Boarding Pass – Rachel Beanland

Rachel Beanland works in PR, and decided to take three months off of work to travel with her husband, a math professor on a Fulbright in Greece, and their 2-year old Clementine (adopted from Ethiopia) and 6-year old Gabriel (adopted from Guatemala). Through her blog If It Takes a Whole Life she documents the their beautiful family’s adventures with some great observations. So far they’ve done the Peloponnesian Peninsula (twice), Istanbul, Paros, Rome and Tuscany, with a few more areas of Greece and London before heading home in June. I love that two young children doesn’t keep them from being adventurous! Thanks, Rachel!

{Overlooking Siena}
{Family photo – Ancient Corinth, Greece}

Last Trip Taken:
We’re living abroad in Athens this spring, and we just finished up a nine-day trip to Rome and Tuscany. We spent two days in Rome before traveling to Florence by train. In Florence, we rented an apartment for a week and booked a car, which we used to explore Tuscany. In addition to enjoying Florence, we were able to check out San Gimignano, Cortona, Siena, Arezzo, Lucca, and even make a brief stop in Pisa. The highlights of our trip included a hike in Cortona and a bike ride around the old city of Lucca. Traveling with two kids under age six, we’ve learned that we all have the most fun when we’re doing something active.

{Bike riding break – Lucca, Italy}

Next Trip on Deck:
We return to the U.S. in early June so we’re currently plotting how to spend our last month in Greece. We’ve got a long weekend in Santorini planned for mid-May and a three-day stopover in London booked on the way home. There’s also a plan in the works to rent a car and drive north to Meteora because we can’t leave Greece without seeing Meteora’s monasteries.

{View of Florence}

One place you’d go back to again and again:
Both of our children are adopted—our son Gabriel, who’s six years old, is Guatemalan and our daughter Clementine, who’s two, is Ethiopian. We fostered our son for three months in Antigua, Guatemala when he was an infant, and as a result, we really fell in love with the place. When Gabriel was four years old, we took our first trip back to Guatemala and had an incredible time. When we adopted Clementine from Ethiopia, for a variety of reasons, the trip to meet her and bring her home was a whirlwind. It left us hungry to see more of the country. We’re already talking about going back to Ethiopia for a real vacation—one that would allow us to explore Clementine’s birth country in much more depth. Our plan is to wait until Clementine’s old enough to remember it but still young enough for the impression it makes on her to become a part of her story as she grows up. When you have kids who are adopted from abroad, I think that the countries of their origin automatically move to the top of your list of countries you’d visit again and again.

{Gabriel at a Coffee Plantation – Antigua, Guatemala – 2009}

{Clementine makes friends – Florence, Italy}
{Golden Beach – Paros, Greece}

Place you’d most likely recommend a friend go visit:
A few weeks ago we took the ferry to Paros, a Greek island in the Cyclades. It was early April so the weather was great, wildflowers were in bloom everywhere, and tourists were scarce. We rented a car and drove all over the island, visiting Golden Beach and Naoussa and even taking a small ferry over to Antiparos, a tiny island off the coast of Paros. Antiparos felt like paradise. It was so green and the water was this beautiful turquoise color and the views were just incredible. Kevin and I just kept looking at each other and telling ourselves how lucky we were to get to be there at all.

{Naoussa Harbor}

{Kevin and Gabriel on their bike – Lucca, Italy}

Preferred method of transportation:
With kids, this is an easy one. As romantic as train travel and ferry travel can be and as convenient as air travel is, nothing compares to strapping your kids into car seats and coasting down a quiet piece of road. Our best trips as a family have been the ones where we rented a car for the majority of our travel. A car gives you the freedom to go where public transportation can’t take you, and it has the added benefit that it keeps your kids contained! I’m writing this from a train and my daughter is climbing all over our luggage, my son, our legs, the seats… you get the point! Seatbelts aren’t just about safety—they’re also about saving parental sanity! There were some moments during this recent Tuscany trip when my husband was behind the wheel of our rental car, I was navigating/enjoying the scenery, and the kids were both asleep in the backseat, and we thought, “Yeah, we’ve got this traveling with kids thing all figured out.”

{Sea Urchins in Antiparos, Greece}
{Vatican | St. Peter’s Basilica – Rome}

Place you’ve never been but are dying to go:
For whatever reason, I’ve got it in my head that I want to drive around Iceland for a week or so one summer. We’ve also talked about driving the Alaskan highway. When the kids are a little older, I’d be interested in doing some longer hikes; even though we’re Jewish, I’m interested in hiking el Camino de Santiago in Spain. The kids have got to be old enough (and strong enough!) to carry their own gear for that one, though. It’s one thing for Kevin to carry a 30-pound toddler around Europe—it’s another for him to haul her and all her stuff!

