The Realities of Traveling the World
It seem luxurious, ideal, too good to be true… a year of traveling around the world. Ahhh! It’s a year released from the day to day home routines. No keeping track of deadlines for kids’ activities, grocery trips, runs to Costco, piles and piles of laundry, cleaning up the kitchen endlessly, each meal seeming to run into the next, volunteering at school, picking kids up from school, schlepping kids to sports, and on and on. It’s what we all do, us moms. It’s been ten years of routines, one I’m truly not unhappy with, one I actually love, but admittedly the routine I love so much sometimes can get monotonous after a while.
So here I am, currently in Thailand, month 5 of our 12, possibly 14 month odyssey. We’ve traveled to 12 countries, taken 13 flights, 14 train rides, countless bus rides, taxis, boats, tuk-tuks, songthaews and driven cars in at least three different countries. We get comments of “must be nice” that we four find a little irksome and patronizing. Don’t get me wrong, it is nice. It’s amazing, spectacular, hands down, the best experience we could possibly have…but not in a luxurious, life is so easy sort of way (just take a look at our pictures and you’ll see there’s very little luxury here). It’s more like we are constantly on the move, learning an amazing amount, experiencing cultures, some of which we’ve never even thought about, navigating life in a way so different than anything we’ve ever done sort of way. For all four of us this is the hardest, most exhausting yet most amazing & exhilarating thing we’ve ever done.
ACCOMMODATIONS AROUND THE WORLD – where we lay our heads at night
The keeping track of deadlines for kids activities has been replaced with weekly, often daily hunts for a place to lay our heads at night. We have currently stayed in over 30 family homes, hostels, hotels, guesthouses and the like. This typically involves plowing through website after website when the kids are asleep to find a place that meets all the criteria: within our budget (varies depending on location- basically cheapest, safest, cleanest in the most budget category) accommodates 4 (surprisingly difficult) – hopefully without a pullout couch – we have terrible luck with them – & we must have wifi (after all, we have to search for the next days accommodations, transport, activities.…) We give bonus points for laundry facilities (a luxury), 2+ bedrooms (space is a commodity for us), separate beds (solves many arguments). Overall we’ve found we’re happiest in places that most resemble what we have at home (modern, clean, simple) but a twist of given country – Turkey, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina… This clearly isn’t always possible but it is what’s brings us the most peace and relaxation, something to ground us when we are being assaulted from all angles with decisions, strangeness and discomforts. While not ideal, searching for accommodations has, several times, meant one child or all three are joining me in trying to find a place to rest our heads that night. An experience (and skill) in and of itself.
TRANSPORTATION AROUND THE WORLD – getting there
Then there’s the mom taxi – schlepping kids to sports – ha! This has been replaced with researching the best, cheapest, easiest way of getting there. It involves timetables, endless questions, checking, double checking until finally schlepping mom and kids to public bus stops, train stations and airports, often missing connections, ending up at abandoned stations and a general feeling of confusion and slight fear since it seems like timetables, bus stations and the like tend to change without any rhyme or reason….and why is the train station abandoned?!? Seemingly one can only figure these mysteries out by trial and error (or by other backpackers whom are all staying at the now cost-prohibitive youth hostels. Bummer!) And driving in foreign countries…fine when there are rules (or rules that are followed), not so much when said rules aren’t followed. Super. Stressful. Schlepping kids to after school activities never seemed so enticing.
EATING AROUND THE WORLD – what in the world do we eat
Making meals constantly has been replaced with finding foods we can all stomach (tongue, brains, rodents and intestines aren’t for us- most everything else we’ll try), restaurants that fit within a budget and that everyone can agree on (hardest part) and then interpreting menus. Seems easy? Day in, day out – it can be exhausting (especially for the kids, hence tiring for mom). Ideally we’d be places long enough to have a kitchen and do cooking on our own. Reality has us moving more often and it’s more economical to eat out – yes, even in places like Venice!
