For former Adventure Treks instructors Todd and Meghan Beer, life with their 4-year-old daughter Lila has been anything but boring. In June 2019, the family deposited their belongings into a storage unit in Chicago, and then set off on a year-long trip around the world. As of early 2020, they’ve visited 16 countries on three continents—with plenty more to come. We recently caught up with them for a quick Q&A to hear more about their adventures and how their AT experiences are helping them along the way.
AT: What do you both do professionally, and how did the idea for the trip come about?
Todd: Meghan runs her own non-profit consultant business, and I’m a professor of sociology at Lake Forest College. After I was awarded tenure as a faculty member at Lake Forest College, we knew we would have an opportunity for me to take a year-long research sabbatical. My research site is currently in Kenya, so we figured we would travel and explore on our way to Kenya and do the same on our way home. After collecting new data in Kenya, all I needed was my laptop for analysis and writing. We thought, why sit in Chicago and do that? Meghan was able to temporarily wind down and take some work on the road, and Lila was not yet in kindergarten, so it was a perfect time and opportunity to take the year and explore the world.
AT: What is the end goal for this trip?
Meghan: Several things. We wanted to take full advantage of this time. It is a rare, maybe even once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We wanted to expose Lila and ourselves to the learning that occurs when you explore new places and cultures. Travel allows one to learn SO much about other people and ourselves. We explored all kinds of options: Should we pick four places and live in each one for three months? Should we visit as many countries as we can? In the end, we’ve found balance between staying longer and diving deeper into some places, and seeing a lot of different areas in a “quick hit” fashion.
In each place, we try to learn as much as we can about the culture, but we also have often left places with more questions than when we arrived. The world is full of absolutely amazing places and natural beauty. We are inspired by and excited to see so much of it. We spend as much time outside as possible, whether that is going on a hike in the woods, going to the beach, paddle boarding, eating a picnic lunch, exploring the streets of a town, etc.
Also, in the end, this trip was about us having a year to spend as a family. We love spending time together. Life can be overwhelmingly busy; disrupting that with travel has allowed us to gain perspective on what we really spend our time doing. There is still some stress when traveling, but it’s different than that caused by the schedules and deadlines we get used to at home. In part, travel is a way to disrupt routines and give you time to reflect.
Oh… and our goal is to eat as much amazing and different food as possible!
AT: What countries have you been to so far, and where do you plan to go this spring?
Todd: So far, we’ve visited England, Scotland, France, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Morocco, Egypt, Kenya, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. We’re currently in Vietnam. Next, we’re planning on Malaysia and likely Indonesia, and then New Zealand and Australia before heading home in June 2020.
AT: What have the highlights been?
Todd: This is a tough question because it has been such an amazing trip. The ones that pop into mind are hiking near the dramatic spires of the Dolomites in northern Italy, paraponting high above the French Alps, attending a climate change protest in Barcelona, getting lost exploring the maze of streets in Fez and Marrakesh, seeing the Taj Mahal, seeing three leopards in one day in Sri Lanka, rock climbing at Railay Beach in Thailand, a mountain village homestay with a family in northern Thailand, four cooking classes, five food tours, seeing African and Asian elephants in the wild…
AT: What does Lila think of the trip? What have been her favorite parts?
Meghan: Lila is so adaptable. Whether it’s spending a night in a hut in rural Kenya, sleeping in a tent in a Maasai village, or making friends with kids who speak no English, she has been extremely engaged. She learned how to say thank you in Thai, has tried so many new foods, helped cook chipati over the fire in Kenya, tried standing on a surfboard in Sri Lanka, tried rock climbing in Thailand, and more. Everywhere we go and hear local musicians, she LOVES to dance. She doesn’t care if nobody else is dancing—she dives right in. As a 4-year-old, she has amazed us at how present she has been in whatever we are doing, even though that changes ALL the time.
AT: You’ve been Instagramming the trip. Tell us about the public engagement through both of your accounts.
Todd: We started the @go_the_long_way_around Instagram account to stay connected to our family and friends, but it has certainly helped connect us to other travelers out there. There are many more families doing something like this than we initially imagined. We have even met some of them in person when we realized we were in the same place. Instagram has been a great place to figure out where to go next and what to do there. We have also used the @inspiringsustainability account to document ways that people and organizations around the world are trying to lessen humans’ harmful impact on the ecosystem.
AT: How has your Adventure Treks experience influenced this trip?
Todd: First and foremost, Meghan and I met leading trips at Adventure Treks, so that has had a BIG impact on our life (we both worked for AT in the early 2000s). Outdoor experiences certainly prepare people to be better travelers, especially if they are going to developing countries or rural areas. Like in the backcountry with AT, when traveling you often have to know how to treat your water, sleep in less-than-comfortable conditions, find your way when lost, push on when tired, pack light, use the bathroom in different places, and eat new foods. And of course, still have tons of fun even if you are out of your comfort zone!
There is no doubt that our years of experience with AT made us better travelers and the kind of people who can pull off a year-long trip. The planning that goes into AT trips is similar to what it takes to travel around the world. We see other people traveling who struggle because they lack the AT experience.
AT: What advice do you have for others interested in a long trip?
Todd: If you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to do this in some form, do it. Some of your friends or family will think you are crazy and try to dissuade you, but once you begin traveling, you will meet people who share that love of exploring new cultures, places, and experiences. People think we are on vacation for a year, but it’s not that easy. The amount of planning we have to do (nearly every night) to figure out the logistics of where we are headed next is much more than we imagined.
We planned the first few months in some detail before we left, but since then we have been planning as we go along to allow for some flexibility. It is good to find a balance between planning and leaving room for adventure and discovery. We also think it is important to be aware of our negative impact as travelers. We have carried a SteriPen with us to treat water and avoid using plastic water bottles; we carry washable cutlery to avoid throwaway forks and knives; and we offset our carbon emissions from the flights we’ve taken through Gold Standard to decrease our contribution to climate change. And we have certainly taken fewer showers and done fewer loads of laundry compared to when we are at home.