During the interview for an outdoor education job, Lars Simonsen, 38, from Denmark, secretly hoped that he would not get hired, and that he would be forced to choose Plan B – a kayak expedition that would transport Lars, his partner Suzi, 38, and their two kids, Tiuri (7) and Liva (5), from Copenhagen to Istanbul. Lars listened to the feedback from the director, accepting his job rejection with a growing sense of adventure.

Most families would be put off at the thought of such a long trip with two small children, but for Lars and Suzi the special preparation required when travelling with kids involved little more than being flexible. Previous adventures had proved that, with flexibility, anything was possible. Tiuri and Liva also had a way of opening doors and breaking down cultural barriers that made travelling abit easier. In fact, the biggest consideration when planning the trip was what form of transport they should use.

After much consideration, Lars worked out a sponsorship deal for two "Mirage(R) Tandem Islands" : complete with outriggers, a sail and decks for Tiuri and Liva to play on and do their homework when conditions allowed. Leaving Copenhagen in May 2014, the family got to grips with handling the kayaks in strong winds and wet weather as they kayaked down the coast and into the Kiel Canal. Here they met ships so big the bow waves they pushed ahead of them forced Lars and Suzi to pedal just to stand still, until the peak of the wave at the stern of the ship picked them up and they would surf along in the ship’s wake. The family traveled mostly by canal through Germany, with brief excursions to explore interesting areas, such as the Wadden Sea.

As their adventure unfolded, they found a rhythm. Getting up around eight each morning, they would take their time with breakfast, packing the boats before eating lunch and getting on the water, travelling three to four hours before stopping. They chose their locations carefully, allowing time for bad weather, visits to specific areas, and the hospitality of local people. The most common question was always: “Where did you park your car?” To which Lars would reply: “In Copenhagen."

The family reached the Netherlands, Suzi’s home country, in June. Here they enjoyed more local hospitality and the growing fervor of excitement surrounding the football World Cup. Belgium introduced the family to canals and locks. In France, in just one day they descended 80 meters, travelling through 26 locks over six hours. With their sights set on the Mediterranean, the family enjoyed the French countryside while desperate to reach the sea. Liva’s birthday arrived as the family were wind-bound by the Mistral. Pink flamingos were at the top of her wish list, and as they reached the coast, Liva woke up to a flock of flamingos just 100 meters from their tent.

Rough conditions on a 50 km crossing
Arriving in Monaco, the Yacht Club de Monaco swept the family from the sea and into a hotel suite. Cold, wet and tired, they had battled strong winds and waves reflecting from the harbour walls. As the club’s motorboat sailed out of the harbor to greet them, Lars could be forgiven for thinking the formally-dressed man standing in the prow was the prince.

From the very first landfall in Italy, the Simonsens were treated like family, on and off the water. Supported by the coast guard and followed in the media, good advice and gentle teasing were par for the course, as was getting to grips with spaghetti. “Don’t land your kayak like you eat pasta,” suggested Maurizio, “and you will be fine.” Hundreds of beach landings later, Lars still ate his spaghetti with a knife.

For the kids, propped up against dry bags, pencils in hand and peering over their life jackets, homework was a necessary hardship. But getting their sums out of the way at sea meant more time on land following wild boar tracks in the forests and discovering dolphin bones on the beaches. After the long crossing into Greek waters, Lars was contacted by the Greek Coast Guard. “They said we should be careful. They might not be able to rescue us if we get into trouble. They think they might run out of fuel in the next few days.” Travelling through a country in the midst of a national economic crisis was going to be interesting. But it wasn’t long before local people, enthusiastic about their journey, introduced the family to the Greek way of living, culture, and food.

The family together
The thought of island hopping in the azure blue waters of Greece had been one of the motivating factors when planning the expedition from their home in Denmark. Adding dolphins to the journey was the icing on the cake. After the dolphins the family faced the notorious Meltemi wind. Strongest in July and August, it threatened to capsize Suzi’s kayak. But with thousands of kilometers under their hulls, the family could cope with the waves, although the gear was beginning to suffer.

Despite the trials of travelling, one thing remained constant. In each of the countries they traveled through, local people opened their doors to this family of adventurers, demonstrating time and again that regardless of economic difficulties, different cultures, ages and social standing, people are interested in people. Unlike the Greeks, the Turkish Coast Guard had plenty of fuel, something the family would appreciate after more than 5 hours in their custody on crossing the border. With no papers, they were advised to lie low and stay out of trouble. The family was officially on the run!

Despite the hospitality of the Turks, the lack of official papers would plague the family until they beached for the last time just outside Istanbul. Friends, family and people they had met along the way, received them with banners and champagne, bringing an epic journey of 7,200 km and 18 months to an emotional close.