{Grand Bazaar – Istanbul | Topkapi Palace Harem – Istanbul}

Place you’d never go back:
I blogged about a recent trip we took to Istanbul and the negative reactions we got to Clementine, or more specifically, Clementine’s skin color. We were accosted pretty much constantly; the people we encountered just couldn’t wrap their heads around transracial adoption. Clementine was photographed and videotaped constantly and the first thing anyone said to us—in restaurants, in museums, at our hotel, or wherever we happened to go—was, “She’s black.” Yeah, we know. People asked whether I’d been fooling around on Kevin; one guy even tried to wipe the black off her skin, like it was dirt. Kevin and I could have dealt with it but the heartbreaking part was that Clementine and Gabriel really started to pick up on what people were saying and doing. At one point Clementine told us, “No more pictures. Just Mommy and Daddy pictures.” We haven’t traveled to enough countries with Clementine to know for sure whether the experience we had is a specifically “Turkish” experience or whether Clementine would have gotten a comparable reception in other Muslim or non-Western countries. Whatever the case, we’ve realized that we need to do more research about the countries we choose to travel to, especially as she grows older. While we loved seeing Istanbul, we never again want to put her in a position where she feels as uncomfortable as she did while we were there.

{All the makings for a glass of juice, fresh squeezed on the sidewalk – Istanbul}

Most memorable trip in two sentences or less:
When I was a teenager, my family lived just outside of London, and we spent three Christmases in a rented fisherman’s cottage in St. Ive’s, an oceanside town at the tip of Cornwall. The days were gray and blustery but we bundled up, drank plenty of tea, ate buttered crumpets by day and mussels in white wine sauce at night, and indulged in more than our fair share of Christmas pudding. Before my kids grow up, I want to give them one vacation there.

{gelato in Siena, Italy}

{Cooking lunch – Sedat, Israel}

How do you prepare for a trip?
Urgh, by doing far too little! I am not a mother who packs a bunch of educational games and toys to keep the kids occupied on airplanes; I rarely remember to pack a “just in case our luggage is lost” change of clothes in our carry-on; I never have snacks and drinks when we need them; and when our luggage is weighed at check-in, I always feel like I’m playing a game of Russian roulette. While I will shop for necessities in advance, I tend to pack the night before a trip—to me, it feels sort of useless to pack any earlier than the last minute because, when you do, half your clothes aren’t ready to be pulled out of rotation and it’s not like you can pack your toiletries any earlier than the morning of your trip anyway. Kevin’s grandfather, a retired sailor, likes to say that all he needs for a trip is “two pairs of scivvies and a toothbrush.” We pack far heavier than that but I like his overall perspective. I like to think that the end result of being ill-prepared travelers is that we’re creating two resilient, fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants kids.

{Florence gravestone – San Miniato | Me – Florence Apartment}

How do you record your travels when you’re traveling?
I maintain a blog in everyday life, so I try to blog when I’m traveling as well. It’s always more difficult to keep up with it because our days are so packed and I’m so exhausted by the time we put the kids down to bed. I try to share little snippets of our experience, letting my photos do most of the talking, but half the time I wonder if what I’m writing makes any sense at all…

{San Gimignano door | Istanbul door}

What is your favorite thing to photograph in a new place?
When I’m not photographing the kids, I’m always lagging behind the family, taking photos of doorways, windows and other little architectural details I find appealing. There’s something about an old door, with a bright pot of flowers on the stoop and maybe a vine creeping up and around the frame of the door, that just gets me every time. I wind up with way too many photos in this genre! But maybe you can never have too many photos of pretty doorways…

{Siena, Italy}

{Hagia Sofia – Istanbul}

On average, how many pictures do you take on a trip?
I’m embarrassed to admit, I probably take at least a thousand photos on a week-long trip. I blame the kids! Gabriel, the six year old, is wising up to this whole camera thing and in half of the shots I take of him, he’s doing his best to avoid me! I get a lot of sullen Gabriel, head-turned Gabriel, or cheesy-fake-smile/get-this-over-with Gabriel. Clementine still hams it up but she’s also constantly in motion. So, there’s a lot of photo-taking going on but there’s also a lot of deleting happening each night when I download the day’s pictures. The fun part is that Gabriel’s starting to ask if he can take the photos now, which is nice. It requires an extreme amount of trust on my part to hand my camera over to a six-year-old but I’m trying to encourage his interest.

{Mosque in Istanbul}
{Antigua, Guatemala – 2009}

What’s in your “designer travel kit”?
As an art history major backpacking through Europe in college, I filled an entire journal writing about the places I was going and the art I was seeing—okay, and about how much I was missing my much-adored boyfriend-at-the-time, Kevin. I wrote everything down, and I still love re-reading the book nine years after the fact. Traveling with two young children is an entirely different proposition! I’ve got my Canon Digital Rebel glued to my hip during the day and my blog at night, and that’s the only thing that happens until I’ve had a little more time to process everything, back at home and (hopefully) in a tranquil environment without two kids anywhere in the vicinity!

{Meat market – Athens, Greece}

What do you do after a trip? How long after a trip does this happen?
I always have a few blog posts that I didn’t manage to get to during the trip, so I wrap those up in the first few days I’m home. Then, in addition to whatever I’ve shared on the blog, I also like to create a more personal photo book for our family to keep. Since the whole world isn’t seeing it, I can include personal stories and information I might not share with everyone. Shutterfly’s photo books have gotten really good but there are other companies out there as well that make great products. The most creative thing I ever did with some of our travel photos was create an alphabet book for Gabriel using photos I’d taken while we were fostering him in Guatemala.

