Chattanooga family says farewell to the life they know, sets out on service trip around the world

Chattanooga family says farewell to the life they know, sets out on service trip around the world

April 19th, 2014 by Kevin Hardy in Local Regional News

Brian and Tracey Carisch stand with their children Emily, Liv, and Ali, from left, in front of their garage where they are selling many of their possessions Friday at their home in Chattanooga. The Carisches are selling their home and most of their belongings, save what they can fit into a 16x8x8 storage container, and will travel the world to volunteer 100 times in different places.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

THE MISSION

The Carisch family is calling their upcoming service trip "100 Ways to Change the World," though the family said it's ultimately aimed at changing them and their perspectives. Their blog says:

"We want to show our daughters how a bunch of little contributions can impact the world. Some of these volunteer projects will take just a couple hours, others may last a couple weeks or even months. Along the way we'll learn a lot about the world, ourselves and how we want to shape our family life together."

POLL: Would you ever sell your house and hit the road?

Brian, left, and Tracey Carisch, right, watch as daughters, Liv, right, and Ali, water plants at the HART Gallery garden. The Carisch family kicked off their service trip, "100 Ways to Change the World," by gardening at the gallery.

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster/Times Free Press.

The Carisches are giving it all up. The high-ranking elementary school. The SUV, the pickup. The five-bedroom house in North Chattanooga. Their friends, their plans for the foreseeable future.

Brian and Tracey Carisch have wanted to travel the world since they married, but life got in the way. Now's the time -- the kids are out of diapers, but not planted enough to have the close bonds of high school.

The family is leaving it all to venture across the world, to the far reaches of the Earth. There is no set itinerary, just an outline of some of the places they'd like to visit: Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, New Zealand and South and Central America.

They know it sounds extreme. But Brian and Tracey Carisch say they're giving up so much in search of so much more.

This isn't just a move. It's an adventure.

"Really, the point of this trip is to give our children and us a different view of the world," Tracey said. "This is not a vacation."

Now that the house has sold and the furniture has been picked up by Craigslist buyers, the family is prepping to hit the road. After some domestic travel, they'll head to Europe. They plan to spend time in Andorra, Portugal and Ireland. But everything beyond that is up in the air.

Tracey said she'll plan two or three countries ahead of their current location. They'll only go to places that are safe and places they have contacts.

Tracey will home-school the girls along the way. They're doing well at Normal Park Museum Magnet School, so she doesn't think the year or so away will stunt them.

They've saved some keepsakes in a storage container. But for the next 12 to 24 months, everything they need will have to fit in one of four pieces of rolling luggage. The girls -- ages 5, 7 and 10 -- can take a backpack, so long as they can carry whatever they put in it.

For Tracey, the trip means giving up her current career and becoming a full-time teacher, volunteer coordinator and travel agent. For her husband, Brian, it means pushing telecommuting to the limit. He's a software developer and owns his own business, so he'll keep up with work along the way.

After ditching the house and the cars, the two say they'll likely save money on living expenses. They have family and friends in some of the places they'll visit, and they'll find vacation or other home rentals online. And many of the countries they'll go to are just cheaper than the United States.

"We're going to be living as we do here and probably less expensively," Brian said.

This trip is about service, but the family admits they are going for their own benefit -- to learn more about the world and themselves.

"It's not altruistic," Brian said.

Liv Carisch, 7, bottom, and her sister Emily, 10, speed-read through Harry Potter books before they are sold in a garage sale Friday at their home in Chattanooga. The Carisches are selling their home and most of their belongings, save what they can fit into a 16x8x8 storage container, and will travel the world to volunteer 100 times in different places.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

Since they announced the news in the fall, friends and family have had a range of reactions, but it's usually a mix of jealousy, sadness and happiness.

"Nobody does this in real life," Tracey said.

But this isn't entirely out of character. The Carisches have taken their daughters on long trips abroad over summer breaks, sometimes spending as much as two months in a foreign country.

"It did not surprise me. It is totally in the Carisch family character to seize life and give their kids incredible experiences," said Christa Payne, who has worked with Tracey at the Public Education Foundation.

Tracey was vital in getting initial grant funding and approval for Chattanooga's STEM school, which opened on the campus of Chattanooga State Community College in 2012. Payne said she's been friends with the Carisches for years now. Their kids are about the same ages and they've attended school together.

"If anybody can do it, they can," Payne said. "We will miss her desperately. But that is no reason to have them stay."

The family is calling the trip "100 Ways to Change the World." They've set up a blog to keep a log of their travel and their volunteer work. Not many would want to make such an extreme leap, but maybe a family would give up the annual trip to Disney World to take a service trip, they said.

They'll also offer logistical tips for families looking to travel internationally with young children.

"There's a lot we don't know and will learn along the way," Tracey said. "It's kind of morphed from 'here's this thing we're doing' to 'how can we help others do something similar?'"

The hardest part of all this hasn't been selling the house or downsizing possessions -- it's saying goodbye. The Carisch family plans to move to Colorado once they complete their adventure. So far, the girls are excited. Excited about the places they'll visit and the friends they'll meet. They plan to make rubber band bracelets to pass out to other children they meet abroad.

"I'm not afraid of anything," 10-year-old Emily said.

The family says they're already learning things -- like the realization that they had too many things and more space than they needed. They hope the kids learn a lot along the way, too.

"This is the opportunity of a lifetime," Tracey said. "It's going to change them inherently."

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.