A mother of a full-time traveling family gives herself permission to do things differently, to seek deeper connection…and to redefine it all
Isn’t it interesting how an image can evoke so many emotions? Of course, that’s why they say a picture is worth a thousand words. Visual art moves us humans. Yes, some of us seem to be moved more easily than others, but the potential is there for us all. I happen to be one of those easily moved and motivated by photography. I think it’s because I begin to see the story within it.
This was something I didn’t fully realize, however, until I was an adult. Growing up, my sister was the ‘artsy’ one and I was the ‘sporty’ one. In dutifully fulfilling that label, it took me quite a while to find this love and appreciation.
Recently, while searching for some inspiring family camping photos, I came across this provocative image of a family living in the 1930’s California wilderness (featured above). It moved me deeply, and I had to do some further digging to figure out why. What was their why? What is this family’s story? Their reason for adventure?
I’m a camp-loving lady, and after seven years of full-time travel, camping around the US with my family in our Airstream travel trailer — we’re making a lifestyle change, a big one. I was hoping to find a collection of photographs to help me celebrate the beautiful, wild places camp-loving families are enjoying today, and while I found plenty of appropriate images, this one stopped me in my tracks.
As you may have guessed, this photograph does not depict a happy family having a wild and wonderful camping adventure. Sadly, it depicts a darker tale. It was taken around 1936-37 when photographer Dorothea Lange was traveling in California working for the Resettlement Administration, finding families in need, desperate for food, work, and a way to take care of their children; families willing to sacrifice everything for a chance at a better life.
The photographer’s note tells us that so many families just like this one were supposed to be shipped back to Oklahoma that year, but thought staying in California would give them a better life. So instead, they set up camp and made a home in wild places. Many of these families were starving and barely had enough shelter to survive the cold months, but they stayed on, camping in the wilderness long before it was a trendy thing to do.
It reminds me of my own family’s story.
In 2006, while out for some ‘nature therapy’ with my brand-new baby, I heard a whisper deep in my soul say, “What if there’s more? What if you could move to that place you’ve been dreaming of and have an adventurous family life? What if there’s more than you know?”
My response was immediate: “You bet I’ll go. Who doesn’t want an adventurous family life?” And although some part of me wanted to respond with, “That would be nice, but what about the money and our family and…” I couldn’t stop my heart from soaring.
Six months later, I had sold everything I owned and was on a plane with my husband, our baby, and five suitcases moving from a small town in rural Georgia to the suburbs of Sydney, Australia.
Thankfully, we were not facing desperate financial circumstances like the family in that photograph, but we were certainly facing the unknown, trading everything we knew for a better life — taking a chance on a life full of family adventure.
Then, in 2013, we did it again. We sold everything we owned, packed ourselves into a camper, and set out for a life of full-time travel in search of another better life for our family. People tried to convince us to make a different choice. The government didn’t know what to do with us without a permanent address. And we even experienced a few dire straits along the way, too. But nothing could stop us.
Suburban life felt like a trap to us — an impetus for change for our increasingly disconnected-and-distracted-and-starting-to-sleepwalk-through-life young family. It felt like the opposite of the adventurous life we had imagined. We didn’t know what to do to remedy the situation, so we packed up our little boys (at the ripe old ages of 5 and 8 years old) and chose full-time family travel instead.
All these years later, I can look back and say it was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.
We woke up to more adventure.
We woke up to bigger dreams.
We woke up to deeper relationships with each other.
And yes, we also sacrificed our careers, our friendships, and our extended family relationships. We spent every dime we had and then some. But we also knew there had to be a way for our family to find the kind of togetherness we’d dreamed about — the adventurous family life I’d been hoping for. And we found it.
We redefined the way our family approaches life. We redefined togetherness on our terms.
Did you know someone could just do that? Make up a new definition of what it means to be a family and then try it?
