Traveling without leaving home

This past summer we’ve opened our home to travelers, and our world at home has grown richer for it. Four young backpacking couples and two pairs of friends from France, Spain, Germany and the United States have stayed in our spare room organized via a backpacker networking website called HelpX. In return for accommodation and three meals a day, our guests have worked for four hours each day on our farm, or inside the house. We get to decide who we have staying in our home, and when we want them to stay — there’s no obligation or requirements other than food and a bed.

Memories of this summer are as warm as the days have been. They have sat and enjoyed gorgeous sunsets with us in the evenings and shared tales from their travels, photographs of loved ones back home, stories of what they love about our country and miss about their own, discussions about culture, politics, education, food, lifestyles and their hopes and dreams for the future. They’ve laughed with our children, tested themselves on our daughter’s sight words as she learns to read, played board games and pored over maps together planning the next phase of their journey. Google Translate has been a helpful companion to translate unfamiliar words. They’ve retreated into their rooms early in the evenings to relax, and given us plenty of space too as they’ve gone off and explored the surrounding area. And, we’ve been blessed to have them cook for us once a week too — the children most enjoyed savoring Tarte Tatin.

Before we had HelpXers, I had had a few reservations such as whether I would feel safe and comfortable with strangers in our home, staying in a room next door to my children. My husband has done all the filtering of requests and selecting of the helpers, and so far we have only had wonderful experiences. Perhaps travelers are all a certain kind of person, and we’re drawn to our similarities. People who are open to learning, to change, to adventure, to getting involved, to helping other humans out.

Having others living with us has had other benefits too — we’ve become more organized with our meal planning, cleaning, and chores. At first, I told guests where every item in the kitchen belonged, but then relaxed and noticed where they put things away and have now grown to enjoy the new locations some things have ended up in. I find it fascinating to see how other people do their chores and learn little life tips and tricks from how other people live around the world from the comfort of our own home.

And sure enough it’s soon time for the inevitable goodbyes, the children squeezing in for a photo (with someone usually pulling a face), a few teary eyes, warm embraces, and kind words.

What a way to see the world: homecooked meals with a glass of wine and four kids jostling to blow out the candle at the end of the meal. It’s far from the hostels packed full of your fellow countrymen travelers, and a welcome break from sleeping in station wagons with the backs converted into beds, paying to shower at public swimming pools.

We’ve been inspired too, to see more of our own country after seeing their photos and hearing their adventures of the wild stretches of New Zealand’s landscape, far from our home. I’m looking forward to taking our children on day hikes when they’re older, the ones we once did before having kids.

Traveling without leaving home.

The Twelfth Year

When I was 13, I wrote a short book called The Twelfth Year – an insight into my reflections on living for a year in Toronto, Canada as a 12-year-old in the previous year.

The book is dedicated: “For Mum and Dad: If you hadn’t taken me there, I wouldn’t be writing this.” 

This post includes some extracts from that book.

School in Canada

While I was in Canada in 1990, I attended half a year at Glen Ames Junior High School for Form Two  (Grade 8)and half a year at Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute (Grade 9). Marc Garneau was the first Canadian in space. The two schools were completely different.

There were a lot of differences to New Zealand schools and I had many experiences there which I won’t forget. To give you an idea of how the school was: there was no school uniform at either of the schools, gum and hats were allowed in one of the schools, you could go wherever you wanted in your lunch hour, jewelry etc were permitted. None of these are permitted in most N.Z. schools.

As soon as I arrived at Glen Ames, I was asked to hand over around $3.50 for a locker padlock. I was then given a locker close to my form class. In here I was allowed to keep anything. My form teacher was to be Mr. Lyttle. I entered the class and minutes later, I had the whole class around my desk and they were all asking me to say something to them. They were very intrigued by my strong kiwi accent. Boy, was I really embarrassed!!! This lasted the first week – then the class realized they would be hearing from me every day. They asked me if I knew what a swear word was, whether I lived in a hut or not back home, and how long it took to drive to Australia.

One day in Science, the teacher asked our class who had lawns. I thought this was a strange question. I said I did have one. To my surprise, no-one else had one apart from me! Later I found out that most people in Toronto lived in apartments that sometimes were 40 floors high.

There is a different attitude to school work in Canada, I found. Over in New Zealand, the thing is, “Do it or I’ll give you a detention.” In Canada, it is, “Do it or you’ll lose marks”. Marks are the key thing. Marks for assignments, tests, anything and everything, and they all add up to your final mark. Here are some examples of things I’ve heard:

“Sir, if I hand in my assignment early, can I get bonus marks?”
“Sir, how many marks is this worth?”
“Can I do a retest to improve my mark?”

