This post has a different tone (reader, beware!). For a good week, we arm-wrestled travel. I wrote this blog-post over the course of a couple days when I felt down, and writing is my therapy. By now, we are on Chiloe Island, and have found our mojo again. I hesitated to publish this post, but then realized that this is integral to our story, and probably any traveling family’s story:
We have been living out of our suitcases for a little over 4 months now. Writing that down gives me goosebumps. Such a short time really, and we have so much more to go. At the same time, an eternity…
The past couple days we’ve all been reflecting on our adventure. We love the travel. We do. We truly are realizing our dream. We’re ticking places-to-see and things-to-do off our bucket list. We’ve experienced moments that we will never forget. We’re truly getting to know one another, in a different way and on a different level.
We are breathing in memories and capture them in a million pictures. We’re not curating our image, at least not consciously, but still – we sometimes force a smile and post our highlights. Social media glam.
Before we left, we had this notion that this adventure was all about “slowing down” and “living simply”. Those were literally our key words. I saw myself in yoga poses, reading volumes of books, writing incessantly, discovering new music, meditating with the kids, watching a trillion ted talks, working out rigorously, and eating nothing but healthy meals from the farmers’ market. And most importantly – blissfully playing games with the kids, having endless conversations; careless and free. HA!!! 4 months in, that’s not quite what this is.
Apart from Costa Rica, we’ve been on the move constantly. Mostly two or three nights in the same place. Sometimes comfortable, but more often than not too noisy, too smelly, too soft, too hard, too hot, too cold, too short.
There’s a sh***-load of work to do underway. At every turn, we think an hour ahead – where do we eat, when did we need to take that bus again, what’s that address again? A day ahead – what’s there to do, should we book that tour, what about a guide? A month ahead – what does that country even look like, geography, history? And even, yes, a year ahead – where would we hope to settle down when this adventure is over?
We’re constantly researching countries, cities, itineraries, recommendations. We’re booking planes, trains, buses, cars, hotels or cabanas on a daily basis. We’re always discovering, experiencing, and learning. We’re breathing in the “now”, while making sure we got our bases covered for the time ahead. I am sure there are quite a few families who took longer to prepare and had this all figured out before they took off. Alternatively, plenty a family who just left and travel by the seam of their pants. But we didn’t. And we can’t.
For example, we are in Chile now. We knew we wanted to go to Chile. Why? Just ‘cause. Pretty pictures on Pinterest. Home to Patagonia. Safe. Sounds kind of cool. Other than that, we had zip knowledge of Chile. Along the way, I’ve bought a travel guide and browsed for hours. So now I know there’s a desert in the north (Atacama). I can situate the Lake District, Valparaiso, Pucón, Puerto Varas, Coyhaique and Punto Arenas. I know the Carretera Austral is supposed to be one of the most amazing drives on the planet. I know you can go to El Calafate in Argentina relatively easy – and more importantly, I know why you’d want to go there. I have Booking.com and AirBNB on speed dial. I found Rome2Rio.com and Busbud.com. I figured out busbud isn’t much help here in Chile, and bus tickets are best bought at the station. I figured out SKY airlines is way more convenient for one-way travel than LAN, and way cheaper too. I now know that you really can not find a rental car company that will waive the hideously expensive one-way fee – which made driving north to south not an option for us. Finally, I know that we can’t possibly see it all. Desert or penguins? Penguins.
And then … there’s The Budget. With capitals, yes. We are not traveling-on-the-cheap, but our resources are not unlimited either. We’re middle of the road. I swear the thought has crossed my mind to ditch a kid (just kidding!). No hotel room ever fits the 5 of us, and we often have to get two rooms (no, Elyse can not sleep in our bed. No-one would sleep). Spending an hour in the back of an Uber with 4 people is not very comfortable either (let alone unsafe, and probably illegal). We have slept for anywhere from 60$ to 120$ a night (for two rooms!), with an occasional splurge when our batteries are running low. So I am also constantly scouring the web for the-best-our-money-can-buy. Did you know I very (very!) much dislike bargain shopping, especially on the internet? I found Booking.com to be the easiest to research and most convenient to shop, but I swear it’s designed to make you sweat: “your location is 95% booked, act now! Someone just booked this, buy now! X other people are looking at this deal, fast! There’s only 1 left!”. When you finally hit “book”, you get a little pat on the back “you got the best deal!”. You and I both know that is not true. I have to consciously tune out that noise or it would drive me mad, and angry. So every once in a while, I find myself longing for a 100% organized trip, and a more luxurious and indulgent travel style. Can’t have it all, can we? By now, I can hear you think … what on earth is she complaining about?!? The woman is travelling the globe. With her family!
I know how blessed I am. I do. Just venting for a moment. And for all of you aspiring global family travelers out there … I wanted to offer you a realistic picture to counter all those glitzy Instagram posts!
With all this, homesickness hit. Hard. First, it was our 5 year old who for a couple of days cried that she wanted to go back to school. To just have playdates. Live in a normal house… Like a normal family. Ouch. She was always our picky eater, but now is beyond picky. What she eats is the one thing in her control as we travel.
