From a conceptual standpoint, though, planning this adventure was so big and ambitious that there was no way we could predict all the potential bumps in the road. Our biggest challenge so far has been learning just what our challenges are.
The first few days were particularly eye-opening, especially when it came to handling our luggage. We've packed light, just three suitcases, two rolling duffels and one large non-rolling duffel that weigh between 35 and 40 pounds (16 to 18 kg) each, depending on how they're packed. Everything we will use for a year is in these three bags (plus a backpack for each of us). That's 115 pounds for 365 days. I really wanted to cram it all into the two rolling duffels, that just wasn't practical. I'm happy we got it whittled down to three.
Yet these bags are not always easy to deal with. They can be difficult to maneuver through airports and into and out of rental cars, taxis, and shuttle buses. They can be a challenge to pack efficiently (they've never yet been packed the same way twice), and sometimes finding that one thing you need to find is impossible to do without completely unpacking the whole set (like on the rare occasion I realize I need to shave and have no idea where my razor is).
Don't get me wrong, the bags themselves are great, but the reality of having to move them around and live out of them for the next 365 days really hit us the first few days.
Yes, dealing with luggage is frustrating, but that's now a known quantity. What's more unpredictable, and therefore more challenging, is dealing with human emotions.
Months before we left, I started telling the kids to "get comfortable being uncomfortable," the infamous mantra of the Navy SEALS. Sure, it's a little corny, but I'm a dad and that's what dads do. It's now to the point that when they start to complain about something, all I need to say is, "Get …" and they finish, "… comfortable being uncomfortable. We know, Dad."
And yet, one of the greatest challenges we have is dealing with the mood swings that come when one of the girls gets miserable. Or, even worse, when they both get miserable at the same time. When that happens, no one is enjoying themselves, especially if the adults' nerves are already frayed.
Even though they're great travelers, our kids are used to a certain level of comfort, so they sometimes have difficulty controlling their emotions or shaking themselves out of a funk as quickly as we'd like them to — especially when they're hungry because they didn't like their food or tired from a 16-hour bus ride through Central America. But to their credit they're trying—and improving.
We've quickly learned that in addition to the obvious challenges like language, each place we visit will have its own set of yet-to-be discovered challenges.
We made a conscious choice when we decided to start the trip in Costa Rica. It's a tourist-friendly country, and we wanted the first week to feel like a vacation, hoping this would help ease us into our year-long nomadic lifestyle.
We spent a week there and had two very different experiences—one at Essence Arenal, a busy, vegetarian hostel near the Arenal Volcano, and one at a secluded house near a remote fishing village called Costa de Pájaros. Both were fantastic experiences, but at the hostel English was spoken regularly and there were plenty of activities to keep everyone busy. Not quite so with stay at Costa de Pájaros, where almost no one spoke English and the kids kept saying they were bored.
One of the byproducts of today's first-world lifestyle is constant stimulation. Our daughters, especially the youngest, get bored way too easily. Part of what we want for them to get out of this trip is learning how to be comfortable just being who they are without having to be continually entertained. But learning how to do that is a challenge, both for them and for us as parents.
After more than a week, we're working the bugs out and getting better at dealing with all the challenges that come with undertaking a year-long trip around the world. Mostly, we're getting better learning how to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
Featured image: Frankie and Jackie sitting in the rain with Banano (Essence Arenal's resident scarlet macaw), getting comfortable being uncomfortable. Photo by the author.