Top 20 “Aha” Moments from 20 Traveling Families
2012 was filled with “aha” moments for us. We are so grateful to share our journey with you. But here, is a look back on 20 other families as they share the year’s special moments:
Not a day goes by that we don’t have an ‘aha’ moment. Most of ours fall into the ‘aha, that was really stupid of us’ category, such as when we left a full bag of luggage overnight in our car that was recently broken into. Other ‘aha’ moments stem from the sheer gratitude we have for deciding not listen to everybody else who told us we were crazy to take two little kids around the world. But don’t get us wrong, traveling is not for the faint of heart and there are as many (if not more) tantrums and headaches on the road as there would be at home. For us, though, the worst day traveling is part and parcel with every day we have on the road. It all comes together in one glorious mess that proves that we are living our lives on our terms.
Charles and I had traveled a lot together before having kids. So, when we first had our son, we got a lot of “well, at least you got the traveling out of your system before you had them” and similar comments. I was absolutely determined to show people that we could travel with our little ones. And we did, it just took some serious adjusting.
Our first extended overseas trip was with our little guy when he was about two and a half. We were used to being carefree travelers: taking off on a moment’s whim, wandering around in places like the Indonesian jungle for hours on end, and really just making do with whatever was thrown at us. So, our first trip, we tried to relive those days. We were miserable picking up and moving every few days, and staying in backpacker digs with no air conditioning and dirty floors.
Our “aha moment” was when we realized we’d have to seriously adapt our style of travel. The minute we did that, traveling became a lot more fun. Now, we stay in one place a lot longer, and get accommodation that’s more comfortable.
A series of A-ha moments has taken place slowly, quietly as we’ve lived with the locals throughout Latin America and South East Asia. So many of the uneducated, unsophisticated, common, simple people have taught us profound truths that our four combined university degrees have not. These “simpletons” know how to sit for hours and talk to each other, they know how to watch the sunset day after day while thinking of nothing else but the sunset; they know how to coexist happily with three and four generations and an entire extended families together on the same plot of land. They know how to work hard, get by with little, and be so damn satisfied with their lives. Our global friends have taught us ‘modern, highly-successful geniuses’ truths and knowings that have eluded us our entire lives.
I’ve had many A-ha’s moments facing the setting sun. Something in the air, that stillness, those colors has moved me deeply. Be it with the clouds dancing around Volcan Baru, Panama; the sky bowing in breath-taking submission to the sun’s retreat upon the Pacific Ocean; or the geckos sweet lullaby to the golden, red Cambodian sky… it has been unreal.
This is an excerpt from an entry I wrote about sunsets. I feel it is fitting here:
Sunsets have been a real gift in self-discovery. A huge one.
An invitation to cry, and let the soft fading rays wipe my tears.
An invitation to sit in awe, and breathe in the palette stretching out before me.
An invitation to push myself physically passed my limit, inspired by the changing skies.
An invitation to reflect on the absolutely nothingness of my existence, a mere speck in that grand vista.
An invitation for all of us, even back home, even between errands and work and cleaning, between picking up the kids from here to there to stop.
The word sunset in Spanish “atardecer” is one of my favorites. “Tarde” means late or afternoon and (this is my own definition here) and “cer” is so close to the Spanish “ser” which means ‘to be’. So, in my own little world, I define ‘atardecer’ as an invitation, each afternoon ‘to be’.
How can you ‘be in the afternoon’, even for five minutes. “To be in the afternoon”. Just the Universe’s lovely little invitation to stop and breathe and ‘to be’. As I write this, I bless the setting sun over the Pacific Ocean in sleepy Huanchaco, Peru; I bless you and the sunset wherever you may be.
One aha moment so far has been about “stuff”. We really don’t need it to be happy. The people we meet have little by way of physical possessions and live joyful lives. As a family we have gone from a four bedroom house to a single room – and it feels great! We now have the time to experience entertaining ourselves by inventing games, listening to music, playing cards, and having real conversations. We are making lasting memories every day. What a gift!!
We went through a very difficult stage with Reuben while we were in the islands in Thailand. He was on the cusp of “getting” communication and was extremely frustrated. We were all tired from a few weeks of constant travel. I reached out through my blog and got a great response from other travelling parents. A lot the time, learning is by trial and error but sometimes it’s best to consult those who have been there, done that and bought the t-shirt! I realized we needed to slow down the travel and tend to Reuben’s development needs. I also needed time to mourn my own former life as a single, care-free backpacker. It can be really hard for travelling parents to get any sense of personal space or alone time. It’s so important to have that time to think, process and relax. The whole experience really helped us to move forward as a family, understand how we needed to travel in the future and respect each others limits.
