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Things we’ve learned about life this year

The traveling brothers, giving each other Michigan mud baths. (Jeff Schrum)
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The ants marched single file up the stabilizers at each corner of our Airstream, scaled the aluminum sides by the hundreds, then split up into search parties. They saw our out-of-state plates, smelled the SYSCO-truck portions of s’mores-making ingredients on board and proclaimed, “Jackpot!” Within hours of pulling into this otherwise-lovely state park, these locals had claimed everything we owned in the name of the queen (theirs, not Her Majesty, who is welcome in our rolling burrito anytime). In a tiny space like ours, where the kitchen is the living space is the bedroom, it only takes a few bugs to constitute full-on infestation.

In the lead-up to this trip of a lifetime, we didn’t spend time worrying about things that might make us squirm, like nature’s little creepy-crawlies. And that’s a good thing: had we really thought about all of the physical and psychological comforts we’d give up, rather than obsessing over RV floorplans, mapping routes, and adding roadside attractions to our Pinterest travel board, we would have bailed for sure. This trip would have forever remained a “some day” fantasy. I mean, who would voluntarily leave comfort for anything less?

We felt plenty of anxiety deciding if we could, or should, hit the road for a year. In between pinning camping hacks and directions to the world’s second-largest ball of twine, we fretted over the big stuff. I’m talking about the hard-to-undo, lump-in-your-throat decisions, like listing our house for sale, downsizing our stuff, and pulling the kids out of a language-immersion school on whose wait-list we spent a year. Not to mention the hard-to-quantify worries, like how such a move would affect the kids in the long-term, what it would be like leaving the only area we’ve ever called home, how hard would it be to return to a sticks-n-bricks life, stuff like that.

Five months into the journey, I realize that the courage to take a risk and do something epic really didn’t hinge on those big worries. All we needed was to muster the courage to feel uncomfortable for a while. That’s it. Waking up in a new place every few days, having significantly less stuff and space, being newbies, immersing ourselves with people who may not think or talk like us, literally having ants in our pants–that was the real hard part.

The good news is we adjust, settle in, then it just seems normal, like we were born nomads. The ability to adapt is hardwired into the human DNA, we had just never tested it out, at least not on this scale. All of those things that I said I could never do, or do without–like public utilities–I just got over. They were no big deal. This past week we did our first “boondocking” with some fellow travelers out in the middle of the desert with no connections for electric or water, only what we had on board. You know what? It was great. It was one of my favorite things I’ve ever done, and now we’re looking to add some solar panels so we can go off-grid more often.

Living out a dream, challenging myself and my preconceived notions, exploring the world with my wife and kids, and doing new things every day trump any discomfort, homesickness, regret, or worry.

Leaving our comfort zones is not only fulfilling, it’s one of the most important life lessons we can teach our children during our year of travel. When they look back on this adventure as young adults (presumably stretched out with a box of tissues on the couch of a licensed mental health practitioner), I want our family’s courage to be what they talk about first.

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