Every week a list was put up in my math class which showed where in the class you were coming. All of the students wanted to know where they were coming.

The highlight of the half year at Glen Ames would have to be graduation.

At the end of every year in Canada, you HAD to pass to go up to the next grade. So, at the end of the year (up to high-school) you had your “evaluation”. For the younger kids, e.g. Grade 1 (J1) kids, I might add that they are 6 years old when you start school; they are only given a tick/cross if they can perform certain things. But, for the older ones – like me – you were given a percentage for every subject.

When you pass Grade 8, this could be when you are 13-16 years old, you attend a graduation. At the graduation. you were given a certificate of achievement. I would this would be fine, then I found out there was more to graduation than that.

Strapless, tight black dresses… Tuxedos… Ballroom gowns… Suits with tails… Limousine entry… the list could go on!!

WOW! I was really, really amazed. It was a BIG occasion for most of the students and their parents. So, of course, I couldn’t be the odd one out. Mum made me a dress which was quite nice and was certainly acceptable. Even though I didn’t come in a stretched limo, I still really enjoyed myself.

It was the big night. We were all given a spray of flowers and help to put them on. Inside the hall were anxious parents, outside were all these glamorous people as nervous as anything. We were all lined up for the grand entry…

We heard the music started to be played. Then the teachers told us to go inside the hall. All the parents were standing. My heart began to thump as loud as an elephant running.

As we sat in our seats waiting for the speeches to end and your name to be read out, I turned around in my seat. I imagined there were about 900 people in the hall. Cameras whirred, camcorders buzzed with proud parents behind them. I caught a glimpse of mum and dad then I realized it was our class’ turn.

As my name was read out and I was walking up to get my certificate, I felt really proud – not embarrassed as I had imagined I would be.

When our class was all read out, we went and stood in our places like we had practiced so many times. Then the parents could come out and take as many pictures as they wanted of the class. I felt like a movie start – all I could see was flashing white lights in front of my eyes. Then I was the familiar face of my mum who was also taking pictures. I smiled at her.

After the speeches and awards etc had all been done, there was a big supper for everyone. Parents got individual photos of their child and their teacher.

Kids had been talking about that night for weeks, what they would wear, what not to wear, what it would be like, what you are and aren’t meant to do.

And then it was all over in a moment.



Petit rope

As I write this, my husband and our oldest who is nine, are on a flight to Japan. It is the first time one of our children has flown without me and I’m sitting here thinking of them both, my heart swelling with pride.

Last year, he was having a rough time with kids at school and was feeling really down about life. It was difficult going through the experience with him. Thankfully, we are long out the other side of that now but one of the things which really helped turn the tide was him starting to take karate lessons. His interest in Japanese began with the simple counting and commands from his sensei. He asked us if he could learn Japanese, so we purchased a subscription to the language app Rosetta Stone (later switching to free Duolingo when they brought out Japanese on their app). My rusty three years of Japanese lessons have been dredged up in my brain to lend him a hand and surprisingly, I remember more than I thought I would.

It’s now exactly a year since he began karate and Japanese lessons and there he is, in Japan, experiencing the language and culture first-hand. My husband and I have often talked about wanting our kids to know that there is more than one way to do life, and this week in Japan will be a huge lesson in this. He is going to homestay with a Japanese family, with kids his own age, and go to their school. Complete immersion. My husband will be staying with his very close friend who lives nearby — the trip is really meaningful for him too. When our friends moved from New Zealand to Japan, we said that if we saw a very inexpensive flight over there, we would find a way for him to go visit.

We have had an alert set up for flights to Japan for years, but it was only a few weeks ago that a very special deal came up which was a tiny fraction of the normal price to go and so we went for it. The timing felt so right — and what a way to cap off my son’s first year learning Japanese.

There is something about going to a country which doesn’t speak your native language which is an incredible experience — it teaches you how to really communicate without words when needed, how to notice body language, and of course you learn some phrases and words by osmosis, by repetition, by patterns or pictures. You learn new skills and have a whole lot of laughs along the way.

