For us, travel is about making and growing relationships, creating long-lasting memories and expanding our world view through education while being good stewards of our environment.
Traveling with a big family is not for the faint of heart.
But the courage to travel was developed early in both myself and Vali, and has caused us to continue traveling together, even after kids, with the kids!
For us, travel is not simply about entertainment.
While visiting new places is certainly fascinating and provides entertainment of a sort, we believe that travel is primarily a means of education.
We don’t do a lot of trips to resorts or theme parks. Because, while these are fun and entertaining, there’s so much more to experience in the world that can entertain while it educates.
A trip to a local state park is an opportunity to learn about wildlife – both plants and animals, geology and soil science, not to mention local history.
A trip to another country is a chance to learn about other cultures and world views, test out language learning skills, and sample new and different foods.
By experiencing a wide variety of places and by meeting people from all over the country and the world, we hope that our children will be more respectful, more compassionate, and more responsible individuals as they grow to adulthood.
As a homeschooling family, travel is a natural way to bring education off the page and into a lived experience.
We aim to nurture curious, confident explorers in what we hope will be a lifetime of passion for learning about the world we live in and the people we meet everywhere.
Vali’s travel history
Vali grew up in Eastern Europe (Moldova, to be exact), in a time when travel was restricted as part of the former Soviet Union. So as a child, Vali never traveled out of his country.
When those restrictions opened up, his family traveled together to the Black Sea for beach vacations. Another tradition with the family was visiting the Golden Sands in Bulgaria.
The family would also take trips to the mountains of Romania for campouts, often taking a bunch of friends from the church youth group.
Later on, the family started the tradition of a yearly trip to Antalya, Turkey, for even better beach vacations, and his parents still visit there regularly as a getaway destination.
As a young adult, Vali took the opportunity to travel with his brother throughout Europe, experiencing all of the adventure offered to young backpackers, staying at hostels and eating baguettes in the subways.
Stops included Rome, Paris, and Brussels. Along with all the regular sightseeing features, the trip involved lots of high-street shopping, much to Vali’s shagrine. Don’t tell him I mentioned it.
When the opportunity came up for a chance to go to college in the US, Vali jumped at the chance.
Thus began the path that led to eventually becoming a US citizen and living here permanently. If you’re curious, yes, that story involved meeting me.
Elizabeth’s travel history
I grew up in a small town in Western New York, where the concept of exotic foreign travel meant crossing the border into Canada.
With some encouragement from teachers in high school, I signed up for a summer trip to a Russian youth camp. With this first taste of international travel, my eyes were opened to how big the world was and the enticement of experiencing new places.
Turkey – Round one
My next international travel experience was just after college, to visit my Turkish roommate, in her hometown of Istanbul, Turkey. At the time, I soaked in all the sights and experiences voraciously, assuming it to be my once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit Turkey.
Stay tuned for the plot twist.
After that summer trip to Turkey, I moved to Colorado. I had just finished college at Cornell, and went to work in Greeley, the forgotten city of Colorado’s front range. Even though it’s not exactly in the mountains, you can see them, and it is close enough to get to lots of great day hikes on a bunch of Colorado’s fourteeners, several of which I climbed.
I also took the opportunity, living in Colorado for two years, to learn to snowboard. The snow on the East Coast doesn’t hold a candle to what they get out there!
Djibouti and Dubai
A few years later, I took another summer trip, this time to Djibouti, with a short stopover in Dubai. Djibouti was a hot and hard experience, and especially eye-opening to see the extreme poverty that marks the existence of so many on our planet.
Dubai was a startling contrast to the grime and grinding poverty of Djibouti. But it was also eye-opening to see the hints of injustice to the working class lurking just beneath the shiny glamour of the jewel of the desert.
But that trip led to something else. A desire and a call to live abroad for a longer period of time.
Turkey – Round Two
A chance encounter with some co-workers led me to the opportunity to teach English in Ankara, Turkey, and I jumped at it.
What was meant to be a one-year abroad experience turned into three years of living and working in Turkey.
Living in Turkey and traveling to all its remote corners, learning the language and trying to understand the heart of the Turk was an empowering and heart-shaping experience. I learned about myself that I could do hard and intimidating things that I didn’t know I could do.
I also came back to the United States after those three years with compassion for foreigners living abroad in my own country, and a real fascination and interest in people from all kinds of background.
A few years later, a wedding invitation (from that same Turkish roommate!) took me all the way around the world to Hong Kong for a brief taste of the Far East. The food, culture and landscape were all delightful.
I thought it was especially cool that the flights to and from the wedding took me on a complete circumnavigation of the globe!
Several years later saw me meeting Vali, and given my fascination with international people and culture (due to my experience living and traveling abroad), the rest is history.
