Global Pandemic as Nomads?

In case you’ve wondered how this pandemic has influenced this nomad family to alter our travel plans and slow down to shelter and rest our bones.

First off, our hearts have gone out to the affected areas – some of which we are lucky enough to have visited. We were in Venice weeks before breakout, traveled through Northern Italy days before breakout and spent considerable time in France and then Spain while watching the confirmed virus counts spread. Seeing the numbers rise and rise and the death count mounting has been horrific. We’ve loved the people we’ve come to know and befriend in these areas that have been hit so hard. Our heart goes out to them and the tragedies they are experiencing. We also honor those serving in the medical field and are grateful for them as well as the other community leaders that are taking things seriously!

As we’ve travelled we’ve had the consistent debate regarding the optimal duration of our stops in any particular place. What is long enough or too long. We’ve done multi-month stays as well as multiple moves in a single month. There is a certain burn out you reach as you are moving over and over. To meet this burnout head one, we’ve been thinking to settle down somewhere for a while. Plus our travel plans always included some longer stops in places that would suit us. There was always a balance to finding places to stay to keep things interesting as well as keeping our own sanity at packing up and moving too much! Combined with coming back to the states this summer for a wedding in the family, we had been planning on heading to Mexico for an extended period – to stay put somewhere for long enough that we could settle in for a few seasons.

But, as you’re aware, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic due to COVID-19. We ended up cutting our travels short. We evacuated Spain to return “home” to shelter in place and wait things out. We have been very sad to leave our scheduled time in Andalusia as well as going through Morocco and then Utah. But we got home to Georgia for a 2 week self-quarantine. Just as we reached the end of self-quarantine, the state of Georgia issued a shelter-in-place order. Anyways, you know the rest of the story because you’ve lived something similar wherever you are in the world.

So rather than just coming to the states to spend the summer, we decided to make a year of it. We’ve now rented a house not far from our old house. We’ll be there for at least a year. We’re diving into the community and even public school! We figure a break from travel and stable place to call home lends itself to the kids getting to revisit school and enjoy the social atmosphere and social education from public school.

We don’t know enough about the world to know what we’ll be able to do next. We may set out again. We may move to Mexico, or anywhere else for that matter. We may enjoy the new slow home rhythm and settle in even longer. Time will tell and we’re open. Even though this shelter-in-place is rough on a nomadic soul and wanderlust. We want to do our part for now to “flatten the curve”. Ultimately, for us, it felt irresponsible and almost pointless to continue our nomad travel during this global pandemic.

We’re looking forward to sitting down a while and patching our bones before we get back to truckin’ on – nomadder what form that takes.

You’re sick of hangin’ around and you’d like to travel
Get tired of travelin’, you want to settle down
I guess they can’t revoke your soul for tryin’
Get out of the door and light out and look all around

Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me
Other times, I can barely see
Lately, it occurs to me
What a long, strange trip it’s been

Truckin’, I’m a goin’ home
Whoa, whoa, baby, back where I belong
Back home, sit down and patch my bones
And get back truckin’ on

Truckin’ by Grateful Dead

1066 Reenactment – The Battle of Hastings

We were fortunate enough to have an open weekend for the biggest medieval reenactment in England. The date everyone in history class here learns and remembers is 1066 (while in the states we learn more about 1776). A little refresher: it’s when William, the Duke of Normandy, came to claim his right to the crown from the Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson. King Harold had just claimed the throne after the death of the childless, King Edward the Confessor. Then Harold rushed north to defend the crown from the invading Norwegian King Harald Hardrada (who also thought he was the rightful heir) and defeated the viking army at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. He then immediately rushed south to Hastings to defend against the Norman army, and (spoiler alert) lost his life in the battle. Legend has it he was killed by an arrow to the eye during the battle. The Normans, led by William (now known as William the Conqueror) ruled over the saxon people for half a century, until the next succession crisis known as the Anarchy period. His rule established the feudal system in England and left a permanent mark on the culture and language on England. Things like all the french origin words in the English language are because of this mixing and having the Lords and governing class using french over the peasant class who spoke old english. Words like cow and pig vs beef and pork among others.

The reenactment included a camp for Normans and Anglo-Saxons too, so much hands on learning. Here’s a video put together (see if you can find our cameo appearance) to recap the weekend in Battle!

History is fascinating in that it helps us understand how the world we live in was set up and became to be. Understanding where we came from is a prerequisite to understanding where and who we are.

