Photo courtesy of the Luke family
Durning the Luke family's year trip around the world, their adventure included a safari, a tour of the highlands, beaches and tea plantations.
It took a leap of faith for Gigi Luke of San Carlos, her husband Bob Luke and their two boys Jordan and Justin to break the monotony of the daily grind, reconnect with family and to live out their dream of traveling around the world in a year.
Gigi Luke worked for a high-tech company as a senior manager for 15 years, and Bob Luke was a teacher and school administrator for 30 years, so they both lived life by a schedule. Taking care of two boys ages 10 and 14 also added extra responsibility. Family has always been paramount for the Lukes, so when Bob Luke lost his mother to a stroke in 2010 and Gigi Luke’s mother’s health began to taper off from Alzheimer’s disease, the couple felt compelled to seize the opportunity and embark on an adventure because they recognized that life is too short.
They were hardly remembering everything with which their days were filled, and their kids were growing up before their eyes. They agreed it was time to take a breather and recognize what life has to offer.
“I don’t want to have any regrets,” said Gigi Luke. “I don’t want to get older and wish that I had done these things with my kids when I was younger.”
The couple’s goal was to inspire their children through this experience by witnessing the cultural and historical connections of the world.
It took two years for the actual idea to develop into a plan. On a Sunday night, the couple was watching a program about surfers finding the best wave, when they both talked about life issues and loss. They yearned for an escape. Gigi Luke remembers saying to her husband, “Wouldn’t it be fun to not have a care in the world, and to do whatever your heart says to do?”
He replied, “Yeah, it would.”
From that moment, the couple agreed to figure out the adventure. That idea emerged into a nomadic tactic in which they would move from place to place. They knew that they would like to fly into a country that was accessible to London because they wanted to attend the 2012 Olympics, which was a lifetime dream. Gigi Luke soon found a flight to Sweden which seemed to be a good choice, because Bob Luke knew a family there from when he was an exchange student. They contacted the family in Sweden to ask if they could visit, and the family said absolutely. Gigi Luke then booked a one way ticket to Stockholm, Sweden, and tickets to the Olympics to see Taekwondo, tennis at Wimbledon and men’s volleyball. The Lukes began to create a preliminary itinerary and flexible budget. They wanted to live like locals and tour without relying on travel guides, just themselves and the small network of friends overseas.
Before the Lukes could turn their dream into reality, they had to manage their reality. What would they do with their kids and school, their house for a whole year and their pets? These were serious questions that actually motivated them to come up with immediate solutions. The Lukes ended up renting out their house and left pets with friends. Taking their children out of school seemed like a larger challenge, but Gigi Luke had confidence in her husband, a former teacher. He would be able to guide the boys academically. They could also rely on online resources for math, social studies and grammar. The couple also felt every day of their adventure would create a distinct curriculum for their sons to learn, a hands-on perspective of the world for an entire year. On June 26, 2012, The Lukes left San Carlos, content on creating lasting memories for their family and broadening their sons’ horizons.
The Lukes first destination was Stockholm, Sweden, where they connected with old friends. From there, they traveled to Norway for eight days and saw the famous fjords. The youth hostels in Norway provided adequate accommodations for the family while sightseeing. They returned back to Sweden and enjoyed fishing and waterskiing on the Baltic Sea. After Sweden, the family flew to London for 10 days for the Olympics.
Gigi Luke used to work in London and was able to arrange a place to stay with close friends. They attended a folk festival along the coast, along with the patriotic celebration of the 2012 Olympics where they attended some of their favorite events. England provided their children with literature, history and art lessons. They read e-books and studied some of the authors, artists and musicians from the places they visited. They even read Shakespeare and saw a Shakespeare play in Stratford-Upon-Avon. They stayed in Cotswold at Gigi Luke’s friend’s house for three weeks, and connected with history at Stonehenge.
Next stop Paris
After enjoying London, the Luke family took the Eurostar train to Paris. They were fortunate enough to stay with friends for four months. France became home base where they lived as part of the community, even putting their children into soccer and tennis camps. France was another destination where their family could connect with history. They learned about medieval history and art in the caves of the Vezere Valley, along with art from Vincent van Gogh in the nearby galleries and museums. Their son Jordan, a musician and athlete, even had the opportunity to play his guitar on the streets in France. Jordan and Justin also enjoyed running on the beaches of Normandy while learning about World War II.
“We really wanted our children to understand history and connect our history as Americans, but also to the cultures that we were visiting,” said Gigi Luke.
On to Italy, Germany and Amsterdam
From France, The Lukes traveled to Austria where they stayed for a week. They enjoyed skiing and relaxing before they embarked on their trek to Italy. In Italy, they traveled from the north to the south to Positano and the Amalfi coast. In Lucca, they stopped at an Agriturismo where they learned about the environment and how to make pasta, pick olives and press them into oil. They reached Rome and visited several museums and the ruins in Pompeii, following the path of the Romans from France to Italy.
The Lukes’ network of friends continued to contribute to their adventure, as they traveled to Germany. Fortunately, Bob Luke was an exchange student some 30 years ago and kept in touch with the family that hosted him. That family still owns a dairy farm and welcomed the Lukes with open arms. Holland was the next destination where they stayed in Amsterdam. The Lukes were trying to parallel their traveling course with what they were studying and teaching their children about World War II and its impact. They also visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam which correlated with the events of D-Day.
