Around the World by Mistake
By Jane Winslow Eliot
In the summer of 1963 Jane and Alexander Eliot put the last of their money onto a trip around the world: a Yugoslav freighter that was scheduled to deliver all sorts of exotic goods from Rijecka to Osaka and then back again. They trusted to fate that they could pick up the pieces of their freelance writing lives again when they returned.
The trip was scheduled to take seven months, and the boat carried a total of just sixteen passengers.
The family had been living in Greece the past four years because they loved it there. Before moving, they had lived New York City. Jane had worked at CBS with Edward R. Morrow and later at Time Magazine, where she met Alexander Eliot, who was the art editor there. Now freelance journalists, they wrote books and articles about travel, art, mythology, and education.
As their young children matured toward school age, neither Jane nor Alex wanted to corral them into school. As Jane writes in the book: “They wanted their children to experience life as fish in water, or as part of the air they breathed. They wanted them to escape the narrows of nationality, religion, or class, in order to take part in a whole universe as whole people. They wanted to inspire them to regard the whole world as their home.”
And so they bought tickets for the freighter voyage.
Around the World by Mistake describes a real adventure about which most people only dream. It’s also the true story of my family: I was seven years old when my parents decided to take this extraordinary journey. My mother was in constant communication with renowned Waldorf educator Virginia Paulson who guided the education of my brother and me on the trip. Part inner discovery, part educational adventure, and part thrilling adventure, this is the story of a lifetime.
Right from the beginning the mood was strange on board ship. While the freighter sailed through the Bay of Bengal, the president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated. Civil war escalated in Malaysia and the Vietnam War intensified.
The little freighter sailed on, with a mysterious, invisible captain at the helm, stopping at exotic ports, as the passengers underwent weird and wonderful encounters, experienced tense moments, and explored mysterious questions. And all during the voyage, Stefan, the ship’s steward, epitomized strength and kindness as steadily as the north star.
The journey was not what any of the passengers expected. Not at first. But as the boat sailed down the Dalmation coast through the Suez Canal, to the sacred caves of Ellora and Ajanta, and then to the intoxicating temples in Penang and Singapore, the family navigated their way through daily lessons, spiritual growth, and lively encounters with their fellow passengers.
Writer, traveler, educator, Jane Winslow Eliot’s articles and essays have appeared in The Atlantic, Smithsonian, Horticulture, Travel & Leisure, Newsday, The Los Angeles Reader, and Chicken Soup for the Traveler’s Soul.
Her books range from seminal essays for parents and teachers such as Let’s Talk, Let’s Play (AWSNA Publications 1997) and The Soul of Color (Spiral Press 1984) to The History of the Western Railroads (Exeter 1985), and Fisher’s Annotated Guide to Greece 1984 -1988. She is also a contributor to the Almanac of American History. A film she made with her husband, Alexander Eliot, called The Secret of Michelangelo – Every Man’s Dream appeared on ABC primetime television in 1967-68.
“In Japan, individuals of extraordinary talent and vision are recognized as living national treasures as they live out their later years. The American intellectual couple Alexander and Jane Eliot should be given honorary Japanese citizenship and awarded that honor.”
Gregg Chadwick, American Treasures