December 24, 2017 lia

An FAQ on our family sabbatical

It’s been just over a year since we left on our sublime sabbatical with our two little girls. One year ago today, we were all in Manila picking up my step son at the airport ending his 32 hour long journey from Canada.

I can no longer say ‘We just got back’ — we have been back at home in Amsterdam as long as we were away. Enough time has passed now that we have some perspective on the trip, and enough people have asked us about the trip that we have some responses.

Did you accomplish what you sought out to do?

Reinier: Yes. I wanted to learn about entrepreneurship and leadership, and I wanted to surf. I did these every week, sometimes every day.

Lia: We had two main goals: enjoy the good things in life now, and achieve enough distance to reflect on our current path at home. Specifically: focus on the kids, surfing, snorkelling, diving, eating our favourite cuisines, daily exercise; and each having a 5-10 year life/career plan by the time we get home.

We certainly enjoyed the good life. Every day. But it took longer for the life/career plan to materialise. A lot of seeds were planted during the trip: people we met, ideas we shared, landscapes that inspired us, examples from friends. But it took some time and a bit of research when we got home before the seeds sprouted. Now, six months since we got home, I can say I have a relatively clear picture of what I want to do for the next 5 years. And then I want to go on another family sabbatical in 2022.

Was travelling with young kids more hassle than fun?

Reinier: It’s just different. You explore at a different speed, you see different things than you would if you were alone. It’s a different way to see the world.

Lia: It was so easy: the baby was young enough to be carried around in a baby carrier, happily resting her head against your chest whenever she needed comfort. We ate out 2.5 meals a day, where restaurant staff played with our kids while we ate and we didn’t have the hassle of preparing and washing up afterwards. Hungry baby? It was easy to find a place to sit for ten minutes while I nursed her (though bottle feeding would have taken most of the joy out of travelling). Dirty diaper? The diaper wallet was always in the same place in the bag, and because of the warm temperatures we could change a diaper anywhere. And we had an instant way of connecting with people because of shared family values.

It takes a few days to develop your routines — where is the best place to keep the diapers, changes of clothes, how to wash clothes on the road, putting up mosquito nets, sunscreen and bug spray schedule, which books and toys are compact and versatile, etc. — but in less than 1 week we had a new material-light life on the road which ran as smoothly (even smoother?) than our equipment-heavy life back home.

What was the hardest part about the trip?

3 year old: I just missed Santa Claus. I wanted to give something to Santa Claus and his reindeer.

Reinier: Was there something hard about it? I can’t think of anything. At the beginning, the girls were all sick, and that was scary for me.

Lia: Nothing about our trip was difficult. The only difficult part was extracting ourselves and then re-inserting ourselves back into our lives in Amsterdam.

Moving out of our house before we left, and moving back into our house when we came home was very unpleasant. Even though we only had to move our personal affects — clothes, books, toys, toiletries — from our apartment into our storage unit downstairs (and back again), this was a very difficult and time consuming process with two young kids at home. What should have taken 6-8 hours took about three weeks, partly because our renters backed out of our contract and we had viewings of our apartment in the middle of our move. Next time I would find a babysitter and get it all done in one difficult day, rather than having our last weeks at home, and first weeks back be miserable.

But seriously, it could not have been sublime every day while you were gone.

Reinier: It’s unrealistic to expect every day to be sublime. But nothing was disproportionately hard.

Lia: The only time I was unhappy on the trip was when I felt stuck. There were a few places that were too touristy with no local food or culture, and too expensive for us to afford taxis / transportation on a daily basis to go elsewhere, or we just didn’t know enough about the area to find our way ourselves. Sometimes we adjusted our plans and stayed closer to home on alternate days, some times we adjusted our budget and splurged to escape, sometimes we just found our own way on foot.

Twice on our 6 month trip our 3 year old missed her friends and community back home, and was a bit sad and emotional for a few days. We skyped her friends and did our best to make her feel important and special — something she always felt in her community of friends. She also did not like all of the attention she was getting in SE Asia. She was sceptical of people who instantly liked her, whereas the baby loved all the attention.

What was your favourite moment?

Baby: Aggle, flaggle, clabble. Wumpy flappy. Snurp.

3 year old: With my brother in the Philippines. We made castles in the sand. With hermit crabs. They all walked out. And then one hermit crab pinched my brother.

Reinier: Surfing as the sun came up in Vietnam, no one in the water or on the beach.

Lia: Balinese New Year in Nusa Lembongan, with the whole village gathered on the streets, and the Titans dancing and then burning.

Was it hard to come back?

3 year old: It was hard. I wanted to make another hermit crab sand castle. We don’t have hermit crabs here. But I have a boogie board at home so I get to go surfing with it.

Reinier: Not at all. When you’re away, you’re not building on something larger. You can’t build on your career, relationships with your friends and family. You’re stepped outside of your situation. When you come back home, you can start building again.

Lia: It was really easy to come back to Amsterdam in the summer. The trees were green, the sun was shining, and the city was as vibrant as ever. But within three weeks, all of the ceilings we were hitting before we left had re-surfaced: our apartment was still a small fourth floor walkup, we still had no clear idea of what we wanted out of our same jobs, my family was 9 timezones away and difficult to phone again, we had no vacation days or funds to take a trip for some time. But the important stuff was all here: good health, a happy home, cycling everywhere, wonderful friends and family, and a beautiful neighbourhood.

Would you do it again?

3 year old: No. Yes. I want to go on a trip like that again. With my brother.

Reinier: Obviously yes.

Lia: Yes! 2022, 2027, 2032, 2037…

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