The silence from this column was unintentional, although I must say that silence can be a good thing. But I will talk about silence in another article in the future. The silence (meaning not putting out any article for more than two months) was due to traveling. My family and I have been on the road, up in the air, and on the sea meeting people, exploring, touring, homeschooling, and of course, working. Our work as consultants takes my husband and me to extreme places: five-star hotels for a meeting one day and remote mountain villages the next.
The best part of our life on transport terminals and hotels is that we can bring our kids with us. This is possible only because they are homeschooled. One of our friends once asked us, “So where did your kids grow up?” I honestly couldn’t give a quick reply. So I just quipped, “On the plane.” We spend half of our year at home and half to wherever our flights take us.
So how is life like as a vagabond family? It is both fun and stressful. Fun is when my husband is in charge. And stressful is when I have to round up everybody to keep to time with our academic requirements while on the go. But being wanderlusts is mostly fun and educational. We are learning the art of taking whatever our travels throw our way and learning as much as we can from every place, people, and culture we encounter. I think we have taken to heart the advice of Indigo Airlines (an Indian airline) in one of their inflight meal packages: “When life is boiling hot, make noodles.”
Here are a few things that our family has learned over our years of traveling:
- Let the expert packer do the packing but don’t nag him for where every item is.
When our family of four travels, we usually have as much as six suitcases. This is partly due to the fact that I do not know how to travel light. I need to be prepared by having everything I think I (or the children) will need, like three pairs of shoes. You’ll never know when you will go on a formal event or where you will have a good leisurely jog in a park or when your sandals would suddenly want to surrender after all the walking. We also bring our homeschool with us so I have a mini-library on the go. Thankfully, because we are frequent flyers, we have extra luggage allowance. In our family, my husband is the best when it comes to maximizing every space in a suitcase and making sure we have everything we need without going beyond the weight limit. But I know better than to expect him to know where every pair of socks and toiletry kit is. To ensure world peace, I…
- Let each member of the family pack his/her own carry on luggage. While daddy takes care of the check-in baggage, each person is in-charge of his/her own hand luggage. We bought each of our kids a cabin-sized travel bag with wheels and oriented them what items are allowed to be hand-carried. They are responsible for packing and carrying/wheeling this piece of luggage around. They make sure they bring only what they can carry because Mama is no porter.
- Teach the children how to go through the immigration counter with ease.
By the time our kids could write in cursive, I decided to let them fill out their own immigration forms. I oriented them about the importance of their passports when traveling and how it should be kept safe at all times. Our kids are able to pass through immigration lines without being intimidated of the officers behind the counter. They usually disarm the uniformed men and women with a smile and a gentle greeting. Our kids have learned what to do (step on the yellow area, look at the camera, take off their cap, etc.) when being interviewed by an officer. They’ve learned how not to panic when it is taking a while for their documents to be processed and how to just wait for Mama or Dada on the other side of the booth when it’s our turn to be on the counter.
- Assign a corner of the hotel for each member of the family and organize our stuff accordingly as soon as we are checked in. This is the best way I know how to help everyone get their belongings in order and lessen the “Mom, where is my…” and the “Mom, I can’t find my…” Having a corner for everyone also means a more tidy living (albeit small) space, making it a home away from home.
- Eat local food.
I am not yet fully successful in making my children try the local cuisine. But we are getting there. I have explained to them that part of learning a new culture is eating the delicacies of the country. Food tasting is what makes history lessons four-dimensional. We have somehow progressed from fast food to fried egg and plain rice to spicy curry and native chicken soup cooked in a typical tribal fashion.
- Visit a museum.
My eldest son once introduced me to his friend this way: “Meet my mom. She’s a museum addict.” Well, I just give my kids a choice of how to spend a homeschool day while in a new place: go to a museum or stay in the hotel room with loads of worksheets. I think you know the obvious choice. Our last museum visit was at the Mysore Palace in India. Armed with the translation headsets, my kids had a blast going from one room to another, staring at murals, sculptures, old pots, enormous furniture, and ornate ceilings. At the end of our tour my easily bored adolescent son narrated to me all that he has learned from his “museum walk” and how he would love to visit museums that provide translation kits. Asian History lesson covered and mission accomplished for Teacher Mama!
- Learn typically used phrases and sentences. Whenever we visit a place we make it a point to learn how to greet and thank people in the vernacular. For very practical reasons, we try to accurately say two other important sentences in any language: “I am hungry” and “Where is the toilet?” Our children have managed to ask for the wifi password wherever we go. I guess wifi is now the universal language.
- Befriend a local. The fun thing about being a vagabond family is that we have friends all over the world! I have heard a successful businessman who has traveled the world time and again that it is not the sceneries that makes him travel but visiting his friends who are living in different places. He said the sunset looks the same in all the beaches he has been. The mountains and the parks all have trees and flowers that look a lot like those he has seen in the previous country he visited. The sky is always blue everywhere. He said it is the people that make traveling worth the while. Our kids look forward to transit flights in Singapore because some of their best friends live there. They have made friends in Myanmar who enjoy practicing their English with them. Their new friend in Thailand has plans of visiting them in the Philippines. And their just dying to be with their cousins in India to have another blast riding motorbikes. With technology now, connecting and playing with their friends and cousins from afar is not so difficult. Of course, they play their online games with parental supervision.
- Have an emergency bag. We have extra foldable travel bags packed in our suitcase for souvenirs, good finds, and unexpected gifts from friends we visited. Of course, there’s always a mall or a night market for emergency shopping somewhere.
- Be willing to give. We always bring gifts to give to friends old and new. We are more than happy to part with pre-loved items or stuff that are meaningful to us but would be of greater value to another person. We usually bring clothes and footwear in our journeys that we are willing to give away, too. Sometimes there are things in our travels that bring certain people to mind. That’s a signal to buy a pasalubong (coming home present). We have discovered that generosity and compassion are good things to include in our travel list. They make the trip more memorable and life changing.
We have learned a lot more than this, but boarding has commenced for our next flight. Perhaps I might write about ten more travel lessons in our next lay over. Until we meet again!