Mostly fine. Cloudy periods. Northwesterlies, with some Gales.
Okay, this is not exactly an accurate New Zealand forecast, but it sounds close to some we have heard, and sounds much like our experience with longterm family travel.
I believe we were well prepared for the ups and downs of traveling as a family. The last few years at our house have been pretty rough. I lost my baby sister to melanoma and almost lost my dad to a surgical mistake. Chris started a new job, and we bought a new house that needed remodeling, and that ended in a legal argument with the contractor who wouldn’t finish the job. Walden became a teenager, and Ella is close on his heels. These experiences don’t always lead to the most harmonious household. We had no fantasies that all our struggles and personal hangups would just magically disappear on our trip. Chris and I knew we would argue at least as much we do at home. We would all four undoubtedly maintain our own annoying individual quirks. Homeschooling would not just miraculously become effortless and the kids forever eager to learn. But these thing were happening anyways, so why not experience a lifetime dream in the process?
Thank God alone, our first weeks in Thailand were actually only exciting and full of new experiences. Even when we were thrown a curve ball, we just laughed and moved on. We had several inside jokes – whether it was the Thai ferry boat conductor screaming “Inside! Inside!” in your ear or the Cambodian border official barking, “Pen! Pen!” when there just wasn’t one anywhere. No one was sick, even though we were trying all kinds of Thai street food. The heat was bearable and cold or lukewarm showers were a blessing sometimes. The kids were growing in confidence and their ability to maneuver in new places. I was shocked that my regular stomach problems, which we understood before leaving were going to present a problem, seemed to be actually a little better. Chris was in his element, Thailand being his pillar of the trip.
Then, we had the motorbike accident. It definitely put a kink in things. Fortunately, after the kids’ initial fear and shock with the experience, they were good and still having a wonderful time without much bickering other than their occasional troll mornings. They helped more and carried more weight. But the typical marriage frustrations were stretched a little further. Add significant pain, immobility, frequent dressing changes needing assistance, poor sleep, and eating vegan by force, and two people who are not always the most compassionate toward each other can start to get a little grumpy. I mean, am I the only one who wanted to kick her snoring husband awake in the middle of the night when you’re 8 months pregnant and can’t get in a comfortable position with sciatica and heartburn?
Still, we kept it together. Elephant Nature Park was a blessing to us, because we were in one place for a week with the basics covered, and the kids deeply involved as volunteers. Then we had a few days at the beach, which involved a lot of sand mixed in wounds and limping long distances due to poor planning, not to mention a lot of heavy backpacks and not a fully functioning crew member. Again though, we still had an awesome day of sea kayaking surrounded by really cool monkeys and the area was breathtaking.
Then, big travel days. They are rough. The day we left the beach, we had to carry our bags to the pier and ride a longtail boat to the main island. Then we rode a packed songthaew (basically the back of a covered pickup truck) for several hours to get to our hotel after we left the beach. Then we had quite a few mosquitoes to annoy us and regardless we had to be up by 5:45 to catch our taxi to the plane. Then, to Kuala Lumpur to spend the rest of the day in the airport. That night our flight was to leave at 11:10.
Now, our first long distance flight was not so bad. We were pleasantly surprised how well we did with jet lag coming to Thailand on EVA Air. But, in efforts to save money, you can’t always schedule the best flights. And, due to unpredictability with travel in second and third world countries, you don’t want to make close connections, which led to this long day in Kuala Lumpur followed by one of the most miserable 12 hour flights on Air Asia we’ve ever had. No food, no water – unless you pay of course. No blankets, no pillows, no entertainment, and itty bitty seats equals no rest for the weary. So we started off New Zealand messed up. We woke up the first morning at 2PM, whoops!
