One year. Twelve months. 365 days. That’s how much time has passed since we left our home, my job and traditional school behind to travel.
After a round of celebratory milkshakes to commemorate this important milestone, our family watched A Wrinkle in Time (circa 2003, not 2018.) One of my children noticed when something in the movie script strayed from the original book. After watching for a few minutes, he lost interest in the plot and instead decides he wants to learn about physics on Khan Academy Not because he’s told to, but because he actually wants to. When we left our old lives to go on the lam, my kids left behind a formal, structured, public school setting in Singapore to follow a choose-your-own-adventure-style road school, where the determining factor in choosing a book is its weight in your backpack. We used to live for the weekends, and now we forget what day of the week it is. Our kids are healthy and happy, even though they’ve lived the last 525,600 minutes wandering, moving, finding, figuring.
Becoming the teacher and primary source of information for my children’s road school has been an unexpected benefit of the travel. At ages 11 and seven, they no longer ask why the sky is blue with that dreamy, bright-eyed look of a toddler, but with an impatience for really wanting to know why the sky is blue. And how it got that way. And which elements make up the atmosphere. And can air be a gas, liquid and a solid. And can we do a science experiment to make air into a solid. As a writer/marketer, my work has always been in the written and visual world. I’ve never needed to know higher math and science for my day-to-day life or work, and if I learned it way back when–along with dividing fractions, complicated algebra and having a meaningful definition of quantum physics on the tip of my tongue–I’ve long since forgotten.
So, in order to teach, I must learn. It’s energizing to rediscover the fun of learning. I linger in the museums we visit, reading the posted signs and pondering questions that are left unanswered. I look up answers to the endless stream of questions that pepper me on the airplane, the train, the bus, the car, the Airbnb. I read and write more often because that’s what I want my kids to do, and so that’s what they need to see me do. Traveling has taught me at least 90 new things as an adult, and being responsible for the education of my own kids–something that in our past life I left to their classroom teacher–has made this adventure even more meaningful.
And we do this learning not from a perfect classroom with pictures of apples and colorful charts stapled to the wall, not from a high-tech computer lab or even a quiet, well-lit desk with a properly sharpened pencil, but from a backpack. From seeing the world around us. Sometimes our toughest decision is determining what items make it into our backpacks and what doesn’t. Items that one of us absolutely had to have are left behind on a lone hotel shelf less than a day later. Interestingly, it’s not toys, electronics, or souvenirs that my two younger boys covet, but notebooks. They will forgo almost anything in their bag in order to keep an unnecessary amount of journals and notebooks in which to write and sketch and create and doodle.
“If you want to lead an interesting life, you have to do interesting things.”
Someone said to me recently, “If you want to lead an interesting life, you have to do interesting things.” It was one of the most obvious but wonderful things I had ever heard. I’m generally an introvert and more often than not I lack stories to tell or ways to describe myself that are unique. Picking up and traveling for a year is the perfect way for me to become a more interesting person. Conversations are a lot more fun these days. After the inevitable question, “Where do you live?”, things get lively. When I attempt to explain that we live everywhere and nowhere, strangers themselves open up and generously share the places they’ve been, dreams they have of traveling, places they’d love to see. Then follows a long and vibrant conversation about the nuances and technicalities of how we’ve been able to make this adventure work. Our adventure has given me 8,760 hours of interesting things to share as an important, and interesting, chapter in my life story.
The places we’ve explored have exposed us to interesting things, like the amazing number of fruits and vegetables that we had never seen, heard of or tasted, or the ingenious ways humans live in a variety of topographies and urban designs. But there are a few things we’ve found that are universal. For example, gas stations, no matter where you are in the world, sell some form of hot dog. Find a train tunnel and you will find graffiti that looks the same, just in different languages. A**hole drivers live and function in every country. IKEA furniture is becoming ubiquitous and I dread the day when every house in the world has the same bedspread and throw cushions and dishes and end tables.
Sometimes being far away makes you closer.
Another unexpected aspect of this year of travel is that despite the notion that we left everyone we know and love behind, we’ve increased the quality of time we have not only with each other, but with old and new friends.
A friend once told us that he never had trouble getting together to see people when he visited New York City. When he passed through town, people made time for him. Then he moved there permanently, and it was hard to get together with the same people. There was no urgency or need to meet up, since everyone could hypothetically meet up any time. But the luxury of being able to see each other any time turned into seeing each other less often and became harder to arrange.
The same has been true from our travels. When we visit a place where we know someone, they make the time to fit us in. Or even invite us to stay in their home, which provides a level of intimacy that doesn’t happen often outside of family. A meaningful, intense short period of time together has more impact than a even a daily, brief encounter. There are trade offs, for sure, especially when it comes to watching younger children of our friends or in our family who grow and change seemingly overnight. But when we are together, there’s more to talk about, there’s more to share, there’s more to catch up on. And that time together is more deeply appreciated after spending time in places where we don’t know a soul. Overall, a healthy portion of the 31,536,000 seconds we’ve been on the road has been spent meeting new people and deepening friendships, and this wrinkle in our lives has brought us closer.
It’s almost as if we’ve been able to stop time altogether and sneak in an extra year before our kids start their own lives and we take on more aches and pains as we age. When we touch down in a place that we know well, time appears to have stopped; everything is just as it was when we left. Time froze while we were away. Our year of travel has created our very own wrinkle in time, where we changed the rules in our life and took off to live on the lam. Our travel has given me the kind of quality time I’ve always wanted with my family. This quality time together, intertwined with the thrill of discovering and appreciating new people and places, has made memories and mishaps that we will forever remember.