Catching the Travel Bug
I didn’t grow up traveling, but have fond memories of camping with cousins and taking road-trips with my family as a child. As a teenager, I was desperate to see the world but had little exposure and even less money. I cleaned houses, painted fences, mowed lawns, babysat, and sold Christmas trees to afford the mission trips that blended my desire for travel with my heart to serve.
I didn’t know anyone who had visited anywhere but the Netherlands, where my parents were born and some family/friends had visited, so was fearful and had no idea what to expect. Those mission trips as a teen left me longing for more. I consider it a blessing, honor, and miracle to look back on my life and see the Lord honor my desire to go, learn, help, laugh, cry, and love.
Things I’ve Learned Along the Way
#1. LOVE THE WORLD BEFORE SERVING THE WORLD
My husband and I were good friends before we starting dating. His mom was from Trinidad & Tobago, and his dad grew up in British Guyana – both in the West Indies. All of his extended family still lived there, as only his parents immigrated to Canada to raise their family. He had great stories about summers spent overseas as a child and teen, and meeting his parents was a cultural experience in itself. I loved them immediately!
His family sounded Jamaican and made curry for dinner on my first visit to his house. When we went to a bookstore on one of our first dates and Jerome spent an hour in the travel section, I adored him so much it scared me.
We got married a few years later (I’m skipping all kinds of good stuff here), and spent the next 7 years pinching pennies so we could explore the world together – from camping trips along coastal California to a backpacking adventure through Thailand (where we budgeted $8 a night for accommodation and even less for food – Not recommended). We took every opportunity to do something fun in a new place, and can honestly say that there wasn’t one country or state we didn’t love.
Enter two sweet babies 19 months apart. I can’t ever recall us having a formal conversation about continuing our travel with the kids or purposefully raising children who would serve the world (but I realize now I’d appear much more holy and noble had this been our intention from the beginning).
The truth is, we simply hoped they would love the world and the people in it as much as we did. We got them passports, loaded up car seats and pack-n-plays (bungee cords came in handy) and carted them around the world with us to nap under palm trees and hear stories of culture and tradition from the locals.
We ordered ethnic food from the menu and ate what was served instead of giving them traditional North American options. We diligently studied where we were going and made a valiant effort to do things they would actually enjoy. We wanted them to have fun and get excited about more travel adventures.
We hoped experiencing the world would make them brave and humble enough to see beauty in every part of it. We hoped travel would give them perspective. We hoped they would grow, learn, and understand that EVERY nation has something spectacular to offer. We hoped they would see beauty in other cultures. We hoped, first and foremost, that they would love. We hope it worked.
#2. EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED, AND BE PREPARED TO THROW AWAY YOUR FAVORITE CLOTHES WHEN THEY GET PUKED ON
Someone vomits on nearly every one of our journeys. Just this summer our son went through a list and recounted each and every time he threw up on vacation over the last 4 years.
He barfed in the back of a van in Bali (motion-sickness)
On an island in Costa Rica (too much coconut milk rice)
On the tarmac in Botswana (motion sickness)
And, just a few weeks ago, in the aisle, on the seats, and ALL OVER ME on a 9-hour flight from Washington DC to Addis Ababa.
We still had another 9 hours of travel ahead of us, so I learned to bathe in the bathroom sink and briefly grieved over the clothes I left in the garbage.
No trip or travel experience will be perfect.
Expect imperfection and get over disappointment – quickly.
I’m preaching to myself, here, friends.
Travel has helped me realize that my attitude can set the tone for my family’s experience. If I’m disappointed, they’re disappointed. My anger spurs their anger. If I sulk, they sulk.
When I expect things not to go as planned, I’m emotionally prepared when they don’t, but full of joy when they do!
I recently joined our 14-year-old daughter, Jerome, and a dear friend from college on the tail end of their service trip to Uganda. I loved the catch-phrase they’d adopted during their time there together. If something they’d ordered, asked for, paid for, or expected came ruined, wrong, not-as-promised, or not-at-all (a common occurrence), they’d look at each other, smile, and say, “You can’t have it all.”
