What's the Downside?
I have been awfully pollyanna about this trip - it's wonderful, it's fabulous, it's perfect.
But what about when things don't go perfectly?
Like when you overstay your visa and have to visit three government offices with four kids in twelve hours, lugging six backpacks with you after you've been chucked out of the airport.
Like when your daughter's passport isn't accepted and you have five minutes to split up the family, assigning one parent to stay in one country while the other parent takes three kids to the next country.
Like when your son gets bitten by an unidentified dog and you need to visit three hospitals and get nineteen shots and seven stitches in a third world country, and then learn how to debride the wound yourself since the hospital has no supplies.
Like when you crash a rental car with no third party insurance.
Like when you get stranded on the side of the road in the dark with a driver who doesn't speak English and refuses to go any further.
Then you prioritize, strategize, and remind yourself that these are inconveniences, not crises.
A crisis is centered around life-threatening health issues, safety or trauma. A hassle is different than a crisis, and while we have a limited budget, what we do have is time.
Time to calm down, time to figure it out, and time to teach our kids that there is very little that traveling or life in general can throw at us which we cannot handle.
We are taking a "zorem" (Hebrew for "flow") attitude about things on this trip. No food around that the kids are willing to eat? There are always crackers. Crackers can be dinner.
No room at the only inn in town? It was ok for Jesus, it's ok for us. There is always, ALWAYS, someone with a few mattresses who is willing to take your money and let you stay in their spare room. We have slept on the floor, we have rented rooms without sinks, rooms with outdoor bathrooms, bathrooms without roofs, and rooms with one bed for the six of us, making spare beds out of shelves, out of jackets, out of pillows. It's about attitude, not opportunity or perfection.
For every situation we've encountered, we can select the things we'd like to focus on and the attitude we'd like to take. For example, here is one situation and two possible reactions:
We are in rural Indonesia and it's 40 degrees outside (104 Fahrenheit) and 100% humidity. Of the two rooms we can afford, only one has air conditioning, which works intermittently. Mosquitoes here are larger than wasps and multiply by the minute. The only restaurants in the area look like convenience stores and serve one dish, which none of the kids will touch. It pours every afternoon, but doesn't break the heat.
It's hot. Better find a beach. Look at that statue! Wow, turtles! Let's crowd into the air conditioned room during the heat of the day and watch one of the four movies we have with us, and then when the heat breaks and the rain stops at 4pm, we'll hit the grocery store to find bread, since we always have peanut butter in our bag. And I bet they have cookies. Cookies solve everything.
Neither situation is false. It's a matter of teaching ourselves and our kids that usually, the cup can be seen as half full, even if the cup is filled with vile-smelling swill.
So, really, what is the downside of a trip like this? What do you need to be able to handle in order to embark on an extended family adventure?
First, you have to figure out how to get along. You are alone with these people with whom you have a history and plenty of drama, in extremely small spaces, for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for months on end. If you want to kill them constantly, the whole thing will be very unpleasant. Carve out space. There is space outside, there is space for a walk, there is space when you kick everyone out of your room and say "do not enter for 45 minutes."
Second, there is plenty of waiting. Waiting for each other (one wants to shower, the second is hungry and whining for dinner, then when you get to dinner it takes an hour for your food to arrive) and waiting for buses and flights and information. Read. Always have a book and a snack and playing cards with you, assuming that plans can change or be postponed... always.
Along those lines, there is a significant amount of planning. Constant planning, research, changes, and re-planning. Contingency planning. Where are we going next? Can we afford it? What's the cheapest way to get there? How and where do we get the information we need?
Then there is consistent disappointment. We saw a chocolate factory on the way somewhere yesterday, and naturally veered off the road (it was a half an hour detour, but we are dedicated to chocolate.) When we arrived, we discovered that it was a $10 entrance fee to sample the chocolate, and $10 multiplied by the six of us isn't in the budget. We drove away from the factory, dejected, but focused on where we were headed initially. So be it.
You have to be ready to say no. We are on a "trip", not a "vacation". We saved for eight years for this adventure, and once the funds we saved are gone, there's nothing else. We cannot overspend, even when we're having a hard time, even when someone is homesick, even when we've had bologna sandwiches from 7-11 for lunch three days in a row because we can't afford the restaurants here. If we are going to make a big purchase or invest in an adventure, we vote, knowing what we will have to sacrifice to make it possible. Are you willing to sacrifice all other activities for the next 10 days to do this activity today? Is everyone? What about the majority?
You have to be willing to get outvoted. For the most part, we are functioning as a democracy. I missed out on a city I badly wanted to visit in India, because the kids had had enough of moving around and needed to settle, forming a coalition and outvoting me.
Fight. You have to be able to fight respectfully, since there will inevitably be conflict, and you cannot run away. You cannot hide for days, give your spouse the silent treatment, retreat into work or have a beer and a venting session with your friends. Often, an internet connection is a luxury, so you will find yourself isolated with your family, forced to reconcile. Be forthright, be vulnerable and allow people to stew in their anger for a while if they need to.
No location is perfect. No family is perfect. But we have perfected the art of flowing, of managing, at looking at challenges and finding a positive perspective. Eventually we are going to have to return home and re-engage in regular life, so more than how to speak Hindi, more than why the Tibetan government is in exile, more than how and why we need to protect sea creatures and their environment, we believe this is the most valuable lesson we can teach our children.