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Daria Salamon
Friday
Nov302018

9 Things We Learned Travelling Around the World With Kids

 

 

Travelling the world on a budget with two young kids, for 305 days, was the hardest thing we ever did—but also maybe the best.

My husband, Rob, and I put our lives on hold for a year—renting out our house in Winnipeg, taking leaves of absence from our jobs, and pulling our children out of school to travel to 15 countries on four continents.

So we were no longer in our twenties, when most people do a trip like that, but as soon-to-be-forty-somethings we were bored with how structured our life had become. We felt like we didn’t want to wait till we were empty-nesters either—we wanted to experience the world with our children—before they reached that age when they would pretend not to know us if we bumped into each other at the mall.

 

1. Doing is better than owning
My husband, Rob, and I allowed ourselves one backpack each. Two in total, for four people’s belongings. For an entire year. I had to rethink my definition of necessity and jettison items that now fell under the luxury category, such as hair conditioner, tweezers, and more than a week’s worth of underwear. It was painful. Our daughter Isla Blue (age 5) also had an agonizing decision to make—which oneBeanie Boo out of her collection of hundreds would be her chosen travelling companion?

But over the course of the year— for the sake of Rob and my aging backs—we got really good at simple living and learned to shift even further from our old consumerist mentality. As we celebrated birthdays on the road, we developed a rule that gifts had to be consumable. For my birthday, in New Zealand, I was granted a child-free day touring the tasting rooms of wineries.  In Gili Air, Indonesia, we took our then eight-year-old son Oskar to buy roman candles, bottle rockets and firecrackers, so he could design his own fireworks show on the beach. In Thailand, Isla Blue lit and released paper lanterns into the night sky, watching them sail off over the ocean.

Not only did we create cherished memories on those occasions, we found that the more we participated in the traditions of the countries we visited—whether cooking lessons, dance classes, or trying out musical instruments—the kids stopped asking, “Can we buy this?” and instead started saying, “Can we do this?”

 

Family photo in Bolivia

 

2. When you let go of academic goals, learning experiences come organically.
Isla bucked the reader that I’d picked up back in Canada every time I pulled it out for a reading lesson. As we lived out of our campervan in Australia, I worried she was going to return home, half way through first grade, not knowing how to string a sentence together. But when I sauntered up to her in a national park one drizzly afternoon, I found her at a placard, in her little yellow rain jacket, sounding out words about butterflies and plants native to the area. She was learning how to read—just not in the way we’d expected.

Oskar naturally learned the capital cities of countries we flew into, like Fiji and Samoa, (even though upon returning home, he would fail a test on naming Canada’s ten provinces). The lesson I learned was that the most authentic educational moments of our trip happened organically. Classrooms were most often the parks, museums and attractions we visited, and the lessons learned from lived experiences stuck way better than anything my kids have been taught from a textbook.

jewelry making in Thailand

 

3. Kids learn more life skills on the road than in the classroom.
Our trip abroad allowed us to discover our son’s passion for navigation. Rarely do we take buses in our home city, but on our trip, public transportation opened up the world of mapping and routing for Oskar. He could often be found scanning the subway map in a large city like Kuala Lumpur, formulating the fastest route to a museum or market.

He also exhibited a keen interest in the expense tracker app that my husband used to keep us within our very stringent trip budget. So, early on we loaded the app onto Oskar’s iPad and started handing him all our receipts. One afternoon in Auckland, I was savouring an expensive, but much-needed latte after a particularly arduous day of driving when Oskar asked me to hand over the coffee receipt. He then pointed out that he could not find my eight-dollar latte anywhere in the $150-a-day budget. (I whispered to my husband to please remove that app from his iPad before he discovered the bottle of cheap Malbec I’d slipped onto the grocery bill.) The children surprised us by often proving they could pitch in and contribute.

4. Breaking your own parenting rules is not always bad parenting.
Isla stood in the middle of the street in downtown Singapore and screamed, “I’m done with this dumb trip!” Her face looked like a ripe cherry tomato that was about to explode; the heat was a searing 40 degrees; and we were so drenched from the humidity that we needed to wring out our shirts.

She had reached her threshold when, like a mirage, I spotted a 7/11 up the street. Normally I’d not take my kids to one of these stores, where candy lines the shelves and soda fills the fridge. We might now hold the record for trips made to 7/11 in a single day, but I learned that sometimes when in different places you have to throw your usual rules and standards out the window. Our tour of Singapore incorporated the heavily air conditioned 7/11s throughout the city.

Salomon kids enjoying a waterfall

 

5. Little kids thrive on structure, but they grow from a little unpredictability.
If I were to do it all over again, I admit I might have waited until Isla was a few years older. We spent days on buses at dizzying altitudes in South America, ate food we weren’t familiar with in Asia, and boarded wobbly boat rides in the South Pacific. This is definitely not the structure, routine and consistency children at that age require. That said, over the course of the year, she did develop coping strategies, and we learned to slow down our pace and take breaks to allow our daughter to acclimatize to new environments.

