Not all aspects of travel are great and not all days are picture perfect.
Traveling can be lonely at times, quite lonely. We are together at all times, without much interaction with others. We have casual encounters with strangers but those are not deep connections, the ones where you feel like you have been “seen” or heard. We all seek those connections outside of our family and we are missing them now.
When things are not going well between the five of us, I have no one to call, no girls’ nights to escape to. Girlfriends are asleep, we are misaligned by the time difference and current interests. My BFF Ana says ‘Call me at any time – day or night’ but nothing is urgent enough to wake someone up. So what do I do? I don’t call at odd hours, we chat later, we get on an occasional call, we share short exchanges, because we are busy, you are busy, we move frequently, we actually don’t have enough time to connect in a meaningful way. There are so many of you that reach out, send messages, we do chat here and there, but I’m used to seeing you all more, laughing with you, hugging you, kissing you loudly. I’m missing your energy, our lunches, dinners, walks, talks.
Our teenager is quite lonely. Her generation seems to be all about instant gratification, short messages, not much substance. Petra gets messages from friends but they are usually one-liners, passing comments. There are no real connections and that leaves her feeling isolated, really lonely at times. She has never been a social butterfly but instead she seeks and values a few but closer relationships. She is playing Ultimate along our journey, meeting new people every so often. However, she is not the type that connects quickly. She doesn’t seem to fill her batteries with 2-3hrs of play with all new faces. She is not as easily satisfied, as her little brother is, with passing social encounters. Yes, there is an age difference factor here too, it’s harder for a 13 year old to connect than for a chatty 8yr old. Still, the biggest difference is in their personalities, making one more socially cautious than the other. It’s not all doom and gloom. She does have a lot of moments of pure joy. She seems to be mature, brave, helpful, talkative enough with strangers, strong, interested in most new (active) experiences. I guess in absence of other interests, we are her best company. She does have moments of deeper connection with us that wouldn’t have happened at home. We are talking daily. She is interested in hearing our histories, she has asked questions we just assumed she knew the answers to (but didn’t), she wants to do things with us because she is otherwise bored. At times, she is great with her brothers but overall, they bug the heck out of her. We have revised our days to fit her better, dividing up the outings with the kids so that she gets more alone time with one of us. It’s not easy being her, stuck with the 4 of us. I would say, she truly enjoys 20-30% of this travel time, 20-30% is neutral and the rest is the typical teenage moodiness. I go between worrying about her loneliness to being annoyed by her spoiled, self-centered view of her predicament. She has had the privilege of experiencing more in the past 3 months than what an average person does in a lifetime. That’s a double edge sword; too much good (range of activities we have done in the past 3 months) raises the bar of ‘normal’. What we are doing is not normal but it is to her. This is one of those situations where I hope that we’ll align our expectations enough that all the good will outweigh frequent bleakness in her days. She is a teenager after all and would have plenty of bleak days at home too.
The little guy is jumping out of his skin, every single day. We still keep yelling at him more than we would like to admit. He seeks intense, creative action every minute of every day. Pedja and I are on a constant teeter-totter about how to deal with him. He is our spirited child that’s pushing us to feel the whole spectrum of emotions. Homeschooling is moving along well enough. He has made good progress but the process is as enjoyable for me as getting a root canal every day. I dread the moments I have to say “It’s time to do some school work.” These days, he is pushing every boundary that exists and we keep moving those boundaries around, a lot of times not aware of our inconsistencies. He is quick to get mad but he is also the sunny one in our bunch. He wakes up with the smile, he is happy a lot more than not, he sings while he does most of his free activities, he is chatty at all times. He will be fine as long as we survive the homeschooling without casualties.
Nina, he is the best one among us. He is having the most fun on this trip. He is happy, talkative, stubborn as a mule, but he is fine. He is happy to be wherever we are, he is seeking interactions with his siblings (usually picking on them) but overall, he is looking forward to all of the experiences. He is repetitive, annoying, rude, but he is the most lovable and pure human being alive. He got a fever recently and it scared me a bit to see the change in his demeanor, random body twitches, empty look, more drooling. I was quickly catapulted back to those horrible, emotional days of frequent seizures and it reminded me of how much of my sanity is dependent on the state of his health. He is fine now. It turned out it was just fever and some runny nose for a few days. Overall, he is doing well but makes life for the rest of us more colorful.
Pedja and I are pretty much the same, juggling all of this without enough time for the two of us. We had these grandiose plans to have some regular romantic nights out, to share some quality down time while traveling, to connect at a new level. We have had a handful of those days but overall, we are the same old two spirited people, butting heads as frequently as we did at home but now doing it in some of the most romantic places. Every dynamic between any of us is magnified under these circumstances. We have had some of the best moments on this trip, been more grateful for each other, shared some most memorable moments. And then again, we keep repeating many of our typical not-so-good interactions. I see us better. We all see each other better. That’s the beauty of all of this, we all “see” one another at a deeper level. Not sure what this clarity will bring us but it’s valuable. This is the best midlife crisis the two of us could go through together. We are both resetting our views of the life we want to lead, gaining clarity of thought about our roles with each other and in the world at large. With us spending 24 hrs together, every day for the past 100 days straight, it feels like we are going through the best possible relationship bootcamp. It will either break us or make us stronger.
Traveling for extended time has been everything we have dreamed of and way more.
A week ago Pedja and I went out for a beer after everyone went to bed and we were sitting by some beach south of Barcelona, having one of those magical nights, processing events and sights from previous days. He mentioned that we’ve just completed 13 full weeks of travel to which I replied “Wow, it’s going by too quickly.” Then he, in his typical matter-of-fact wisdom, summarized our simple observation that “Life is going by quickly anyway. The time passes by at home at the same pace but we notice it less because we are in our routine.”
Traveling uniquely marks the time passage with the number of geographies crossed, cultures seen and events experienced. We are extremely lucky that these days, we are aware of this time passage as much as we can be.
May the rest of this journey be as diverse and eventful, with all the good and bad days, moving us forward with better clarity of mind and tighter connections of hearts.