Brenda Autry has a message for anyone who's ever wanted to simply grab a bag, grab the kid and see the world: Yes, it can be done.
Brenda, 35, and her daughter Arabella, 10, left Albany on Aug. 3, 2017, for a 10-month odyssey that encompassed visits to 19 countries. The two returned to the mid-valley in May.
"I'm hoping I can inspire more single moms, that they can go out and do this," Brenda said. "Being alone doesn't mean being behind."
Some losses and changes were a part of what made the trip possible, however. Brenda ended up quitting her job as assistant to the dean of science and mathematics at Linn-Benton Community College, and part of the roughly $30,000 travel budget came from money left to her by her late father.
But the booming housing market was a blessing, allowing Brenda to rent her home at a premium and provide some of the income that kept her going.
And, she said, in Arabella, she had the best traveling partner she could ask for.
"I really feel now she's my best friend in the whole world," she said.
The 19 countries encompassed the top half of the globe: No trips to Africa or South America this time. (Arabella, who plans to study veterinary science, has Africa in mind for the future; specifically, working there to save populations of wild cheetahs.)
The mom and daughter started with Bali, then other parts of Indonesia, then Singapore, Borneo (Malaysia) Borneo (the peninsula), Vietnam and Cambodia. Thailand was next, followed by Shanghai on the central coast of China, then Japan and Hong Kong before a quick trip home for Christmas.
After the holidays it was back overseas, this time to Europe: Spain, Italy, Hungary and the Czech Republic to start. From there they traveled to Germany, France, Scotland, Ireland and England.
They kept an online blog during portions of the trip, complete with pictures and travel tips, at http://www.alittlewanderful.com/.
Brenda particularly wanted to visit as much of Asia as she could, and the duo had so much fun they went back to several countries following their Europe leg: the Maldives, then back to Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Beijing and the Great Wall of China before heading home in May.
Vietnam, where Brenda's father had been stationed during the war, was a favorite for both Autrys.
"Everyone's nice," Arabella explained. "There's just like, a rhythm, and everyone respects each other. And I got to ride on a water buffalo and get licked by a baby buffalo."
Arabella also listed Ireland, Scotland and Spain among her favorites. Hunting for leprechauns and taking a Harry Potter tour were among the best parts of the visit to the British Isles, and she enjoyed a stop by a bullfighting ring in Valencia.
"I'm against bullfighting, but I still like to look at the history of it," she said.
Brenda said she loved the beauty of Vietnam, particularly an overnight cruise the two took in Ha Long Bay and trekking the mountains near Sa Pa.
Germany was a favorite of hers because of Bavaria, a place she'd always wanted to visit. It was winter, and the frozen waterfalls of the Garmisch-Partenkirchen area turned the scenery into an icy wonderland.
"I could live there," she said. "I could move there today."
Scotland and Ireland were also particularly fun, Brenda added, mostly because of the castles and ruined abbeys.
Not everything was smooth sailing. The two succumbed to food poisoning once, and Arabella decided to avoid monkeys after a capuchin monkey in Bali took her direct eye contact as a challenge and charged.
Arabella also decided to go vegetarian during the trip, saying she wasn't comfortable with the types of meat some of the Asian countries used, nor the way the flies would attack it as it hung in the marketplace for sale. However, she said, "I always wanted to be a vegetarian," and it wasn't hard to find meatless dishes throughout the rest of their travels.
The duo encountered few other problems, however. They bought SIM cards in every country and were able to access internet service in even the poorest neighborhoods. Arabella used her mother's laptop to take classes for three hours each afternoon through Albany Online and soared through her fourth-grade year, despite never once setting foot in her classroom at Central Elementary School, where she'll return this fall.
They never had trouble with luggage. "I had a 70-liter pack, and Bella carried a 40-liter pack," Brenda said. "We ended up with another little day pack full of souvenirs along the way too."
They never got lost or mugged or ran out of money. In fact, Brenda said, she ran into other families traveling together pretty much everywhere they went and she never felt unsafe. "We never felt endangered, ever."
In Japan, Arabella added, "They can leave their wallets and phones in the cafe when they go to the bathroom, and no one even looks at them."
Arabella formed friendships with girls from Korea and France. She talked with them using Google Translate, "and then we just used sign language to figure the rest out."
They learned a little of each language everywhere they went, however. "We usually learned 'hello,' 'thank you' and 'toilet,'" Arabella said.
"And, 'Is there meat in this?'" Brenda put in.
Attention from the locals sometimes was hard to handle for Arabella, whose red hair and freckles were source of amazement in southeast Asia.
And she was more homesick than her mother, especially missing friends and pets, so the two quit the trip a couple months earlier than planned.
Mostly, however, the two revel in the memories they now share: experiencing an elevated skywalk in the rainforests of Borneo, watching the bat exodus at Gunung Mulu National Park, eating banh mi and pho in Vietnam, riding bikes in China, releasing baby sea turtles in Bali, touring the school in Scotland that was the inspiration for Hogwarts, and visiting every Disneyland in the world.
"I think in America we get pretty narrow-minded on how people live," Brenda said. "I wanted to create empathy, to know what it's like to feel different, and know that it's OK to be different, and be curious of other cultures and respectful of other cultures."
Arabella said she appreciated getting to experience those differences.
"I just like that everyone's not the same all the time," she said.