Travels together as a family
Our honeymoon took us on a tour of several stops on the Eastern seaboard. The first stop was a two and a half day tour of our nation’s capital. It was Memorial Day weekend, and we managed to hit a big patriotic parade, which made the weekend extra memorable.
Second stop was a week in Charleston, SC. We hit the beach, strolled in the historic downtown, biked over the iconic bridge, and ate delicious fresh seafood. Definitely a romantic destination for two lovebirds like us!
The final stop was a spontaneous extension of our honeymoon that took us to Sarasota, FL. Why leave your honeymoon after one week when a quick call to the boss can extend it to two? We arrived in Sarasota in time for a half day at the beach, enough to get a sunburn, and then a tropical storm sweeping through meant we had a few days indoors to recover from the sunburns!
About a year and a half later, baby number one joined the family.
When she was about nine months old, we took an ill-fated trip to Burlington, Canada. Ill-fated because a snowstorm kept us from getting to our destination and forced us to stay with some relatives up there.
Which turned out to be a blessing in disguise anyway, because Vali came down with the flu, and would have been miserable, had we gotten to our intended destination.
My aunt and uncle were gracious enough to doctor him sympathetically, and entertain me and the baby for the whole weekend, even though it was an unplanned visit.
A year and a half after that, baby number two came along. Two weeks after baby sister was born, Vali headed across the pond to attend his brother’s destination wedding in Porto Santo Stefano, Italy.
I was a bit annoyed that they couldn’t have planned the wedding around our schedule a little bit better so that I could have gone (just kidding).
But I just didn’t think it was wise to take a two week old baby and a toddler on a two week trip to Italy. Still bummed I missed that trip though!
Vali had a great time though, and ate delicious Italian pizza just about every day.
Romania and Moldova
One year later, we packed up the three year old and the one year old and took a trip to visit the home country – Moldova!
The flight included a 12-hour layover in Vienna! Imagine! We survived however, and arrived safely in Bucharest.
The two week trip included a few days in Romania with Vali’s sister and their family, and a good long visit with his parents in Moldova.
The kids were too little to appreciate much sightseeing, so we kept that to a minimum, but tried to hit up as many playgrounds as possible.
The challenges of traveling with two toddlers were numerous, including trying to regulate sleeping and napping, convincing them to eat unfamiliar foods (that’s another story for another time), and keeping everyone happy during long plane and car rides.
But the rewards of the experience were worth it. It was such a joy to see the grandparents getting to connect and play with the little ones, and for the little ones to experience village life where their Tata had grown up.
Some might have suggested waiting until the kids were older so that they would remember more of the trip, but then we would have had three, or four, or five in tow, and that would not have made it any easier! But we are planning to go back with everyone, hopefully in the next couple of years.
So far the tales of our travels have mostly brought in the international ones. But that’s a bit unfair, as we have been here and there in the US, both individually and together as a family.
Letchworth State Park
We live practically next door to Letchworth State Park, often called the Grand Canyon of the East. Being so close means that it’s a frequent outing destination on a sunny afternoon. We’ll pack a picnic dinner, and hike and play there till bedtime.
We’ve explored many corners of the park, but still find that there’s always more to discover.
We also live relatively close to Niagara Falls, one of the world’s top tourist attractions. For awhile we made it a goal to get there at least once a year, and we’ve just about been able to do that.
Sometimes it’s the American side, and sometimes we’ll cross the bridge into Canada. Either way, there’s plenty to see and do, and it’s a perfect day trip for us without having to worry about finding a place to stay. The kids sleep so much better in their own beds, after all.
One of my favorite aunts lives in Riverhead, Long Island, so we’ve often made a family trip out to spend a long weekend with her.
Visiting family can make a trip feel more like an actual vacation for moms – someone else does the bulk of the cooking, and helps entertain and feed the kids.
Depending on the time of year we get down there, we’ve sometimes gone to the beach, or done some sightseeing at the towns and villages nearby.
Another popular destination for our family has been the Outer Banks, NC, again because of family living there. One of my favorite uncles lives in Buxton, and welcomes us, well, like family! A community pool and the nearby beach are of course favorites with the kids.
We also enjoy seeing the lighthouse and other popular and famous landmarks of the Outer Banks. And the playgrounds. Never underestimate the importance of giving little kids time on a playground!
Back before baby number four arrived, we took a second trip to Sarasota (honeymoon, remember?). This time no tropical storms interrupted our beach time, and we hit that beach hard!
We spent a few days at Siesta Beach, but then decided our favorite was Lido Key Beach.
It’s just a bit smaller and quieter, and the water is just a short stretch of sand away from the steps from the board walk. Much more manageable with a troup of young kids in tow.
An alligator reserve was another memorable outing on this trip, and my oldest still talks about the roseate spoonbills from that day.
Apparently, that was more memorable than the alligators, of which there were many.