When we were camping in rural Québec, our washing line broke so my father sent my sister and me down to the campground store to purchase some more string. He could speak French but had forgotten the word for “string”. He told us to say “Avez-vous du petit ‘rope’?” and hope they could understand the English word ‘rope’. My sister and I nervously repeated the phrase over and over on the walk across the campground. We said it clearly, but the owner had no idea what on earth ‘rope’ meant (and there was no Google Translate to assist back then) and nor could he speak any English. We did what one does of course, and repeated the phrase more slowly and loudly over and over without success. The storekeeper disappeared out the back and came back to hand me over a piece of paper and a pen. I drew a wiggly line on the paper and then laughed at how silly it looked.  (Why I didn’t draw pegs and clothing hanging off of it, I do not know. I used to be quite good at Pictionary, but this didn’t feel like a game.) Eventually, I saw a piece of string out the back of the store and pointed to it, miming pegging clothing onto it. He was smiling and laughing by this point too, two young girls trying to buy something they couldn’t see for sale in the store. He disappeared again out the back and returned with an old piece of string and refused to take the money we held out. Mission accomplished! We were feeling embarrassed and awkward that our father had put us in that position, and laughing at our silly drawing and miming. I think my father knew exactly was he was doing, and I can still remember the experience today.

After a month of living in Poland, and knowing no Polish words prior to the trip, going back to an English-speaking country felt overwhelming: suddenly at the American airport I could understand everything everyone was saying around me and it did my head in. I felt like I was eavesdropping and shouldn’t be hearing other people’s private conversations around me — I had lived in a tiny bubble of language in Poland and all the talking around me was just filtered out white noise. Hearing all those words I could understand all of a sudden was tiring.

Then there are all the cliché things people will tell you about — silly signs and clothing that are written in English but do not make much sense to English-speakers, the people who will beam at you for trying when you work hard to mutter a few words in their language then they reply fluently in English and so on.

Ultimately there is the joy of realizing we are all human and feel the same things, even if our words and culture express them a little differently. We see this when little toddlers play together — they don’t need to have many (or any) words to figure out how to get along.

Many years ago, before we had children, we went to a storytelling night at a pub. A father of grown children, who also knew my parents,  shared travel stories. He mentioned that New Zealanders do not have positive rites of passage for their children like many cultures do, so he and his wife created some. At a certain age, possibly ten, each of the children would go away camping and hiking for a weekend with one of the parents. At another age, possibly fourteen, they would go overseas with a parent to a third world country to see real poverty and volunteer on an ongoing project to help contribute to positive change. Something about this really resonated with us and we had thought about doing something similar with our children. This trip feels like the first one for our oldest.

I cannot wait to hear all about my husband and son’s week away together.

Share your stories, they age well

We camped for forty days and nights around Eastern Canada and the U.S. and had so many adventures along the way. That trip contained such blissful long summer day memories and was my favorite vacation as a child.

The memories which spring to mind first are all the new animals we saw for the first time (or smelt: skunks being a foreign novelty to New Zealanders). A mother moose with her baby on the side of the road staring at us as my father leaned in across the road for a photo (yes, yes, not the wisest move in hindsight but nothing went wrong that day). A fat furry raccoon stuck bottoms up in a chimney, struggling for hours to get out. A snake which looked like a stick on the path in front of me on my way to the campground shower. Bears eating from a box of New Zealand (!) apples at a local garbage dump at dusk. Chipmunks surrounding me (and my lunch) in a park in Montréal. Chasing and catching fireflies in mason jars with kids we befriended. Beavers working on their dams in the lakes of Algonquin Park. Looking so hard to see beluga and minke whales from the shores of St. Lawrence that our eyes began seeing things. The curse of black flies. And the great blue heron which pooped a giant one from high above down into the pancake mixture my father was stirring on the picnic table in Prince Edward Island and covered the entire thing. Dad had a twinkle in his eye when he said we could just scrape it off the top. We all fell about half laughing, half in horror looking at the mess in the bowl in his arms — was he kidding? I don’t remember what we ate instead that day. Sometimes the things that went wrong make for the funniest stories to share.

I recently told my children this story, and the number of times that they have repeated it to each other and to others since made me realize the ongoing value of sharing our stories. I resolved to tell more of my stories to them, little by little, so they become woven into their memories too.

Printing photos out help too, something to give you a reference point and to help spark your memories. We have a wall in our kitchen which is completely covered with a collage of cheaply printed photos of us, friends, people and places from our travels. The photos aren’t perfectly arranged, they’re much-covered in fingerprints and often pulled off by the little ones and hastily placed back on by us as we cook their dinner. The number of times our youngest stops by and points out things in those photos and laughs and says a few words about Disneyland makes me smile.

I try to print off photo yearbooks too, but I’m lagging behind by a few years. It’s on that never-ending to-do list for when I have nothing else to do — I think all Moms feel a bit like this about photo albums. I love putting them together when I do though and love flipping through the pages with our kids every so often. They remember different things than we do, and I love hearing what they want to share with us.

However you share your memories — words, photos, videos — it is worth it. Kids love stories. Actually we all do.

