My Life Is Not A Postcard: In Which I Rant & You Learn Some Things You Didn’t Know

October 27, 2012 in Asia, Thailand, Travelogue

I have a bee in my bonnet.

It’s a community bee, not any one person. Not any one comment, not any one moment, rather the culmination of annoying little buzzings and an occasional little sting.

I’m not allergic to bees. I don’t need an Epi Pen. I don’t swell up, turn blue, cease breathing and drop over dead, or go into apoplectic seizures and have my head explode.

My normal response is to wrinkle my forehead, swat them away, rub the red spot for a minute and get back to playing with my kids, or writing my stories, or baking something.

Baking is good therapy for all kinds of life’s little traumas, don’t you think?

Social Media is a blessing and a bane. 

We can share the best and the worst of our lives in 2.5 seconds and sometimes we respond to others forgetting that there are human souls on the other end and say things we’d never say in person. Or if we would say it, the wink and the smile that are the physical cues for “just kidding, I love ya!” are lost.

So here’s the thing: Here’s the Bee:

When I post this photo, (to my personal FB, supposedly populated by actual friends… mostly) what do you think? What do you think about me, about my day, about my life?


I hope you smile and think, “Wow, that looks like a really nice day,” because that’s what I thought when you posted your picture of your kids on a fall walk in Oregon.

But you might have noticed, from your own experience even, that this is NOT what everyone thinks. 

  • I’ve been called a “braggart,” and a “show off.”
  • I’ve been accused of “rubbing it in people’s faces.”
  • There are people who’ve let me know that they resent my life.
  • There are others who insinuate that their life, full of martyrdom to their many kids, or difficult job, or school debt, is in some way “better and more responsible,” more “realistic” than mine.

It’s not you. I get that. But it’s “some people.”

That beach picture looks pretty idyllic. I get that. So did your picture of your fall walk with the pretty leaves. I’m really missing the change of seasons right now, as Thailand moves from “wet and hot” which it was all summer to just “hot and wet” which it will be all winter.

There are a few things I’d like to say to a few people (by far the minority, I understand) and perhaps you will know a friend who could be reminded of these things as they read blogs and comment on pictures and posts hastily thrown onto FB or G+

 My Life is My Choice

One of my favourite quotes:

“Life is a coin, you can spend it any way you like, but you can only spend it once.”

Traveling fulltime for years on end isn’t everyone’s dream. I get that. But it’s mine. I don’t think that my dream should be yours. Please don’t assume that your dream should be mine.

Diversity is a beautiful thing and we all get to do the things that we are passionate about and that inspire us. I love that. We should be cheering one another on in our wildly disparate pursuits, enjoying living vicariously through the quiet domesticities of people who live very different lives than we do. It might surprise you that I really don’t read travel blogs… instead I read about people who are sustainable farmers, mothers of many kids, single dads with a sense of humor and political satirists. It’s how I live many lives through this one.

By posting a picture of my beach walk, or my kids with an elephant trunk wrapped around them, I’m not making commentary on your life.

I’m simply sharing mine. I would like to think that people who have bothered to “friend” me are interested. If you’re not, or if you’re snarky feeling when you see the picture, please unfriend me. I won’t be insulted. You probably noticed that I really enjoy the pictures of your kids baking cakes at home, or winning medals at their school competition. If you don’t enjoy mine, it’s okay to move on.

I have chosen to live this life. You have chosen to live yours. Every day we make that choice. More than half of the choice and the experience of life isn’t even about the externals, the photographs we take, it’s about the inside of our own heads. My friend Lois says, rightly so, that it’s all about your attitude and perspective on your life, at home or abroad.

My Life is Not Easy

Hand Washing for six in a bathroom trough in the Czech Republic after a 50 mile bike ride pulling a 40 lb child on a bike that weighed more than I do when it was fully loaded.

Apparently there are people who believe that the life of a full time travel is all beach walks and exotic flowers. 

