There is nothing like travel to give you a completely different perspective on life. Sometimes you need to get away from the familiar to be able to take stock of what is important to you and what really matters. At present, I am travelling around the world solo with my 9-year-old twins. We have been traveling now for 5 months and are currently coming to the end of a three-month visit to Costa Rica. Next stop is America for hopefully a white Christmas.
I am still not sure how my trip transpired. All I know is that in February of this year, I rang the travel agent for a quote for return tickets to America for a holiday and ended up getting off the phone with 3 round the world tickets. Purchasing these tickets had meant that I used every single cent I had in the bank and I had 5 months to prepare for the trip of a lifetime.
I do know that I was in somewhat of a rut, I often found myself wondering if there was more to life and I worried about my health and the kids all the time. Once I got off that phone though, the only thing I had time to worry about was preparing to travel the world for 12 months with my young children.
The next five months involved frenetic preparations which included selling my car, selling many of my possessions, working long hours, renting out my house, staying with my mum and step-dad for 6 weeks, finding someone to look after my dogs and doing as much research as I could on our chosen destinations.
I found out about things like house-sitting, work exchange programmes and a million different accommodation websites. There was travel insurance to organise, backpacks to buy and vaccinations to receive. Then suddenly, I was on a plane with my two young children leaving my house, my dogs and everything that was familiar behind. What the hell had I done?
Now 5 months into my travels I have realised with startling clarity how travel can give you a completely new perspective on life.
1. You don’t need as much as you think you need.
In the western world in particular, our lives are governed and ruled by what we own, by how many things we have, by the car we drive and the phone we use. It seems that success is measured by how much we own. More, more, more.
The kids and I reduced our lives to a backpack and a daypack each. We needed to be able to carry everything we owned. In traveling like this you realise what you really need.
For me, as I work whilst I travel, the necessities of life were my laptop, my camera and my phone. For the kids to do their schoolwork their ipads were essential. We have three pairs of shoes – walking shoes, Birkenstocks and flip-flops.
I did not think we had bought enough clothes but now I realise that we have worn a fraction of what we packed. I tend to live in the same outfit every day though admittedly my trusty blue shirt is about to fall to pieces and I will need to buy warmer clothes for the American winter.
One of the first places we stayed in Costa Rica was a little beach shack in Cabuya, near Montezuma. It was the height of simplicity. Some stairs took you to a room above where the three of us slept, downstairs was a table with a basic kitchenette and a bathroom that was open air and tended to have crabs in the shower.
I can remember thinking as I sat on the steps one day and watched the kids play near the ocean that I had absolutely everything that I needed. Travel had made me realise how much simpler our lives could be.
2. Memories are so much more important than things
I look back at the time I have had with my children traveling and my head is filled with a thousand memories. Before we left we sold many of our possessions and it was something that the kids really struggled with. Whilst we travel we don’t buy souvenirs as we don’t have the budget for it, and it is too hard to carry any more than we already have.
Instead we save our time and money for experiences, dining out and occasional treats. I look back on the time we have already had and can remember so clearly things that make me want to both laugh and cry.
The moment I walked onto the Brooklyn Bridge and could not help the tears falling down my cheeks because it was a dream come true. Archie playing the piano in front of a huge portrait of Martin Luther King at the Freedom Centre in Atlanta, Georgia. The magic day we got lost in Central Park only to emerge from the park in the early evening. We had lost track of time but had also experienced one of my favourite days in America.
That first moment we walked into Grand Central Station and I realised how tiny my kids were as the throngs of people moved around them. The sheer mass of humanity in Times Square that threatened to swallow the three of us whole. The time in Costa Rica where the kids were pulled into the bus by helpful strangers and almost left me behind. I will have those memories forever, whereas mere ‘things’ would just get dusty and sit on the shelf.
3. Expect the unexpected
I like to know what is going on and I am obsessed with details. In the past, I have always relied on planning everything down to the final minute. Travel has completely changed my perspective on being a ‘planner’ and I am learning now, to not only expect the unexpected but to also enjoy it. When you travel not everything goes to plan. (Very little actually really goes to plan).
I realised this on our first day of traveling. Our flight from Los Angeles to New York was diverted to Washington D.C. due to fierce storms over the east coast. As we sat on the tarmac I knew that we were not going to make our train connection to Rhode Island that night.
A few deep breaths reminded me that I could not change things and that was the first time I asked myself, ‘what is the worst thing that could happen?’ It turns out that the worst thing that could happen was the three of us sleeping on the floor of Penn Station whilst waiting for the morning train. Whilst it was not comfortable and at times a little grim, it is probably one of the things the kids remember most. The unexpected makes for great stories to tell back home and for those memories that will linger forever.
As I continue traveling I realise increasingly how I will return home a changed person, with a new perspective on life and an appreciation of all that places I have seen. Travel makes you cherish the possibilities of life – in all its wonderful forms. The world is there to be explored.