We are thoroughly enjoying our time in England and learning about the history of the region. We’ve noticed that in our travels we’ve mainly been in the commonwealth and places that at least at one time were part of the British Empire. Australia, New Zealand, Canada and even Fiji and of course the United States. Very interesting to now be in the place that started all the colonization and conquest (for better and worse). Very sad to learn about the cultures and people who were exploited along the way. But, it is uplifting to be in a world that is beginning to value the diversity and cultures that were (and in most cases still are): Aboriginal cultures of Australia, Maori in New Zealand, Native Fijians and other Polynesian cultures along with Native American (Indians) and First Nation peoples of Canada. I know each culture has it’s value and honor as well as its own issues, but I also find that all these so called “barbaric” or “savage” cultures had much meaning and validity – and dare I say more so than the more “powerful” civilized conquerors, especially when considering the values of equality, peace and sustainability.

Very interesting to see the “conquerors” later on in the historical timeline, be the conquered in 1066. What goes around comes around. Hopefully we can move past the conquering and exploiting and more towards a global family of diversity.

Cheering on the underdog Saxons as well as the inevitable champs the Normans. There’s always next year, Saxons!
Meeting King Harold Godwinson. His eye survived the re-enactment!

500 Days as a Nomad Family

It’s been an even 500 days since we became homeless nomads. We sold the house and nearly everything we owned. We left home in the van only to sell the van as we hopped on a plane to Fiji en route to Australia and New Zealand for a string of housesits. We continue our homeschooling with a worldschool mindset and continue working remotely on a distributed team.

The Stats

We do our best to “be here now” and avoid treating travel like a checklist, but here are some stats on our 500 days.

United StatesFijiAustraliaNew ZealandIndonesiaCanadaGreat Britain
  • We’ve hit 6 countries (Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Canada, England)
  • 11 housesits (all 5 star reviews from our hosts) for 350 days housesitting
  • 28 short term rent/hotel/airbnb/campsites or other paid accommodations for 120 days
  • 30 days staying with family & friends
  • Cared for around 145 pets and animals as trusted sitters
    • 18 Dogs
    • 13 Cats
    • 11 Sheep
    • 34 Chickens
    • 9 Cows
    • 16 Birds
    • 2 Rabbits
    • 1 Turtle
    • 5 Fish
    • 1 Hamster
    • 4 Possums
    • 31 Kangaroo (4 infant joeys, 3 toddlers and the rest adults)
  • Vehicles:
    • 10 Rented Cars, Vans or people movers
    • 1 purchased (and sold) van in Canada
    • 1 purchased minivan in the UK (not sold yet)
  • 22 Airplanes
  • 55430 Miles traveled

Around the same total expenses for the nomad beds & planes & cars vs the same amount of time at home paying the mortgage and bills and usual life expenses. It’s been quite an adventure and incredibly educational for the whole family.

Who knows if we’ll go another 500 days, but no regrets here on where we are now and where we’ve been the past 500 days!

Remembering Fiji Video

Since Fiji, not many days have passed that we have not thought fondly of our time on Vorovoro or of the friends we made there. We put together this recap video (which took over a year of interviews and actually sitting down to put it all together) to let the kids tell their memories.

Working Remotely as part of a Distributed team

When explaining our nomad lifestyle to others it takes a few minutes to iron out the details. That is if they are actually interested enough and don’t just assume we’re homeless vagabonds. Usually, they start out thinking we are trust fund babies or some form of “we’ve struck it rich and don’t work anymore”. Then, they usually think along the lines that we’re taking a gap year and have saved up months or years of expenses and we’ll head home broke and have to rebuild, or even that we’re travel bloggers somehow making money by traveling…

The reality is (sadly) we’re not loaded and I still have a job. I work as a web developer building websites and I work remotely, or you may be more familiar with the term “work from home”.

Dilbert to the rescue

I’ve had many surprised or even confused responses from people. “How can you work from all these seemingly random places?” “Are you doing contract work as you go?” “Do you work for yourself and just support your own clients?” No, while these are possible, I work remotely as an employee for a company. I’m part of the workforce at 10up, and they allow me the flexibility to work remotely. I’m on a team of others who work remotely. The whole company in fact works remotely We’re all remote! Or better put, we’re a distributed team.

I enjoy this setup because the company has specialists in things like winning new clients and projects, dealing with things like SEO and project management, account management, and server infrastructure, accounting and billing clients, and other legal issues, as well as the HR issues like health insurance and payroll, etc! I don’t excel at any of that. But, I do have a specialty as well, I’m a web developer, and I didn’t want to go out on my own because I’d be required to either pay people/services to do all that for me or somehow figure it out myself. It’s been a perfect setup that allows me to live my dream lifestyle as a nomad and travel the world as a way of life.

This dream came up in part when I first heard about companies that allowed employees to work remotely 100% of the time. I’ve done stints of remote work and always enjoyed the experience; the extra time and the freedom it gave me. So, I began looking up (and stalking) companies that are set up this way. To make a long story short, I found a distributed team at 10up and have jumped into this nomad life! I’m grateful for the company I work for, the work is truly interesting and I’m growing as a web developer, while also living my dream lifestyle. Talk about a good work-life balance!