Oh Canada (Part I)

In 1990, my father won a teacher exchange program position in Toronto, Canada. This not only involved swapping jobs but also houses for a year. The opportunity for me to travel 8,600 miles away to escape misery-inducing bullying from other school girls had me anticipating the fresh start even more.

A year away from New Zealand meant enrolling in Canadian schools. Because the exchange program was based on the calendar year, I joined the Canadian school system for the second half of Grade 8 and then went on to do the first half of Grade 9.

My four-year-old brother began gaining a Canadian accent within a week of starting kindergarten. We giggled when he said “cross over” in his newfound accent at the traffic lights.

Switching from a small suburban school in New Zealand to an inner city Canadian school was a huge education in and of itself. All the abrupt changes shouted loudly at me: No uniform, chewing gum, baseball caps, jewelry, lockers (non-existent in New Zealand), tattoos, and a huge guy who came late to class because he’d been charged with assault the night before. Everyone looked much more grown-up than me and I often felt intimidated by their sophistication and worldliness. She was into REM, I was into N.K.O.T.B.

The kids despised taking the compulsory French classes, which is where most of the drama occurred. I had to do a test on the first day where I somehow guessed and got four out of ten correct, more than some of the kids in that class. It remains my worst test result on record. I can still picture that poor tiny French teacher who had sanitary pads regularly stuck to her back with obscene messages written on them in red Sharpie pen. One day the boys threw all her French music records out the window like frisbees down two floors then smashing onto the concrete below. Another boy the size of a grown man backed her right into the corner and threatened her under muttered breath. I was too afraid to hang out the windows and see the carnage below. Years later, when I watched the television show Boston Public, I was often reminded of scenes from my time in that school.

The worst was yet to come with this petite softly-spoken French teacher. A class trip took us to a downtown Toronto theatre to watch a play in French. We all piled out of the bus, through the box office area and into the back row of the ground floor of the building. It was a matinee performance and the theatre was reasonably empty. The kids were goofing off and not particularly interested in being at a play but happy to be out of school. We were hushed as the curtain drew up and the play began. She didn’t need to ask us to be quiet again: The opening scene showed a threesome in bed, fully naked, having sex. (To this day, I don’t know if they were actually having sex or faking it. It was French arty stuff. Who knows.) One of the men got out of the bed and walked across the stage angrily. Full frontal nudity, bits wobbling, sheets flying off. Oh and he shouted something in French. I had never been so shocked in my life. Little twelve-year-old me who had only seen PG-rated movies, whose mother did not approve of me reading Sweet Valley Twins books and who was secretly crushing on New Kids on the Block but too afraid to tell her parents she would like to buy their album because there were cuss words in it. Yes. It was a moment in which I grew up and felt dirty about it.

That teacher stood up like a shot, marched us quick-smart out of that theatre outside and went to go find a telephone to call for the bus to return to collect us all ahead of time. (No cell phones back then, either for the teacher or for us to document the moment.) Once the practicalities were sorted, she told us in a wavering voice (probably masking her horror) we were never to say another word about the ‘incident’ and swore us to not tell our parents. On the bus home, no-one said much. All those kids who were so wild and seemed so knowledgeable about everything were reduced to staring at their feet wondering what had just gone on and how something like this could have happened.

I kept that shameful-feeling secret niggling away in the back of my mind, mortified at the thought of telling my parents and that our teacher threatened us not to tell otherwise she would lose her job. About fifteen years later, when we were reminiscing about our travels, some of that secret (‘a nude play’) came out when I was hanging out with my family. Everyone — including me — laughed when I told them, and in some ways, it is funny from an adult’s perspective. It is still a memory which makes me feel uneasy about the power of an adult making a child swear secrecy over their mistake, let alone the sexual context which was never explained or dealt with. And I didn’t even understand what they were arguing about on stage thanks to my lack of French!

When you are twelve and going through puberty, it leaves an impression.
Not all travel stories are what you planned.


My first pregnancy began with such joy — seeing a positive test result the morning that my younger sister was getting married. And it ended with a sudden jolt: a moment in time where we happily saw a perfectly-formed little baby image on the ultrasound screen but did not realize that she was meant to be moving around.We were having our routine twelve-week scan and were told I had had a missed miscarriage. We were devastated. It was the first real time in my life that things didn’t go to plan, and for an A+ only student at college,  I felt such an utter failure.

For months I beat myself up over why it had happened and felt tremendous guilt that I had taken a flight to a work conference in Australia during my first trimester. I went down the Googling rabbit hole of learning about the increased risk of miscarriage for flight attendants and felt regret for having gone on that trip, whether or not it had anything to do with anything I would never know.