New Zealand has been absolutely amazing, really. The scenery is more breathtaking around every corner. But it is crazy expensive. I mean totally psycho, unimaginably expensive. I’m talking $4NZD (about $3 USD) for a 3-4 oz coke zero with no refills at a restaurant and water isn’t even an option. We payed $86 for hamburgers and french fries and 4 drinks!!! We have bought groceries and cooked at every opportunity, but sometimes it is just not a good option. I can count on one hand how many times we have been out to eat the last 2 weeks, but each time you leave feeling defeated. It has been a hard transition from Thailand, where it actually was cheaper to eat cooked meals in a restaurant or off the street. And everywhere you find guided walks, adventure outfitters, and extreme experiences that cost an absolute fortune; but it seems everyone around you is doing them. Thanks to Grangoo and Grandpa, Hobbiton tickets were a family Christmas gift. Uncle Zach and Aunt Maria bought the kids tickets to ride jet boats. Ella and I skydived today with vouchers from Christmas gifts from Grangoo and Grandpa, Uncle Mark and Aunt Theresa gave us a bunch of NZ dollars for spending money, and Ella bought her t-shirt after skydiving with money from Nanny and Pa. All these experiences have been really awesome. But do you know how much they charge for photos/video of your skydive experience? $140-$255, depending on the package, and almost everyone in our group purchased it!! This place is just not in our league financially. So this has added a new struggle to family dynamics. You don’t feel like you have even an inch of wiggle room here budget wise, which adds a lot of stress.
In addition, planning a budget for an Around the World adventure is very difficult. Determining specific costs is incredibly time consuming and tedious, especially when you want to leave a little spontaneity in your schedule. Trying to get all of this completed before leaving while you’re still living normal life is near impossible. So, in general, we have just tried to save as much money as possible all the time and then balance that as much as possible with trying not to miss once in a lifetime opportunities. We have stayed at least a month ahead on planning, but Europe feels a little less predictable too, which makes us a little uneasy.
So add all this up with a 10 hour hiking day totally in the rain, followed by another 5:30 start morning to make it to the South Island and you have total mutiny. We experienced our first gale. It was rough, a lot of us were ready to go home for a brief moment. But we made it. We survived. We are trying to laugh more and rest more. We are trying to be quiet when we’re “triggered” as the kids say. And a jaw-dropping clear morning at Mueller Hut helped a lot too.
I also want to share some of the wonderful things and hard things we’ve experienced to hopefully give you a smile and a few laughs maybe.
Things I love about long term travel:
- The giggles at night since Walden and Ella always have to sleep in the same room and often share a bed. My heart is full to see them so close again.
- Buying groceries as a family, trying to figure out what we might like that we’ve never tried, and witnessing a full exuberant dance in the aisle when Walden and Ella found a 12 pack of Dr. Pepper for sale.
- Witnessing the kids growing confidence as they realize they are the only kid again on a trek, or climbing a mountain, or skydiving.
- Inside jokes and stories from our experiences, these bring laughter when you need it the most.
- Curling up around the hut table sharing blankets, playing cards, and grinning with the joy of sipping hot chocolate.
- Meeting people from all around the world, excited to see the beauty God has created, and sharing their stories and experiences.
- Not giving a second thought to drinking a milk shake because you are averaging 4-5 hours of walking each day.
Things that are hard about longterm travel:
- We’ve discovered Ella and Dad don’t really care about having a shower, Walden and I really do. Sometimes, this comfort is hard to find. I used to feel like this made me high maintenance and I felt bad about it, but I’m over it. I really think Walden and I were just made that way by God, I know he has been that way ever since he was a toddler.
- Chris is prone to tell you facts based on what he wants you to decide. The kids know this and tend to not trust him. Mom tends to take up for the kids, because unfortunately, she prefers chocolate and a bed too, compared to a hut and a hunk of cheese.
- Alison needs to decide and move forward, Chris likes to research and keep the options open. This can be a problem sometimes.
- We have discovered the kids do better with a planned itinerary, not open options. Walden especially doesn’t like the unknown.
- Ella can be vicious with insults when she is tired and grumpy, and Walden likes to raise his voice and insist he “is not” going to do things when he as at the end of his rope.
Despite all the ups and downs, we are so blessed to be able to be here together, and we would all still say we want to see it through and are having an adventure of a lifetime!
Sending our love home to all our friends and loved ones!