Tsh Oxenreider has always been a mixture of wanderer and homebody. She met her husband Kyle in Kosovo, and the young family lived in Turkey for three years before returning to the United States. She’s been writing about simplifying life since 2008 and has inspired thousands of people to journey towards, as she defines it, “living holistically with [their] life’s purpose”.
Her latest book, At Home in the World, is about the nine months she spent travelling the globe with her husband and their three children and what she learned about the meaning of home.
Why did you decide to go travelling for nine months across four continents with three kids in tow?
The main reasons are simply because we could and because we wanted to. We could because my husband and I both had jobs we could take anywhere and our kids were a good age – they could carry their own backpacks and weren’t too rooted into life at home. And we wanted to because we had already spent a lot of time as a family overseas and we missed it. We enjoy giving our kids a global perspective.
Your children were nine, six and four when you set off. How did they adapt? What did you do about school?
They mostly did amazingly well. Kids are very resilient, more than we give them credit for. Sometimes we as adults project our anxieties onto them. It was only when they were tired that things were more difficult, but that is hard for anyone.
As for school, we did something called world schooling. We took school with us using where we were as the primary textbook. We did reading, writing and maths as those were the things that need regular practice, and everything else slotted in around where we were. For example, we did biology at the Great Barrier Reef and history in Rome, and our oldest kept a daily journal that served as writing practice, but also made a great souvenir.
It was only for one year and we didn’t want to force a curriculum onto them. We wanted to take advantage of where we were. It made school more enjoyable and our own experience as well, because we were learning at the same time.
What are your essentials for travel with children?
We had one backpack each and not many essentials. We had a few items of clothing and our devices. We realised that we could find whatever we needed anywhere in the world – you don’t need to carry a year’s supply of toothpaste – and it’s always better to pack less and get what you need along the way.
Our original idea was to chase the warm weather, because it was more enjoyable and for packing reasons. But when we changed our plans and found ourselves in France in February we just bought sweaters. The kids were each allowed to bring one comfort item, like a stuffed toy, and one toy or a little thing to do. For Christmas during our trip we bought them Lego in a little zippered pouch and everyone loved it.
But mostly they just played with whatever was around them and were very resourceful, like cutting up bits of paper to play store. It was a good life lesson about how much we need.
What were the best and most challenging elements of your trip?
The answer is almost two sides of the same coin – the family togetherness. We spent so much time together, with time to talk and experience something unique. The five of us have this shared experience that no one else has had. But because you don’t have your home base and your usual life, the constant togetherness could be challenging. Sometimes we stayed in very small places where there was literally nowhere where you could be on your own. I already knew that I was an introvert and need alone time, but it’s like getting married or having a baby – you are never going to be ready, you just have to learn as you do it.
“The five of us have this shared experience that no one else has had”
What did you learn about parenting – and yourself – from your adventures?
Not needing much – not just toys, but everything else as well – is pretty freeing. You release yourself from decision fatigue when you don’t have much. You don’t have to worry about all the little things you think about every day without even realising it. We also recognised the importance of the ordinary parts of life. There were times on the trip when Kyle and I would be frustrated that the kids weren’t amazed at everything, and we realised that when everything is awesome, nothing is awesome.
We need that down time in-between to just live life. We don’t need to have adventures all the time. This was a good lesson for me.
What are your top tips for somebody wanting to do something similar?
Don’t wait until you have all your ducks in a row, but equally don’t expect to do an epic trip when you have never travelled before as a family.
Start with small local trips or weekend trips together and get a feel for how you are when you’re travelling. Get to know your travel personalities. Pick your nearest big city and rely on public transportation during your trip. Make it fun, make it a game and figure things out in a familiar environment without a language barrier.
Would you do it again?
Our nine-month trip definitely didn’t deter us. Not only would we do it again, we are hoping to do it again. I think next time we would spend more time in fewer places. Instead of doing a big long trip, we’d pick somewhere in the world like Central America or South-East Asia and spend a month or six weeks there. My oldest is 12 now so we would love to do it again before she leaves home.
READ: Find Tsh’s website The Art of Simple at theartofsimple.net
LISTEN: On her weekly podcast The Simple Show, Tsh and her co-hosts talk about books, travel and life at home.
JOIN: She runs a lively Facebook group for fans of simple living called Simple Collective.