Two years later, when I overhear Isla telling a worker at the zoo that there are wild pink dolphins in the Amazon that will swim right up to your boat, I realize maybe she isn’t as traumatized by the boat ride we took to get there or the questionable place that we stayed, as I had feared. Like any seasoned adventurer, she learned to handle adversity and marvel in the magical moments.

6. You should never leave home without a deck of cards.
“Uno!,” Oskar yelled, throwing up his arms in victory. His voice echoed through the ancient walls of Machu Picchu.  We may be one of the few families to have passed an entire afternoon at one of the most visited ancient tourist destinations in the world, sprawled out in the shade of a stone wall playing the Frozen version of the card game Uno.

The thing is: The tour guide we hired was a bust; it was uncharacteristically hot; and the kids just didn’t want to walk anymore. We learned that sometimes we had to ditch our ambitious plans and enjoy some of the sites from the shade of a nearby tree doing something guaranteed to get us all back into good spirits. Stopping to play Crazy Eights or Snap! at some of the world’s most sought-out destinations became the new norm, and even back home, we’ve kept the habit of packing a deck of cards in my purse—just in case.

Box of Harry Potter books left behind with a note

 

7. The rougher your holiday digs, the less your kids take for granted their privilege.
Travelling for a year, unless you are extremely wealthy, means finding economical and creative accommodations. We camped throughout New Zealand and Australia. In Borneo, we found a place to stay that had the charm of my grandmother’s attic. In Samoa, we slept in fales—permanent tent structures under the stars. Occasionally, we cashed in Airmiles or found an irresistible deal and treated ourselves to a hotel or Air Bnb. But those nights were rare.

Since coming back to Canada, we’ve booked more classic holidays. As I packed for a ski trip to Montana, Isla asked if I had brought enough toilet paper. When we arrived at our Disney resort, Oskar asked in earnest if the water was safe to drink. I laughed and told them the places we were staying had toilet paper and clean water, but the realization is not lost on me that through our travel, often to developing countries, Oskar and Isla have stopped taking basic things for granted – like hygiene and water security—and I’m glad they’re already starting to understand (and check) their privilege.

8. Local markets are way more super than supermarkets.
When we were travelling abroad, we’d browse all the fresh food (sometimes too fresh, in the case of cows and chickens) from farmers in local markets. The kids would race around, looking for fruits they’d never tried. They wondered why we didn’t get our food from neighbourhood markets in Canada.

And after we returned home, Oskar and Isla asked to start a garden. For the past two summers, they’ve been growing vegetables and selling them at a stand in front of our house. When the church at the end of our street lets out, they cannot keep up with the demand for fresh kale, beets and carrots. Part of their proceeds go toward funding their garden, the rest of their profit is equally split between themselves and a charity of their choice. I love that they made this discovery, that fresh and locally grown is best, through firsthand experience.

Family shot in a cave

 

9. The knowledge and memories gained from travel keep on giving, long after your trip is over.
At first, after we came home, I worried about how much of what we had learned and experienced on our trip had “stuck.” When I let Oskar and Isla loose in a toy store for an hour, amid all their pleading for new Journey Girl dolls and Lego sets, I felt concerned that some of the lessons may be fading.

But then later at the park, when one of the kids is bitten by a mosquito, and they start talking about malaria medication and mosquito netting, that leads to a discussion about why we don’t have malaria in Canada. I love that our kids know the world is not the same everywhere and that they question why that is. And there are five words that regularly echo through our house: “Remember on the trip when…” That magic phrase triggers memories, feelings and discussions that will bond us forever.

Daria Salomon's kids in Columbia doing homework

 

How to roadschool
Thinking of taking a chunk of time out from your lives to travel as a family? Here’s how to make sure your kids keep up with their learning on the go.

  • Keep your kids registered in school and cover the basic curriculum. It would be a rude awakening for kids to return from the trip of a lifetime only to find they were no longer in the same grade as their old friends. You can make sure they’re on top of the curriculum by buying coursebooks online, at a store such as Scholar’s Choice.
  • Work with your kids’ teachers. Oskar made short French presentations (he attends French immersion) on places we visited—like the Galapagos or the Amazon—and sent videos back to his class.
  • Visit educational stores wherever you are. When I ran out of teaching material (or forgot a book on a plane), I often found interesting replacements in the countries we visited. I picked up one of the best phonics books I’ve ever come across in Indonesia.
  • Long hikes and bus rides create valuable time for learning. We took those opportunities to practice and memorize multiplication tables and hold impromptu spelling bees.
  • Posting travel reviews improves literacy skills. Giving thoughtful feedback on restaurants, hotels or hostels on travel sites is a great way to get kids evaluating their experiences and writing about them. And they love the comments that come back from other travellers.
Monday
Jan232017

What They Couldn't Destroy that night in Berlin

*originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press - 12/23/2016

They have an expression in Germany, gemütlichkeit, which describes a place, and/or a general state or feeling of warmth, friendliness and good cheer. It embodies social acceptance, peace of mind and well-being.

