Around the World in Fifteen Months … With a Family

by Yolanda Felton

The thought of taking a trip around the globe had crossed my mind many times. The way our trip played out was not necessarily the way I’d envisioned it, but having our daughter along for the ride made it truly unforgettable.


THE DECISION
In July of 2016, my husband Brandon and I decided to embark on an epic journey…with a baby (Lily was one at the time) and dog (toy Yorkie Baron) in tow. We made this choice after coming to the realization that preschool was looming, and the days of picking up and hopping on a plane at a moment’s notice would soon be a distant memory. We’d traveled on our own for years before having Lily, so we felt comfortable with international travel. Still we’d never taken Lily outside the country, so we weren’t sure what to expect.

Uruguay wine country.JPG


THE ITINERARY
Our itinerary included Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, and the Caribbean. We visited 26 countries in the span of 15 months. About a dozen of the countries were new for Brandon and I, and of course they were all new to Lily. We decided to spend significant chunks of time in places we’d previously visited, while trying a few new places in each region. It seemed easier to start such a huge trip with some familiar stops, especially since we were traveling with a one-year- old.

We started the European leg of our trip in Finland, followed by Estonia. We next went to Italy, where we held a vow renewal in Tuscany with close family and friends. We then stopped in Greece, followed by Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Serbia, and Romania. From Europe we hopped to South Africa, where we spent an incredible month in Cape Town. We then returned to the states for quick holiday visits with our families in New Orleans, Atlanta, and Columbus. We next flew down to the Caribbean and visited Cuba and St. Maarten. South America started with two months in our beloved Argentina. We’d first fallen in love with Argentina on our initial visit to Buenos Aires, thirteen years prior to our trip. Since then, we’ve tried to visit every few years…just to soak up the culture and enjoy the unbelievably good food and wine. While there, we visited Uruguay. After a few days back home in Los Angeles (Lily needed to see her pediatrician), we started the Asia leg of our trip in the Philippines. From the
Philippines we traveled to Vietnam, where we spent a month exploring the country. We next
visited Korea, Japan, and China. Before heading home, we decided to do one more summer tour
of Europe.

We visited the Puglia region of Italy, and spent an unbelievable month in Sicily. We returned to Greece, adding the island of Kefalonia, and a quintessentially Greek week outside Thessanoliki. We also visited Poland, Croatia, Bosnia, Austria, Switzerland, Germany (for Oktoberfest), and Ukraine. Visiting Prague again was a must. We also had to go back to the Budapest Wine Festival, which was one of our favorite experiences during both of our European
summer tours.

THE FAVORITES

 Vow renewal in Tuscany, Italy. (photo cred: Donatella Barbera and Damiano Salvador of D2 Photography)

Vow renewal in Tuscany, Italy. (photo cred: Donatella Barbera and Damiano Salvador of D2 Photography)

BEACH

Clifton 4th Beach, just outside Cape Town, is my absolute favorite urban beach. The pristine white sand meets the vibrant blue water with a cinematic quality, while the mountains above are dotted with gorgeous beach houses. It’s not overly commercial, but there are always a few guys selling umbrellas and chairs, as well as water and ice cream. It’s perfect for a day of relaxation while visiting Cape Town. Varadero Beach in Cuba is a close second. The stunning blue-green waters are some of the clearest I’ve ever seen. Varadero stretches for miles, so it’s very possible
to walk a bit and feel like you’re on a private beach.

CITY
There’s only one city in the world I’ve consistently thought about moving to. Buenos Aires is a dream of a place. The food, the wine, the people, the design, the tango…I fall in love with it all over again, each and every time I visit. I have to get my ribeye and Malbec fix at least every few years. The time we spent in Buenos Aires on this trip was nothing short of magical. Along with side trips to Bariloche, Mendoza, and Uruguay, it made our time in South America one of the highlights.


FOOD
My favorite place to eat in the world is Tuscany. Florence is a great base, but the entire region is full of the best food and wine that Italy has to offer (which is saying a lot). I love the local cheeses and salami, the gelato, the handmade pastas, and of course bistecca fiorentina. When we renewed our vows in the area, the caterers prepared a five-course meal that topped anything we’d ever experienced. We started with an antipasti spread that could have fed a small village. There was salad, followed by two fantastic pastas, and some of the best steak I’ve ever had. I could easily spend a month eating my way through Tuscany. Crete, in Greece, is my runner up. The entire island is packed with incredible tavernas and the best local products, like olive oil and
honey.


TRANQUILITY
Kyoto, Japan, is the most tranquil, utterly zen-like place I’ve ever been. I will keep returning for that reason alone. It also has great food and nightlife, but I really enjoy just relaxing in and around the many gardens and temples. Ryoan-ji Temple’s zen garden is a breathtakingly beautiful study in simplicity. For an off-the beaten path escape from reality, Malfa, on the island of Salina (in Sicily), is our new favorite place. Imagine waking up to a freshly prepared breakfast
overlooking the sea, alternating between pool time and snacking on Sicilian delights throughout the day, then settling in for dinner and a drink while watching a distant volcano. That is life in Malfa, and I could have lived it for much longer than the week we spent at the Hotel Ravesi.

