7 SAGES HOSTEL, XI’AN – We met another traveling family yesterday.
Husband, wife, and two daughters, ages nine and six, from France. They’re starting an eight-month trip around Asia and New Zealand. We met them in our hostel. We were making the normal backpacker small talk when Husband asked me this question:
“What do you do to meet the locals?”
Capital of Ancient Dynasties
Greetings from China! My family and I are on a mission to travel around the globe by public transport. We’ve crossed North America, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, and we’ve almost crossed Asia. Only Japan and the Pacific Ocean to go, and we’ll have completed our mission.
Right now, we’re in Xi’an, one of the most important cities in China for historians. Because of the comfortable climate and fertile land, 13 successive ancient dynasties set up their capitals here, stretching back 3,000 years.
We’re staying in an old army barracks that’s over 1,000 years old. It’s a hostel these days. We’re paying $25 a night for a family room with two king-size beds.
Here we are walking around town yesterday…
Exploring the ancient capital city of Xi’an with Dusty (11), Miles (9), and Penny (7)
I used to dread Friday afternoons. That’s when Kate would drop off the kids at my apartment for their scheduled weekend with Dad.
Once I had them, I’d watch the clock the whole weekend until I could get rid of them again on Monday morning. If I returned them to Kate without anyone getting hurt, I considered the weekend a success. I’d give them each an iPad on Friday night. They’d have unlimited screen time in my apartment until Monday morning.
I’m not proud to say this, but I was a babysitter, not a father.
It wasn’t any different when Kate and I were married. I was so stressed about work, I was never mentally present. Even on the weekends, when I didn’t have work, I’d be in my own little world, either fiddling with my phone or watching television while Kate played with the kids.
“Having kids was supposed to be the greatest joy in life,” I thought. “So why does it feel like such a chore?”
I now realize I had no connection with my children. No wonder I felt like a babysitter…
Sharing All Our Time
Fast-forward two years. We get up together. We eat together. We brush our teeth together. We travel together. We play together. We sleep together. We do tourist stuff together, and we share A LOT of cramped hotel rooms together. We spend ALL our time together.
And most importantly, there’s no work stress or any other drama going on in the background. Just day after day of fun and adventure. “The Endless Vacation,” we call it.
Here we are in Egypt, with the Sphinx behind us…
Our family portrait, featuring the Sphinx
How Fatherhood Should Be
At first, we found it exhausting to be in such close proximity. I wasn’t used to it. I don’t think any of us were. There was a brief adjustment period.
Then one day, I noticed we were laughing almost the whole time. We were playing together. We were telling jokes. And stories. The kids were making fun of Dad. We were playing card games. We were even having long conversations about economics!
I realized this was how fatherhood should be!
As the trip went on, I started to notice little things about the kids I’d never noticed before… and I started to see how different they were from each other. I don’t think this would have been possible without living every day for an entire year in each other’s pockets.
The challenge of traveling around the world brought us together, too. We have had to pull together… and look out for each other… and encourage each other… on this long journey through sometimes challenging places like India and Rwanda.
We are like a little wolf pack, or a pioneer family on the frontier 200 years ago… all for one and one for all.
I’ve never been on a successful football team or anything like that, but now I can imagine what the camaraderie feels like. Except I get to experience it with my own children.
Here we are in India a few months ago…
All for one and one for all: Traveling in India with Kate and the kids
No More Wasted Time
I read a blog post recently titled “The Tail End.” The writer looked at the total number of days he will get to spend in person with his parents over his lifetime, assuming he continues to see them about five times a year and both his parents survive into his sixties.
“It turns out that when I graduated from high school, I had already used up 93% of my in-person parent time,” he says. “I’m now enjoying the last 5% of that time.”
This insight made me sad. First, I thought of my own parents. I see them less than five times a year. Usually about twice a year. They’re getting older now, and both of them have Parkinson’s disease. I’m probably into the last 2% of the total time I’ll get to spend with my parents.
Then I thought of my kids. I may have only 10 more good years of them living under my roof, seeing them every day. After that, they’ll leave home, and I’ll probably see them a lot less. As the blog writer points out above, I will have used up something like 90% of our time spent together by then.
The bottom line is, I have a lot less time to enjoy my kids than I realized. Can’t waste it anymore.
That’s the thing about this trip. It’s a great adventure. The kids are getting a great education. But the real magic is in how it has transformed the relationships we have with each other and brought us all together.
“We meet people everywhere we go,” I told our new friends. “But for us, this trip was never about meeting other people. It was about meeting each other.”
And that’s why – no matter what happens next in life for us – I know I’ll never regret the decision to take this family sabbatical.
– Tom Dyson
P.S. I focused this piece on my relationship with the kids, but obviously this trip has transformed my relationship with Kate, too, which is even more exciting, if that’s possible. I’ll share that story one of these days…
Reader comment: I love your letters and your courage to do what you and your family are doing. I’m living vicariously through you while I try to dislodge my wife from our rapidly deteriorating lifestyle in California, although I use her as an excuse for my own lack of courage to pull the plug.
Reader comment: Truly enjoy reading your postcards. It is like reading a great novel being written live and in progress: a theme; a strong opening; a little bit of mystery; emotional ups and downs; educational, exotic locations; everything building up to a climax; and of course… an underlying romance. But my favorite quality, which I find most refreshing, is that you are not trying to sell me anything.
I share your family’s adventures with my wife, and we can’t wait to open the next postcard to see what you guys are up to.
Reader comment: I am amazed at your reports of how easy and cheap it is to travel in China. Keep up the great reporting, and marry your wife!
Reader comment: So enjoy traveling with you and your amazing family – EPIC! The pics and your sharp pen take us right there! Wishing you even more serendipity and delightful adventures!
Reader comment: All in is a great way to live and die. To you, Tom, a man among men who lives and shares the highs and lows of life, there is no option but being “all in.” I suspect this carries over into many other facets of your life. Enjoy, be thankful, and continue to share yourself with a multitude of strangers.
Reader question: I have some debt that I’m paying off at high interest, and people are telling me to cash in my gold and pay off the debt. I know that seems like the right thing to do, but I just don’t want to let go of the gold, since I know it’s going to rise in value. I’d appreciate your take on my situation. Thanks.
Tom’s response: Compound interest – especially at a high rate – is an insurmountable force. It’s built empires and destroyed societies. You can’t beat it. Not even with gold in the mess we’re in today. You know what you need to do.
As always, keep sending us your questions and comments at [email protected]. Kate and I read every one of them, even if we can’t publish them all.