The Swenson family of five will soon don their backpacks and take off for Beijing, the first stop in a year-long quest to make the entire world their home, their classroom -- their adventure.
William and Jess Swenson are 36 and 34, respectively, and their children are Ezra, 7; Theo, 6; and Vesper, 4. They caught the travel bug as a family three years ago when they drove to Montana -- 3,000 miles in 10 days, covering eight states.
"Not only did we survive, we really thrived," Jess said. "It felt like if we could do this, we really could do anything with our hooligans."
Last April the five of them visited England, where they were tourists for a week in London before traveling two hours away to be "locals" and housesit at an English farm.
"It was nice to have a house -- we did school work, my husband worked a little bit," Jess said, noting with a laugh that it was a hobbyist farm so the upkeep was not too grueling.
They immediately began to plan another journey.
"We knew we wanted to take a longer trip within the next year," William said. "At first, we discussed a six-week European trip by saving vacation time."
Then his Pleasanton-based employer announced a Roseville relocation.
"At that point, we tossed every idea out on the table, including pausing life here and taking a trip around the world," he said.
Meanwhile, Jess had read a book about a family who had done something similar, which she shared with William.
"Then his mother was diagnosed with lung cancer and at the end of June, she passed away," Jess recalled. "This triggered it for my husband -- he said, 'We are not promised tomorrow.'"
The family sold most of their possessions, rented out their house and put their careers on hold to travel the globe westward. They will begin by visiting China, Thailand, Bali, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. From there, they will travel to South Africa, Morocco and western Europe.
Jess, an Amador Valley High grad and a former fifth-grade teacher at Vintage Hills Elementary, was already homeschooling the children so she was used to constant togetherness. Now she is excited about the hands-on learning that will take place.
"We won't be homeschooling; we will be world schooling for a year," she said. "We will be learning by doing very hands-on experiences."
"Instead of reading about the Great Wall of China, we will hike it. We'll snorkel the Great Barrier Reef and take an African safari for our science lessons," she added.
They will all keep journals with mom supplying the photos. Over the past four years she has built up a business, J. Swenson Photography, after mentoring with top newborn photographers in the industry. She specializes in maternity through the first year.
"They each have a kindle to download books. We will read about a place and then go visit it," Jess said.
"Thankfully they are not picky eaters -- they will try anything once," she added.
The housesitting is an important part of their plan. They signed up to stay at homes locally to get good reviews on a housesitting website, and so far they have four lined up in Australia and one in France.
"We hope to do more in Europe," Jess said. "We have everything pretty much planned out until March when we are in Europe, where it will be easier to get around and to book something at the last minute."
They are visiting friends in Spain, and they may volunteer some time at a summer camp in Croatia. They have a friend in South Africa with an orphanage, which they plan to visit.
They will celebrate Vesper's fifth birthday in March at Disneyland Paris, a family tradition since the boys celebrated their fifth birthdays at Disneyland in Anaheim. They hope other members of their family will join them.
For now they are staying with Jess's parents in Castlewood until they leave for China on Oct. 16. And they are packing their backpacks with precision, including a Scrubba, a ribbed bag to wash clothes while traveling.
"We are totally paring down -- to two pairs of shoes, five tops and bottoms," Jess said.
She noted the children have a sense of responsibility about their own backpacks.
"They know that mom and dad are carrying their own things, they can't carry yours, too," she said.
They each included one favorite toy to bring on the trip.
"It's all about attitude," Jess said. "Making it an adventure yourself helps them to have an adventure. And you have to really be flexible."
She said after the birth of her third child she learned to go with the flow, to be flexible and know you can still have adventures.
"What I really learned when packing up is that kids can do really well without a lot of stuff," she said. "And I have seen an increase in their outdoor play."
Although some people may point out that the children are too young to remember this adventure, Jess refers to the renowned British educator Charlotte Mason who said that educators and parents "spread an abundant and delicate feast in what we share and teach our children, and then each small guest assimilates what he or she can."
"So this year, we are spreading a feast of adventure, sociology, economics, mathematics, art, history, science and world geography," Jess said.
She also remarked that although children may not remember you reading to them every day, it is still important.
"One of our personal goals as parents is to instill a brave and adventuresome spirit, a thirst for learning, as well as a heart of compassion for others," she said. "Although they may not remember every aspect of this trip, it's definitely a stepping stone to develop and nurture these disciplines."
Their experiences in the coming year will change them, she said, and give them a greater appreciation for others, for themselves, and for the world.
"And we plan to be ready to pick up life in the Bay Area. But who can really say? We'll be open to any ideas we toss out on our table," she said.
"We will come back changed for sure, with a different perspective."
Follow the adventure
The Swenson family created a YouTube channel to vlog their upcoming adventures (http://bit.ly/2x5lsLR) and is also on Instagram as "letsadventuresomemore."