Our World Cruise Journey to Educating Children about Geography

by Sandy and Darren Van Soye

Sandy and Darren Van Soye are traveling the world educating children about geography
Sandy and Darren Van Soye are traveling the world educating children about geography

We decided to put our lives on hold to educate 55,000 students about the world’s grand procession of countries and cultures, by devoting 424 days to cover 50 countries and six continents. By cruise ship, rail, bus and by foot, we flew only when absolutely necessary, so we can experience the world on a human level. Then, we’d relay what we’ve discovered to K-12 youth around the world who are following our travels to learn about world geography.

We’re seasoned travelers, but this journey is on a scale we’ve never attempted before. Last March, we decided to do it after seeing how travel shaped our college-aged daughters, who have gone on to select majors that focus on international affairs. It’s also clear to us that geography is a foreign subject for so many American students, as statistics show their knowledge is well below average.

Also, we couldn’t stop thinking of a four-month world trip we took with our girls in 2003. Their entire middle school tracked our journey and bombarded us with questions when we returned. We wanted to formalize that experience by recruiting teachers and creating lesson plans, and to our amazement, 800-plus classrooms, representing more than 55,000 students in 20 countries, have signed up! We’re tweeting, posting on Facebook, updating our website, taking questions and posting pictures and videos to share our experiences. It’s been a busy trip so far!

Right now, as this blog posts, we’ve just disembarked Ocean Princess in Singapore and are about to start our land trek in Asia. Although we’ve already been gone more than two months, it seems like just yesterday we departed San Diego aboard Pacific Princess to head across the Pacific Ocean. The days leading up to the trip were a nerve-wrecking blend of fear and excitement. What kept us up at night the most was the fear that we’d forget to pack the correct chargers and adapters for our laptops, cameras and phones.  As IT professionals (retired or on hiatus, we aren’t sure yet), we know how imperative it is to have the right tools to create lesson plans and communicate with students.

The night before we left, we had dinner with our daughters and both sets of our parents. It’s going to be hard being away from Lauren, 21, and Kristen, 18, but Sandy’s parents live nearby and our daughters have reassured us they’ll be okay. We talked about how happy we’ll be when we meet them this summer in Germany.

On the first segment of our cruise aboard Pacific Princess and on this leg aboard Ocean Princess, we’re savoring the abundance of good food, working out in the gym and dropping books from laps as we doze off on deck chairs. In contrast, the next portions of our trek will be extremely rugged. We’ve already experienced some of these challenging overland days. Between the two cruises, we spent three weeks in Australia. The highlight of that time was a seven-day bushwalk on the island of Tasmania, called the Overland Track. On this beautiful 50-mile hike, we pitched our own tent and cooked with our small gas stove (no stateroom steward here!). We’ll be taking 11 more long hikes throughout our world tour, with two being particularly daunting—one through Nepal’s remote, northern region of Mustang and another that will take us through Kyrgyzstan’s rugged mountains. We’re also planning an Arctic Circle hike through the northernmost backcountry of Sweden. All of our experiences will be shared with classrooms around the world in our updates.

Our luggage tells the story: ship-side bags contain captain’s table-worthy clothing, after all we can’t wear our polyester hiking pants and mosquito nets on board, and our two rolling duffel bags are geometrically arranged with backpacks, emergency rations and compact cubes of clothing for much of the land portions of our journey.

We’ve already sent out nine education modules to our classroom subscribers on subjects ranging from our first port of call in Hawaii, to exploring the Great Barrier Reef, which we just visited during our Ocean Princess cruise. Each week we cover geography, population, nature, climate and hint about where we’ll go next. We also plan to visit schools along the way to tell them about our journey and to learn more about their culture. Already, while on Pacific Princess, we were able to visit a school in American Samoa. Next on our itinerary is a month in Southeast Asia. Then we’ll keep going, continuing through Asia, Europe, the Arctic Circle, Africa and South America.

Finally, in March 2013, we’ll return to the port of Los Angeles on the last of our five cruises on Princess cruise ships—tired, exhilarated, eager to see our daughters and changed in ways we cannot imagine. At that point, it’ll be just a few more miles to go until we return to our Orange County, Calif. home.

To follow our trek, check trekkingtheplanet.net or find us on Facebook.com/TrekkingPlanet.