In the News! > The Register-Guard, 6.26.05 | © The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon

June 26, 2005

Taking on the world: A family prepares for a yearlong journey to explore the globe — and themselves

By Scott Maben
The Register-Guard

One glance at the itinerary and it's obvious: This Eugene family is about to embark on the trip of a lifetime. Therese Picado and Steve Curtis plan to leave July 11 on a yearlong trek around the world, hitting 27 countries on four continents.

But this is no indulgence of the jet set. The two, married 13 years, are making sacrifices and taking risks for a journey they hope will be educational, inspirational and life-changing for each other and their two preteen sons.

Curtis, 47, lost his job when the Sony compact disc plant shut down two years ago. Picado, 44, recently was denied a leave of absence as a public information specialist with the city parks department, so she resigned. Both will be unemployed when the family returns a year from now.

It's a little unnerving, Picado admits. But she's putting her faith in the family's decision to go.

"I'm just kind of remaining open to whatever happens, embracing the possibilities and opportunities," she says. "We have no idea what direction our lives might lead as we take on this adventure."

And what an adventure it will be. Traveling only with packs on their backs, they plan to see Mayan ruins in Guatemala, orangutans in Sumatra and Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. They intend to trek through the jungle in Malaysia and Laos, scout for tigers in India and call on sea turtles on the coast of Costa Rica. They want to hike in the Himalayas, explore the island of Crete and relax in Tuscany.

 Family @ Alton Baker Park



The Picado-Curtis family, Peter, 12 (left), Steve Curtis, Therese Picado and Paul, 11, are preparing for a journey around the world.

Photo: Chris Pietsch / The Register-Guard


For Peter, 12, and Paul, 11, the travels will bring to life lessons in geography, history, government, anthropology, architecture, art and language. Their teachers at the Family School at Spencer Butte Middle School are enthusiastic about the trip and told the family the boys are likely to learn far more than they would in class next year.

But this is more than an opportunity to see the sights and sample different cultures. It's also about parents longing for one more close-knit experience with their children before adolescence fades and the responsibilities of high school and adulthood consume their lives.

"We really want to be able to hang out with our kids for a year," Curtis says. "They're becoming teenagers. I know high school is going to go fast, and the next thing you know, they're in college and they're away."

Picado says she already feels she's losing touch with her sons.

"When I'm leaving the house at 7:30 in the morning, getting back at 6 o'clock at night, that doesn't leave a lot of time to intersect in a really meaningful way. I don't have the closeness that I used to have with my boys. ... In our culture, we get sucked in to this fast-paced, production-oriented mentality, and it doesn't leave for lot of time to just be a family."

Peter, who will begin eighth grade this fall, says he's excited to leave but has had mixed feelings, too.

"There will probably be times when I'll get mad and stuff," he says. "It's probably going to be pretty good, but sometimes it will probably just be too much. Even though we're a family, it will be hard sticking together for a whole year."

In a soft-spoken voice, his brother Paul, who is entering sixth grade, adds that he hopes the family will grow closer and learn not to argue.

"I don't think there will be many problems, but there might be some problems," he says, almost in a whisper.

Paul is the peacemaker in the family, his mother says. "I hope Paul is right, that we learn to get along better with each other."

'Maybe we aren't so crazy'

Both parents were the catalyst for this global expedition. Picado, who is Portuguese-American, was raised on Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands. Curtis worked as a wildlife guide and commercial salmon fisherman on the Alaska peninsula. Both have journeyed extensively.

"Travel and encountering other cultures is just a high value for both Steve and I," she says.

The family has been saving for the trip, which could cost $35,000 to $40,000, including airfare.

"We could go out and buy a new car, or we could pay down part of the house, or really feel better about retirement or something," Curtis says. "It feels like this is a priority for us. Doing this represents who we are as adults and what we want to pass to our kids."

The idea to circle the world together began to form on a family vacation to southeast Alaska in 2003. Curtis, who has a passion for reading travel books, began researching possible routes last fall.

One day, while on the Internet, he stumbled onto Web sites and blogs of other families with children who did - or were still doing - what they longed to attempt.

"That was a big turning point," Curtis says. "Hey, they have three kids and they did it! Maybe we aren't so crazy."

Still, taking the dream to reality has been a huge leap for each member of the household, he says.

They had to decide where to go, and Curtis handed out ballots listing regions of the world. They voted for Central America, Southeast Asia, India, Africa and Europe.