I wish I could say I get to the photo books right away but sometimes it takes me a while! I’ve got two “competing priorities” (Gabriel and Clementine) that take up a lot of my time!

{window shopping – Paros, Greece}

Favorite souvenir to bring back from a trip?
I buy very little when we travel, usually because I don’t want to lug whatever it is around with us as we make our way to our next destination or home. When I do shop, I tend to gravitate toward art—something unique that I wouldn’t find in Richmond and that I can enjoy in our home for years to come. On a recent trip to the Peloponnesian Peninsula, I bought a small pair of funky ceramic tennis shoes. They’re whimsical and they don’t scream Greece but, when I see them, I know I’ll always remember the night I bought them.

We do have a do-or-die souvenir that we buy for my son wherever we go. He loves soccer jerseys so we buy him one in whichever country we happen to be visiting. It’s gotten to be sort of a thing, and now even our friends and family bring him soccer jerseys when they travel abroad. He’s got soccer jerseys from Thailand, Spain, Guatemala, Turkey, Greece, Croatia, Italy, Ukraine, and Jamaica, to name a few of countries that are represented in his closet!

{Fostering the G-man in Antigua – 2005 | Gabriel scores a jacket in the Grand Bazaar}

Gabriel’s favorite souvenir of all time is a Spiderman sweatshirt jacket we bought him in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. It’s sort of insane—the hood zips up over his face and he can look out through these two little black plastic eyeholes. It’s utterly ridiculous but it was worth every cent of the 12 Euro we paid for it!

{We will – Naoussa, Greece}


Boarding Pass is a weekly column exploring the creative ways people travel.


  • What a lovely family and a great experience for the kids; except maybe Istanbul.

    I’ve never been to Turkey, but as an African-American of mixed-race heritage who’s traveled a bunch in Europe – though to many people I look some varietal of Latina, Polynesian, Native American, Indian, or anything BUT Black – I’ve had some odd experiences myself (in Europe).

    Italy, which I love, is a pretty homogeneous country. I’ve never been to Rome, but elsewhere in Italy, it doesn’t seem very diverse. And the Africans or Asians who are there seem like recent arrivals; not like in the States where folks of different persuasions have been Americans for generations.

    Perhaps because the Italians didn’t do as much colonization of Africa (or anywhere in Asia) as their French, British, or other European counterparts? I dunno. All I know is that in many cities and towns throughout Italy, my skin sticks out like a sore thumb. I get a lot of staring and questions about where I’m from; mostly people confused about how to categorize my race, and wanting me to explain, as though I were some alien life form.

    In Venice once, a girl that I’d been friendly with warned me off of a day trip to Milan because, “there are a lot of niggers there.” Nice. Though I’m not sure she was aware or understood what an offensive term the n-word is, in English. And I wasn’t in the mood to teach her a lesson, so I just smiled and said, “Grazie.”

    It’s for reasons like this that when I think about wanting to expat to Europe, cities like Paris are where I think I could live, comfortably and happily because of the relative diversity. And even Paris or France in general isn’t perfect. You see and hear some pretty racist stuff in France. Take the recent laws against Muslim garb for women. Yeah. Sarkozy isn’t fooling anyone with that BS.

    I’ve not been to London or the UK, but I imagine I’d feel similarly at home there. I mean, really. There are parts of the US I know I couldn’t live in because they’re so … White. I just couldn’t do it. That said, I couldn’t live in an all Black or Latino or Asian neighborhood or city, either.

    I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area (Berkeley) and am used to a wildly wide range of cultures, colors, foods, etc. Without that range, I don’t feel at ease, or at home. Anywhere. A visit is fine, but not to live. Much as I love places like Italy.

  • What an interesting story! I am so excited that your children are getting such a wonderful opportunity to see the world. It’s interesting to me that you got that type of response in Instanbul. In my mind, I think that the US is the only country with such strong racial issues, but I guess it’s everywhere.

    My friend is adopting a little boy from Ethiopia so I sent her the link to your blog. They have the referral but have not been able to get him yet.

    Thanks so much for writing this! I enjoyed it so much.


  • What a lovely Boarding Pass post! Finally, a post about family travel abroad. I too enjoy going abroad with my family. We are a biracial couple (with biracial kids) and I cannot say I have had a bad experience in any of our trips. I can see how that will discourage you from going back to Turkey. I love reading about wanting to travel to Iceland. Coincidentaly, we (myself, my husband and 2 kids ages 7 and 4) will be going there this summer… I am so looking forward to that.
    Thank you ladies for the awesome post.


  • Great family and beautiful description of your holidays. But whatever happened in Istanbul was really shocking. And i must say you are a really great photographer.

  • As a Turkish person reading about your experiences in Istanbul I was saddened although I’m sure you are aware that racism exists in many cities and countries around the world and is not a typically Turkish phenomenon.

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