Exploring the world — one plate at a time — with family in tow


It’s an all too familiar story  in this age of blogging and vlogging — the restless millennial who decides he wants to see more of the world than the dismal view afforded from his cubicle. He first quits his “corporate job” then sells off his worldly possessions. After a few months on the road he becomes an authority of sorts — a travel blogger — and begins grooming his image and refining his brand.

The number of his followers grow consistently and organically, appreciating the travel-related hacks and news as well as the pictures of beautiful locales most of us will never experience. As we peruse through his, or hers, Instagram feed we are inspired but often wonder — feeling suddenly bogged down by our 9-5, our mortgage and our kids — if this type of lifestyle can be experienced by anyone else than a single millennial?

Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford

Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford

Before the rise of the personal blog and social media, in the fall of 1985, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid had similar thoughts. More precisely, aged 31 and 35, they mused on how they would pay for “a life open to the world” while having a family. They had met only a few days before on the roof of a hotel dormitory for foreigners in Lhasa, Tibet. Ten days later Naomi wrote a letter of resignation to the law firm where she was offered partnership and followed Jeffrey, a ponytailed “seeker of truth” with a Master’s in Creative Writing, on a jaunt across the Himalayas on mountain bikes. They married a couple of months later and welcomed the first of their two sons soon afterwards.

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The market in Hpa’an, the capital of Karen State, Myanmar. (photo by Naomi Duguid)

What could have been a mere how-we-met story to recount at the dinner table became their way of life. The love-struck couple began writing together about travel-biking and later — inspired by Jeffrey’s obsession with food and cooking, and Naomi’s budding photography skills — sold their first food article to Bon Appétit in 1988. The piece Delicious Asian Flatbreads would inspire their first cookbook Flatbreads and Flavors: A Culinary Atlas and pave the way to an exciting career as culinary anthropologists.

“We write to travel. It was never the other way around.” — Naomi Duguid, on their lifestyle.

They espoused the principles of la vie bohème. Apart from a deep commitment to each other, and a love for the Asian continent, they decided early on that any children they had would accompany them on their travels and so “for the better part of 15 years, they packed up their boys in November, along with the books and the homework, the Beanie Babies and the Lego, and deposited them back in their classrooms at the end of January.”

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Women transplanting rice in Karen State, Burma (photo by Naomi Duguid)

Their boys, Dominic and Tashi, have visited over 25 countries and are quick to spout travel anecdotes that range from the nostalgic — like a motorcycle ride from Cholon to Saigon at the age of two or Tashi taking his first step in Tafraout — what they consider the “fun times” — being stranded on a darkened airstrip outside Taunggyi, Burma — to the scary — that time when Tashi ran off a path in Laos and had to be rescued from a minefield.

The Duguid-Alford family tavelled light and far by whatever medium available, whether hiking, walking, jumping on a riverboat, mountain bus or car rental. Even with children, they voyaged with the mentality of a backpacker — wherever the wind blew them.

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Woman carrying donuts in Kalaw, Shan State, Burma (photo by Naomi Duguid)

 

They often arrived at a destination with no inkling to where they would sleep that night. Naomi calls this “staying vulnerable to the people, the place and the possibility of a new taste.”

Over a period of 24 years, Jeffrey and Naomi have written six cookbooks exalting the riches of faraway cuisines from Southeast Asia to the Indian Subcontinent, the Persian culinary region and many more. Their books have garnered international recognition, allowing them to keep the promise they had made so many years ago to “write to travel, and not the other way around” — taking their children along for the ride.

Now how’s that for a truly inspiring story?

Note : This blog post (and all quotations) is based in part on Jane Kramer ‘s in-depth NYT article. You can read it here.