A Family RTW Travel Adventure (2008-2009)
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Afterward

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A close friend leaned in, trying to get to the root of it all. “So,” he said, followed by a long pause.  “What’s changed as a result of this trip?”

He wasn’t the first person to ask.

For weeks I had stumbled for an answer, trying to absorb what we’ve experienced and what it means.  I mumbled something and changed the subject. But now an answer that feels true is coming into focus. 

What’s changed? Nothing.  And everything.

On the night we arrived home, truly home, in our house, we entered in darkness, after the neighborhood was asleep.  Nearly ten months earlier we had left in darkness, before dawn, and the symmetry struck me.

When we walked in, everything was as we left it. A few dishes drying next to the sink.  The soft hum of the dryer running downstairs. The nightlight on in the hallway. It was an odd feeling, as though we’d been away for the day, and were returning home late.

In the days and weeks that followed we quickly stepped back into our old lives, answering polite questions, eager not to draw attention to ourselves. Some people were genuinely curious about what we had done, but most avoided the subject.

We set about the business of reconstructing our lives at home.

We registered the kids for public school in the fall; our one year experiment with roadschooling was over. Caroline rejoined the swim team and signed up to play field hockey. Conor booked a week at his favorite adventure camp and reunited with his friend Dana to work on movies. I found some clients and rustled up work.

And Dani, like always, handled the hard stuff: helping the kids finish their school work for the year and making it all work for the rest of us.

Soon it was clear the America we returned to was not the America we had left.  Boom times were over, the economy was in a shambles, and everyone and everything felt uncertain.

Still, among our friends, there was a deep faith that things would get better.  Eventually.

If our country had changed while we were away, we changed too.

We returned more thankful.  More tolerant and respectful of differences.  More aware of the things that bring people together and drive them apart. More appreciative of other cultures and other ways to live your life.

And, perhaps most important, eager to return into The Wide Wide World.

Some days, when life feels hard or overwhelming, I think back on a conversation I had with Phannak, owner of the Fancy Guest House in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Phannak had survived Pol Pot’s horrific reign of terror and seen the worst human beings can do to each other.  Still, he was optimistic about the future.  His words echo in my ears:

I used to be afraid, but I am afraid no more.  I have faced my fear.  I know I will take care of my family because I will work harder than any man.”

As Dani had predicted, within days after we arrived home we were running in a thousand different directions.

We no longer ate every meal together, slept in the same room, shared every detail of every day. But the connection we forged remains, and I believe it will be many years before we truly understand the full impact of what we have done.

One night, a few weeks after we had been home, the four of us found ourselves in Caroline’s room, gathered round her bed, gossiping about the news of the day.

We were dishing fast and furious, swapping stories, jokes, the latest outrages and rumors.

“Look at us,” I said.  “All crowded around Caroline’s bed, crammed in this one room.  Just like when we were on the trip.”

We laughed and kept talking.

Soon it was 11 pm, and Dani, never a late night girl, was ready for bed. As she stood to leave the room, Conor protested.

“Mom,” he said gently, taking Dani’s hand.  “Please don’t go.  We’re not done yet.”

11 comments

1 Doug Spiro { 07.15.09 at 8:49 am }

Craig and Dani,
With every post I feel you and your family have found the Magic Bullet, the Rosetta Stone, the Enigma Machine of life. As different as we all are we are the same. With everything that Phannak has been through in his life his main desire, to take care of the people he loves. Just like you. Life is scary sometimes and fear is a part of it but hope for a better future is the key. I think it is so important that you have shown Caroline and Conor how diverse the world truly is and how that diversity makes us stronger. To be able to walk in the steps of history, see how the rest of the world lives, and to spend time getting to know the people in it will stay with them and give them the tools they need to make this wide wide world a better place.

As Conor said, “We’re not done yet.”

2 Franny { 07.15.09 at 10:01 am }

I have been lurking for a while but this post made me cry. Your kids are going to remember this – and love and respect you for giving them this gift – for the rest of your lives. Welcome home.

3 Nomadic Matt { 07.15.09 at 10:57 am }

you guys are my favorite travel family…

4 rachel posell { 07.15.09 at 2:12 pm }

seriously — as the mother of small children, this post made me weep. i hope to someday have the connection with my children that you guys clearly made on this trip. it is so easy to run, run, run in different directions. you managed to bring your family together. amazing!

5 Neil Stockley { 07.26.09 at 5:24 am }

Have thoroughly enjoyed reading this journal / blog, having come to it fairly late in the piece (John and Jen told me about what you were doing when I visited them in February). Your experiences have clearly been life-changing and affirming; good of you to share them in such a well-written and thoughtful blog.

6 Elizabeth { 07.30.09 at 4:46 pm }

Do you think the Caroline’s room situation would have transpired had you not taken your trip?

7 Jeremy and Eva Rees { 08.07.09 at 11:49 am }

what a bittersweet post. love reading your blog!

8 Melanie { 12.22.09 at 1:12 pm }

Hi there, I just stumbled across your blog. My husband and I traveled around the world for a travel documentary program in 2006 and I can’t tell you how much this posting hit me. My eyes immediately welled up remembering how hard it was to come home when you have changed so much, but everything else is so much the same. Good on you a million times over for making this happen for your family. What a beautiful gift. Best, Melanie

9 21 Reasons to Travel Around the World with Kids…From Those Who Have Done It | BootsnAll Travel Articles { 07.06.11 at 8:24 am }

[…] “We returned more thankful. More tolerant and respectful of differences. More aware of the things that bring people together and drive them apart. More appreciative of other cultures and other ways to live your life.” – from Craig at The Wide, Wide World […]

10 Shannon { 03.08.13 at 8:12 pm }

This post brought tears to my eyes as well and I just found you today on nomadicchick’s blog. We are in the middle of our 1 year exit plan…the one where you research frantically and dream…looking out the window. I am eager to catch up on your year. Thank you for sharing your experience and inspiring those of us on the brink of departure :)

11 Stephanie { 05.01.13 at 1:48 am }

Our family sold most everything and traveled across the USA by RV in 2011. We experienced many of these same emotions when we finally came home. Although stressful, there was also something special about living in such close quarters…experiencing so many new things together.

We are forever changed – and I am so grateful to have had that year.

P.S. International travel is next on our “list.” ;)

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