Written by Charity Hawkins, author of The Homeschool Experiment: A Novel.
This past spring our family embarked upon a trip that had always been a dream of mine. We spent a week in the Washington D.C. area, four weeks in the United Kingdom, and ten days in France. It was a huge challenge and adventure.
The scariest part for me was that for three weeks in the U.K. I was with our three children, ages 10, 8, and 5, on my own. Driving on the left side of the road. With the car making weird sounds at me.
“Mommy screamed a lot,” is how my kids describe my driving. My husband met us in Bath for the rest of the trip.
Here are my life-changing takeaways:
Home is pretty great.
Yes, travel sounds exotic, but we’re still the same people. We still grumble and complain and get stressed out, and travel only means there are more opportunities for meltdowns. The trip was wonderful, but it certainly wasn’t relaxing.
I had this revelation while walking around York after a fight with my husband. Marriage is still hard; parenting is still hard.
So while we learned so much, and I would do it again in a heartbeat, I realized—traveling the world won’t make us any happier.
At home we know how the washing machine works, we speak the language, and we can slow down and create those “vacations” right into our days and weeks if we make the time.
So don’t be fooled into thinking a trip is what you need for a break! Today my daughter had the brilliant idea to have a Jammy Day and stay in our p.j.’s until after lunch. It was a perfect mini-vacation.
New Experiences Are All Around.
I realized many of the things we did on the trip we could do closer to home. The key was mindset. I had the mindset of doing new and interesting things and getting out of our comfort zone.
In France I was willing to go into a boulangerie and do my best to order a gluten-free macaroon with halting French and a smile, and everyone was so gracious and helpful.
Here in Oklahoma, though, I can go to a Mexican restaurant and have a lovely bilingual experience trying to order my meal with my meager Spanish and a smile. I just have to be willing to get out of my comfort zone and risk making a fool of myself.
Since our return we have had amazing learning opportunities— shaping glass at a glass store, goat roping at a fall festival, attending a Monet exhibit at a local museum, and weaving baskets with Cherokee artists.
I’ve been more open to the learning experiences in our hometown.
Life is simpler with only two pairs of pants.
I had all my clothes in a backpack, so each day I only had to decide which pair of pants to wear and which one of my six T-shirts was clean. I wore the same earrings the whole trip. Realizing how much simpler life is with less has totally changed my approach to what I keep in our home.
I’ve gotten rid of carloads of junk we don’t use or rarely use, because I’ve realized how much simpler life is with less.
The kids are pretty happy with two or three toys.
We took no toys with us, but quickly accumulated markers, Legos, sticks from Hyde Park, and a remote-control car that can drive on walls. The kids really only needed one toy at a time and maybe a book (often found where we stayed).
We played games, told stories, and looked out the window.
This has made me more willing than ever to limit the toys in our house to a small, manageable amount. The kids rooms stay cleaner and they play better.
And the less time we spend managing our stuff, the more time we have for new experiences and connecting with each other.
It was worth it.
As hard as the trip was, as stressful and long as it felt, it was still amazing. Whether we travel internationally or just explore our neck of the woods, I want our family to have adventures like this again. It’s worth sacrificing other things.
One of our children was less than thrilled about the trip because this child likes routine and familiarity. Even that child, however, has seen how his horizons have expanded, how he knows about history in a deeper way, how the countries on the map are real places with actual people and orange cats named Max (one of the kids’ highlights).
Focus more on relationships, less on plans and organization.
As much itinerary planning as I did in advance, each day was pretty much decided that morning. What we did depended on the weather, people’s moods, the day of the week, and whether the taxi workers were on strike (they probably were). C’est la vie.
This task-oriented mama had to relax and focus on one day at a time. It was good for me. Sometimes we just chased pigeons in Hyde Park and ate ice-cream in the sun. And that was enough.
I was inspired by our missionary friends in France, seeing how they really focused on relationships—new friends, a hot meal, opening the Bible around the kitchen table. It gave me a yearning to stop trying to do things so perfectly and just be real.
How has travel changed you or your children? Has it changed how you approach learning?
great post! I was just thinking the same thing in regards to how traveling does not make you happier, in fact, it can make me miserable. Every summer we do a family trip, but with money tight this summer we are planning on just staying home. I was really bummed, but when I got to thinking about it, while its nice to go on vacation and we all often feel like we “need one”, whenever we actually get to go away, I often stress out about the lack of routine and find myself uptight and even more stressed out than if we were home. I guess its a balancing act that I must discover for myself as I really don’t want it to keep us from going places, but its certainly something to consider this summer as we stay home. Be grateful either way and make fun of your current environment. Thanks!
