Fantasy or Reality? ‘The Trip’ Beckons.

I’d settled down to read the other night when Levi swiveled his desk chair toward me. “Dad,” he said in an insistent tone, “we should really do the trip.”

The Trip, in our household parlance, can mean only one thing. It’s part of nearly every dinner conversation. The Trip colors our discussions about finances, about Levi’s education, about the meaning of life.


The Trip came to life thanks to this column. In April, Levi and I wrote about my fantasy of taking him on a half-year father-son journey to trace the history of Western civilization back to the roots of the first humans in Africa. It was a crazy notion, but one that struck at the core of my curiosity about the world, at my gnawing sense that we’re growing complacent, and at my fear that time is slipping away to share adventures with my son.

But I knew it was a pipe dream.

Our readers didn’t agree. For weeks, they wrote urging us to take the journey. Parents who’d taken world trips with kids wrote that they’d never regretted the financial sacrifices. A retired reader said that, sitting in my rocking chair at age 89, I’d probably regret not having done it.

Others around me, from my wife to my editor, began subtly suggesting I think seriously about it. Slowly at first, and then more insistently, The Trip began to take form as a real thing on the horizon.

Here’s the basic scheme: Levi and I launch up the Nile from Egypt into Sudan early next year, then travel overland through Ethiopia toward Tanzania. We seek sites where anthropologists have found traces of the first humans while striking out occasionally toward remote villages where we can experience contemporary life. We trace the early migration routes to the sites of the first cities of Western civilization, feeding on Levi’s passion for history.

Along the way, we have a royal adventure full of education, joys and tribulations. We grow closer and probably grow sick of each other.

There are many reasons why this is a terrible idea: It would cost a bundle and set Levi behind in school; I know nothing about this region; we have a perfectly comfortable life here; people just don’t do this kind of thing.

I voiced these through the summer. Levi found counter-arguments: “Couldn’t we rent the house out?” “If others don’t do this, isn’t that a reason to do it?”

“I was thinking,” he said out of the blue this fall: “A year isn’t that long. I’d be willing to fall back a year in school if it meant we could take The Trip.”

Still, I dithered.

Wouldn’t Karen resent being left behind? “Actually, it could be a really productive time for me,” she countered. Wouldn’t my boss object? “I like the idea,” he said when I broached it.

I’m now running out of objections.

Money is a tool. Time is a tool. Is The Trip a good use of these tools I’ve been blessed with, far more than I deserve?

“Dad, let’s just do it,” Levi just said again.

LEVI: When I tell Dad that we should take this trip, I am not just saying it. I mean it.

I admit that I was skeptical at first. Could I really miss half a year of school? Wouldn’t that mess up my education, making it so I couldn’t get a job in the future, forcing me to live a life of poverty?

Would we have to sell our house to make up for the trip and then move somewhere cheaper to live? How could I live without my iPod, computer, Facebook and all the things I take for granted? What if I was hurt on the trip, or kidnapped?

Over the weeks and months, I’ve found ways to rebut these concerns.

I went to my school counselor to talk about The Trip, figuring there was no way that I could do it and keep up with the other kids in my grade. But my counselor told me that she would bring it up with the other counselors and the principal. The next week, she told me that there was a way I could take my mandatory courses online while I was traveling and take a test at the end to pass them.

Maybe, I thought, I wouldn’t have to panhandle for a living later in life, after all.

Moving wouldn’t be too bad, either. Sure, our house is nice, but I wouldn’t mind living a simpler life for the experiences I could gain on this trip.

As for my beloved gadgets: The more I thought about it, the more I began to wonder if cutting the technology ties wouldn’t be such a bad thing. I spend so many hours glued to my computer screen or tuning out from life on my iPod that I’m not able to appreciate so many other things going on around me. Six months away from most of my technology would help me look at life in a different way.

Last February, Dad and I went on a weeklong trip to Mexico. With all the new experiences, it felt like a month. If we went on this trip, the educational value would be immense. It would draw us out of our predictable lives and throw us into a sea of new experiences. If each week felt as long as the Mexico trip, then this trip would feel like more than two years.

The only one of my worries I haven’t been able to get around is safety — which was a concern some readers raised as well. But I also believe that danger is part of life; I’ll have to take the risk to get the full experience out of this trip.

Even though there are countless reasons why not to go on this trip, I think we should just, as Dad sometimes puts it, “take a leap of faith.”

—Steve Yoder is chief of The Wall Street Journal’s San Francisco bureau. His son Isaac is 19 years old and a college sophomore. His son Levi is 15 years old and a high-school sophomore.
Email: yoder&

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