For this week’s edition of Inside A Traveler’s Walls, please meet the Shaner family! This traveling family or The Shaner Shack (as they affectionately call themselves) embodies fierce courage and an authentic approach to choosing an unconventional life. Also, I am deeply thankful for Stephanie’s straightforward and bold discussion of what it means to travel with Crohn’s disease.
So, if you are disabled, plan and prepare. Chart your path, stock up for emergencies, and modify your plans to accommodate your health and sanity. But STILL MAKE PLANS, and still go. Out the door. You’re stronger than you think.
I first met Stephanie through a client call, just before she made her first visit to Uruguay. I found her frankness and open mind entrancing. She described her beloved home in the states in such a magical way that I was quite shocked to hear that they were selling it, but when the dream calls we WorldTowners answer. Her ability to reevaluate at any given moment and assess what works for the family and individually is rare to see in people, but so beneficial for her off spring. There is so much goodness in this post.
Ok, enough of my chatting, grab your coffee and get comfortable. It’s time to be inspired by this traveling family.
Introduce us to the people you live with?
The Shaner Shack is made up of four crazy souls. Bryan is 42 and is a professional tattoo artist. He chose the work 20 years ago for the art and its portability, and he is never one to sit still. I’m Stephanie, 37, considerably more sloth-like than my husband, with a passion for plant medicine, writing, and keeping alive the two smallest Shaners – Evie and Olin.
Evie is one of the primary reasons we have relocated to Uruguay (even though we know no one and do not speak Spanish. Yet.). She fell in love with the ocean and the village and… the school. She is 6 going on 16, and she is ready to take on the world. She loves crafting, painting, the ocean, and playing dress-up. The language is challenging for her, but she is so determined! There are occasional tears of frustration, but mostly there is just absorption. It is amazing to witness. And we truly have the village here that she needs. She has friends over several times a week, we walk everywhere, she loves school, and she is not particularly discombobulated by all these rentals we are living in as we try to purchase a new home base. When we do travel, she is often the most resilient one – her energy rarely wanes, and while she does enjoy the occasional dramatic flare – she is usually a very balanced, vibrant kid.
Olin is 4 and is currently just very upset with the whole world. He misses the house and Ozark forest life we sold to fund our adventures and relocation. He misses the family that we love (but rarely actually saw). He misses the pets we adopted out to friends. He misses his toys (we only brought a half of a suitcase of toys with us). He has had a difficult first month of school. Lots of tears. Lots of whining. Lots of begging to stay home. He is always so happy when we pick him up from school having obviously enjoyed his day, but by the time bedtime rolls around he is already fretting about tomorrow’s separation. He is really just now starting to show an interest in really using the new language. He doesn’t have the drive to communicate in Spanish that Evie has, and that is frustrating because he is a little guy with a LOT to say and he needs to say it to friends and teachers too! They are enrolled in a Montessori school here in the beach village, and he is often allowed to see his sister and drive her crazy there, as well as at home. He loves her so. He has so much love to give! And yet… he is so upset, so much of the time. This transition has been hard on him, so we try to always be gentle. But he IS four, so he tests those limits. Daily.
When he forgets to be upset about the world he has a good time playing with Legos and any kind of game any one will play with him. Chess, cards, Monopoly, it doesn’t matter. He’s rabid for games. We utilized a tablet for language learning and that opened the portal to games and now the whole issue is volatile. He would be a screen zombie all day every day if it were up to him. And he can’t stand that it is NOT entirely up to him.
In total, we are four very outspoken, creative, and somewhat short-tempered people. We love each other very much, we have strong feelings about lots of people, places and issues, and emotions run very high, very often. Especially three months in to this life upheaval. We are not the mellow, peaceful hippies we may appear to be a small percentage of the time. We are really wound pretty tight. We have a lot of anger and bad habits that we work to address daily, as we learn to be more “tranquilo” – but thankfully – there is always enough love and silliness to make (almost) every day a good day.