MY PASSION
The thing I look forward to the most when traveling is connecting with people. Sure, I love trying exotic foods and wines. I love seeing jaw-dropping natural landscapes and experiencing dynamic urban areas. That all pales in comparison to meeting a person on the other side of the world, engaging them in conversation, and inevitably reaching the conclusion that we’re more alike than different. More than anything we purchased along the way, we will
treasure the people we encountered in our fifteen months of traveling. We met amazing people who opened their hearts and homes to us. There was the family in Bucharest, Romania, who invited us into their home and prepared a local feast, complete with homemade wine. The couple we met on a Halong Bay cruise in Vietnam, who then hosted us at their home in Switzerland last summer. The family we met at a hotel on an island in Sicily, whose children became some of Lily’s first close friends. There were reunions with friends we’d made traveling years earlier in
Slovenia and Croatia.


TRAVELING WITH A SMALL CHILD
I had to learn a lot about traveling with a toddler, quickly. Our good friends got us the GB Pockit stroller, and it was a lifesaver. It’s literally the world’s smallest stroller, so tiny that most airlines allowed us to carry it on and put it in the overhead bin. On flights, I’d always bring an array of toys, activities, and snacks to keep Lily entertained. Coloring books and stickers usually help buy some time. Most European airlines provide some kind of toy or activity for every child. If all else fails, I carry Lily’s tablet and a queue full of her favorite shows. The biggest lesson I learned while traveling with a toddler was to just be flexible. Seeing how Lily adapted to new surroundings helped us relax and do the same.

 Lily at the beach outside Thessaloniki at Sunset (photo cred: Michael Jeje)

Lily at the beach outside Thessaloniki at Sunset (photo cred: Michael Jeje)

SPECIAL MOMENTS
One experience we will never forget is the week we spent in Volvi, Greece. New friends who we’d met in Hoi Ann, Vietnam invited us to stay at their family home there. Michael and Afroditi, or Diti, from Wales, told us about Diti’s incredible family back in Greece. They talked at length about Petros and Soula, Diti’s aunt and uncle who are essentially her second set of parents. When they left Hoi Ann, they invited us to visit them and stay with Petros and Soula near Thessaloniki that summer. It was an offer we couldn’t refuse. Petros and Soula went above and beyond in making us feel like members of their extended family…while speaking only a few words of English. Luckily, Diti was there to translate. At the end of the day, our real connections were made through smiles, gestures, and copious amounts of delicious Greek food and wine. Soula is a gifted chef, and each dish was expertly prepared with the freshest ingredients, including vegetables from the abundant garden. Greek varieties of white wine, always on target
in the summer, were the perfect accompaniment for the beautiful food. Petros and Soula fed us like we were preparing to hibernate for the winter, and no one was about to complain. On our last night, Petros and Soula prepared a true feast, capped off by traditional music with drumming and dancing. We ended our time in Volvi the way it had started…drinking to great friends and new
adventures.

 Dinner in Volvi (photo cred: Michael Jeje)

Dinner in Volvi (photo cred: Michael Jeje)

TIPS AND TRICKS
We consistently accumulate airline points using credit cards. For this trip, we used our points to fly mostly business and occasionally first class from continent to continent. It made a huge difference, especially since Lily was on my lap until she was two. For our other trips, we flew discount carriers when we could, saving a lot of money in the process. We primarily rented homes using Airbnb. We did splurge on hotels a few times, but we primarily paid for the hotels using points we’d accumulated on hotel cards (Starwood American Express, Hyatt Card, Fairmont Card). Our points allowed us to stay places like the Park Hyatt Buenos Aires, and got us killer suites at the Fairmonts in Shanghai and Makati (outside Manila). We also made sure to spend the most time in places where you get more bang for your buck. In places like Vietnam, the whole country is relatively inexpensive for Americans. Even in Europe, there are cities like
Prague, where you can eat well and enjoy the culture on a few dollars a day. When taking a long- term trip, saving where you can becomes key.

Yolanda has been blogging about travel since 2012. Her passion for travel started when she got her first passport at 17, and she’s been endlessly planning her next adventure since. Yolanda’s current country count is 56, and she’s lived in six U.S. cities. Other than being a mom, Yolanda believes her purpose in life is to eat good food and drink great wine.

Yolanda is based in Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband, daughter, and dog. She studied political science at Spelman College, and went to law school at Louisiana State University. In a former life, Yolanda was an attorney, with a practice concentration in labor and employment. She currently runs her own real estate brokerage, and occasionally acts on TV and in films. Follow @eatdrinktravelmom on Instagram for more.