Living like locals in foreign countries |

Living like locals in foreign countries

Matt Terrell
Vail CO, Colorado
NWS Traveling Family PU 6-23-07

AVON ” The Donovans make their first stop in North Carolina ” and that’s where they’ll say good-bye to American familiarity.

Next comes a month in Costa Rica. Then a month in Ecuador. A month in Ghana. Then Kenya. Tanzania. India. Thailand. Vietnam. New Zealand.

When the Donovans leave Colorado on July 7, they won’t return until the end of May 2008. They’ll be traveling light ” less than 33 pounds of luggage each will have to last mom, dad, three kids and a grandmother nearly a year. Internet connections will be iffy. Anti-malaria pills will become a household phrase. New food will be a daily test of courage for the children. Their classroom will be the ancient temples, slave ports, elephants, mountains, oceans, hidden cities and languages that most kids only read about in geography books.

They’re dropping everything ” jobs, friends, and the Colorado lifestyle ” for the ultimate cultural odyssey, the kind of trip that inspires novels, speaking tours and guest spots on Oprah.

“Why?” is a common question.

News of their upcoming journey has been a surprise for many people they know, but the reaction is usually a smile and a “wow” and a little admiration for the guts and gusto needed to pull it off.

And there are those who call them crazy.

They rented out their home for a year. Pat Donovan quit his job with Vail Resorts and resigned from the Eagle County Board of Education. He regrets not being able to finish his term, and his career is something he’ll think about more when he returns. Marcy Donovan, a part-time yoga instructor in Avon and former elementary teacher, will focus more on teaching her family yoga on the trip ” P.E. class, she calls it.

When Pat and Marcy talk about why they would do something like this, you hear them talk about what a relief it is to step away from their busy lives and focus on the family. They see it as the ultimate educational experience, something that can’t be replicated by television, the Internet or even the most imaginative teachers. It’s a chance to show themselves and their children that there’s more to life than the slopes of Colorado, Pat said.

“We want to show the kids what else is out there,” Marcy said. “It will be one of their biggest growth years academically.”

The kids, Sean, Max and Kaitlyn, will have to get used to home schooling and life away from their friends. Jeanne Cunningham, Marcy’s mother and a former school teacher, will also take on the role as a teacher on the trip. Pat and Marcy thought now was a perfect time for a year-long hiatus from Colorado, before their kids grow into the thick social realm of high school.

Touring developing and third-world countries also has the plus of being a relatively inexpensive trip, at least compared to a year-long tour of Europe. With no disrespect intended to the wide variety of cultures of Europe ” there are still too many similarities shared with these developed countries, Pat said.

“Europe is different but not different,” Pat said. “This is a more challenging way to travel.”

Max Donovan is stoked about riding elephants in Thailand.

It costs just 32 Thai bahts, or 92 U.S. cents, to ride one, he tells the family. His brother Sean, the youngest, is hoping to spot an Anaconda in the jungle.

The Donovans, who will no doubt indulge in a few touristy adventures, will for the most part live like locals. They won’t be staying in resorts or hotels ” they’ll be renting houses for a month or two at a time.

While they don’t know exactly where they’ll be living in some countries ” or if they can even secure visas ” they do have some ideas of what they want to see and do.

After a couple months on the beaches of Costa Rica, they’ll be living in the Andes mountains in Ecuador, where they’ll see volcanoes and Indian ruins.

In Ghana, they hope to visit some of the ports that first brought slaves to the United States. Kenya will be safari time, a place to see lions, giraffes and even gorillas if they venture into the mountains.

India will be lush jungle and home to Hindu temples. Thailand, along with Max’s much anticipated elephants, will have some great scuba diving.

Vietnam will offer a glimpse into what the locals call “The American War.” New Zealand (or Australia, they haven’t decided for sure) will be their scenic, picture postcard last stop.

All these stops will envelop the family in local culture. They hope to interact with people, learn a little language, learn history and eat the food you wouldn’t normally eat. The kids will keep travel journals to remember it all.

“If you get hungry enough, you’ll be ready to try something,” Cunningham said, who along with the children, is a bit wary of foreign cuisine. Pat and Marcy aren’t so worried about it.

Staff writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or

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