You Can’t Always Get What You Want: Adjusting our Lifestyle After a Year of Traveling
When we left Canada to come to Japan this past January 1, we had been traveling for almost exactly a year. We spent 5 of the last 12 months in Toronto, working on our rental house in various ways. Between visits back to Canada, we spent 1 month in Belize, 2 months in Mexico, 4 months in Vietnam, and 3 weeks in Thailand.
When we embarked on this journey one year ago, we agreed on two basic principles: first, we were giving ourselves the full year to focus on trying to establish online income streams so that we could continue to travel indefinitely. Second, we were only doing this adventure for as long as everyone was enjoying it and happy. After a whole year of this life, and a lot of reflection, we realized that we were not fully meeting either principle any more.
Our online income streams were meant to be mostly Jonathan’s online therapy practice, which we needed to start from scratch, and then our rental house income. We converted one unit into an Airbnb, which effectively doubled our income on that unit, so that was going to be an important steady source of income.
Unfortunately, we were naïve and overly-ambitious about how long it would take to get Jonathan’s online therapy practice started up. There was the spotty internet in some locations; the challenges of figuring out how to share childcare while also putting in the time and focus and consistency that starting a new business requires; spreading our time and resources too thinly over too many projects (starting my blog, me getting into online editing, managing the rental property); and, honestly, being too social (we met so many amazing people over the past year, and it was pretty much impossible to resist invitations for days out and dinners together!). All of these factors combined has meant that it has taken a year to just begin getting his business established, let along focus on growing it to a sustainable income level.
Online marketing is a whole other beast compared to old-fashioned marketing. Jonathan is an old pro at business development and “real life” marketing, but had to learn everything from scratch about starting an online business, including web design and management on the WordPress platform (a HUGE learning curve!), SEO, writing effective online ads, how to use Google and Facebook for advertising, writing and promoting blog posts, keeping up with regular posts on social media (Instagram and Facebook), trying to make videos and podcasts in addition to blog posts, taking enough amazing photos to support all of the online posting required, managing and editing those photos, learning about writing and publishing e-books, finding the right directories and online listings to sign up with… my god, it’s exhausting just writing that list! And I’m sure I’ve forgotten a whole bunch.
Now imagine trying to learn and master all of that while also trying to do at least some of the childcare so that I could have my “professional” time (e.g. time away from the kids, but also time to maintain my sense of self after leaving my career – I went through a very hard grieving process over the past year doing that, which deserves its own post another time) and also keep planning the next leg of our travels! We really didn’t give ourselves the chance to succeed.
In hindsight, we needed to agree that I would do the majority of the child care – or find care for the kids – so that Jonathan could have worked 40-50 hours a week on developing the business, with the end goal of finding a 50/50 balance of working and childcare between us. We tried to achieve this right out the gate, which was unrealistic.
We left our life in the Yukon to pursue a life that allowed us more time with our kids, more time for our own hobbies, and more time for adventure and experiences. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the foresight to realise that we needed to sacrifice some of these goals in the short term in order to achieve them long-term.
Had we invested more time over the past year in the business, and less time at the beach, meeting new friends, and enjoying days out with our kids, we might be in a different position today.
However, we had an AMAZING year in many respects, full of once-in-a-lifetime memories and wonderful new life-long friends. So, really, it’s hard to want to change any of it. And we can’t! So, we’re focusing now on what the year ahead of us is going to look like, and how we’re re-organizing our priorities with more of our long-term goals in mind.
And that brings me to the second principle: everyone being happy with this lifestyle. Despite the difficulty with saying goodbye to new friends too often, had our financial situation been different, Jonathan and I would have happily continued to “travel” indefinitely. That would have meant more consciously choosing world-schooler hot spots where there was instant community to be had with existing friends or hubs that we could connect into quickly, and staying there for 2-6 months at a time. We both still crave the beach on a daily basis, and the (relatively) relaxed, low-key lifestyle of a traveling world-schooler.
However, our fierce, independent, and social 6 year old had other ideas! She was clearly expressing to us, by the end of the year, that she was tired of moving around all the time. She was willing to keep traveling for “short trips”, and didn’t necessarily have to live in Toronto (although there has been a lot of talk about wanting to just live there, near our families), but was kind of done with the whole nomad lifestyle. And so that was a clear message to us: no matter what our financial situation, and no matter how much Jonathan and I may love and crave that life, we always promised we wouldn’t do it at the expense of our kids.
I know that there are kids out there who LOVE traveling indefinitely – I’ve met them! But there are also kids for whom it doesn’t work forever. And for Charlotte, she is craving friends that don’t keep changing… activities that last for more than a few classes… and maybe even trying school (which is breaking my un-schooler’s heart, but I’ll save that discussion for another post).
We spent November and December in Toronto, living in our rental house while renovating one of the apartments (ask me how much fun that was…), and in our brief moments of time to discuss where to go and what to do next, we really struggled to figure out what would be best.
Jonathan and I were drawn to heading back to Hoi An, Vietnam, which was our favourite place so far – super cheap, right on the beach, great co-working space, awesome friends, great vegan scene, and more and more world-schoolers arriving every week. However, Charlotte had found Hoi An to be too small, and had become bored of it – she likes cities and busy-ness and lots going on! In addition, our income potential in Hoi An was limited. However, because of the low cost of living and our rental income, we could have just managed to break even while working on building up the online business (which what was a big “if” – could we actually do what it took to make it work?).
The other main alternative we came up with was Japan. We had always said over the past year that Japan was our back up, our Plan B, if the online income thing didn’t work out and we needed to settle somewhere where we could make money for a while.
