What One Year of Travel Taught Me About Life

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It's been one year since I left home to travel the world with my husband and young son. Since then we've learnt some lessons, had some amazing experiences and made some amazing friends. Life will never be the same again.On an overcast day in May 2014, we said goodbye to my family in Christchurch, New Zealand and boarded our flight for San Francisco. We thought we might be gone for eight months or so. We also thought we would be based primarily in Mexico and Guatemala but we changed plans mid-way and re-routed to Europe where we’ve been since July 2014. This is the longest period of sustained travel I’ve done, previously my record was five months.

Over that time my baby has grown into a little boy. My husband has become a gym-junkie and I’ve attempted to become a better writer. More importantly, we’ve decided we can never go through the awfulness of an Irish goodbye again. Every time we’ve left Ireland before without a return date. 2-3 years would pass between visits. Everyone in the family dreads the day of our departure – it is anything but a happy time.

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Helping Nana with the gardening. Cork, Ireland.

Now that we’ve made the decision to try to chase the summer around the world, spending May to July in Ireland and December to February in New Zealand we can say goodbye to our friends and family and take comfort in knowing it’ll only be a matter of months before we see them again. It’s a huge relief.

Here’s some of the other things I’ve come to realise during our year of travel:

1. I am the very worst version of myself on travel days.

On the day we were packing to move to Spain I called my husband a very, very bad word because he asked me if we should bring a broken adaptor with us to Spain. A broken adaptor is no good to anyone, so of course we would not be bringing it.

He was probably just protecting his arse in case I had some master plan to repair it (I did not). He was just adding to my enormous list of things to think about before we left for the airport. Like how we had tripled our luggage in eight months of buying almost nothing.

I want to tell you that I’m a pro at this travel business but honestly, it never gets easier. I dread travel days. There are almost always tears (some from me, loads from Dylan) and screaming. Part of the reason I love slow travel is because I reduce my exposure to stressful travel days. I also love train travel for that reason. Train travel is one zillion times less stressful than air travel.

Resource: Here’s some very helpful info from Dyanne at TravelnLass to ease the pain of travel days

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Watching Mexico play for a spot in the quarter finals at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Mexico City’s Zocalo was a highlight.

2. I suck at travelling light

We left New Zealand with one 20kg bag. Now we are up to three 20kg bags. On European airlines each bag must be paid for. My penchant for hauling crap around is costing us a lot of money. Admittedly one bag was full of Irish tea bags and nappies which are surprisingly expensive in Spain but that still leaves over 20kg unaccounted for.

Resource: In the future I want to be more like Erin & Simon from Never Ending Voyage. They travel long term with carry on sized luggage!

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Standing Stone in Dingle, Ireland

3. Sometimes travel is not the answer

Travel does not solve all of life’s problems. We took off partly from frustration in dealing with a slow-moving insurance claim on our earthquake damaged house. We are edging closer to a resolution every day, but the frustration has remained. At times the stress of dealing with this problem from afar is overwhelming. It would have been easier to stay home, but then our mental health would have suffered.

Other things travel does not enable:

Toilet training – man oh man have we struggled with this. I’m sure my son will be able to use the toilet sometime before his 5th birthday.

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London + Coffee. Two of my favourite things.

4. People are good

Other than the English dick-head who tried to menace my husband while he was carrying our son to preschool last week here in Spain we have only experienced kindness and empathy everywhere we have travelled. This is why people must travel. It restores faith in humanity. The media don’t often run news stories about kind men holding doors open for a mother struggling with a toddler and bags full of shopping. Or the waiter at the cafe magically producing a lollipop the second before a tantrum erupts. The people on the train that keep your son entertained with peek-a-boo. The millions of smiles, holas, hellos. People are good.

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Crunching autumn leaves. Battersea Park. London, United Kingdom.

5. Time to think is important

I’ve come up with ideas for three passion projects since we departed. I’ve always known I wanted to work for myself but I had no idea how I would pull that off.

Here is the secret – give yourself time to think. I’ll admit I had some help from the blog workshop in Barcelona but I now believe we are capable of anything if we give ourselves the time to generate ideas.

It was during the summer in Ireland that I came up with the slightly mad plan to chase the summer around the world. I’m still figuring out the details of how that’s going to work but having the idea in the first place is the hard part, right?

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Ticking the Eurostar off my bucket list. I still can’t get my head around the fact you can take a train under the sea!