That entire first pregnancy aftermath was an ongoing lesson in things not going to plan and left me completely reeling. The ‘routine’ D&C surgery after a missed miscarriage went wrong. I hemorrhaged for some unknown reason and lost one-third of my blood, needing a blood transfusion and a laparoscopy to check the bleeding didn’t go elsewhere internally. I woke up extremely weak, my body in literal shock, freezing cold, sore, disoriented and confused to find my belly blown up like a balloon, a cruel twist of fate to someone dreaming of making it that far in their pregnancy.

It took time physically to recover from all of that, especially regaining my energy after the blood loss. Emotionally I was a wreck. Friends came out of the woodwork to tell me they too had all suffered miscarriages, and I entered into a new understanding of womanhood, of grief a mother feels, even before ever meeting their child. I learned an empathy through that which I’ve never had otherwise known.

Four months later, I was watching television with my husband. It was the ad break just after one of our favorite TV show characters was taken away in an ambulance.  I got up to use the bathroom and realized I was bleeding – badly.  I ran to the bathroom yelling to my husband who followed behind, seeing a horrific trail of blood which he said was everywhere. He called for an ambulance as we both were in shock as to what this all meant. I remember the drive to the hospital hearing drip, drip, drip on the floor. I had bled all the way through the mattress. The driver kept stopping to check my vitals as I wasn’t in a good way. I lost another third of my blood that night. My body had rid itself — in dramatic fashion — of a one-inch piece of placenta left behind by the original D&C surgery. The doctors didn’t want me to have another transfusion, so I was told to take it easy for the next month as my body healed.

Just as we had felt like we had begun to move on with life after the miscarriage, we felt beaten backward. Was giving birth going to be too life-threatening? Would I have scarring from this that would prevent further births? Was it all worth it?

We needed something to take our minds off all the horror. A plan was hatched: We would be a little reckless and buy around the world plane tickets and go take time off and travel for six weeks. We’d take in Sydney, Bankok, Beijing, London, Paris for my thirtieth birthday, New York, Toronto, Los Angeles and San Francisco. On days when I felt so down, the thought of Paris on my thirtieth birthday at the end of the year could still make me smile. We wanted to end our annus horribilis on a good note.

The trip was perfect in every way: the sights, the food, the meaningful conversations, the fun experiences, the people, the friends we could see, and… another pregnancy. I felt a little strange when we returned to London before flying out to New York and wondered. Was I pregnant again? Could I really be? A quick trip to the drug store later, I found out I was! We were overjoyed. I felt very ill by the time we made it to San Francisco and couldn’t face the thought of walking back up the steep hill to our hotel at the end of the day but my husband happily paid for a taxi ride up. This time was going to be different and any of my thoughts about travel being bad faded off into the distance. Our son was born healthily without any medical interventions or pain relief drugs the following year.

I flew while pregnant with all four of our children.  If you are up to it and your doctor says you are good to go, I encourage you to. You will get out and keep more active and pass the time more quickly. Yes, morning sickness with my daughter had its awful moments while traveling but the time went by faster, I had a lot of things to distract myself from feeling so bad. I never found flights to swell my legs while pregnant, but I never did while not pregnant either. One important note — I never traveled in my third trimester as travel insurance would not cover me. I have read far too many stories of women from New Zealand who have gone on a Pacific Island vacation in their third trimester and didn’t take out insurance and were stung with incredible bills and sometimes even flown home under emergency by the New Zealand air force. As much as I love to travel, that is not a risk I am willing to take.

Long-distance friendships

Some of my favorite humans live a very long plane ride or more away from us. It is both a side effect of having traveled so much and that people much more regularly pack up their houses and move far away in today’s world. Long-distance relationships are hard on the heart and technology can only carry us so far in filling that aching void.

There is something magical about traveling all over the world and having people you know to see in almost every place we go and being able to coordinate schedules to share a meal together, laugh about old memories and get caught up on what is new in all of our lives. There are people I have met along the way and thought, if we were in the same city, I could easily imagine us being best friends.

What is even more magical is when connections are made that would never have happened if it were not for travel. Growing up, my parents knew a couple of New Zealanders who traveled the world teaching. While I was a growing up, they spent a lot of time in both Mongolia and Montana. We would hear their stories every year or two when they returned for a visit and I was mesmerized by what they were doing. When I was 22, they had since moved on to Germany but I was drawn to go study in Montana for five months, with part of that time living in Poland. The friendships I made at that time in my life have stuck with me ever since. It was one of those periods in your life that everything felt open to change. I got engaged via long distance while I was there, and so did one of the other girls I shared a room with. She was from Hawaii, and her fiance was back over there too. Our stories over the years followed a similar trajectory – we were married within a month of each other, both had our first two boys within weeks of each other and both had a baby girl as our third child (we went on to have one more!). After nine years of not seeing each other, we met again in Hawaii with two little boys and two baby bumps to match. Our husbands – who had never met or talked prior to that first visit – got on really well and formed their own friendship. Our children quickly became firm friends too. I have lost track of how many times we have seen each other now over the years – together in both Hawaii and New Zealand, sharing meals around each other’s dining tables, kids running around outside. I often think about all the serendipity involved along the way and how travel played an integral part. Two young women, one from Hawaii, one from New Zealand, talking about their fiancés in a room together in Częstochowa.