I wonder if the beach walk idyl would be worth the trade to you if you knew that for that photograph, for that moment, for that spectacular afternoon snorkeling with my children I have traded the following:

  • A permanent roof over head
  • A steady job
  • My 800 ct. Egyptian cotton sheets
  • Every pair of shoes but one
  • Every outfit but three that are wash and wear and anti-wrinkle
  • Owning a car
  • Access to a family Dr. we know and trust
  • Corporate Insurance
  • The luxury of communicating in my first language
  • My washer and drier

Would it be worth it to you to ride elephants with your kids and have that postcard picture if you knew that to do so the following would be required in daily life for six months or more at a time:

  • Hand washing for six in a kitchen sink or bathtub
  • Cooking for up to ten people at a time on two gas burners and a toaster oven
  • Walking two miles to buy your food (in a filthy market, not a shiny grocery store)
  • Carrying 40lbs of food back the two miles, three times a week in 90F heat
  • Riding buses, rickshaws & tuk-tuks to traverse thousands of miles
  • Taking your kid to the hospital in the middle of the night in a strange place where you are illiterate
  • Getting horrible diarrhea from some bug you picked up on a bus
  • Living in a tent for a year
  • Sleeping in a hammock in a rainforest when it’s raining frogs
  • Cutting the lid off of a milk jug so your car sick kid can puke, every day for weeks through a very long mountain range

Believe me when I say, I’m not complaining IN THE LEAST about any of these things. We’ve counted the costs and for us, it is 110% worth the trade. The hard things are hard, but the postcards are worth it, for us. 

My point: The life isn’t in the postcards, folks, it’s in everything below the surface. Living this way is hard work. Work many of you don’t want to do (and that is 100% okay with me!) But please don’t minimize that work with your two word snark on Facebook. It’s rude. And short sighted.

There Are Things That You Don’t Know.

I really have to work to smile instead of roll my eyes when someone says, “Hey, I know you… I read your blog!!” They mean well, they are excited, and in every case they are fantastic people who quickly become real life friends… by getting to know us.

Our blog, any blog, is the top water of life. The two inches of crystal blue beauty or putrid muddy pool that is stunning enough, on either end of the spectrum, to be worth writing about.

Thinking you know someone because you read their blog or their book is like thinking you can actually communicate to your friends and family the scope of your entire year in your Christmas letter. It ain’t happenin’.

I work really hard to share the struggles and not just the postcards on our blog, specifically because I don’t want people to think the traveling life is a big string of lying postcards. If you have been around a while you might remember the following:

 It Could Be Worse: A hellish day in central Mexico

The Short End Of The Public Bathroom Stick: From the Czech Republic, in which you become grateful for your shower

It’s A Party Now: In which Ez has a “personal problem” on a chicken bus in Guatemala

My 38th Birthday: In which the joy is NOT in the journey through Vietnam and Laos

If you haven’t, go back and read, it might make you feel better about my beach walk and snorkeling pictures.

In addition to that, understand that I don’t write about the things of a seriously personal nature. I don’t write about the things going on underneath the hood that are none of anyone’s business.

“Like what?” You might ask:

  • Like the fact that three of the hardest years of our marriage have occurred since we started traveling (in no way related to the travel)
  • Like the fact that we’ve stood right at the brink of wondering what the hell we’re doing here and weighed out whether or not this family project is worth continuing (the D word, yes.)
  • Like the fact that our kids sometimes pitch fits about things, and we have very hard days (weeks, months) interpersonally. I respect my kids too much to air their dirty laundry.
  • Like the fact that cobbling together our business on the road has been much harder than we ever anticipated.
  • Like the discussions we have about what to do when and if the cataclysmic happens.

And this isn’t even the really “good stuff” that you don’t know about. Truly.

Do you know why I walk on beaches?

Why Tony has so many pretty pictures of my behind headed off into the mist or the sunshine?

Because this is how I think, by walking. This is where I talk myself down from that day’s cliff and back into my present and find a way to soldier on when I want to run like hell in any direction. Does that surprise you? Good. Keep that in mind next time you want to snark on a picture of me walking… that postcard doesn’t take into account the inside of my head, and that’s the real piece of work worth a snapshot that you’ll never see.

Do I sound annoyed? Sorry. I’ll take a few deep breaths before I continue.

Don’t Tell Me I “Don’t Understand.”

