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Around the world in 7 years: Meet Rivers Hoag

Jessie Beddow

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I looked to the sophomore girl sitting next to me at the new student orientation in early September and asked where she came from. “Well, I’ve actually been living on a boat for the past seven years,” she replied.

At first, I thought she was joking; maybe even breaking the ice at our table of 10 new students whom I was trying desperately to engage. Upon talking to her further I soon realized that what I thought was a joke was in fact a seven year journey around the world.

Sitting with Rivers Hoag at the new student orientation as a Mustang Ambassador who has lived in the Falls Church “bubble” my entire life, I couldn’t believe how opposite our lives were.

The excursion that started when she was only eight has left Hoag with exotic, breathtaking experiences and only three pages left in her (second) passport. The trip finished just last May and now her family lives in Falls Church.

“It was pretty tough, getting ripped out of your home and then traveling,” Hoag said. “I was actually under the impression that it would only be a year, but I think that’s probably something [my parents] told me to console me a little bit.”

And the motivation for the drastic life change from a New York home to life sailing on the Morning Glory, the family’s 43 foot catamaran?

“It’s something my dad has wanted to do since he was 15 years old,” Hoag said.

Morning Glory started its long excursion in the Bahamas and carried on to dozens of islands and Asian countries. Jamaica, Panama, the Galapagos, French Polynesia, Tahiti, American Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand, and Fiji are on the list.

In the islands of Fiji, there was no access to Internet or towns nearby. Instead, there were local tribes with cultures and practices of their own.

“We had to give kava root as a gift to the tribe leaders when we entered,” Hoag said. She also explained how her dad and the tribal leader would have a drink together to signify mutual respect.

The view of Cape Town, South Africa, after climbing the top of Table Mountain. (Photo courtesy of Rivers Hoag)

Their travels left them with experiences unparallel to those in the United States. “When I was in Tonga, we got to swim with a whale and her baby; that would have been heavily regulated here,” she said.

Rivers also recalled the time when she and her family drove up to the top of an active volcano in Tanna, witnessing explosions of lava all around them.


Despite the incredible experiences, there were also more dangerous ones. For four months, Rivers and her family lived in South Africa, where there were many political issues and racial differences. Civilians were angered by the current president, resulting in civil unrest.  

“We were in a fenced off area a lot of the time. It would have been dangerous for me to walk down the street alone,” Hoag said.

In South Africa, extremely high winds during hurricane season resulted in a dock breaking. Morning Glory, on the far right, helped support the dock and other boats from crashing. (Photo courtesy of Rivers Hoag)

Rivers also explained the political and social tensions in Maldives, where riots were common in its capital, Malé. “Everyone wore hijabs- women were not allowed to work at anything other than being sales clerks. It was also illegal to bring pork and alcohol into the country.”

In countries where religion and government conceited, Rivers saw how the lifestyle and rights of women contrasted to America’s.  

“Often times in Muslim countries, specifically Maldives and Malaysia, you could feel [that] women definitely had a lower place in society. We were expected to dress modestly, speak quietly, and keep our heads low,” Hoag said.

This experience was a contrast to her year long stay in Thailand, which quickly became her favorite country they had traveled. The culture and people impacted her most.

A particular experience she recalls was the Songkran festival,  a nationwide water fight to celebrate the Thai New Year. “Everyone was getting blessed and purified [with the water],” Hoag said.    


A marina in the British Virgin Islands in which Morning Glory docked. In some counties, the boat was docked only a few days for repairs, while in other places, such as Thailand, Rivers and her family would stay docked for months, allowing them to travel around and experience the country. (Photo courtesy of Rivers Hoag)

What helped Rivers get through the anxiety and uncertainty of constant travel was the other teenagers going through it too. She met her best friend in Sri Lanka, who was also circumnavigating the world with her family.

Despite not living in a typical home, Rivers, along with the friends she made while docked in various countries, spent time doing typical teenage activities, including playing Halo and cat-sitting.

“I would do what most other teenagers do… just on a boat,” Rivers said.

Although she didn’t make the choice to grow up on the catamaran, sailing to over 43 countries in total, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

During a short stop for supplies in Ascension Island, Rivers hiked up a green mountain after having completed a 45 total day passage across the Atlantic Ocean. (Photo courtesy of Rivers Hoag)

“I feel as though if I had stayed in New York, growing up there, I would have 100% been a different person. I grew up without the influences of peer pressure [in]  middle school…” Rivers said.  

Rivers did all her school work on the boat, using textbooks and a program called Calvert until high school, and then Keystone during her freshmen year. Although it was not the standard middle school education, Rivers felt that the program she used was challenging and pushed her to keep up with her studies regardless of where she was located.

When Morning Glory docked in Florida on August 20, 2016, Rivers and her family had successfully completed their journey around the world.

Although she admitted that it was strange living in a house at first, Rivers is used to adapting to new environments. Settling into the small town of Falls Church was definitely a change, but an exciting one for Rivers.

“I really like this community, I don’t think there could have been a better place for me to spend my high school experience,” Rivers said.

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Around the world in 7 years: Meet Rivers Hoag