Yesterday (7 July) it was six months since we left home. Six months on trains, planes, automobiles and living in hotels, homestays, tents and Airbnb’s.
I remember wondering before we left if we would get sick of travel. If living out of a suitcase would wear thin. If we would get homesick after a time. If we would tire of moving from one place to another. I worried about having enough money to complete the journey and about one or all of us getting sick. I dreaded the thought that something might happen to Amy or Oliver. I even wondered, on occasion, if the world might disappoint. That after going to all the trouble of taking time from work, packing up the house and taking Amy and Oliver out of school we would discover there is nowhere better than home.
When I read that list again, it’s a wonder we went anywhere! So how do my worries stand-up against reality? Well, as of yesterday I can honestly say that my wanderlust has increased not diminished. I would dearly love to spend more time almost everywhere we have been and I feel no compulsion to return home. Yet. Homesickness then? Nope. None. I think the same can be said for Emma, and if you have just read that then it survived her editing and must be true!
The picture is a little greyer for Amy and Oliver. Amy misses her friends and all of our extended family, jumping at every chance to put in a Facetime or Skype call. She also recoils a little at any fanciful suggestion that one year of travel be stretched to two. Which is not to say she’s not enjoying the trip. In Amy’s perfect world I think you would all be along with us for the ride! Oliver has changed over the last six months from being a bit unsure about it all to one of travels stronger advocates. ‘Go home! Are you kidding!’. I’m sure I’ve heard him say this from time to time.
As to other concerns, there is no rational reason that anyone is any more likely to become ill out here than at home nor any reason why peril is more likely to present itself here than there. The last of my worries however, that the world might disappoint, was surely the most ridiculous. Talk about going out of your way to find something to worry about!
Everywhere we go presents new fascinations; historic, natural, culinary or simply in the subtle differences in the layout of a supermarket. Australia is a wonderful place. It’s a fine part of an even finer tapestry which is, as they say, altogether more than the sum of its component parts. Oh yes, and so far we are a bit under budget, which means I am now starting to relax.
Having said all of that, we are changing as we go. The edge has come off our eagerness. There is no need to rush out the door. Every time it opens the view is different and dealing with that sometimes means lingering a little longer in the hotel room each day doing ‘normal’ stuff. Time is needed to process experiences and for more mundane activities like making bookings, reading books, preparing and doing school work, writing blogs and postcards and, you know, banking.
We are changing in other ways too. You think you know your partner and your children, but I’m not sure you really do until you live with them 24 hours a day 7 days a week for months on end. At home little irritations can be glossed over because they happen five minutes before everyone heads out the door and goes their own way for 8 hours. By the time you regroup, the matter is long forgotten, but not necessarily dealt with. On the road, little irritations can become a major rub, if they are not soothed beforehand.
We each have our anxieties and personality quirks. Of our foibles, I have a propensity to worry and overanalyse, self-evident perhaps from my admission re concern that travelling the world might disappoint. I can also get overexcited about things on occasion which has a tendency to drive everyone else nuts.
Emma can be anxious and controlling when it comes to matters of our collective health and safety and has a reasonably short fuse when it comes to hijinks and silly noises. Amy is very wary of the unknown and can find the days which involving moving from one accommodation to the next somewhat stressful. Oliver has a tendency to make oddly irritating noises from time to time, a perfect match for Emma, along with a highly developed sense of justice.
There were times earlier in this trip when the mix of these lead to… tensions. Back in South East Asia I recall at times wishing that we could all be more co-operative and cohesive. Little feuds would sometimes become tiresome and unvoiced irritations gnawed around the edges. Thrashing out home-schooling arrangements was a fairly constant battle which didn’t really help. It was like nobody expected we would actually go through with it and if it was ignored hard enough it would just go away.
We’ve moved on for the most part. After six months on the road I think it would be fair to say each of us has developed a much healthier respect for the others ‘buttons’ and is inclined to push upon them less often. Oliver is a case in point with a notable transition from agitator to happiness enforcer. ‘No, no, no grumpies’ he would often say with a waggle of his finger whenever a sniff of tension was aired.
School work too, is no longer the battle it was earlier on. The constant debates about journal writing which dogged our early months on the road have largely gone. It’s still not Amy or Oliver’s favourite activity, but they have come to accept it has to be done. Of equal, if not greater value, than bookwork however are the many discussions we embark upon into the history and happenings of the regions through which we travel.
It is a marvellous thing to be there to help fill in some of the blanks when Amy and Oliver embark upon a line of genuine, curious questioning about what we’ve seen or what’s going on or why things are the way they are where we are… or were… These discussions are not branded ‘school work’, so the conversations can go on for quite some time with focus and thought. We have covered various aspects of global economics, politics, history, geology, geography, ecology, languages and relative merits of various forms of societal organisation including democracy, monarchy, communism, capitalism, socialism and recently fascism as well.
There is no doubt in my mind that Amy and Oliver are developing an appreciation for people, places, cultures, religions and history that would be impossible to replicate from home. So, for that matter are Emma and I. I sometimes feel like we’re on a field trip for world history, with each place we visit filling in detail or blanks from fragmented pieces of information gleaned over the years from who knows where.
To the extent this is the case for Amy and Oliver, in their own way, book work becomes the stuff of how to translate thoughts and understandings to paper, and crunch the numbers for your pocket money given different exchange rates and work out if that gelato represents anything approaching ‘value for money’. Learning about the world happens by osmosis, in sights and sounds, through books shared and conversations that seem to go on for hours when it really is time to go to bed.
It is interesting too, standing apart from the business and preoccupations of the people who dwell in the places we visit. I recognise myself in the faces of tired looking commuters on metro trains across Europe. Bored, but resigned to their daily fate. I wonder if they know how much of their experience they share with others the world over, or whether they are lost in their own internal wrangling. I wonder, if they wonder why they do it? I wonder what are they working for and what’s going on in their lives?
In most places we have freedom by virtue of the countries we live in, but how many people actually exercise that freedom and how many unconsciously follow the paths and norms handed out by tradition and social imperatives? How many ride the metro each day because an alternative is hidden from view? Then I wonder how much of what I do and have done is also shaped by tradition and social imperatives and how much a matter of conscious choice? I rather suspect more belongs in the category of the former rather than the latter.
When we first started travelling for long periods in 2011, I felt guilty. I felt like taking time out was shirking my responsibilities and, to a degree, that travel was the domain of the retired. Responsibility to whom was not clear nor consciously questioned. We had saved enough money to support ourselves without being a burden on anyone else, at least for a time, so what responsibility was not attended to? And who is to say that you have to be retired to see the world? Where did the notion that work is the absolute imperative come from and how is it perpetuated? These things I ponder.
And ponder we will for a little longer yet. We’ve seen so much and done so much already and we’ve only visited fourteen countries. Aren’t there more than 200? I wonder what is coming next?