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Well put Katie! “Be grateful either way” and yes, so many fun things to do in our current environments. May you have a wonderful summer of adventure AND relaxation in your own backyard. 🙂
Wonderful! We lived overseas for three years in Asia. It was different, of course, because we rented an apartment and stayed, but there was plenty of travel and seeing the world, too. Everything you’ve written about here is so true. And now that we’re back in the States, we see, even more, that adventure-finding and learning are part of a mindset. We can have them anywhere!
Hannah’s latest post: Nothing Is Wasted: On Scrubbing Toilets and Making a Difference
That’s exactly it! It’s a mindset. What fun adventures you’ve had!
This was just what I needed to read, Just as when I found your book The Homeschool Experiment was what I needed then. Are you my fairy godmother ?LOL !
We are a New Zealand family, and are spending 12 months in Canada ( with a few trips to nearby New York, Florida, and hopefully Europe). The whole time of preparation at home i couldn’t wait to get on that plane, and leave New Zealand. I always felt like we were (literally) at the bottom of the world and nothing exciting happened there, it is very costly to travel from way down under. Here we are now In Canada, and you know what, its more of the same, but with a lot of snow and a washing machine I can’t seem to make friends with. We have done some amazing things and I am so glad we are here, but I sure miss the days of knowing who I was and where i fit ( what lane I need to be in to make left hand turn !!!). Where the best bakery is, where to get the best Deal on free range chicken, and most of all who I could pop in to see when I was in need of some support or good coffee. I love your writing, you tell it how it really is. Thank you for writing this.
You’re so sweet! That comment made me smile!
Yes, I tend to dream of how great life would be if we were in exotic locations (like New Zealand! Canada!) but really so much more joy is found in being content whatever my circumstances are! Wherever God has me today.
Yes, the washing machines! The one in our flat in London had buttons with only pictures and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what any of them meant. I put in the clothes and let my 4-year-old push buttons and hoped something vaguely laundry-ish might take place inside. 🙂
I couldn’t agree more! Thank you for putting words to it! Vacation is great and all, but when we just take a week off the regular grind and have some of those adventures we never “seem” to have time for, I’m amazed and how much more fulfilling that is.
Yes, and just sitting outside on the swing listening to the birds is so relaxing! That’s what I think I’ll get on vacation but never seem to.
btw, my husband’s family lived in OK for a few years, and his younger sister called it Okahokum 🙂 I think it’s rather fitting with this post, since we can think of home as “hokum” if we don’t open our eyes to what we’re really looking for.
Okahokum is such a cute name! I love it!
This is so timely for me. Although it wasn’t a big adventure like yours, we spent the last week vacationing in FL at my in-laws. Despite the fun, it was a very tiring week, exposing a lot of our worst behaviors as a family and the actual driving part made my husband and me swear we’d never vacation again!
Our family is all for pj days and that is the best mini-vacation you can get. 🙂
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I think I say the same thing after every trip– we’re never vacationing again! But I always change my mind. 😉 I did enjoy a pj day yesterday afternoon. It was lovely!
Yes, so timely. We are pretty close to home all of the time these days, but so many good reminders. We spent almost 4 months travelling the East Coast of Canada several years ago before returning to our home province and after a week I gave up my illusions and said ‘this is NOT a vacation’ this is now home in a van that is less than 60 sq. feet.
But, yes, God is so gracious and saw us through. Thank you for the reminders….less clothes are better (and then I appreciate and take care of the ones I have better), less toys are better (with less fighting over them), there are so many opportunities that are available close to home and less stuff always means that people matter more.
Now to get back to those piles of things to sort through- thank you for the inspiration I needed to keep going.
Wow, that sounds like an amazing trip, and also, very stressful! But amazing. I want to get to PEI sometime. Have you read The Christmas Pony? It’s set in Nova Scotia in the early 1900s and just a fun Christmas story. I’m with you on less stuff. I do really well at purging, but it just keeps coming in, so I feel like it’s a constant process! Happy sorting at your house. 🙂
I love this post! Traveling with my son as part of our homeschool is a dream of mine. We took our first big trip this past spring from Ohio to the Black Hills in South Dakota to Rocky Mountain National Park (my sister lives near there which was the impetus for the trip) to Devil’s Tower Wyoming and back home again in 2 weeks. My son and I went with another woman and her son. We’d never spent any significant time with them prior to the trip, they were just the ones free enough and adventurous enough to join us. I was 5 weeks pregnant. It was freezing (tent camping in SD in April) tough (rain), a little scary (mountain lions and buffalo in the campsite) and totally awesome. We could not wait to get home. Now we can’t wait to do it again!