My husband, Rob, and I meandered through the Breitscheidplatz Christmas market in downtown Berlin Monday evening. I sipped my 20th glass of glühwein since arriving in Germany earlier in the month while Rob sampled the mulled cherry beer. We were surrounded by people who had gathered to visit, laugh and celebrate the Christmas season amid many stalls that sold drinks, cookies, chocolate, sausages, roasted chestnuts and Christmas trinkets.

SUPPLIED</p><p>Daria Salamon and husband Rob Krause in Berlin.</p>

SUPPLIED

Daria Salamon and husband Rob Krause in Berlin.

The market wraps around the Gedächtniskirche church, a building that was firebombed in the Second World War. The damaged, broken church tower remains and serves as a memorial and reminder of the dark past. But the Christmas market illuminates the sense of community and peace during the holiday season. Gemütlichkeit.

That all changed Monday night.

Our family trekked to Germany for Christmas this year to spend time with my husband’s family and to show our children, aged seven and 10, the wonderful markets my husband had experienced as a child.

Maybe it’s because we’re from Winnipeg, where you’d freeze your face off in about 35 seconds if you tried to stand outside and purchase a Christmas ornament or sip a mulled wine. Or, maybe it’s because Christmas in North America has evolved into spending hours in shopping malls or ordering presents online from Amazon. I’m sure all of that exists in Europe, too, but to be able to saunter through the narrow, cobblestone streets lined with handicraft stalls and winking white lights in small medieval towns, or to enjoy the spectacularly lit trees, carousels and the Christmas community of the larger markets in cities such as Frankfurt and Berlin is a truly magical experience. Berlin was our eighth market.

Rob and I sipped our mulled drinks and debated whether we should stay for another. If our kids had been with us, we, no doubt, would have stayed in the market for dinner. They can’t get enough of the curry wurst, crepes and traditional flammkuchen — a baked dough covered in cheese, onion, bacon and potato. But since our kids stayed in Frankfurt with their grandmother, we decided to skip the bratwurst and head to a proper restaurant for dinner.

As we arrived at our hotel 10 minutes later, my husband received a travel alert for Berlin on his phone. A truck had plowed into the market where we had just been. It was presumed to be a terrorist attack.

We never made it out for dinner. We opted to have a quiet drink, toasting our good fortune, while also lamenting the death and injury toll that was emerging in news reports.

Berlin was quiet and subdued the following day. The police announced the attacker was still at large.

Throughout the city, flags flew at half-mast, and makeshift memorials of notes and candles for the Berlin attack victims popped up at tourist sites and closed markets. Police were present everywhere.

Rob and I didn’t stay holed up in our hotel as was suggested by the travel advisories. We visited the Neues Museum, full of artifacts, art, culture and history thousands of years old; I saw the captivating Nefertiti Bust (1345 BC) and an original copy of Homer’s Iliad.

We went to the Holocaust Memorial and to the Berlin Wall Memorial. We saw historical examples of the best and worst in humanity, examples of both destruction and hope.

The attack on Monday night didn’t just target a market but shattered everything that market stands for: warmth, peace of mind, friendliness, good cheer and happiness.

We acknowledge we are very lucky to have left the market just before the terrorist incident occurred, but we are equally grateful, over the past month, to have had the opportunity to experience and share with our children the markets, but more importantly the traditional German ideal gemütlichkeit — the very ideal Monday’s attack tried to destroy.

Thursday
Mar032016

A Year Abroad: From Beaches to Wildlife - Our Top Picks.

 

I’ve used my blog as a forum to write about when shit went wrong on our year abroad– getting lice, speeding tickets, losing my kids, standing on the side of the highway in the middle of the night after a bus breaks down etc. etc.

But, I get the "What was your favourite...?" questions a lot, so I’m laying out Our Top Picks. Ten months, fifteen countries, four continents.  We covered a lot of turf on this gorgeous planet. So here's a round up of some of the coolest stuff we encountered.

 

Best Beach. Whitehaven Beach, Australia.

 

Best Wildlife. The Galapagos Islands. Visitors get unprecedented access to wildlife.  The animals are curious and unafraid of people – sea lions will practically try to shake your hand, you have to step around ridiculously lazy land iguanas. The giant tortoises are slow and big and old, so you can sneak up and scare the shit out of them. JUST KIDDING. You shouldn’t do that, but you can, from a respectful meter away, gaze into their ancient eyes and have a moment.  Snorkelling puts you face to face with giant sea turtles, sea horses, rays, sharks and a gazillion fish. We even had a few penguins come swim with us! In this life – go to the Galapagos Islands. Message me if you need tips on how to do it on the cheap! We saw plenty of wildlife all around the world and I've been on African safaris, but what makes the Galapagos truly special is that it's such an intimate experience. And the islands are stunning.

 

 

Honourable MentionThe Pampas in the Amazon Basin, Bolivia. You cautiously slip into the murky river, noting there's a caiman staring you down from the shore, and your guide says, “they rarely go after people”. And as you stand in the tepid river, fretting about that caiman, a pink and curious dolphin comes and pokes you in the butt with its nose, letting you know he wants to play.(See the video) In the trees nearby are exotic birds, sloths and monkeys. Later in the afternoon, the guide who told you not to worry about the caimen, takes your kids hunting for anacondas. 

