To say it’s been a big year is an understatement. One of the final sentences of last year’s letter was: “Hard to believe that our next letter will likely have to be posted on our blog and written from a cafe in Morocco or a beach in Goa.” Well, we’re not far off. Gazing over the top of my laptop, the sun is rising over the southern coast of Cyprus, skittering over the Mediterranean Sea in a glittery lightshow of orange, pink and blue.
It’s 6:50 am and everyone else is sleeping – the six of us plus Lindsay’s family who flew out to be with us for Christmas. Fourteen Canadians in a villa perched on a rocky hill overlooking the seaside town of Peyia.
How did we get here? That is a long story involving overcrowded emergency departments, Netflix, and real estate bubbles. Let me explain.
After seven or eight years of practicing emergency medicine I found myself getting tired. Medicine wasn’t the problem. I enjoyed helping people, even the most challenging cases. It was the system I couldn’t escape. I wanted to provide excellent care for my patients, but the inefficient, bureaucratic public system had been deteriorating before my eyes from the beginning. I changed hospitals which helped for a while; I got involved in administrative roles which never helped at all. I stuck it out for thirteen years finding it harder and harder to maintain a positive attitude while brainstorming strategies to get out before I became bitter and resentful.
Whether the change would be permanent or not, the catalyst was, of all things, Netflix. In particular, a low-budget, award-winning documentary called “Given” in which a family with two young children travels around the world. In September of 2017 we watched Given as a family. By the end of the flick, Linds and I didn’t need to say a word to know what the other was thinking. Maybe it was a little crazy – but it felt right. We started to plan our own “Gap Year”.
Once we had made up our minds, three things happened very quickly. First, what seemed almost unthinkable was normalized as we learned of many other families embarking on their own full-time travel adventures. Second, it became apparent that one year would barely be enough to scratch the surface of our travel dreams. Third, perhaps because there was a light at the end of the tunnel, I hit my limit in the ER. Coming home from a particularly exhausting shift, Linds asked, “This house is worth a lot of money. If we sold it could you stop working for a few years?”
From “gap year” to full-time travel
In answering that question, our temporary hiatus from “normal” life was transformed into open-ended full-time travel. We finished our planned renovations over several months then sold the house. Before the closing date we also sold the boat, both cars and most of our possessions. The kids rocked the transition to minimalism like they were born to it, consolidating their most prized possessions into a bin and selling or giving away the rest. We all went through the same process and experienced the strange and awesome lightness that came with it together. By the end, the only items that had not been given, stored or sold fit into carry-on sized backpacks. On July 26th we boarded our first flight.
That was nearly five months ago. Since then we’ve been to ten countries, stayed in twenty-one different lodgings and traveled by plane, train, bus, ferry, taxi, car, and sailboat. We’ve gasped at geysers, marveled at mosques and found friendship just about everywhere.
Some people call us brave. We’re not. Bravery is doing something in spite of great risk. Traveling full time comes with a healthy dose of uncertainty but very little risk. In fact, the greater risk would have been to accept the status quo and not take this opportunity to learn about the world.
We traded comfort for adventure, material possessions for experiences, and familiar routines for time together as a family. There are ups and downs. The highs are higher and the lows are lower. But the point is that we are learning things that our old life could not teach us.
Top 10 travel lessons
- It’s easy to confuse busyness with productivity
- Independence is great. Community is better.
- There are kind, generous people everywhere (especially if you show kindness and generosity)
- What is normal to one person is strange and foreign to another
- Core values like honesty and integrity are remarkably constant
- Learning even a few words of a foreign language is not just practical, it is a gesture of kindness and effort.
- Safety and security are ideals, not god-given rights
- Time spent listening is time well spent
- Relationships are what matter in the end
- When it comes to relationships, there is no substitute for time spent together. And we like spending time together.
Many people are fascinated by this unusual path we are taking and, understandably, wonder how we’re doing. Perhaps you can tell already – I tend to get philosophical about a lot of this because I feel like it’s a problem to be figured out. Maybe I never will, but the thought process is interesting. At times I struggle with our “homelessness” and a need to feel “productive”. But I’m grateful for the opportunity we have to be on this path, to explore the dark corners it is illuminating, and most of all, to be doing it together.