It’s true, right? I’ve learned that you really can’t.
#3. ANYONE (Mostly) CAN TRAVEL
I stop and talk to everyone when we’re traveling. EVERY. ONE. I just can’t help it. I love discovering where people are from, what brought them to the part of the world we’re both visiting, and hearing all their stories. I get especially excited when it’s someone’s first “big trip.”
My interrogating conversations have assured me that nearly ANYONE CAN TRAVEL. It doesn’t matter if you’re single, on a tight budget, have small children, are empty-nesters, or have never had a passport.
Many women in my local church and family are beautiful examples of this.
- My dear friend LeeAnn has Celiacs Disease and gets VERY sick if any part of her food is contaminated with gluten (trust me, I’ve been in an ambulance with her and witnessed it first hand). We traveled to Nicaragua together last year, and she ROCKED IT! LeeAnn did her research and realized that traditional Nicaraguan food is gluten-free. She had to be careful, ask questions, and keep her GF bread and peanut butter on hand just in case, but is living proof that people with food allergies and moderate health issues CAN TRAVEL. It’s just a lot harder :).
- Julia recently posted pictures of her SOLO trip to Europe. She enjoyed lunch alone in quaint Paris cafes and visited all of the major London landmarks on her own. She absolutely inspired me with her bravery and independence, which is why I’m making a valiant effort to get to know her better and stalk her social media pages. I want to be just like her – Courageous and willing.
- Annie returned from a mission trip to Kenya last week, and I got teary when I talked to her mom and heard she’d landed safely on American soil. She had some anxiety and reservation about going, but went anyway. I was so happy for her! VICTORY over fear gets me every single time.
- My own sister has a boatload of kids and has taken them to Mexico, Hawaii, Haiti (multiple times) and even on a Precepts International tour through Israel!
Travel isn’t easy, but it’s almost always possible.
You don’t have to go as far as Nicaragua, France, Kenya or Israel to experience the joy of culture and adventure. There are people and places to love and learn about everywhere.
One of our favorite places to visit as a family is Whistler, British Columbia, Canada because it’s rampant with international travelers. I learn and experience a great deal just taking the time to meet people and hear stories of their homeland!
If you’re feeling like you want to go somewhere but don’t know where to begin, just start somewhere.
Buy an atlas.
Pinch pennies and start planning.
Watch National Geographic.
Take a road trip.
Make an effort to understand what’s going on in the world and talk about it with people around you.
But if you can, (and I really do believe it’s a possibility), GO! See the incredible world and people our God created. Be changed because of them.
Love them. Serve them.
#4. IT’S OK TO SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCES
It was Spring Break, 2017, when I began sharing some of our travel pictures on social media. We were staying at a quaint little hotel outside of Tulum, Mexico, and Jerome had taken the kids spear-fishing for the day (which, by the way, resulted in more vomit but an absolutely AMAZING dinner).
I decided to stay back to finish a Bible study and have time alone with God. I was in absolute awe of the beauty around me and the incredible kindness of people we’d met on our trip. I had memorized Psalm 8 and was proclaiming it to the Lord when I became emotional – tears poured down my cheeks in the presence of His goodness.
I was humbled by His provision of travel opportunities in my life but also grieved that others hadn’t experienced the glory of His creation beyond the confines of birth borders. My heart and mind were overwhelmed, and I made a desperate plea for Him to reveal His great world to any friends, family, and acquaintances who had never experienced it.
“Oh Lord,” I cried out, “They need to know!” And He responded, “Then tell them.”
So I did. Reluctantly.
I had always shied away from making our trips and experiences public and posting them on social media. I even coached the kids not to share because I didn’t want to appear pretentious or boastful. I’m still incredibly self-conscious about it all. Social media has a way of telling lies to our soul. It breeds competition and tells us we don’t measure up.
But social media can also be a form of influence and inspiration when shared with good intention.
I post about the people we meet and the things we do because I want you to believe you can do it, too.
I want you to know that we’re not special.
I want you to see that travel is FUN!
