Many people thought we were crazy, and that it was the farthest thing from simplifying our life. After all, I earn my living encouraging other people to live simply and to take the risky steps necessary to eliminate clutter of all kinds. Why on earth would we add this sort of baggage?
I get it, I do. But we still wanted to do it. And so we planned, for five long years. And for the past nine months, we finally lived it out.
We just finished an extended trip around the world as a family of five (the three kids are age 10 and under), working, learning, and living family life as we go. For one school year, we asked the world to be our textbook. Coffee shops and guest houses were our offices; math lessons were done on airplane tray tables and at the buying and selling in local markets.
It was hard. The hardest thing we’ve ever done, in fact. But at the end of our journey, I’ll gladly report that yep—it was worth it.
Sure, we had to deal with repeated jet lag (with a 4-year-old, no less), packing and repacking and repacking each time we moved on to our next location, and plenty of general discomforts—sweaty, crowded busses, long waits with a language barrier that kept us from knowing what’s going on, ogling locals (who in Asia were often equipped with cameras, several of us being blonde, young, and cute), and a vague disorientation from relearning cultural norms every few weeks.
But yep, it was worth it. And it taught me plenty about simplicity.
I was daily reminded how little we all actually need to survive and thrive. The five of us each carried a backpack with all of our belongings for the year—little more than a few items of clothing, gadgets for work and school, and a bit of household sundry. Sure, I got bored with my four shirts, but it was a helpful in-my-face reminder of how a sizable portion of the world lives. I’m now back home in the States and have returned to variety. Looking back, I can say living with less was no big deal.
It also solidified my opinion about how few resources we really need to and make a living. My husband and I both work remotely, where we can do our jobs from anywhere—I know we’re in the minority, but it’s the way things are going for more and more people, which is fantastic; people need more autonomy and authority in their work, even if they’re traditionally employed.
And even though I was continually concerned this past year that our kids weren’t learning enough, they reminded me in the most unexpected ways that they were doing just fine. I remember editing one of my daughter’s writing assignments (she frequently wrote on our family’s travel blog for her schoolwork), and I was impressed with how little she needed to edit.
“Honey,” I said to her, “how did you get this concept of possessive versus contractions and when to use an apostrophe? And when to use a semicolon versus a comma? Lots of grownups have trouble with that.”
She replied rather pragmatically, “I read books all the time. I just figured it out.” It’s true—she spent a good chunk of her free time last year lost in a book, short of anything else to do. I think our kids got a fantastic education with little more than books, a map, and their feet.
Of course, it helped that their field trips included things like the Great Wall of China, the Terracotta Warriors, an elephant nature reserve, the Great Barrier Reef, the oldest rainforest in the world, the Southern Alps, an African safari, European landmarks, and museums in some of the world’s greatest megacities. That stuff was the best.
I’m grateful for our family’s opportunity to peek at the earth’s many nooks and crannies and that we discovered more about her, together. The short-term inconveniences paled in comparison to the lifelong dividends of family bonding, widened eyes, and a deeper appreciation for our smallness in the great, big world.
It’s worth it. And here’s the thing—our trip smacked me square in the face with this simple truth: you don’t need to leave very far from home to become a lifelong explorer. It all has to do with perspective.
ACTIVITIES & QUESTIONS
1. Does the idea of traveling around the world appeal to you? From the challenges Tsh listed above, which do you think would be the most difficult for your family?
2. Could you live with just a backpack worth of stuff? What would be the hardest things for you to give up?