I glanced into the back seat and saw tears rolling down my 13-year-old’s face. My momma heart sank. Honestly, I had been pushing down these feelings of loss and separation because I know how important this travel is to my nomadic family.
Yet seeing my youngest feeling all the feels reminded me that goodbyes are also part of our story and deserve to be honored.
Salem -- such a good sport in the cage!
Like anyone who travels extensively, we’ve had our fair share of farewells… we of course prefer the see-you-soons or see-you-laters. Most of the time we can put on our brave faces and part ways with happiness in our hearts as we look forward to our next venture.
Plus, if it’s our mobile friends, the goodbye is sweet-bitter (hahaha, not as bitter as “bittersweet”). We know their families have more opportunities on the horizon; and when we’re all mobile, there is a good chance that our paths will cross sooner than anticipated!
However, last August (2023), we said goodbye to grandparents, cousins, and the 19-year-old big brother. This was a solid goodbye with the strong possibility we won’t return “home” for two years. Ugh. I won’t lie, it’s hard.
We don’t know when we’ll see each other again, and the fact that this is heartbreaking for the grandparents is not lost to me. Our current travels are taking us to the furthest physical distances from our roots… and even though grandparents are always welcome to join our travels (highly recommended by the way), long flights, language barriers, hot/humid weather, and significant jet lag aren’t the most inviting circumstances.
They didn’t ask for this separation; this is something we’ve created by following our dreams. It’s hard to conclude that our life goals and ambitions are not to blame.
Rachel, Kemaya, & Jasper overlooking three different seas
Seeing my child’s tears reminded me that I need to sit with this guilt and loss. It’s not a fun place to be. In fact, my mind spins the situation to justify why we do what we do so I can allow myself to leave that unpleasant space and jump right back into our explorations.
Life is not about feeling guilty, right? It’s truly about making our best decisions with the resources we have at hand… but it’s also about accepting the consequences that come with our choices.
Like anything in life, we need to weigh the pros and cons of our choices, and it happens that the benefits & rewards of our current lifestyle vastly surpass the hardships. But it doesn’t mean the goodbyes and separation don’t exist; unfortunately, they’re tradeoffs of becoming nomadic.
Yes, my family decided to make a big change and become nomadic. We accept that path and the responsibility that comes with it... but it seems to me that the goodbyes could feel a bit easier if we weren’t so squarely to blame.
Beach heart in Cotobro, Spain 2020
Life is not about assigning blame, and it’s immature to do so. But there are a few things I’d like to blame right now, too!
Why do we live in societies where the acceptable lifepath is to settle somewhere, work a job until we’re too old to work anymore, send our kids away from home for most of their waking hours, and not truly live our lives the way we want until we’ve retired & our kids are grown & our bodies are worn out? What about that? Why isn’t anyone talking about that? I’d like to fully place some blame right there, directly on society’s expectations. The traditional life path is a comfortable path for many – grow up, go to university, secure a good job, find good schools for the kids, and have a lifestyle that easily displays each step of success: a bigger home, better degrees, children who conform to the system, etc. My family played that game until we understood reaching those goals wasn’t our dream. That path was someone else’s story – so we deliberately walked away. But here’s the part that’s frustrating: when we followed “the path,” our family did an amazing job ticking all the boxes of a successful life. We were met with praise (and underlying understanding). Yet as soon as we branched away, the judgment set in.
By stepping away from societal norms, we inadvertently become weird (and apparently, irrational). We were inundated with questions that reflected others’ fears. They made us feel we were crazy or downright foolish.
It’s quite easy to blame the ones not following the system.
However, if we were living in a different system, one where creative life paths and following dreams are encouraged, others would understand why we’ve chosen a nomadic lifestyle. I’d have completely different reactions from strangers and loved ones alike. We would not be to blame, but would be encouraged, embraced, and perhaps more importantly, understood.
Within the traditional lifestyle we kept ticking the boxes and waiting until the right time to do something new.