I want you to know that there are lost and broken people everywhere, but that there are also captivating Holy-Spirit filled ones.
People need you.
They need you to understand, know, appreciate, and be moved to an ethic of care.
They need you to believe that Jesus is worthy of being praised in ALL nations and with ALL people.
They need you to tell them about Him and give a testimony of His goodness in your life.
And if you can’t go or don’t feel called, then I hope my own experiences breed a spirit of both compassion and appreciation for the world He created – that you would see just a glimpse of His beauty across the sea and beyond our borders.
#5. 11-YEAR-OLD BOYS MAY PREFER WATER PARKS TO ALL-DAY TEMPLE TOURS
If you ask our son what his favorite part of a three week trip to Cambodia, Thailand, and Indonesia was, he would say Waterbom in Bali.
We visited ancient temples, mountain-biked through the Cambodian countryside, took a traditional Balinese cooking class, surfed, hiked, learned about the impact of local NGO’s (Non-Government Organizations), installed a water well for a lovely family, and ate some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life. But all Gabe talks about are the waterslides.
And it’s ok. I’ve learned to be (mostly) content with our family’s differences. Some of my travel highlights simply aren’t theirs. We’re different people and are going to enjoy different things. It’s why we end most of our travel days asking, “What was your favorite part of today?” It’s interesting to hear the different perspectives and gives direction for future planning. It’s also why we sandwich long service or learning days between fun and relaxing ones.
Because the fun ones are almost always Gabe’s favorite.
#6. MY HUSBAND AND I MAKE A GOOD TEAM
I was attacked by bats on a backpacking trip in Southeast Asia, and Jerome started singing I’m a Survivor by Destiny’s Child while I cried, which, of course, made me laugh.
He has a way of making the difficult things feel like adventures, forever sealing them in my memory as good instead of bad. He stays calm and thinks clearly when things go wrong and I lose my mind – like when our kayak flipped trying to cross a reef break in Kauai, trapping our then two-year-old under the boat.
He finds joy in researching hotels and sealing the very best deals on flights.
On a road trip across America early in our marriage, we discovered that I’m terrible at reading maps (it’s an embarrassingly good story), so he’s our chief navigator, too. He carries the passports and money (although I took on some of this responsibility just recently in East Africa and DIDN’T LOSE ANYTHING).
So what do I offer?
I trust him, love him, respect him, and eat adventurously alongside him. I squeal with delight when we get lost in the most quaint side-streets and take great joy in the small things – pretty fabrics, intricate tile, interesting people. I think he likes seeing the kids and I enjoy the things he planned.
And I take the pictures.
Living On Mission – Even When We Travel
Those of us who count ourselves followers of Christ are called to live on mission.
Every day. In every circumstance.
The moment we truly believed and took up our cross is the moment we committed to sharing the GOOD NEWS of Jesus Christ, with our mouths and with our actions.
We’re on mission at home, and we’re on mission while traveling. It doesn’t have to be a “mission trip” to be missional, and a vacation for a Follower is never just a vacation.
Live with intention. Everywhere and anywhere.
Look for His majesty in all of creation and pray diligently that His Kingdom would come in it. And enjoy His world, because it’s really hard to serve something you don’t love.
In Him and for His Purpose,
+ A hot bowl of traditional Cambodian noodles with all the toppings is the BEST BREAKFAST EVER. And the best lunch. And the best dinner.
+ Even if you book flights a year in advance on points, the airline can cancel those flights three weeks before your trip. And they’re allowed. It’s in the small print. We checked.
+ Jet-lag is real, but you won’t remember it by the time you want to travel again.
+ Travel immunizations are EXPENSIVE. Shop around and do your homework. Some may not be required or even necessary depending on the specific area you’re traveling to.
+ When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor… and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert is AMAZING! I highly recommend reading the book if you’re planning ANY sort of trip to a developing country.
+ Forward Edge International leads exceptional short-term mission trips to multiple countries. Prayerfully consider creating a team with your friends/church family, or join one of their Open Teams. You can find more information here: https://www.forwardedge.org