Where are you in the world and what are you living in?
We are currently renting a home in Punta del Diablo, a tiny beach village of about 1000 people in Uruguay. That’s towards the bottom of South America, between Argentina and Brazil. Nobody, including myself, knew where it was exactly when we bought our plane tickets to visit.
We are on our fourth rental, as we like to stay about a month in each house. While we love to travel, we enjoy doing it slowly. We have fallen in love with a house for sale here in Punta del Diablo, and are currently going through the time-consuming process of buying it. We hope to be in next month some time. Three months seems to be about the length of time we can be uprooted. Somewhere around this time we start to get sick of living in other peoples’ houses and we want to hunker down somewhere that is ours. We are ready for a home base. And a bit of a garden.
The rentals themselves we usually land through Airbnb, or Mercado Libre – the South American basic equivalent to Craigslist mixed with Ebay. We zero in on rentals that offer a significant discount for staying a whole month, and that have at least one bedroom and wifi.
Slow traveling has taught us that we really need at least ONE bedroom with a door. As mentioned, we have a lot of strong personalities, and sometimes a quiet place with a closed-door is essential to everyone’s mental health.
I try to find rentals with room to play outside, and that are close to a grocery. We are, especially when travelling, quite content to fix most meals at home and enjoy each others’ company more that we are inclined to constantly explore, so I make sure that our space is comfortable and has a functional kitchen. Notice I don’t say “good” kitchen. This is South America. I am just happy if everything works!
We have spent around 7 months out of the last 14 in other peoples’ homes, and we truly are ready to purchase our house here in Uruguay and have our own space again. We do, of course, plan to house-swap and slow travel still! But… not until after we have nested a bit.
Why did you choose to live in your current arrangement?
Our current rental situation is just a bandaid at this point. Until the house we are buying is officially ours, we sort of feel like we are twiddling our thumbs.
It’s great to rent homes when you are actively traveling or exploring – we love living in other peoples’ spaces much of the time! Homes that come with books and toys, cookware and other comforts – oh, it is great! But, rentals are a huge expense. Our plan is to use the money from the sale of our home in the States to buy one here in Uruguay. Once we are settled, we plan to start “house swapping” with people from other places around the world to really reduce this expense for the foreseeable future and to allow us to travel for longer periods of time. For now… we are just in limbo.
What do you do to personalize your unique (less traditional) living situation?
We do a few things to personalize our space. The primary things that must be established are where Evie’s art area will be (translate: where is painting going to be sanctioned and set up everything messy there), and how much of the kitchen we need to rearrange for Bryan and I to be happy cooking in it. The rest of the house is usually fine. We might get out one of the decorative dolls that my mom made and place it on the mantel, or hang up one of our rainbow crystals from our friends back in the States. A stack of books anywhere always helps. I do have washrags my mom crocheted that we use daily in the kitchen, and a small stained glass window of a dragon that the kids made with their uncle. Little things, here and there, but only as needed, and not much. It feels more peaceful with less stuff.
What is the one household item you carry with you every time you move or the one item you cannot live without?
Other than the things I mentioned, we have learned to always (whenever possible) travel with at least ONE sharp and functioning knife, one can opener, and a good pair of scissors.
What do you miss most about permanent, stationary, traditional living?
Right now, we miss our gardens.
What is the one item your children carry with them to make their unique (less traditional) home more comfortable?
Evie has a toy sloth named Sylvia. Her whereabouts must always be known. Olin had a stuffed fox, but lost it last month. (Add this to the list of reasons Olin is upset with the world, poor guy. We think he left the fox outside and that one of the many, many wandering beach dogs might have just thought it looked like a good toy to take.)
What is your best resource to find items you need for your place?
What we cannot barter for here in the village we have to go to the nearby border town with Brazil to buy. Chuy has most things and is a little less than an hour away.
If you could only have one of the following in your home which one would it be and why?
