Bonjour friends. This post was written for those of you currently in the trenches of the early travel-life transition (you know who you are) and for those of you now embarking on a travel life. You need to know the truth about what lies ahead of you. Don’t worry, you’ll come out alive. When you are fully transitioned, please do a brutally honest post of your own about the transition period. We need to help prepare those venturing into this lifestyle, so they no longer think it’s something they did that’s making the transition so difficult.
The travel-life transition just plain sucks. There is no nice way to put it, period. Since we are a travel family now, with a bit of experience under our belts, I feel comfortable shouting this from the rooftops. It’s not just us. It happens often to many families embarking on a travel life. I am contacted four to five times a month, on average, by families who have just moved to a new country and are struggling. Their first question always is, “Will it get better?” Yes, absolutely! I promise and other traveling families would back me up. It will become magical, beautiful, and everything you dreamed it would be. But, you’re going to have to hang out in purgatory for a bit. Now, if you’re one of those families that transitioned remarkably well, and you completely disagree with the above statement, congrats! You’re one of the lucky ones. And, yes, I’m green with envy.
When I refer to the travel life transition (for the sake of this post), I’m specifically talking about those families that are trying to make a complete lifestyle change for the long term. I am not talking about a family that decides to take a year to travel the world, and then returns to their previous life. I know, for a fact, that many of these families go through transitions as well, but they are very different from those who need to figure out how to operate their lives in other countries for many years to come.
I understand that for some families the transition period is pretty short (one month or so), and for others it can take months. It took us a good six to eight months to feel like we had our feet under us, and we could stop to breathe. Our life has been filled with transitions, and we were confident this would work itself out, as well. But, in the meantime, we felt like we were dying a slow painful death in our daily struggle.
I truly believe that sometimes you just have to “do the time.” That said, I am still prepared to offer some suggestions today that might help those of you in the midst of the travel life transition or on the path to a travel lifestyle.
BE PREPARED THAT IT WILL MOST LIKELY SUCK IN THE BEGINNING
There is no nice way to put this. Go into it with your eyes wide open. I know it’s hard to think about how it may suck. You’ve sold the house and all of your belongings, quit your secure career, prepared the kids and fantasized about flying off to this magical dreamland. You will finally be free of an externally motivated society, free of reality TV, free of gossip, and full of culture, new experiences, and freedom. It will be all of this eventually, but it may take time to get to that point. As strange as it sounds, go into it thinking the worst and hoping you will be one of the few who transitions seamlessly. Fingers crossed for you.
REACH OUT TO TRAVEL FAMILIES FOR ADVICE
Do this before, during and after your transition. This is where we failed miserably, and, quite frankly, where the travel community failed us. We had all kinds of great advice from travelers regarding the lifestyle, but no one said anything about the transition. There is very little written about the travel life transition on blogs, travel forums and FB. I’m not quite sure why, but my guess would be that none of us want to admit failure. You have not failed when you are in transition mode. It is easy to think you might have failed, however, because you are unaware of the future outcome. It’ll be positive, I promise.
When you reach out to other traveling families, ask them to be brutally honest about their transition. Every family is different, and the experience will yield varying results, but education is key. Know what you are getting into and how to deal with it once you in the thick of it. Traveling families will share if you ask them for their honest opinion about transitioning.
DON’T TAKE ON TOO MUCH AT ONCE
Another epic fail on our behalf. We did the usual… sold everything, prepared our online bank accounts, prepared the kids, learned about our future country of residence, etc. But, we also started a business, started worldschooling and started learning a new language when we moved. We definitely took on too much. I wish we had done it differently, but the circumstances of our life did not allow for that. My advice for you is to try to figure out a way to take on less when you move to a new country. There will already be so many transitions, from everything about the new land, to language and family emotions. You don’t need to add more to the pot. Set yourself up for success, as much as possible, because there will always be bumps in the road that you never expected. Make as much room as possible for those.
FORGET ABOUT HOW YOU THOUGHT IT WOULD BE
I thought we would be living in the jungle with monkeys visiting us on our porch while we drank Costa Rican coffee and lounged in the hammock. Ha! Our life could not have been any more the opposite. You can find this life in Costa Rica, for sure, but our choice to continue the French education path for Largo for two more years left us with few ways to pursue the life I had in my head. We wanted to be close to his school, which meant we would need to live in suburbia. If you know me well, you know I don’t do well in suburbia. I had to change the vision in my head and embrace what we had in front of us.