As we’ve cut down on grocery visits, it still frequently exists (typically we eat one meal a day from a grocery store). As at home, this too can be a challenge. Liam doesn’t like salami or cheese, Kaitlyn doesn’t like bread, no one will come within a foot of canned tuna (thanks to a friendly warning by past travel buddy, Nancy), and peanut butter, not so easy to find…makes lunches on the beach, train, etc slightly difficult. This is where I shamefully admit we’ve eaten way too much Nutella (previously a banned household product), way too few vegetables (previously eaten by the bushel) and an excessive amount of highly, highly processed crackers, cookies and chips. Yes. Me!
DAILY CHORES AROUND THE WORLD – the nitty-gritty and often grimy
And then there’s laundry. This should be gloriously easy. At home it would be a simple task, after all, we only each have 3 outfits, 2 pair of socks and 3 pair of underwear. In reality, it takes an incredibly long time to wash 3 outfits, 2 pair of socks and 3 pair of underwear times four in a teeny tiny guest house sink. Throw in 4 travel towels, a fleece for each, sleep sacks and a few small random items and it REALLY takes a long time. And then there’s drying the laundry. For the life of me I can’t understand why it’s so difficult for a hotel, hostel, guest room, etc to have one of those clothes lines or hooks so you can hook up those clothes lines. And where hotels, guesthouses and hostels are the hooks?!? So now we have wet clothes eeeverrrywherrrre. Literally, everywhere. On the weeks we’ve slacked from daily laundry (or not been anywhere long enough for laundry to dry), the kids climb into the tub, I soap and scrub in sink, they swish and rinse in the tub and I wring dry and hang…all told, about 90 minutes of fun (well the kids have fun, me…not so much).
EDUCATING AROUND THE WORLD – let us learn
Ah, and I forgot….education. So. Really. Difficult – truly. Guess what? At home I am fortunate enough to send my children to school for seven hours for someone else to educate while the laundry, shopping, meals, errands, cleaning gets done in silence. Beautiful, beautiful silence. Here, in addition to daily concerns like a roof over our head, transport, and food, well, I have to do that schooling thing too. This is way more difficult than I anticipated. Admittedly, it’s way more fun. It’s field trips most every day – or at least discussions of said field trips every day. Reading countless books – do you know how many amazing children’s books there are these days? But formal education? well, it ebbs and flows. Like I said, there are field trips to museums, hikes in Unesco World Heritage sights, language classes, cooking class, trying our hand at vegetable carving, learning how to use a potters wheel…but very little traditional learning.
There’s volunteering at elephant parks, meeting locals, language classes and bargaining in local markets. We’ve had tours in Berlin and learned about life inside the Berlin Wall, we’ve walked on sacred grounds across many cultures and religions. We’ve gained insight into daily life in so many places, been welcomed and become friends with people in countless towns and cities, both locals and other travelers.
I guarantee my children can carry on a conversation about World War II, the impact of the Berlin Wall, the Homeland war in Bosnia & Herzegovina, speak about Van Gogh’s techniques over his lifetime, and why they changed. They can discuss the tragedies and plight of elephants in Thailand or the impact of the Dutch during the Holocaust all with any adult and truly be able to hold their own. In science, they not only have learned but they’ve seen first hand what happens with mineral deposits over thousands of years, they’ve walked between two tectonic plates in Iceland, and have a true understanding of the benefits of geothermal energy and the impacts of erosion. They’ve swum over 4000 year old ruins and seen the archeological discovery and reconstruction of ruins from time periods that are difficult to imagine. They have each read dozens and dozens of books related to women’s rights, wars, the Holocaust, the plight of people from far past through current day. They have a better understanding of money than most 30 year olds, are able to see the value of money across countless economies, have seen that a simple thing like oranges are practically free in one place or $5 a pound, depending upon the location. They can figure out exchange rates everywhere from Iceland to the Netherlands, to Croatia and Turkey and everywhere in between. They work on daily budgeting with hotels, food & transport. They have a true working knowledge of time zones and geography. Daily the convert celsius to fahrenheit, kilometers to miles, the list goes on and on. But a formal education…honestly, it really hasn’t happened.
So, am I complaining? Absolutely not. Do I love what we’re doing? No doubt about it. Would I trade it for anything in the world? Not a chance. But for those that think it’s easy, that we’re on a vacation, that we’re sitting around eating Turkish delight with our feet up…don’t be fooled. There’s no vacation here. The eating bon-bons and relaxing, well, it happens about as much (or as little) as it happens at home.