We were once in Lake Bacalar Mexico for a week, and met a lovely local family that babysat our children while we escaped for a date night. When we returned, we picked up our children from this family’s very humble home (concrete floors, two beds for a family of 6, etc), and on the drive home our (then) 6 year old daughter exclaimed, “They’re not poor at all!” My husband and I had never used the word “poor” in front of her, and we certainly hadn’t commented on the humbleness of their home to her. But she, having spent a wonderful evening playing with this family’s children, deduced that they must not be a poor family—because they are happy. And sure enough, that is not being poor!
Watching the kids playing with a big stick….this stick acted as so many things for them, and had them using their imagination in ways I wouldn’t have expected. It was at that moment when I realized how little we actually need to be happy, and how having less actually opens us up to our creativity.
As a new parent back in 2009 I had no idea what to expect from our first trip with Dek. We took it very slow. At 3 months old we headed back to Philadelphia for the holidays to introduce him to our families. I swear we packed the nursery.
After boarding the plane I grabbed a diaper and headed into the bathroom to change Dek. There was a nice little fold down changing table. What I didn’t know is that the lock on the table made the most awful sound. It terrified Dek and he immediately freaked out. I had to leave the bathroom and calm him down before changing him. Passengers were still boarding the plane and giving me slightly nervous looks like “oh crap, we have a screamer on board.”
Once I got Dek calmed down I put him on the changing table. He promptly peed all over himself and my fresh diaper. Could this have gotten any worse? Probably not. So I mopped him up, grabbed a paper towel to cover him up, marched myself back to our seat. Naked baby coming through! I grabbed new clothes and a diaper from a very surprised Mike, headed back to the bathroom and got Dek dressed. When I came back out of bathroom those nervous looks the passengers had given me had now turned into sympathetic smiles.
Dek did amazing the rest of the flight. I knew in that moment that if I could handle that I could handle anything. We would be learning loads more over the next few years, but nothing has proven to me more that we could travel with kids and survive.
It was actually fairly recently…. when it dawned on us that we wanted to travel long-term… and we wanted to sell up everything and just GO. It was over the Easter weekend of this year. We had taken a very short family trip down to the Southern Drakensberg (beautiful mountain range in Kwa-Zulu Natal). We had stopped the car in the middle of nowhere…. not a person to be seen…. not a house… not a building…. just mountains…. trees…. and a beautiful, crystal clear mountain stream.
My son was still asleep in his car seat. Morgan was awake – and Nick took her down to paddle in the stream. I sat under a big Willow tree near the car and watched my husband and my daughter playing in the stream while my son was snoring quietly in the car. There was a gentle breeze. And I remember thinking: ”THIS is all that I need. I need these 3 people – and nothing else. I don’t need stuff. I don’t need the house. I don’t need all the stuff IN the house. I just need THIS”.
Later, I discussed it with Nick and he had felt the same way. We drove home with The-Plan-of-Action… and ever since then, have been busy renovating our house to sell. Hopefully it will all be done and dusted by the end of this year.
I remember one day, in our rental home in Atenas, Costa Rica, we had to call the property manager about a loose electrical outlet. It was literally falling out of the concrete wall and we didn’t need our very curious 3 year old learning about electricity that way. The man she brought over was rough looking. He had messy hair, dirty clothes and hands, was missing a few teeth. We were quite guarded simply because he looked like many of the Hispanic men we’d seen photos of on the 11 o’clock news in the US that were wanted for various crimes.
He finished his work quickly and had to wait in our home for the property manager to come pick him up. We could tell he was a bit nervous or uncomfortable being in our house (we were!), but we offered him something to drink and began asking him about his family. In just a few moments, we realized he was just a normal man, a father, who had the same hopes and concerns for his family that we did. But because he looked like a horrible stereotype we’d been conditioned to fear, we initially were a bit afraid and intimidated by him.
After he left, Michael and I both agreed that we would NEVER have let that man in our house in Brandon, FL. But he was just a normal man…no one to be afraid of. It was then we realized how much we’d been taught to fear others that are different than we are in the US. It opened our eyes to our own ugliness and now, thankfully, that fear doesn’t show up as often. It still does (I do trust my intuition in many situations), but not like it did before.
Probably one of the biggest “AHA’ moments was when we discovered that we really could just set off with no homeand very limited belongings and just travel the world. We knew we were ready to leave Costa Rica and had been furiously searching for that next great location to settle down. I remember being pretty stressed out by it all and none of the spots felt right. I mentioned to my husband that there was a whole group of families on the move and that they mostly just live a nomadic life. His response shocked me! “We could do that”, he said.
It only took a moment for us to realize that this was the idea we were searching for. All the stress left my body and it was the first idea in months that just felt “right”!
Carefully coordinating the match, position of the glass and the height of the wick, six-year-old Aisha practices lighting our kerosene lantern.
