A Little Announcement…My Niece is Coming to Thailand with Me!

My niece Ana and me at Disney

My niece Ana and me at Disney World over the summer

If I were forced to attach a label to myself as a traveler, it would probably be something along the lines of “solo twenty-something traveler” because that pretty much sums up the last three years or so of traveling. I traveled, mostly alone though with often with friends, and after that first year around the world I interspersed my trips with chunks of time back home in Florida with my family.

So, with that in mind, for those who have followed my story and my journey over the past nearly three years, a completely new adventure is starting! In late October, my niece Ana and I will leave for Asia for six-ish months of travel and homeschooling from the road.

This is a pretty big change for both of us and it has been cooking behind the scenes for a several months now. The short of the situation is this: my brother (her father) and I discussed (at great lengths) the pros and cons of her traveling right now, with me. And the pros won out. In fact, they overwhelmingly won out.

Ana is 11 years old and entered the six grade this month; in the US, this means she would have entered a whole new school, a new set of friends, and a new chapter in her life. All the family weighed in, and we decided that instead of enrolling her in middle school right away, she will spend some months on the road with me. The process has already begun and this past week we started our first attempts at homeschooling, the style of learning we’ll be doing once we leave to travel through Asia.

It’s been a bumpy start :)

But, Ana is cautiously optimistic about it all. There are elements she’s thrilled to consider, and others that are tough for an 11 year old to accept (the friends, she doesn’t want to leave her friends). On my end, I have the opportunity and ability to give her this and more than anything I want her to see the world differently, to participate, to experience, and to expand her understanding beyond the microcosm of life presented to her in Florida.

At this point you may have some questions, here are the ones I can think of, leave any others in the comments!

Is this a late April Fools’ Day joke?

No joke, it’s happening! We have our tickets, we have a plan, and I am so very, very excited at the prospect of sharing this coming year with my niece. I am very close with my family despite traveling a lot, so although a wacky idea to be sure, I promise you it’s not completely out of the blue.

Okay, it’s happening, but how will you homeschool her through sixth grade?

I plan to get more into this topic once we actually have the hang of it, but the bulk of her homeschooling will be done online through a free program offered by the state of Florida for residents, Florida Virtual School. The state offers online classes for sixth through 12th grade and all classes are taught by state-certified teachers. She will take her core classes through this program and supplement those with learning about the people, places and foods in Asia…and really I can’t think of a better sixth grade year than that! When we come back next summer she will have a sixth grade equivalency in the core subjects (math, science, English, and social studies) and she will have so much more than equivalency in intangible subjects like culture, compassion, and perspective :)

Golden Buddha statues at Doi Suthep temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand

How many traditional 6th graders take field trips to see the golden Buddhas at Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep?!

Where are you going and why?

We’ll start our trip in Chiang Mai mostly because when the plan cropped up, I thought: “Where in the world do I feel most comfortable, knowledgeable, and with a good travel-support community?” And the answer is Chiang Mai, Thailand. We toyed with the idea of traveling through South or Central America, but settled on Asia for this trip in particular.  I told her she could pick our Asia-route after we spend a few months in Chiang Mai, once she’s more familiar and comfortable with her new world.

Aren’t you scared to bring a child to Asia?

Um…kinda terrified. :)

But not scared of Asia, it’s more of a healthy does of caution (mixed with excitement) about this entire new journey. Southeast Asia is quite safe, hence the reason we’re starting there, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that traveling with someone else’s life firmly in my hands ups the anti just a bit. Thai culture really loves children, so I have no doubt that we’ll be well-received and welcomed with the same open smiles and eager friendliness I’ve experienced even without a child in tow.

I know the world to be an inherently safe place and there are kind and welcoming people in every country, continent, and new city, I see this with my own eyes every time I leave the USA. So yes, there is trepidation about leaving with my niece, there are worries and concerns to address, there are precautions I will take with her that I wouldn’t necessarily do for myself, but there is danger everywhere in the world and I would hate to be a role model of fear for her. There are different dangers in Asia, but not necessarily more dangers than American suburbia.

What will you do over there in Asia?

No super-firm plans other than starting with a couple months in Chiang Mai, Thailand. There are a bunch of child-friendly activities near the city so we’ll explore these, learn about food and generally settle more into the Thai culture. I also plan to volunteer with her regularly, finding opportunities where she can help in some capacity and experience the new cultures from a different perspective than as a mere tourist; Chiang Mai has a lot of opportunities for this and that is also a reason we’re going there first!