Lindsay was the wildcard, constantly surprising me. From her initial enthusiasm to her willingness to sell the house to the ease with which she has adapted to this lifestyle, I am deeply and sincerely amazed by her. Escaping the hectic routine-driven lifestyle of our old life has allowed her to relax a little more and become even closer with the boys. Just one example of this occurred in Turkey. Linds had the wonderful opportunity to learn how to cook Turkish dishes at a local restaurant. Coming home, she would take one boy at a time and cook an entire meal with him. It has always been important to Linds to teach the boys how to cook – somehow we couldn’t make this happen in our “old life”.
The kids have adapted to traveling with almost no issues. Owen, now twelve years old, whose greatest priority in life is to learn as much as possible about everything, would not hesitate to fully endorse his new lifestyle. Armed with his own computer and wifi access, he has used his “screen time” allowance to start his own blog, devour online courses (mostly technology related), and learn how to program his own video games (since we still won’t let him play anything else). We recently asked Owen if he thought he was learning as much “worldschooling” as he would be in “normal” school. “No. I’m learning at least five times more!” Just the other day Owen proudly showed me a working computer program he had written to test an equation he had formulated showing the relationship between two consecutive square numbers. Uh, wow.
From our perspective as parents, we have never seen Jake happier. Now that he is not embroiled in schoolyard dramas and having to be accountable for behaviour at both school and home, his life is much simpler. Having said that, Jake, who is now 11, is the one child who has had some unease with our new lifestyle. He misses his friends and he misses having a safe and constant place to call his own. And, like his father, he probably analyzes everything far more than what is good for him. But it is his sensitive nature that will benefit the most from this life of full-time togetherness. Ultimately, I think that seeing so much of the world will give him confidence that there is a role for him in it. In the meantime, Jake continues to amaze us with achievements like solving a Rubik’s cube in under 1:30, and writing a 15 000 word novel in under a month (“Battle of the Cosmos!!”).
I have to admit, I was concerned about how Ben might handle full-time travel. Ben, who is now 9, is our most introverted child. How would a child who is happiest in a closed, quiet room with books and Lego do exploring the planet with almost no alone time?? We needn’t have worried. Ben has adapted to this life of travel like a champ. He will still take every opportunity to build something out of any material available (we have wooden blocks and “Plus Plus” packed just for him), but Ben is also learning to come out of his shell. On numerous occasions, Ben has been the one to make friends with other children at local playgrounds and he is not shy to try out new words in foreign languages when we go out. Because he is so quiet and low-maintenance it was always too easy not to notice our little Ben. I am so grateful to have this time with him, free of the distractions of our old life.
It seems that the younger the child the more easily they adapt. Eli was six when we started on this journey and is now seven. He has transformed before our eyes from a precocious and adorable “little kid” into a friendly and sociable boy. His blue eyes sparkle less with innocence and more with thoughtfulness but still with the same amount of outgoing affection for people and life in general. To be honest, I wonder how much of these months he will even remember. At the same time, it is clear that the impressions that are being left are significant. Eli connects with people everywhere we go from flight attendants to tour guides to Airbnb hosts. Perhaps more than any of us, Eli will understand deeply that the world is not scary, it is full of friends – those we know and those we don’t know yet. Travel is a way of meeting more friends and learning more about them.
Travel vs. settle
For hundreds of thousands of years, humans were nomadic. It is only in the last ten thousand or so that travel has become the exception rather than the rule. Perhaps we were drawn to this idea because of some spark in our primitive brains trying to remind us that life is about more than houses and cars and money and stuff. We have found that to be true.
On the other hand, ancient humans traveled because they had to, foraging for resources that were spread out over great distances. It was never easy. Uncertainty is a law of nature.
I suppose we are trying to find middle ground. Safety but not boredom. Purpose over possessions. Experience without burnout. But most of all, we are learning how to be a family. A lesson, I will admit, I didn’t know we had to learn.
