The selfish family travel blogger?
“Don’t you ever think about the children?” - is a frequently asked question to many family travel bloggers. Quite a few people seem to think that the desire to wander round the world, traveling almost indefinite, is solely a thing driven by selfcentered parents, and that they really do not care about the consequences of ripping their children out of their comfort zones with school, daycare, friends and football games. They seem to believe that those children are suffering almost unbearable neglect and that they will get permanent psychological damage - eventually even becoming a burden to society.
Well, well, this notion is perfectly allowed, but let me just try to shed some light on what exactly it is that makes “people like us” force our families into madness, playing Russian roulette with the mental state of our children. Let us talk about what kind of life we want to live and which values we want to teach our children…
It is quite common for people to live their entire life aiming towards financial security. A house should be bought as early as possible in order to pay out the mortgage well before retirement, and thus have only small costs. In most countries throughout the world the education of your children will cost you a significant fortune, and healthcare and/or insurance is also a cost that cannot be ignored. The omnipresent car (or two?) needs to be kept in good condition, so that the vehicle can transport the entire family and the caravan over the passes of the Alps, to the campgrounds of Italy for the annual summer vacation. In other words, you need to work hard from Monday morning to Friday afternoon. Hard. Every week. Every year.
It has been like this for generations. We know this. It makes sense to all of us. It is comforting to know that in X years we will be able to lean back and say: “We made it!”
We have quite a few friends who think like this. I love them all very much! I think they are all a thrill to hang out with and I think that their houses, cars and careers are all very impressive. But I would not want to be in their shoes…
I have already been there! Nice career, a good house, two cars in the driveway. And an ever-present feeling in my stomach telling me that this is not the way I want to spent my entire life. The more I posses, the more I worry about how to earn money enough to pay for it all, and how to be able to afford even more than I already have. A constant feeling of inadequacy because the hours in the office become longer and longer and the “quality time” that my working life is supposed to finance doesn't quite seem to be worth the hassle.
A few years ago this was exactly what made us stop and think!
Our son is exactly like most other children. He loves his toys, his friends in daycare and he loves his everyday routines. He is comfortable with a home with four walls. But most of all he likes to have happy parents that show him that he is loved in any way they possibly can - and who will not just hand him a new toy or an iPad loaded with entertainment, whenever they need a break and need a way to soothe their guilty conscience. What he wants is for his Mom and Dad to be PRESENT! Just like any other normal child. Through our way of living we have found a way to give him just that.
So far we have not had the challenge of balancing our travel life with a school year calendar. Anton will not start school until he is 6, but by then we will have to adapt. At least a bit. We are not currently traveling full time, because this turned out not to be the way we wanted to do it in the long run (we have written a separate piece about this topic here!) - but I am certain we will find a perfect balance in due time.
Let’s just - for arguments sake - say that we had thriven in a “traditional” everyday life with careers, daycare, school etc - then I am certain that our son would have fitted just perfectly well into those little “boxes” that society build and measure each individual up against. Here in Germany all children are regularly invited to check-ups at the doctors clinic and things like vision, agility, coordination, vocal abilities etc are checked. Anton just went to his 5 year check-up and passed without any problems. As we sat there with the doctor it suddenly occurred to me that in Germany - as in most other modern countries - we have certain standards that we like to call “the norm” - and which I find somewhat unilateral. Anton was asked about the concept of “time”… “Do you know what the day we have tomorrow is called?” - “Uhhhm” Anton replied…. He didn’t know. He knows about “tomorrow” because each night when he goes to bed we chat for a while about what we will be doing “tomorrow” when I pick him up from daycare. But the days of the week - by name - was what the doctor was after. Of course. Apparently we have not emphasised enough on that particular skill. The doctor also asked about the hours. But all Anton knows about is “morning”, “mid day”, “afternoon”, “evening” and “night”. He was asked about when we will have snow outside. Anton responded with a “not right now!” - which I actually found to be pretty sharp. But the doctor had hoped for “in the winter-time” or at least the word “winter” - which Anton is perfectly familiar with. But he wasn’t familiar with the way the questions were asked. The doctor could not relate to the fact that Anton is bi-lingual. His vocabulary and pronunciation is better than most German children his age, but he was not measured on the “full spectrum” of words that he actually knows. He wasn’t asked about geography either. Or his cultural/intercultural savvy. Or even his ability to relate to many things abstractedly in ways that other 5 year olds cannot do. But he did manage to draw the house, the tree and the man that the doctor wanted to see on the blank piece of white A4 paper he was handed. The doctor was in fact impressed by the details of the mans hat. He was also impressed by Anton's ability to count to 20. My son asked him if he wanted to hear it in Danish as well, but there was no time for that…
Why all those little details? Well, we believe that taking Anton our of his everyday life in daycare - or school when he gets that old - and take him by the hands on a journey to explore the world we live in, will educate him just as good, if not even better. It will give him so much more than sitting in an overheated classroom with 25 (best case!) other children, yelling and screaming to get just a few seconds of attention from the stressed teacher standing by the board. Anton will relate directly to nature, to people and to cultures in a completely different way than any book or teacher will be able to teach him. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with the skills of our teachers. Not at all. We, his parents, just believe that there are alternatives!
As we returned from our 12 months journey around the world friends and family expected us to settle back just perfectly into a traditional life and family pattern. Something like the one we had before we started traveling. They expected us to send Anton to daycare almost immediately and they were somewhat stunned that we actually waited for 6 months to do just that. They did not really understand why we didn’t rush back into a normal working life. And the fact that we still do not have a car makes some smile and shake their head. Certainly we would love to have car. We just don’t want the bills! The money that we would inevitably have to feed the greedy “metal-monster” every month would have to be taken from the money we could save to be able to travel long term again. We could also spend the money that we actually make on a bigger apartment. By all means, we could use an extra room. But after months in a small campervan we actually believe we have room enough. We, the parents, sleep in the living room and when people come over for the first time they do take an extra look at just how small our home is. But Anton has his own room, which is a high priority for us, and no matter how we look at the finances, we would have to pay significantly more to get even just a slightly bigger place to live. It is simply not interesting to us, because it would push away traveling. And traveling is more important to us.
Will we have enough money when we retire? Will we be able to pay for Anton’s education? Will we be able to pay for health care? Well, fortunately we do live in a country where health insurance and education is almost free. Not entirely, but almost. We save very little for retirement and we have no way of knowing if it will be enough. We find these kind of worries absolutely useless. Who knows if we are even here when the calendar day for our official retirement comes?
We could go back to a full time job behind a desk and completely forget about “quality of life” for the greater part of our waking hours over the next three decades. Sure. No problem! My greatest fear, however, is that in 30 years from now I will be looking myself in the mirror (IF I am even alive by then!), cursing that I did not get to see all the things I wanted to see. All those hours and fond memories with my son that I didn’t get! All the things that we were supposed to do together as a family. All those sandy beaches somewhere in the South Pacific that I was supposed to feel under my bare feet, but I never got to see because some moody boss had given me a deadline that I could not miss… I had bills to pay for my new and bigger house. A new car. The bill for the annual vacation at some family resort that we would have to have in order to feel just a little bit like a real family. Plus the annual week skiing in the Alps. Bills to pay because we need to feel alive. Just occasionally… Right…?
No, thanks! We will stay in a smaller apartment, without a car and without all the space that we COULD be spreading our sparse furniture over. But we LIVE the way we want to, while we actually can. The day that I leave this earth I will be able to say that I was a better husband, father and friend than I would have been, had I stayed in my “traditional” role. Because I do not constantly walk around searching for something else or something better.
I have everything I really need. Right here!