What I Have Learnt From the RTW With a Toddler

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Ten sleeps in our own beds after we finished our round-the-world trip, I attempted to list some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learnt over the trip and that are equally important back in ‘real life’.

1) It’s possible … unless you’ve decided it’s not.

When we just started to think about the idea of travelling with our two-year-old daughter around the world, including to some of the least developed lands on the planet, we were scared by our thoughts too. Not to mention the effects to the grandparents. Now we’ve completed the trip and are back home sound and safe, I can assure everyone that it’s entirely possible.

280 days. 12 countries. 3 continents. 64 beds. 18 flights, countless buses and boat rides. These are statistics that could look terrifying, especially counting a terrible-two in the picture. But forgetting statistics, it’s as simple as 3 meals a day, a bed (or two) to sleep at night, and a lot of discovery in the between. The world is so much smaller than how it could feel like, although in another way much more grandeur than how it could feel like.

Dream is the most dangerous thing, and also the most magic thing. A few times we met young couples on the road travelling around the world because ‘everyone is telling us to get this done before we settle and have kids’, who then said ‘ok, it’s inspiring to see people are travelling with young children’. I consider this as the best compliment we could get.

2) Limits are there … to be pushed.

Before we started, we had no idea how long a bus ride was too long a bus ride for Nina and for us. The first bus we took lasted two hours and that was some of the longest two hours in my life, with a toddler jumping up and down and all over the place. Then circumstances came when we had to take a 3-hour bus a week later. Surprisingly it got better. Then 4 hours went ok. I thought we hit our limit when we survived a 6-hour journey in a crowded, old, non-air-conditioned school-style bus along one of the most bumpy and the least travelled roads in Bolivian mountains. Surprisingly Nina claimed she wanted more! And she got it. Some time later, we boarded an overnight bus in Colombia. 16 hours. Who would have thought we could go that far, and still be here to write about it!

The reward was some of the most stunning landscape I’ve ever seen in my life, in places I would never have thought to bring a toddler with me to. And also the confidence that the further we push the limit, the bigger the comfort zone becomes.

3) Less is more.

We left home with 2 check-in luggage (one suitcase, one 60L backpack), 2 hand luggage (two day bags), and 1 pram. It was hard to decide what to pack, trust me. At the end I packed 3 t-shirts, 3 long-sleep shirts, 1 jacket, 3 pairs of pants, 1 skirt, 2 pairs of shoes, 1 pair of thong (flip flop for my non-Aussie friends), some underwear and socks. I packed the most versatile, lightest, easiest-to-dry type of clothing that I had.

I survived. Yes of course I could do with a fancier dress for that dinner in the New York restaurant. Yes of course we had some difficulties. But never once the difficulty was related to the lack of possessions we had.

We once took a mini bus in a small border town between Argentina and Bolivia. All our luggage had to go onto the bus roof except the day bags because there was not enough room up there. Inside the bus it was so small and so crowded that my legs didn’t move during the 2 hours trip and I still had to find room for the day bags. Another time, we had to drag all our luggage along a dirt road to catch a border-crossing boat between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, while Nina didn’t want to walk and refused to go into the pram. That road seemed going on infinitely. At times like that, I wished we could bring even less things with us.

It’s hard, I admit, not to be able to possess some of the most insanely beautiful crafts and souvenirs we saw during the trip, esp in South America. Just thinking about their markets made me drool. But we had strict rules of not buying anything unless if one existing thing went. We sticked to it. Come to think of it, we bought perhaps 5 local craft items, and only 1 of them is purely decorative (I negotiated HARD with Nicolas on that one) and all others were useful in daily life.

Now that we came back to the comfort of home in Sydney, we started to unpack all our worldly possessions. I realized that half of my wardrobe could be gone, without me even realizing they were not there anymore. Books that I won’t read again could go too. Before we left we always complained we didn’t have enough storage space, but now we got rid of a cabinet altogether, and there were still empty space inside some cabinets. Dare I say that at least half of the possession in an average household was untouched in the last year, or more. Look around, I know most of you will nod.

The less we had, the less we needed to worry about maintaining them, finding space to display them, and storing them. And the more time and energy we could put into things that really matters. Quality of life is not, and should never be, proportional to the amount of possession we have. That’s an important lesson I learnt.

4) Seeing is believing.

The normal reaction to ‘we went to Colombia’ was that ‘are you crazy’ look. I would have had the same look before I knew better. Isn’t it all about drug dealing, gun shots, and kidnapping? I can now say confidently that Colombia was as safe as, if not safer than, any other South America countries. We met some of the most generous people there. I felt in love with a small colonial town called Barichara. It’s a country of rich cultures and wonderful landscapes. Happily for the country – sadly for our bank account – it’s one of the most economically developed and expensive countries to travel in the region. I was grateful that we met people who introduced the country to us, and I was glad that we decided it’s worthwhile to do some research and made the move (we changed our tickets). It turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip.

Sometimes we allowed the little (and often biased) information from the news and lack of knowing take over our imagination. Sometimes, we allowed other’s opinion become our decision. Fortunately, the reality is often different. Do the research, and go find out by yourself.

5) Things always work out in the end.

One of our biggest concerns before we left was whether our house could be rented out while we were away. We were told once and again that 9 months was a weird period to rent, and the market didn’t respond well to a furnished house in our neighbourhood. When we had our farewell party just two days before we left, the house remained on the market. Christmas was approaching and no one was renting during holiday, according to our agent. We prepared ourselves for the worst, even though we felt we did all that we could. Then it all just happened. We were able to hand the keys over to the first group of tenants before we drove off to the airport 2 days later. The house was rented out during the whole duration of our trip and vacated just 10 days before we returned. It worked out in the end.

Travel burn-out hit me, hard, at an unexpected time in an unexpected place. 5 months into our travel, while staying in a lovely hostel with a lush tropical garden and a swimming pool with a pool bar in a resort town of Costa Rica, I felt tired and restless. In a place where most people considered heaven on earth, I dreaded the idea of having to decide, yet one more time, where to go next, which place to stay, which restaurant to go, and which site to visit. The only thing I desired at that particular moment was to getting on with my day without having to make decisions. So we just stayed put for a few extra days. I rested, and my brain too. Then I was ready to go again, with the reignited curiosity and enthusiasm, but a more peaceful mind.

Things always work out in the end, with due efforts. Have faith in it. It’s something that I learnt over and over again, and learnt to remind myself over and over again, especially when going got tough.

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5 responses »

  1. Pingback: ‘Mummy, There’ | Trilingual Family

  2. Congrats on an amazing trip! Kids really are pretty resilient, aren’t they? Most of our traveling with our (nearly two-year-old) son has been trips within Egypt and back to the US to visit family in the summer, but he’s held up very well, and we are looking forward to more!

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