How does a person-make that a family-get to take almost three months off in the winter?
Kirk: It helps to save some money, of course, which we do (in part) by preferring big-time experiences over big-ticket items. Planning IS key-and takes discipline-but once you have a vision, keep your eyes on the prize.
How long did it take to plan, and what was that process like?
Jesper: The day before we left I threw some swimsuits and clothes into a suitcase, zipped it up and went off to play. At the time 69 days seemed like a week.
Kyia: I think we floated the idea around for a few years and began saving the money. We didn’t kick into serious planning and actualization mode until pretty late in the game-about September of 2008, approximately three months before we left. Which made the process very condensed and intense-not exactly the best approach to something that is supposed to be fun and inspiring to plan. Putting together a journey like this is a LOT easier since the internet has happened.
What were some of the hardest parts about making it happen?
Jesper: It seemed more stressful around the house. I think my parents had more arguments about little stuff. Maybe it was a little hard to leave my basketball team and friends, but not very.
Kyia: I was so busy with work that I could hardly spare the mental energy to envision-let alone plan-the trip. I felt too overwhelmed with daily life to get in the “space” of dreaming and scheming. Doing the destination research and coordinating all the reservations and arrangements and logistics (typically my role in the process) felt like too much to add to my already-full plate.
Kirk: Some of my roles seemed endless and thankless: Procuring the right stuff (including medical, watersports, and technology); dealing with the home schooling details; arranging care of the cat, house, security, cars, insurance, bills, end-of-year bookwork for our business, and on and on
What were some of your fears and concerns about going somewhere new for so long?
Jesper: I was a little nervous about being away from my friends for so long. And I was also a little bit worried about there being poverty or crime in some of the places we were going, and being the only white people.
Kirk: The biggest worry beforehand, really, is just that you won’t get everything done and make the plane! I fret more about the uncontrollables: lost luggage or theft , stranded; serious illness or injury (it has happened on these trips). And frankly, I was concerned for the kids’ contentment and basic needs-food, good water, sleep, entertainment, social life, and equanimity. But one of the many cosmic benefits of a Breakaway is that it makes you face down your fears-and tap into your trust.
Did the trip have a particular purpose; did it mean different things to each of you?
Jesper: I knew the trip would change me, but I wasn’t sure how. I wanted to deep-sea fish, snorkel, and try new foods . But I was mostly just looking forward to missing a few months of winter and school.
Kyia: I had been working REALLY hard all year so I was looking forward to some serious downtime-and the opportunity to really reconnect as a family. I also wanted to simplify life and escape all the responsibilities and “stuff” of our life at home.
How did you pack; what was useful and what was useless? Did you ship anything?
Jesper: We brought a basketball and it turned out to be pretty useless. There were hardly any hoops or courts on the islands we were on. We brought baseballs and gloves and didn’t use them much. It wasn’t baseball season and there were always other things to do on the beach.
Kyia: Our packing was limited by the stringent restrictions of the island puddle jumper airlines we were flying. So we really needed to streamline. We were deliberately visiting a diverse range of accommodations-from local guesthouses to luxury boutique resorts-which came with different wardrobe expectations and requirements. That said, I still had more clothes than I needed-and so did the kids. Beyond clothes and my computer, I really didn’t bring much. I figured I’d find books and diversions and stuff along the way. I let Jesper make his own decisions about what gear and “toys” he wanted to bring but I took a pretty controlling role with our daughter to make sure she brought the right (condensed) combination of paperback books, art supplies, PollyPockets, cards and games.
Kirk: The clothes part comes pretty easily, since you don’t need much warm attire! But from there, I’m in charge of some complex gear. Sports: beach stuff, snorkel equipment, baseball gear, toys. Music: guitar and accessories, iPod, dock. School stuff: many books and papers. Medical: a bit of everything anyone might need. Food: With kids and travel uncertainties, one must always have at least water, snacks, and fruit handy. Technology: two computers, three cameras, one camcorder, countless cords and chargers. All of this had to fit into strict requirements. I vividly remember repacking and weighing and measuring bags for days. What was useless? Probably 10 percent of it-but you don’t know what’s unnecessary till afterward.
How did life on the islands compare to life back home; was it easy to find a groove and feel comfortable?
Jesper: It took a while to get in the groove. Getting used to the slow island lifestyle. Some places we walked into and instantly I could tell it would be a cool place and I would like it. Other places we arrived and I thought, “Oh boy, this is going to be an adventure… ”
Kyia: I had a hard time decompressing at first. The weeks before departure were so intense, and I was really running in overdrive. It took a few weeks for my heartbeat to slow and my mind to quiet. To realize that this wasn’t just a vacation but our “new life” for the next few months
Kirk: Moving from island to island-and place to place-was often tedious, with some adjustments necessary each time. But it was worth it. Caribbean life really doesn’t compare to life in Minneapolis/St. Paul, especially as we went further south and to relatively non-touristed locales.
