When our slow travel family set out for the green mountains of Costa Rica to begin life as what we now call WorldTowning, we had no idea what we were in for. Honestly, no idea! We had worked our butts off for 12 months, we were exhausted, Will was jobless, and we were in need of some deep family connection time. We thought we would land in Costa Rica, wake to chirping birds, monkeys, and great coffee. All of that did happen, but we were unprepared for the “things” no one told us about. We didn’t know what we didn’t know.
We struggled on many levels. We have been very open about this in our discussions with people. The truth is, I have mentored very few folks who had a nice, seamless transition to their new adventure. And that’s ok. When you embark in this life, you are biting off a whole new “normal.” There is no failure in stepping out of the status quo in order to live your passion-driven and authentic life – even if there are struggles. Remember that, always. Stepping out means you are fearless, utterly fearless.
So, what do we wish we knew before we launched into this lifestyle?
What They Don’t Tell You About Slow Travel
Every family member processes a move differently
Even though we are solidly into this journey with almost three years under our belt, we still process moves differently. It is less intense than it was three years ago, and we understand more what each person experiences, having gone through it. But even now, change sometimes takes us a day or two. When we moved to France just six months ago, both kids walked into our apartment and said, “I hate it here. I want to go back to Ecuador.” No joke.
It was late, we had been traveling all day, and it was dark and a bit creepy in our apartment. Unlike other airbnbs at which we had stayed, it was not welcoming. No one had left us a baguette or a light on. It was depressing. Will and I could see potential, but that first night was awful. Luckily, the kids fell asleep quickly. When they woke to breakfast on the patio overlooking the pool they recanted their previous statement and proclaimed, “Maybe we should stay here!”
But back in the beginning, when we moved to Costa Rica, I had a hard time managing everyone’s emotions while they processed our move. I have worked from home for the past 13 years. I was the primary emotion-healer in our family, and I was good at it. But now, I had three sets of emotions to deal with simultaneously (four if I included myself). Everyone processes a move differently, at different times, and it can become a bit of a rollercoaster. One day, everyone is fine. The next, two out of four are crying because the bread is dry.
In our experience, the kids had the easiest transition initially in Costa Rica. Will and I were a different story. For the first time in his life (with me), Will was unemployed. We had money saved, but he is just not the type of guy that does well with idle time. He was panicking about money 24-7, which made it very difficult for me to focus on the kids. Frankly, I had no sympathy for him. I had to put the kids first, and there was only one of me. Even though they transitioned remarkably well, they still had some hurdles. And then, on a personal level, I was having some adjustments. Like I said, I was used to working from home. Now I had two other people home all day and we all worked differently. As I was WorldSchooling Avalon, I needed to complete my graphic design work each day. I was overwhelmed, to say the least, which left no time or energy to help Will work through his challenges.
There is a happy ending, though. Will and I had a lot of long, late-night talks about how we were each processing the move, and together, we were able to weather the storm.
As for the kids, well, they were easy. When they were having a hard time processing a situation or a feeling, we would work to identify the emotion and the why behind it. Then, we would talk it out. Kids often transition better than adults in many situations. They need very little, and, if you take the time to talk with them and work through it, most problems can be solved.
In all the emotional drama, Will and I never once doubted our choice to move to Costa Rica, but we did have an almost unbearable transition. There were tears – a lot of tears. One day I hope to see Will release a video about those realities. For now, he hesitates, because it could be incredibly depressing.
Like I said, emotions are high, and until it all evens out, you don’t know what each day will look like.
Slow travel does not let you escape responsibility or problems
People reach out to me all the time wanting to escape. Wanting change is good, but wanting to escape problems is not a reality. The problems follow you. More than that, from our personal experience, the responsibilities and problems people seek to escape are often more pronounced during travel. Even if the amount of responsibility a person has shrinks, the responsibilities left can be more intense than before.
This is especially true when you don’t speak the language. Simple everyday tasks, like needing to use public transportation, or learning to revolve your day around local customs, adds to the stress. I cannot speak for all families, but for us, the number of errands we run has decreased while our daily responsibilities have increased.
We now WorldSchool our children, so their education is mostly left up to us. This involves gathering resources, ordering books, and registering for classes. We are self-employed, so all tech-related items are also up to us. This can often be challenging in a country where the systems are unfamiliar. And then we have some items we still need to manage back in the U.S. As much as we would like to fancy ourselves as models for the Tim Ferris 4-hour work week, we are not. We must balance parenting, education, responsibilities, and our business within the course of our day. It is not easy, but it is worth it.
