Three hundred thirteen days. Forty-four weeks and five days. Even the most adventurous Israeli family anxious to indulge its wanderlust would find a trip of that duration to be difficult, if not impossible. Yet, from May 2018 until February 2019, Alison McLernon and Itzik Bar-Shai of Azor, together with three small children under the age of 10, crisscrossed four continents, visiting 11 countries, including the United States, Canada, Alaska, Guatemala, Belize, Brazil, Peru, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong and India.
“I’ve always wanted to travel around the world,” says Alison. “I grew up in the UK, where we didn’t have a culture of traveling around the world when we finished school. When I met so many people here who went traveling after the army, it was something that I really wanted to do.” In November 2017, due to a combination of unusual circumstances, McLernon and her husband, Bar-Shai, began to consider the possibility of turning her dream into a reality. The couple had purchased a home in Azor, but due to a prior arrangement with the seller, they could not move into the house for 18 months. They were unhappy with the apartment that they were renting in Tel Aviv, and Alison, who had recently given birth to their youngest child, Emile, was between jobs.
“I was not happy where I was living,” recalls Alison. “What was the solution? The solution was not to have a home.”
Alison suggested to Itzik that taking a long trip could solve their problem, and while he liked the idea, he didn’t think it was practical. Alison pointed out that they could save money by not having a home for an extended period and not having to pay rent. She concluded her marketing pitch to her husband by suggesting that a trip around the world would be the ideal gift for celebrating his 50th birthday.
Itzik, who had been working at the Finance Ministry for more than 20 years, approached his bosses and was granted a 10-month leave of absence.
Alison had compiled a long list of countries that she wanted to visit and planned an itinerary based on the optimum weather conditions and the lowest prices available for each location. For maximum flexibility, Itzik and Alison purchased around-the-world tickets from British Airways.
Their children – Elinor, age eight, Anna, six, and Emile, one – were excited to be joining them for the trek. Alison jokes that friends told them that they would never be brave enough to attempt such a long trip with three young children. To that, she replies, “I’ve always believed that you can do anything with kids that you can do without, with the exception of a manicure. It just takes longer and requires a lot more patience.” BEFORE BEGINNING the official around-the-world ticket, the family took an EasyJet flight to London to visit Alison’s parents. On May 1, they set out on the first of their 23 flights, jetting from London to Los Angeles.
They rented a mobile home and drove to Arizona, visiting the Grand Canyon and spending three weeks touring the state.
“We were supposed to go to the Rocky Mountains,” she says, “but in the end, we never got there, because we spent the time in Arizona instead.” Next, they headed northward on the Pacific Coast Highway and drove up the coast of Oregon and Washington State. Driving a large RV can be difficult, and Alison recalls one particularly frightening moment.
“The road was blocked on the Pacific Coast Highway, and we used Google Maps to find a detour, which turned out to be over a terrifying mountain pass with steep drops on both sides. I was driving our 32-foot monstrosity of an RV at the time, the road was narrow and twisting, and meeting vehicles was a nightmare. I was a nervous wreck by the time we made it out of there.” Alison, Itzik, and the children returned their rental vehicle in Bellingham, Washington, and then boarded the Alaska Marine Highway, a ferry that offers regularly scheduled service to Alaska. Unlike luxury cruises, food is served cafeteria-style, and the cabins are snug.
Alison says that the voyage was one of the highlights of the trip due to the amazing variety of wildlife that they saw while on board, including whales, orcas and seals, along with beautiful scenery. They remained in Alaska for three weeks, renting another RV, driving to Anchorage and Fairbanks, and celebrating the Fourth of July in the United States by attending their first baseball game.
Alison and Itzik not only prized the beauty and quiet of Alaska, but enjoyed meeting the people there, whom she found to be very friendly and helpful. All of this contrasted greatly with their next port of call, a five-day stopover in New York City.
“This was not a clever decision in any way, shape, or form,” concedes Alison. “It’s hard to think of anything more different than Alaska and New York. It was a culture shock. I had been to New York, and I love it, but my husband thought it was the most awful place on earth. We’d been in Alaska – a silent place – and suddenly we were in a place with noise and angry people.” On July 25, 2018, Alison, Itzik and family began the South American leg of their journey, first flying to Guatemala, where they spent five weeks, before continuing to Belize, and then returning to Miami for a brief respite at Disney World.
Alison wanted to experience the culture of Guatemala, and the family took a week’s worth of Spanish lessons in Antigua, staying with a local family. Itzik found Guatemala to be difficult.
Alison says that the people are poor, the roads are difficult, and young children are put to work at a very early age. “It was a big eye-opener for the entire family.”
The side trip to Disney World had been planned as a precaution, in case the children would have difficulty traveling in third world countries. Alison had mixed feelings about the Disney trip, bringing the children from a third world country to a “super first world” experience,” but the children enjoyed the visit.
Throughout the entire trip, the family traveled with just two suitcases and backpacks for everyone. Alison packed four changes of clothes for each family member, and a large segment of one of the bags was dedicated for the storage of medicines and antibiotics. The children placed their toys and coloring books in their backpacks. She adds that they left clothes behind for charity, donating warmer clothing when they were leaving cold-weather countries.
On September 3, they flew to Brazil, where they spent six weeks. When they arrived in Brazil, it was early spring, and the family enjoyed the white sands and bright blue waters of Rio, and the Pantanal, a natural region that includes the world’s largest tropical wetland area.
“In the Pantanal, I saw animals I hadn’t even heard of,” marvels Alison, “like tapir and capybara, toucans and parrots.” When they were in the north of Brazil, Emile, the one-year-old, came down with croup. They took him to a doctor, assuming that she would speak English or Spanish and tell them how to treat the illness. Unfortunately, the doctor spoke only Portuguese. Alison and Itzik called a Brazilian friend in Israel, who spoke to the doctor and explained to them how to treat their son.
“It was a bit of a traumatic experience to be stuck in a foreign country with a sick little boy and not know what to do about it,” Alison admits.
Continuing to Peru in October, they visited Machu Picchu, the 15th-century Inca citadel, and the best-known icon of Inca civilization.
Alison speaks almost wistfully of that period, saying, “We went hiking in the Andes – things you almost never dreamt of doing, certainly not ever dreamt of doing with your children.”
One of the most memorable parts of the trip, says Alison, was their three-day hike into the Colca Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world, in southern Peru. Recalling the hike, she says, “It was an amazing experience and an amazing sense of achievement to have done that with a kid on my back and two little kids.” The last segment of the trip consisted of a three-week stop in New Zealand, a seven-week sojourn in Australia, two days in Hong Kong, and five weeks in India.
Highlights of Australia included a 4,000-kilometer drive down the Australian coast from Cairns to Melbourne, snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef, feeding kangaroos and watching turtles lay eggs.
While in India, they saw tigers in the wild and visited the Taj Mahal, but they also witnessed scenes of extreme poverty.
On February 28, 2019, Alison and the children flew to England to visit her parents, while Itzik returned to Israel to get their new house ready.
ALISON AND Itzik, like most vacationers, took thousands of pictures, and, like most people, haven’t had the time to organize them into an album. They had almost no room for souvenirs but have a lifetime full of memories.
“The main thing we took back from the trip was being a unit of five people together for a long period of time. The most valuable lesson of all was understanding the value of time spent together. When you travel with children, anything you experience is a bonus. Don’t be disappointed with the things you don’t manage to do,” says Alison.
What advice does she have for would-be world travelers? “Plan well, pack light, be flexible, don’t spend your time worrying, but do be aware of local dangers so you can act wisely. And most importantly, enjoy yourselves!”