Sad fact:  The reason the land along the river is so packed with wildlife is because much of their habitat has been destroyed and the animals have nowhere to go.


Best City. Singapore. I ran into people who complained Singapore is too clean and not gritty enough, but I loved this city and I think that’s what made it original and unparalleled. If you want grit, head to South America. Singapore highlights include best zoo in the world - with a Night Safari, light shows every evening downtown to celebrate Singapore's 50th birthday, lovely gardens and public green spaces, great public transportation and delish food. Drawbacks: Singapore is the most expensive place we visited and if you litter or vandalize they'll cane you. I was pretty sure one of my kids would experience a good old fashioned lashing.

 

 

Best Island. Bali, Indonesia. East meets West. You've probably have read all about Ubud in Eat, Pray Love. This is one cool little city. (And there's no shortage of 30ish year old women wandering around Bali "finding themselves.")  Hip restaurants, funky coffee shops, culture, yoga, temples, beaches and spectular sunsets. Sipping wine on the deck, watching my kids fly kites in the rice fields with the local boys, as the sun set, was one of my trip highlights. Bonus: Bali is cheap! (We rented a two story environmentally sustainable house on the rice fields that came with a pool and people who show up to cook you breakfast for 65$ a night).

 

 

Best Food: Penang, Malaysia. Penang has neat outdoor "food courts" around town with a wide variety of some of the tastiest, cheapest food in the world. Georgetown, the main city on the island of Penang, is a destination for food and street art.

 

 

 

Best Camping: Australia. We spent a month meandering up the coast of Queesland, Australia with our campervan and tent.  I loved the "freedom" camping system; you could show up to a place called Rainbow Beach and pitch your tent and wake to the sun rising over the ocean. 

The kids liked the Top 10 Holiday Parks. They were equipped with amenities like pools, even water parks and decked-out kitchens. While I'll always prefer camping on the oean, it was nice sometimes not to have to cut carrots on a log with a plastic fork. 

 

 Pool at a Top 10 Holiday Park /campsite.  

 

Friendliest People and Best Landscape: Colombia. Can’t say enough good things about Colombia. I think I liked it because there weren’t a lot of tourists there and people seem genuinely surprised that we even showed up to their country. I didn’t meet a single un-friendly person. After buying some art at a gallery, the owner asked where we were off to and I explained an eco-park outside of town. We were going to take a bus, but the next thing I knew we were all piling into her truck. That's just how people are in Colombia.

The landscape is soft and green and hikeable. It offers oceans and volcanoes. It’s not a country without issues(apparently there's been some sort of drug problem here. Shhhhhh.) There was a pretty strong police presence and lots of check stops, but I never felt unsafe. You heard it here first - this will be a serious tourist destination in the future. Go there before that happens.

 

ECUADOR gets and honorable mention. Great, great country if you are into hiking, surfing, hot springs, markets, volcanoes or ayhuaska!

 

Best Tourist Destination: Machu Picchu, Peru.  It's a bit of a gong show over at Machu Picchu being one of the most visited places in the world, but it’s just one of those places in life you’ve got to see to believe because it’s just so f’ing unreal. How they managed to even build a hidden city that high in the mountains, why they built it, and the fact that the Spaniards never found and destroyed it makes it worth the trek. It’s well run, although it takes a bit of effort to access and it's somewhat expensive. But when you set eyes on this ancient city – you cannot help but be awed. HOT TIP: Skip the tours and make your own way there. Stick around till the end of the day and take the last bus down. Most of the tours have left and you will practically have the entire place to yourself!


 


Best Place We StayedTaufua Beach Fales in Samoa. I’ve always dreamed of sleeping in an open shack overlooking the ocean. This place is beautiful and off the beaten track, with sunsets to die for. They feed you well three times a day. It's rustic, and probably not for everyone but so is the entire country of Samoa. We'd stayed in a couple of 5 stars and I will always prefer this. Taufua has a backstory about a tsuami that will break your heart. Part of the love for the place stems from watching my kids play on the beach with kids who survived a Tsunami.

 

Best Hike: Taranongo Alpine Crossing, New Zealand. 

This hike was a treat because we ditched the kids with my mother-in-law and got to take on this killer 20 km day hike - without anyone once asking "how much longer?" It's an alpine crossing, a World Heritage Site and scenes from The Hobbit were filmed there. Enough said.

 

 

Best Airline: Air New Zealand

I shit you not, go to NZ, just so you can fly this airline.  Their regular economy cattle class feels like first class. Tons of seat room, 100 movies to choose from, video game consoles at every seat, non-stop food and booze. They even took the kids into the cockpit for a while. Would that be considered free babysitting?  They are consistently ranked the best airline in the world.  

