How To Take Your Family Around The World

The Goodners' Big Adventure

34 countries in 13 months, via plane, train, boat, bike, camel, ox carriage, ocean liner, and more. A Virtuoso advisor made it all possible.


As told to David Hochman; originally appeared in September 2015 issue of Virtuoso Life
Photography by Caroline and Sam Goodner

In June 2014, Virtuoso travelers Caroline and Sam Goodner set out with their two children, ages 9 and 11, for a yearlong round-the-world trip. Virtuoso Life caught up with them at the end of their odyssey to find out what they learned and loved (and didn’t love) – and just how they went about pulling off the ultimate adventure. The following is a condensed narrative from conversations with Caroline and Sam.

Hatching the Plan
Our round-the-world trip was part of our family narrative before we even had a family. We were young newlyweds living in Austin when we dreamed up the idea of taking a year off to travel. Once our kids came along, we wanted to make sure they didn’t think Texas was the center of the universe.

When our son – we call him Sam Jackson – was born in 2003, we put summer 2014 on the calendar as our departure date. You have to set goals, right? Our daughter, Catherine, arrived two years later. We thought the children should be old enough to remember the experience forever, but young enough to still enjoy traveling with their parents and also to be credibly homeschooled.

Five years ago, we seriously put the plan into motion. Sam was CEO of a national IT services firm and Caroline ran a DNA identity company, and with the trip looming, we worked toward selling our businesses so we could be comfortably unemployed for a year. Six months before the trip, Caroline became a full-time amateur trip planner with major support from a true travel industry pro recommended at a Duke college reunion, Virtuoso travel advisor Rhona Wendler of Lutherville-Timonium, Maryland. Rhona turned out to be a godsend – she has two kids around the same ages as ours, so she knew what we were up against. It’s embarrassing to admit how many times we emailed or called her to say, “AAAAH, help! Another flight just got bumped” or “We need more time in such-and-such a place.” She always, always delivered.

Use the arrows to continue reading the story. If you'd be interested in working with a Virtuoso advisor on your next trip(s) – around-the-world or not – click below to connect.

Gearing Up
People love hearing about the physical logistics of a journey like this. For us, it started with a practice trip – a driving tour through the western U.S. – to test our gear. We can’t recommend that highly enough: You want to make sure you have the right shoes, the right bags, the best Swiss Army knives – Sam ended up bringing three of those. Clothing must be wrinkle-resistant and stink-proof.

We allowed ourselves just one suitcase and a backpack each – Eagle Creek’s products are unbelievably durable. Our rule was, if you want something new, you need to give something up. We’d already sold our cars, and we donated all our children’s clothes because nothing would fit after the trip. It’s unbelievably liberating realizing that you don’t need stuff beyond what you can carry. We’d walk into a gigantic mall in Thailand and not buy a thing – that’s an amazing feat with a 9-year-old girl in your traveling party.

A Global Vision
Originally, we’d planned to live in one country and really dig in. Instead, we decided to see as many places as possible. What we’d lose in cultural immersion, we’d gain in sheer variety of sights, smells, flavors, sounds, and interactions. Playing with where on earth we wanted to go was one of the most rewarding experiences of our lives.

We bought round-the-world air tickets and added independent legs along the way. Heading off in early June 2014, we started in Ireland and the UK, then visited mainland Europe. In July, when it wasn’t too hot in the Southern Hemisphere, we darted down to South Africa for a safari in Kruger National Park, but came back to Europe immediately afterward for a Baltic cruise. That proved a major highlight of the trip: Aboard the ship, the kids had almost total independence for the first time in their lives.

We continued heading east in Europe, finishing in Turkey before backtracking to Morocco in October, again for ideal weather, and on to Nepal in early November, then China, Japan, and Southeast Asia. By December, we’d arrived in Bali, where we spent the entire month on the beach. After a quick stop in Singapore, we were off
to Australia and New Zealand, and, from March until the trip ended this July, South America. All in all, we
visited 34 countries in just over 13 months, having seen the world by plane, train, boat, bike, camel, horse, elephant, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, ox carriage, ocean liner, canoe, and Funyak.

Use the arrows to continue reading the story. If you'd be interested in working with a Virtuoso advisor on your next trip(s) – around-the-world or not – click below to connect.

Bang for the Buck
The cost can vary greatly on a trip like this. We created a pretty generous budget for ourselves, but we’ve heard a family of four can do it for as little as $150,000 for a year. Certainly we could have spent less. Instead of selling or renting our house, we had a young couple live there for free to take care of it. We also splurged on experiences.

