Photograph by Jo-Anne McArthur
“More than a year ago, my husband and I yanked our two sons away from everything they knew and headed out to discover the planet,” says 40-year-old travel writer Heather Greenwood Davis. “The goal was to show our kids that their neighborhood wasn’t limited to their block, that the world has more to offer than PlayStation 3, and that people are way more interesting than they could imagine.”
From their home in Ontario, the Davis gang (father Ish, age 45, and boys Ethan, 10, and Cameron, 8) embarked on an epic adventure. They came face to face with blue-footed boobies in the Galápagos, watched World Cup rugby in New Zealand, went tuk-tuk riding in Cambodia, and encountered revolutionary times in Egypt. All told, the Davis family spent 12 months on the road, visited 29 countries, and blogged about their round-the-world journey at globetrottingmama.com.
“Our kids came away with a sense that the planet is a kind place, that the world is accessible to them, and that they can befriend people everywhere they go,” says Davis. "It was an amazing year.”
—By George W. Stone
National Geographic Traveler: Why is travel important?
Heather Greenwood Davis: It expands your view of the world. The more you travel, the more you understand how alike we all are and how much we need each other.
Ish Davis: Traveling makes us realize how so much of what we do at home affects other countries. Travel brings experiences, which are the best learning tools out there.
Ethan Davis: Travel is important because you learn new stuff that you didn’t know before even when you were in a class.
Cameron Davis: Because it’s fun!
NGT: Can you point to one trip or experience that ignited your curiosity about the world?
HGD: My parents took me to Quebec when I was about 12, with an uncle of mine who was visiting from Jamaica. Me being the only one in the family who knew any French introduced me to the ice-breaking ability of humor. The French shopkeepers were laughing, and we were laughing despite the language barriers. I loved that a whole world was opening up because of the simple fact that despite the difficulties, we’d left home to explore.
ED: The more we traveled on this trip around the world, the more I wanted to know about it.
CD: My mom and I went to Mexico before and it made me think, I wonder what else is out there.
NGT: What inspired you to travel in the way that has resulted in your being chosen as a Traveler of the Year?
HGD: My family. I was watching our lives disappear among the routines and the must-dos and knew the potential of what was out there for my kids to see and learn. Because my husband had also developed a love for travel it seemed completely logical to head off together and explore the world as a family. There isn’t a moment while we were away or since we got back that I haven’t been glad we did.
NGT: Who is your hero and why?
HGD: My husband. While I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood and had the benefit of being exposed to travel as a child, my husband spent much of his youth living in a single-parent family in a Toronto housing project. His whole world used to be a few blocks and now he’s traveled around the whole world. It gives me goose bumps.
ID: My mother, Lydia Davis, a single mother of three who raised three successful children. When I am ready to throw the towel in I always remember the sacrifices she made for us.
ED: My mom is my hero, because if she didn’t make this trip happen I wouldn’t be here answering these questions.
NGT: Do you have a personal motto or mantra that embodies your approach to life and travel?
HGD: This life we’re given is all we have at the end of the day. If you aren’t living it to its fullest you’re wasting time you won’t get back. Chances are high that you’ll never have money and time at the same moment. The money you can always work for. Time is the truly valuable resource. Don’t waste a moment of it.
ID: A stranger is a friend you have not met yet.
ED: No, I don’t. I’m just a kid.
NGT: What do you never leave home without when you travel?
HGD: I’m a writer so leaving home without some device—iPhone, tablet, laptop—that allows me to jot down my thoughts, write articles, or get on social media would be horrifying.
ID: My Canada shirt. It’s a great conversation starter.
ED: My parents and our cameras.
CD: A journal.
NGT: What was your most surprising food experience on your travels?
HGD: Watching my oldest son transform from the picky eater we’d known for eight years into a curious, adventurous foodie was incredible to watch. Now curry, seafood, and Thai dishes are family favorites.
ID: Six months before we left we were on a trip in Florida and met an Argentine family. We reached out to them when we got to Buenos Aires and on the night of the soccer championships they had us over to their home for an authentic asado. It was the best barbecue I ever ate.
ED: In China I was surprised to know that they had all kinds of dumplings, sweet and sour.
CD: Lobster, because I never tried it before because it looked disgusting. Then I helped to catch one in New Brunswick and I tried it and it was really good.
NGT: What is the most beautiful place you experienced while traveling?
ID: Angkor Wat is the most beautiful temple in the world and the people were amazing. We actually went to dinner at our tuk tuk driver’s house on our last night. Sitting in a circle on the floor of his small home, sharing food and beer, was one of the highlights of our trip.
ED: I think New Zealand was one of the most beautiful places we went to. We would drive through open fields filled with farm animals and hills.
CD: Thailand. The elephants and the jungle are beautiful.
NGT: What's one place you’ve been to that you think everyone should visit?
HGD: China. We spent 30 days and hit six cities and every day was a learning experience. There’s nothing like being the minority in a culture that is as unique, culturally rich, and linguistically different as China.
ID: India. It makes you use all of your senses and the fact that every city has its own unique history, culture, style, and feel makes it a million destinations in one.
ED: You should try the Monkido course in Whistler, British Columbia. You might even see a bear like we did.
CD: Australia, because you can see all the different animals.
NGT: What’s next?
HGD: The kids are back in school now but we’re already thinking ahead to future travels. We’d like to do something like our year away again in five or six years. It might not be a full year but we figure the teen years might be a good time to remind the kids how much fun we can have together.
ID: I have been bitten by the travel bug big-time. I want to inspire people to live their dreams, because nothing ventured is nothing gained.
ED: Nope. Just school and summer vacation.
2014 Traveler Photo Contest
See all the winning images from the 2014 Traveler Photo Contest.