 

Best Adrenaline: Wipe Out Course. Thailand. There was a lot of adrenaline on our trip – zip lining, surfing, parasailing, trapeze lessons. Doing a wipeout course was a Bucket List thing for Oskar. Isla was the youngest kid ever to complete the red balls! And I fell off them 70,000 times. Thailand hosts a lot of activities that are insane - like the Slip and Fly slide. Check out this video on my instagram

 

 

Best Nature Experience: Mulu National Park, Borneo. Every night at dusk, three million bats fly out of a cave to eat. That's a hard show to top. One night we went on a guided hike after dark and saw bugs, snakes, tarantulas and rodents that still give me nightmares to this day. 

 

 

Honourable Mention: Chalalan Eco Lodge, The Amazon, Bolivia. It took a bus ride, a really sketchy flight and a 5-hour boat trip up the river to get there. (Leonardo Di Caprio, the environmentalist, flew in with his private chopper.) But it seriously felt like Chalalan was one of the few places on earth where you are in the middle of nowhere and off the grid. We hiked and swam, were woken by howler monkeys, wild pigs and toucans.  Oskar went fishing (sustainably, with a guide) and caught 3 piranhas – which were delicious.

 

 

Best Amusement Park: LEGOLAND, Malaysia. I'm only including this on the list because it'll probably never happen again in this life that we were practically the only people at an amusement park. The place was huge and there wasn't a single line up for anything. In fact, when it was time to leave I had to haul Isla off the roller coaster. She’d ridden it 8 times in a row and she was the only passenger. As we were leaving, all the workers were waving and giving her hugs, “Bye, Isla Blue! We love you! Come back and visit!” 

 

Best Cocktail: Pisco Sour. It involves whipped egg whites and pisco. Yum.  

 

Best Wine: Martinborough, New Zealand. For my birthday, I was given a day to tour vineyards and sample some fine pinots. It was great until my kids showed up.

 

Best Overall Experience:  We arrived in the Yasawas, Fiji, at a lodge called The Oarsman with our tent.  Yes, we are those people who showed up in Fiji with a tent. But they gave us a cabin on the beach for practically the same price as tenting. I loved them already.

We stayed about a week and a half (a long stay for us anywhere) because we really liked the place and the people who ran it. The location was stunning. The lodge was run by and supported a local Fijian community. We visited the village, we tagged along to church one week for something to do. I even wore a tradtional dress that was NOT flattereing. They showed us how feasts were prepared.  Tourists were always coming and going as part of their packages. In Fiji, you jump on a catamaran and go island hopping. Many people found this place a bit rustic, compared to the 5 stars they'd come from.

The day before we were leaving, the people running the lodge offered to let us use to their private island for the day. Wait, let me understand you? You have a private island? In Fiji? And you’re going to let us use it for the day? (Normally, they would rent it our to people for lots of money.)

They packed us a picnic (that included beer), boated us out there and said they would pick us up at the end of the day.

Lying around on your own island in the South Pacific, reading Harry Potter with your kids, sipping beer, was a pretty special experience! Just when we thought it couldn't get any better, Rob noticed that there were baby turtles in the sand. They were hatching, surfacing all around us and making mad dashes for the ocean.

For me, this was one of the best experiences of our trip. It was such a gift that resulted from connections we forged with people. It blended together some of my favourite things in life: friendship, family, nature, the ocean, an island, reading...and beer. It was a perfect day.

 

 Instagram

 

Thursday
Jan282016

5 BIG LESSONS I'M TAKING AWAY FROM OUR GAP YEAR

The conventional, very rooted way of life we’ve set up in North America – filled with lots of material stuff isn’t the only, or most rewarding way that one can lead their life. Experience is essential to a meaningful life. And wine.

1.  HOW LITTLE WE ACTUALLY NEED.  Carrying your life around on your back for 10 months is a pretty humbling experience. Forget online shopping and consumerism.  Suddenly, you’re shopping for shampoo in some mini-mart in Bali and all you give a shit about is finding the smallest bottle. And all those and lip-glosses and eyebrow tweezers I packed were jettisoned after the first day.  (Not all of us learned this lesson unfortunately; my daughter still seemed to be carrying around her entire stuffie collection.)

We were always thinking about how to make our packs lighter. Do I really need this sixth pair of underwear?  We need to finish this stupid Harry Potter book- it’s too heavy. Who knew wine out of a plastic bag could be so good?


Back home, I’m always tempted to buy stuff. This past year, I’m constantly evaluating how to get rid of things. My sanity and my spine depended on it. Lesson learned.

2.  PEOPLE HUSTLE REALLY HARD ALL OVER THE WORLD JUST TO SURVIVE. We’ve visited 15 countries this year – 11 of which I’d consider developing.  One thing that will stick me for a long time to come is how hard people have to work just to scrape by.

In Bolivia, men shine shoes in the blazing heat with knit balaclavas over their heads because it’s considered such a shameful job.  I’ve seen people selling everything from soda pop to mismatched pairs of used runners. Earlier today, traveling through Colombia, when the bus stopped for a bathroom break, a guy hopped on and gave the most heartfelt pitch for toothbrushes he was peddling. Of course, no one bought any.  There always seems to be someone hustling hard to sell something, and it’s not just to make a bigger buck, but to survive. Should have bought a toothbrush.