6. I need to do fulfilling work

I like working. I like the structure and having objectives to achieve. Before I had my son I worked up to three jobs at a time. Not just because I like money. I get bored very quickly, I hate sitting around the house.
I don’t think I could say it any better than Mr Money Mustache himself My best days are the ones where I accomplish something truly difficult, preferably in both mental and physical realms. And my worst days are those that I just spend sitting around. So I’ve learned that work is an incredibly powerful source of happiness.

We travel slow. There is a lot of downtime. And with a toddler our evenings mainly consist of Netflix or reading. Using that time to work makes sense. I hate the term ‘digital nomad’ because it sounds wanky and entitled but there is something to be said for a life combining fulfilling work with the freedom to change your surroundings whenever you choose.

Getting to know the locals at Hotel Perico, Chapala, Mexico.
Getting to know the locals at Hotel Perico, Chapala, Mexico.

7. Kids are not a barrier to travel

Dylan has visited nine countries in the last 12 months. He has slept in over twenty different beds. We have not had any sleep problems. Why? We co-sleep. He sleeps fine anywhere as long as he is next to Mummy.

He loves adventures and his most common request is to ‘go out for a little walk’. This kid loves to walk around (well, actually bike around on his balance bike at the moment) and explore. He also likes to stare at ants for a really long time. He says ‘Hola’ to everyone on the street. Including dogs. He’s smart, funny and charming as hell. I’ve yet to meet someone who could resist his gorgeous little smile.

The kid has adapted to travel better than we expected. Please show this post to anyone who says you can’t travel with kids. The only barrier is your attitude.

Resource: If you are considering travelling with kids Christine from Almost Fearless recently wrote this very honest and detailed account of her life travelling with two kids. It’s pretty much bang on.

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The Love Lock Bridge. Paris, France.

I know long term travel isn’t something everyone can achieve and I am very lucky to be able to do this. My savings account is the lowest it’s been in five years. That scares me a little but as a very wise man (once my manager, still a great friend) told me when I admitted I was terrified of leaving my job to have a baby “…you can always make more money but can never make more time”.

I have to admit I’m looking forward to going home and setting the wheels in motion to get our master plan operational by 2016. We’ve had one amazing year of travel and I know I want this to be my permanent lifestyle. At times I’ve wanted to call it quits. But having a whole year to explore the world with my 2 favourite people is an experience I will treasure for the rest of my life. I am truly blessed.

Emma

Emma

Hi, I'm Emma. I set about gaining financial freedom back in 2012 when my son was born. I've been hustling to pay down debt, save money and build online and passive income streams ever since. You can find out more here.

7 thoughts on “What One Year of Travel Taught Me About Life”

  1. We’re about to set out on our 7 week trip through Mexico with our 3 kids (the youngest age 3), so this post gives me a little reassurance that “everything will be okay”.

    We’re not looking forward to the travel days either but tried hard to spread out the long trips and not spend more than 4-6 hours aboard a bus or a plane on any one day.

    • Mexico is perfect with kids. Mexican people love kids and they are super accommodating. They are the kind of people that give you a knowing smile when you child is having a public meltdown!
      Good thinking not spending too long travelling. Our nearly 2 year old handled the 5 hour bus trip from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara pretty well but I wouldn’t want to do any longer than that. Can’t wait to follow your journey, as you can probably tell I love Mexico.

  2. Emma, this post was lovely and honest. It gives me hope that I can travel and still be able to help my family with all the STUFF after my father dies (he’s in a memory care facility now).

    P.S. I’m glad you didn’t title it “7 Things About Travel.”

    • Thanks Beth. I’m sorry to hear about your father. The family stuff is a constant worry, we have been lucky with the health of both sets of parents so far but it’s only a matter of time.

  3. One day I plan to travel for an extended time period. The longest that I’ve traveled was two weeks. You’re 100% right when you say that people are good. I experienced that 1st hand traveling coast to coast from Georgia to California. The people I encountered were the best.

  4. Hello Emma’
    Yes and now I know that I will continue to travel despite coming to Ireland to live in 2015 with the idea that I would never go through the moving routine again. Why? Because there are still too many people out there who have something to teach me about human nature and it is the most wonderful way to learn. I honestly believe that you are more greatly influenced by meeting good humans than seeing the most fantastic scenery. And the sun helps an awful lot!

  5. I love this post! I’m also planning to chase the summer. I left London in April last year and am heading back this June for a couple of months. My future plan is to have a northern summer in London, a southern summer with family in Australia, and the bit in between in Thailand and/or Mexico. Or maybe Colombia. The planet is just so big and awesome it’s tough to decide (but a great problem to have!). Can’t wait to read more of your adventures.

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