2017 has been a most unusual and extraordinary year for our family. We rang in the year in California’s desert with our favorite people in the world, a welcome weekend getaway from our comfortable but hectic life in Los Angeles. We’ll celebrate the end of the year in Christchurch, New Zealand as a semi-nomadic family with barely any income but having the time of our lives. So in some manner of a virtual holiday card, we’d love to share some reflections with you on the crazy year that had passed and specifically how we’re all doing during our “family gap year”. Looking for more info on our family gap year?
How we’re doing
In a word, great! We’re all loving the family time more than anything. It’s amazing to wake up in the morning and be able to just play with the kids or read together if we want, and to spend our evenings (mostly) enjoying each other’s company without having to rush and get frustrated because there’s a set schedule to keep. We’ve gotten into somewhat of a rhythm and things are flowing smoothly. Obviously we’re having a wonderful time exploring all of the new destinations and trying out new experiences (more highlights on these further down!).
Of course, travel is not without its challenges and adding two little kids into the mix doesn’t make things easier. The same behavior issues that had started to pop up in Los Angeles still pop up in whatever other country, though they feel less frequent and we feel better able to handle them because we’re generally more relaxed. And, FYI, taking your kids to other countries often does not ensure that they’ll be open to eating new foods. Some days they’d rather starve themselves than eat something exotic like a beef empanada or (gasp) cherries. We dealt with this issue extensively back in the US, and travel doesn’t seem to have changed things all that much. But if you ask the kids what their favorite meal has been, they’ll probably say Blue Elephant for Thai food in Auckland. So I have great hope that they’ll actually eat in Thailand! One food related topic that the kids have been really happy about is our willingness to get them fast food. In the US they generally got McDonald’s once per year on a road trip, but overseas they’re averaging more like once per month (thankfully the food seems higher quality).
One pleasant surprise for all of us has been that we generally haven’t felt as homesick as we had feared. We miss our family and friends dearly and spend plenty of time reminiscing and looking at old photos, and of course we definitely missed celebrating some holidays with them. Fortunately, we’ve been able to use technology to keep up with people back home to some degree and that has taken away some of the sting. We’ve taken to using WhatsApp and Messenger to speak with loved ones, and the kids even get to send little movies to their friends. Jacob still misses our wonderful old apartment some days (like today) but fortunately those emotions are not as intense as they were immediately after our departure.
A real bright spot has been Jacob’s kindergarten education. We started working through the Bob Books (thanks to my wonderful sister-in-law!) at my mom’s house in early October and continued with the digital books on the Amazon Fire tablet once we left the US. We marched through each level of the Bob Books and then went on to more substantial level 1 and 2 readers. Over the last two weeks of the year, Jacob’s gone through something of a “reading explosion” – he reads every sign and menu and brochure he can find, and sometimes spontaneously picks up his tablet to try reading some much more complicated books on his own. It’s really exciting to watch him develop a love for reading and to know that we’ve gotten there as a team. He’s also making great strides in math – we mostly use ABC Mouse for math exercises and that’s helpful, but he and I also do some work with pencil and paper so that I can clearly explain some of the techniques I know to be popular in elementary math these days. Our writing goal is for him to journal every day and that just hasn’t happened. Writing is his greatest academic challenge, and thus the one for which he has the least patience and focus. But we’re continuing to press on and hopefully it will “click” soon the same way that reading did. We aren’t using a set curriculum for other subjects, but we learn a lot about native animals by visiting them in their habitats (like monkeys in Panama and penguins in Argentina). In Social Studies, we’ve learned about the cultural norms in other countries (and have even created the Que lindo! game as a result) and we’ve talked about some relevant historical issues (like the dictatorship in Chile and the Maori civilization in New Zealand). Some of the questions he has asked about these weighty issues blow my mind (and sometimes, as you’d expect from a 6yo boy, he doesn’t give a shit).
Shoshana is developing into even more of a comedian than she was before we left the US. We love listening to her speak, whether she’s goofing around, describing something fun that happened last week, or talking about another dog she befriended in some country three months ago. She has never been an especially physical child, having started walking at over 18mo, so it’s been amazing to watch her taking on physical challenges like nature walks, light hiking and even balancing on little rocks in a stream. She’s also working on the age-appropriate activities in ABC Mouse and is starting to learn the alphabet and some numbers. By virtue of having an older sibling for inspiration/competition and a general lack of toys in our luggage, she’s taken to LEGO very nicely and is really diving into imaginative play.
Ronnie and I are both feeling relaxed and happy. After years stuck in the rat race we are loving the relaxed pace of travel life. We play with the kids, we get outside, Ronnie reads interesting books, I write and work on building this little blogging enterprise. We mostly prepare our own meals at home to save money, so Ronnie has become an expert at grocery shopping on multiple continents and he enjoys his peaceful time in the kitchen in the evenings while the kids and I work on some combination of school and blogging. It’s certainly a quieter and simpler life than we led in Los Angeles in many ways and we’re glad for the change.
How’s the travel going?
Our family gap year travel is going great too! It’s a different experience than the standard two and three week trips we’ve done in the past. While there are many places we want to see and experiences we want to have, travel can be exhausting and so we try to pace ourselves. We had some extremely full days in Patagonia thanks to early morning tours (like this amazing one), flights and bus rides and we’ll have a few more coming up here in New Zealand. But for the most part we go the hedonistic and treat it as a slow-and-steady marathon rather than a sprint.
Many people have asked us what our favorite destination has been so far, and in some dinner time polling the clear winner is El Chaltén, Argentina in Patagonia. The runners up are Boquete, Panama and Pucón, Chile. For those who aren’t familiar with those areas, they’re all small towns in mountainous areas. Those quieter places where our family can relax with Mother Nature seem to speak to us, so perhaps it’s a sign for the future – but who knows!
Of course one of the best things about travel is making new friends from all over the world! While I don’t have pictures with all of the amazing people and creatures we’ve met, here’s a sampling of our travel friends so far along our family gap year.
What’s next? We have a few more weeks in New Zealand, and then we’re all extremely excited to head to Australia! We can’t wait to explore all of the wildlife and see friends and family who live there. The kids ask at least a few times per week when we’re flying over.
Family travel statistics for our gap year (since leaving Los Angeles on 2 September):
Places stayed: 33 (5 friends & family, 11 GuesttoGuest, 5 rental apartments, 12 hotels)
Total luggage items: 7
Birthdays celebrated: 2
Synagogues visited: 5
Boat rides: 13 (8 in Panama, 1 in Chile, 3 in Argentina, 2 in New Zealand)
Horseback rides: 2
Beaches visited: 15
Wine tastings: 15
Zippers broken: 4
Clothing torn: 2
Clothing bought: 9 (mostly for me! oops)
Miles driven: SO SO MANY – my best estimate is around 9,000-10,000
Happy New Year from our family to yours!