Along the same lines, here’s a video from Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of WordPress and CEO of Automattic, a “parent company” of sorts of the WordPress foundation (the software that runs a third of the internet). Like 10up, Automattic is another distributed company, and I really enjoyed how Matt talks about all this. He even mentions the nomad lifestyle! I wanted to share this video because it explains why a company would want to be distributed.

Some even choose to not even have a home base. They’re nomads. Whether they’re in RVs or traveling through Airbnbs, they’re in new places every day, week or month.

As long as they can find good WiFi, we don’t care where they are!

Matt Mullenweg

I’m happy to be a part of this growing group of digital nomads. I feel like I’ve won the lottery because I traded in a daily commute for world travel.

On the Radio

At one of our outings, we talked with someone who seemed fairly interested in what we were doing, and then she told us that she was a reporter and asked if we’d be up for an interview for a story. So a couple of weeks later we had her over for a chat while she pressed record. Another week or so and we were on the Australian equivalent of NPR. Go have a listen, World schoolers put Central Victoria on their curriculum.

Just because you’ve got kids, doesn’t mean the international travel has to stop, says one couple from Atlanta, Georgia.

They’re living the dream having sold their house and many of their belongings to fund their open-ended global exploration, with their four children, who are all under 11.  With no fixed return date, these world schoolers are using the globe as their classroom and couldn’t be happier.

Duration: 8min 48sec
Broadcast: Sat 15 Sep 2018, 6:00am

On Saturday Breakfast with Anne-Marie Middlemast .- ABC

Here’s the transcript on the broadcast:

Anne-Marie Middlemast: Would you take your kids out of school? Hit the open road or buy some plane tickets and set off on an adventure with an unknown return date? Lots of families, do it so much so that it’s even got a name. It’s called world schooling, meet the world schooling wonder family, the Mullins.

Family: Hi, my name is Krista Mullins. I’m Evan Mullins from Atlanta, Georgia as well. We’ve got four kids. My name is Thatcher. I am 11 years old. My name is Levi and I’m eight years old. Hi, I’m Finn and I’m six. I’m Pepper and I’m four.

Anne-Marie Middlemast: In May this year, the family left, their home in Atlanta, Georgia to become citizens of the world with no fixed address.

Krista: We couldn’t not is what I tried to tell people. Is this has been a dream of ours for so many years. We got married very early during university and we finished and had the planned to join the peace corps in the United States, which is like a volunteer international service. We went to join and realized that I couldn’t join because I was Canadian. So So, that dream was just dashed and For a long time. You know, we were in the throes of Having babies and…

Evan: The dream of travel kind of is part of what brought us together and we had to just kind of put it aside and wait and yeah, i got busy with life and we’re like it wasn’t fulfilling us like we wanted it too. So

Anne-Marie Middlemast: With small steps, the family started to action, their dream taking road trips to Canada over the summers with the longest stint there, lasting six weeks.

Krista: It was a magical summer and we just thought If you have a job that allows you to work from anywhere, What are we doing? Like, why are we not? Going to go travel like, What if there were no strings attached.

Anne-Marie Middlemast: Evan is what’s known as a digital nomads. Meaning, he’s work is online. As long as his employer is agreeable. And he has an internet connection, he can work from anywhere. Fortunately, he found an employer who was happy for him to build websites from anywhere in the world. So the family decided to take the plunge, sell their house and begin their journey.

Evan: We had a neighbor down the street, put our house up on the market and we kind of just we were like we were thinking about this. We’re trying to figure out if we wanted to rent our house or sell our house. We just put a sign in the yard and someone bought her house. Just like less than a week.

Anne-Marie Middlemast: And what did your friends and family say about the decision?

Evan: It was a mixed bag. We had, we had good support, but we also had a lot of worrisome family and friends thinking we were off the deep end being crazy.

Anne-Marie Middlemast: The Mullins initially planned on traveling in an RV across america but unreliable internet, connections for evan’s work, proved challenging. With the yearning to go international, the family, stumbled upon the idea of house sitting. It essentially means free, accommodation anywhere in the world as long as the family can afford to fly there and find enough housesits to balance out the cost of the airfares.

Krista: So we sold our house, the end of May, and we did a road trip through the United States and up to canada. Like we do over the summers. And then we had a house sit in colorado, so we kind of went back down out west and then the family reunion and we left to Fiji. We went to Fiji first and lived with a village, like it’s not resort, Fiji, it’s like the real Fiji experience and we lived with the village on a tiny island. It was magical. It was seriously. So amazing. We spent just a week there.

