Have you ever had the temptation to take a year, pack up your spouse and kids and travel the world? This lofty goal may seem out of reach for most, but mama of three, Tsh Oxenreider, did just that.
I recently read Tsh’s new book At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe and was inspired by her adventures and perspective.
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Tsh Oxenreider is a published author and founder/main voice of The Art of Simple, a community site that celebrates living slow with passion, and is the host of the top-ranked podcast, The Simple Show.
Tsh and her vagabonding family recently traveled around the world for a school year, and they love exploring new cultures together. They currently live in Central Texas, near Austin, but several dots around the globe have also been called home (and she dreams of one day living in Stars Hollow). Together, they love to travel, read books, go camping, and make homemade pizza for family movie night.
I am happy to share this recent conversation with Tsh Oxenreider. Be inspired to read her book – or maybe even take your own family on the road!
Q. I just finished your latest book A Home in the World, your personal memior of your year traveling around the world with your husband and three children. Tell our readers what inspired you to embark on this great adventure, and how you made it happen.
A. The main reason we decided to travel around the world with our family was simple — because we wanted to. It’s surprising how that’s a sometimes controversial answer; people want some kind of deep answer! But honestly, we simply wanted to show our kids the world.
The longer answer to this is we had moved back rather suddenly from our life as expats in Turkey, and we missed having more of an opportunity to raise our kids globally… or so we thought. When our third child was a newborn, my husband, Kyle, looked at me and said, “Why can’t we still show our kids the world? Just because we don’t live overseas anymore doesn’t mean we can’t still expose them to all sorts of ways of life.” So, we made travel our savings priority, and four years later, we took the plunge and strapped on backpacks.
We left when the kids were 9, 6, and 4, taking advantage of a golden window of time: they were old enough to all carry their own backpacks and be toilet trained, but young enough to still not be too rooted down with relationships, commitments, and responsibilities. Plus, Kyle and I both had jobs we could do from anywhere, and we weren’t sure how long that would last.
Q. What are some things you’ve learned from the experience?
A. I could write a second book just on the things I learned from our nine months of travel! But here are some that stand out:
• We really don’t need that much stuff. I lived out of a backpack, and loved every second of it. I loved not having to choose from more than the few clothes I had, I loved having only my laptop, Kindle, and phone as my gadgets, and I loved not having to keep up with much.
• Kids are adaptable and resilient. Everyone asks how the kids fared, but honestly, I think they did better than the adults. They learned to deal with crowded public transportation, waiting in long lines, unfamiliar food, confusing language barriers, and different subtle cultural mores like they were pros. I think we adults don’t give kids enough credit for their strength.
• We humans are hardwired for community, and we need it on the regular. It was life-changing to explore the world, but at the end of the day, we craved getting off the plane and having a home to hang up our backpacks and live among people we know.
We need to interact with the same familiar neighbors and immerse ourselves in the ordinary — not only is that good for our souls, but it makes travel all the more special. When you’re constantly traveling and seeing amazing things, it stops being so phenomenal. And that shouldn’t be.
Q. What were some unexpected obstacles on your trip?
A. There weren’t many trip obstacles, like luggage snafus or schedule shenanigans — all the bumps in the road were either internal or interpersonal. The biggest personal challenge for me was staring my need for personal space right in the face. The five of us were together almost 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, many times in tight guesthouses.
I had to learn creative ways to get the sensory and emotional space I needed so I could emerge a better traveler, wife, mom, and human. I had to create cocoons however I could — with an eye mask, earbuds playing soothing music or a distracting audiobook, mandatory quiet times some afternoons… It kept me sane on the road.
Q. Was there a funny or scary experience that stood out in particular?
A. There was nothing scary, to be honest, which sometimes people are disappointed to learn — but I think it goes to show that most parts of the world are largely benign and welcoming. But we all still laugh about our daughter’s 10th birthday at a safari camp out on the Maasai Mara in Kenya.
The local staff came out dancing with drums and flaming torches, slowly inching their way to our family’s table at dinnertime, then presented her with a machete to slice her chocolate cake. They sang another loud song with drums and shouting —she was mortified, her middle brother laughed and had a ball, and her youngest brother snoozed through the whole thing, head on the table and drool from his mouth dripping onto the floor. He never heard a thing.
Q. Based on your experiences, what tips can you give our readers to make traveling with kids easier, whether that is across the globe or closer to home?
A. The number one best way to make kids better travelers is to get them started young. Traveling is the best way to learn how to travel, I always say — so don’t wait until the “perfect” time, because there is no such thing. Do local road trips, building up the time in the car (younger kids need more stretching and play breaks, so include plenty of that, and just know it’ll take longer to get to your destination).
Stop at local parks for picnic lunches and buy food from local grocery stores instead of fast-food drive-thrus. It’s healthier, and it gives you a better feel for where you are.
Go to big cities and use only public transportation for a weekend, or even just a day. Make that part of the adventure — it helps build stamina for exploring major cities, and it’s part of the cultural experience. Make a simple scavenger hunt or bingo cards for younger kids who might get bored; giving them specific things to look for keeps their interest.
Overall, the biggest tip has to do with the mindset of the grownups: don’t expect traveling with kids to be the same as traveling with just adults, because you’ll be disappointed when it’s not. Go in knowing traveling with kids isn’t better or worse, it’s just different — and you’ll probably find they open more doors to unconventional experiences than closing them.
Q. What’s the next adventure you have planned for your family?
A. We’re in the middle of our next adventure — we’re renovating a 1935 cottage from the ground up! It’ll take us several years, but we’re happy to do so because it means having a place to store our passports until we head out the door again.
As far as travel, though, we do hope to explore more of South and Central America before our oldest leaves the nest, we’d love to hit up more national parks in the U.S., and we’d love to do one more jaunt through Europe. And of course, we’re always dreaming of moving there for a year or two at a time, just because.
Q. Tell us a bit about your site: The Art of Simple. What can our readers get from it?
A. It’s home to a community blog, top-ranked podcast, and classes where we share our real-life experiences of doing the work it takes to live simply, creatively, and sometimes unconventionally. With topics like family, self-care, travel, work, and global issues, there’s a smorgasbord of content — all heart, zero shaming. Never perfect.