“Home” for some is the place they grew up; for me, it’s anywhere I want it to be. Traveling so much and for a long period of time has taught me that I control where, when, and with who I feel at home. Long before my five-year tour around the world, I was living in Ghana, West Africa where I was born and raised up until the age of 9. I was homeschooled with my two older sisters before our family of six picked up and started our journey around the world. When I tell people I’ve been homeschooled all my life they immediately ask, “What about a social life?” There are a number of ways to be social outside of school – I have made friends through numerous clubs and activities like soccer, debate club, swimming, gymnastics, and leadership club. I also socialize and meet people through approaching people wherever I go and starting conversations. We never worried about a school education while traveling because we were already so used to homeschooling and it fit our crazy vagabonding plan perfectly. My dad always wanted us to experience different cultures and make friends around the world that would soon become family. The LLFs (life long friends) we made while traveling was by far one of the best parts of traveling. We gained new family members around the world, and built a community of people to look after and care for each other like their own. In every country, we balanced school and fun by forming a routine we could stick to but leaving it flexible enough to explore our new environment to the fullest. P.E. would be family workouts every day and after school, we could be hiking to hidden lakes.
One of the 32 countries we lived in was the Philippines. I became a certified PADI scuba diver along with the rest of my family. At the tender age of 10, I took my first class on scuba diving right after homeschooling in the morning and actually practiced the sport for the first time in a 15 foot deep pool learning how to breathe with the regulator and reserve oxygen for a longer sustainable dive. I can proudly say I knew how to prepare my scuba diving gear at the age of TEN. Our days of lessons paid off when we scuba dived the Great Barrier Reef, an experience I couldn’t possibly forget. It made me more aware of the danger our waters are in, how the marine life is slowly dying, and how we (humans) are the cause. I was enlightened, to say the least, and chose to change some of my habits because of that experience. One of those habits is reducing my plastic use and urging my family and friends to do the same. For example, we have a cabinet full of reusable water bottles in our condo so there is no excuse as to why we shouldn’t use one instead of a plastic bottle.
In the time it took us to reach Machu Picchu, one of the greatest wonders in the world, I was reminded that the journey is more important than the destination. It started with a risky drive up a thin strip of road that jutted out the side of a mountain. It WASN’T a one-way road: huge delivery trucks drove right past us pushing us closer and closer to the edge. Crosses lined the side of the road reminding everyone that passed, including myself, how life is too short to not get out of your comfort zone and to be comfortable in discomfort. Our next exciting and greatly awaited obstacle was the train tracks we walked on for four hours instead of paying the ridiculous price for a seat on the train riding those very tracks. I wouldn’t have chosen the cushioned seat of a train over walking the tracks even if it was handed to me for free; the adventure was too tempting to pass up. The fellow vagabonders we shared stories with along the way were worth the constant biting of mosquitoes. We came across several small “at home businesses” offering water and snacks for train track trekkers like ourselves eager to see one of the great wonders of the world.
At the end of our trek was a small town called Aguas Calientes, the last stop before the famed Machu Picchu. One problem – we didn’t plan this far ahead, the sun was going down and we had no place to stay. My dad and mom sent me and my two older sisters out to find a place to stay for the night. There weren’t many vacant rooms but we finally came across an inn that did have a vacancy. After negotiating a fair price, we discarded our backpacks in the room and set out again but this time to find food. Navigating and negotiating the way through our stay at Aguas Calientes was another experience I would definitely not take for granted, as the soft skills I learned at such a young age is something I couldn’t get from an average 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. school day.
The next morning we were up bright and early taking a 20-minute bus ride that would carry us to our last but not least, final destination, Machu Picchu. Much to our dismay, it was a foggy day but the ruins were nonetheless magnificent and filled with history. Although the journey to Machu Picchu was difficult and testing it was a life-changing experience, shaping the way I saw being uncomfortable, but finding peace and comfort in being uncomfortable.
The intelligent, creative, open-minded, and loving LLFs we made in Colombia shaped and molded our stay there. They introduced us to new experiences and perceptions. We weren’t living like tourists and our routine was built around the dynamic culture. Our robotics club only spoke Spanish, so we gradually learned the language to participate. To adjust to the culture in India, we formed new habits. Taking our shoes off at the door everywhere we went, trying new and different foods, and respecting their religion even though we may not fully see things the same way.
In the last year of our travels, we welcomed a new member to our family, Dior Manns, the hypoallergenic miniature poodle. As our numbers grew from six to seven, we toured the contiguous United States. We would enjoy the different types of music and food in one state and then pack up the RV the next day to taste the culture in another state. The pack up assignments rotated between my sisters and I could be assigned the connection and disconnection of the hitch while my two other sisters would be assigned water and sewage disconnection or putting away all loose items inside the trailer. Austin and New York City would have to be my favorite cities but the BBQ in Tennessee changed the definition of BBQ for me. Already in the habit of introducing myself and starting conversations, I made friends quickly in each state.
As that phase in my journey of life came to an end, I started to appreciate it more and missed not knowing where I would end up next. We made Richmond, Virginia our home base and my two older sisters went off to college, the next phase of their journey of life. As for me, I’m still homeschooling and currently a sophomore in high school. Aside from volunteering twice a week, I joined a debate club and a leadership club. I still have so much of life to enjoy and so much more to learn. I’m thankful to my parents, who, throughout our travels have taught me how to network, communicate, coexist, manage time, think critically, be confident, build self-esteem, and understand economics. I have the skills needed to master all the 7 areas of life: spiritual, mental, vocational, financial, family, social, and physical.