There is a certain set of questions that everyone asks when you return from a big trip. "How's the jet-leg?" (answer: terrible). "Is it weird being back?" (answer: more than you know). "What was the highlight" (answer: all of it). It's really nice that some people want to know, and I like talking about it, even if it is the fourth time in the last hour, but if I'm honest these conversations just increase the sense of disconnectedness I have been feeling since coming "home".
For the last 3 months we have been living a different life. Yes, we have been travelling and exploring dream locations, but that is only part of it. We've been operating on a completely different rhythm - no 9-5 job, no social engagements, no kindy or pre-school for Sam, spending almost every waking minute together as a family. It was so strange to go back to work that first day, knowing I wasn't going to see my wife or son for 9 or so hours.
People keep referring to it as a "holiday", and I feel ungrateful when I correct them. It was an incredible journey and I recognise how lucky we were to make it happen, but it didn't feel like a "break" per se. I wasn't working a job, true, but I was still putting in effort every day to keep things moving - navigating, translating, planning, learning, oh, and parenting. We had plenty of fun times, and a bit of down time, but some days were genuinely hard work. Travel days especially were tough - often jumping between multiple countries, juggling different languages in your head, trying to figure out transport, make sure we get the right connections without losing bags or child along the way. It seems churlish to complain, and I'm not really - it's just to say, it wasn't all beersies at lunchtime . . .
In some ways, it's great to be back in New Zealand - seeing close friends and family again, our house is just as amazing as I remember it, and of course everyone knows the pleasure of sliding back into your own bed. It's also a relief to be back in a culture we are familiar with - knowing how to get around, being able to order a meal without using Google Translate, not having to convert every purchase back to your home currency. All of that feels like putting on your favourite hoodie (which, while we're at it, was also nice) - comforting, comfortable, easy.
And yet, I feel out of step. Everyone I speak to talks about our trip as if it was some sort of "break from life", and there's an unspoken (or sometimes spoken) assumption that now we'll get back to normality. The thing is, for us right now, the trip is our normality - commuting to and from work, putting on business attire, un-packing our house, all this feels extremely abnormal to us right now. I suppose some of this will settle in time - after all, we've only been back for a week - but in some ways, I hope it doesn't. I know we need to be back here right now, we need to pay off our debts, we want to spend some time with family, and in some ways we need a breather before we do this again (and we will do this again, I'm not waiting for retirement to live my dreams).
But I don't want to get too comfortable. I don't want to fall back into the same old routine, bumbling along and not appreciating all the life in front of me until some big trauma or loss jolts me out of it. This blog is called You Take Yourself With You, and I guess I'm hoping to take some of the "us" we found while we were away along with us. I want that to be our new normal.
It's funny, because in my small sphere, there has been limited interest in our trip. I guess it's because I didn't have a job to go back to, or rather, one that involves teams of people drudging away on the treadmill of life. Sure, Sam's teachers have all been enthusiastic to see us back, but other than that I've only seen family. Some of them followed our journey daily (I'm a prolific snap-chatter) and didn't need to ask about our trip, but others, of course have lives of their own and while our trip was life-changing for us, to them it's like we never left. And I get it, to hear about people's trips is dull. Especially if it's a place you've never been or if the recent traveler drones on and on and on (we get it already, you went somewhere fabulous & we stayed here, living our normal lives, doing the same old... ah, shut up already).
But for me, coming back to my life and who I was before we left isn't what I wanted to do. My life before we left was an unhappy existence, a cycle of meaningless conversation and pretending for the world that I was coping. And sure, a 3-month trip hasn't just miraculously healed all that. And in many ways I have to accept that, to overcome the disappointment that I'm not magically healed inside & out after escaping life for a bit.
Because for me, that's exactly what we did. Escape life. Because of the multiple challenges of traveling with a 4-year old we had no choice but to live in the moment, and when you're doing that - actually living in the moment - you have no space for anything else. As Nick mentioned, the daily challenges of getting from A to B and just merely communicating with someone who doesn't speak your language was hugely stressful. And hindsight, as they say, is a great thing. Looking back I can see that if rejuvenation was what we needed, then the trip we signed up for would not, could not, provide that. What it did provide though was adventure, distraction, problem-solving, togetherness, wonder and joy. But also extreme stress. The lows were very low. There were arguments, moments of fear, lots of anxiety. It was a challenge, but also an amazing life-changing experience that brought our fractured little team closer together. By the end we found a rhythm where we enjoyed each other's company and gave each other space, limiting our adventures to small outings each day so as not to exhaust us. We learnt from prior mistakes that pushing ourselves too far would result in anxiety, tension and then eventually me either crashing from exhaustion or getting sick. It was not a holiday, but we finally found some peace.