Our girls like to play with matches, and when we brought out an old-fashioned kerosene lantern, our 6yo and 5yo were eager to learn how to light it. As they struck match after match, David and I started to fret. They were lighting matches, lighting the lantern, blowing it out and then starting all over again! The “aha” moment came when David and I articulated our unease at what appeared to be a frivolous waste of matches. In discussing it, we realised that the small cost of a box of matches was more than a bargain for the lessons the girls were receiving — lessons in handling fire responsibly, in lighting the lantern, in taking turns, and our own lesson in letting go of the little things that we previously sought to control!
I believe that must be the moment our youngest son experienced differences in religion. We were traveling to Morocco and had to spend (lots of) hours at the airport of Casablanca. We were watching a man who prepared himself for his prayers. A piece of carpet was put on the ground, facing Mekka. As he started praying we watched silently from a certain distance. Many times his forehead touched the ground, rested there for a couple of seconds before he sat straight up again. Suddenly our son turned to us and asked his famous question: “Mom, dad, is there a hole in the ground where this man is peeking through?” A-ha! Now we know the world is one giant classroom and we are our childrens teacher!
Our time in Belize snorkeling and swimming with sharks was probably my son’s highlight, he constantly says that nothing can beat that one.
Personally, Cuba had a great effect on us. My eight year old will talk about revolution and Che, in the same breath as he will talk about the Maya culture of Guatemala as he would talk about Sea World. In other words, for him having such extremes aren’t extreme but the way things should be – a mixture of all things life has to offer.
Luckily for him, he doesn’t have to see that most people in the world will only take that one lifetime trip to Disney, while in my opinion all his trips are one-time-life trips for societies. Hope that makes sense.
It’s hard to pinpoint an exact aha moment, but I know through our travels we have gained an understanding on the importance of community and finding like minded people.
Our last day in Ireland, we booked a small hostel on a farm. The accommodations were sparse, to say the least. The owner had our son he could help him feed the animals in the morning and so we climbed the hill with our scaps for the pigs. We stayed for several hours chatting with Farmer Mike and watching Tyler run around with Pippi the dog as they chased the chickens. The joy on his face was absolutely priceless. Sometimes it is the completely unexpected detours that turn out to be the most memorable.
Camped atop the “Cliffs of Insanity” on the Adriatic coast of Italy, the stock market crashed and over night our savings disappeared and our travel fund was gone. There were two long days of discussion: Do we pack up, go home, get a job and “get on with it?” having traveled only half of the year we’d originally planned? Or should we press onward, get to Africa where it would be cheaper and keep traveling, figuring out the funding as we went? Needless to say, we went to Africa. Tony spent the winter learning to do iOS programming and setting up his company, Fahrsoft.com and Jenn got serious about developing her travel writing clientele. It was the moment where the winds shifted, our “gap year” became our life and we discovered that home was on the road.
The first thing that came to mind was when we were in Cuba. There are many people who sell food out of their homes. They are called peso shops since you buy it with the Cuban peso rather than the more expensive CUC. We had stopped at one place and bought some breakfast. They hand it to you through their window and you eat it while you’re standing on the sidewalk. Cubans LOVE children. When the woman saw Tigger trying to balance a plate and a drink, she couldn’t bare it. She opened her front door and had us come into her home to eat. As we talked she told us if we ever needed anything, there was trouble, whatever, to come straight to their home. She wouldn’t let me pay for his food either. Another time Tigger was thirsty. I stopped a man walking by and asked where we could buy some water. He started guiding us and saw a man sitting on his doorstep. He told him the boy was thirsty, and the man got up and brought my son a glass and some water to give to him. The fact that my son was experiencing TRUE community like this first hand hit me hard, and I knew I had made the right decision. Every time he says “Remember when in [insert country]. . . “ I can’t help but smile.
We were surprised in Ireland at the local market in Kenmare, in County Kerry. Why? We hadn’t expected that much diversity! We realized, at that moment in that small town, how much of a lack of diversity we have at home in the US. People were from all over the world, speaking many languages, and how natural it seemed. The vendors spoke many languages effortlessly, conversing in whatever language was required. It was an “aha” moment because that is not something you see in the US – we’re more insular and expect people to speak our own language here. It was inspiring!
Jackson was 16 months old the first time he went swimming in the Caribbean on that trip to the Corn Islands. It was this idyllic moment when all felt right in the world. It was like the universe was a great symphony and our lives at that moment were perfectly in tune. It was Jackson’s first swim in the Caribbean but it was my first too. I remember thinking at the time that it’s taken me almost 30 years to get there and Jackson had done it before his second birthday. As a dad my instinct is to give my kids the world. But as we swam in that crystal clear water I remember thinking that I didn’t want to give me kids a bunch of stuff, I literally wanted to give them the world by traveling the world with them.