This past weekend we received an email from a reader who lives in the United Kingdom. Her family (which includes a daughter close to Elle's age) is contemplating their own journey of "slow travelling around the world". In the email she asked us a few questions. Since they are similar to ones we hear a lot, we figured it would be good to publish our answers here. Here goes:
1) What is the hardest thing about the way you live? The biggest struggle.
I would not say that we legitimately "struggle" with anything or that there is "a hardest thing" about the way we live. The four of us truly enjoy our lifestyle. This is not to say that we would not change a few things if we could (it would be great if we could drink the tap water in Guatemala).
I also don't mean to imply this lifestyle is for everyone or that it is easy. There's always something new that can get under your skin if you let it. For instance:
- Major roadways are unpredictably shutdown by people protesting something. To have an effective protest, they pick roads that are main arteries and there may be no way around the protest. You just have to wait for the protest to be done. Could be hours, could be days.
- There are ALWAYS fireworks going off for some reason and generally you never find out why. My daughter had trouble going to sleep last night because they were scaring her. I heard them again this morning at 6AM.
- Believe it or not banks can be 5x slower than they are in the US. We never go to the bank if we're in a hurry. When living in a cash based society, definitely avoid the bank on pay day.
These things are part of the political, social and cultural fabric of Guatemala. If you are the type of person that gets frustrated by things like this, then you will struggle with this lifestyle. Each country you travel to will have their own versions of things like this and you are not going to be able to prepare for them by reading a guidebook. You have to live it to learn it.
When we encounter these things we try to embrace them as opportunities to learn, grow and teach our kids about cultural differences. We try to ask "Why" so that we can understand why something is the way it is. Often the answer is that we're living in a third world country and the government is simply not as sophisticated (or litigious) as our home country. We also look for ways to circumvent these headaches in the future (tip - always go to the bank in the morning when it first opens).
In summary if you stay flexible, limit preconceived notions about where you are traveling, question for the sake of learning and roll with the punches it will be a lot easier to adjust to whatever comes your way. If you can't do these things regularly, you might want to consider a different path.
2) How do you maintain community whilst traveling? Do you invest in friendships or not bother? How hard is it to create and then move on from friendships around the world. (I'm thinking specifically about friendships for my daughter)
Local friendships and community are very important to us. My daughter is playing with two other Guatemalan girls at another house as I write this. My son has a play date with an expat girl later this week. Being an expat family should never get in the way of kids being kids. Having a peer outlet is critical for their happiness (and our sanity). We've found our kids to be naturally drawn to other kids, regardless of the situation.
Whether it's at a border crossing, museum, playground, swimming pool, etc., they always seem to find someone or something to do.
The longer we stay in a particular area the stronger the bonds grow for the kids (and the adults). Leaving friends is never easy but everyone in the family knows our plans are to travel outside of Guatemala in a few months (and we don't even know where yet). There will be tears when we leave but at least the expectations are set...and we know, if our hearts desire, we can always return to Guatemala.
We've also found it's easy to meet other travelers and expats. And when we do, it's natural to swap advice, experiences, resources etc. Facebook makes much of this easy too. In our small town, there are several Facebook groups that are primarily used by expats for buying, selling, and making announcements. We've met some great people with diverse backgrounds and have benefited from these relationships.
Lastly, we maintain old friendships regularly via Skype, email, Facebook, SMS, our blog, etc. Like any relationship you have to devote time and energy to maintain and strengthen ties but the rewards are worth it.
3) Do you have any regrets?
No, none. Really. We have none! It's been the right move for us.
If you've got questions you'd like us to answer in a future post put them in the comments below or email us at the address below: