As we contemplate living abroad for a year or so with our two young kids, I can’t help but wonder how this will affect them and if they will even remember the experience. I turned to our friend Driscoll Robbins to shed some light on the matter.
Driscoll grew up in San Francisco but traveled extensively with his family as a young child. It was through these travels that inevitably led him to the business he runs today, Driscoll Robbins Fine Carpets, located in Seattle, WA. I have to say that these are the most luxurious rugs you will ever see – it is easy to see his impeccable eye for detail and design. Here he shares his stories of growing up in a semi-nomadic family and setting out on his own adventures with his wife Annie and two young sons. I think these kids have more airplane trips under their belts than I do!
I am so excited to share his thoughts and photos. Thank you so much Driscoll!
My family had two trips each lasting about 1.5 years. The first trip was 1971-73. I was 4 and my sister was 2. My parents had a VW camper van which we lived in for most of the trip. The second trip was 1977-79. I was around 10 years old. This trip my parents bought a Mercedes camper van in Europe which we lived in. Both trips started out in Europe. A portion of the trips were spent driving through Europe but most of the travels took place in Asia including Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, and India. My sister and I were home schooled except for a 4 month period when we attended a boarding school in Pakistan.
Q: Tell us more about how you got around – planes, trains, automobiles?
Our mode of transportation was strictly our van. We all slept in the van together. On warm nights my sister and I would sleep in a tent outside the van to give my folks a little privacy.
Q: Were these travels work-related for your parents or simply just for pleasure?
During our first trip to Asia, my parents became interested in oriental carpets. They bought rugs along the way and at one point my dad flew to NY with the rugs to make a little business. Through trial and error, they bought enough rugs to open up a rug store in San Francisco when we returned from the first trip. The second trip was clearly focused on searching for unique and collectable oriental rugs. On the return of the 2nd trip, my parents opened up a store in the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco where they ran their business for the next 20 years.
Traveling by van is very doable in Europe and Turkey today, but Central Asia is a different story. We ran into some dangerous situations back then, but today the political situation is far too severe to pull off a similar trip.
The long days of sitting in the back of the van staring out the window. I read a lot and spaced out even more. Many times we would drive into a town and stop for supplies. Our van would be quickly surrounded by throngs of people trying to look in the windows or touch my hair. It really pissed me off as a kid to have people grabbing you all the time. These people had seen very few Westerners back in those days. My fondest memories were attending the boarding school in Pakistan. It was an English school at the base of the Himalayas. I made lots of friends and really enjoyed having a community again.
It was hard being dragged through Asia as a kid. There were very few kids my age who spoke English. I missed basic things like drinking milk, playing with friends, and watching tv. I was still young enough that I didn’t fully know how much I was missing back at home.
Q: Was transitioning back into your home life easy or hard?
The return of the first trip was harder. Suddenly I was in Kindergarten with kids and I remember having a hard time being separated from my parents. The return of the second trip was much easier. I was pretty happy to be back with my peers.
Q: Have these trips made a lasting impression on you? What do you think you gained from them as a kid?
Most definitely. I feel blessed to have had such a unique and transformative childhood. I have such strong memories of those travels. It has given me a much better understanding and acceptance of other cultures. I will always have a wanderlust instinct. I’m happiest when I’m traveling.
Q: And now looking back, how do you think this transferred into your adulthood (how do you think these trips were beneficial to you as a person?)?
I’m not sure I’d be in the oriental rug business if it hadn’t been for my childhood. I also spent a great deal of time traveling the world on my own. If you are raised in a nomadic lifestyle, it’s hard to remain in one place for too long.
Yes. We have a house in Mexico which we go to regularly. We’d also like to live abroad for a year at some point in the near future. Raising our kids to appreciate other cultures is very important to me.
I don’t want my kids to lead a sheltered American life. I want them to see how the rest of the world lives and not take what we have for granted. Many people in this country have an uneducated view of the rest of the world and I don’t want that for my children. I also want them to have the same joy of traveling that I have.
Our boys are pretty young. Our philosophy isn’t fully developed but I would say we want them to interact with a place and it’s people. Not be sheltered behind the walls of a resort or sightseeing bus.