Full-time traveling the world? Sounds dreamy. A mix between real life and vacation, everyday.
Guess what? It IS dreamy. In so many ways. It has the high moments that are so high, so incredible. Watching a traditional dance in a temple in Bali with my kids by moonlight. Speeding along in a boat in Hawaii and seeing a huge pod of dolphins. Walking through the endless maze of a night market in Taipei, trying foods we’ve never seen and laughing about all the funny, delicious or disgusting tastes and smells that fill our senses. Watching my children navigate a totally new culture, care for each other in so many ways, and seeing the world through their eyes just can’t be beat.
Those moments, however, are not constant. Just like with parenting, they are the payroll for an otherwise demanding job. I knew full-time traveling, or Round-the-World traveling, would be challenging. Of course! You are far from home, in a totally different place culturally, navigating new things and still trying to parent and work.
When I was pregnant for the first time and staring down the gun barrel of parenthood, I had no REAL idea what would be challenging about having kids. Everyone told me it would be hard, thankless, and the most rewarding thing I could ever do. EVERYONE and their neighbor gives you advice on parenthood because everyone witnesses or experiences it to some degree themselves.
However, when I was staring down a new, deep, dark hole of leaving my conventional life for a non-traditional, wildly exciting and totally scary experience with my family, no one had any advice to give.
I didn’t have anyone to ask about full-time travel. I had some blogs to read, but never any with more than two kids. Plus, those blogs were filled with the logistics of full-time travel: what to pack, how to search for bookings, what to-do in each place. What I craved, as much as these logistics, was what would it FEEL like to live like this? Would I be able to handle it? Would we get out and realize it was a big mistake to travel the world with five kids?
Each situation is so unique that no one can tell you exactly what it will be like. Due to a complete lack of information, I guessed and stressed for months. I had insomnia for the first time in my life. I had a few mild panic attacks.
I yearned for the reality of this life, even a glimpse, so I could anticipate a little better.
I’ve thought of writing this post for months, but put it off. I don’t want it to sound like I’m complaining. I’m not. I try very hard not to take for granted what we are blessed to do. I try, everyday, to see our situation from an outside lens and realize how incredible this experience is. We try hard to serve each other and others as much as we can, for this keeps us humbled and kind. It’s WAY too easy to get caught up in all the excitement and start EXPECTING rather than APPRECIATING.
We are now just over 10 months of full-time travel. TEN MONTHS! Truth: there are things I really dislike about our life right now. They are so overshadowed by the highs (at least for now) that I don’t want to stop traveling, but I just wish it would be easier. I want to shed a little reality on the dreamy nature of our life.
- Real, boring life still happens. Kids get sick, you get sick. You still get cavities, skin issues, the flu. You have to make doctors’ appointments and take the time to see a professional. However, sometimes you are trying to guess what part of a city you are even in, navigating language barriers, and trying to figure out how to even get there! You might miss an entire location due to illness and this is such a big bummer. My kids have some random skin stuff going on. I think Grant might have molluscum? Guess where I first saw that word? From the Bucket List Family stories! I am always curious about medial stuff and googled it only to realize it may be explaining some skin stuff on one of my kids! It’s probably not a coincidence that two children that travel extensively might be dealing with this. We probably do expose our kids to things that could affect them for the present or far into the future. Getting visas for new countries, trying to keep track of the logistics around these, is a lot to handle. Sometimes you have to spend a whole day just getting a visa for the next place you will go.
- Our view of the world is still so limited. Sure, we are exploring more places and seeing more things around the world than I could have even dreamed about. If you’d asked me a few years ago if I would even step foot into Asia in my lifetime, I would have been unsure. To live in Asia for nearly 7 months? Impossible. However, as I travel more and more, I realize how limited we still are. So many unrelated things can determine our opinion of a new place. The Airbnb could be terrible, the lack of restaurants or sidewalks could be challenging in the place we stay. We could get food poisoning. All of these could turn us off to an entire city, or worse, and the entire country! I’ve talked to some of our travel friends and this happens. Just like when you get violently ill after eating something and don’t want to eat that thing again, sometimes you can have a really bad experience and write off a location. Also, we see SO little of a place. Really. We can spend a month and see such a small fraction it’s ridiculous. Just recently we visited the east coast of Taiwan on a whim. We saw some of the most stunning natural beauty I could never have imagined. I never would have known it even existed if I had not left Taipei (or searched for it on Google after our friends told us about it). My view of Taiwan is so different after having that experience than it would have been if we just saw Taipei. What we see of a city is just where we stay. I could be in a less desirable part of a city and assume the whole city is like that. Ugh. This challenge is not limited to travel, but it is amplified when you are trying to “see it all”. I saw recently that “the more you travel, the more you realize how little you will ever see.” This is #truth.