So to find that groove together in the last month of our trip only to come home and have to settle back into another rhythm is hard. I think homecomings are always hard. Anti-climatic. And because I set up an unrealistic expectation of being physically healed and mentally tougher upon our return, I've ended up trying to accept that it is what it is (our life's mantra). Because life doesn't go the way you wanted it to.
I mean, our trip never went to plan. My health didn't improve the way I wanted it to, we had to change plans, navigate minor disasters. Maybe it would have been different if we'd done another kind of trip, I don't know... I would probably still feel this way returning home no matter what we did or where we went. Because home and all the familiar routines just remind me of what I was trying to escape. Now I just need to hold onto the parts of me that I found again, the parts that made me see and enjoy the adventure of life and translate them into my every day normal. Because if I lose that purpose then what was the point?
This is our last post for a while while we're still traveling, so we made it travel-related of course!
When traveling (or, let's face it, even just leaving your house) with a preschooler, any parent will tell you that you need a solid supply of snacks. For us on this trip, that has meant needing to stock up quickly on food supplies in any new location, and so this trip has at times resembled the Grand Supermarket Tour of Europe, experiencing the awe of the aisle across various countries and cultures, trying to suss out what products are available (or not), and desperately trying to figure out whether what you are looking at is yoghurt, creamy spread or cottage cheese (not a mistake you want to make on your child's cereal).
So, having spent countless hours standing in supermarket aisles with Google Translate in hand, we thought we would do you all a service and give you our Top Things to Know about Supermarkets in Europe. You can thank us later.
I'm sure there is more - everyone's shopping habits are so different, we've probably missed stuff that's essential to you. But for now, that's your lot. Hit us up in the comments with your own shopping misadventures!
Traveling for 3 months with a suitcase and pack for two adults and a preschooler. Hmmmmm.... I was skeptical that we could do it. But for the most part we have! We've been savvy with not taking too many clothes (the downside being constant washing) and not taking anything we could buy as we needed along the way. We read lots of 'travel with kids' blogs before we went to get some good ideas about what we needed for Sam, the essentials, but also what not to take. But there are many thing we learnt along the way. So here is our list of essential things we wouldn't do extended travel without again (unless we're going to a hotel/resort somewhere where you don't need to bring anything of course!)
1) A flannel! In Europe these are not a thing. And sometimes wet wipes only go so far. And then there are the nights when you have a tired child who can't stay up long enough for a shower and requires a "sponge bath". A flannel is essential! We have a microfibre one from Kathmandu.
2) A vege peeler. Sounds weird but... if you're in a hotel (or even some apartments don't seem to have these) it means you can prepare healthy snacks like carrot sticks for lunchbox snacks because the choices for healthy kids snacks and meals is always limited when you're traveling.
3) Which brings me to a lunchbox! This has been used every day! We pack snacks for a day out, for a plane or train trip or just even to transport snacks that need a container. We would never travel without this. A drink bottle you can buy (and we've had to when we lost Sam's beloved Arsenal bottle when we arrived off the plane in Paris). But a lunchbox, now that's something worth bringing along with you.
5) A travel knife. We have one of those little coloured knives with a cover. The cover is great for traveling and because it's small it doesn't take up room. We initially had a pocket knife, but we lost that in the first 2 weeks, and actually, this knife has been better. We use it for chopping vege sticks, lemon for drinks etc.
6) Headphones - for everyone. Sam is actually on his 3rd pair of headphones. We lost a cover off one side on the plane ride from Singapore to London, which made the first week or so until we bought some at a service station in England a bit tricky. Those headphones lasted until Iceland when Sam used them as a toy to have the cats chase and then they ceased to emit sound. At Keflavik airport we acquired his latest (and hopefully last!) pair which came with bonus stickers for him to decorate the headphones. Anyway, why are these important? Any trip we've been on, some kind of distraction has been a godsend, when you're on a long train ride, or you when just need two minutes to actually think. An audio book, a playlist of favourite songs, an ipad game, a movie - none of these sounds need to be heard by the rest of the world. And similarly, headphones for us have meant we can watch something together when Sam is asleep in the room with us, or together on a plane. And of course, for zoning out by ourselves when needed.