Natural light, reliable wifi, dishwasher or space
Natural light. We Shaners can’t grow and be happy without lots of vitamin D. The space can be teeny, tiny – but it better have a window!
If you were to compare your unique (less traditional) home decorating style to a kitchen appliance or gadget what would it be and why?
A blender. If it offers comfort, looks pretty, or makes you happy – throw it on in! We aren’t afraid to mix it up. I was raised in middle class suburbia where the print on the living room chairs needed to match the carpet and the curtains and on and on and… no. We are not those people. We like it all.
How do you keep traditions alive for your family in your unique living situation?
We are learning as we go on this one.
How do you decorate for the holidays in your unique (less traditional) home or do you skip it all together?
So far, when traveling, we have either skipped or kept holidays super simple. For example this Easter we bought cute speckled quail eggs, boiled them, and used those for our egg hunt. Not the extreme rainbow spring party I traditionally throw, but… we still made sure that we did something here in the Southern Hemisphere even though it felt strange doing so as autumn rolled in.
What is your favorite part about this lifestyle choice?
The liberation. The absolute freedom of soul and spirit that leaving behind our old situation and diving whole-heartedly into this new adventure has given us. We have found a place that feels peaceful, and free. People are accepting, and loving. Even the language barrier feels liberating at times because my brain is not capable of processing every little word in my environment at every moment and this allows more time for internal peace and reflection (which it must, or learning a new language via immersion would send everyone bonkers). Getting away from the stress and anger and judgement of the US has been absolutely worth every challenge and bad day.
Many traveling families subscribe to the “house is not a home” theory. What is home to you?
I think on a conscious and philosophical level, we would agree that a house does not equal a home, but rather that a home is where your family is, or where you feel most at peace. But, for us, even short term travel has tested our actual application of these words. After months of slow traveling, returning “home”, traveling more, and back again… we have discovered that we are not nomads. We will travel, and we will do so a lot, but… we do, at this point in our family and lives, want a house to call our home too. Maybe in 5 years we will be ready for a new chapter that does not involve a stationary location to pivot back around to, but for now… for now we desire a “home base”, even if our family IS our home, regardless of where we are.
What makes you love the place you live?
The people. First and foremost we have chosen a land of overwhelmingly happy and peaceful people who lead simple, happy lives. They are, generally speaking, an open-minded, intelligent (most multi-lingual), kind and sharing people. The ocean. Enough said on that one. The progressive politics of Uruguay, including the legality and acknowledgement of cannabis as a true form of medicine. I have Crohn’s disease that I am keeping in remission with cannabis alone, and I can do that here without judgement or fear. This is a huge enough topic to write a book about for me, but suffice it to say, cannabis culture makes me love this place.
And also, Uruguay has socialized healthcare. We pay higher taxes, yes, but… after being in medical debt since I was 20, and watching my father go bankrupt due to my mom’s cancer… it means a lot to me to know that I am taken care of. We scoped out the quality before we moved, and are currently applying for residency so that we can take part in this system. The parts we have already utilized have been excellent. This is huge, since we couldn’t even afford to insure the whole family back in the States.
What is next for you? Will you continue to live in your current home or try something different?
Once we buy our new home base, we will take some time to settle in. And then… we will be lining up our house-swaps!
How do you educate your children?
For now, both kids will continue at the Montessori school here in our little village. I am keen on evaluating their needs with each year, though, so who knows what the future holds. Maybe home schooling. Maybe public school for a few years. Maybe traveling more. We’re really not sure what the future holds yet, but we will listen and adapt as we need to.
How do you make a living?
Money for us right now is a scary topic. Bryan is a tattoo artist, so he is able to make fairly good hourly pay, but it can be inconsistent. As we settle here in our new land, we are using up the savings from the sale of our house (eek!) without anything coming in. We are used to creating a diversified income though (market tomatoes, making soap, etc,), so we will piece together our existence here as the dust settles and we learn our way around.