This realization sometimes can make you a little crazy. If I can’t manage to get a grip on the world at large even when I’ve dedicated all of my resources and time to do so, what’s the point? Why can’t I see and absorb more?
- Not having a safe space. A home is so much more than a place you eat and poop and sleep at night. It is your safe space. Even if you live in 200 sq feet in NYC, it’s your haven from the outside. We don’t have that safe space to the same degree, ever. We do come to feel very “at home” where we stay, most of the time, but it is never totally safe. The kids can’t totally be themselves, if we break a cup or dish we feel SO badly about it. If the neighbors complain about our noise and we get in trouble, it sends our life into a tailspin. We no longer feel like we belong anywhere and just want to go back to something comfortable.
I miss that kind of safe space to totally relax in. I miss a place where I can let my guard totally down and just relax. Sometimes our relax time needs to happen outside the house, which is nearly impossible. The result is a constant build-up of stress until we can get somewhere new.
We’ve had to learn how to adapt to a lack of total security. Have we been totally successful? Probably not, but we keep trying. I do think it stretches us and helps us to grow. Our older children won’t be phased by many things in their future after this experience. Going off to a week at a summer camp? No biggie. Sleeping in strange, new places? No problem. Having to live around people that are different and you don’t know? Got it.
We also have adapted to find a little bit of this security not in a home, but in each other. We really do depend on each other more than we used it. We have actually learned to crave being together. When we decide to “get a break” or separate for a while, it doesn’t take long for all of us to want to return together. This both warms my heart and scares me a bit. What if something happens to one of us? It will devastate us even more than it might have before this experience.
- We get used to being uncomfortable. Chris served a mission for our church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, in Brazil. He was a tender young man of 19 when he left his life, on his own dime, for two years. Fun fact: he was actually scheduled to leave for his flight on 9/11. Obviously, his flight was then delayed for a couple of weeks. When he did finally leave it was not only his first international flight but the first or second flight of his life. His family was not able to travel much at all (just to drive to see family mostly or camp) as he grew up, so imagine the shock it was to show up, alone, to a foreign country. He has related to me some of the funny things: how hungry he was the first night and nothing was in the fridge. The local convenience store was closed and he had literally nothing to eat and no idea how he would eat the next day. The shower was right over the toilet, so you could sit on the toilet and shower at the same time. The hot water came from an electrical unit in the shower-head itself. If you left peanut butter open overnight, it would be coated in a layer of ants and the young men would just scoop off that layer and keep eating. He was SO uncomfortable for a while.
Guess what? We’ve had all of these experiences as a family! Ok, we haven’t left out peanut butter overnight, but our standards around food have gone WAY down. We all go hungry and miss meals and show up to new places with no idea where to go. We have to be uncomfortable A LOT. More than I really realize or ever expected.
Sometimes, thing gives us all a little anxiety. Imagine stocking a new kitchen every 2-4 weeks. I have deja vu buying the same standard items, thinking I already have them in my cabinet. I may have even used that item that MORNING, only to be in a new country that EVENING, buying it again.
- Burnout is real. Staying on balance in our lives is a constant battle and it’s a hard one. We have to balance what to see when lists and options are nearly endless. We have to balance adventuring with down days. We have to balance our needs as individuals, as a couple, as parents and the needs of the kids. What works for one doesn’t work for the rest. That sometimes means we have to miss things we want (no different than parenting anywhere).
The tricky thing is sometimes we have to miss things that we probably won’t have the chance to see again. We may not ever visit Hong Kong again, so when all of us came down with the flu, it was a real bummer to miss about half of the things we had wanted to see. We will probably always travel to some degree, but THIS (our full-time traveling) situation will never happen again. We may not have all our kids at home with us anymore, we may not have the health to travel, we may no come back to this country.
It is SO difficult to recognize this and reconcile your feelings of loss at what you can’t do or see in that place. If you try to fit it all in anyway, you will crash and burn. Hard. Emotionally, physically, and in your relationships.
- Quality over quantity. I spend more time with Chris now than I could have even imagined! We are apart only a couple hours a week, if that. That’s insane! Truth be told, sometimes we feel super distant from each other even with all this time together. We can go days without a conversation about anything other than logistics….. what do the kids need, where are we going, how to we get home, what works needs to be done, what errand needs to be run. Parents everywhere can resonate with this. I’ll tell you more time together doesn’t make it better. You have to make an active, concerted effort to CONNECT.
