at the last minute,” says Tim. The former UMD track athlete and Ironman competitor (who’s already signed up for his next race in Barcelona a year from now) recommends taking any extra time to walk around or climb steps for exercise.

And pack some snacks. “Know what time the services close,” he says. “If you end up arriving at 11:30 p.m., probably nothing is going to be open, so make sure to have some food with you.”

It’s unlikely any airport experience could be worse than the one the Rivenbarks endured on their way to Lukla, Nepal to start their trek to Everest Base Camp. “You’re watching the rats running around as you enter the tiny airport [in Kathmandu] and you’re nervous about this flight because it’s one of the top 10 scariest flights in the world,” says Tim.

As they passed through security and entered the main terminal, Kara “threw up all over the floor and her clothes,” says Julie. “I run into the bathroom to get paper towels—but there’s just a little sink and a nasty-looking bar of soap.” She cleaned Kara up as much as she could, then bought a Pepsi to help calm her stomach—which then exploded all over Kara.

Worst of all? Because of rain, the flight was canceled after they waited more than six hours. The family had to return the next day.

Entertain Kids

Entertain the Kids

“Kids are more adaptable than we are,” says Tim. Involve them throughout the process, like having them learn about a destination before you go, and when you arrive at the train station or airport, hand over your tickets so the kids can lead the way. “They love having that responsibility and they learn from it,” he says.

If you’re sightseeing, play imagination-fueled games to keep the kids engaged, like turning a museum visit into a scavenger hunt or enforcing silly rules like talking only in song.

“A great travel tip with kids is to have them write in a journal every day,” says Tim, or have them document their days through video, like Tyler did throughout the trip. “He started using a video editing program when he was 11 and learned it all on his own.”

SleepStay Somewhere Different

If you’re not crashing with family or friends, look beyond a traditional hotel for accommodations. “If people are going somewhere for a week, an apartment rental with bedrooms can provide more space and comfort,” says Julie. They’re often cheaper and, if you cook, you can also save on restaurant costs.

Though the Rivenbarks occasionally splurged on rentals, like the villa in Bali, Indonesia, where they celebrated their 16th anniversary, the family relied mostly on budget accommodations.

That led to their worst nights ever, in a garishly painted house in Varanasi, India, where loud locals kept the Rivenbarks awake throughout the night. “The bathroom wasn’t even a bathroom, just a concrete space, and it was mildewy and nasty.”

AdventureEmbrace Your Travels

Still feeling nervous?

“Don’t dwell on what’s causing the anxiety,” says Tim. “Focus on the things you’re looking forward to the most on the trip.”

If it’s the logistics you’re worried about, Julie recommends making lists early as ideas pop into your head and to avoid panicking about forgetting things at the last minute.

Ultimately, think of the trip as a gift in itself, say the Rivenbarks, who are planning a visit to South America over spring break. “We’ve talked about in a future year, not exchanging presents and just going on a trip. Those memories will last longer than the possessions you would have received.”

Illustrations by Kelsey Marotta

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