I was invited to a going away birthday dinner party a few weeks back with some fellow world travelers. The conversation bounced from the confines of organized religion – two of the families present had had difficult partings from the Mormon Church – to travel, to best restaurants in our current Mexican location, education, work and more. At one point, close to our lemon cheescake dessert, I asked the group if they knew of any good animal sanctuaries, which allowed children, and where one might work with elephants? Aiden really wanted to work with elephants, and considering our limited finances we were thinking of Asia over Africa. Two of the families had in fact participated in elephant work, one at a wonderful sanctuary in northern Thailand, while the others suggested ways to accomplish African safaris on a low budget (rent your own car and head out!). I scribbled a couple pages of notes.
It occurred to me as I looked around the table, what an amazing community I had found. Not only could asking about something as oddball and BIG as wanting to go work with elephants in the near future be taken as completely rational and normal, but it was in fact a great idea, completely doable, and also very educational, one friend chimed in. “The kids have to go into a giant closet where the food is stored and calculate, then carry out, the many tons of food the elephants will be eating during the day. And no one is to ride them; that’s the sign of an unethical sanctuary, as trainers have had to beat the animals into submission. NEVER ride an elephant.” I winced, remembering my elephant rides in Cambodia during my graduate work there. Back then I simply didn’t know these facts.
I went home and looked up the suggested sites for elephant work, and in a fit of spontaneity (for which I’ve become known among these friends), bought a ticket to northern Thailand for a month.
I have beloved friends around the world, but many of them might have laughed at my question, might shake their heads and wonder why I don’t just settle down, or where the money would come from for THIS trip?? And while this is a perfectly good question, world-traveling communities most often tell you exactly where the money comes from, because they are intent on building a community of digital nomads or otherwise location independently employed people who share similar visions. They offer each other tips on work opportunities, suggestions on investments, property management techniques and financial advisers. They talk about the highs and the lows of trying to work remotely, because we are all part of an informal family now, trying to make this very different way of living a bit more comfortable, dare I say, mainstream. We all advocate a kind of family-centered, larger worldview of education, travel, and engagement with societies that aren’t our own. We arrange to meet in different locations and discuss our educational strategies whenever possible. We organize large play dates in the park or at local restaurants, or at worldschooling conferences increasingly held in locations around the world. (Some larger families than my own also discuss the difficulties of a sex life on the road, but that’s for a different post). A few of those I’ve met have made an immense amount of money digitally; others live well off investments or the sale of their homes and all possessions; still others scrape by and are happy to simply have enough to do the things they love with the people they care for most. If it sounds a bit utopist, well, in many ways it is. But the conversation always comes back to the question of why we would want or need so much more: “So we can retire and do exactly what we’re doing now?” is the inevitable question in response. And what if we don’t live that long?
This lifestyle isn’t always one big leap off a cliff into the unknown, even if it seems that way from afar. Many of these families have chosen to keep a home base back in their countries of recent origin; some rent out their properties for income, and as noted before, others have sold everything and live off of savings, wanting to keep a leg in for purposes of the market or greater security in general (a post on this is coming soon). Many have extended family, which provides a measure of support for those inevitably long, tiring days on the road.
Many of us are making a new family. Take the Mormons I mentioned. When I asked about the most difficult part of leaving the Mormon Church, “John” said it was the loss of a kind of family that stung most. “Then we found this worldschooling community and it became much easier,” he said. “Now we have a new kind of supportive family.”
While I’m not part of any organized religion, I can deeply understand the sentiment. For those of us who have never really fit into a more regimented or “normal” way of life, work, or schooling, it’s refreshing to find others with a similar mindset. And they’re not crazy dropouts (the likes of which I’ve certainly encountered over the years), but people who truly believe there is another way, and they’re going to spend their lives making it happen. In fact rather than being dropouts, they are the uber doers, the ones who put my work ethic to shame. They are the inventors and the creators, the curious and the educated, the manifesters and the inspired. I love these people, and I feel so fortunate to be learning from them every day.
And about that month in Thailand? Well, after being contacted by my French biological family, I decided it was more important to spend our limited funds and time visiting them in Europe, and reconnecting Aiden with cousins he hasn’t seen in years. So Asia will wait for another time, maybe next summer if I really set my mind to it.
So my new question is: with an extra week in Europe, where would you go? Rome, then to Pompeii? Greece and the Acropolis? Croatia? Paris, Paris, and more Paris?…