It started with two Packers fans, 40 thumbtacks, and a giant map of the world. It ended with visits to 25 countries on all seven continents, 34,000 photos -- and one Packers flag at the center of it all. In February 2010, Jeff and Eileen Schoenfeldt quit their jobs, sold their possessions, and began the adventure of a lifetime: a trip around the globe. And of course, they brought their Packers pride along for the ride.
Below is the exclusive Packers Everywhere Q&A with Jeff and Eileen. Check out their amazing trip photos at the Packers Everywhere Fan Photo Gallery.
How long were you traveling?
We left on February 18, 2010 and returned to Wisconsin on January 26, 2011 – so just a few days short of one full year.
How did you pick the locations on your tour?
We had a "wish list" of places we had always wanted to visit. However, that wish list was over 40 countries long, which was unrealistic to try to do in one year. So we first bought a large map of the world and put pins into the counties we wanted to visit. Then, we did a lot of research on those countries and based on a good route, seasonal conditions, and how difficult or expensive it would be to visit those places, we whittled that list down to just over two dozen.
Once we defined the route and the countries, we kept to our schedule pretty well. We did add one or two places "on the fly" during the trip – and only ended up omitting one place, South Africa, which was at the very end of the trip. That was deleted mostly because we needed to return to "real life" to get jobs.
What was the first country you visited and first country you took a photograph with the flag in?
We first visited Patagonia, which is a beautiful natural region at the southern tip of South America in Chile. One of the days we were there, we hiked to the base of the "Two Towers" which are two massive rock formations that jut straight up out of the ground. The hike took four hours to get there, up and down steep, winding, narrow paths. To mark this accomplishment – which felt like we had hiked to the literal end of the earth – we took out the flag in celebration and had our picture taken. That was the first shot of nearly 70 on the trip!
What is each of your favorite photo ops and why?
Jeff: I would have to say the picture we took at the Australian Zoo. They have a huge open area where kangaroos just hop around freely and you can feed them and pet them – kind of like goats or llamas in our American petting zoos. I was standing next to one with the flag as we prepared the camera and the kangaroo suddenly grabbed the other end of the flag and held it out like she knew exactly what to do!
Eileen: When we visited Angkor Wat in Cambodia, which is this huge area of many ancient Buddhist shrines, we weren’t told that the main temple area was still a working house of worship. I was wearing shorts (it was over 90 degrees that day) and wasn’t going to be allowed in because of the dress code; my knees had to be covered. I was so disappointed as I had really been looking forward to it. Quick thinking, I grabbed the Packers flag and wrapped it around me like a skirt. The guy at the entrance just smiled and let me in!
Were there ever been any mishaps with the flag?
When we visited the Taj Mahal in India, we were of course really excited to take our flag with us to get a picture. However, a security guard at the entrance confiscated it – there were no flags allowed. So we had to leave it at the baggage check and (luckily) it was there when we returned. We ended up visiting the Taj a second day, and Eileen snuck in a mini Packers flag so we could take our picture, which worked out. We also told our Indian tour guide of the problem we had with the larger flag and how we really wanted a picture there with it, so she directed our bus driver to bring us around the back side of the monument (across the river) and we were able to take our flag picture with the Taj Mahal a little further away in the background.
What was the strangest or most remote place you ran into a Packers fan?
We ran into quite a few people who would yell "Go Packers!" while we were posing with the flag: in Antarctica, at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, at the pyramids in Egypt, and at the Sydney Opera House to name a few. We also met up with fellow football fans in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (New Orleans Saints) and Jerusalem, Israel (New York Jets) who saw the flag and were reminded of their home teams as well.
What's the oddest question you've ever been asked while posing or holding the flag?
“Is that the Brazilian flag?”
How do you explain what the word "Packers" means to someone who doesn't speak English?
We took a three-day motorcycle ride along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Vietnam, close to the border with Laos. One of our driver guides spoke absolutely no English aside from "hello," "coffee," and "cigarette." We stopped at a sign along the trail to stretch our legs and take a flag picture. He looked at us confused. We tried to explain football (which that word in the rest of the world means what we call soccer) and the name Packers. Through hand gestures, we mimed a cow (complete with moos) and a hammer whacking it in the middle of the forehead and then cutting it up. We’re not entirely sure, but he likely thinks there’s a soccer team in America that kills and eats its opponents.
What was the biggest lost in translation moment?
We visited a huge and very important Buddhist temple in Kathmandu, Nepal. It was a very solemn and religious place with literally several thousand Buddhist monks and faithful walking around the structure in a clockwise fashion (according to their faith) and praying. We found a set of stairs that allowed us to get on top of this "stupa" near the steeple-like structure with the all seeing eye of Buddha painted on it. Fearful it may be considered sacrilege, we quickly tried to take a picture up there with our flag. All of the sudden, a worshiper with a swinging tray of burning incense ran up to us and, smiling, made us stand for the picture again and waved the incense around the flag saying "Good luck, good luck!" and giving us the thumbs up. We have no idea if he understood the meaning of the flag or what the Packers were, but we give him partial credit for the Packers winning the Super Bowl that year.
If you could pick one Packer in history to take a trip/vacation with, who would it be and why?
That’s a toss up between Bart Starr and Aaron Rodgers. Aside from being tremendous athletes, both are just stand-up, class act individuals. They are both the absolute personification of what the Green Bay Packers are all about: pride, respect, giving it your all, and never giving up.
When on our trip, we always joked about how great it would be to someday have a shot on Lambeau Field with Aaron Rodgers. That would be the ultimate Packer flag photo.
Any other Packers-related stories about your travels you'd like to add?
Having that flag with us was a constant reminder of not only our love of the world’s greatest football team, but also of our home, our family and our friends. It’s more than just a piece of cloth with the symbol of "Greatness" on it – it’s a symbol of Wisconsin and of America. Go Packers!
Read more about their trip on Packers.com.
And you can read about Eileen and Jeff's whole journey at their website here: www.itsasmallworld.me