The best advice I give to would-be WorldTowners is try to resolve problems before you take off. Identify what they are and discuss them until you have come to a resolution. Most problems can be handled when you are aware and keen on fixing them. As for responsibility, it is just necessary to realize that life means responsibility. Travel life, even when traveling slowly, is not different. If you want it bad enough, the responsibilities will pale in comparison to what you get out of it. And then, know that problems will arise once you arrive.
Go into this strong and realistic, that is the best advice.
Some family and friends won’t be happy for you
This is probably the hardest one to manage. Some of you will leave with tons of support; some of you will leave by way of a cold shoulder from friends and family; and others will encounter those adamantly opposed to your decision. These varying levels of support, or lack thereof, will change as your journey continues. After all these years into this journey, we have heard just about every version of criticism or encouragement. Leaving family and friends is the hardest part of this lifestyle choice (hands down). But what is even harder, is when you realize you lack support from the people you are closest to and love most in your life.
Some of you will have amazingly connected relationships with family and friends stateside but will wonder what happened as you are forgotten so quickly after leaving. Some of you will change how you live so drastically that it will no longer be acceptable or comfortable for family and friends. Some of you will keep that amazing support. Your family will visit, your siblings will bring your nieces/nephews, and your friends will send their kids for the summer. And I truly hope you all get the latter.
I can tell you today that this was initially hard for Will and me. We had very few folks vocally oppose our lifestyle (we were very lucky). Frankly though, the lack of acknowledgement for what we were doing and the “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” attitude was much more painful than a family member or friend vocally disagreeing with our choice. Silence is powerful and hurtful.
If you are embarking on this journey, you have sacrificed it all, taken a huge risk, and fought fears. You are possibly scared to death right now, and more than ever you need the support of family and friends to tell you it will all be ok. Now, as in our case, most will be super supportive. For those who are not, as I was told a long time ago, “Don’t worry about the naysayers or the ones who have chosen to be unsupportive. That is their issue, not yours.” Focus on the folks who are supporting you.
When you defy the status quo, you can find yourself on a liberated high. Not everyone will see or respect your new-found freedom however. And, some will consider it an indirect attack on their life, even though that was never intended. People get angry when you tell them they don’t have to buy into the system. Don’t let their personal issues be projected on your joy and life’s path. You already have enough obstacles ahead, you must surround yourself with people who unconditionally support what you are doing.
Will and I have a whole tribe on our team, and it feels good. Are they the same family and friends who were in our tribe before we left? Some are, some are new additions, and then there are some surprises as well. There are people out there who understand what you are doing and love you. Surround yourself with their support. You are going to need it.
Fears will be magnified initially
All those fears you had before you took flight generally resurface. You are likely tired and stressed and emotions are high. In this environment, your fears sometimes get a spot at the table. Don’t deny those fears. They are clearly in your head for a reason. Address them and move on. By doing so, you kick them away from the table – or even out of the room completely.
Be prepared to deal with the fears of each family member. As you get off the airplane, the familiar has been washed away. Everyone will have something that they fear, because there will be very little you recognize. It is hard to travel all day and then be dropped into a land where nothing is your “old” normal. Depending on where you land, you might not even recognize the food. This creates another whole level of fear.
Take it in stride. You are here. You don’t want to go back now. Embrace the fear, and overcome it.
Fear can be debilitating, but it can also be liberating. Find a way to work through it, and use it as a teaching tool for the other members in your family.
WorldTowning is Slow Travel. And it’s very different from vacationing
Don’t confuse the two. As soon as you start to behave like a vacationer, you are doomed.
There is nothing wrong with vacationers, mind you, but the vacationing mentality is very different from the WorldTowning philosophy. Vacationers consume experiences and then move on. They don’t interact with the locals on a deep level because they are limited on time. WorldTowners see things, get involved, volunteer, connect deeply, and learn. They may stay with locals if the opportunity is available, make friends with the people in a region, eat local fare, and begin to learn the language.
As a WorldTowner, you have the luxury of time. Take advantage of it.
Whatever you do, take advice from vacationers lightly. Although their suggestions often come from a place of kindness, they don’t readily understand that these two ways of maneuvering the globe are very different. Weigh the advice against the understanding that someone’s one-week experience in a country may not be applicable to your 3, 6, 12 month experience.
All the Slow Travel Secrets in One Place
So, there you have it, all the secrets no one shares. Ok, maybe not all the secrets, and I am sure they have probably been shared before, but these are the things we feel are the most important to WorldTowners, potential WorldTowners, and people curious about WorldTowning and traveling slowly. If you identify them, are prepared for them, and put practices in line to handle them, you will do just fine. Knowledge is key to survival in this travel life.
Did any of these secrets surprise you? What is your greatest fear about travel?
Are you the type of person who prefers to watch a video? Well, guess what, we have this in video version. My only request is that you subscribe while you are on our YouTube channel. It would make our day. Merci.
Have a great day.