Author Archives: Henrik Kniberg

About Henrik Kniberg

I debug, optimize, and refactor companies. And jam a lot too. I'm a consultant, working mostly with Spotify and Lego. Here's my work page at Crisp, and my blog.

What we’ve learned about the world after 6 months on the road

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This Big Family Trip has been an incredible adventure. I’m so glad we pulled it off!

We have travelled around the world through 8 countries – Denmark, China, Japan, Thailand, New Zealand, Peru, Brazil, and the British Virgin Islands in the West Indies. All in all, most things worked out better than we could have imagined.

We have travelled on airplanes, cars, trains, busses, campervans, motorboats, yachts, bikes, tuk-tuks, trucks. We have even been towed out to sea by a tractor!

We have seen seals, ridden elephants and played with dolphins, monkeys, and snakes. We have hiked, climbed mountains and walls, flown ziplines over cliffs, explored ancient ruins, crawled through cave systems, walked through jungles, and watched stunning acrobatic shows and fire shows. We have explored the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu in Peru, Hobbiton in New Zealand, and pirate caves in the West Indies. We have swimmed, paddled, sailed, windsurfed, and snorkeled in the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, and the Caribbean. And we’ve played chess and made Swedish pancakes in almost every country :o)

We have lived in hotels, campervans, and sailing boats. We have lived in everything from big fancy villas to small apartments – sometimes rented, sometimes staying with friends. We have lived at 3,800 meters altitude, and we have lived together all 6 of us in a single room smaller than our smallest room at home in Sweden.

We have had misadventures too. We have missed planes, been delayed by landslides on train tracks, had bouts of homesicknesslost and found each other, gotten hurt and healed, gotten sick and recovered, even had a shower cabin explode on us!

We have built sandcastles, played guitar, flown kites, learned new languages, done home-schooling (well, on-the-road schooling I should say), done school-schooling, haggled at bazars, jogged on beaches, gazed at beautiful sunsets and mountains, attended amusement parks, played pool and frisbee and beach volleyball, written code, watched movies, and played lots of lots of ipad and iphone games. Just about no TV though.

And, of course, we have talked – a lot! And blogged!

I have taught classes and coached development teams and managers in Tokyo, Christchurch, Lima, and São Paulo. And even published a new book while on the road!

We have met and befriended all kinds of people. Storekeepers, drivers, teachers, cooks, managers, mothers, farmers, fishermen, IT professionals. Old, young, rich, poor, dark, light.  Some with big families, some alone. Some have never left their village, others have spent their whole lives on the road.

Many people are afraid of travelling with kids. Maybe because news channels make the world seem like a more dangerous place than it is. The vast majority of fellow travelers that we bump into say “Wow, you are very brave!” after seeing that we are travelling with 4 small kids. We’ve probably heard that exact phrase at least 30 times. Some people mean it as a genuine compliment (thanks!), but sometimes it sounds more like a polite way of saying “you guys must be f-ing crazy!” :)

Anyway now, safely home again after the Big Family Trip, we can only conclude that, in the vast vast majority of cases:

1) The world is beautiful!

2) People are friendly. And most of them loooove kids!

3) Travelling with small kids is not only survivable, it can be really fun!*

* That is, as long as you follow the Golden Rule for Travelling With Kids: Never Be In A Hurry. With plenty of slack in the schedule, just about any problem can be solved. See also What we’ve learned about hiking with kids.

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The Grand Homecoming. HOME!

What a homecoming. Wow! After almost 6 months of travelling, coming home is a wonderful and strange experience!

Grandma Eva organized a Hero’s Welcome. She and other family members were waiting for us at the bus stop (about 1km from home, yes we took the bus home from Arlanda) in the golf car (same one that we departed in), decorated with balloons and pirate flags! After a few minutes of laughing and hugging, Dave (and later Jenny) ran ahead all the way to the house, they were so excited to get home. Emma and Peter were almost shell-shocked, overwhelmed with emotion, not quite comprehending what was going on.

At the house we found flowers and a red carpet in front of the door, a stocked refrigerator, and some of our favorite meals and desserts on the kitchen table! Long Live Grandma Eva!

The kids (well, OK, us parents too) spent most of the day basically bouncing around the house shouting with glee, hugging each other and playing with all the toys and things they had missed. The first thing the girls did was dig out their favorite princess dresses (even now, a couple of days after coming home, they are wearing the princess dresses all day, even when they sleep!).

The next days have been pretty much a perpetual Homecoming Party, with friends dropping in and out (mostly in…) on a continuous basis, combined with some unpacking and playing with our favorite toys and instruments :)

Now we’re hoping to get organized and recover from jetlag in time for school on Monday!

Our feeling right now is Borta Bra men Hemma Bäst!

