Jenss Family Travels: Road Schooling

Rainer Jenss and his family are currently on an around-the-world journey, and they’re blogging about their experiences for us at Intelligent Travel. Keep up with the Jensses by bookmarking their posts, and follow the boys’ Global Bros blog at National Geographic Kids.

I’ve found there to be a particular pattern to going on vacation, whether it be for a few days, a week, or if I was lucky, maybe two. There’s the excitement of planning a trip and the anticipation of going, which seems to only increase the longer one has until actually leaving (think Christmas morning as a child). Then inevitably, a mad rush ensues to get everything squared away before departing. When you finally take off, the beginning of the trip usually involves getting acclimated to where you are and what you are going to do. The middle part is typically the best.  That’s when you’re in the groove and not too worried yet about having to leave. Then time seems to start accelerating towards the end, which for me, is accompanied by the anguish of saying good-bye to the people, places and things that became core to my existence during that brief time.  All this, of course, is followed by “post-vacation stress disorder” from having to return to your regularly scheduled program.

At the farewell dinner that marked the conclusion of our time in Bhutan, I was explaining this to one of several new friends I had made during the ten days we were there. I was indeed experiencing some sadness at having to leave. But what was really strange about this trip, I told them, was that instead of returning home like everybody else, we would be starting this cycle all over again the very next day – a pattern that had already repeated itself for the last three months and would continue through July 2009. If you’ve ever seen Bill Murray in Groundhog Day you know what I’m talking about, but instead of being miserable, I feel incredibly fortunate. Every day feels like Christmas.

Truth be told, we know it can’t be Christmas every day. Going into this, we fully expected that there’d be times when things could get rough and wouldn’t go quite as planned. If you’ve followed my blog, however, it might appear that everything has gone off without a hitch thus far, and for the most part, it has. This, in part, is due to the incredible research and planning that Carol put into the itinerary. But as much as we might have wanted to, we didn’t prepare for everything, nor should we have. Spontaneity, they say, often provides the most memorable moments of a journey and therefore, we wanted to keep ourselves open to those special opportunities that only come about unplanned. Thailand, as it would turn out, put this theory to the test.

To put our arrival in Thailand into context, all our arrangements for the sixteen-day itinerary were secured by a local travel agent who we’d never met but fully entrusted since they came to us via a friend of a friend.  We did so at a time when we were frantically organizing about a dozen other places we wanted to visit during the year, so we welcomed the opportunity to have somebody else make some arrangements for us. In fact, we didn’t even know too much about where specifically we were going until we actually arrived. We’ve been away from home already for three and a half months, with the last eight weeks being spent in Asia on a pretty hectic travel schedule, so we really looked forward to the five-day reprieve arranged for us in the islands of southern Thailand.

I had heard that Phuket is now unrecognizable from just a couple of decades ago, not because of the 2004 tsunami, but from mass-tourism since the word got out about it’s tropical beaches and affordable prices. Figuring it must be trendy for a reason, we weren’t dissuaded. As we would quickly discover, however, the city of Patong, where we were inexplicably placed, wasn’t the most popular area of the island because of it’s white sand and turquoise water.  Simply put, this spot is more suited for hard partying hedonists than a family with two small boys looking for some R&R and much needed time to catch up on home schooling. Under different circumstances, we might have been able to cope much better with our predicament, but we were coming off the heels of having spent two weeks in one of the most sacred and remote places on Earth, so the bustling atmosphere of Patong felt like a shock to the system.

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Despite the lousy location and unsettled weather, we were determined to try to stick it out and make the best of the situation. After all, we’re intrepid world travelers and that’s part of the contract! So at the recommendation of the travel agent, we planned to visit some of the nearby outlying islands of Phi Phi and Krabi. This only made matters worse. Instead of relaxing and letting the kids run around to their hearts content, we had to get up very early and spend the whole day on a packed ferry loaded with other tourists for what amounted to about 90 minutes of ‘beach time.’ On the second night, we took the kids to what’s billed as Phuket’s ‘Ultimate Cultural Theme Park’, Fantasea.  As touristy and gimmicky as this experience was, the performance really was spectacular and the kids particularly enjoyed the elephant show that culminated the evening. But ultimately, we knew that in order to salvage our three remaining days, we had to put matters into our own hands, so we let Carol loose on what she does best – go on the internet and scourer through TripAdvisor.

Once again, reading reviews from other travelers came through in finding us the right place to stay. We moved out of Patong the next morning and checked into the Marina Phuket Resort Hotel on Karon Beach just a few minutes away. All was right with the world. We finally found what we envisioned all along – a family friendly beach, gorgeous pool, and some terrific Thai food – all at a very low price when compared to other tropical resorts around the world. It even had a resident baby elephant entertain the kids in the mornings.  We also found time to teach Tyler some sixth grade math and catch Stefan up on his spelling words.  But the most valuable lesson we learned so far in Thailand was to always do your homework yourself.

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