And yet, we did it. We moved to places we’d never heard of before. We camped in deserts and on ocean shores. We lived in places our parents had never even dreamed of. Our home was so tiny it was almost too uncomfortable for our family of four at times, but we camped in every state in the continental United States and found the kind of togetherness we were hoping to find along the way.
And here’s the really cool thing about it:
We aren’t extremely special people — at least not any more special than every person reading these words.
We had significant financial obstacles (although, I will wholeheartedly admit, not as significant as some).
We had a tremendous lack of experience.
And we had loads of fear.
But when the choice came between disconnect, depression, and disillusionment versus deep relationship, adventure, and a great big family life — we chose to take the leap. And it was amazing. Another remarkable thing is that we’re not alone. There are thousands of families doing the same thing, many way more adventurous than us. (A quick search on Instagram for #travelingfamily or #fulltimefamily will show you just how many.)
Seven years later, we’re better because of it. We are different people.
Our lives have expanded, our minds have expanded, and our hearts have expanded, too. We wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything.
But as I write this, we find ourselves needing to redefine togetherness…again.
Yep, we bought a house (one that isn’t on wheels)! Our kids are now older, and we’ve all been dreaming of putting down roots and pulling back our travels for a season — hoping we can gather strength for international adventures in the years to come.
That means we’re coming back to a more ‘traditional’ life for now. But I’m not leaving behind my quest for adventure by any means. Instead, I find myself redefining that, too.
As you read these words, you may be a lover of travel, or you may not be. You may be struggling with travel restrictions or a change to your work or financial situation. You may be facing all sorts of obstacles right now keeping you from living the adventurous life you imagined.But what if you could see that all through a different lens?
And if you’re finding yourself in a place where you feel the need to redefine your life or your family right now, I want you to know this:
I believe every person can rewrite, shift, and find an adventurous family life if they look for it, no matter their circumstances and/or perceived limitations.
I believe we can all redefine togetherness when we need to — whether that involves the travel kind of adventure or not, or whether we have to wait a little while longer for it.
Redefining one’s own life means daring to imagine that life could be different, realizing that whatever you’ve been created for is always within reach, trusting that when you step out (and sometimes fall down), someone will be there to support you, guide you, and help you on your path.
It means you get to make the rules and run the show.
It means that at the end of your life when you realize your last moments are near, you can breathe easily and enter the rest you deserve, knowing you gave life your best shot, relishing in the fact that you left it all on the field — you didn’t save or waste or lose a thing.
This year I published my first book, Togetherness Redefined: Finding a Different Kind of Family Togetherness, to speak words of encouragement to all parents who want that kind of life because I know it’s something I’m not alone in desiring. Heaps of mothers and grandmothers (and even a few dads and granddads) all over the world have told me as much themselves.
We want deeper relationships. We want more adventure, happier days, something better to do together than watch Netflix and run from place to place every day of the week.
We want a different kind of family togetherness.
One like this (from the book):
“I believe in the power of parenthood, the potential that lives inside of every single parent who loves a child and wants what’s best for him or her. I believe that parents are the key to family togetherness and so many good outcomes for our kids — not government intervention or fancy programs, not mentors or teachers, not even schools or churches — parents. Not just the organic lunch type of parents, the extremely talented craft-making mamas, or the highly educated homeschooling experts either — plain old parents like you and me starting small, doing our best with the moments we have, and starting over every time we get it wrong. We’re the ones leading the way to family togetherness.”
Sometimes, that might mean embarking on a big, audacious adventure – moving to a new place, buying a home, starting a new career, going back to school, getting into something new, meeting new people, seeing new places. Other times, it might mean settling down and reevaluating, leaning into family and friends, getting the rest and rejuvenation we need, and gathering strength for adventures ahead.
Whatever it is, I bet we can do it, even if it means redefining a thing or two. Give yourself permission and see where it leads you.
You may also enjoy reading Travel Tall | Heeding a Passion for Travel, by Eric Giuliani.