Since Jonathan lived in Tokyo for 3.5 years back in his mid-twenties, he understood what was required to live in Japan and how we could potentially make some decent money, and he also speaks Japanese.
So, if we weren’t going back to Hoi An (which had been our original plan when we left South East Asia), and we didn’t want to choose a place where we would be relying on income from the online business too quickly (Bali, Chiang Mai, etc.), it seemed like Japan might be the answer. We started hatching a plan that would involve moving to Japan for 6-12 months. This would allow us to make some money, give Charlotte some stability, still be living in a foreign country where we could acquire a second language (we really want the girls to become bilingual, if not trilingual, as a part of this traveling lifestyle), and feel like we were still pursuing our traveling adventure. We were also craving a more immersive cultural experience – it was pretty easy to get caught up in an English-speaking expat/traveling families world in each location, without really getting to deeply experience the local culture (which really only happens if you learn the language and can therefore make friends with local residents).
Our plan was to look for work teaching English and also look into starting up a therapy practice for Jonathan. We figured we could still work on the online business in the background in the hopes that, eventually, it would become successful enough to give us the freedom to travel again – or at least not have to work full time all the time. It felt like a compromise between giving up on our dreams entirely and moving back to Toronto, and continuing to push to live a lifestyle that maybe just wasn’t working out quite like we’d hoped.
However, I was pretty confident that I couldn’t live in Tokyo. I’ve never been but, from Jonathan’s stories and the photos I’ve seen, it felt like it would just be too big and busy for me, especially trying to keep the kids happy all day! Aria and I are happiest barefoot on the beach, or running around a forest, where clothing is semi-optional (for Aria!) and having to restrict the kid’s movement and behaviour is minimized.
So, one night, Jonathan came to me and said, “I think I’ve found our place! It’s called Fukuoka, and it’s on the south island of Japan. It’s a small city on the ocean, with beaches, mountains, lots of parks and nature, and a good start-up scene” and I was like “you had me at ocean!”. But it did sound like a good middle ground for everyone – some city for Charlotte and Jonathan, some nature and ocean for Aria and I, and a place where we might find work relatively easily.
It would also give us a break from hot climates. While Jonathan would prefer to live in flip flops and shorts every day of the year, we discovered over the past year that Charlotte doesn’t really like hot places – at least, not all the time (it will be interesting to see how she does with summer here, which is going to be hot, after having been through a very mild winter and nice spring).
I also found myself missing the seasons – while I do really love the beach and being warm, I also love aspects of all seasons, and wouldn’t have minded a bit of time in sweaters and jeans and crisp, fresh air. One of the perks of Fukuoka is that it has a four-season climate, but winter is very temperate, generally between 9-15 degrees during the day. So it’s not “real” winter, keeping Jonathan relatively happy, but it’s cooler, keeping Charlotte relatively happy. We will see what everyone thinks of the full four seasons as we experience them!
For weeks, we discussed whether we should go to Fukuoka, or head to Hoi An, or Bali, or somewhere else. We only booked our flights from Hong Kong to Fukuoka 3 days before leaving Canada (I know, I know… the professional event manager really needs to get her sh*t together!), and I still really felt like “do we really know what we’re doing?? Is this really the right decision?”
With the renovations we were doing in Toronto, we had SO little time to really sit and reflect, discuss, brainstorm, or ponder. We were facing a lot of decisions and planning, and had to just make up our minds and move on to the next item on our to-do list! So, there was something about Fukuoka that did just seem right, but it wasn’t necessarily based on a lot of research or reflection.
This feeling that it was a last minute and possibly-poorly-thought-out decision lasted well into the first few weeks of being here. And it still feels that way sometimes. However, every time I start to think “why aren’t we in Bali??”, I remember that we really need to get ourselves on a more stable financial footing, that Charlotte really needed a break from hot places, that she really loves the city, and that the spiders here aren’t the size of my hand!
So, here we are. I’m going to write a separate post about my first impressions, and my tough first few weeks, but when I tried to write about those things, I really needed to process how we even got to this place first.
I have been job hunting, and have had some offers that I may or may not accept, depending on a number of factors. Jonathan has been approved for a start-up business visa, so he will be able to start counselling here very soon. From what we can tell, there may be a very lucrative market here for him to find clients, so we are considering making Fukuoka a bit of a home base for a little while – and maybe longer.
We have a dream to still create a life where we don’t have to work crazy hours and can spend more time with our kids and enjoying life and friends and hobbies… where we can experience new cultures and learn new languages while also maintaining more stability for our kids (and ourselves, truly)… where we can spend a significant amount of time with friends and family back in Canada to satisfy that part of myself, and the girls, who miss “home”… and where we can still travel to new places once in a while. It is a big dream, but we have hopes that Fukuoka might be a piece of the puzzle!
To be honest, I’m still having trouble admitting that this past year hasn’t worked out the way we’d hoped. In some ways, it really feels like we failed, and while we’re trying to learn from it and move on, I sometimes get caught in cycles of denial and regret as I wish that we could be in a different place right now. But the past year threw us a lot of unexpected curveballs, and we learned SO MUCH that we didn’t know heading into this lifestyle. So, I’m trying to come to a place where I can accept where we are right now, and remember that it’s not permanent – if it really doesn’t work for us, we will re-evaluate and figure out a different solution.
I just really loved becoming a world-schooling world-traveling family, in the end (despite my early months of grieving my professional self), and it’s hard to feel like I’m giving that up. Especially when we now have so many friends who are doing exactly that, and I watch their adventures and travels on my Facebook feed!
But who knows what the future will hold… maybe we will find our travel groove again soon. I know that it’s in my blood now, and once it’s in there, I don’t think you can ever really get rid of it! So, beware jumping into this life if you’re not ready for it to change everything!
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