Blame #2 (wow, this is surprisingly refreshing): Why is my family’s travel seen as bizarre, frivolous, and harmful for my children while other nomadic living (military, diplomatic, Peace Corps, missionary work, traditional hunter-gatherer civilizations) is accepted as normal or even admirable? My family figured out how to live more economically than in the US while seeing the sites of the world and exposing our children to different cultures, climates, customs, political landscapes, languages, rituals, traditions, history (oh believe me, the history is different when you find the local source), societal norms, socioeconomic privileges, etc, etc, etc. And somehow this evokes concern from those living a traditional lifestyle? My kids avoid the middle- and high-school drama and cliques and active shooter drills and stressing over test scores and climbing the social ladder… and we’re harming them because we don’t require them to sit in a classroom or recite facts? Does society collectively believe that if the kids don’t learn some specific bit of history or the names and function of digestive system parts or SOHCAHTOA that they’ll be at a disadvantage in the future?... That somehow if we don’t force learning irrelevant, but standard, information now, they’ll never be able to learn it in the future when, and if, it becomes important for them? Does all the academic learning they’re “missing” supersede the loads of first-hand knowledge they’ve accumulated during our travels? Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence in me, and in my kids! I one hundred percent trust this process. I see what my children experience every day… AND… I witness their out-of-the-box thinking patterns, their creative problem-solving processes, their unique ways of expressing themselves, and their undeniable self confidence that stems from such varied life experience. Additionally, I’ve seen them learn advanced material quickly and easily when it was important to them (logarithmic functions, engine repair, technology troubleshooting). Traditional education will always be available, and my kids have demonstrated that they can jump in and out of academics as they desire that style of learning. In my mind, there is no doubt that classroom learning pales in comparison to what they’re learning via life experience. I’m not asking anyone else to trust the process… everyone is free to have their own opinions… but I’m also not asking for interrogation, criticism, or judgment. Apparently anyone not following the system signs themselves up for this.
May as well be wearing a "Kick ME" sign
AND, while I’m at it… why isn’t your average adult (the one following steps of a traditional lifestyle) questioned about their methods? Is anyone asking whether traditional school is harming their children... or whether living in one spot and not being exposed to different environments is limiting their kids’ potential… or whether succumbing to a lifestyle of routine will guarantee that their children create their future lives through that same lens?
No. They’re given a pat on the back when they succeed at each crossroads, especially if their children receive good grades, are viewed as socially adept, or earn awards deemed important by society. I’m not against recognizing hard work, but I don’t think that we, as a society, are valuing the right things.
So what if kids are good test-takers or have perfect attendance? Does that mean their life will automatically fall into place? What about expanding their horizons? Have they looked at life through several different perspectives? What about mental health, are they happy? Are they finding their own true calling and the courage to follow it?
Just because someone who “plays the game” well has children who can also “play the game” doesn’t make them “successful.” It makes them good game players. Nothing more.
Do you know what is more? Families courageous enough to step into their own personal choice. Those determined to identify foundational values of their family’s health, goals, and future without the pressure of outside influence. I want to meet the people who are living intentionally, living in the moment, and making choices based on their internal desires vs the easy-to-follow life plan offered by society. You guys are my heroes!
You can read more about my thoughts on public education and what it does and does not provide here: A Worldschooler’s Graduation: Thoughts When Worldschooling and Traditional School Collide.
Fear is a reaction, courage is a decision
Blame #3: Why is it hard for others to understand my family’s happiness stems from world exploration? When my family was living a traditional lifestyle, we did our darndest to travel as much as our work and school schedules allowed. Even though we traveled way more than anyone else we knew, we still felt unfulfilled within the confines of a normal life. We knew we could create something more, so we made a change. Once we started branching out on our own, we were on the right track (quick aside: we relocated for two years to Kauai and two years to Hilton Head Island, yet still used the public schooling for socialization and education), but it wasn’t until we went fully nomadic that we felt in alignment with our life goals.
For us, it’s a huge relief to finally feel comfortable with our lifestyle; however, this again brings up the question of why our choices are doubted. Why do those living a traditional lifestyle discount our discomfort within the boundaries of traditional living? Sometimes we’re asked why we can’t be happy being ‘normal.’ Some have told us, “Look around. We’re happy. So-and-so is happy. Why can’t you be happy here, too?” Our answers sound so hollow to someone who doesn’t understand. I know these questions come from a place of love and a need to connect, but it feels unfair that we’re the outsiders and are the ones who need to prove that our choices are valid. Not everyone will see the value of living on the road, and I understand that. Heck, if we flip the tables, I don’t see much remarkable value of not exploring our world. More than once complete strangers have speculated we’re running away from something or creating an unstable environment for raising our children. Again, so much concern!
