This post is for those of you who, like me, just want to know more, who want the small details, the in between, the how. I’ve often read travel stories and when I’m saturated with the beauty and adventure of the lands they’ve discovered, I am left wanting to know more about the people. I want to know why they did it, why they chose that place. I want their whole story, well at least the good bits. So I’m going to try and give you our good bits here. This is our story.
August 2008, at a time that for good reason I cannot be more specific, a round and happy little egg, met its match. Shaun and I had been married for two years, and this kind of thing is to be expected, but we were blindsided. We had moved from Johannesburg to Cape Town the year before and we were very happily living it up in our beautiful new city. Wine tasting on weekends, days spent lying in peaceful oblivion on the white sandy beaches, and evenings out with friends enjoying one of the world’s most charming cities. Then rather abruptly, we were faced with the news of a new little life. It was unexpected, but we were delighted. And then we were overwhelmed by our desire to travel!
In all the years we had been together (six by this stage) we had never had the desire to spend months or years in other countries, either trying to stretch our Rands (South African currency) or earning what ever we could in what ever minimum wage job was allowed for foreigners. Suddenly we felt the need to stretch our legs and gain a little perspective on our lives, and suddenly that was exactly what we couldn’t do.
Shaun and I are not people who take no for an answer very easily, in fact, we are the type of people who will make a plan, we will make it work, we will do what we must. But at this particular juncture in our lives, we knew what the right choice was, and we were in a whole other ball game; should I go natural or C-section, should I bottle or breastfeed, disposable diapers or cloth ones? Life had turned in a very different direction. With this adult like decision on staying put while having our little girl, we made a firm decision to embark on our round the world trip when she turned one!
May 2009 – Lola was born.
July 2010 – Proposed date for travelling the world…
July 2010 – Lincoln was born.
Uh, yes. That happened. As it does in life, particularly ours, our plans were discarded like a used diaper. Out with the old and in with the new, a beautiful bouncing baby boy and a fourteen month old big sister. We had gone from travelling the world to creating our own world in which we were wrung out, sleep deprived, messes of human beings, just trying to make it to another day. Not exactly what we had envisaged, but our cards had been dealt and we played the hand as best we could, always looking forwards and upwards, (when we weren’t crying with our heads in our hands that is) waiting for a time we knew we could drag an active, accident prone little boy and his calm and accommodating big sister on an adventure of a life time.
14 month old Lola meeting her baby brother for the first time.
The truth of it is that for the first two years of having two kids, it was just about survival. Not only had we doubled the size of our family within fourteen months, we also threw buying a new house and starting our own business into the mix. Not something I would ever recommend to anybody, ever. The earth continued to turn however, despite my being stuck in a deluge of diapers and tantrums, and finally we started to see the light. Lola turned four and as Lincoln neared three he became rather more manageable than he had been as a feisty toddler. His tantrums became less and we suddenly thought; this child is capable of sitting in an aeroplane for twelve hours without trying to pull the emergency exit lever because it’s red and shiny and hell, why am I saying that, he never needs a reason to do outrageous things! He tripped over everything, including his own feet, fell backwards down stairs he always knew were there, took nose dives, managed to cut his face open on anything that wasn’t wrapped in cotton wool, but that’s no reason to keep us all home. Why don’t we let him do that somewhere we’ve never been. So the epic planning commenced.
We started by looking at our calendar and finding the only time between big events when we could be away. We had a six-month window, which happened to fall between October and March. What started out as a round the world trip, was quickly modified into something more plausible in the time we had. We decided to pick a continent, or more specifically, we thought about places we would love to go given the weather at that time of year. We didn’t pick the place we wanted to go to the most, or I would have ended up sightseeing Europe in the snow and freezing cold with three less than happy travel companions, and Shaun would have ended up backpacking myself and two kids through South American jungle at its hottest. Thus there were a number of reasons why we chose North America:
