Updated: Sep 24
I have a terrible travel bug. My long-suffering husband Bruce is nodding his head vigorously at this statement. I could blame it on my parents. After all, when I was 10 years old and Saigon fell at the end of the Vietnam war, they dragged me across the world from Vietnam to the United States via a convoluted "refugee tour" through the Philippines and Guam, through Alaska to Pennsylvania, before we were sponsored by a Lutheran Church in Minnesota. We barely settled in for fall and winter in Minneapolis when my mom got pneumonia; so we packed up and took the train down to New Orleans. About 2 years later, after multiple tries at getting jobs and starting businesses, we packed up and moved again to California in search of new job opportunities, first San Diego, then Irvine.
When I graduated from Irvine High School with the highest honors, my parents awarded me with a trip with them to visit my brother in Cologne, Germany, and sister in law's family in Paris. So you could say that they instilled a taste for travel in me. To be honest, though, it's really not my parents' fault. All my other 10 siblings were on the same journeys, and most of them were content to stay in their chosen home, whether it is in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, or California without venturing much beyond the US borders.
Maybe it's the friends I hung out with. In medical school, Sara and I would travel to England, France, Italy, and Greece in our summers. Yet after we graduated and went to our separate residency training programs, I continued to explore the world on my own, or with new friends whom I met along the way: Mexico (where I got suckered into my first timeshare), Nepal (where I was supposed to study Poverty Medicine but thanks to the 1990 coup, ended up doing Trauma Medicine at my hospital), Thailand (where I was studying Tropical Medicine but due to high incidents of poisoning in the rural areas, ended up studying Toxicology), Singapore, and Vietnam when it opened to the West in 1994.
From then on, for the next 20 years, I kept going back to Vietnam again and again, mostly on medical missions with my friends at SAP-VN, but sometimes for private tours and travels with friends and family. (At one point several years ago, someone asked me why I do that, to return to Vietnam year after year, traveling to the most godforsaken places, up in the mountains, deep in the delta just to spend 3-4 days seeing thousands of patients. So I wrote a short story explaining why I did, see https://www.theworldaccordingtodrdaps.com/post/why-we-go-vietnam-story-1 )
After I got a job in private practice and got married, my husband and I continued to travel to the more popular destinations until the kids arrived.
THE QUEST : 7 years, 50 states, 4 children
When our 4 children were very little, traveling was a huge undertaking. We had to pack 2 car seats for the twins, 2 booster seats for the boys, and a double stroller everywhere, not to mention the diapers and wipes, games, blankets, toys, and teddy bears. So we only did local drivable destinations within California except, of course, Hawaii and Florida, which are recurrent destinations thanks to our family's get-togethers and our timeshare purchase.
When my twin daughters turned 6 years old and I thought they were old enough to remember their life experiences, we began our quest to travel to the other 47 states of America. Our oldest son Cameron was 11 years old by then. In my experience, children usually spend less time with their parents once they get into college, so I figured we had about 7 years to see 47 states, which worked out to be an average of 6-7 states a year.
I usually get 3-4 weeks off a year, 2-3 weeks in the summer, and 1 during the kids' spring break. I also have the most heat-intolerant children ever, who will not step out of the car or condo if the temperature is above 100 degrees Fahrenheit or the humidity is above 60%, so I learned to schedule the southern states for spring.
The children were also in a Children's Choir so we worked our travels around that. (Like when they needed to perform in Washington D.C. for the 200th anniversary of the US flag, we took the next 2 weeks to travel up the coast to Maine and looped back down to Washington DC)
The quest worked out to be something like this :
2011- Driving trips Nevada and Arizona for spring; Northern California, Oregon, Washington for the summer (4 states)
2012- Louisiana in spring; Utah, Wyoming, Idaho in summer (4 states)
2013- New Mexico, Texas in spring; Montana in summer, Washington DC, Virginia Pennsylvania New Jersey, New York in summer(7 states)
2014- Georgia, North and South Carolina in spring; Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, RI, Mass, Main, New Hampshire, Vermont, in summer(11 states)
2015- Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri in June(9 states ); Minnesota, Wisconsin, Upper, and Lower Michigan in August (3 states)
2016- Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas in spring; Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota in summer (7 states)
2017-Iowa in spring, Alaska in summer (2)
If you asked my kids today, which state was their favorite? They would all agree that it was Alaska.
Of course, this does not count the beautiful California where we live. It has taken us many years to go from the Redwoods forest in the north to the Anza Borrego desert in the south, from the depth of Death Valley to the peak of Mount Whitney, from the serene Big Sur coast to the ski slopes of Lake Tahoe, from the bubbling volcano at Mount Lassen to the dry tufa at Mono Lake.
But Alaska was truly and genuinely magnificent. It will be my first travel story of the Quest.
As the children grew bigger, they outgrew their booster seat requirement and were able to handle their own luggage, we were able to start adding international destinations.
So far, the kids are good with it. Of course, they are traveling with a doctor and we always have an emergency kit or two in our luggage for those pesky cuts, sunburns, earaches, and diarrhea.
Yucatan, Mexico in 2013
Aruba in 2014
Costa Rica in 2015
Vietnam in 2016
Japan in 2017
Indonesia in 2018
Cambodia and Spain in 2019
2020 was a major bust, as far as traveling goes. Our spring trip was canceled with the lockdown in March. We tried to get to the Sierra for a hiking trip in June and drove into Lone Pine on June 24 on the day of the earthquake that was centered in Lone Pine. Trails to Mount Whitney were closed.
We tried to drive to UC Santa Cruz in August so our son can at least see where his dorm would have been if schools weren't held remotely. But the sky turned dark as we drove past Monterey as one of the many fires of Northern California that year crested the mountain and turned toward Santa Cruz. Our hotel desk clerk said, "go home, we're evacuating."
Then in early December, Bruce and I drove to Borrego Springs to get out of the city for the weekend. The hikes up the mountain and around the desert were wonderful. On the way home, I started sneezing and had to take one of my allergy pills. When we got home, we got the text from my back office nurse that her husband, her son, and herself have been sick and all 3 tested positive for covid-19. I turned to Bruce and said, "I am so sorry, I think I just gave you Covid on the long drive home".
Our office shut down for 2 weeks for quarantine because 4 of us got Covid that week. I didn't come back to work until after Bruce was clear. He didn't develop symptoms until Thursday and continued to have fevers, body aches, and tachycardia for 2 weeks. I had congestion and headache for 3 days and was seeing patients from my desktop computer during those 3 weeks in the middle of California's big surge.
Well, here's to a better year. Hopefully, everyone will do their part in stopping the spread of this virus so we can all come out of the house and I can start traveling again.