7) Rain jackets. Well that's just a "duh" one. These are worth the room they take up to travel with them in a day pack. They can also be handy to cover bags when waiting for public transport in a downpour. And also good as a windbreaker if you forgot a jumper but remembered your jacket was still shoved in the bottom of the day pack.
8) Day pack! Again, "duh". Why wouldn't you want something you can wear on your back to carry all your essentials and often to carry groceries?
9) Packing cubes. These are amazing and a tip we got from one of the travel bloggers, I forget which, because everyone who travels for a length of time swears by them. We have a different colour for each person which means packing & unpacking is easy. And the different sizes of cubes / pouches mean you can have one for smalls, one for jumpers & pants etc. We have one for toys, one for medication and so forth. In fact, there are no loose items in our pack & suitcase, everything is in a bag or cube. It means we always know where things are.
10) Travel washing line. These have come in handy soooo many times. In hotels when you hand wash items and even in some apartments where they have a washing machine but no rack (why? And what do other people do to dry their clothes?). Ours is from Kathmandu and we got it for our first Europe adventure 10 years ago and it's great to put it to use again!
11) Good shoes. Obviously. You do a lot of walking when you travel and comfort is essential! Sam was lucky enough to be gifted a great pair of velcro water proof half-boots from Future Feet by his grandparents before we left. And both Nick and I have enjoyed our All Birds. The benefit of these is comfort, all weather breathability and the ability to machine wash them! You can also wear them without socks without stinking them up, which is super handy when you're running low on washing.
12) Smartphone (+ local SIM card, + battery pack). We use Google Maps all the time. So without access to the web life wouldn't be as easy. And we know that there are those who love a good ol' fashioned map, but we now rely so heavily on the internet as our source of information, including public transport info, which Google has been super-reliable with across multiple countries. So without a phone, life wouldn't have been as easy. We both got SIM cards in England that have roaming through Europe at the same local rates. We opted for bigger data plans and we top up each month for about 20 pounds. So worth it.
13) Sewing kit. This is just one of those freebies you get from a hotel, but I have used it to mend things a couple of times now (including when my one pair of togs broke a clasp - having to buy a new pair would have been a pain but it was easy to fix!)
14) Manicure set. Ok, so not everyone would agree here - but 3 months of nail growth... nah, you need to hack those babies back.
15) First Aid Kit. Well again, "duh". Especially with us being so accident prone. But this kit meant that when Nick needed stitches ... no, I didn't do them... but I did have the means to change the dressings & remove them without us having to find another medical centre.
16) Semi-formal shorts. So, Nick has found that shorts are the best thing for him when traveling because he's normally the pack-horse & gets really hot. But some places sports shorts just don't cut it, especially stained ones you've been wearing for days, so this is his biggest "I wish I had packed..." item.
17) Cooler pack. Nick decided we needed this in week 1 or 2 of our adventure, so it's been with us a while. We bought a small foldable one from Marks & Spencer and it has been so handy! I was skeptical, I'll admit. But it's held snacks, ice for drinks, cold drinks on the beach... and once folded flat it doesn't take up much space.
18) Duct tape. Soooo many times the duct tape has come out. Minor repairs on things, holding up a makeshift blackout curtain, temporarily fixing our dodgy shore power cable on the canal boat. Nick's broken glasses are currently held together with it. Duct tape, 'nuff said.
19) Travel credit card. This has been awesome too. We have one that you load different currencies on so you tap & go just like a credit card but without the conversion fee each time. We use Loaded for Travel by Kiwibank, but most banks have an option available. We were told to expect a 70% success rate using it in Europe - in reality it has only us failed twice in 3 months and one of those turned out to be a connection problem with the vendor anyway. Yes, you still need cash some places, but this has been used every day. Because you're pre-loading currency, it's also a handy way to track and manage what you're spending.
20) Reusable shopping bag. This is one of those ones that folds up to a small square. It's in my hand bag & I pull it out for groceries or purchases all the time. Definitely one of my best savvy packing ideas (thanks to Past Annamarie for your foresight).
So there it is, the 20 things that have been most useful to us. You're welcome x
We are a family of 3. This blog is the story of how we almost became 4, why we didn’t, and what we are doing to recover from that experience.