If “distance makes the heart grow fonder,” then what happens to the heart when it stays in constant, close proximity to loved ones? Does it grow colder and more hostile?
I would find out.
Honestly, this thought never occurred to me when our family set off on our nomadic trip around the world almost two years ago. Pierre and I were the sort of perfectly compatible couple who hardly ever fought, and we had traveled together plenty of times, before kids and after kids.
But this trip was different. It was not a vacation, or a temporary change. It was long-term, rigorous travel, and—with a couple of demanding, super-active, young kids thrown into the mix—it had the power to test the strongest of relationships.
Early into our travels we met someone who told us about a couple who traveled the world for a year, and upon their return, promptly divorced. Not us, I thought.
Nevertheless, it seemed I did not fully appreciate beforehand what it would take to adjust to our new, nomadic lifestyle, and what it really meant for our family to be together all the time.
What It Is Really Like
Between surfing in Bali, riding elephants in Thailand, motorcycling through Vietnam, and other exhilarating activities, Pierre and I had a few arguments like we’ve never had before. They all boiled down to this main revelation: we spend too much time together, and as a result, we are constantly sacrificing our individual needs for the group, with no one feeling totally satisfied.
The great part of being together so much is that we really do get to watch our kids grow up, and take an active part in that growth. We can finally give Julien the attention he needs with his schooling, and we have time to teach Lily things like how to cook her own eggs! Despite their five year age difference, our kids have bonded strongly and play together really well.
But being around the kids all the time is challenging, as most parents know. Our son Julien tends to be loud and bounce off the walls and our young daughter Lily still has hour-long tantrums if she doesn’t get what she wants. Without sufficient breaks, we all tend to lose our patience.
With the kids around all the time, Pierre and I don’t get much time to ourselves, and the only way we can have a serious conversation is to put the kids in front of a movie. We also don’t get as much time as we’d like to care for our relationship as a couple, and folks, you gotta water the plants if you want them to grow.
I also needed time to myself to write, read, run, and Pierre had his own needs too. Where do those get squeezed in? On “down” days, when we’re not out exploring, we homeschool, work, catch up on administrative tasks, do laundry, plan the next stages of travel, and all that one has to do to keep up with one’s ongoing, daily life.
My frustration mounted. We had to do something! So finally, after months of trying to find the time, we put the kids in front of a Harry Potter movie, talked it all out, and came up with a few solutions.
Adjusting Our Ways
We realized and accepted that we needed to have more activities outside our family unit to give us better balance in our own lives, and give each other space and time to care for our own needs.
What does this mean? Find a babysitter sometimes! Sign the kids up for activities that they can do without the parents, whether that be school/day care, a local soccer team, or art class. Recognize it’s hard to be the parent, friend, and teacher to your kids all the time and get homeschooling help if needed. For me that means maybe finding a local English speaker to come read with Julien sometimes.
Take off on solo sub-trips and revel in the peaceful sound of silence. Or take a side-trip with just one kid to mix up the dynamics, as I did once, taking Julien to London.
No matter what, make time to talk to your partner, listen to his/her needs, come up with solutions together. And be willing to slow your travel down, or change it up if it’s not working for you as is.
Of course, we still have to compromise, as all families do in order to work together and keep everyone happy. But after our discussion, we have a better system for ensuring we all get a few of our individual needs met too.
We also decided, after two years of being on the road, that the best travel style for us is probably to stay in one place for six months, have it be a home base of sorts, and then have a pre-planned, all out, worldly adventure for the other six months.
Travel is an opportunity to learn and grow in so many ways. Adjusting to our travel life has been a valuable lesson in itself. Through trial and error, we found our groove again, and with it, peace.
My daughter Lily always says, “Mistakes are a part of learning.” So get out there and make some mistakes.