During our family sabbatical, we alternated longer stays abroad with travel. Our first two months were in The Netherlands, using my ancestral home as a base. Then we traveled for four months in Asia and Australia, followed by four months in my husband’s home country Israel. After Israel, we became gypsies again, first in Greece and Germany; then in Brazil and Ecuador. The longer stays gave the kids a chance to catch their breath in relatively familiar surroundings.
WorldTripGirl made such close friends in Israel that, when we finally left for the airport on our last day, it felt as if we were sharing the car with an a-list celebrity. A group of about twenty kids ran after our car with WorldTripGirl hanging out the window. Boys and girls were screaming and crying. WorldTripGirl didn’t break out a real smile for two weeks after that. Then she started a countdown until the day that she could join the Israel army and make aliyah to Israel.
When we first left the familiar surroundings of The Netherlands to make the switch to long-term travel, our younger children Seven and Nine had to make the largest adjustment. It was difficult for them to get used to sleeping in different beds every week, hearing new and unfamiliar languages and to figure out what to eat in each new country and city. Every country also came with new rules. Sometimes you can’t drink the water or you can’t throw paper in the toilet.
During our travels in the off-season, we met very few children. My husband likened interaction with peers to vitamins; the children can go without it for some time, but after a while they get sick. In the case of our children, they were getting homesick and they started missing their friends. I wrote about some mega meltdowns, such as the one we had in the Forbidden City in China. In Thailand, one of my children got so stressed that he tried to hit me with a stick.
During our second installment of travel in Greece and South America, we just fell into a natural rhythm of changing beds, travel days and favorite dishes. The kids went from eating Moussaka to cheese fondue to Brazilian BBQ, to pescado del dia, and empanadas. At bedtime, my husband read a classic adventure novel in a fake English accent, wherever we were. In Brazil, all three kids were learning a new language on Duo Lingo. Seven was brushing up his Dutch, where he hopes to live one day, Nine was learning Portuguese and WorldTripGirl choose to focus on Spanish. At first, I didn’t consciously register what had changed, but then I realized that our travel lows and meltdowns had disappeared.
Seven even remarked, “Going back home is kind of scary.” and “This was the best year of my life, better even than getting a Nerf gun,” and “Next time we go on a world trip I promise that I will never complain, and I will be able to hold my breath for longer [so he can stay under water longer with the sharks on The Galapagos].”
And it didn’t stop there. One night, I heard a knock on our door. Groggy I sat up in bed.
“Why did a stranger just open our door,” I asked my equally sleepy husband.
“It wasn’t a stranger, it was WorldTripGirl,” he replied, turned around and continued sleeping.
When I went to check on her she was crying in bed and whimpered, “I don’t want to go home”, “When is our next sabbatical?”, “Can we travel every summer”, “Can I do a gap year?”, “I still want to go to Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia”, and finally, in utter desperation, “Next time we should skip a long stay in Israel so we have more time on the road.”
Was this the same a-list celebrity who left Israel bleary eyed? I don’t know what will be. Six years from now, when WorldTripGirl graduates from high-school, Nine will be a sophomore and Seven a freshman in high school. In Seven’s own words, “I am scared to be a teenager. I will be so big, I will get game center and play with my friends, and have hormones that will change me, and maybe I will be grossed out at everything just like WorldTripGirl. But it will also be fun as I will have way more responsibility.”
I desperately want to commit to another sabbatical for 2022, the year WorldTripGirl graduates from high school, but in truth, we don’t know yet. All I know is that I have opened the door to travel for my children. Taking time off to travel, at whatever age, will no longer be a foreign concept for them. At least two of my children seem to have caught a travel bug, giving me with a majority vote next time we are negotiating a sabbatical. Either way, all kids have learned to adjust to new environments. They will all need that skill soon when we re-enter California.