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A very small traveller

Peter insisted on pulling Emma’s luggage for most of the trip back to Sweden (a bag which recently lost a wheel, so it takes some stubbornness to pull it around). In fact, he got very very angry whenever we tried to take it back, to the amusement of the other travelers. It was clear that he considered it his Right By Law to pull a bag, since everyone else at the airport was pulling bags, and that 1-year olds should not be discriminated. 

Cute :)

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One thing we won’t miss about travelling

Travelling is great, except when it isn’t. And one Not Great Thing about travelling is all those danged immigration forms! The worst one was going from BVI to Antigua. Two pages of crap to fill in per person (yes, that’s 6×2, or 12 pages of crap to fill in). Full name, passport number (including expiry date), home address, flight number in to the country, flight number out, etc, etc. And many of the things had to be filled in twice – once on the arrival section of the card and again on the departure section. And we weren’t even going to enter Antigua, just passing through.

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Goodbye BVI!

Dear British Virgin Islands,

We had a great time sailing around in your waters, and a great time relaxing at Fort Recovery for a few days afterwards. You were everything we had hoped for and more – safe waters, stable winds, warm weather (yet not stifingly hot), friendly people (especially the other sailors, unfortunately not always the local staff at restaurants and bars), beautiful beaches and scenery, great snorkeling, etc. Definitely the most expensive place we’ve been to (in fact, shortened that part of the BigFamilyTrip because of the prices), but we still felt that it was worth every penny. Hope to come back some time in the future! 

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Swimming with dolphins!

We spent 30 minutes playing with Lilo, a 12 year old bottlenose dolphin. She was awesome! She shook hands (well, fins) with us, caught balls, did airborn tricks, gave us kisses, sang for us, played waterfight, and even took us for rides (she swam upside down as we hold her fins and get pulled along at breakneck pace). She was heartwarmingly friendly and playful, and it was surprisingly unscary to swim around with such a huge animal with sharp teeth…

Afterwards the kids pretty much forced us to buy dolphin toys and the have played dolphin ever since!

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David presenterar: Segling i Västindien

David berättar om resan och visar hur segelbåten funkar – vilka som bor där, hur hans rum ser, ut hur de tekniska systemen funkar, och hur man hissar segel. Med tillhörande piratmusik såklart!

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Breaking the law for the good of our children

My last blog entry was about how we do home schooling while on the road.

But wait, is home schooling legal in Sweden? Actually, no, it isn’t. So we are strictly speaking breaking the law. It is called Civil Disobedience, a form of respectful disagreement with a stupid law.

Here’s a dialog took place between me and Dave a few months before starting our trip:

  • Henrik: “So Dave, how are we going to handle schooling while we travel? You don’t want to fall behind all your friends right, and have to redo second grade while all your friends are in third grade?”
  • Dave: “Hey Dad, YOU can be my teacher during the trip!”
  • Henrik: “Great idea! Let’s do it!”

And then this dialog took place between me and the school teacher:

  • Henrik: “We plan to do a 6 month round-the-world trip, and I would like to home-school Dave. How can we do that?”
  • Teacher: “I don’t have the authority to permit that, you’ll have to talk to the principal”

So then this dialog took place between me and the school principal:

  • Henrik: “We plan to do a 6 month round-the-world trip, and I would like to home-school Dave. How can we do that?”
  • Principal: “I don’t have the authority to permit that, you’ll have to talk to the school authorities”

So then this dialog took place between me and a official from Ekerö Kommun:

  • Henrik: “We plan to do a 6 month round-the-world trip, and I would like to home-school our oldest child (8 years old). How can we do that?”
  • Official: “Sorry, we can’t permit that.”
  • Henrik: “What do you mean?”
  • Official: “It is against the law. The school law has changed recently, and home schooling is completely forbidden. You child has to attend a formally approved school as long as you are a Swedish citizen. The only exceptions are if you have medical reasons.”
  • Henrik: “Oh. Uh, well, suppose, hypothetically, that we make this trip anyway. What would happen?”
  • Official: “You would be breaking the law and can get into a lot of trouble. If we are worried about your child we can fine you and register you with the authorities and [list of other bad things that might happen to Bad Parents like us].
  • Henrik: “What can I do to lessen your worry than?”
  • Official: “Well, calling us now was a good first step.”
  • Henrik: “OK. Well, suppose, hypothetically, that we make this trip anyway. And suppose Dave menages to learn the stuff he needs to learn, and the school teachers agree that he has enough knowledge to join his class again when he is back home. Will we still be punished?
  • Official: “Probably not.”

I was glad to see that, even though a law can be unreasonable, the people enforcing it can be reasonable.

We realize that there is a reason for the law, since there have been some cases of parents keeping their kids completely outside of the school system, thereby denying their kids a proper education (and a chance to integrate with the Swedish society) That’s the type of situation the law is aimed at, a good cause. The stupid thing is that school principles aren’t given the authority to make exceptions on a case-by-case basis, such as this case where we obviously aren’t denying our child an education, and could present a credible plan for how to stay in sync with school. In the US, home schooling is really big, and the studies I have seen indicate that home schooling works just as well (and in many cases even better) than “normal” schooling, if done properly.