What does Ana think of all this?

The jury is still out. As I said before, “cautiously excited” would be the best way to describe it. She has had a lot of new circumstances thrown at her between the homeschooling and the prepping for a trip to Asia and she is processing all of this and asking a lot of questions. I am involving her in as much as the travel planning as she wants, so that has helped generate excitement and interest.

There were two turning points recently for her: 1) When I mentioned we could hug elephants at the Elephant Rehabilitation Center outside of Chiang Mai she was thrilled at the prospect and 2) I told her she could start a blog about her trip…this got squeals of excitement about the stories she will tell and the photos she will post to make her friends jealous :)

What does this mean for A Little Adrift?

Things will go on as usual on the site: my travel stories, photos and tips. And now that Ana is with me, you can expect the ups and downs of our journey as well! I am still back-logged with stories from travels earlier this year so those will fill the gap until we leave, then you can expect regular updates and stories about our journey. Some will still be about solo travel, vegetarian travel, and once we have some time under our belt I’ll share any lessons we learn about homeschooling from the road! Some of the obstacles and hurdles I’m battling right now include: What paperwork do I need to leave the country with a child who is not actually mine? Which shots and vaccinations are appropriate for a child? How do I explain fractions and pre-algebra when it’s been 15 years since I learned it?!  :)

To start this new phase of the journey I’m launching the ALA Newsletter — subscribe to the ALA Newsletter and follow the journey; you’ll get more personal updates, never more than once a month, as well as travel tips, news, and any giveaways that come my way!

We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming this week on A Little Adrift and over the next few months I’ll sporadically update you on our travel prep and plans. Any other questions, leave me a comment or send me an email!

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  • Looking forward to reading about this new stage in your journey and hopefully meeting you and Ana in Chiang Mai this fall. 

    • Anonymous

      I would love that!! And if not we may just have to come to where ever you are in Asia :)

  • Wow – that was unexpected! What an amazing experience for Ana.  Looking forward to seeing you both in Chiang Mai.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Erin! Can’t wait to hang out again, and this time over some delicious veggie eats in CM  :)

  • Anthony Secco

    You both will have a ball.  Also, you’re probably the coolest aunt ever.

    • Anonymous

      Hehe, thanks Anthony, having fun already plotting and planning. Any chance you’re coming to Asia too?! :)

  • “Best Aunt of the Year or Forever–Whichever is Longest” award! But I already told you that :-D

    Such an amazing experience for her. I can only imagine how much this will enrich her life. You could be starting something she will never get over :-)

    • Anonymous

      Aww! Thanks James! I keep trying to tell her how much I rock ;-)

  • Yay! 

  • What an exciting opportunity for the two of you! I’m so glad that Ana and her parents are so interested in her seeing more of the world and being exposed to new experiences like this at this time. 

    When my family lived in Gabon when I was in 6-7th grade, my best friend from the States and I dreamed up the idea that she should live with me in Africa for 7th grade. Don’t ask me how, but we somehow convinced both of our parents to go for it. She came to live with my family for a year, went to school with me (we were 2 of 7 students in our class at the international school) and I had a sister for the first time in my life. It was a great experience for both of us. 

    Really looking forward to following along with the two of you in this new adventure.  

    • Anonymous

      Wow! That is a really neat story Audrey, I can’t believe her parents went for it, especially since pre-widespread internet her family was likely a lot less connected than mine will be with us! And the idea of having a friend and confidant to process through that experience no doubt altered how you perceived your time in Africa (I’ve always wanted a sister too, so that year must have been so wonderful for the both of you).  Thanks for the support :)

  • how exciting, shannon! i look forward to following your new adventures and good luck to both of ya!! x

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Laura! Any chance I can lure you away from Ireland for a visit to Asia?….or maybe I just need to plot out how to get back to Ireland! :)

  • Shannon, this is incredible news, and totally unexpected! How exciting it must be for the both of you. Looking forward to hearing all about the preparation in the lead up to the trip and of course the new stories from the road – in particular I’ll be very interested to see how this changes your travel style as well as how the way you’re perceived & received by locals changes since I guess you’ll be identified as a mother or big sister rather than as a young solo female traveler. 

    Your itinerary past Chiang Mai is obviously up in the air but I’m going to throw Nepal out there as a suggestion – I know you’ve already been there but I think it would be a great place to take a kid – and there were loads of youngsters in and around Kathmandu and Pokhara with their families when I was there last year. 