For a while there, I envisaged an even more incredible chain of serendipity occurring. Through another friendship I formed in Montana, I met her friends, another engaged couple who offered to drive us both down from Montana to Los Angeles after the course was over. The road trip was a perfect way for me to start my journey back to New Zealand and was a whole lot of fun. I kept thinking that my fiance would get on so well with the guy that I introduced the two of them to each other via email when I got back to New Zealand. They did hit it off too, and a year later my husband (a wedding happened in the meantime!) and a friend of his went over to the U.S. for work and stayed at their house. My husband’s friend returned later on to the U.S. and met the guy’s family and formed friendships with them. The sister came over to see my husband’s friend in New Zealand, and I wondered if there might have been a relationship happening. It didn’t eventuate, but I was amazed by the almost-to-be fantastic chain of connections all thanks to my parent’s knowing a couple who taught all over the world.

Life is like that, and travel makes these moments, these connections seem all the more incredible – those chance encounters that would never have happened otherwise. It also makes the world feel a whole lot smaller when there’s a friendly face you can have a coffee with and rest your weary feet from pacing the city’s sights.

My children now have formed friendships with others they don’t see very often but jump right back into when they next see them. We don’t hold back, even though we know that it’s a fleeting moment in time of being together in the same physical space and our farewells are always ‘Until next time!’.

Through our friends in Hawaii, we have made friends with their friends. Our original friends no longer live in Hawaii, and neither do some of their friends. Through our friends, we found a small house church there which we feel so at home in. The people there are our people. We and our children feel so loved and accepted by them and while the kids there are older than ours, they have grown up each summer together with them and connected over countless hours together. Each year our kids get a little bigger but still beg to be carried on the older boys’ shoulders while walking back from the 4th of July fireworks. My heart swells as I picture this scene repeated each year, it is hard to explain these connections formed across space and time.

My work colleague and friend met for the first time after having worked together for about seven years, she traveled to New Zealand, I to New Hampshire. All those thousands of emails, phone calls, and video calls had all merged into a complete picture of what each other’s lives were like and when we met, she was exactly as I imagined her to be. We worked well together before, but having spent time in person together, it has grown even better with time.

Some dear friends of ours now live too far away. I want to be able to click my heels and appear in Canada when we could lend them a hand, or simply just to do once again together what would faithfully do each week: eat homemade pizza and watch Grey’s Anatomy and 24 together, talk about love and life, and create endless in-jokes, and holiday together. Too many tears over the years have been shed long distance, rather than in an actual hug. We dropped everything on our busy schedules to fly down the country and have a whole day together before they left to go back to Canada. It was just the four of us, no kids (my longest time away from our youngest!). This time there was on pizza or TV watching, but a day of good conversation about real things that mattered, good food, wandering aimlessly around beaches and time for reminiscing too. The time flew by. Just as we opened the dessert menus, we realized we would miss our flight home if we didn’t literally run to pay the bill, race to the car and then drive as efficiently as possible to the airport. For someone who hates being late and has never missed a flight or connection to date, being lost in that moment was a sign to me. In hindsight, that day felt like a pivotal one to me: I think I could drop everything to go be with a friend in need, no matter where in the world and it felt good.

We have found the connections formed while traveling seems to skip over some of the stages that happen back at home. Perhaps it is because Hawaii is such a transient place where many come for work for a few years (particularly for those in the military) and is that much further from mainland family support who cannot drive to be there when needed, that people are open to forming deep friendships quickly. If we are only there for a season in our lives then we better get past the small talk and get to really being there for each other. When time feels limitless back home, we can wave and say hi to people all year that cross our paths but it never gets any further along in the relationship. We are content in our circle of friends, our routine, our lives.

Perhaps it is because travelers are open to change, to disruption, to discovering that new friendships are more easily formed and meeting fellow travelers along the way is a good recipe for those magic moments to happen.

Or perhaps it is because travelers have limited time but are wanting to make the most of that time more. If you are traveling while on vacation, there’s no work to be done, appointments to keep, chores and errands to run: time stretches out far and wide.

