It's been about a month since we returned to the States; and just like it took me a month into traveling to know what to say, I feel I needed just as much recovery time on this end. The longer we're back and the more we talk about life going forward, the more reflections swirl in my head--those are for later. There is also a practical side to picking up and traveling for an undetermined amount of time, and I've gotten a lot of the same questions about that, so I figured it was worth answering them all in the same place.
Without fail, the number one question I've been asked is, how did you guys afford that?
And, okay, I could easily tell you that's none of your business, because it really isn't. It's a merited question, though, and I have had the same thoughts about other family travelers. In terms of our experience, the first thing is to clarify: we were not on vacation; rather we were living abroad. Because Trevor and I both work for ourselves, and because of the nature of our work, we were able to do everything digitally. (Behold, the age of the Internet!) Which is to say, we had an income the entire time we were gone. The other piece is a lifestyle one. Honest to God, it was cheaper for us to rent through Airbnb and circle the Mediterranean than it was to pay for the outrageous cost of living in Denver; but we also were very careful about how we spent our money. For example, you can shell out serious cash on a really amazing flat somewhere, and that's a fun thing to do on vacation. But you can't do that in normal life, and that's what this was meant to be for us. So, we took the budget we would have spent on rent, divided it by 30, and that gave us a "day rate" for living costs. We would only consider Airbnbs that fit within our financial criteria. Sometimes it was difficult, but it was also worth it because there were a lot of weeks where we actually saved money living abroad. It's really just a matter of perspective and tedious research.
How did you homeschool Iris and Edith?
The state of Colorado is pretty kind to homeschoolers, and to pull them from DPS and homeschool instead, all I had to do was to send a letter to the Department of Education to inform them of our plans. The government puts all the responsibility on the parent, which benefitted us in the adventure, but was not something I took lightly. I think if the girls had been much older, or if they were a lot more involved in activities or friendships, it would have been more difficult to choose to take off for several months. One of the biggest challenges for me was to decide how to school them well without filling up our bags full of school supplies, as most curriculums--even online ones--have a lot of textbooks and workbooks. I get it, and I fully believe in tactile learning; but the last thing I wanted to do was add unnecessary stress to our journey. Before last school year ended, I had meetings with both Iris's and Edith's teachers, discussing where they were academically, where they would need to be by the end of the following year, and how to get there. To keep things sustainable, we used one math workbook; a white board (blank on one side and penmanship lines on the other); composition notebooks; a handful of readers; and the iPad. At Pre-K and first grade, it's really still about the basics, and so we made sure to incorporate reading, writing, and mathematics into every day. From there, we used our location or their observations and interests to drive our studies. I can't begin to tell you how rewarding this was, which was a thrill for me. Homeschooling has always interested me, but I've never felt passionate about it. We chose to do it to facilitate our travel. But in the end, to learn with them, and then to see them apply that education, was one of the most fulfilling experiences of our adventures.
How did you pack?
Between the four of us, we had two suitcases and we each carried a backpack. Since we would have luggage instead of a car, I decided to invest in some new suitcases; we had one carry-on size and one large suitcase. We, for the most part, stayed within the same climate, and this made packing a little easier since we didn't have to worry about bulky winter items. We each made a capsule wardrobe of about a week's worth of clothes: lots of black and neutral colors; lots of mix-and-match options; lots of layers. Then I just did laundry every few days. Most of the time, we ensured our Airbnb had a washer; but for the places that didn't, I carried a bar of laundry soap with us. (Full disclosure: we did finally have to buy heavier jackets in Tuscany, so we carried those with us in transit on our last three stops.)
What did your days look like?
As much as possible, we wanted to emulate normal life while still taking advantage of the adventure. Sometimes, we'd only be in a place for a few days, and so our focus would be sightseeing and experiencing the culture. Mostly, we tried to stay in one spot for a week or longer, giving us the chance to settle and come up with a routine. For most of our travels, we were eight hours ahead of Denver, meaning Trevor's "work day" was actually at night. So, generally, in the morning, the girls and I would do school outside while Trev caught up on administrative work from the night before; we'd have lunch; and then we'd head out for the day--sometimes to the beach, sometimes to a market, or to a point of interest. We'd get back home around dinnertime; I'd prepare a meal, the girls would play, and Trevor would tackle phone calls and meetings. If you want something to workout, you make it work; and while there were plenty of days where this went smoothly and we'd laze the afternoon at the beach, there were a lot of other sacrificial days to keep it going. Trevor especially put many incredibly late nights to keep up with work, and I think he was working even more hours abroad than he does at home.
How did Iris and Edith handle everything?
The first time I got this question, I got really nervous. It made me feel like I'd put my daughters in some incredibly difficult situation that could potentially damage them. I'm sure that's not how the person meant it to sound; but I did carry some guilt for awhile after that. But look: Our kids are very well-traveled for their ages. They've been on the road for more than a month at a time, several times; they been to other countries; and they've lived in large, diverse cities. After a few weeks, I realized, it wasn't a question of if they could handle it. In fact, they were thriving. The thing about being six- and four-years-old is that you don't have a lot of inhibitions unless you're taught to have them. We opened up the world to them, and so they readily tried new foods, new languages, new customs without fear. It was different for them, but not difficult. One day, when we were in Lyon, France, Edith walked to the boulangerie with Trevor. He gave her two euros, and she approached the counter, greeted the baker in French, ordered a baguette in French, paid, and carried her bread out of the store. Kids are so brave, so resilient, and so excited to learn how the world works, and it was a joy to get to test that within them and watch them succeed. Were there hard days? Sure. Traveling can be wearying. I tried to be honest with them when I was having a hard day, and then together we'd look for the positives in what was hard. At their young ages, I think Iris's and Edith's stability lies in the health of our family. We make sure they have some structure, because kids need boundaries; and from there, it's just a matter of teaching them that if they are with Trevor and me, they are safe and they are loved.
So, I guess that's the behind-the-scenes of how we traveled Europe for three months. I don't normally have the comments on, but I'll open them here in case there are any questions I missed.