We have returned home to an amazing whirlwind of friends and family. We are still jetlagged and have hardly had time to process the incredible experience we have had. We have read a lot about the transition process and realize that it is going to take time to acclimate and understand the effects our experience has had on us. In the meantime I have put down a few things about traveling that sum up some of the experiences I know have had an impact on my life.
Travelers: You meet amazing people on the road. The kind of people you meet while traveling are often other travelers. So you tend to share that love in common. Travelers are a strange and interesting kind of people. They always have great stories, come from varied and interesting places, and are generally interested in the stories you have to share. So they quickly make for good friends. Travelers welcome you back to their homes when you are in their country. Travelers understand what we are doing and usually tell us about those places in their countries that we really want to see, as well as places they have visited. They become quick and lifelong friends.
Locals: In addition to travelers, we have met many locals. There is nothing better than meeting friendly folks in their own environment. This is where you gain real insight into life in a different community. We’ve stayed in a homestay in the jungle of Borneo with a family. We’ve cooked Pad Thai with “Stumpy” in a hut in Northern Thailand outside Chiang Mai before elephant hiking . The kids played volleyball with the local children in the Amazon one afternoon – when we attended a dedication of a new playground in a local village. We went fishing with Rodney and his son, Harry, up their favorite creek in Australia. We celebrated Guatemalan Independence Day with our friends, Delia and her family and neighbors in a small town outside Antigua with a traditional Guatemalan-style backyard BBQ. We set off fireworks with friends in Bali on New Year’s Eve. In New Zealand, Laura Burton introduced us to her host family where she was living and student-teaching. Carrie and her family fed us and invited the children to school for a day. The DalMonte’s took us in and fed us home-cooked Italian meals and reminded us that family are the people you treasure most in this world even if they aren’t your blood. They made Cremona feel like it was a homecoming.
Stuff: I thought we packed pretty light for a year to start with. We had one rolling duffle and one backpack each. We then sent back or donated boxes of unnecessary items. We often left our big bags at a hotel in one city and traveled with just the backpacks for a few weeks and came back to the big bags. It really is true you can get everything you need wherever you are. We also have learned to lay off purchasing souvenirs – especially the junky stuff that seems to be sold in every corner of the planet. Most of our souvenirs of this trip will be memories captured in many pictures. Staying in warmer weather helped too. It wasn’t until we got to Europe that we needed “city” clothes and warmer stuff. Luckily things we’re on sale because it was spring, and we were all happy for some new clothes. Old shorts and “jungle clothes” were donated. For the most part…nobody wanted to see that stuff again. I was so surprised when I returned and saw the size of our house and the amount of stuff we had. It feels excessive. I feel blessed.
Food: One of the highlights of traveling is the wonderful and varied food. We ate so well I can’t say I lost weight. Especially in Southeast Asia and Europe where there are so many choices of food and everything is so incredible. Lee was so excited for Italy. Pasta has always been his favorite and upon arriving in Italy he declared he was finally “home”. We were also constantly on the move and very active and I felt healthier than ever before. I have noticed that in most of the 3rd world countries and in Europe the markets are so full of fresh food and the people always walk everywhere. It makes me wonder how we got so far away from it in the US.
Under the sea: We have had the chance to scuba dive over 25 times this year. I got certified when I was 18 and I have done more dives this year than the rest of my lifetime combined. I could do a blog entry just on comparing the beauty of each reef from Fiji, Australia, Bali and Thailand. Suffice to say that I have been as happy underwater as anywhere else on earth. I’m so glad we can do this activity as a family as it has been a truly amazing experience. The kids have become excellent and experienced young divers and it is fun that we can share this activity together. I expect and hope we will continue this sport for many years to come.
History: History comes alive when you travel. You can actually see the impact of exploration, migration, slavery and war on the faces of the people and the architecture of the cities. This is fascinating and enlightening.
Environment: If I wasn’t an environmentalist before this trip, I am surely one now. The impact of humanity on our world is staggering. Many places are far better at being environmentally friendly than we are. We visited several places and animals that I truly believe won’t exist in 25 years. I’m scared by what I saw. The impact of humanity and the lack of respect for our earth home is frightening. I hope something changes. I’ll be doing my part.
Togetherness: Living together and schedule free is a new concept to all of us. If you knew our lives a year ago we were about as committed to a busy schedule as anybody gets. Between school, work, volunteer-projects and sports we kept a very active daily schedule. Both our kids played select soccer so most weekends we could be found divided in two different cities texting play by plays. The past six months we were together 24 hours a day and at times in a room not much bigger than my old minivan. It amazes me that despite being together all the time we are never at a loss for conversation, we tend to actually enjoy each other’s company and really don’t miss the schedules at all. We are a real family. We fought plenty. Life was typical in those ways. But we are closer because of this experience. We were home less than 24 hours when Laney suggested we all play Monopoly. This makes me happy.
Sleep: I have noticed that we got more sleep than any of us ever did at home. I always heard about sleep deprivation buy we really did get 8+ hours every night. The kids are aware of how much sleep they really need. It will be hard to get it in as school, homework and sport commitments in the US do not make it easy for children to get 8-10 hours sleep that their bodies need.
Cussing: If you are thinking about traveling anywhere in the world be aware that your kids will be exposed to all sorts of language. I’m not just talking about the inevitable slip-ups that are part of being together for a year together. Australians curse like sailors. (Well, some of them are sailors! ) Australians curse all the time. It’s part of the language there. I even heard the Target lady describe on a loud speaker that one of the toys was a “Hell of a lot of fun”. They won’t curb their language for your kids as they expect you curse with your kids too. So be aware. In Southeast Asia, we had many experiences in several different countries where locals would be speaking to us in broken English and suddenly drop the “F bomb” right in mid-sentence. It is my hypothesis that most of these people learn their English from movies (and Australians) and believe Americans cuss all the time. They just use swear words for emphasis and don’t think anything about it. They probably don’t even know what they mean.
In summary, we have enjoyed the past ten months as much as any time period in the life of our family. We have done many amazing things, but more importantly we have done them together. We are a closer family for it. Our greatest souvenirs from this year will be out closeness and our memories of these adventures. While we have suffered heartbreak at times (most notably the untimely loss of David’s father and my cousin Craig) we have been uniquely connected and able to support one another.
We have also taken from those experiences the important lesson that life is short and every day is precious. Taking advantage of the time we are given is critically important and to do otherwise wasteful. More importantly, we hope to bring the same renewed sense of adventure and appreciation to our lives back in Lexington.