I find this type of comment particularly pernicious.

Like, somehow, because I travel full time, ride elephants and camels with my kids, compare airfare to Borneo vs. Zamboanga instead of the cost between a washer and a drier that I somehow don’t “get” what it is like to live “real life” with a “real family” in the “real world.” Or because we happen to have CREATED a way to work location independent that I don’t “get” what it’s like to feel trapped by a job, worry about where the next house payment is coming from, or how it feels to have to accept food from a food pantry.

Excuse me?

Allow me to give you a recap of exactly what it is that we “get,” first hand:

  • Our first apartment had a bullet hole in the front window. No joke.
  • We push started our car for the better part of a year, it was a game with the neighbour kids every morning while they waited for the bus.
  • We both worked two jobs through university
  • I was pregnant or nursing for ten years. A DECADE.
  • We had a baby with serious food allergies
  • I had four children under four at one point, in a second story walk up in Chicago with a husband who traveled at least one week out of the month… at least… often more.
  • People, more than once, left anonymous bags of food on our doorstep, because we needed it and everyone knew it.
  • We’ve never owned more than one car (a company gave us a second car for work use with one job, but we’ve never been able to have more than one on our budget)
  • We’ve borrowed money from family and paid it back $25 at a time.
  • I’ve clipped coupons and gone to four stores each week to get the best deal and make our $100 a week go as far as it could for a family of six.
  • We lost 20K USD on the sale of our first house. LOST IT. Took ten years to sort that out.
  • We’ve built a house from scratch, which wasn’t that bad, considering…
  • We remodeled a house from a cottage to a four story big house, that was pretty much hell.
  • I’ve lived months with only plastic tacked over the front half of my house under construction
  • We scratched and scrimped and saved for two years to pull together enough money to travel on the very cheap for one year…
  • All of our money that we’d saved, all of it, was lost in the 2008 market crash when we were camped in Italy. We woke up with nothing. At. All. And no home to go home to.
  • We know the scary leap of quitting a very stable, lucrative job
  • We know the scary of being without a job, or any prospect of one with four mouths to feed.
  • We know what it’s like to start from less than nothing and create an income that is location independent out of, seemingly, thin air. It’s terrifying. There is no safety net.
  • We know what it’s like to have no where to live but in your camper in a friend’s driveway, and to have to borrow a car for three months until you can scratch together enough to buy your own.
  • We know what it’s like to sit with our hearts in our throats over the sick beds of babies, ours and our nephew’s and get a grip on what REALLY matters in this life.
  • I’m well aware of what it’s like to be nursing one baby, potty training a second, teaching a third to read while the fourth disassembles the kitchen cabinetry.

Please. Don’t tell me I don’t “get it.” This is not the only life I’ve lived.

I’m not going to minimize any of the things in “normal real life” that are hard, for you, or for me, but please don’t act like I, on my stunning beach walk with my orchid tucked behind my ear, could never understand, because I can introduce you to people who have picked up the shattered pieces of my life and heart more than once who would tell you stories that don’t make the blog.

The photo might be two dimensional… I am not.

I spent a long while discussing the idea of this post with my friend Lois. She gets me, most of the time. She’s known me in several incarnations of life. We’ve traveled together. She says that part of the reason that people don’t see what’s underneath is that I have a “terminal case of rose coloured glasses.”

This made me laugh.

I do try my level best to see the glass as half full, to see the positive and to live there in my brain. When the bus breaks down in back water Cambodia and we have an hour while they fix it, stuck in a hot tin can on the side of the road with forty of our closest, stinkiest friends who bought bugs on sticks as snacks at the last pull off and now have bug breath, I think to myself, “Well, at least I can get another chapter of that book read…” instead of a long string of expletives about the inefficiencies of the third world (okay, at least that’s what I think at the end of the long string of expletives!)

Her point about our perspective is bang on, though:

Regardless of the life we choose (and we do CHOOSE our lives) it can be heaven or hell on any given day based solely on what we allow to go on inside our heads. That’s one of the things I like about Lois, she helps me boil it down to the “take home message,” which brings us full circle:

“Life is a coin, you can spend it any way you like, but you can only spend it once.”