 

At the start of the trip I used to love bargaining and getting a good deal, but after months of seeing people work so hard just to get by, bargaining lost its appeal. Fifty cents is nothing to me, but it’s a lot to someone who lives in a country where the daily wage is eight dollars. In whittling down prices, it started to feel like I was fucking with people’s livelihoods. I appreciate where I was born. Not only do I not have to struggle so relentlessly everyday just to survive, but also I get to do what I love – and, occasionally, I even get paid for it! I’m about to embark on obtaining a Masters degree. It’ll be my third university degree. This feels a bit superfluous in a world where people walk around for 14 hours a day selling cups of chopped mango. I am very, very lucky. (And I still can’t cut a mango properly.)

 

3.  RESPECT FOR ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHERS. After road-schooling my kids for the better part of a year, I have a new respect for elementary school teachers. The level of patience, imagination and lack of fear they must possess just to walk into the classroom every day is inspiring.  I’m pretty sure they don’t say the things that fly out of my mouth. Siddown and do your damn work. What do you mean you don’t understand? This isn’t that hard. No, you can’t go to the bathroom. If you ask one more time, you’re getting a catheter.

 

Our "classroom" in Colombia.

It’s actually been rewarding teaching my son prime numbers and magical watching my daughter learn to read, but I think I’ll be more than okay handing them back over to the public education system, into the loving hands of their teachers for a while. I’m pretty sure the feeling is mutual on the part of my kids.

 

4.  YOU DON’T NECESSARILY HAVE TO LIVE A CONVENTIONAL LIFE.  Before we left on this trip, it seemed like such a radical thing that we were doing. Packing up and renting out our house, selling off our car and many of our belongings— it all seemed a little crazy.

But since we’ve been on the road, we’ve met all sorts of people leading intriguing lives. Software developers working from the road, teachers working in international schools, couples house sitting around the world, people who’ve sold off all their possessions to travel indefinitely, seniors rewarding themselves with a life of adventure after working for thirty years, and young people traveling the world before embarking on their careers.

I’m certainly ready to come home to a drawer full of 20 pairs of clean, underwear that aren't falling apart, to not having to worry about whether I’ll get dengue every time I get bit by a mosquito, to not having to do currency exchange every time I buy a pack of Dentine. But, my eyes certainly have been opened up to the fact that the conventional, very rooted way of life we’ve set up in North America – filled with lots of material stuff isn’t the only, or most rewarding way that one can lead their life. Experience is essential to a meaningful life.

 

5.  THE SOMETIMES TOXIC AND OTHER TIMES BEAUTIFUL RELATIONSHIP WE HAVE WITH THE PLANET. It’s been really fascinating to see how the world once was and how it is now. One week we’re hiking through some of the world’s densest, oldest rain forests, and the following week, we’re biking through a maze of congested, overpopulated streets in Bangkok.

Bangkok

We spent four days at Chalalan Eco Lodge in the Amazon where we witnessed a moving demonstration of how symbiotic the relationship between people and the planet can be. Twenty years ago, the indigenous Bolivian Amazon community of San José de Uchupiamonas, who have rights to the land, were faced with a choice. They could start logging and cutting down the Amazon to support their community.  Instead, they opted to start an ecotourism project whereby they built Chalalan Eco Lodge; they bring tourists deep into the jungle to experience the world as it once was- to wake up to Toucans singing, macaws soaring and howler monkeys jumping in the trees. In doing this, they have protected many species from becoming extinct. Locals from the community study biology and ecology, learn various languages and become knowledgeable guides, while others run the lodge. With profits from the Eco Lodge they have built a medical clinic and school within their community. One of the best experiences of our trip was spent in this remote area. Both the Amazon and the community thrive from this relationship. It was such a brilliant example of people and the planet working together for growth and sustainability.

Last spring, we visited a beautiful waterfall in Samoa. We were jumping off the cliffs and splashing around when a group of about eight local women came to the waterfall. They pulled out beer and flipped their caps into the water. Like everyone else they were chatting and laughing and having a good time. When they left an hour later, there were a dozen beer bottles floating in the water at the base of the waterfall. We were sort of stunned as we collected the bottles.

We saw many examples of blatant disregard for the planet, both on the part of locals and tourists. I know that this exists back at home in Canada too, but somehow in your own environment you become complacent and blind to it. Sometimes you even participate. Damn, I forgot my re-usable bags again. It’s too cold or too far to walk. (And I’m well aware of the footprint we have left traveling around the planet. We have tried to use local transport and not behave like tourists whenever possible. My kids will gladly share tales of puking on 50 hour high altitude bus rides through the Andes when they would have preferred to have flown!)

Bus in Samoa

Witnessing, firsthand, the relationship between humans and the planet and how it can either be positive and symbiotic, or how it can be careless and destructive has been enlightening to me. It’s really made me think about my role and attitude.

I obviously learned many lessons throughout this trip and I think many more won’t surface until I get home and haul into the wine and writing. 

