Family Travel Year in Review – Epic Education 2014

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Man-o-man, what a year! I’ve learned a lot since last January, and have tried to reflect on 2014 in the video you see above, but of course, I don’t expect a YouTube clip to even scratch the surface of everything we’ve seen, learned and felt. Looking back on the year in review, it’s hard to believe that we left our home 16 months ago and that the entire year of 2014 was spent outside (sometimes far outside) what I would consider our comfort zone.

Our Top Things to Do in Ubud with Kids: Bali Family Travel

Family Travel Year in Review – Epic Education 2014

I loved editing our “Year in Review” video, but to be honest, it’s a little misleading. It makes it look like 2014 was non-stop action, which is clearly was not. That’s what happens when you attempt to sum up 365 days in less than four minutes: it ends up looking like a Nike commercial.

So before I unpack our 2014 below, let’s start with a reality check: our family may look all Anthony Bourdain action-hero on Youtube and there were occasional moments when it felt that way.

However, the truth is that most of the past 365 days were spent indoors, usually with me hunched over a laptop working, researching or blogging, and with the kids sitting at a table nearby, working on their math, language arts or kanji. Or reading…there was plenty of sitting around reading this year.

J & F in Malacca — An Epic Education

In other words, take the video above and the pictures below with a heaping spoon of salt. Yes, 2014 was AMAZING — life-changing, even — but the biggest of this year’s life-changes came about quietly: over meals, research, conversations and Khan Academy. Taking all of this into account, let’s look back on a most remarkable year, from the beginning:

Chiang Mai: Jan. 4 – Feb 22

Chiang Mai fishing — 2014 Year in Review — An Epic EducationWe started the year in northern Thailand, where we learned how to carve fruit and make our own curry paste. We went ziplining through verdant canopy, and reeled in massive Mekong catfish.

Oh, and let’s not forget a small (but significant) family meltdown that occurred here. It’s not the city’s fault, of course, but it went down in Chiang Mai, and was easily the nadir of 2014. Good thing we got it out of our system early, am I right?

Lakeside lunch near Chiang Mai — An Epic Education

I’d like to return to Chiang Mai again someday, and perhaps for a longer period of time, but that’s unlikely. Our kids still associate the place with that dark patch in our family history. It’s when Mom and Dad were failing miserably at our grand “nomadic family” experiment and so both kids would probably protest a return to the site where the drama unfolded. Maybe in a few years. More on what to do in Chiang Mai with kids here.

Japan: Feb 23 – March 25

Obachan's birthday surprise — 2014 Year in Review — An Epic Education

After our first six months of travel, we returned to Japan for three reasons:

  1. Keiko’s mother turned 70 in March, and we wanted to surprise her by showing up unannounced. She was gobsmacked, as was her dad, who initially thought we were burglars.
  2. To get my company on board with my remote-working proposal, I had suggested a performance assessment after six months, where they could decide if they wanted this relationship to continue. They did, and for that, I am extremely grateful.
  3. I still write for the Japan Times, including Child’s Play, a column about family activities in Japan, so the kids and I visited a handful of places I wanted to write about, including a few museums and factory tours in Kansai, as well as our annual visit to Spa World.

Yurakucho at night — 2014 Year in Review — An Epic Education

While in Japan, Jamie and Felicia both visited with old classmates, and then Jamie hung out with his old soccer team while Felicia and I — art lovers to the core — hit a few of our favorite Tokyo museums and galleries.

Mori Museum — 2014 Year in Review — An Epic Education

Penang: March 25 – December 31 2014

Our Balcony View in Penang: Penang with Kids

Epic Education Headquarters: A view from the balcony

We spent two months on this lovely little Malaysian island in 2013 and decided to return for a while longer (our reasons can be found here and here). We signed a lease on an apartment and used Penang as a place to regroup after six months of moving from place to place.

With our home base established, we ventured out into the region — exploring the places you’ll see listed below, but always returning to the same apartment with a view of the sea.

Penang is where most of the real changes in our lives occurred — life lessons that aren’t as easy to photograph or set to music — like developing a homeschooling strategy, practicing patience, learning gratitude and falling in love with reading.

Wall in Georgetown, Penang — 2014 Year in Review — An Epic Education

Penang was where I wrote my first book, and where our girl started her first business. It’s where the kids take guitar lessons, attend computer classes and meet with international students in volleyball, chess and poetry clubs. It’s where our son joins soccer teams and girl goes to drama workshops.

It’s our ersatz “home” until we forge into Latin America next year. Despite all the travel action you see in this post, understand that most days were spent in or near this Penang apartment, cooking at home or eating at the same four of five places nearby, shuttling kids from one activity to another.

