5 questions to ask yourself before you leave!
Many of us have tried to sit behind our desk at work dreaming of far horizons with sandy beaches, snow covered mountains or great wide oceans. The daily grind with bills, domestic tasks and obligations everywhere can sometimes seem unmanageable, and oftentimes we forget the most important and basic things in life in our endless journey towards the next promotion, the bigger company car or the next extension to the house.
Been there, done that!
Like thousands of other mature, responsible grown-ups we did everything that “one” is supposed to do in order to make ends meet. And little by little our everyday life started to make less sense.
For a while we discussed that “something” needed to be done. And then came the day when we went for a walk in the Botanical Garden of Copenhagen, and suddenly came up with the idea of selling our home, quitting the job and embark on a trip around the world. This decision was an incredible relief. And the more we got into the detailed planning, the more right it felt! But there are indeed many things that you should consider before leaving everything behind. Because even though most of what we experience may sound fantastic, you WILL have an everyday life as a traveler as well, and not everyone is made for living a life out of a backpack!
Here are the 5 most important questions to ask yourself and your family, as a “mental preparation” before you leave home:
1. What are your expectations from the coming journey? A two-week family vacation in Turkey or Cancoun is something that most people can manage. It is, after all, only a limited amount of “quality-family-time” that we are talking about. The kids will love the beaches and the pools, and thus the parents can relax for a while under the umbrellas. So far, so good! But after 4, 8 or 16 weeks traveling as a family becomes something completely different. This is exactly the time when your mutual expectations should be clear. Will you be mountain hiking? Diving around coral reefs? Or are we talking about a cultural/historical journey through ancient Italy? On a few occasions we found ourselves not “in sync” with each other, simply because we took for granted that “the other part” knew exactly what each of us were expecting. TALK! Communication is almost THE most important part of your luggage. And remember, any “relationship-issues” that you might have had at home, WILL follow you on the journey as well. If you suffer from bad communication in your everyday life, chances are that you will have the same issue as travel mates. Take actions to solve the matter in due time, before you leave!
2. How far will you go to live the dream? The old proverb “He who dares nothing, wins nothing” comes to good use here! If it really was so easy to just leave everything and go on the journey of your life, I guess most of us would do it all the time, or at least on a regular basis! So unless you are a millionaire, you will have to make some priorities! And that is with a capital “P”! Personally I had a job that I did not care much for, and Alexandra had been struggling for a while to get a permanent job. So the whole career-thing was not an issue for us. A few years prior to our journey we had invested in a flat in the center of Copenhagen, but we knew that it would not be hard to sell it with a good profit. And although Anton really liked his Kindergarten and all of his friends there, we knew that most children at the age of three are happy as long as they feel safe and loved, and have their parents around them. The only area of uncertainty for us was: What happens AFTER the journey? What are we coming back to? And this did in fact make us a bit uncomfortable! (Read more about this in the last point of this little list!) But luckily our wanderlust was far stronger than our need to stay within the comfort-zone. We actually found that the comfort-zone had been a barrier towards happiness the last year up to our final decision, and as we felt liberated by the decision to leave, we trusted our gut-instinct and did not really think much about the “post-journey-era”. Alexandra said it one day: “We cannot enjoy a long and very expensive journey if we are constantly thinking about our homecoming!” We trusted that everything would work out alright, which it eventually did! If you are most comfortable with familiar boundaries, which is only natural, you need to spend a bit of extra time on this particular point!
3. Are your children made of “the right material”? The greatest challenge for most families are that they simply do not spend enough time being together between the few weeks of annual holiday. I mean, REALLY spending time together! Hence, it can be hard to judge whether your children will be good travel mates or not. Longer journeys require a certain amount of adaptability as there will be many unforeseen events and quite a few mental and physical challenges as you move along. Are your children where you think they are? (in terms of development and personal skills) We tried to talk to Anton about all of the things we were about to see and he did look forward to it all. But a three-year old has no idea of what “the world” and “other cultures” really is, and that is only natural. This was, after all, what we wanted to show him during the journey. Thankfully Anton had his first flight when he was only 6 weeks old, so traveling in general was not a problem. Somewhere I read something saying “Cool parents always get cool kids” - so even though Alexandra and I both get a bit stressed when checking in at the airport, we always try to make sure that Anton gets nothing of that. Hence he LOVES flying and he loves the buzz that you always fell in an airport. Mare sure to mentally prepare the children as well as you possibly can. Older children can easily be included in the detailed planning, and you should always respect needs and wishes from them!
4. What is the journey going to bring you? If anything other than just quality time and great experiences... We have met quite a few “nomad-families” traveling indefinite. It sounds very exotic to me, and to begin with I did in fact have that same dream of never returning. As things turned out, we did return. We found that we do need a place to call “home”. A base. We realized that in order to really appreciate all the things we experience out in the big, wide world, we need a place to come back to, sit down and reflect. We need time to put things into perspective. Others find that they are more comfortable moving around all the time. There are even those who realize that they never want to return to their base ever again. There are no “right” or “wrong” outcomes here. No matter what your conclusion will be, the whole purpose of traveling is, I guess, that you develop personally and learn about the world and the cultures surrounding you. Or? However, do spend a bit of time discussing this!
5. What happens after the journey? No matter if you travel for 6, 12 or 18 months, or even indefinite, chances are that you will eventually need to take a break. That being shorter or longer. We do not recommend that you spend too much time thinking about this before you really need to. Only when you get near to the planned date for your return or when you start to feel that you need a break (which most long term travelers actually do from time to time) you should start talking about your expectations during the first weeks or months after your return. Are the children going to school or Kindergarten? Does your CV need a brush-up in preparation for your job-hunt? How does the job-market look? Should you mobilize your personal and/or professional network? Are you buying or renting a home? This is all very individual, but it is important to start thinking about this at the right time. Another very important lesson for us was, that we had developed a lot during our 12 months of travel, and it certainly was not the same family that came back. We did not want to be put into the same, old familiar “boxes” that had previously been the “definition of us”. It actually took some time for our friends and family to once again get to know us. It seems so obvious now, but it did come as a surprise.
Happy travels! Because you are going, aren’t you?