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for the support Meganl I really do often wonder about how the reactions and interactions will change since most people will likely right off assume that she is my child! Thanks for the Nepal nudge, it’s been there in the back of my mind for a while as a possible stop but I hadn’t seriously considered it…but I did love my time there and it’s encouraging to know that there are lots of other families…hmm.. you have me thinking! :)

  • Mary

    I will be in Chiang Mai then and I have a 12 year old, I am sure we will meet up:)

    • Anonymous

      Oh perfect! That would be really amazing, I would love to meet up and see if our kiddos hit it off :)

  • Anonymous

    Shannon, what an amazing opportunity for personal growth, knowledge and culture for both of you. I wish I had an aunt as cool as you when I was in the sixth grade!

    • Anonymous

      Thank you!! She really does just have no idea yet how cool it is that we can do this– I would have been over the moon at the prospect of traveling back then!  :)

  • Joanne

    Angela!! You are going to have soooo much fun! When the kids started homeschooling they were worried and cautious and we were doing it in the states – think of the opportunities that you are going to have this year that NO OTHER child you know will be having. I think it is tremendous and cannot wait to subscribe to your blog. You can be sure that Cai and Jinn are jealous as are ALL of your friends! LOL! Big hugs and kisses coming your way!!!!

    • Anonymous

      I read her your comment and she giggled something fierce!! And then asked when we were coming over :)  hehe, xoxo

  • Ivy J.

    Awesome! I’ve been wanting to take my little sister (she’s 12) on a trip for so long. Let me know how it works out, and how many coolness points you earn for this ;)

    • Anonymous

      Perhaps once Ana and I pull this off you will have a case to make for taking your sister with you :)  I’ll keep you posted, I think the cool factor on my end will kick in once we actually leave!

  • Anonymous

    That is such an amazing opportunity for both you and your niece! I’m sure it’s an experience that she is going to treasure–even if she can’t fully embrace it now, it’s certainly something that will stick with her the rest of her life. Best aunt ever! 

    • Anonymous

      Thank you Christine! I think she’ll come on board with the idea once we leave :)  You still potentially coming through SEA next year? (I think we discussed this?!) 

      • Anonymous

        It’s definitely still a possibility! My Australia visa expires in February, and I’ll need somewhere cheap to hang out for a bit–so Chiang Mai is a top possibility!

  • As you know, I have no doubt that this is going to be a positive experience for everyone involved and it will be interesting to read about Ana’s perspective on life in Chiang Mai on her own blog :)

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for the support and last week’s pep talk Earl; I’m still crossing my fingers we can convince you to pass through town once we’re over there! :)

  •  Best 6th grade year EVER! That is amazing and I am so happy for you both, but especially for her. SHe is getting a chance to see the world that most US kids her age will never get. Props to you and her both for undertaking this venture (she is very brave at an age when friends are so important!), but especially to her father for seeing the bigger picture and letting go of his little girl to give her something better. I look forward to updates. Would love to read her blog too and get her perspective!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Claire, I appreciate the support, she really is being a trooper about it all since I know I was keen on hanging very close to my besties at that age :)  I’m actually just as intrigued as you about what she plans to put on the blog, hehe, will be intriguing to see it all interpreted through a child’s eyes.

  • Sounds like a super opportunity for both of you!  11 yrs. old?  Personally I found that the perfect age for traveling with my daughters (my oldest was 11 and the younger, 8 yrs.) in Europe.  We didn’t home school but I was able to enroll them in a French school for Spring term (while I was also going to school).  Later, we backpacked through Switzerland and Greece, and then settled down again in Italy for the summer.  Bar none BEST education I could give them – they soaked up the French language like it was chocolate milk, and before it was over… they could tell the difference between a MONET and a MANET!

    Yes indeed, Ms Ana is lucky to have an auntie like you!

    • Anonymous

      Oh that is good to hear! It sounded like a good time to be sure she was old enough to process some of the things she’ll see, but can old enough to be away from her parents for a bit! :)  We *really* thought hard about South America so she could take in Spanish, but decided Asia was a good start, and maybe we’ll do that for a summer later on so she can also soak up some language! :)  Thanks for sharing and weighing in…it’s definitely making me more psyched to hear from others who have done it!! 