 

Some Final Thoughts & Thanks:

Next week: Each of us will highlight what we believe are the most special places and/or experiences amongst the 4 continents and 15 countries we visited. Apparently, Isla's stuffies will be contributing thoughts on this subject.

As our trip winds down in a few days (WHAAAAA), I’d like to genuinely thank you for reading and following this blog, for commenting, for sharing it out, and for direct messaging me. I cannot tell you how much it means to me when someone told me I read your blog, or I love your blog. It sustained me while away from home, family and friends for almost a year.

Rob and I are working on (or supposed to be working on) a comic memoir about our journey that will be published by Turnstone Press in 2017. We are super excited about this project. Stay tuned! In the meantime, I'm trying to figure out how we can do this again! 

Much Love & Safe Travels Wherever Life May Lead You!

Daria


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Tuesday
Jan192016

So, How Did We Afford Travel For a Year Anyway?

 

I pitched Isla across the stream toward, Rob. Then, I hoisted Oskar across the water. (Damn that nine year old was getting heavy.) We scurried down the path, looking behind us to make sure no one was following. As we tore down the overgrown trail, we came face to face with a menacing bull. He stood up and veered his head toward us. “Quick, into the cornfield!” We raced through the field to the sound of rustling of corn and the tramping of our feet. We emerged from the field, crawled through a barbed wire fence. We were at the edge of the Ruins. Finally.

We peered over the stone wall, waiting for the security and the tourists to clear. Alas, there was a break in the traffic and we carefully lowered ourselves down the stone wall, catching the kids, and casually sauntered out into the ruins, hearts racing and pounding. We should have just paid the damn entrance fee.

We’d visited Machu Picchu two days earlier. It’s an emotional and moving experience to achieve the number one experience on your bucket list. But, it was also really freaking expensive to get to a forgotten city perched high up in the Andes of Peru. It involved a flight, a bus, a train ride and a hike.

Playing Uno at Machu Picchu

After visiting Machu Picchu we were staying in the quiet town of Ollyantambo, Peru. From our hostel we could see the sun setting over some interesting ruins that we wanted to visit the next morning. When we inquired about going, we learned that in order to visit these ruins, we had to buy an expensive 3-day pass that provided access to all the ancient sites in the area. And the novelty of visiting ancient Inca ruins in the baking sun, quite frankly, was really starting to wear a little thin with our six and nine year old. In fact, by the end of the day, Machu Picchu had devolved into a game of UNO.

We were lamenting to our hostel owner about how we’d like to see the ruins, but couldn’t drop that much money when our kids would be exhausted and whining within two hours.

“That pass is too expensive. I’ll tell you how to get in the back door, without paying,” he said.

And that’s how we found ourselves pitching our kids across creeks, confronting bulls, running through cornfields. The kids, of course loved the adventure, and always ask when we can bust into more ruins. Or, when we’re in line buying tickets for a museum or attraction, Isla will now always loudly pipe up why we don’t just try and sneak in like last time? Or And are you going to tell them I’m still 4 so we can get in for cheaper?

It wasn’t our most proud parenting moment. This is dodgy, embarrassing shit and I can’t believe I’ve putting this on my blog. But when you’re traveling for a year, you just inevitably land yourself in some sticky situations. These things don’t happen on your two-week vacation to Disney or the Grand Canyon.

 

 Back to that burning question…So, how do you afford to travel for a year? I get this question at least five times day.  Thankfully, there are more practical, less embarrassing tricks to financially sustaining travel for an entire year. Here are a few of them:

 

EAT STREET FOOD AND HIT LOCAL MARKETS.  Some of the best food we’ve had comes from a guy grilling pork or making fish tacos out on the street. We find cups of fresh squeezed juice for less than fifty cents or chicken empanadas for a buck. When we left home, Rob said he’d never eat street food— way too sketchy.  I’m not getting sick.  Blah. Blah. Blah.  Along came pork satay skewers in Thailand and the next thing we knew, Rob had peanut sauce slathered all over his face.  The food is fresh, you can watch them cook it. And we can feed the family for five bucks. We also hit the local markets for produce and meat. On more than one occasion I’ve watched the butcher hack apart a pig or chicken on my behalf.

 Some of the hostels and guesthouses we've stayed in have fantastic rooftop bars!

HOSTELS.  Hostels are cheap and awesome. They are full of interesting people. We’ve met professors and beekeepers, filmmakers and scientists.  Hostels often have family rooms and kitchens. And these are not the hostels of the 90’s that I stayed in when I backpacked around Europe, waking up next to a smelly, hungover skinhead because they oversold the dorm beds. These days, hostels have kitchens, courtyards and pools.

 Both our kid and us loved Shiralea Hostel in Thailand and the guys who ran it. We had so much fun there.