Anyway, enough ranting. In the end we decided to just ignore the law. This law incriminates any Swedish family that does a long trip like ours (and Swedes do travel a lot), and I’m sure that’s not the intent of the lawmakers. So I hope that more people like us will protest (such as through civil disobedience) and thereby indirectly contribute to a future adjustment of the school law.

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The world is our classroom; how we home-school on the road

Many people ask us how we handle school while travelling.

The answer is: Home schooling on the road!

Fortunately we only have one kid in formal school age so far (Dave). That’s one of the reasons why we decided to do this trip now, and not wait. Home schooling one child is managable – if we had waited, we’d have to home school 2, 3, or even 4 kids while on the road

We brought both physical and electronic course material, so any environment can become a classroom. Here are some examples of “class rooms” that we’ve had while on the road:

So how do we stay in sync with Dave’s class back home?

We talked to the teachers and obtained a list of learning objectives for the whole school year, and the most important course material (such as math workbooks). We turned this into a system of “school points”, listing each learning objective and each workbook, and assigning a number of points to each depending on the rough amount of effort. For example one chapter in the math book is one point, learning to count to 10 in English is one point, etc. We also added a system of “country points”, where David has to research 10 questions in each country (what is the population of the country, where is it in the world, what language to people speak there, etc, here is an example). Each question worth one point. And so on.

The total is 211 points, and the length of the trip is 165 days. So we have 165 days to finish 211 points! That’s very concrete. We use that to measure progress and decide if we are behind or ahead of schedule.

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The two bars at the bottom of the page illustrate our progress visually. The first bar is how many travel days have elapsed (in %), the second bar is how many points have been completed (in %). In this example (from Feb 15) we had done 89% of the school points, and had finished only 84% of our travel days, so we were ahead. We also get weekly class letters from Dave’s teacher in Sweden, which tells us what is going on so that we can update our schedule accordingly.

In Thailand (2 months) Dave and Jenny actually attended a school, so I didn’t need to home school. But here’s how it worked for the rest of the trip:

Every morning, typically after breakfast, we do 1-2 hours of school. Just me and Dave, sometimes with Jenny (when she is interested). Jenny is not in formal school yet, so for her school-on-the-road is not as important.

The locations vary a lot, could be anything from the hotel room, a park bench, or a local café. As long as we get away from the smaller kids for a while (it’s really hard to focus on intellectual stuff with a 3 yr and 1 yr old kid nearby).

The length of the “school day” varies depending on if we are ahead of the plan or behind. Usually 1-2 hours per day (including weekends) is enough to stay in sync. Not long time, but very focused and effective. Sometimes we do as little as 0 hours or as much as 4 hours.

In addition to the predefined school points, Dave reads stories and writes in his travel diary every night. And there’s also plenty of opportunity for on-the-fly schooling for all kids through the School of Real Life, here is an example from Beijing. In fact, I’m surprised at how much learning opportunities there are when travelling, such as:

  • Writing on this blog
  • Converting between different currencies and figuring out what stuff really costs (“what is my weekly allowance in Peruvian Soles?”)
  • Conversational English, and some basic words from many other languages such as Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese.
  • Communicating and negotiating with people that don’t speak your language, using sign language and body language.
  • Time zone conversions (“I want to call Grandma on Skype, what time is it in Sweden right now?”)
  • Geography and politics – learning where countries and continents are on the globe, and comparing political systems (capitalism vs communism, censorship in china, european imperialism, etc).
  • History – for example while in Peru we discussed how the Spanish invaded South America and looted Inca gold, and while in the West Indies we discussed how the pirates in that area would attack the Spanish ships transporting the gold back to Europe. While walking on the great wall of china we discussed the mongol invasions and the Qin dynasty.
  • Culture and religion – seeing how each country and their people differ from each other, learning that Swedish culture is just one of many cultures in the world. Visiting temples, monestaries, and churches of different religions.
  • Entrepreneurship – seeing how people make their livings in all kinds of imaginative ways.

I’m sure Dave won’t be perfectly in sync with his class when we get home. There are probably some things that his class has learned that Dave hasn’t, and vice versa – things that Dave has learned that haven’t been covered in his class. But I think the gap will be manageable.

All in all I’m pretty sure that travelling for 6 months and visiting 8 countries is a richer educational experience than any school can provide, even a really good school like Skå Skola :)

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Sand castle at Fort Recovery

The last chapter of our BigFamilyTrip is here at Fort Recovery on the West side of Tortola. We are staying in a beachfront apartment and, after a couple of weeks living on a boat, we really appreciate basic things like electricity, warm showers, and Internet. Oh, and not having to keep checking that all the kids are still on board….

This evening we built a sandcastle together while enjoying the sunset. Well, actually, the male half of the family + Jenny was focusing mostly on the castle building :o)

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