Coming “Off the Road”

I’ve put off  this announcement for a little while, not knowing what to say, or how to sum up the past few years of our life. Starting in 2011, when Austin accepted his first job offer, we had planned on this nomadic lifestyle of traveling to assigned locales, living in hotels, and experiencing new foods, people and cultures. There is so much that is hard about our lifestyle, but so much that we love about it as well. After three and a half years of being “on the road”, living in hotels for one to six months in eight different countries, we are settling down. Calling it quits. Setting up a home base and living a “normal” life in the Chicago suburbs.

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Beijing, China

The decision to stop traveling was very hard for us. We started traveling to see the world, but also to save money to put us in a better financial position later on. Austin and I both felt that we would have a time when we would be so sick of traveling we would do anything to stop. Well, for us, that hasn’t happened yet. What did happen, though, is Landon, our five-year-old, started asking to stop traveling. He’s very bright and self-aware, but also a very impulsive little boy. My biggest goals for him right now revolve around gaining better social skills. We have not made it easy for him, since he has had very limited opportunities to socialize with other children who speak English. When we’re in Asia, he’s a novelty with his skin and hair color, so kids let him play with their toys. But, he’s at an age where he wants to interact and make up imaginary games with friends, not just play side by side with toys. What makes matters worse is we are never in major cities where there are international schools or large expat groups. He started asking to stop in April, and his behavior became hard to manage as he protested when we couldn’t immediately stop. We explained that finding a stationary job might take a few months, and that seemed to appease him for a while. As the summer wore on, I got increasingly anxious about Landon not being able to start school on time. When we received our assignment to go to Vietnam, and then actually had to go, I threw that hope that he could start on time out the window. We started calling it our “one last hoorah!” assignment. China was good, but being in rural Vietnam with a nice beach 5 km away is a better last assignment, in my opinion.

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Kyoto, Japan

A few weeks into our assignment here, Austin accepted an offer for a job at his company’s headquarters, and will still travel 20-30% of the time. We just won’t go with him anymore. He’s excited about new opportunities to learn and get more experience in the business facet of the oil and gas industry. I’m terrified/excited to re-enter normal life, buy a house and a couple cars, sign our kids up for sports, cook and bake with access to every kitchen tool my heart could ever desire, play piano, craft, sew, decorate our house, and get back into my career (part-time) as a pediatric physical therapist. All great things! I should be over the moon excited for this moment, but there is sadness too.

The past few years, my adventurous side has had free reign, while my more organized/planner self has had to take a time out. For many of our assignments, we did not have plane tickets for trans-Pacific flights until 1-3 days before, so we had to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. It was SO CHALLENGING, but kind of fun at the same time. I did not have to worry about any sort of extrinsic schedule, so the boys and I were free to do what we wanted, whenever we wanted. Every morning, wherever we were in the world, I loaded up the stroller with the kids and went for an adventure run or walk. We explored new neighborhoods, had impromptu play dates with local kids, ran down the seaside in Haifa, Israel, took trains all over the Netherlands and off-roaded in the stroller over the coastal mountains in Korea. We inspected new bugs and shells, learned about ocean tides and Buddhism, and thoroughly enjoyed immersing ourselves in new cultures. This experience has been life-changing for me, and has opened up my heart and my mind to so many peoples and cultures. I am so grateful for my experiences, and yet I mourn the loss of whatever experiences we were going to have had we continued traveling. The incredible opportunity this lifestyle has afforded us is not lost on me, and that’s why it’s so hard to leave it behind! Delving into something new is always hard, and it will be difficult to replace the enrichment that we received with this traveling lifestyle. I feel so grateful for our experiences, and blessed to be able to be with my boys 24/7 during their early years over the past 3.5 years.

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Seoul, Korea

Sometime this fall, after we find a house, Landon will start kindergarten. He will start at least one month late, but that’s better than nothing. He is so excited to go back to the Chicago area, see church friends, and have a backyard. He asked his grandparents for BIG trucks that don’t fit in suitcases for his birthday. But, there’s a little sliver of sadness in him as well. He was acting up again, seeming a little over excited and anxious, and when I asked him what’s wrong, he said, “I don’t want to leave Vietnam yet! I want to stay a little longer!” I asked him why, and he said, “Vietnam is just so beautiful!” It is a really beautiful country, full of beautiful people inside and out. There is a big crew here, and we’ve made great friends already in our month-long stay. We’re sad to leave them! He knows what “coming off the road” will mean, but I’m not sure he’s fully grasped what normal life for normal people looks like- to only get on airplanes to see grandparents, or live in the same place for more than a few months, or be able to read all the signs on the street and recognize all the food at the store.

Owen is starting to talk more, and we realized recently that he understands a whole lot more about what’s going on than we thought. I explained to him today that we were packing up and going on an airplane on Saturday, and he repeated, “Airplane!” So although he’s the baby of the family, and doesn’t really get a say in all of this, I think he’s going to love having a backyard and eating all the string cheese his little heart desires. I’m a little sad for him that he will see photos of himself in all of these crazy places, but not actually remember anything from our traveling years!

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Haifa, Israel

Even though we’re going back to start “normal” life, I have so much more to write about places we’ve visited! We are embarking this weekend on our “one last hoorah!” vacation through Southeast Asia, starting in Ho Chi Minh City, then Siem Reap, Cambodia; Phuket, Thailand; and Bangkok before heading back to the U.S. I also must put into writing my love for our travel gear, travel tips by age and so much more!  I also have a few “road highlights” posts planned, mostly to help me work through this transition and all of my emotions surrounding it. These past three and a half years have been a crazy ride, but SO MUCH FUN at the same time. After all of those posts, rest assured, we are going to continue wandering, albeit closer to the Chicagoland area. If you have any travel-related questions, or ideas for future posts that you would like me to write about, leave them in the comments, and thanks for reading!

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