What’s next? We are moving east in the near term. Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand . . . and – brace yourself – keeping an eye on the used sailboat market. How do you travel the world and not feel homeless? Travel with your home, of course!
Stay tuned for next year’s letter. In the meantime, we hope you have a wonderful holiday wherever you are and know that even though this trip takes us far away it makes us value our relationships more.
And if you are interested in following our adventures please subscribe.
Merry Christmas Poyner family! I love hearing about your adventures and how much the boys are learning on your amazing journey. I wish you safe travels and more amazing memories as we move into 2019! I’m not surprised that Owen is programming. He was my technical advisor last year! Looking forward to your next post!
Great update! What a beautiful adventure you’ve had. It’s wonderful to hear how you’re all growing and thriving. Looking forward to following you on your adventures.
It’s an honour to share moments of this journey with the Poyners as we continue on ours. Many more adventures for both our families in 2019 and I’m looking forward to reading and sharing the philosophies as they develop.
Merry Christmas to each and everyone of you
Barry and Susan
Merry Christmas from the Ottawa Valley!!! XOXO ❤️Kelly, Julien and Mackenzie
Thanks for the message – Merry Christmas!
Loving your stories and wonderful to hear all of you are doing well and living life.
All the best and safe travels.
The Lombardi Family
Thanks, Rocco. Merry Christmas!
Merry Christmas! I always love reading your updates. You’re a fantastic writer.
Thank you, B.C. Merry Christmas!
Matt and family so pleased to read of your exploits and the world education you are giving your children…what an opportunity. Happy for you and your family and think the vicarious trip the rest of us tag along with is/has been great!!
Thanks, Benj. Great to hear from you. Our experiences are exponentially more valuable because we can share them. Maybe the Internet is good for more than cat memes and online poker after all 😉
I look forward to your updates & hearing about your travels.
Wishing you all the best for 2019 as you continue on your adventure💕
Thanks, Diane! We feel so privileged to have kind people like you visiting our blog 🙂
Warm regards for a happy and healthy new year from a fan who shares the ER burnout background, and who may smile a little brighter each time he sees a new post from you appear.
Lots of us are enjoying your adventures vicariously, and feel that you represent some facet of us coming into being. Thanks for that.
Wow, I am flattered by your words, Crispy Doc. Sometimes I look at the vast oceans of digital content on the web and wonder if my tiny volume makes a difference. Comments like this are fuel for my writing engine and are deeply appreciated. The process of going from ER doc to . . . not an ER doc is strange and difficult and fantastic all at once. I hope to one day understand it. Until then, I just hope to avoid too many stumbles in the transition. Thanks again.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Big Family (as you are always affectionately known in our house)!
My favorite line : “I suppose we are trying to find middle ground. Safety but not boredom. Purpose over possessions. Experience without burnout. But most of all, we are learning how to be a family. A lesson, I will admit, I didn’t know we had to learn”
As we all look it a new, exciting 2019 thank you for the inspiration and the wisdom from the road.
Can’t wait to keep reading your next stops! We arrive in Christchurch, NZ September 27, likely leaving Auckland January 31. Wouldn’t it be fun to meet at a playground if we’re all in the country? The kiwis are famous for them!
By the way, we just launched our website and Lucas would love to follow Owen’s blog if available.
We raise a glass to you this New Year’s Eve, “Here’s to a bright New Year, and a fond farewell to the old; here’s to the things that are yet to come, and to the memories that we hold.”
Angie, Dan and Lucas (the small family)
So excited for you guys! Your blog looks awesome and we have already subscribed 🙂 Very much looking forward to reading about your experiences, thoughts, and evolution as travelers. Although I’m not sure our global schedules match at the moment, we would LOVE to meet up with you somewhere, someday. Fingers crossed.
Happy new year to all three of you – 2019 is going to be one you will always remember.
Lucas: Owen’s blog is http://owenpoyner.wordpress.com
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
A joy to read …… totally love the appreciation of all the little things…. how lucky are those boys… blessings to the entire family!