And then, our eldest cried thick, thick tears. Missing school, his friends, his house, his toys, anything familiar really. At the same time, we’ve learned during this trip just how hard a time he had at school. He felt left out, lonely, not understood, an outsider, not liked, etc. In that sense, this year “out” is a blessing in disguise. He understands and articulates that very clearly. This year, we hope he’ll recognize and appreciate just what a special and fantastic person he is. We brainstormed ideas to get in touch with other boys who are travelling the world just like him, and who he might relate with. He also face-timed with a close friend back in Portland this past weekend, and that gave him a well needed boost. It was fun to hear them chatter away while playing a video game together, thousands of miles apart. He had prayed every night that we could hang out together in Australia, but now our families travel dates don’t overlap. Disappointed …
Finally, road-schooling is hard. I have no idea if we are making progress or “doing it right”. It’s a struggle to even fit in a couple of hours of schoolwork every week. I know I should just trust that they learn so much along the way. And they do! History, geology, geography, language, diversity… Yesterday, we focused on math for a while with Khan Academy. The kids do awesome, and are fast learners. But it’s just so hard to assess whether it’s enough. Because we move so much, and have little routine.
Still, there is no doubt in my mind that we made the right decision however contrary that may seem. The awesome moments far outweigh the difficult ones. I know from private conversation with other travelling families, that travel fatigue really is a “thing”. It hits us all, for shorter and longer periods, less and more intense. It hits different family members, for shorter and longer periods, less and more intense. It’s certainly not all ‘the scent of roses and moonshine’ as we say in Dutch. There are moments that Steven and I sigh deeply and wonder why we didn’t just wait until we were retired to go on this adventure. You hardly read about these struggles on blogs or social media. But I am an open book, and I think it’s important to show both sides of this coin. Life is life, no matter where you go!
What would happen if we didn’t plan, you ask? Just go with the flow? Well, what is that? And how exactly do you do that? Right in this moment, I would overhaul our plans and just stay in one place. For the rest of the trip. But then I remember our time in Costa Rica where we were bored out of our minds after just 3 weeks. We’ll have to find middle ground and go with the flow. Build in the flexibility to stay when we want to stay, and move when we want to move. Someone please remind me we are here to bond as a family, to find the time to play, to have the time to just wonder, and experience the globe along the way. I’m learning to accept that travel really is secondary. We don’t have to see e-ve-ry-thing. In this moment, every fiber of me says: not so fast!!
(No problem without a solution :))
First, this stop here in Pucón, Chile. We’re staying 5 nights rather than our usual 1-2-3 nights. Not earth shattering, but still. The kids have been asking for a small break. We knew Peru and Chile would be intense travel. So a small break. We picked a “grown-up house” on AirBNB. Not a cabin. Not an apartment. Not a hostel. A real, spacious house. In a green, hilly, forested neighborhood. One we could see ourselves live in. When we arrived we sighed a sigh of relief. It is perfect. That first day, the kids played outside, and created toys out of cardboard. I cooked. The woodstove burning. I felt a deep peace and felt perfectly content. Then it hit me. Duh! This is what homesickness feels like. Longing so deeply for those simple daily routines.
We had our flights booked through December before we departed on our trip. We did anticipate some of this travel fatigue and sprinkled in downtime in Costa Rica and again in Tahiti. Tahiti still seems light years away as we have 3 weeks of non-stop travel ahead of us, moving every night. Bottom-line, post Australia, we’re thinking to organize our travel differently. Fewer places (but how do I pick just a handful?!). Maybe even a month or more in one place so we can find a local routine. Slower. But not too slow. Check.
Second, we are going to focus even more on building connections, especially with other families. The kids need lots of opportunities to play, and to bond for more than just an hour or so. Pen pals. Stay in hostels and hotels with other kids around. Anything. We stayed in a small B&B in Los Angeles, where the kids got to play in their mud kitchen, and built boats from scrap wood. They were perfectly and completely happy – especially as there were also other families with kids their age. Once we are in Asia, there’s the option of putting our kids in an international school for a month or longer. Our kids seem game. Or maybe we change the plan completely, and hang out in Europe for a while. Whatever feels right then. Something with going with the flow more. Check.
Thirdly, we have to (have to!) take more me-time and us-time. Break away from the pack for just a couple of hours. To have a cup of coffee, hike, read, wander, even just doing laundry. Anything that makes our hearts happy. Similarly, the kids need an opportunity to break away from each other every now and then. They play so so so well together but they too need some one-on-one time with us, or just time to be by themselves. Check.
All right. Enough already. Writing gives me so much pleasure and solace. For sure, we’ve learned a ton so far – about who we are and what makes us each tick. Everyone one of us has different needs and desires, and we are learning to balance them all. I am so incredibly grateful for this experience, as it cuts deep, and tests us in ways I could have not imagined. Flexibility, adaptability, creativity, connection. We live to learn!