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?