Then they had to pick a route, eventually agreeing to travel westward after a jaunt down to Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Costa Rica.

They want to skirt, as much as possible, sites overrun with tourists. The goal is to experience authentic cultures, not crowded beaches and souvenir markets.

The family also plans to devote some of their time to service projects, including tsunami relief in Khao Lak, Thailand, and helping build a drinking-water system for a Masai village in Kenya.

They plan to chronicle their journey at

It wasn't easy to pare the schedule down to a reasonable - and affordable - selection of locales. Curtis repeatedly juggled the lineup.

"I just kind of stayed away from the itinerary thing," Peter says. "It kind of was changing too much for me."

They also made a point to build in time to relax and feel free to be spontaneous.

"At some point, someone said to me, 'You know, this isn't the only trip you're going to take in your life,' and that freed me of thinking we had to hit everything in this trip," Curtis says.

The family has worked to make a string of contacts in many of the countries they will spend time in, largely through their network of friends and family. They hope the connections will help them find the best parts of each leg of the journey. And along the way, they'd like to hook up with some of the international exchange students they have hosted over the years.

Inspired by the family's plans, several acquaintances have decided to join them for parts of the journey. And Steve's mother, Carrol Curtis of Indiana, plans to accompany the family for about three-quarters of the trek.

A friend from church, Alice Kennedy-Hooton of Eugene, had planned to meet the family in Kenya next January, marking her visit to her seventh continent, but recently had to back out.

At age 77, Kennedy-Hooton still travels frequently, including on National Geographic expeditions, and says she's thrilled for Curtis, Picado and their sons.

"It takes a certain amount of courage and certainly a lot of encouragement from their loved ones," she says. "They'll be exposing their sons to a whole new world, and it will broaden their horizons. ... I think they've given it very careful thought."

Confronting their fears

Peter and Paul will be schooled on the road, but will stay plugged in to their teachers and classmates. Michael Roderick, who teaches language and literature at Spencer Butte, would have had Peter in his class next year.

"Peter will be sending me writing samples, and I'll evaluate them and give him feedback," Roderick says. "I also sent him the entire reading list and a copy of my syllabus for next year."

Peter will pack lightweight paperbacks of "The Outsiders," "To Kill a Mockingbird," "Romeo and Juliet" and other assigned materials.

He also plans to send accounts of his travels to other students. "I think this is a real wonderful opportunity for him," says Roderick, himself a lover of world travel. "This will be a real enriching experience for the kids, and I think other students will learn from them vicariously."

After months of planning and anticipation, the departure date is in two weeks. The family's living room is full of backpacks, first aid kits and instructional materials for the boys to keep up their studies.

"It's just complete and utter chaos," Picado says.

Five graduate students from the University of Oregon agreed to rent their house and care for the family's two cats, Kale and Blessing.

"We're painting the bathroom downstairs, redoing the deck, starting to pack our rooms," Picado says. "It's all happening simultaneously. And the boys have their to-do lists."

They are preparing mentally, too, confronting their fears about such a long time abroad in foreign lands.

Picado, for instance, worries about health problems. The family got their shots for yellow fever, typhoid, hepatitis and tetanus; stocked up on antibiotics and anti-malarial pills; researched likely maladies they'll encounter; and purchased travel insurance. Still, she can't help but wonder what they'll do if one of the boys gets injured or seriously ill far from modern medical facilities.

"What if we're like in this really remote area? I'm very Western in that respect," she says. "If they're having some pretty severe symptoms, I want to take them to the doctor."

For Curtis, his primary concerns revolve around crime and personal safety.

"That is going to be one of the more difficult parts," he says. "It's going to be like when they were babies, and you have to have that 100 percent radar out at all time. Now that they've grown up, my radar is probably 10 percent. But I know it's going to get up there, and that will wear on us over time."

Paul expressed two fears to his parents. First, he did not want to be eaten - by shark or lion. The other one had to do with how Americans are perceived around the world in these tumultuous times.

"He was afraid of being an American because it sounds like a lot of countries don't like how we are," Curtis says. "But he also went on to say, I'm going to have to give everyone a smile and learn 'hello' and 'thank you' in their language. He said maybe then they'll get a different view of who we are."

For Picado, that is the kind of philosophy that can bring meaning to the journey.

"What I'm looking forward to the most," she says, "truly is the chance to be with my kids and my husband, and again share the wonder like I used to when they were younger, when everything is so new and I was enriched by their observations of the world."