What were some of the challenges you faced in your new life amid new cultures?
Jesper: Sometimes it was really hard to understand people who talked fast and pronounced words differently. There were times, especially on the more remote islands, when the local people would just stare at us. We were driving around and people would look at us like they had never seen anything like us before. Sometimes they would point, or glare, or even laugh.
Kyia: Everywhere we went we had to figure out how to take care of the basics: find groceries, get around on public transportation, do laundry-just day to day stuff like that. Or good local restaurants, nice quiet beaches. I also had a hunger to meet new people-both locals and other travelers-that wasn’t always easy to satisfy. And finding playmates for the kids wasn’t as effortless as we had hoped it would be. Aside from the Christmas break, there were very few families traveling, except for a few European families who were on extended sailing trips.
Kirk: Internet access and technology problems were nonstop, which wasted my time and drove me nuts. “Island time” and waiting for everything can test the best, though it rarely bothers the natives! Negotiating with macho people wasn’t always fun; that’s so NOT Minnesotan. And sleep can be a challenge-keeping the kids rested and adapting to new beds and environments.
What about communication?
Jesper: I brought my iPod touch and was able to get wireless at some places we stayed. I got some new games and apps before the trip and added more along the way. Sometimes I’d chat with my friends and try to describe what I was seeing and doing but they couldn’t really get it.
Kyia: Every place we stayed had internet service-or at least it was advertised that way. I usually had pretty good luck getting online with my laptop, and kept in touch with family and friends via e-mail. Skype came in handy for a few client conference calls.
Kirk: Staying in touch enough was easy enough. But let’s just say the information super-highway is still under construction down there, and was a major, unexpected annoyance for me. I especially got perturbed when a resort or hotel would say they have wireless everywhere, but didn’t-and then have a “don’t worry be happy” attitude about it.
Did you try homeschooling? How did you prepare for that, and was it successful?
Jesper: Before we left I set up a plan with my teacher to read several novels, write some papers, and get through about 130 pages of math. I also agreed to create a blog to share my experiences-that counted for my social studies and science requirements.
At the beginning of the trip we weren’t very disciplined about the school part so we fell behind, and needed to work extra hard at the end to catch up. I’ll admit that there were many times that I would have much rather been building sandcastles or snorkeling but after coming back I really wish I would have written in my blog more often.
Kyia: I must confess that I played quite a bit of hooky when it came to the homeschooling piece of the trip, as I’m rather more of an “unschooler” at heart. I couldn’t take the kindergarten “syllabus” very seriously, and I didn’t feel qualified to assist Jesper with math, which was his biggest responsibility and challenge. I did help him create and maintain a blog and encouraged (nagged?) him to post on it.
Kirk: To be honest, there were some lackadaisical attitudes and family conflicts. So while this experiment was successful, my memories of having to play Bad Cop and Math Master are not all pleasant.
After 69 days of fun in the sun, what was the comeback to reality in Minnesota like?
Jesper: It was kind of like starting over because all my friends had kind of lost respect for me while I was gone. They kind of forgot about me, I think. Plus they thought I was getting home four days later, so they didn’t expect me. I play center on a traveling basketball team. We had a big tournament right away, and it was hard playing so much without even learning the new plays and stuff. But within about a week, I felt at home again. It all turned out well in the end, and now people barely remember that I even went on a trip.
Kyia: Honestly, it was pretty ugly. We arrived home late in the evening on February 24 (in the thick of winter) after a long day of travel. The kids were ecstatic to be home, but I felt a sense of heaviness-facing 2-plus-months-worth of mail on the counter and a very loud and unhappy cat. Outside, the world was stark and grey and completely devoid of all the vibrant colors, smells and sounds that I’d been basking in for so long. And everyone seemed so depressed. The harsh winter-and even more brutal economic meltdown-had really beaten people down. The next few weeks were a combination of culture shock and re-entry challenges-reluctantly jumping back into the work/life jungle.
Kirk: It was hard to have to live indoors again-and wear umpteen oppressive layers to stay warm. The “high” of the trip did carry on for quite a while, though. Whenever I return, I’m always awash with gratitude for our blessed life at home. And there’s a lingering sense accomplishment and appreciation for completing a safe and successful trip. But the comeback may be the most taxing part of a Breakaway.
How did you pay for such a journey, and-long-term-what does it mean to you financially?
Kyia: We live beneath our means and made lifestyle choices that allowed us to save for this goal. We set a budget in advance, and used credit cards (paid off in full every month) to fund most aspects of the trip-before, during and after.
Kirk: We’ve had decent luck. But we also work hard, are good savers. The trip depleted savings-which could have long-term implications if our investments and business don’t turn around. But we’re still sitting on a fairly comfortable cash cushion (as I advise everyone to do). I’m happy to say that I don’t worry much about money any more. It doesn’t help.
Photograph of Jesper Horsted courtesy of the Horsted Family.