Travel can be lonely too. Away from friends and family, the adrenaline and excitement will wear off at times. Call it homesickness, or longing to be there when something bad happens back home, having someone to talk to in person while you are traveling helps.

It is a mix of all these things and more.

I sometimes like to imagine heaven as being the place that all the people I love are together in one space — finally — and we can spend unhurried time together, introducing all the friends we have that have never met and seeing more magic happen as they get on so perfectly just as we had always imagined.


Returning home

Returning home after a journey away creates a whole new concoction of emotions all swirled together. At heart, there is often a feeling of restlessness: Our travels may have ended but it takes some time for the momentum in our souls to settle back into routine life at home. Our children feel it too, and it often comes out in their behavior. As parents, we put this down to tiredness and prescribe them a simple solution of an early night to bed. Maybe that’s what we need as adults too when we are feeling out of sorts.

There is this strange sense of time having being warped around us: Life seems to have plodded on somewhat uneventfully at home with days and weeks casually blurred into one period of time. Meanwhile, we packed our days full with a carefully planned itinerary of unique adventures and can recall together over the dinner table exactly what we were doing a week ago. It is hard to switch from one mode to the other and I often find myself daydreaming about the next journey even before our return to allay this subtle discontent.

Thanks to social media, friends and family can follow along on our journeys, sharing a few of our moments as we go rather than waiting until our return to hear all about it. I appreciate that I can jump onto Facebook today and see photos of a friend sitting on a train from Amsterdam to Paris, another exploring London with her children and others sitting on the Great Wall of China. We can offer tidbits of advice and virtual high-fives while they are on the go. For the traveler, the connection and feedback are rewarding too.

The Internet’s immediacy has all but replaced those lengthy dreamy sessions flicking through someone’s physical photo albums back at their house over a cup of tea, or even those infamous slideshow nights from my childhood where people wondered when the slides would ever end.

Moments being shared instantly has meant less time for reflection on our travels with our friends and family once we are back home and I have felt like this has made it harder as a traveler. Returning home, we can be bursting inside our heads with stories, thoughts, feelings, and ideas that have sprung up from our time away but it can be hard to find people to share this all with — from the outside it seems like they have already seen, and therefore understood our trip.

It is surreal to walk back into everyday life and bump into someone you know to swap small talk, ‘How was your trip away?’ they ask. ‘Incredible,’ you reply. ‘That’s great, are you going to so-and-so’s birthday party this weekend?’ they ask. ‘Yes,’ you reply. The topic of conversation merely brushes over the travel then moves on. You may get a chance to share one anecdote which you will find yourself repeating many times over.

Our children are often asked the impossible-to-answer question ‘What was your favorite thing about the trip?’. They struggle to answer and often shrug and say nothing. It’s so hard to compact everything down to one thing to share. I want to ease the awkwardness by jumping in and prompting them with answers but I hang back. I make a mental note to ask other children easier-to-answer questions such as ‘What was something funny that happened on your trip?’

Walking back into our house after some time away feels a little surreal. Everything is the same, but we are not. We can smell things our noses grew used to before (wooden flooring, outside grasses), hear the strong, cringe-inducing accents of our fellow New Zealanders (talkback radio, retail assistants) and be reminded once more of how pollution-free our skies are. Returning home can feel a little like the time away was a dream — was I really on the other side of the world yesterday walking amongst thousands of people out in the hot summer sun? I can picture the scene so clearly in my mind as I change into my winter clothing, feeling the odd tightness of jeans against my legs for the first time in weeks. We see with new eyes the things we want to change in our houses (more rugs), the things we want to get rid of (all that junk lying around that AirBNBs never have) and the things we are grateful for (our own pillow).

There are no easy answers: It is hard to settle back in. Finding fellow travelers to spend a night swapping stories over pizza helps.Talking to our kids about their memories helps. Having plans to look forward to in the future helps. As does sleep.

19 years of traveling to the same place?

On our first ten-day trip to Hawaii, we rode a shuttle bus to our Honolulu hotel with a fellow New Zealand family. We had one of those brief conversations that stick with you forever: not because anything explicitly profound was said, but because it opened our eyes to a new way of travel which we would end up following too. They were a farming couple from a rural part of the South Island of New Zealand who escaped a month or two of their harsh winter by coming to Hawaii. They were avid windsurfers and kept returning to the same little vacation rental house in Maui each year. They had grown to know a community of friends over there and sometimes had others from New Zealand come over and join them too. They hadn’t grown tired of traveling to the same place: it was their nineteenth year and they were still bursting full of excitement. These are the best types of travelers to bump into: the ones which fill you with anticipation and happiness. The four of them got off the bus to have their one night in a Honolulu hotel before flying to Maui, and we were dropped at our hotel.  I often wonder about that family and how many years that their count is up to now.