In unrelated news, I let my beard go feral here: the kids begged me not to trim the goatee part and just let it grow wild on my face. I humored them for a while — for too long, actually. It looked ridiculous, so I eventually lopped off the end of it.

My beard this past spring. I'm sorry.

My beard for a few months this year. I’m sorry.

Peninsular Malaysia: April 29 – May 6

Snorkeling in the Perhentian Islands — 2014 Year in Review — An Epic EducationHaving a car in Malaysia offered us the chance to see more of the country, so during Japan’s Golden Week holiday (when I had a full week off) we drove to the east coast of the peninsula, cutting through jungles and palm oil plantations to arrive at the Perhentian Islands for some snorkeling.

Fi at Cameron Highlands — 2014 Year in Review — An Epic EducationThen we drove back into the peninsula’s interior and headed for the cool plateaus of the Cameron Highlands and the remnants of its colonial past: tea fields, scones, and strawberries.

Sumatra: June 16 – 24

Bukit Lawang with Kids: Jungle Trekking, Tubing and Orangutans

Indonesia’s largest island is just a 45-minute hop on a prop-plane from Penang, so we planned a visa-run around it, staying near one of the last natural orangutan habitats, and trekking into the jungle to get a closer look. Wow.

Snack time on the volcano — 2014 Year in Review — An Epic Education

Snack time on the volcano

We also watched the world cup in a jungle village, hiked a nearby volcano and stayed with a local family who had a baby during our visit.

Mount Sibayak — 2014 Year in Review — An Epic EducationWe enjoyed this trip so much that we’ll head back to Sumatra in January 2015.

Bali: July 23 – August 3

Bali rice field — 2014 Year in Review — An Epic Education

We’d visited Bali before, years ago on a short vacation from Tokyo, but now we returned with plans to visit another traveling family we’d crossed paths with the year before.

Traditional Balinese painting class — 2014 Year in Review — An Epic Education

While in Bali, we took classes in ceramics, silversmithingwood carving and traditional Balinese painting. All money well spent. And let’s not forget that we made a return visit to Waterbom, our favorite water park in the world.

Vietnam: September 9 – 23

Hue Boat tour — 2014 Year in Review — An Epic Education

In the late 90’s I had some of my most meaningful travel experiences in Vietnam — both as a solo traveler and then a few years later with (my then-girlfriend) Keiko. Now we returned to the country with our kids, and to my pleasant surprise, it was even better.

Suoi Tien Turtle — 2014 Year in Review — An Epic Education

We celebrated my 43rd birthday in a cooking class, and later visited the strangest amusement park I’ve ever seen.

Is Family Travel Dangerous? Looking, Leaping and Learning your Limits

We had a spectacular motorcycle ride through the country’s dynamic center, all the while eating and drinking amazing things wherever we went. The trip was so good that we briefly considered moving to Ho Chi Minh City for a few months.

Krabi, Thailand: November 25 – 30

Rock climbing in Krabi — 2014 Year in Review — An Epic Education

This trip was just a quick visit (and another visa run) a few hours north of Penang across the Thai border to one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I first went to Krabi in 1998, and then Keiko and I visited together a few years after that.

Now over 15 years later, we returned with the kids and headed straight to the area’s famous limestone cliffs for some rock climbing. Well, they did all the climbing — I was too concerned with photographing them in action to suit up and join them. Fortunately, the kids inherited their mother’s agility and scrambled up 10-story karst formations like spider monkeys. Amazing. We’ll be back.

HCMC 4 on a scooter — An Epic Education

I could write more, but this covers quite a bit of our very eventful year. Now it’s time to start focusing on 2015 and making it an even better year.

Tell me about your year in review: what were some of your highlights? What have you learned? What have you seen? What are your goals for 2015? Tell me about it all in the comments!


  1. Karen Johnson says

    What a fun Year in Review video, Jason. Glad to have discovered your blog via FOTM marketplace. We’ve been traveling much of the time since 2007 with 7 of our 9dc, but fulltime now since 2012. We’re from Canada and have only made it to Mexico where we are content and still working on the funding travel part for a large family. Anyways, I don’t have a year-in-review (at least not yet) but I blog over at Nothing special, just to keep family and friends up to date with the kids since we originally left when our ‘baby’ was only 2.5 months old!

    • Thanks for getting in touch, Karen. Travel with teeny babies! I come across that more and more now. Right on! We’re considering Mexico for a while later this year. Still searching for family Spanish classes in the region.

  2. This makes me feel like my life is so mundane and boring.
    You’ve done more traveling in a year (or 14 months) than my family has done in 10 and will probably ever do.