Listen, my family has conscientiously created our desired lifestyle. We're not running away from anything. On the converse, we are running toward a rich, fulfilling lifestyle filled with first-hand experience and a very stable family unit. We are closer as a family now than ever before and are thrilled to explore our planet as part of our everyday routine.
Aside: Do those living in a traditional lifestyle check in with one another on a regular basis to ensure each family member's needs are met? That nothing needs to be addressed or revamped? Our family does this all the time and readily makes the necessary changes. What a gift for our kids to know that the adults have their back if something isn’t working, but even more so that we’ll collaborate with them to find the best solution. I don’t remember this as part of our conventional lives.
After loads of trial & error, tweaking & rearranging, we are convinced this is our best way forward. Our kids have seen the world from many perspectives; they’ve felt what life is like across 5-6 continents; they understand the value of embracing change when things go awry; and they’ve witnessed what it’s like to live life on their own terms.
The experiences they’ve accumulated are vast and varied and have required them to be resourceful, adaptable, communicative, flexible, curious, creative, understanding, and present. We are preparing our kids for the future in the most diverse manner available to our family.
Our kids are acquiring skills to navigate the future
Blame #4: Why so much burden on our shoulders? I'm not the only worldschooler to discover the cold, hard answer to this one: Because we’ve stepped away from a traditional lifestyle, we’ve also stepped into a life where we must take 100% personal responsibility for what goes right or wrong.
Those who haven’t joined this space don’t realize how little of their lives they’re living on their own accord… and they are quick to become naysayers and critics. I just don’t understand how my family’s choices create all this concern for other people. My kids are awesome. They’re going to be amazing adults. That should be the end of the story.
However, it’s not. Naysayers are rarely appeased by anything I say or demonstrate:
What about your kids’ socialization? Do you think the facts that my children spontaneously take on leadership roles within our group gatherings (both with their peers and younger children) and have well established, long-term relationships with peers around the globe are satisfactory? Nope, just your opinion.
Aren’t they missing out on typical teenage activities? We hosted a worldschool prom in a castle in Normandy, France in the Spring of 2023. Is that satisfactory? No, that was an outlier. What about their academics? My degree is in mathematics and secondary education – I have experience in the public school system and can help my kids with advanced math & physics (and nearly any subject matter) at any point that they want to hone those skills. But is that satisfactory? Nope. How can you be sure they’re able to handle an academic load in the future? My two older children took courses with Arizona State University as middle and high schoolers and easily earned A grades. My eldest returned to high school for his senior year and graduated with high honors. Proof that we’re doing just fine? Nope again! There is always another flaw with our plan.
Seriously? How do naysayers have the time and energy for this? Why do I spend so much of my time diffusing their concerns when I have few myself. Do they question the neighbor’s kid to see how well they’re doing in math or reading or writing or history? Another Big. Fat. No. These questions are saved for those not “playing the game.”
I think it boils down to this: Our choices, our responsibility. Society’s choices, no personal responsibility is necessary.
Yeah, think about that again:
Our choices: our responsibility Society’s choices: no personal responsibility is necessary
My family is realizing this repeatedly. When we followed society’s path, there was no need for us to be accountable:
Kids having a rough time at school? Too bad, hopefully next year they’ll have a better teacher / less bullying / easier classes.
House maintenance costs draining your savings? What a bummer, hopefully next year there won’t be as many repairs / desired upgrades / severe weather.
Not enjoying your occupation? That’s unfortunate, it would be a shame to lose your seniority and benefits. Perhaps your workload will decrease / you’ll have a new boss or assistant / you’ll get a promotion... because each year you stick it out, you’re closer to retirement!
