The Quest for Freedom
After eight years of saving, three years of talking about how it could never really happen, a Big Decision, and three months of intensive research, logistics and planning...we got outta Dodge.
We pulled our four kids out of school and took off for seven months to travel India, Thailand and Bali. Today, we're two months in.
Why would you save enough for a new car, an addition on to the house, or a down payment on a small property... and blow it all in less than a year with nothing to show for it?
Here's the thing: before we had kids, we traveled extensively. We met in San Francisco while my husband was traveling (with no destination, no plan, no education and no bank account) after the army, as many Israelis do. He convinced me that I needed to sell everything I owned, quit my six figure job and go with him to Honduras to learn how to scuba dive. I was 23 and said, "Have an adventure with an Israeli tank commanding Vin Diesel lookalike? SURE!" So, that day, we put everything I owned on the sidewalk, complete with coffee maker with coffee still in it (yes, it sold), took off, and never looked back. That was the first of several long trips and the start of the next nearly decade of work/save/travel/repeat.
Eventually, we got married (first in a traditional ceremony in Jerusalem and later by Elvis in Vegas) and spent the next decade procreating. We bought a house on a moshav, he went into hi-tech, I opened a business, and we went about our lives, shlepping kids to after-school activities and making the weekly pilgrimage to my "second husband", Rami Levy (the local grocery chain). We found a community, formed lasting friendships, and value our tiny little world.
It's not a bad life.
It's not a life we needed to escape from.
But something is missing.
The thirst for adventure. The unknown. The lack of predictability. The lust for new places and new people and new experiences.
We were missing freedom.
Although we've always been a somewhat nonstandard family (our kids were screenfree for 12 years, neither of us are on WhatsApp, my husband carries a dumb phone from 2002) this trip is nonstandard even for us. We had a very rough outline of where we'd like to go (thanks to a neighbor who had been to India, and was kind enough to sit down with us and circle cities on a map) but we really had no itinerary. What we had on Day 1:
4 kilos of medication (just in case)
round-trip tickets to India
a reservation for our first night in Delhi
That's it. We had no further plans, obligations or reservations. We had a vague idea of the places we wanted to see, but we have and will continue to decide, day to day (and sometimes hour by hour) how and where we want to spend our time.
The kids are learning to surf.
I do lots of yoga.
The two "bigs" and I learned to work with silver and make jewelry by hand.
Together, we discovered Buddhism and what it means to be a practicing Hindu. We know the difference between the Hindus and the Sikhs. We studied Tibet, the Dalai Llama, and why he and his entire government had to flee to northern India.
We discuss how electricity travels, why we see lightning before we hear thunder, and, daily, we've watched the transformation from tadpole to frog.
We have time. We have patience.
We have freedom.
After much discussion, we decided to travel with two laptops (one for me and one for my oldest, who is keeping up with her schoolwork via Google Classroom) and five Kindles. My kids are not used to smartphones or tablets, so I don't expect any kind of withdrawal from electronics, but we have to leave two key pieces behind: first, my boys needed to part from their bicycles, which was a big deal. Second, we are left our dog behind (being cared for by very close cousins) and this has been the source of many tears thus far.
"But, how are you doing this - logistically? Financially? What about your jobs? Your house? School for the kids?" I've been peppered with questions - not Judgey McJudgster questions - but honestly curious inquiries from people who are stunned that it's possible.
I am, by nature, a planner, which is why it's exhilarating to have NO PLAN for half a year. That said, the planning to actually be able to leave the country and not have things fall apart was quite an undertaking.
Technically, we are subletting. Have you ever tried to sublet a house from October to May? Yah, that's not a common stretch of time. It's not the school year, it's not the summer, it's just a random time period that worked out best for us. It just so happens, however, that our cousins (who live down the street and are our closest friends) are moving to the USA next May. They've also just had their third child and really needed some more space. So, they gave up their apartment and moved in to our place, paying the mortgage while we're gone and taking care of our dog and our ducks. DONE.
This was a toughie. I founded and run an all-female boutique content marketing firm with four staff members and 12 active clients. I took a deep breath, met with a financial adviser, and promoted my (exceptionally capable) assistant of seven years into a Managing Director role. I threw a bunch of money at her, spent my last two months in Israel introducing her to every client I have, and transitioned the work to her. Then, I sat with my CFO, gave him power of attorney, and asked him to run the financial part of the business. I committed to being available to each of them for an hour per week, for questions. My husband, who has been working at the same telecommunications firm for the last 14 years, asked for a leave of absence. Now, hi-tech isn't known for giving that option. But, after a panic-inducing week, they gave him approval to take seven months of unpaid time. DONE.
Have you ever heard of worldschooling? It's a thing. We're studying the places we are. Culture, history, language. While we are Zionists to the core (think the original secular Zionist movement that established this country with pitchforks in hand) we want to show our kids that not everybody is Jewish or Muslim. Not everybody lives like we do. We live a small, insular existence, and we want our kids to know that there is a very wide world out there, with many possibilities. We met with the elementary school principal last Spring, and she said, "When I took my five kids to India for six months, everybody was just fine. Have a great trip, and we'll talk when you get back." (There are distinct advantages to sending to a hippie school.) We sat with the high school as well (my oldest is in 9th grade) and while we originally planned the trip for NEXT year, when we met with them and told them that she'd miss the majority of 10th grade, they laughed and laughed and said, "Nope. She can miss 9th grade - no problem - but not 10th. Tenth grade starts bagruyot (the exams to get into college) so there will be no missing 10th grade. Go NOW." So we did.
While we have been saving for eight years, really, the savings plan is mostly based on my husband's company's contribution. In Israel, they have a framework called "Keren Hishtalmut" which is basically a structured savings plan where they take a pre-tax percentage of your paycheck and put it in savings, and then match your contribution (or beat it, as is the case with us.) So, ultimately, most of the money for this trip has come from his company. Ironic, considering they would rather he not go. Neither of us will be working or earning on the trip (profits from my business go straight to my assistant, who is running the company) so we have to be very very careful. Our budget for accommodations for the six of us is 100 NIS/day (just over $25.) No Hotel Intercontinental for us. We are mostly in hostels, and they often come without towels or toilet paper, but do offer a wide variety of cockroaches.
"Are you morphing into a travel blogger?" Nope. I know from experience how hard it is to create a following, foster it, and monetize a blog. It's HARD. It takes being on top of the audience, the writing and the analytics 24 hours/day. No thanks. The only hard thing I want to do on this trip is figure out how to feed and shelter the six of us consistently. I have not committed to any blog or regular communication, because I want FREEDOM. We're going to Bali, right? So, this trip is based on "בא לי" (whereas the "li" could be me, but it could also be any other member of my family.)
I used to write regularly. For the last decade, however, I've been paid to write in a variety of voices. Sometimes I'm hawking ridiculous things like jewelry for pets, and other times I'm writing for worthwhile causes like Unity Day. Either way, I have to cater my cadence, references and style to those set out by the client... and for a long time, I lost my own voice.
Part of this trip's purpose is to rediscover and reclaim my voice. This is the first of what may be a regular reflection of that voice.
If... "בא לי."