"Travel is vital, especially in the worst of times. I would say that, though, wouldn’t I, as a journalist who runs toward danger, not away from it? But in both good and difficult times alike, traveling & meeting people with different & opposing ideas is as important as finding the most inviting beaches, visiting the best restaurants, and seeing the sights." -Christian Amanpour
First Family Road Trip: Driving Across Hokkaido

First Family Road Trip: Driving Across Hokkaido

Hello from Hokkaido, Japan's northern island, where Sapporo beer and comes from and we're driving. More specifically, I'm driving. Japan doesn't have a permit agreement with Germany so I'm at the helm on the left-hand side of the road, with GPS in Japanese.

Hokkaido is more Siberian outpost than the techy metropolis of Tokyo or the surfy vibe we just left in Okinawa. It's too early for cherry blossoms and too late for skiing (even though we've had glimpses of both), so we have the place to ourselves. 

This is our first big road trip as a family. Because driving really is the only way to see Hokkaido. And Hokkaido is about the landscape. 

It's no secret that road trips are exhausting and with a baby, exponentially. I've had to access my creative genius to conjure up the melangé of funny games and songs needed to pass the time. A brave new world for us audiobook-listeners. 

Every evening after our daily adventure we'd arrive at our accommodation- ryokan, guest house, or hotel- looking like a gypsy caravan on Dead tour, leaving a trail of squeaky toys and sippy cups behind us. We had sushi rolls and canned Ashahis from 7-11 in our rooms because we were too tired to do anything else. The next morning we'd get up and do it all over again.

Because we’re traveling and this is what you do. You wear the same clothes, drink terrible coffee and find a roadside onsen with a bunch of naked locals having a soak. The baby factor just makes it all the more interesting.
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Tips

  • People speak limited English in Hokkaido but signs are in English. GPS is in Japanese, but also have map codes that make it possible.

  • Sleeping in a ryokan is a must, mostly for the experience of bathing in an onsen and sleeping on the floor.

  • Going in the Spring before "Golden Week" will get you better accommodation prices and you can still see cherry blossoms.


We drank beer in Sapporo, milk in Furano, saw snow in Daisetsuzan National Park and cherry blossoms in Hakodate. We had a bad Mongolian hotpot experience in Shari and a breakfast of roe and cured salmon in Akan National Park

1,300 km from south to north and south again. 

We slept on the floor in ryokans and in business hotels with their tiny twin beds. We saw northern red foxes and macaque monkeys. We saw Russia. We marveled at nature and couldn't believe how multi-faceted the country is. The  We drove during her naps, we played in the snow, we savored the cold. It wouldn't be cold again until Africa.

We’re handling it. Actually, it’s Sia’s who’s handling it. To tolerate her parents’ carpe diem with little more than a 4 pm protest is classy. At 9 months old, I’m so proud of her. And I’m proud of us for taking this chance, defying the fears that flow through me constantly as a new mom.

Travel is the easy part, being a good parent is the new territory. 

 

But the more we go down this road, the easier it gets and a decision that once loomed down on us like a long shadow has become as featherweight as a cherry blossom. We make our way, both as a family and down these lonely highways in northern Japan. Together.

She's growing up on the road, and I'm pretty sure we're growing up with her.

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