There’s relatively little owning the responsibility for the consequences of the above choices because these issues are written off as how things are. You "must" have a school, a house, a job – not much you can do about it when it doesn’t work out. There’s no personal responsibility for buying into societal choices. If it’s society’s typical path, the choice is already validated. However, when we make choices outside of the normalized path, we’re effectively claiming 100% responsibility for anything that goes wrong, and even the things that don’t:
Kids not “learning” enough? You’re wrong.
Traveled to an area viewed as dangerous (Mexico, Southeast Asia, the whole continent of Africa)? You’re wrong.
Sneezed on a Tuesday? Wrong.
Honestly, it’s so liberating to hang out with people who understand this struggle. That’s why I deeply value our worldschool community and friend circle. You guys are the people who I need to connect with because your input and real-life strategies are fascinating to me, and 100% validating. Let’s be outcasts together and normalize this revolution of intentional living!
Pop-Up Crews at Seoul 2023, NYC 2022, and Madison 2023
Man, look at all that blaming! So infantile.
It’s obvious I feel the need to deflect the blame and guilt of leaving relatives behind. I must give myself some grace, that's certainly a human response. Though I’d argue that I have some very valid points about society’s confines creating this guilt for us, it doesn’t resolve anything.
I needed to sit in that uncomfortable space of knowing that we’ve hurt our loved ones by the fact that we are choosing world exploration while our children are young enough to travel with us. Our choices don’t match our loved ones’ choices or wants, and I understand how painful it is.
Separation is difficult (PS missing our eldest so much, he moved out at 17 & 1/2 years old).
Broken Toe Pose, trail at Moloa'a Beach, Kauai
But in the same breath, I also know the intention behind our choices is sound. We are not trying to hurt or alienate our loved ones back “home.” Our intentions have nothing to do with causing separation, pain, or undue stress for our extended family. That is an unfortunate side effect of us utilizing our time on this planet in the best way we see fit.
The good news is that though the goodbyes are hard, once we’re out exploring it’s no longer a focus. This is true of many things in life: in the moment it’s difficult, it deserves attention… and then as you’re ready, you move forward and revisit as appropriate.
As I mentioned previously, we check in with our kids much more often now than when we were deep in the traditional lifestyle. If we need to talk about the sadness and losses, we do. We know it’s hard leaving our loved ones. However, we also know we wouldn’t be true to ourselves if we stayed. We’ve accepted this as a tradeoff.
Pics of things that give me peace during our travels.
I originally intended this article to be about our goodbyes, and how they are a challenging part of worldschooling that few people talk about. However, as soon as I started writing, I was drawn to pointing the finger at the ingrained path society tells us to follow.
I’ve come to realize when society says “follow your dreams” it firmly means following the dreams that fit “the plan” – get a reliable job, buy a house, send your kids to school (so they also internalize the plan), keep waiting for the perfect moment to do something different, work until you can’t, rinse, & repeat with the next generation.
If society really valued change (and do I dare say, progress), the sorrow of our goodbyes would be accepted as a necessary piece of every self-designed lifestyle. Goodbyes are sad, but they could be normalized… or maybe even embraced and revered as crucial steppingstones to our collective life purposes.
Cheers to those who no longer are waiting for the perfect moment to spend more time with their kids! Cheers to those who aren’t just going through the motions anymore!
Of course, all these thoughts are from a 47-year-old mother of teenagers. My views may completely change as I age or perhaps if I’m given the chance to be a grandparent. Guess what? I’m 100% okay with that. If life has taught me anything, it’s that I’m always learning and growing, and a change of opinion is a natural part of that process. It will be interesting to revisit these thoughts as my future self.
Regardless, I hope to give my own children the grace to live their lives in the way they deem best. I know that their path may not always include me physically… but I also know that they have a solid foundation to follow their own callings and design their lives in the way they find most fulfilling. I embrace their right to thrive in the lifepath of their choosing!
Special time with the big brother.
Endnote: I’m titling this as "Worldschool Challenges Part 1" but it's not because I expect to author more installations of this topic. It's only that I know there are more than two challenges to worldschooling.
Hat tip to all of you who are, have been, or are curious about using the world as your children's learning stage. Every risk we've encountered has been offset by enormous, tangible rewards. Trust your gut. Find your way. Surround yourself by those who understand. I hope to meet you soon!