I am pleased to share an adventure story from Stacy and Randy Earlywine who, along with their two children Bodhi and Joshua, take to the road as often as possible. This family recently took a year off to travel in their VW Vanagon through Canada and the States and then hopped on a plane for further travel in Central and South America. A friend of mine forwarded me their blog, Lusting for Wander, a few months ago and I was instantly hooked. I am especially impressed with the extended travel as a family unit – something that we hope to do soon as well. They prove that you can indeed take your family across the globe and back in one piece! Also, be sure and check out her latest blog post listing out the reasons behind her travels – really well written!
We left on July 2nd, 2011 and traveled by ferry to Haines, Alaska. From there we spent approximately 2 months traveling around Alaska then driving across Canada and the US to Maine. We left our vehicle in Maine at my childhood home and flew to the Dominican Republic on Oct 31. We spent 6 weeks there and then we flew to Costa Rica for a month. After lots of movement we decided to find a place to stay put for a few months and flew to Peru where we found a volunteer opportunity and spent 3 months living in the mountains near Huaraz, Peru. We then traveled overland for a month to Quito, Ecuador and flew from there to Mexico for one last week on the beach! We arrived back in Maine in early April then took 2 + months to drive back to Seattle.
The decision to travel for a year was centered on the program at my husband’s job. He works for a very progressive place of employment. Employees are eligible to take a one year, unpaid leave of absence for every 7 years of employment. Interestingly he applied for this job while we were traveling in Asia 11 years ago and this perk was a selling point. We have always loved to travel and not taking advantage of this opportunity was really not an option for us.
Why travel? Hmmm…. This is a hard question to answer in a few words. The world is a big place and there is so much to see. Many people choose to read about other countries, mountain ranges, ecosystems, etc.. When we read about them, it lights a fire and there is a strong desire to go and experience these things. Travel is one of the most enlightening, educational, challenging and fun experiences in life for us. We have learned more about our world and ourselves while traveling than in any other educational institution or experience. We wanted to share this with our children at a young age. When you encounter difficulty or adversity while traveling, which surely will happen if traveling for an extended period, you have to find the resourcefulness to deal with the situation. This is different from dealing with adversity at home. There is often the added challenge of language barriers and different cultural expectations. Once you succeed at a challenge like this you feel like you can do anything!
The last thing worth mentioning is that travel breaks you out of routine and habit. These are not necessarily bad but I often (really often) hear friends talking about how busy and stressful life is. Taking an extended leave from this life allows an opportunity to reflect on what works, what doesn’t, what parts of life at home you want to keep and what you have the power to change to achieve the life, the balance you desire.
Our kids were 6 and 3 1/2. For us, this was ideal. We wanted kids out of diapers and able to have at least some memory of what we were experiencing. That said, I think it’s possible to travel with kids at any age. Most kids are incredibly suited to traveling. They can sleep anywhere, they are very resilient, they are always in the present moment and they soak in new things like sponges.
Oh yes! Every 7 years! It’s hard to think about not traveling for 7 years so hopefully we can afford to squeeze in some shorter trips between now and our next big adventure!
From their blog:
Other hazards of long term family travel?
- It’s not very good for your wallet.
- Your kids will most certainly be exemplary travelers… they all are. They have everything they need to be successful. They live in the present moment, they are extremely adaptable and they can sleep just about anywhere. BUT, here’s the catch. They’ll still have their days and when they do you’ll really, really want to offer them up to the nice little grandmotherly woman in whatever town you are in. You’re sure she’ll take good care of them and you’re certain it’s a better alternative than what’s going to happen to them if they whine or fuss one more time in your presence. After all you’ve been with them for 270 days now.
- And then there is your significant other. You love them, of course you do but god almighty can’t they just go away (and take the kids) and leave you alone for one day? It’s really just a lot of togetherness.
- You’ll probably be on a bus at some point and it might be blaring some awful, violent Arnold Swartzeneger film where people with machine guns are blowing things and other people up left and right. Your children will be glued to the set and you’ll be powerless to stop it.
- Of course you’ll get sick… at least once.
- You may or may not grow tired of the food. In Asia, I never grew tired of the culinary delights of India and Thailand but I swear, here in South America if I have one more plate of papas fritas (french fries), rice and chicken I’m going to jump off the next bridge. Oh and the crap my kids have eaten? It’s enough to send me back to my little organic haven in Seattle and vow to never leave.
- The roads will be bumpy and the bus rides long. You’d better have a really good stash of books on tape.
- You’ll look at your kids one day and realize they kind of resemble one of those very poor children on the cover of the UNICEF calendar. It’s nothing to poke fun at of course but their clothes are so stained, worn, torn and dirty you can only hope to find one decent outfit in the bottom of their pack so that the grandparents won’t keel over in shock when they pick you up at the airport. At least you gave them a haircut.
Yes and no. Our younger child had never been to school and therefore really had not yet developed any friendships that he was missing. Our older child did occasional say that he missed his friends but it never seemed to me to be more than a passing thought. They both talked of missing their toys every once in a while but again it was a momentary thought before they moved on to the next exciting thing at hand. We tried to be very aware and sensitive to their feelings and experiences and in the end what we concluded was that when the parents we calm, happy and centered, the kids were too. If we became anxious or stressed out, if really impacted the kids and their sense of groundedness.