1. It was the only place Shaun and I could agree on.
2. We could see incredible cities and awe-inspiring national parks.
3. Depending on how we angled it; both challenging for the kids, but also very kid friendly.
4. I could have a hot beach holiday and Shaun could ski – two essential elements, one continent.
5. It was the only place Shaun and I could agree on!
All the decision making happened in July 2013. With a trip two months away, we launched into the frantic planning. Thanks to Google Maps, Yelp and Trip Advisor, no maps or guide books were necessary, literally folks, my unwavering gratitude! Planning travel in the twenty-first century must be a gentle scotch mist in comparison to our predecessors’ torrential downpour of an event. We literally had to book our flights, and the rest we could have done on the fly, I mean, we kind of did. We booked our only large blocks of accommodation before we left; New York, Mexico and skiing over Christmas, and the rest of the time we played it by ear, staying slightly longer in some places and dodging other places all together in lieu of some wonderful off the beaten track place we heard of from fellow travellers or Americans who have made a habit of exploring their country. I mean we had a plan, we chose our route based on the cities and national parks we wanted to see, but we let ourselves drift off course because this was an adventure after all. Nothing like a bit of deviation to spell “I’m on holiday and I can do what I want to”!
What our final route looked like. 5 months. 24 000km’s.
To fill you in on the hows, I’m going to have to correct that last sentence, it wasn’t exactly a ‘holiday’, ‘adventure’ would be the more accurate word. The background info you need here is that Shaun is an electrical engineer turned software developer. He is a coding genius. With all that genius-ness floating around his head coupled with his greatest desire – to spend more time with his family and actually participate in his children’s everyday lives, he decided he needed to untangle himself from the irritable bowels of money clogged corporates. This was one of the best things we ever did. With less than ideal timing, we managed to pull it off, successfully creating Customised Applications, a company designing and constructing apps for phones and tablets. This is the sole reason we were able to travel for 6 months.
By our working, we would either have had to save up for years in order to afford a trip of this kind, or we would have to take our working on the road with us. Being far less saving savvy than we should be, we knew our only option was to work, so that is exactly what we did.
Shaun. Headphones. Computer. (Mexico)
With careful planning, an uncanny ability to block out the world, and time management skills that I yearn for, Shaun was able to pop on his headphones no matter where we were and disappear into his own world of coding and design. While this worked very well when everything was running smoothly, when the company hit speed bumps and corners (which it was bound to do while we were away), it caused ripples that had serious repercussions on our side. We would be in a new city, with hundreds of things we wanted to see and Shaun would have to put out fires, sometimes not leaving our apartment or hotel for two or three days at a time. Sometimes conducting business calls in the middle of the night, in the bathroom, because we were in a one room hotel and it was below freezing outside. Things certainly weren’t always ideal, and we had days, in fact weeks, where juggling it all was almost too much for us to handle. But somehow we always pulled through, made it through the tough days and onto brighter ones where skiing, sightseeing or exploring America’s extreme backyard made the trip worthwhile again. We were fully aware that without Shaun’s ability to work abroad, a trip of this kind would never have been possible. So we endured the tumultuous waters, and focussed on the days when the sun shone down and the waters were smooth.
With the gift of hindsight, there are many things we could have, should have perhaps, done differently. But half the beauty of our trip was the way in which we did it. We never took no for an answer (well almost never), we pushed ahead when seemingly everything was against us and we learned through sleepless nights and days of tears how sticking to your guns and doing what you yearn to do is possible, not always easy, but worth every glistening tear you shed. Until you realise that it isn’t, and then you know the time has come for you to go home.
Life doesn’t always go the way you planned, there are undoubtedly more obstacles than you anticipate, but there are also joys you don’t anticipate too. Travelling with our children forced us to do things slightly differently, not much, but there were obviously a few things. But by doubling the size of our family, we also doubled the size of our joy; there is nothing as amazing as seeing the world through your children’s innocent, enthusiastic eyes! They pushed us to experience more, as we pushed them as far as their little legs would go. We grew as a family in a way that we could never have at home. Persevering with our travel plans through not just one but two children, didn’t just give us the satisfaction of showing the naysayers we could, it showed us how strong we are, (maybe obstinate is the more appropriate word) and forged roots that can only build our family stronger.