The Travel Bug: Illness or Blessing?

Rachel as an expat in New Delhi, 2000

Rachel at a holiday party in New Delhi, India, 2000

I caught the travel bug early.  I’ve been traveling since I was six weeks old.  At that time, my parents relocated with me (their eldest) to Rio de Janeiro.  Since then, I’ve never looked back and have never been far from the next journey.

Not all my travels have taken me to exotic locales.  Some of them were domestic moves to towns that were just hours (by car) from one another.  Nonetheless, in the days before mobile phones and the internet, we might as well have relocated to the moon, because each move inevitably meant new schools, new sets of friends, etc.

In those days, it was tougher to stay in touch.  So, it felt as if I were forever starting over.  I felt like a “rolling stone” — someone who never really had deep roots in any one place.

In some respects, I still feel that way.  When other folks wax nostalgic about their home towns, the kids they grew up with, or summers on the swim team, I feel disconnected.  I can’t relate.

I envy those people who have deep roots in one place, with neighbors and friends they’ve enjoyed for a lifetime.  However, my own experience has been more chaotic and disjointed.

For better or worse, history repeats itself.  My husband and I have unwittingly created a similar experience for our children, relocating every few years according to the demands of our employment.

Of course, we adults justify the moves by focusing on the educational aspects of traveling abroad, meeting new people and learning new languages.  The children, however, patiently tag along on our adventures, adjusting to new cities, new schools, and new friends with minimal complaints.

Feeding Giraffes, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2007

Rachel and Chloé feed the giraffes at the Lion Park, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2007.

So, finally, I had to ask my kids how they feel about all this travel, culture shock, and change.  After reiterating everything they probably thought I wanted to hear about how great it was to learn new languages and experience different cultures, we started getting closer to the truth.  Interestingly enough, though they all admitted feeling homesick and missing some of the things kids enjoy in the United States, it turns out they also believe the journey has changed them for the better.

My youngest daughter used the word “strength”–which surprised me quite a bit, coming from a nine-year-old.  She eloquently explained how, for her, the various challenges involved in this vagabond lifestyle have made her more resilient.  She says she has discovered that no matter how tough things may seem, every problem has a solution.

My eldest son said he appreciates the way the journey has affected our family’s lifestyle.  He reflected on how, in the absence of our many relocations, he might never have seen a Bollywood movie.  He might have missed out on international icons he’s grown up with, like Shahrukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, and Saif Ali Khan.

My son also observed that our travels have profoundly changed what we eat, the spices in our pantry, and the way we cook together.  Our family might tuck into a fragrant korma masala one day and a spicy African sauce the next.  Or, we could be throwing burgers on the grill.  All of these flavors have become a part of our family’s repertoire and our collective memories.

I don’t know whether or not my children will resent our choices when they grow up.  However, for now, I’m optimistic that the lessons they’re learning along the way will serve them well in future years, and I hope my children will build on these lessons and identify new ones as time goes by.

Did you live abroad with your family as child?  How do you feel the experience has affected you?  Please share your own thoughts in the comments section.

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6 responses to “The Travel Bug: Illness or Blessing?

  1. We never lived abroad, but I always daydreamed about it as a kid. My parents still live within 25 miles of where their parents grew up. My brother is still there too. But since then, my husband and I have moved all around the US, and I’ve secretly considered raising kids abroad/around the world. I can’t even imagine what life would be like with those kind of formative experiences.

    • Wow! It’s really fantastic to have such deep roots in one place. I guess we really both represent a paradox, because no matter what we human beings have (deep roots or shallow), we think the opposite might have been better or, at least, more interesting:)

  2. I can immediately relate to this blog – and know what you and your children are feeling! I grew up as an expat child..and I continue to do so as an adult – currently living in Mexico City with my husband. The question of where home is, is a complicated one for me (and everyone else who has lived in many different countries), and at times I have felt incredibly lost and dislocated from people. However recently I have come to the realisation that home is where my husband is, and as long as we are together and happy – I couldn’t ask for a happier life!

    Thanks so much for stopping by my blog – as it lead me to yours XX

    • Thanks so much for visiting! I immediately connected to your recipe for lomo because my best friend (really, mi hermana) is Peruvian! Suffice to say I grew up speaking Spanish & Portuguese and now speak French all day–talk about psychosis:). Anyway, I’m so glad I’m not alone and you’re absolutely right–home is wherever your husband (and your heart) is!!

  3. I can relate to some of what you say. I moved to another country when I was 17, and after 30 odd years, of which I’ve had a great journey and experienced a life my peers and other family will never do, I still hanker to go home and blend into life with those I left behind.

    Date: Thu, 18 Oct 2012 16:33:26 +0000 To: ruth2day@hotmail.com

    • Thanks so much for stopping by and for sharing your experience. I know exactly what you mean. No matter how much you’ve gained, there’s always what you’ve missed hovering there, somewhere just off screen.

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