Later we reflected on their tradition and wondered, why would they return over and over again when there are so many incredible places to explore around the world? Wouldn’t they get tired of it? Wouldn’t there be nothing new to discover?

The simple answer is “Because Hawaii.” Escaping winter, feeling the warm sunshine on your skin and getting that high-dose Vitamin D is incredible. Hawaii always delivers with its weather. (Sadly, Fiji was overcast and rained for every day but one on our only mid-winter vacation there.) Aside from offering resorts, gorgeous scenery, beaches, mountains, waterfalls and every outdoor sport and activity you can imagine, the islands have fantastic shopping and first-world facilities such as high-speed internet – essential when you’re working online while traveling.

There is more to the answer than that. There is something magical about returning to a place you love that grows over time. Your memories of the place are layered on top of other memories, on top of other memories. The place becomes a second home. I suppose that is why so many families have vacation cottages or holiday homes they keep returning to. These places hold treasured memories of carefree childhood summers where the sunlight hours were long and time went by slowly. The place is meaningful because we’ve wanted it to be, and we’ve spent countless hours there. The place is talked about by your children as if it’s just around the corner, and the little ones at home get confused about why they can’t go to the beach in Hawaii again tomorrow. You can imagine what life is like for people who are there when you’re not there. You feel like you are leaving a piece of your heart behind when you leave and you silently promise yourself you will be back as the plane’s last wheels let go of the runway as you return back home.

This is why we love to return over and over again to Hawaii, even when there are so many incredible places to explore around the world. We don’t get tired of it. There are always new things to discover. Part of the year for our family is anticipating the next time we are there. It is a wonderful part of our family culture, and I bet it was for this other family too.

I imagine my husband and me 11 years from now, having this same conversation with another family, this time playing the reverse role. It makes me smile.

Traveling alone

When I was 17, I traveled by myself for the first time and didn’t do things by halves: my journey took me from Auckland to London for a month via a one-day layover in Japan. I remember feeling incredibly excited by the trip but not at all nervous about being as far away on earth as I could be from my family. I never considered how my parents might feel, having their oldest daughter flying to the other side of the world. If they were worried, I never noticed it.

I found myself unexpectedly reminiscing about my trip to London when I traveled to Boston and New York twenty-two years later. It was my first time traveling alone since having children.

The experience of parents and children being far apart has changed dramatically in that time. In 1995, email was new to the masses, and a novelty. I sent my first email from a friend’s laptop — also a rarity — in London, back to my parents. Another email was sent during my Internet cafe visit – a true hybrid cafe, bookstore and set of terminals. Internet cafes peaked then were replaced by phones. I didn’t travel with one then, but made one landline call home to let my parents know I had made it there safely. The long distance cost per minute meant the call was very brief. Postcards were the main way of communicating, albeit rather slowly. Today, I make live video calls on my phone with my husband and children. I can chat with my children via Viber on their iPad long before my husband wakes up (far too early on their Saturday morning). No postcards were sent home during my eleven-day trip away — I would have beaten them back to New Zealand. A single post to Instagram which auto-published to Facebook shared my moment with almost everyone I know. Being able to see my husband and children each day made a huge difference. Technology has made long distance not feel as far or, at times, lonely.

When I was seventeen, that first trip alone brought such a sense of freedom: a weird sensation that no-one in the world who knew me knew what I was doing right in that instance, or where I was exactly and in my mind I felt that I could do whatever I wanted. That sense of freedom as a teenager didn’t lead to anything wild in behavior. I was still me: choosing to spend hours flicking through cassingles in HMV, the world’s biggest record store at the time. I grew up immensely during that trip: having my first hotel room to myself (discovering all those Japanese toilet buttons, playing music loudly), trying my first (and last) Guinness, dancing in a club to Kiss from a Rose, and kissing a boy on a rooftop under the stars.

Walking the streets of New York twenty-two years later, I felt a sense of déja vu which took me back all those years — but this time I felt freedom from responsibility. I could do whatever I wanted without having children needing to find a bathroom, or getting tired of wandering around. I could browse the Strand Bookstoreˆ(17 miles of books!) in peace, or go out for a late dinner with a colleague without thinking of what time to get back for the babysitter. I was still me, thinking constantly of my husband and children, taking photos of little things from my day to share with them — Pokémon, candy stores, squirrels, the Home Alone hotel. Everything reminded me of my bonds to them.

Alone, connected. Still me.