Another great option we use for longer stays is Air Bnb. The point here is, stay out of hotels if you are traveling long term. They will decimate your budget. Avoid sites like Expedia and Booking.com; they inflate prices. When we contact the hotel directly, we find we could get rooms for half the price.  (Also, I can’t stand the fact that booking.com feels the need to tell me that 4 people are looking at the exact same room right at that moment. Piss off, your tactics don’t work on me.) We were forced to use Expedia for New Years Eve because we suck at planning and couldn’t find a place to sleep anywhere because apparently New Years was a big deal. At the hotel we learned that people were paying a fraction of what we’d paid through Expedia. Argh.

 

KITCHENS. We try to stay in places with kitchens. Or, at the very least, places that offer a kettle and a fridge. The less money you spend in restaurants, the longer you will travel. (Occasionally, we do hit up a locally loved or well-reviewed restaurant, but nothing annoys me more than dropping $30 on unmemorable food). We constantly travel with a bag of groceries that contains cookies, crackers, soup, peanut butter, nutella sandwich fixings, oatmeal, coffee….which brings me to my next point.

 

A hostel kitchen overlooking Lake Titicaca in Bolivia.

SOURCE YOUR OWN COFFEE. I cannot abide bad coffee. I spent a small fortune procuring coffee from coffee shops on the first part of our trip. A Flat White in New Zealand ain’t cheap. You can save the equivalent of the cost of a college education by supplying your own coffee. We bought a little portable coffee press from MEC and we pick up a bag of good quality coffee.  All we need is hot water and mommy’s happy; we save $10-15 a day on java. And thank god, quite frankly, because they seem to serve instant coffee everywhere we’ve stayed in South America. Bleh.

 

Checking out the Giant Tortoises on the Galapagos Islands - with my MEC coffee press/cup. 

CAMPING.  We camped for 3 months in New Zealand and Australia. Let me just repeat that – we camped for 3 months in New Zealand and Australia. Yes, I’m probably losing about 90% of my audience with that statement. We did rent a campervan in Australia, but it only fit the kids, so Rob and I were relegated back to the tent. (And now no one is reading this post. )I don’t know how the hell we did it, because I’m a girl who likes her amenities. But, there are campsites with clean bathrooms and hot showers— they even have blowdryers! (That doesn’t negate the fact that there are also some terrible ones too!) For 3 months we stayed in our 5000 star-hotel and spent very little on accommodation. The camping really grew on me and when we talk about our trip, everyone in our family agrees that freedom (free) camping up the coast of Australia was probably one of the absolute best parts of our trip.

 

Monkeys chilling out by our tent in Thailand.

TRAVEL APPS/SITES  We use a bunch of different apps to track everything from expenses to booking flights and accommodations. (When I say we, I mean Rob and Oskar.) With the right tools you can buy really cheap flights and find inexpensive accommodations. Also, having some sort of app to track what you are spending (or in my case overspending) is pretty important. Or so I’m told.

 

 

  • hostelworld.com – finds cheap hostels anywhere in the world
  • airbnb.com – books apartments and houses; excellent for longer stays
  • expensetracker – tracks expenses
  • skyscanner – finds cheap flights
  • Googlematrix – finds cheap flights
  • xe – currency converter
  • Trip Advisor – won’t necessarily save you money, but will prevent you from wasting money on bad food or accomms

 

LOCAL TRANSPORTATION. Using local transportation meant we rented motorbikes, rode in the backs of trucks, used subways, took local busses. Cabs and tourist-class transportation ares really expensive. My parents are visiting right now and they wanted to experience South America like us so we took a local bus up the coast in Ecuador. 6 of us road for $22. It was a white-knuckle ride and my poor mom almost hurled. Needless to say, we hired a van to take us back down the coast for $100, lest we all be covered in my mom’s breakfast.

I remember landing in Singapore in the sweltering heat at 11 pm. It was tempting and would have been so easy to jump into a cab. But we took the subway, and then hiked the 3 blocks to our guesthouse with all of our bags and packs. The kids were tired and miserable. But we know, in the back of our minds that even though it’s not always easy, this is how we sustain our travel. We survived We did the same thing in Quito in the pouring rain and in Bangkok and in Kuala Lampur. The private cars and cab rides add up. I want to see the world, not the insides of taxis. Also, it’s really good for our kids to see how real people travel, rather than how tourists get around.

 

Driving across an airplane runway on a motorbike with Oskar in Thailand. Gotta love local transport. Watch out for planes! 

It’s not always glamorous, but it’s always interesting; we’ve seen spectacular sites, had incredible experiences. We didn’t treat this like a two-week vacation, but a way of life. And, oh what a life it’s been.

In a few weeks, we’ll be returning to all of the comforts and luxuries of home. I won’t have to carry around a mini grocery store. I’ll hop in my car when I want to go somewhere. I won’t have a 50lb pack on my back every time I step outside the house.

When we were breaking into those ruins, dodging that bull, it kind of felt like we were on the lam. And, in a lot of ways, that’s what this whole year has been like. We’ve been on the lam, running away from ordinary life for a while. It’s been hard, but pretty damn fun and exciting. This blog post started out being about how could you afford to travel for a year? But really, how could you afford not to?

Occasionally we splurged - a day trip on a yacht in the Galapagos. Embarassing my family with the Titanic pose.