My parents met while traveling, and I think that has always made travel a part of our family. The summer before their last year of college, my parents spent the summer semester traveling through the Holy Lands taking Bible and archaeology classes and sharing a first kiss over the old city of Jerusalem just after sunset. The program gave them a sort of open-ended flight home (I’m not sure those exist anymore, but it was the 70s), so my newly in-love young parents traveled up to see my Great Aunt and Uncle in Switzerland before parting for an excruciating few weeks before school began. Never apart that long again, they were engaged before classes started and married a year later. Perhaps because they fell in love in the desert, six months later they packed up their belongings and drove out to California from Chicago.
Before they had their two California babies, my parents also spent a summer bicycling through Europe with my mother’s sister and husband. These are the stories I grew up hearing. How my dad had, before he had really even asked my mother out on a proper date, had to learn how to wake her up (she falls asleep very easily in any moving vehicle). Or how they could tell any other American bicyclist in the 80s because they were the only people wearing helmets. Or how they only had a few hours to spend in Paris but were so tired that all they did was fall asleep mid-picnic on the Champs de Mars near the Eiffel Tower.
I just finished a lovely book released this week that meditates on the joy of traveling the world as a family: At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe. (Side note: I feel like reading the galley copy of a book before its released makes me a literary rock star. It’s the coolest. This book in particular was such a privilege to get to read early!)
The independent and wonderful Tsh Oxenrider of the ArtofSimple.com, her husband Kyle, and their three kids (then 4,6, and 9) took nine months to travel the globe: China, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Turkey, France, Italy, Croatia, and England (plus few more !). This memoir follows them as they navigate crowded streets, stunning waterfalls, and quirky guest houses, all the while asking what it is that makes home, home.
Just like my parents, Tsh and Kyle fell in love abroad (Kosovo) and brought that love of travel back to their kids, living in Turkey for three years when their kids were little before coming back to the states. If you are looking for a memoir to inspire you to get out of your front door with your family, whether across town or internationally, this is the book for you.
When it came time to have babies, my own parents didn’t seem to hesitate in taking us on travels by plane or bike or trailer. When I was little, we were only miles away from Mexico, and we popped down with neighbors who had a house there when I was five. I remember our neighbor saying, as we drove down in night, that we were hoping to beat the tide. His kids and my brother and I began to chant, “Beat the tide! Beat the tide!” before my mother completely sold us out and announced that she didn’t think that my brother or I knew what the tide was. Which was true, but how embarrassing! The next day, I got pulled under by the tide: I remembered what it was after that.
I caught my first fish at our family cabin in Canada. I spent my tenth birthday in the Bahamas and my sixteenth in Hawaii — one of the perks of having a Christmas birthday and family and godparents spread out across the country. It’s extravagant for sure, but they are some of my clearest and most treasured memories of my family.
Stories of bad food, or extra-long days, or breathtaking beauty are what make trips into stories and memories. At Home in the World generously invites you to journey with the Oxenrider family: eating cheap but amazing Thai food, climbing on the Great Wall of China, or waking up to sewage flooding a neighbor’s guest house’s front yard after going on safari. You feel lost with them in Sri Lanka or relieved and welcomed with them as a friend’s parents unexpectedly greet them at the Sydney airport, saving them a few hours of trains and urban backpacking.
Reading Tsh’s words for years on her blog (or listening to her on one of my favorite podcasts The Simple Show), I already felt like she’s a friend I haven’t met in person yet, and this book continued that. The book feels like you are listening to a friend describe a trip, especially the spiritual and emotional highs and lows, as she tries to unpack what is next, and what the experiences could mean. It’s honest and beautiful writing that captures the smells and textures of their trip.
While my family didn’t travel the globe, we did take a few weeks to travel around northwestern Europe when I was 18 and my brother 16. My parents, in no small part because of my dad’s discovery of Rick Steves on PBS, wanted to take us on a family trip to Europe, recapturing that special place they traveled two decades before. And now, almost 15 years later, those stories are still part of our family’s lore: How my mother discovered mid-transatlantic flight that her passport had expired, and how somehow, miraculously, they still let us in to London. We did have to spend our only day in London in the embassy getting a new one, but at that point, we were just relieved.
Or how we had our (free) French accommodations fall through, and a big part of our budget got rerouted from food and fun to lodging. That produced a lot of comedy, or tragedy as it felt to me at 18. Being the “best” French speaker in the family, I had to ask a fellow B&B guest if we had to provide our own towels. But I confused the word for towel “serviette de bain” with the word for plate (“assiette”) and asked a very confused man about his plates of the bathtub. He eventually brought me into his bathroom so I could point to what I was trying to say. And yes, travel tip, you need to bring your own towels (and plates of the bathtub) to French B&Bs.
The Oxenrider family trip makes me dream about how I can continue the legacy of travel with my own children: How we could explore little chapels together, take hikes under Croatian waterfalls, or brave ferries out to lonely monasteries. One of our very first dates–or at least the first good one–was us sharing pictures from our recent travels – his to Prague and Budapest and mine to Paris and northern France. We stayed and talked for hours in my cramped dorm room about the food we remembered, the art we saw, the cathedrals we admired, and the streets we got lost on. It was the first hint that we could be each other’s travel companion.
That semester we had gotten to know each other in a history of global Christianity class. Just like sharing those pictures, that class sparked great conversations and a deep love of God’s provision and presence in the world and the international church.
Even if we don’t use our passports a lot right now, we love to remember that we are global citizens. Our house has olive wood crosses and nativities, French art prints, Russian icons, and an Egyptian rug by our guest bed. Just like my parents, we love to watch Rick Steves. (His new Easter Special is so great if you are looking for a way to celebrate the week or season of Easter!) We love to travel with a good book, like to the Middle East with We Belong to the Land, or southern Africa with The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, or Australia with In a Sunburned Country, or across the seven seas with Tsh and her family in At Home in the World (Also, if you’re looking for a really great resource to get your kids reading across the globe, check out Jamie Martin’s list of children’s books Give your Child the World.). We also have a few international music albums that we play constantly from Cuba (Buena Vista Social Club), Mali (Ali Farka Toure), France (Carla Bruni), Iceland (Sigur Ros), Eastern Europe (Kitka), and Ireland (Chieftains)— here’s a spotify playlist of our favorite albums.
Whether it’s an extraordinary trip of 9 months of travel across the globe or 90 seconds of reading the Global Babies board book, I think that part of being a family is finding a rhythm of travel and staying, or familiar and the new. We can really only understand our homes when we go outside of them (I’m paraphrasing GK Chesterton here from Manalive), understanding what is unique and universal, challenging what is stagnant and shortsighted, and cherishing what makes us feel special and safe. If you are itching to get out there and travel as a family or want to sit at home and travel vicariously around the globe, I’d highly recommend picking up At Home in the World!
How have you experienced traveling as a family creating memoirs and traditions you bring back home?
*Note* This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means if you were to buy a book, I’d get a tiny commission at no cost to you. Thanks for supporting Stories & Thyme!*
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