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Franklin family travels for better part of year

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The recreational vehicle rolled out of the Franklin subdivision, trailed by cheering neighbors and pointed toward a dream.

Inside were a week’s worth of clothes, assorted pots and pans, cereal, peanut butter, coffee, two adults and three children.

Left behind were their house, their jobs and their schoolwork in search of a grand adventure.

For the next nine months, Brent and Elizabeth Friend traveled the American roadways. They took leaves from their jobs, found someone to rent their home and packed up a suitcase worth of belongings in their RV.

When they were done seeing Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore, they flew to Europe for a three-month backpacking tour of the continent, where they were joined by the couple’s fourth child.

“Before these kids all spread out and start going their own way, we can look back and say we took this calculated risk,” Brent Friend said. “It’s encouraging to know you can take that kind of a risk, because the benefits are priceless.”

The Friend family packed a lifetime of vacations into one trip.

They drove through redwood forests and along the Pacific Coast Highway, where the ocean crashed onto the cliffs. They scrambled up the rock formations at Arches National Park and peered into an abyss at Carlsbad Caverns. They saw the Coliseum in Rome, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona.

“It was the tale of two continents. America was an experience seeing God’s creation, where Europe is an experience seeing man’s creation,” Brent Friend said. “Here we see all of these national parks and natural monuments and everything part of nature. But traveling through Europe, the attraction is seeing what man has built.”

Arden, 15, taught herself to play guitar on the trip. Brody, 9, who has been interested in cooking in the past, learned to put together meals while on the road.

They all tried unique dishes such as octopus and shrimp’s eye that would turn up most kids’ noses.

“It was amazing what the kids did. We put them in a different environment, and they flourished,” Elizabeth Friend said.

A trip of this magnitude doesn’t happen on a whim. The idea germinated for years before becoming a reality.

It was made possible when Elizabeth Friend, a business analytics specialist for Booz Allen Hamilton, started working full time again after their youngest son, Brody, was old enough for school.

That extra income was saved. They didn’t know what it would be used for but let their savings accumulate.

‘A calculated risk’

After Elizabeth Friend read about a family taking an around-the-world trip, they started discussing using that money for a similar excursion. They determined that it would cost about $80,000. Their own savings plus help from both Elizabeth and Brent Friends’ parents got them close.

“It would be a calculated risk. But while we still had some youthful exuberance, why not retire for the better part of a year while our kids are still living with us? We thought we could make it work,” Brent Friend said.

The Friend children were more skeptical.

“We never thought it was really going to happen. Before, we never did vacations,” said Brenna Friend, 19. “Once it actually got closer, we believed it.”

Slowly, more pieces came together to make the trip a reality in 2013.

The biggest risk was with their jobs.

Elizabeth Friend was still with Booz Allen Hamilton, while Brent Friend worked as a land surveyor for Butler, Fairman & Seufert in Indianapolis. They had to go to their bosses, explain their plan and ask for a leave of absence. Both firms agreed.

The family also would have to arrange for their children’s educations. They couldn’t just skip a full year of classes.

Working with Franklin Community School Corp. Superintendent David Clendenning, they were able to access online classes offered by Franklin for Arden and Scarlet, 13.

Brody, who would be a third-grader at Creekside Elementary, was home-schooled.

The trip itself became part of the assignment for the kids. Brody kept a blog that his classmates followed. When the family came back to Indiana in January, he gave a presentation about what he had learned.

Arden worked with Franklin Community High School art teacher Kelli Park to submit photographs for class of what she saw.

The Friends also had to figure out what to do with their Franklin home for 10 months. Originally planning to have a friend house-sit, their plans fell through weeks before they were scheduled to leave.

‘Whatever we wanted to do’

Serendipitously, they were connected to John Regas, who had been hired as the new high school athletics director at Franklin and moving from Florida.

“They were scrambling for a home, we were scrambling for a tenant. Through connections with the school board, we were able to meet them. They ended up staying in the house from August to April,” Brent Friend said.

The initial ideas of going all the way around the world morphed into two main thrusts — driving around the continental U.S., then flying to Europe and riding the railways to the major countries.

The only solid plans they made were buying the RV and purchasing a pass to the nation’s national parks.

“Everything else, it was whatever we wanted to do. Too much planning would have been overwhelming,” Elizabeth Friend said.

Brenna Friend, who was starting her freshman year at Purdue University, decided not to join the family for the first leg of the trip in the U.S. She took a semester off to fly with them to Europe.

The trip started in August and promptly headed north toward Chicago.

The RV had one main bedroom and a couch that turned into a bed. A compartment above the cab was converted into the room for Arden and Scarlet, while Brody turned the couch into his living space.

“It was an exercise in having a minimal amount of stuff,” Brent Friend said.

Tentatively, their stops would be about 200 miles apart. The driving aspect came with some rules.

“We didn’t want to be traveling all day long, going to a campground at night and being exhausted,” Brent Friend said. “We wanted to go two or three hours, see what could be seen and visit friends.”

‘Pushed further south’

Since the family would be driving from late summer to early winter, they decided to hit the northern states first then circle around to warmer weather.

It was a good plan. By the time they reached Yellowstone National Park in September, it was almost time for areas of the park to close for the winter.

“All of a sudden, we found ourselves at the end of the season and being pushed further south,” Elizabeth Friend said.

Their route took them west to Washington, south along the Pacific Coast to California and east through the desert, the plains of Texas and into the Gulf Coast.

The family spent the holidays in Florida, then returned to Indiana to finalize their preparations for Europe. Leaving on Feb. 6, they flew into Budapest, Hungary.

Europe would be a significantly greater challenge for the family. Joined by Brenna Friend, they would travel by train. That required a mastery of rail schedules.

Sometimes they stayed in apartments arranged through websites. Other times, they rented a house.

The European leg proved to be special both for the places they visited and the people they saw.

Highlights included the Austrian Alps at sunset, famous museums and art parks and the seashore at Nice, France.

Brody and Brent Friend hiked to a castle in Spain. They peered through slits in the masonry that were once used to defend the citadel with arrows.

“It was more an appreciation of how civilization progressed in Europe — whoever had the best army and best castle, that’s who was in charge,” Brent Friend said. “You could see the foundations of castles and palaces that were hundreds or thousands of years old.”

‘Better for it’

Personal connections were just as memorable.

Family members were able to make the trip from the U.S. to visit them. Arden went to camp with a girl who lived in Spain, so one night, the whole Friend family visited her home for a dinner of paella, a dish of rice, meat and vegetables.

A friend whom Elizabeth Friend had been a camp counselor with in 1992 provided them with a free stop in the Loire Valley of France.

“We planned some, but by talking to other folks, getting other people involved, they added to it and made such big differences,” Elizabeth Friend said.

Most of the family returned to Indiana in May, though Brenna and Scarlet Friend stayed on with their grandparents for a cruise through the Balkan countries.

Brent and Elizabeth Friend have returned to their jobs. The children are reconnecting with friends, preparing for the upcoming school year and digesting all that they saw and did.

They all realize that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Though it might seem foolish to some people, it was a goal they worked toward, saved for and pulled off.

“Some people have a lake house; some people have an RV they permanently keep. There are different ways to spend your discretionary money,” Brent Friend said. “This was a way to do it to experience the world with our family, and we’re better for it.”

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