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This Single Mother Took Her Family Around the World

Rachel Chanthavisay knew from an early age that she wanted to travel around the world. Born out of childhood imagination, Rachel’s dream was to discover and explore faraway lands. It was her belief in possibility, courage, and hard work that allowed her to transform fantasy into reality.

With the help of Travel Planner Daniel Gamber, she took her daughter Mina, her sister, and her sister’s friend on an epic 80-day AirTrek around the world.

Last year, the lively group left home to visit the countries of Taiwan, South Korea, Kazakhstan, England, Ireland, Wales, France, and Iceland. We recently connected with Rachel to asked her about their trip and the positive impact the experience had on her and her family.

1. Embarking on a journey to several countries around the world is a big deal! How were you first introduced to the idea of taking a trip around the world?

When I was little, my father used to spend hours telling me amazing stories about the world. One day, I was a Bedouin princess riding a horse across the desert and dancing by firelight… the next I was a Celtic pirate, fighting for my homeland. His stories filled me with an almost mad passion for living out the kind of adventures you read about in books. This is what gave root to my general wanderlust. Hilariously, the idea of entirely circumnavigating the globe was a gift from none other than the 1987 film “The Chipmunk Adventure.” I firmly believe everyone should see this movie!

2. Describe the very moment or event that caused you to decide to make this trip a reality.

When my daughter turned four, she looked me dead in the eye and informed me that she wanted to see the Louvre. Since I wasn’t even aware that she knew what the Louvre was, I was understandably surprised. I told her that if I took her to Paris as a 4-year-old, she would kill me in her teen years. I said I’d take her when she was 12; she said 6, I said 9, she said 8…and our plan was formed.

As a single mom on a low-income, I knew that the bulk of the cost would be the first leg of the trip. On a whim, I decided to check the price for an around-the-world ticket and discovered the AirTreks Trip Planner that made a lifelong dream of mine possible both financially and logistically.

3. It is almost inevitable that you will encounter challenges when taking a trip around the world, what were some of the challenges that you faced, and how did you overcome them?

Hah! There was the brigade of tow trucks that escorted us the length of England; a taxi driver determined to end our lives via speeding, a few lost bags, etc. but I think all of us could argue that one late night in Paris was particularly tricky. We were bedraggled, lost, and broke (partially due to a stolen money belt) in the pouring rain as we tried to find shelter. Tempers flared, and exhaustion set in, but one very kind fast food employee took a great deal of time to help us. We found our way home and slept the stress off.

Truthfully, almost every challenge we faced was an opportunity to have an adventure. For the most part, we kept the mindset that as long as we’re together and physically safe, it was all going to make for a fantastic story. And it did!

For every struggle, there were a dozen blessings. People of every nation stepped in with assistance, food, advice, and kindness when we were in need.

4. What were the most memorable people, places, experiences that you had? Any stories?

Oh man, I could answer this question for every day we traveled. There was an entire restaurant in Seoul that fully adopted us to the point of being family (the 94 in Jongno-gu if you ever have a chance, their food is spectacular) and incredibly amazing people at every juncture.

This trip didn’t scratch an itch so much as it created more of a yearning to return to all of these places.

Skogafoss and the Blue Lagoon in Iceland were incredible. Flying over the mountains of Mongolia and Kazakhstan blew our minds. Spending Christmas watching the Queen’s speech at the home of the most wonderful couple was a delight. Gyeongbokgung, the Giant’s Causeway, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, the London Eye, Snowdonia…it was more than we can even put into words.

We have love stories, action/adventure stories, comedies, and even a PG horror story here and there. I wish I had the time to tell you all of them!

5. Has this trip had any long-term effect on any of you? What has this trip meant to all of you?

My daughter went from fearfully hiding behind us to leading the way and diving into languages and new relationships. My sister developed an even deeper appreciation for her home as she grew to love the places that we saw and experienced. Alicia developed a deep connection with Korea and the friends that she made there, and is hoping to return and teach.

I feel like it’s nearly impossible not to be affected when you step outside of the world that is unfamiliar. We were all profoundly changed but in different ways.

As for me, this trip kicked me loose of the idea that I couldn’t travel with a child. Not only was my daughter a fantastic travel companion, but she allowed me to see the world in an entirely brand-new way.

All told, I took three girls who had never traveled overseas before and returned with three adventurers burning with a desire to experience more of what this world has to offer.

6. What advice would you give to anyone who might be considering a trip like this?

Don’t wait until later to pursue your dreams and don’t assume they are impossible! My daughter and I live on an incredibly meager income (I work primarily for a non-profit on minimum wage), but managed to live 80 days abroad. If you’re still not sure about your budget, read How Much Does Traveling The World Really Cost Per Day?

Do as much research as you can. It can save you tons of money and hassle down the road. Finding AirTreks was a game-changer for me, and I have been traveling for two decades!

I’ll try to sum it up with a quote from my daughter… “The whole world is amazing! Can we go again?”

Planning your own family travel experience? Take a look at our 10 Essential Family Travel Resource Links and our guide on travel with kids.

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