Let’s go paragliding! Let’s rent that yacht on the Turkish coast! We biked the Loire Valley for a week with Backroads. Dinner at Le Jules Verne in the Eiffel Tower is the favorite family dinner of our lifetime – we were terribly underdressed, but we put on our most elegant smiles and had the greatest night ever. Lots of long-term travelers talk about showing up at a destination and winging it, feeling that spontaneity is part of the joy. That’s not our style.  

We want to know where we’re going to sleep, so Caroline and Rhona booked accommodations in advance for every night of the trip. We like that security. We stayed at plenty of hotels, but it was mostly apartments. It’s nice to have a kitchen and washer and dryer, but also a separate bedroom from the kids. You absolutely need that private space after being together all day.

The Family That Globe-Trots Together
We all had our homesick moments: It can feel very alien when you’re jet-lagged somewhere, it’s sweltering and dark, and the call to prayer drifts in at 5:30 in the morning. Fortunately, our loved ones visited us along the way. Sam’s family came to Bali for a week. Caroline’s family met us in London and on the Amalfi Coast. Four families with kids met us in Turkey, Greece, and Costa Rica.

Homeschooling provided a regular rhythm to the weekdays, and it was fairly straightforward. As long as you focus on math, reading, and writing, the rest will emerge experientially. Kids can miss a year of state history and still be fine! A teacher from our school back home stayed in touch by Skype and email to offer writing assignments and feedback, and both kids gave live video presentations to their classes. Because they learned at their own pace, and thanks to the wonders of Khan Academy online, Sam Jackson and Catherine both advanced three grade levels in math. They also read nearly 50 books each on their iPads.

Family dynamics evolve at an exponential rate when you’re together 24/7. Your kids see that you’re not perfect parents, that you have emotions. We were watching the movie Rudy one day and Catherine looked up and saw her dad bawling his eyes out and said, “What’s wrong with him?” And when one person is in a bad mood, it affects everyone. Oh, and alone time is impossible.

But the highs surpassed anything we’ve ever experienced. None of us were prepared for the majesty of Machu Picchu. To see African animals in a place like Kruger National Park brings awe to a new level. Celebrity’s cruise out of Amsterdam was fantastic. We still get chills thinking about the Vasa Museum in Stockholm and the eye-opening challenges of poverty in places like Cambodia and South Africa. Talk about perspective!

Ironically, what we miss now that we’re back is what made the trip difficult at times: constant togetherness, not having a routine, being away from the familiar. But if one thing is certain, it’s that we all truly understand that our world is way bigger than Texas. 

Use the arrows to continue reading the story. If you'd be interested in working with a Virtuoso advisor on your next trip(s) – around-the-world or not – click below to connect.

The Logistics Of Working With An Advisor On Such A Large Trip, in Rhona's words
Planning around-the-world adventures is complicated but fun, and it helps when clients are as organized as the Goodners. Caroline outlined the entire year on a detailed spreadsheet, which was key for the most complex aspect – pacing. With any lengthy trip, you need to consider each family member’s interests and dream experiences. To help the Goodners maintain stamina and enjoy 13 months on the road, I partnered with my colleagues and our global Virtuoso connections for a balance of home rentals with group and private tours in
various destinations.

Around-the-world airline tickets provide great value, even for travelers visiting just a handful of destinations; the trade-off is that they come with fairly strict routing rules. We plotted the optimal route using airline alliances, then supplemented with individual flights to other destinations.

Throughout the process, we never actually met face-to-face, as they live in Texas and I’m in Maryland, but we discovered that we’d be on different cruises calling at Tallinn, Estonia, on the same day in August! I was traveling with my husband and youngest daughter, who is about the same age as Sam Jackson and Catherine. It was a wonderful way to meet for the first time – we toured the Old Town together and talked about their trip.

Some Suggestions If Your Family Does This:
  • Outline each traveler’s wish list of countries and experiences.
  • Plan for downtime: Intersperse hotel stays with longer villa and apartment rentals.
  • Know the requirements for missing a year of school, and work with your favorite teachers to create a homeschooling plan.
  • Start a travel blog and post frequently to stay connected with family and friends.
  • Use a travel advisor. Despite best-laid plans, you will miss flights and run up against things beyond your control. For example, the Goodners had planned to wrap up with three weeks skiing in Chile, but when they arrived, the resorts were closed due to lack of snow. Rather than spending those final weeks stressing about refunds and travel logistics, they explored Santiago for a few days while I handled everything and made arrangements at a resort farther south.

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