Amped-up Road Trip

By Keysha Drexel

Journal editor

Two Vestavia Hills students recently traded their lockers for luggage for a global family trip.

The McIntyre family's trip included a stop at the Colosseum in Rome. From left: Riley, Delaney, Kellie and Dale McIntyre. (Photo special to the Journal)

Delaney and Riley McIntyre and their parents, Dale and Kellie, traveled to 10 countries across three continents during the second and third nine weeks of the school year and returned home in February so the girls could finish out the school year at Liberty Park Middle.

From attending Gladiator School in Italy to learning about the Vietnam War in Ho Chi Minh City to being deported from China, the family’s travel experience was vast and unique, they said.

The trip was the culmination of Dale and Kellie’s goal to explore as much of the world as possible with their children before the girls go off to college. Delaney is 14 years old, and Riley is 13.

“We’re both first generation travelers and didn’t get to travel abroad while we were growing up,” Kellie said. “So it has been important to us to show our girls the world. Several years ago, we set a goal to visit every continent with them, except for Antarctica.”

A couple of years ago, the family traveled to Thailand and Cambodia, which only whet their appetite to travel more, Dale said.

“Our trips started getting bigger and bigger over the years, and we started trying to figure out a way to take the ultimate family trip around the world” he said.

While on their way back from Thailand a couple of years ago, the McIntyres met a family who was spending the entire year traveling around the world with their children.

“It got us to thinking about how we could do something similar,” Kellie said. “We knew we wanted to do a big trip to the places the girls might not get to go otherwise, and we wanted to do it before they started high school and their schedules get really demanding.”

Kellie and Dale started researching ways to get time off from work and how to take the girls out of school for an extended time but said the logistics of planning such a trip were daunting.

“We went back and forth on whether it was even possible or realistic to plan such a trip, and there were points where we just didn’t know if we could make it happen,” Kellie said.

But one Sunday when the family was attending services at Liberty Park United Methodist Church, something in the sermon made Kellie and Dale realize they needed to put their family travel plan into action.

“The preacher was preaching on not accumulating regrets and we both kind of looked at each other, and we knew we had to make this trip happen, one way or another,” he said.

So in September 2012, the family set about planning a trip around the world.

The first challenge, the McIntyres said, was agreeing on an itinerary.

“We knew we wanted to go back to Southeast Asia, and New Zealand was on my bucket list. We wanted to go to Australia, too, and really hit the faraway places that the girls might not have a chance to go to later in life,” Dale said. “But the girls had different ideas.”

At first, 14-year-old Delaney was completely opposed to the trip because it would mean time away from school–and her friends.

“I felt like I was going to miss a lot of things at school and a lot of time with my friends,” Delaney said. “Plus, I thought my parents were just picking places that they wanted to go and not considering where we wanted to go.”

The family compromised and agreed to include a stop in London on their trip because it was the place Delaney said she most wanted to go.

“Including a trip to London kind of put a kink in our original plans, but we compromised and made it work,” Dale said.

The family left Birmingham Oct. 15, 2013 for the first stop on their global tour–Iceland.

“The Blue Lagoon (geothermal spa) in Iceland was just spectacular,” Kellie said. “From Iceland, we went to London.”

Delaney said London was her favorite stop on the trip.

“I liked being in a big city, and I loved all the history,” she said. “And I loved the little telephone booths in London. They were so cute.”

The family also visited Stonehenge while they were in the U.K.

From London, the family traveled to Italy, where they attended Gladiator School and toured the Colosseum in Rome and rode bikes in Lucca.

“We had a line item in our budget just for gelato while we were in Italy,” Kellie said.

From Italy, the family traveled to the Similan Islands in Thailand.

“The water was so blue and the beach was so perfect it looked like one of those default screen savers,” Delaney said.

From Thailand, the McIntyres traveled to Malaysia, where they visited the Petronas Twin Towers and the Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur.

“It was just before Christmas, and we saw Malaysian women in full burqas watching Christmas shows at the mall,” Dale said.

The family traveled from Malaysia to Vietnam, a spot that was a favorite for Riley.

“I loved learning about the culture and the history, and they have this really good soup called pho,” Riley said.

Kellie and Dale said they enjoyed the trip to Vietnam because they stayed away from the spots tourists usually flock to when visiting the Southeast Asian country.

“I liked it because it was very real and raw and people were living their lives right there in front of you, and you didn’t feel like a tourist,” Kellie said.

The family visited Ho Chi Minh City and said it was interesting to get a different perspective on the city’s battle-scarred past.

“To see the Vietnam take on the war was interesting and to see the propaganda of what they call the American War was pretty ironic,” Dale said.

From Vietnam, the family traveled to Australia and spent Christmas Day scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef.

“That was probably my favorite part of the trip. I did my first scuba dive in Australia,” Riley said.

The McIntyres rang in the New Year in Sydney, Australia.

“It’s their summer there, and there were so many people crowded in the streets on New Year’s Eve. You could just feel the energy and excitement,” Delaney said. “Then we watched the fireworks over the harbor, and I think it made even New Year’s Eve in Times Square look lame,” Delaney said.