Arun – great to hear from you 🙂 Novelty stimulates attention. Attention is what we need to see the wondrous little things all around us. So, travel is like a life hack – it is easier to appreciate the little things when we are not insulated by the double whammy of monotonous routines and endless to-do lists. We needed this hack!
A belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!
I talk about living a similar lifestyle, at least part of the year, and you’ve been out there doing it for over a year. Bravo!
Well . . . almost six months anyway!
You have created an excellent blog, PoF. I am a subscriber and avid reader. If we can help you in any way with your decision to do this (or not), let me know!
Hi! Belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! We just found your blog and youtube channel today! Thanks for sharing your journey with such authenticity and transparency! We are looking forward to hearing more about your adventures! Keep the posts and videos coming! Our family is thinking through and planning a Family Travel Gap Year for 2020. I can’t even wait! How long did it take you from the idea to actually doing it. 2020 feels so far away…
Hi Phil – welcome to our little blog! Given that we don’t promote this blog in any way, it always amazes me when people find it. Awesome.
Congrats on planning your own gap year. I think we made the decision in October 2018. Originally, we planned a 1.5 year lead-time, but after a few weeks we realized that was too long. If something happened that stopped us from going we would have regretted the delay. We left about 9 months later.
Having said that, those last few months flew by! So, if you’re looking for a little advice, I would say this: don’t rush the preparation – save enough money that you won’t be stressed about that; if you’re minimizing possessions, start sorting, donating, and selling; enjoy the planning. But don’t put anything off just because it’s anxiety-provoking. That includes preparation and departure. Get ready and go!
Glad you found us:)
Stumbled across from PoF. Awesome story. We’ve taken 6 sabbaticals (every 5 years whether we needed it or not). Shortest was 3 months, longest was 1 year. It seems like I keep getting pulled back to work, but that’s ok too. All on our terms. One small problem is health. My wife has had scleroderma for 20 years, but started having issues breathing this summer at our Colorado mountain cabin. That turned out to be PAH at 57 … ugh. So a new adventure that will alter the lifestyle design a bit (like 9500′ in the cabin is off the table for now … for her). So enjoy your walkabout and time with the family … life is short and the world is big.
Hi and welcome to our little blog. What a great pattern – a good long sabbatical every few years. Perhaps I would have lasted longer in medicine doing that. Perhaps I also would have learned some important lessons earlier – shedding excess “stuff”, prioritizing family (for real, not just saying it), learning how to relax a little.
Sorry to hear about your wife and the PAH. Bad things happen to good people and it’s heartbreaking. Chances are I’ll be around to meet a few grandchildren one day . . . but maybe not. I saw people younger than me die all the time in the ER. So, we plan for the future and make the most of our days. Even if I do make it til 90, it doesn’t change the fact that our time with the kids at home is pretty much half over. We thought we’d try to do something epic before that window closes.
Thanks again for the comment.
Done a lot of traveling. So enjoy, enjoy, enjoy and take lots of pictures.
Then always be viligent on the dangers in traveling. Safety still has to be number one priority and easiest to neglect in mist of all the fun.
Hi Mat, thanks for the comment. The issue of safety is complex. Vigilance – yes. On the other hand, some of our most memorable experiences happened when we consciously decided to let our guard down – trust a stranger, do something scary, follow the locals. We prioritize relationships, learning, and shared experience and hope that we don’t have to give up too much safety in the bargain.
Case in point, our next stop is Penang. There is currently a spike in Dengue fever there. I have had Dengue fever before so am at higher risk for the severe hemorrhagic complications. But if we start changing our plans now, we might as well stop traveling – Dengue is so widespread. So, we will slather on the DEET, cover up, and stay inside for dawn and dusk as much as possible. Perhaps not the solution for everyone, but it strikes the right balance for us.
Im sitting at the doctors office reading the letter. I was able to finally catch up on your blogs and man did it warm my heart. I’ve had to hold back my tears a few times reading the Christmas letter. Miss you guys!! Love to you and to your family.
Hey John, glad you got a chance to catch up. Been listening to more podcasts lately (Hidden Brain is my favourite) and thinking about you.
I know everyone who reads this blog is moved to tears, but kudos to you for admitting it 😉