  • Amy

    What a absolutely fantastic opportunity for her! And kudos for the parents for letting her do it! I am a huge supporter of education through travel and I think this will be an amazing adventure for her. She will learn more in six months of travel than she would in years of school.  I’m so excited to hear about how it all goes for you :)

    • Anonymous

      I’ve definitely read through your website and stories like yours of other parents teaching life lessons from the road helped me sway those in the family who were concerned. Thanks for weighing in Amy! :)

    • Brad P.

      dates and stories about our journey. Some will still be about solo travel, vegetarian travel, and once we have some time under our belt I’ll share any lessons we learn about homeschooling from the road! Some of the obstacles and hurdles I’m battling right now include: What paperwork do I need to leave the country with a child who is not actu

  • Andi Perullo

    I have goosebumps!  This is the MOST amazing journey.  I LOVE that her parents agreed to this.  She will be forever changed by this experience, as will you.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Andi! There have been a lot of “holy crap” moments, but I’m psyched to start this new adventure!! :)

  • This is a fantastic idea. I first traveled abroad when I was 14, and I can’t count the number of ways it shaped my life for the better. What a lucky girl! maybe some of her assignments for home schooling can be writing guest posts for A Little Adrift on what she is experiencing!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for weighing in Erik — I didn’t travel at all as a teen, so I love hearing from the now adults who spent time abroad at that age :) I have definitely thought about letting her add in some stories on the site, esp since she’s showing a keen interest in creative writing this year so we might cook up some fun posts :)

  • JoAnna

    This is incredibly exciting, Shannon! You deserve huge kudos for giving your niece the opportunity to explore something so few other kids have experienced. Have fun!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Joanna! Fun will be had and she’s already in just a few days starting to show some more excitement! :)

  • I’m jealous.  I would have killed to have an opportunity like this in 6th grade.  Congrats, Ana – you’re going to love it.  (And hear you on the terrified part – we’re all here if you need us, Shannon.)

    • Anonymous

      Heh, thanks Andy..I agree with you though, I was soooo keen to travel back then but had no way to do it! Appreciate the support offer, you’ll be hearing from me no doubt :-)

  • I traveled with my 15 year old niece to Indonesia this summer. She was a bit nervous at first, but ended up having a great time. I am sure your niece will enjoy her time with you exploring the world!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Jason! Very neat that you were able to travel with your niece too — it’s heartening to hear from others who have done it successfully! :)

  • WOW! Sounds like an amazing trip! When I have kids I would love to take them travelling to see the world while homeschooling. Have fun with your niece. :)

    • Anonymous

      Thank you Elise! I couldn’t agree more, I have always planned and hoped to one day take my own kids when I have them. For now, with my niece, it’s going to be a grand adventure, that’s for sure! :)

  • This will a marvelous and impressive experience for Ana….
    Good luck for both of you and enjoy your voyage to Asia….!!!!
    Wish to hear your future experience when you both have been to Asia,.

  • I’m usually the one arguing for normal school circumstances, but in a situation like this (a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity), I saw take the time and let her travel with you.  And if it doesn’t work out and she returns, she’ll just be at the older end of her sixth grade class.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s just a bump in the road.  Enjoy and I look forward to the stories.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for weighing in — it’s actually refreshing to hear the other side, because in the travel community it’s very “hooray roadschooling/unschoooling/homeschooling” and I have long stood on your side as well, that kids need the social interaction and formal teaching. But, for a year, I’m thinking it’ll do more good! :)

  • WOW, Shannon!  How lucky Ana is to have a cool aunt like you (not to mention cool parents) and a sure-to-be-unforgettable adventure!

    I’m trying to think of some places that would be great for you two to visit…Cambodia would be life-changing.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Kate! I think it’s an adventure both of us are going to remember forever…we’re really close so I’m psyched to take her and show her SEA — and you’re right, Cambodia is high on the list for the temples and for the reality check when we learn some about the Khmer Rouge. You coming back to SEA any time soon?! :)

  • Lauren

    When I was in the eighth grade, my aunt and uncle pulled me out of school for three weeks to travel through Serbia, Hungary, and some of western Europe.  I would not be the same person I am today without that experience!  I met lifelong friends that I still keep in touch with and will visit soon on my own RTW trip :)  I hardly have words for how that experience changed me.  It made me appreciate my life, the world, possibilities… Kudos to you and her dad!  I bet that was a hard decision for him, and I think he made a good one.  I can’t wait to read her blog!

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for sharing that Lauren, as we prep for the trip lately I have these panic moments…but it’s stories like yours that make me know this will be such an amazing year for her :) I hope she too finds herself prepping for a RTW down the line!! Safe travels :)

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