Six Things I’ve Learned From Six Years of Travel

March 13, 2014 in Travelogue

The day we sold our house and hit the road... how little they were!

It’s hard to believe that this month marks six years since we pulled away from the house we’d sold and trusted our fates to the open road.

So many miles have passed beneath our feet and so much water has flowed beneath our bridge since then. Much of it good, some of it difficult, all of it educational in one way or another. We set off with an achievable goal in mind: to cycle for a year around Europe and N. Africa; perhaps the western fringe of Asia if time and money held out. Little did we know our lifestyle was changing for the long haul.

If you’ve been reading along for any length of time then you already know most of the story. We cycled through the economic crash of 2008 and out the other side, straight into a van that looped North and Central America a couple of times. We fell in love with a Lago and then took the big leap to the other side of the world with backpacks and a serious underestimation of the difficulty of learning tonal languages. Our backpacks are overflowing with memories, and our hearts are tattooed with longing for places we’ve been and others we’ve yet to discover. We have stories to tell, to be sure, but more important than where we’ve been, or where we are now, or where we’re going next is what we’ve learned.

The road is a relentless school mistress and her lessons don’t come cheap, or easy. On the one hand, six years traveling seems a long time, on the other, we’ve barely scratched the surface. I certainly felt as if I knew more when we took off than I do now. The world has introduced me to beauty I can’t do justice to with words, she’s gifted me with treasures I can’t rightly value, but she’s also shaken me to my very core and brought me face to face with the reality that I’m a very, very, small piece of a puzzle with no picture on the box. Thus, it is with more questions than answers that I offer six, of the many, things that six years on the road has taught me.

Walking with Ez in Australia

1. Time matters

There are an awful lot of things that matter but none, I think, more so than time. It’s the one thing that we all awake with exactly the same amount of every morning. It’s the one thing that we cannot save up or tuck away for later. There is no later. There is now. I have good genes and I fully expect to crack out nine decades before I begin to break a sweat, but I’m also deeply aware that to bet on that is folly at it’s best.

To me, time is the currency best spent to buy the life I want. I care little for “stuff,” as you may have noticed, but I care much for moments, hours, and long slow months. As my kids stretch their wings and begin to soar into the sky and we stand on the ground below them and cheer I become even more thankful for the time we’ve been given, the time we’ve taken, the time we’ve chosen together. Very soon they’ll be gone and the biggest gift I’ve tucked into their traveling packs as they hit the road is time.

Tony and I are staring down our twentieth anniversary in a couple of months and if there is one thing our marriage can be measured by, it’s time. We are aware of the gift of having spent most of those years eating three meals a day together, taking walks in the afternoon and spending our precious time together while we still have breath.

We may choose not to have a lot of other things, but we have time, and it is, to my way of thinking, the most precious gift I can give, or receive.

Khao Sok 36

2. Home is where our hearts are

Sometimes people ask us about “home” and what that means to us. When we talk about “home” we mean Canada, but, really, we are always home. We’ve come to feel at home wherever we are together and can participate in our routines as a family. There are rituals that make home, and habits that create home for us: Music in the evenings, Daddy reading aloud, bread and bean sprouts and yogurt making, slow mornings, school routines, walks together, having guests for dinner, silly jokes, movie nights, kitchen dancing… these things define our home.

We are homesick for many places, and three of four will always be “home” in some deeper way. Our journey has taught us that home goes with us, and that the world, in the most generous, open-armed, hospitable sense invites us to be truly at home wherever she finds us.

You are here

3. Geography is a non issue

It’s not that lines on the map don’t matter, because they do, often far more than they should. It’s more that where we happen to be doesn’t matter. Our journey has been about exploration and education with and for our children, and in that sense, the geography is very important because there are some things that just can’t be learned in the same way without standing in a place and listening to the ghosts whisper. But in the greater sense, we’ve come to learn that where we are on the planet matters very little to the grand scheme of things. It doesn’t make us special, or different in any way that counts.

To walk a wide band around the planet has been a gift, and a privilege, to be sure. It’s also been a choice and, at times, a hardship. Everywhere we go we find friends. Every where we go we find struggles. Our life is exactly the same as everyone else’s, it just happens in more places and more languages. And, really, it doesn’t matter where we are, what matters is what we’re doing with the time we have.

Proboscis Monkey 24

4. The world is the best classroom

I believed this long before we started traveling with our kids. It became clear to me when I was the little one, rolled into the back of a van for the winter of exploring the back roads of a long continent. I long ago lost track of the ways my kids have benefited from growing up in the world with a rainbow parade of teachers.

It’s not that we’re anti-school, because we’re not. It’s that for us, for our children, for our family, for our philosophy of life and education, for our particular goals together, there is no better way to learn than at the knee of Mother Nature and in her cacophonous international classroom. There is no question that it’s shaped who our children are, their passions, and their educational aspirations; to say nothing of our continuing education as their parents.

friends in Bali

5.  There are tradeoffs

No life is perfect. We cannot have it all; at least not all at one time. To live one life is to give up an infinite number of other lives that you might have lived. It’s one of the hardest truths of our existence, I think. There is no one answer for everyone, no broad brushstrokes with which we can conveniently paint family life, philosophies or lifestyle choices. It seems to me, that at the end of the day, each one must weigh in his own soul what matters most, what supports her dreams, and what will, at the end of a life, produce the fewest regrets. My Dad and I occasionally discuss our deep desire to clone ourselves and live several lives at once, and that it is an intellectual hardship to be confined to one body. We all miss out on something, after all. 

Family, NZ

6. Our way is not the right way

We love our way of life. We are passionate about it’s rightness for our family. We wouldn’t trade the last six years of freewheeling fun with our kids for anything. It’s been a dream, but it’s our dream; no one else’s.

One of the things I love most, traveling, is meeting people who live in a thousand different ways from how we choose to and learning to appreciate the beauty in that:

  • My friend Lin, in Thailand, who taught me how to deal with cobras.
  • My friend Imelda, in Guatemala, who taught me to weave and appreciate small things.
  • My friend Becca in Indiana, who teaches me about depth in hospitality every time we visit.
  • My friend Jacqui, in Australia, who reminded me of all of the things I seek to build in a multi-generational family.
  • My friend Ellis, in New Zealand, who continually raises the bar for big time adventure.
  • My friend Cyril, in Malaysia, who taught me why I want to add chopped jellyfish to my fruit salad.
  • My friend Duane, in Honduras, to inspires me to give my life in the service of others, and then give a little more.
  • My friend Chris, location highly variable, to speaks to me about balance and intention.
  • My friend Robin, in New Hampshire, who reminds me that dreams come in many forms and seasons of life.

I could name a hundred or more, each a dear individual who’s taught me a profound lesson that reminds me that there are as many ways to “do life” as there are people living it. The common threads seem to be making the most of what you have and finding your dream.