Courtesy Martha Sterne — The Sterne-Rubino family with their 35-foot Tiffin Allegro RV. From left: Vince Rubino, Martha Sterne, and Sarah, James and Paul Rubino. Photo to accompany ssjm0520herhold by Scott Herhold.
For Vince Rubino and Martha Sterne, it all began on a camping trip in their old recreational vehicle, a 31-foot Winnebago. At breakfast one sparkling morning, Vince broached the idea of home schooling their three kids for a year while traveling in an RV.
“There was a combined look of horror, mixed with a smattering of panic but yet a tiny sparkle in her eye,” Rubino recalled later. And that sparkle didn’t fade when he suggested a more ambitious version — taking an RV to Europe.
You’ve probably read stories before about people who chuck their jobs and circumnavigate the globe in a sailboat with a young kid. I’ve written one or two of those stories myself.
The Rubino-Sterne expedition — it can’t be called anything else — stands out even in the category of ambitious voyages. First was the number of moving parts for the Los Gatos family: Two parents, two teenage boys, an 8-year-old girl and a dog.
Second was the detailed nature of the planning: It took Rubino and Sterne seven months to plan their trip, including renting out their home, figuring out the itinerary, getting an internationally certified microchip ID for their dog and settling on a 35-foot Tiffin Allegro to ferry them.
Last is the quality of their blog (see it at www.ilovelandshark.blogspot.com). Sterne, who has done most of the writing, has an ironic, literate voice that is wise in the ways of traveling with children. (You take the one-hour glass-bottom boat tour of Dubrovnik harbor, not the six-hour version.) And she’s supplemented the tale with photography that makes it memorable.
After quitting their jobs — Vince, 44, is an Internet architect and Martha, 52, is a business consultant — the family departed Los Gatos last July 19 and drove across the country to Baltimore, where they loaded the Tiffin, dubbed the LandShark, and a Toyota Prius onto a boat for England.
Since arriving in Europe, they’ve traveled through England, Scotland, Wales, France, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, the Czech Republic and Germany. They still have the Scandinavian and Benelux countries before they return in July.
They estimate that they’ve put 12,000 miles on their LandShark, eaten close to 300 pizzas and visited more than 200 museums. (My favorite on their list: Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships.) And, oh, yes — they’ve given their kids — fraternal twins James and Paul, 14, and Sarah, 8 — a priceless education in the process.
They’ve seen some of the great sights — Hadrian’s Wall in the U.K., the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, St. Peter’s Square in Rome. But it is the offbeat experiences that enliven the blog.
When the family arrived in the Serbian town of Novi Sad, Sterne googled “top attractions Novi Sad” and found something called “Room Escape,” which offered contestants the option of stopping a nuclear bomb or robbing a bank vault. In a ringing family success, they stopped the bomb minutes before the explosion.
When they visited the town of Pitlochry in Scotland, one of their favorite countries, the family stopped to see the 161st edition of the Pitlochry Highland Games, which featured a tug-of-war championship and a parade of pipe bands. Vince, Paul and Sarah even bought kilts.
Finally, they saw the simple kindness of others. In one obscure Turkish town on the way to Istanbul, the hotel-keeper refused to take their money because they were the first tourists he had hosted from California.
How did they afford it? By renting out their Los Gatos home and relying on other rental income, the family was able to cover monthly expenses, which they say are less on the road than if they had stayed home.
“We did the trip mostly for the kids,” Martha told me by email. “We wanted them to spend time outside of the U.S., experience the values and cultures of other countries, and ultimately take an interest in being a global citizen.”
That doesn’t mean it’s been easy. Their 35-foot RV has had its share of problems — with the “slides” that allow it to expand at campsite, and with the various electrical and mechanical systems. Rubino has made himself an expert in all of them. In one crucial moment in England, Paul helped his father turn the RV around after it became stuck in gravel and was blocking traffic.
Their itinerary in Europe has been governed by the rules of the Schengen Agreement, which says that they can only stay 90 days in most EU countries in a 180-day period. That has prompted considerable touring in Eastern Europe with the Prius.
Finally, they’ve had to calibrate the kids’ schooling. Sterne says they’ve taken conscientiously to learning on the road, with one of her boys completing 8th-grade algebra and another finishing the history and science curriculum. With almost no TV, their reading has zoomed.
“Our family as a whole has become much closer,” Sterne told me. “Living in close quarters 24/7 will do that. But another reason is that the kids are all much more involved in day-to-day operations than they ever were back at home.”
You can probably resist the impulse to join them. But if you’ve ever thought of doing your own voyage, read the blog. It’s an expedition worth remembering.