Think about your reason for wanting this travel lifestyle. Consider your goals as a family. If something does not align with the vision in your head, go back to your goals for clarification. If that vision does not work with your goals then remove it. Move on. Sometimes, the idea we create in our heads is not one that we should entertain anyway. Go into your new travel life with an open mind and no visions of what it should look like. Easier said than done. I get it. But, it may help your travel-life transition, if you do.
GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK
Look at what you’ve already done! You sold a house, quit a secure job, took a huge risk with your offspring, and now you’re venturing to a new land to live a travel life. Few people do this. You are fearless, and your children will benefit from your choices more than you can ever imagine at this point. You will grow close as family, you will prepare your littles for the real world, and, in just a short time, you will realize you have just made the best decision of your life. Then you’ll wonder why you did not do it sooner. You’re an amazing parent for taking the road less traveled, for silencing the naysayers, and for fighting the fear that we all have. You may be in the travel life transition mode, but you’ve done it. You’ve taken the plunge into the unknown. You’ve become the role model your children need, and they will thank you tenfold for this, one day. You did a great job, mama and papa. I’m giving you a virtual high-five now.
FIND YOUR TRIBE & SOCIALIZE
Get working to find your tribe as soon as you make it to your new land. Go online, and connect with anyone and everyone who you think might be like-minded and able to offer some insight. You will be surprised at how eager veteran travelers are to help out the newbie. There will be naysayers in these countries, be prepared, but wipe those people from your mind. I remember a woman in CR saying, “What kind of parent would take a chronically ill child (Avalon before diagnosis) to another country without lining up doctors beforehand?” This was weeks before I moved to Ecuador (without Will), when I was trying to gain doctor referrals in Quito. There is ugly everywhere. You have to block it out and remember that the majority of people are kind. Reach out, and ask people to get together at parks or come over for dinner. Go outside, laugh, socialize and remember why you’re doing this. We were so caught up in surviving that we forgot that part of surviving was to get out of the house more and laugh. Don’t make the same mistakes we made.
GIVE YOUR PARTNER A BREAK
They are struggling as well. The biggest mistake Will and I made was not understanding that we each had our own set of transition issues. Be there for each other. You took this plunge together, because you are both believers in a road less traveled. Don’t give up on each other when you need one another most. I’m going to be candid here. Adults only read the next sentence. Have lots of sex. Hey, it sure helps stressful situations.
Nothing helps the travel-life transition more than jumping off a waterfall, white water rafting or horseback riding for so long that you can barely walk the next day. Each country offers its own set of adventures. GET OUT THERE AND DO THEM! Forget about the list of what needs to be done in order to transition, it will always be there afterwards. Take an adventure, regroup as a family, and remember why you are doing all of this. We had our first adventure several weeks after arriving in Costa Rica. My mom came to visit for Largo’s birthday, and we went zip-lining in the Monteverde cloud forest. We felt alive. Our stress was washed away as we zipped above the canopy. It’s that easy, folks. Make time for adventure! It’s why you left your status quo in the first place, right?
I often get asked about how we plan to teach our children teamwork, if they are not involved in organized sports. Ha! Are they kidding? We are our own team. Team Sueiro! And, this life would NOT work if we didn’t operate as a team. We only have each other for a support system, and, each day, we learn more about how to operate as a successful team.
Get the family together, talk about the transition and how everyone is doing. Talk about how each and every person in the family can play a role in making the transition smoother. If you are from the US (like us), I’m going to guess your life was over-scheduled before this big plunge and there was little opportunity for family teamwork. Start now! There will be a transition. Period. With this, as well, but once you are functioning as a team, everything will fall into place much quicker. Don’t be afraid to give those kids big responsibilities, either. They can handle it, and the responsibility will boost their self-esteem.
Yes, breathe. You did it! Breathe. Go for a walk to reflect on how much you have accomplished. And, then have a glass of fine wine!
I truly hope this has helped those of you who are currently struggling with the travel life transition. Please feel free to reach out to me if you want a pep talk or just want to vent. I’ve been there, trust me. I can honestly tell you that it took us about three to four weeks to transition to Quito. That was nothing as dramatic as the Costa Rica transition and I still did it while the hot Latino was in Hong Kong. I am not Super Woman. It just gets easier, I promise.