Posted: 30 Apr 2009 06:25 AM PDT
As a follow up to last week’s guest post on traveling with kids, this week I interviewed the James, the family behind the wide wide world about what it is like traveling as a family together and how that affects the family relationship. I got a chance to meet them in January when they were in Bangkok. I had been following their blog for awhile and was excited at the chance- the dynamics of family travel intrigue me. They are a wonderful and friendly family. Craig and Dani, the parents, are warm, friendly, and very intelligent and have imparted that onto their children, Connor and Caroline, who were very mature for their. With that introduction, here are the questions I put to them:
Nomadic Matt: Did you have reservations about traveling as a family?
[Dani] I agree - I think we have grown closer as a result of this trip. Over long lunches and dinners, day after day, night after night, things just spill out of your kids. We've learned so much about their lives as a result of our time together. And I think we all see each other more clearly for the people we are. Extended travel as a family can be challenging at times, but for us, it has really been worth it.
How did you come up with the idea and plan this trip?
The first idea I suggested was to live a year in Australia. I have friends there, and I found that we could enroll our kids in Australian public school for a modest amount of money. Dani didn’t say no, but she wasn’t excited about the idea. She thought living in Australia would be too similar to living in the U.S. So we tried to expand our thinking.
One day, we found a Canadian family, the Carlsons, who took a round the world trip in 2001. We read their web site, then emailed them. Five years after the Carlsons returned home, they were all doing well and considered their trip around the world to be a life-changing experience.
One day Dani came running in my office (I work at home) and told me to turn on Oprah. Dani rarely watches daytime TV, but happened to have it on that day. When I tuned in I saw why Dani was so excited. Oprah was doing a satellite interview with the Andrus Family of Atlanta, Georgia, from the top of Table Mountain in Capetown, South Africa.
I immediately went to their blog, Six in the World, and read every word. I think that’s the moment I knew our family could do a round the world trip too.
We spent a lot of time talking about where we would go, what we would do, what life on the road would be like. We had a very open discussion about our expectations - and our concerns. The more we talked about it, the more we wanted to do it, and the more we believed we could do it. We knew it would a challenge, that there would be good days and not-so-good days.
Still, we all knew it was the chance of a lifetime.
What did your friends and family think?
One of the things that has surprised us most - something we never predicted and didn’t expect - is the wide range of reactions from our friends and family.
We have casual friends who have adopted our trip as their “cause,” sending us information about every stop on our itinerary. And we have good friends who do everything they can to avoid even acknowledging that we are going to be away for a year.
One family in our neighborhood studiously avoided mentioning our trip to either Craig or me. But they pumped our kids for information at every turn. But frankly, for most people, it's out of sight, out of mind. We won't exist till we are back home.
[Craig] It reminds me of something John W. Gardner once said: “At a certain point in your life you learn that people are neither for you or against you - they’re thinking about themselves.”
On the other hand, we've also been surprised by the number of people who have reached out to us, offering encouragement and advice. Several other travelers [including Nomadic Matt, we are proud to say] have found us on the web and been very helpful.
There really does seem to be a different spirit among travelers. It’s refreshing to talk to people who share information rather than hoard it.
What has life on the road been like?
[Dani] It's an odd experience to see a great site like Machu Picchu in the morning and then homeschool your kids in the afternoon. There are challenges in moving your life to a new town or a new country every few days. But the opportunity to see the world makes the challenges pale in comparison.
What unexpected things has traveling as a family brought you on the road?
I think some of the best surprises - and most unexpected lessons - have come from the people we've met. We've been fortunate to meet some great people - other travelers and locals. Another important lesson has been the way we've been welcomed everywhere we've traveled. People have treated us very well, and I think our children have learned not to be afraid of the world, other people and other cultures.
Do you have any advice for other people thinking about traveling with kids?
In my search for other families traveling the world, I discovered a Kiwi family of ten (ten!) who are currently traveling through Asia as part of a multi-year travel adventure. They saved for this trip, pinching pennies, for years. But family travel was their dream - and they worked together to achieve it. You have to respect and admire that.
Every day I am acutely aware of how fragile it all is. As we have traveled this year, there are two thoughts I keep coming back to.
First, I have a new appreciation for what’s possible, for what a family can do together. I have nothing but admiration and respect for the many families who are out there living their lives on their own terms. That’s what I aspire to.
Second, I am deeply grateful for my wife and my children, for their spirit of adventure, for their willingness to take a leap of faith into the world. I hope they never lose their sense of wonder, their willingness to break from the pack, and their ability to confront their fears, take a risk and move forward.
This trip is the best thing we’ve ever done. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
And of course, I wanted to know what the kids, Conor(11) and Caroline(14), thought:
Were you excited to travel for so long? Were you excited to travel with your family?
[Conor] I was excited to travel and see the world. I knew it was a special opportunity to do something not many other people get to do. I have missed my friends, but it has been worth it. The hardest time has been around holidays like Christmas. That's when I miss normal life.
What is the coolest thing you have done? What has been the worst?
[Conor] The Galapagos were great. I liked living on a boat and traveling from island to island. I also liked all the adventure sports in New Zealand, especially zorbing. And it was really cool to ride a mile long luge from the top of The Great Wall. There haven't been too many bad things. I suppose the worst thing has been all the time we've spent waiting in airports or at train or bus stations.
Are you glad you did this? Do you want to travel in the future or has this experience made you hate traveling?
[Conor] I am really glad we did this too. I'll be glad to get home, but we have been able to see and do so much. In the future, though, I don't think I'll travel for this long. I think I'll take more trips, but for shorter periods of time. There is so much to see in the world, you can spend your whole life exploring.
Go read their blog and follow them around the world at The Wide Wide World.
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