Ross Day in the Life editor writes about his year off

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Three years ago, David Cohen sold his house, closed up his publishing business and traveled around the world with his wife and three children.

The result is "One Year Off: Leaving it All Behind for a Round-the-World Journey With Our Children."

His new book chronicles the sometimes humorous, sometimes scary, sometimes fabulous trip, which included visiting the Pushkar Camel Fair in India and Pak Ou Buddha caves in Laos, going on a safari in Botswana, whitewater rafting in Zimbabwe, and navigating a houseboat in France's Burgundy canals.

As editor and project director of the successful "A Day in the Life" series — which includes a pictorial book on Israel — as well as "The Jews in America," Cohen was well traveled and used to a high-paced, adventurous life. But when his family settled into a quiet, suburban lifestyle in Mill Valley, he found himself getting restless.

"Nothing was particularly wrong in my life," said Cohen, who now lives in Ross.

"I had a nice house, family all the usual stuff. I resigned myself to the fact that as you get older, your life gets more staid. Then I thought, 'Maybe it doesn't have to be that way. Maybe we can throw all the cards up in the air and see where they land.' It was like a fever or something. It seemed the only thing to make it right was to just sell everything and start over," said Cohen.

"Doing 'A Day in the Life of Israel' and Thailand in the same year pretty much convinced me to take off," he said. "I was putting my family second and my job and career first…I had to fly off the day after my son was born, which I felt was not a very satisfactory state of affairs."

While shooting the Israel book in 1994, Cohen also supervised the photography for "Jerusalem: In the Shadow of Heaven."

Two years later, he took off with his family.

Cohen, 44, grew up in a Reform Jewish household in Erie, Pa. His grandfather, a resident of Pittsburgh, was a professional fund-raiser for the United Jewish Appeal and Haifa's Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. His grandmother, who recently died at age 96, raised funds for Hadassah.

"I remember when I was a kid, 8 or 9 years old, going to fund-raisers in these huge banquet halls, when somebody would get up and say, 'I'd like to give $10,000 on behalf of the Goldberg family' and everybody cheered. And then they did this one table after another after another. And my grandfather orchestrated all of that," he said.

One of Cohen's earliest travel experiences was a trip to Israel when he was 16.

"Those are all very enduring images from my youth, diving in the Red Sea, driving up through the Golan Heights, the Dead Sea, Jerusalem especially."

During the family trip, his own children, ages 8, 7 and 2, were largely unimpressed with art museums, churches and Greek ruins. In Paris, Cohen's middle child, Willie, groaned, "Please don't take us to an art museum. Anything but that! I mean it. I'll even go to a church."

His wife, Devyani, came up with the ingenious idea of turning the trip to the Louvre into a competition. She gave the two oldest children money to buy five postcards at the gift shop. Whoever found the most paintings to match their postcards won a treat.

"They were interested in their own things, animals or local cultural things," Cohen said.

"If [we stopped] at a village in India and the water is being pumped by a decorated water buffalo walking around in circles and all the women are dressed in fluorescent saris, those are all things that interested them."

For his children, the African safari was the highlight of the trip.

"It's something they will absolutely remember for the rest of their life," Cohen said. Animals were "everywhere. A pride of lions killed a water buffalo right outside our tent."

Though family closeness was one of the positive aspects of the trip, there also was a downside.

"There is such a thing as too much family togetherness," he said.

"When you travel with small children on a pretty difficult itinerary, you have to realize that they travel at their own pace. Your schedule doesn't mean anything particularly to them. If one of the kids is hungry or needs to go the bathroom, everything stops."

Home schooling proved to be a much better idea than a reality. Fortunately, Australia allows tourists to put their children in public schools. The Cohen's made a four- month detour there.

When Cohen closed up his business and sold all his possessions, he thought it would be liberating.

"I thought I'd feel free, but in actuality I felt incredibly disoriented. Eventually I got to that place where I felt incredibly free, not having the mortgage and the gas bill."

But the process of adjustment took months, he said.

"The first few weeks of this trip were basically pure hell. The kids were fighting every few minutes. After three months, we got into a different place where we were really nomads and going with the flow."

The lessons Cohen learned were not the ones he thought he would learn.

"When we started this trip, it was really all about gaining the lost spirit of adventure. Adventure isn't the be-all and end-all. The other things we learned in a way were more important.

"One of the things we decided was that we didn't need as big a house. You get into this rut where you're working all the time to accomplish more to buy more things that you don't really need at all.

"When you drive across India you realize that there are people having a wonderful time without hundred-dollar Nikes."

He also learned that to gain perspective on your life, "you need to make a break from your usual routine. It takes months of just stepping away."