“We wanted to show our sons how small the world really is in history,” said Gigi Luke.
Leaving Europe, on to Asia, then back home
They left Holland and headed back to Paris in the winter for a brief stay to visit friends that had traveled from California. Their flexible and fluid adventure continued as they flew from London to Singapore.
Gigi Luke had a friend from California living in Singapore which became their home base in Asia. It was spring, so the host family along with their children had time off. Both families coordinated a trip to Sri Lanka where they stayed for eight days. Here, the accommodations were a bit more exotic. They slept in mud huts, tree houses and a colonial house that was owned by a tea plantation owner. Their adventure included a safari, a tour of the highlands, beaches and tea plantations.
After Sri Lanka, the Lukes went back to Singapore for a few days and then flew to Bali for three and a half weeks. They stayed in several different locations, but their favorite place to stay was outside of Ubud, which is the spiritual center of Bali. Here, the family found a bed and breakfast to stay at located in a rice field. While in Bali, The Lukes met a couple, Wayan and Putri, who became their hosts. Their hosts invited them to a village temple ceremony honoring 220 days. The Lukes wore traditional saris and colorful, decorative hats becoming completely immersed in the culture.
“We were honored. It was very spiritual. We didn’t take this as a tourist thing,” said Gigi Luke.
They were the only non-Balinese family in attendance. The host family took them to lunch and also gave them a tour of the rice fields. The Lukes also visited the Green School in Bali, a holistic learning center that celebrates the Earth. The Lukes asked their host Wayan if there was anywhere that Jordan and Justin could learn about local art. He took them to the local carvers and a master carver taught the children how to carve masks which are used in ceremonies and also sold to tourists. The next day, the Lukes were asked if they wanted to go to the silver town where they make silver jewelry. Here, Jordan and Justin were taught by a master silversmith how to smith silver. That day was a special experience for the children and the family because the skills they learned weren’t from a class. These skills were taught by individuals who were willing to lend their expertise.
After the adventures in Bali, they went back to Singapore for two weeks. At this point of their journey they were trying to figure out the best way to get home. They decided to book two weeks in China, two weeks in Japan and three to four weeks in Hawaii.
While in China, they visited Shanghai which was a challenge because of the language barrier. In Europe, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Bali, many people speak English. For a few days, they functioned without a tour guide and had to decipher street signs and words on buildings. Fortunately, while blogging and posting pictures on Facebook, one of their son’s friend’s mother connected them to a friend in Xi’an. That friend invited the Lukes to dinner at their home and experienced how the Xi’an people live. Gigi Luke recalls that the dumpling soup served at dinner became an instant hit with her family.
In Xi’an and Beijing, they learned about the Silk Road, the Terra Cotta Warriors and the Great Wall of China. They also rode pedi-bikes through the Hu tong area in Beijing, which is an old dilapidated neighborhood being prepped for demolition for the construction of skyscrapers. The open markets in China also provided an adventure, as the Lukes’ youngest son Justin ate a fried scorpion and enjoyed every bite. The Lukes traveled to Japan from China and continued to explore. They visited the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima as well as several museums. From Japan, the Lukes headed back to the United States and enjoyed some well-deserved rest and relaxation. They stayed in Hawaii for three weeks and, on June 30, they arrived back home to California.
Reflection on the journey
In a year, the Lukes visited 14 countries, 34 major cities, 93 towns and villages and more than 100 historical sites, including 36 UNESCO World Heritage sites. They took 19 flights, drove more than 8,700 miles, rode 40 trains, 36 buses, 14 boats and several subways in Europe and Asia.
As the family reflected on their adventure, they recalled some of their favorite foods, fruit, drinks, art and parts of nature. Gigi Luke mentioned the tea shops in France and the daily farmers’ market. Bob and Gigi Luke also enjoyed the roasted duck and quality provincial rose wine in France. Sri Lanka and Singapore possessed some of the most exotic and tasty fruit, vegetables and dishes like Lotus root curry, purple mangosteen, snakefruit and rambuton.
Jordan and Justin loved exploring some of the castles in Europe and enjoyed eating the Cornish pasties in London. Justin remembers the pandas at the zoo in China, and the multitude of monkeys in Bali. Bob Luke was intrigued with the beauty of Sri Lanka and the history of the Silk Road in China. In Pompeii, the family was enthralled by the mosaic of Alexander beating Darius and the prehistoric cave paintings in the valley of France. The family agreed that each place they visited had its own value at that time. They’re grateful for the hospitality they received from all of their friends, including the ones they made along the way, especially in Bali.
Gigi Luke credits her husband with being an ultimate supporter and partner that made sure the family was safe and comfortable. The Lukes created a bond with their family that will always live. Their children are now equipped with priceless knowledge and character.
The Lukes suggest that if a family is thinking about embarking on a similar adventure, don’t hesitate to move out of your comfort zone. Be prepared to simply let it go.
“It’s liberating to be spontaneous, flexible and self-sufficient,” said Gigi Luke. “It’s so fulfilling to know that you were present to the vivid experience.”