Criticism disguised as concern: Reactions to our plans to embark on long-term travel

My husband and I sold our house over the summer after deciding that we wanted to spend an extended period of time traveling with our two boys, aged 2 and (now) 6. We decided to travel through France before settling down somewhere in the South of France for a year or more abroad. Truth be told, I would love to just be traveling nomads and move from place to place, but we agreed instead to choose a base in Europe and then spend time traveling extensively from there.  We put most of our stuff in storage and then packed up two large suitcases and carry-on bags before flying to Nice, France at the beginning of September. Instead of heading to school and daycare, my then 5 year old and 2 year old sons headed to Europe to spend their days exploring the sights, sounds, and flavours of France.

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you’ll be swept off to.
— J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

When we announced our plans to family and friends, instead of happiness, I could feel the disapproval coming at us from all sides, in something I dubbed “Criticism Disguised as Concern.” Concern about the fact that we didn’t have jobs or even long term visas for France (we planned on returning to Canada to apply for visas once we picked a place to settle). Concern that we would spend all the profit we made from the sale of the house and car (we paid down all our debts, invested in our RRSPs, put money aside for after we finished traveling, and put aside enough to pay for our travel without going into more debt.) But mostly, concern for the children.

Concern that sounded like this:

-He needs to be in daycare or he won’t develop socially (referring to the 2 year old)

-He won’t have any friends

-Be prepared for behaviour issues if you move them away from everything they know

-He will fall behind in school (our oldest is in kindergarten)

-He won’t fit in

-Kids need stability and it’s selfish to drag them around the world just because you want to travel

-Aren’t you afraid you won’t find jobs and won’t be able to take care of the kids?

-What is he going to eat? (referring to my older son, who must eat gluten free)

-You’re not staying in hotels? What if someone robs you in your sleep? (referring to our decision to stay in AirBnB-style rentals)

Basically, criticism disguised as concern.

Don't get me wrong, I know that there was genuine concern behind some of those statements, but the pursed lips and lack of any questions regarding the details of our plans laid bare what was really going on in most people's minds: confusion, fear of the unknown, and criticism of our choices. Some people told us we were crazy. While a limited few were genuinely excited for us and asked interesting questions about our plans and how we planned on handling life on the road, most people were seriously baffled as to why we would want to sell everything we had worked to own and head off to make a new start.

I know that some of our closest relatives still truly don't get it. Someone who is always supportive of me told me he thought I was making a mistake by quitting a stable teaching job and guaranteed pension. Many friends confessed that they wished they had the guts to do something similar, but that they were too afraid to leave everything behind. Others felt that we were immaturely running away from adulthood.

My husband and I, running away from adulthood on the Cote d'Azur

My husband and I, running away from adulthood on the Cote d'Azur

At first it stung a little bit, especially when people we had hoped would be happy for us very clearly weren’t. Then we went through a phase of doubt, questioning our decisions and wondering if we were being ungrateful for what he had. It was also difficult to accept that in some cases, our relationships would never be the same, particularly with those who thought we were being reckless and irresponsible. Thankfully, my husband and I were 100% committed to our decision to drop everything and travel with our kids, but sometimes those questions would begin to put doubt into our own minds. What if our kids hated it there? What if they didn’t fit in at school? What if they did fall behind (kindergarten is tough these days)? Essentially, other people’s fears started to become our own fears, and it took a lot of effort to push those fears aside and keep moving forward with our plan. As a friend of mine who had just returned from three years away with her own family reminded me, “You can always come back home if it doesn’t work out.”

Enjoying the sunshine in Nice, France

The truth is, the decision to travel and move abroad was a long time coming, and it was the right decision for us. Life is short, and I truly believe that it is what you make of it. I spent many years worrying about what others thought about my decisions, from my education to my job, to the house I lived in and the size of my thighs. It finally took my son’s health scare and the death and severe illnesses of several relatives to help me realize that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. I have an obligation to make the most of the time I have been given, and this is how I’ve chosen to live it. Traveling. Exploring. Learning about different people and places. Introducing my kids to the world around them.

Smiles on the banks of  the River Seine before a trip to the Louvre

I am fully aware of how lucky I am to have this opportunity, and how privileged my family is that my husband found a job overseas that will help financially support our life in Paris and our future travels. I also understand that this journey is not for everyone, and that traveling isn’t a passion that everyone has inside them. But it is right for my family, and I am so happy that we waded through the doubt and the fear to set out on our adventure. I’ve never been closer to my husband, and my children have blossomed and developed in ways I never imagined possible. Good advice is certainly worth listening to, but I’m thankful that my husband and I were able to separate the helpful advice from that based in fear. We are well on our way to settling into our new place in Paris, and are already making plans for trips around Europe and beyond. I wouldn’t want it any other way.