The McIntyres spent the first month of the new year in New Zealand, a place Dale said is the most beautiful he has ever seen.

“There is no place on the planet as beautiful that I have seen as New Zealand,” Dale said. “The natural beauty is just incredible, just breathtaking.”

The natural beauty of New Zealand wasn’t the only thing that took the family’s breath away during their stop there, Kellie said.

Kellie and Delaney went bungee jumping off the Karawau Bridge in Queenstown on their third day in New Zealand.

“I knew if I passed up that opportunity, I would regret it for the rest of my life, so I did it,” Kellie said, “That’s the kind of life I want to live. That’s living life all the way to the end. That’s living without regrets.”

From New Zealand, the family traveled to Bali in Indonesia, where they said they were struck by the people’s spirituality.

“They are the most spiritually devout people I’ve ever encountered,” Kellie said. “They make daily offerings to all their gods, and you see them everywhere–on the streets, in the stores, on the sidewalk.”

The family learned that the Balinese people often work multiple jobs just to be able to afford to make the daily offerings to their gods.

“It was beautiful to see a country that is so poor have such a rich devotion to the spirit,” Dale said.

The McIntyres said their visit to Bali’s cultural center, Ubud, offered a peaceful respite from their travels.

“Riley called it the Sedona of Bali because it was very laidback, very Zen, with lots of people doing yoga,” Dale said.

The next stop on the family’s global adventure was China, and it was a trip Kellie said she felt like she jinxed from the very beginning.

“The day before we went to China, we were talking about how the trip had gone on without a single hiccup. There had been no missed flights, no goofed-up hotel reservations, nothing had gone wrong,” she said.

Apparently, Kellie said, the travel gods, like the Greek gods, don’t care much for hubris.

For their trip to China, the McIntyres were planning on taking advantage of China’s new 72-hour visa-free policy to visit Beijing. The family thought the new policy would allow them to visit China’s historical highlights–the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square and the Summer Palace–all without the hassle or expense of a tourist visa.

“But the 72 hours we planned to spend in China ended up being a big ordeal,” Dale said. “It was the only glitch in the whole trip.”

And what a glitch it was.

The family planned to fly from Bali with a layover in Shanghai before making their way to Beijing and flying back to the U.S. from there.

But once they landed in Shanghai and got off the plane, they were detained by immigration officials.

“We tried to explain to them that we were simply connecting through Shanghai and planned to fly home from Beijing, but before we knew it, we were being herded into a corner of the immigration area,” Kellie said. “We were basically under house arrest and they took our passports, which really scared us.”

The family, dressed for the balmy weather in Bali when they headed toward China, spent the next several hours freezing in a sequestered immigration area waiting to learn if they’d ever make it to Beijing–or back home.

“I think we felt something that most Americans don’t feel but that people in many countries feel every single day–powerless,” Kellie said. “It really made us appreciate the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.”

Members of a group traveling from Sweden were also detained with the McIntyres, but their ticket situation was resolved and they left the airport hours before the McIntyres were able to start the final leg of their world tour.

Finally, the family was told they could depart China, fly to Hong Kong at the airline’s expense and then pay an additional $1,400 to fly to Beijing from there.

The next morning, the family flew from Shanghai to Hong Kong and then on to Beijing.

“We arrived in Beijing a day late and $1,400 poorer, and we held our breath until we made it through immigration,” Kellie said.

The family visited the Great Wall and ran into the Swedish citizens they were detained with at the Shanghai airport.

The McIntyres returned home to Vestavia Hills from Beijing, weary and at the same time exhilarated by their travels.

“It was really good to be home, but we will never forget this chance we had to spend as a family,” Dale said. “Travel opens your eyes to the world and gives you a perspective beyond your backyard.”

While they were on their global adventure, Delaney and Riley kept up with their assignments from school but the trip offered them lessons they couldn’t have learned in the classroom, their parents said.

“Every day was a social studies lesson, not just for the girls, but for us, too,” Dale said. “I think we all learned a lot about the world we live in and about ourselves on this trip.”

Riley said she won’t take the educational opportunities she has for granted after seeing children her age and younger working to support their families in Bali.

“There are a lot of kids in Bali who can’t attend school because their families can’t afford it, so it made me realize that we’re lucky that we get to go to school here,” Riley said.

Dale and Kellie said the trip proved to them that a do-it-yourself family vacation around the world isn’t as farfetched as it sounds.

“You’ve got to start with a dream and find a way to make it happen,” Dale said.

Kellie said the trip made her appreciate other places and other cultures, but ultimately, it was one that opened her eyes to how good it is to be home.

“It made me realize that the United States is the perfect combination of freedom and opportunity,” she said. “There are still a lot of places that we want to see, but we are always glad to call this home.”

Delaney and Riley said the trip inspired them to plan even more adventures for the family in the future.

“I think we’ll both spend a semester abroad in college and hopefully, between now and then, we’ll go on more great family trips,” Delaney said. “I’m ready to go around the world again.” ϖ

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