Sandy and Darren Van Soye are currently traveling around the world on an epic trip visiting 50 countries on their way. We had a chat with them about the trip, their expectations and motivations for taking on this fantastic journey.
You are traveling 424 days around the world. Can you tell us where the trip will take you and what your expectations are for the trip?
Yes, we are traveling to 50 countries on six continents over 424 days or 14 months. We call our journey Trekking the Planet. We are taking this trip in hopes of getting kids excited about the subject of geography. We are making it accessible to them by publishing educational materials from the road. To date, we have received 850 subscriptions from educators located in 20 countries, representing 55,000 students. We also have a “Friends” subscriber base (representing our friends and family plus others who just want to come along for the ride).
During our trip, we are taking a series of multiple day hikes or treks to some of the most remote and unspoiled places on the planet. Each location was selected because of its natural or cultural significance. We have already completed six treks, hiking over 250 miles. When we can, we focus on sustainability practices, celebrating the successes that we find as we travel. We are also staying “close to the ground” meaning that, instead of flying, we try to use local public transportation whenever we can, whether it is a bus, a train, a ferry or a ship. To date, we have covered over 36,000 miles, with more than 80% of that on land or sea.
Where are you now and what are your favorite experiences till now?
We started off in Australia and then spent three months in Asia. Since July, we have been in Europe. We began in Riga (Latvia) and headed north, through Estonia, Finland and Sweden, ending up in the far north of that country above the Arctic Circle. Next, we traveled south along the coast of Norway and then into Denmark before crossing the Baltic Sea to Poland. We are currently in Romania in the middle of our journey through Eastern Europe. Our time in Europe will conclude at the beginning of October. Then, it will be off to Africa, the Middle East and finally to South America.
Some of our favorite experiences have occurred during our treks. Our first trek was the Overland Track in Tasmania, Australia. It is a seven-day bushwalk through several types of terrain, including alpine and rainforest, in just a span of 50 miles! Our most-recent trek was just about two weeks ago in the Julian Alps of Slovenia. We found it to be a beautiful and untouched place. Outside of trekking, we count Hobart (Australia), Singapore, Riga, Krakow (Poland) and Bled (Slovenia) to be our favorite cities. The island of American Samoa and the country of Uzbekistan were also big surprises.
What inspired you to take on this massive journey?
In 2003, we took our daughters (10 and 12 years old at the time) around the world for 4 ½ months. We actually took them out of school for a semester and home schooled them on the road. We saw what an impression a trip like this made on them and also on their classmates back home. We were sending emails to their teachers each week which we later found out were being read to the entire school! Nine years later, we came across the results of a National Geographic study which found that 29% of U.S. 18-24 year olds could not find the Pacific Ocean on an unlabeled map. We decided then and there to use this journey as a way to “give back” as we travel, to hopefully get kids around the globe excited about geography.
What are the goals for the trip?
We want to engage classrooms by providing them with free weekly materials that correspond to our current location that they can integrate into their curriculum. We hope that these materials will provide students with an opportunity to learn more about geography and to become more curious about the world. Our original goal was to have 100 classrooms following our journey. But, we quickly exceeded this number even before we left home.
We also have a goal of speaking to as many schools as possible. We spoke to over 2,000 students before we left. During our adventure, we have spoken to schools in American Samoa, Thailand, Laos, Nepal and Latvia. The schools in Laos were some of the most remote places we have visited – the buildings were made of bamboo and had dirt floors. But, to see the kids’ faces as we talked about our journey made the trip worth it! During our visits, we always ask the students questions that we received from the classrooms that are following us.
By what means are your traveling?
We saved for seven years to finance this trip. In addition, we receive some income from the rental of our home back in the U.S. We have a detailed budget and we track our expenses carefully to make sure that we stay on or under our plan.
What gear and equipment are you bringing along on the trip and what do you consider absolutely essential when traveling the world?
Since we are taking multiple treks during our journey, we have a significant amount of gear, including a stove, a water purifier, a cook pot, dishes, mattress pads, sleeping bags and tent. This makes our bags rather heavy and at times we wish we could go lighter. We send some items ahead to help to lighten the load a little.
We both carry laptops that we use to maintain our website, process video and pictures and write our blog, but the one thing that we consider essential is our smart phones. They are great for making emergency calls, reviewing emails, texting, taking notes and doing currency conversions. In some countries, Darren has been able to purchase a local SIM card which has given us the ability to upload photos and even video while we are on the move.
What are you most looking forward to on your journey?
We are a little more than halfway done with our 14-month trip. We still have lots to look forward to, including a walking safari in the Maasai Mara area of Kenya, a trek to Petra in Jordan and a crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by ship on our way to Brazil. We also have more school visits scheduled in both Africa and South America so that will be great as well!