Because of CHANGE. Change and the reality of it have driven our travel plans for a while now...there are three kinds of change that affect our plans and our travel choices.
Social and Political change:
In 1989 I had just finished college, and was just starting my career. We had already done a bit of international travel, to Nova Scotia, Canada, Great Britain and France Bonaire for snorkeling and it didn't take long to realize that we live in a big world and if we wanted to see a lot of it, we were going to have to be organized about how we approached it. I had a fixed idea about the places in the world, that somehow they would always be there, on the map just as they always were, like Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, just waiting around in the same shape and color on my globe till I got around to going there.
And some places were deemed places I could never go- such as the communist countries of Hungary and Romania. Most of my education was pretty practical, so I never got into a lot of history about the different peoples that populated different regions of the world and how wars and terrible circumstances affected their lives and the very borders of the places they lived. Most history classes got to WWII and then it was summer vacation.
Then a very public thing happened on November 9 th 1989, the people of East Berlin who had already been pouring through Austria and Hungary and looping back to West Germany took matters in their own hands and removed the wall separating the divided city of Berlin. I'm not a historian, but I was a grown up and reading the papers. For me this was the first inkling that the map could change, that what was once off limits to travel could be open, and what once was open could be closed. Later in the mid 90s, the wars and circumstances that led to the break up of the USSR and the Balkans opened my eyes to the idea that places can change, and they can change in a hurry.
Most of our travel in the early 21st century was nature and wildlife travel with our children, who are endlessly fascinated by flora and fauna. We traveled to Alaska, Costa Rica, Botswana and Zambia. During these trips we heard about and saw change again, and in these cases the perils of environmental change...glaciers shrinking, habitat shrinking, animals and plants disappearing forever. Again, we began to think about the fleeting nature of our planet and how changes could affect our experiences in a place. Suddenly going to places that might be irrevocably changed forever took on greater urgency.
Changes in our own lives:
Once we traveled to Australia for a week. 36 hours each way of flying and wandering airports to spend a week in Australia. It was a fantastic opportunity (a comped flight and hotel room for a conference) but we could not take more than a week because of work and young children at home. But we seized the opportunity. While we were there, most Australians marveled that they never see Americans between 30 and 50 in their country. Yes, they see some backpackers, and yes, they see individuals or tours of retired folks, but they were shocked to see us at mid thirties, there in their country, for only a week! But it was absolutely worth it to go!
Part of our travel philosophy is to prioritize the difficult, arduous, adventurous travel while we are young and healthy enough to manage it more easily. Cramming into a coach seat for 16 hours is easier at 40 than 70. Hiking a volcano in Quito is more challenging at 80 than 50. But as we explained to the Ozzie's, the reason you don't see many people that age making these kinds of trips is the calendar; 2 weeks vacation, maybe 3 after 5 years. With so little time off, people in the United States can't be blamed for wanting to fly or drive 3 hours to the nearest tiki hut and sit under it with an umbrella drink until Monday.
We decided not to go that route. For all of the reasons above, we decided to plot a course that fit our budgets, both financial and vacation days, to make a life list of places we wanted to see before they and we changed and it became impossible. Since we've made our list, "change" has created new travel "possibilities" such as Cuba, which is now open to People To People cultural tours and eliminated others, such as the Bioluminescent Bay in Farjardo, Puerto Rico, which because of nearby development barely contains the organism that causes the dramatic fluorescence any longer.
So this trip got on our list as we recognized that this was the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Most of the countries we are visiting were impossible to visit even 20 years ago, with wars going on. Today they are poised to join the European Union and are beginning to build tourist infrastructure that will change them forever- hopefully in good ways that will bring political and economic stability to the region for a long time. But as we joke about this trip- we want to see them before there is a MacDonalds on every corner. We look forward to sharing our adventure with you and what we learn as we meet the folks in a part of the world we could not have met even 2 decades ago!