This can also apply to the things we see. If we cram too much into our locations, no one enjoys any of it. We are all exhausted, running low in our relationships with each other and wondering when we get a break. Sometimes it’s been to pick just a few real winners and leave the rest behind. It’s better to make memories than fill a hit-list. Better to see one thing in a new place and go home with new memories, stronger relationships, and a happy family than to see all those “Top 10” places.
- Decision fatigue. This is something I only recently heard about. It was a rare day, in Bali actually, where I made it to a gym and could listen to a podcast. The speaker, Better than Happy, spoke of decision fatigue. She gave tips to reduce this, like making roughly the same meals each week and knowing in advance the type of cuisine you’ll have for dinner that night. I realized I am experiencing decision fatigue constantly. I can never “coast” through a day. Even if we don’t go out, the type of food I can make is so radically different all the time I can’t plan to have “Taco Tuesday” anymore. I can’t even find cheese, let alone ground beef and all the other fixings.
I don’t have the luxury anymore of driving and already knowing how to get somewhere. I can’t zone out in the car while I drive for the 567th time to school carpool lane. I don’t even have the luxury of having anyone that already knows me! We are always new, always a stranger. We constantly introduce ourselves, explain who we are and what we are doing. It’s tiring to never see anyone who already knows you.
This is a real danger and I’m still learning how to help it. I am the primary scheduler, decision maker for the family. I am also the person who figures out how we get somewhere, what we need to bring, what we might need while there, when and how we will eat, etc, etc. I love this role, for the most part, and at “home” this was a breeze for me. Now it is overwhelming. Sometimes I have to just look at Chris and say, “You figure out how we get home. I’m out of juice.” If I’m not careful, it can actually knock me out for a couple of days. I have learned to ask for more help or just take some time off and recharge before hitting it again.
The reality? Sometimes I don’t keep things in balance and have a whole morning, or a whole day, in tears. I feel like I’m failing at life and I can’t even hole up at home to sooth my soul. I fear I’m ruining all of our lives by taking us around the world to do this. It isn’t just me leading the charge, Chris and I are equally leading and steering the ship, but it is impossible not to sometimes shoulder the emotions for your family on your shoulders.
So the million-dollar question…. why do we keep going? Even after I read this list, I wonder a little bit why we don’t just head back “home”. I try to ponder this anytime I can. One thing I’ve realized and verbalized to Chris lately is this: every day, even when the day has been hairy and we have been too short with the kids and I feel like a little bit of a failure in many areas of my life, I still love our life when the day is over. The memories and the feelings of the day still distill in a beautiful feeling at the end of the day.
We are soaking up the days and the hours and minutes of our children’s lives. We see them more now in two days than we may have in our old life. We are teaching and guiding them. We are seeing new and wonderful things each day and then seeing it again through their eyes. It’s like the beauty of Christmas morning when you are SO excited to see your kids witness that Christmas tree and all the new additions under it. We get that pretty much every day. It’s new to us and it’s so fun to explore, but even better, we get to see it all over again with them. We see it in their faces and their excitement with each other.
Our ‘“everyday” memories are magical. Just today, we rode a river barge on the main river in Bangkok and the sweet boat drivers asked Harrison if he wanted to steer the boat for a minute. The excitement on his sweet face and the joy all six of the rest of us felt for him in that moment of pure joy was overwhelming. It was simply magic.
We are better parents, by far, then we could have ever become in any other way. Chris was just relating to me how it was a learning curve to “be with the kids”. He was used to the morning hellos and kisses, working all day, dinner together, and getting them off to bed to get some break. The actual amount of time he spent with them was quite small. Going from that to full-time travel, even though he still works, was a shocker! It was hard for him, but he is so much more comfortable being with them and living life with them. We have to practice patience 24/7 and this life is a good teacher 🙂
We all know, deep down, this experience can’t last forever. This alone helps us overlook some of the hard things. We are incredibly fortunate to be in a situation without a hard deadline. We didn’t leave knowing we only had six months, or a year, to see as much as we could. We all ignore and push back the reality that someday our life will shift again and something will have to change dramatically. In the meantime, we are soaking up as much as we can. We are jumping into as many experiences around the world as we reasonably can while growing and learning together as a family. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.
Thinking of doing something like this with your family? Reach out to me! I want to be your flashlight at the bottom of that unknown hole you are looking into in any way that I can. Then close your eyes, hold each other’s hands, and just jump!