This is my birthday week, when I get reflective about the past twelve months. Since this past year was mostly spent backpacking around the world with my family, it’s no small feat to break down the year’s highlights, challenges, and biggest life lessons.
I wrote a list of things last year, on my 37th birthday, so I’m doing it again, to celebrate turning 38.
I want to celebrate gratitude for another year of life by recognizing wisdom gathered in the ins and outs of life. This year, that just so happens to mean life lessons gathered from street markets, crowded bus stops, and leading my kids through airports and train stations.
1. I really don’t need much stuff.
You probably knew I was going to say this one, but I’ll say it anyway. Since we’ve been back, slowly unpacking boxes in our temporary rental home, we’ve been tossing stuff left and right. It’s a privilege to put things away for a long year, then unearth them and re-ask whether those things are necessary.
It’s reacquainting yourself with a life you once lived, and asking whether that’s still a life for you.
We honestly didn’t have a lot to begin with, and we got rid of even more before we boarded the plane. But now that we’re back, we’re getting rid of even more—box after box of stuff. We lived out of backpacks for a year, and it was glorious. I promise you, we never felt deprived—the kids collectively had about three toys, Kindles and laptops served as our entertainment (and work) portals, and everyone had just a few shirts and bottoms we mixed-and-matched all year.
Now that we’re back, I never want to fill our home with things “just because.” They really have to pass the test for us.
2. There are lots of ways to live life.
In Thailand, we met a fellow American family traveling to every continent (yep, including Antarctica!) by going back and forth from their home in New Mexico to a new locale every few months. They’d take a week or two in their home to refresh and recharge, repack their bags, then head to a new continent.
I found it a rather quirky way to do a round-the-world trip until they shared the details of how it worked, and why it was a better choice for their personalities and work obligations. I understood the logic then.
We continued meeting both traveling families and long-term expats, living unconventionally in myriad ways—from backpacking to RVing, to finding jobs a year at a time in different spots. It was a good reminder that, just like long-term travel and location-independent living, there are a million ways to live.
For some of us, it’s good to work for ourselves and set our own schedules. Other people thrive in a team environment with a supervisor and clear-cut expectations. Some families are at their best because they pour in to their neighborhood public school, while others flourish in homeschooling. And still others take all this a year at a time, deciding what’s best for the whole family and its members within particular seasons (that’s us).
It’s beautiful that we’re all different, and that there’s no one right way to live life. This is why I love the definition of simple living as living holistically with your life’s purpose. It’s not a master set of do’s and don’ts.
Each of us is meant to live according to our inner craftsmanship, with all its many pieces placed just so, where they’re meant to be.
3. Family is the greatest influence on kids.
You’ve guessed correctly—we had a LOT of family time this past year. We only had a handful of days when we weren’t together literally 24/7, and on the whole, it went well.
(And yes, we were more than thrilled to re-enter the land of grandparents when we returned.)
But even when we’re not together nonstop, family really is the most influential thing in a child’s life—no matter where they do a chunk of their daytime learning. Even when a kid goes to a traditional school, home is where their heart, their compass, their magnetic center rests. It’s where they learn who they are.
So long as we parents cultivate that, the rest are mostly details.
4. Space is a good thing.
Because of that 24/7 experience, I also learned that space is a grand and glorious thing. We housesat for a friend and spread out in a normal (meaning, not a guesthouse) house for five weeks in the Sydney area during the holidays. There was a bonafide kitchen, a real backyard, and enough rooms for everyone to have their own corner of quiet.
And the kids simply got along so. much. better.
Ever since that setup, we celebrated any moment when we had more than a two-bedroom apartment. And it confirmed to us that while I’m a big believer in small living in all its facets (meaning, not just in the square footage of your dwelling), a little personal space is also really, really good. And helpful. And healthy.
5. Life’s too short to worry about doing things the “right” way.
One of the more popular responses from people about our year of travel is some form of, “That sounds so amazing! I wish we could do something like that.”
And my response, which I only occasionally share outwardly is, “You can! Start making a plan so that it’ll really happen.”
We’re not anything special. Okay, so we can take our work with us and we were already used to homeschooling. But that doesn’t make us unusual by today’s standards—there are a thousand different ways to do work, school, and life. For some folks, it feels right to follow a more traditional route with life, and that’s great. I admire that, in fact, when they’re being true to themselves.
But for those of us who feel the itch to live life a bit less mainstream, it’s wasted energy to worry what others will think of our choices or to focus only on the risks instead of the beautiful, worth-it benefits.
Whatever “it” is—from starting a business doing something you love, to moving somewhere that’s a better fit for your family, to joining a new-to-you church, to strapping on backpacks and hitting the road—as long as it’s responsible, it’s worth it.
Pay attention to details, yes, and rightly consider your family’s needs and obligations. But if you can still do those things AND fulfill a dream, well…. Isn’t it worth it? I think so.
I’m grateful for my 37th year, spent with my worldly goods on my back, passport in hand as a portal to unparalleled education, and my four favorite people as constant compadres. I’m now looking forward to my 38th year because it’ll be more quiet and conventional. There are seasons for everything, and I’m glad to be in one that looks more like roots than wings.
But I don’t doubt we’ll be dusting off our feathers soon enough.
p.s. – Also, remember your Why.