If I am to be completely honest, it was more of a struggle than I had anticipated. I have always been a firm believer in experiential education and we had the most success when we were learning in the moment. We did a cool plant identification project in Alaska where we collected samples, identified them then pressed and labeled them. We also studied frogs and toads while in the Midwest. We caught a frog and a toad and observed differences, formulated questions, went to the local library to do some research. Etc.. These sorts of projects were highly successful and fun. Where we struggled was when we had to sit down with the phonics, reading and math workbooks. I felt a responsibility to my son to make sure he would be ready for second grade back in Seattle. Since we devoted very little time to “academics” I felt the need to push the lessons and consequently the workbooks when we did sit down to “study”. This is where we flopped. The fact is, workbooks are not engaging and my son hated it. We tried to strike a balance and in the end, I really think he is going to be fine in second grade!
We love the mountains and have always wanted to visit Alaska. It was the perfect place to travel to in our van. We have a 1986 Volkswagen Vanagon that was super fun to road trip around Alaska, Canada and the US in. It wasn’t the first trip we’d done like this so we knew more or less what we were getting ourselves into. As for the rest of the trip, we had no idea where we would go after Alaska. We chose the Dominican Republic because I was really ready for some warm, tropical weather, the tickets were cheap and it was a Spanish speaking country. From there Costa Rica came into play when a friend wanted to meet up for the holidays. And Peru was a connection of a friend that seemed to fit. Mountains, Spanish, volunteering, etc. We like overland travel so it made sense to go to Ecuador and then I really wanted one last hurrah on the beach before we went home so we flew to Maine via Mexico. Also we wanted a couple months to make our way back to Seattle and visit one of our favorite parts of the US… The desert southwest.
The Top 10 Clues that it may be time to stop traveling and settle down…
10. Instead of going out to a world famous national park and looking for iguanas, squirrel monkeys, two toed sloths, howlers and more on a beautiful sunny day, your children would rather lay in bed in a hotel room and watch cartoons in a language they don’t understand.
9. You are sitting on a beach, blue sky above, cold drink in hand, gazing out at a beautifully tranquil ocean while everyone you know is freezing their butt off in cold, dark, rainy Seattle and you still find something to complain about.
8. You’d trade your first born child for your espresso machine.
7. Your youngest child throws a tantrum and screams at the top of his lungs when you tell him it’s time to go eat at the restaurant. He wants you to go to the store and buy something to cook him.
6. Your oldest child tells you “I’m hungry and my tummy is rumbling in 3 different languages.”.
5. The tooth fairy has deposited coins under your child’s pillow in 4 different currencies.
4. You are pretty sure that if your husband doesn’t get his own iPad soon, your marriage is going to end.
3. Your idea of luxury involves an actual hot shower, a soft pillow, a firm mattress and a bug free room… A combination you have not seen in 6 months.
2. You’d just as soon skip seeing places on the top of your list as face another taxi, bus, boat, motorcycle or plane ride.
And the #1 reason it’s time to stop traveling and settle down… You’re just plain tuckered out.
Q: I see you set out a list of travel goals, why was this important to set? Did it make a difference going into your travels with these goals in mind?
For me it was important. It helped me think about how I wanted us to spend time on the trip and helped in determining where we traveled to. I didn’t want to feel when we arrived home, like we had just spent a year wandering without purpose around the world. For me, having goals helped give the trip meaning and purpose.
Q: Was transitioning back into your home life easy or hard?
Both. It was at times as if we hadn’t missed a beat and at other times very surreal to be home and back to our life in Seattle. Sometimes it feels like the trip never happened or that it went by so fast! I’d say overall it was pretty seamless and easy and while we enjoy our life in Seattle, we sure miss being on the road too! That’s the hardest part I think, just that we can’t travel anymore right now.
We have a very modest home by North American standards but quite luxurious when compared to how much of the world lives. I try to keep this in mind when I start getting “the wantsies”. Keeping up with the Joneses is alive and well in the US and I try hard to avoid falling into this trap. It’s difficult. Fortunately for us, we have traveled internationally before so I feel lucky to have had these experiences shaping my life and choices for some time now.
As for daily living, we have made a few modest changes… Hanging up a clothesline to dry our clothes and thereby saving energy and money for example. We got used to hanging our clothes to dry while living in Peru and I actually enjoy it!
Not really. I’m thrilled we took advantage of the opportunity we had and excited to continue planning adventures together. We have always considered the limitations of living in a city and how that somewhat diminishes the “freedom” children have to roam outside and explore. We are lucky to have a big backyard but our children cannot leave our yard and ride their bikes down the street or go take a hike to the creek by themselves. They enjoyed this kind of freedom while we were traveling and the trip reinforced that we’d like to live somewhere that our kids have easy access to wild places. That all said, there are plenty of benefits to living where we live. We don’t have plans to move right now but who knows!
Q: What are some of the things you hope traveling will teach your children?
Compassion, empathy, tolerance, curiosity, language, resourcefulness, resilience, critical thinking…
Go for it! The limitations are only in the minds of the parents! Get them out there, their interactions with the world and other people in it who are different from themselves will help move us toward a more peaceful, tolerant world.
Thank you to Stacy and Randy for sharing their stories and thoughts. All photos are property of the Earlywines. For more in depth story telling, please visit their blog Lusting for Wander.