Anne-Marie Middlemast: From fiji, the family found a two-month house seat in central victoria in the town of Castlemaine where they’ve been settling into the community.

Krista: Here in the Goldfields, we’ve done a lot of learning about gold mining and the gold rush era.

Evan: We’ve learned a lot about the different native animals of australia. We’ve taken quite a few trips to Melbourn, to go to the museum there a few museums. So we latched onto the idea, kind of a slow travel like If you go on vacation, you spend a week in volley and then you come home like you cram your week full of exciting things. But we’re like, let’s take it easy and go slower. Like part of our philosophy is to not be a tourist. We’re trying to just be travelers. We want to get to know cultures get to know different areas in the history of the area.

Krista: Live like the locals.

Evan: Right? So we’re trying to get to know like each place we are and just really a treat it like we live there.

Anne-Marie Middlemast: If you go online and search for world schooling, there’s a whole community offering tips on how to do it where to visit and families sharing their adventures of travel. I’m curious how the Mullins four children who were all under 11 are finding it.

Thatcher: My name is Thatcher. I am 11 years old and my favorite part of the trip we’ve been on is probably Fiji. Fiji was really, really fun. We didn’t have to do school that much, it was mostly play all day and eat, and, the end of the day, drink a little bit of Kava. Then play some more hide from so we didn’t have to go to bed.

Anne-Marie Middlemast: Each day while they’re away, Krista homeschools, the children in reading, writing in maths along with other subjects. I’m interested in her take on how the children have adapted to their global roaming.

Krista: They are having a blast, like the other day, we were surrounding table and you know, I always try to ask them how they’re feeling, how are they handling things? Because I know that not everything, we’re not seat, we won’t see everything that’s happening and they’re all happy, they’re really loving it. It was difficult at first, they really struggled leaving their friends and leaving… They didn’t struggle with losing all their toys. When we started selling everything, they took it like champs. I mean there were like a few stuffed animals that we just couldn’t part with. Um, a few things they asked to keep in storage. We have we do have a few boxes and storage and But they’ve done remarkably.

Evan: Well we’ve heard them say think like while we’re on a hike or how they’re like this is my favorite place in the world or like i’m so glad that we’re doing this they’re not our four-year-old just talking about different like She likes to look at the map and talk about where New Zealand is. And we’re australia, is where where we’re from, and just like, It’s really cool to see them, these citizens of the world. Instead of just Our own little neighborhood.

Anne-Marie Middlemast: What about some of the challenges that is? There’s a lot of beauty, I imagine in being free, but what are some of the challenges and some of the luxuries that you have had to perhaps do without it that you kind of miss?

Krista: It’s not always easy and it’s not. Roses and sunshine. Everywhere you go. Moving days are definitely the hardest. So the days when we’re traveling between places is Just really stressful on both of us and then we’re trying to manage the kids who are also feeling stressed.

Evan: One challenge maybe just trying to get into the community as much as we want to. The duration of our stay is dependent on the house. Sit. So I mean, we’ve been here in Castlemaine for two months. That we have a lot of other ones that are maybe only 10 days. So we’re trying to figure out how we’re going to get integrated with the community and i think surprisingly enough facebook has been a great resource that we can look for groups and join them. Then when we show up, what kind of know if you people already and we can jump right in, we’ve joined a homeschool group here. Surprisingly, it was a great timing when we actually showed up here because it was the beginning of term. So we signed up for a lot of, like, we signed up for soccer teams and circus class, and ballet class, and those been really great to just jump in.

Anne-Marie Middlemast: What’s this experience been like for the two of you as a couple?

Krista: It’s been really good. It’s been challenging too. Like i said, it’s not always happy. You know we’ve had to figure out how to navigate each other’s stresses you know. Like sometimes we’re just kind of at each other and we’re like, what is going on? And it’s like, okay, like talk about what stressing you like, tell me what year was going on inside your mind because it’s coming out like we’re angry at each other, but really, we’re just stressed. So we’ve had to work a lot on our communication.

Evan: You have that feeling when you leave home and go to college the like, you’re on your own and like you’re, you’re testing yourself, you’re proving yourself. I feel like we’re kind of doing that as a family now like we have left, the familiar, we’ve left home and we’re just wandering.

Sorry Day

Apology Letter

Since being in Australia, we’ve learned a bit about Sorry Day. If you don’t know, it’s a day set aside (since 1998) to remember and commemorate the mistreatment of Australia’s indigenous population. An official and national apology was delivered by the prime minister (in 2008) that is a great step for healing.  I do understand the relations are still strained in places, but an official statement of apology and acknowledgement of wrong doings is still huge! Here is the apology:

I move,That today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.We reflect on their past mistreatment.We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

We missed the actual day (May 26) but have learned about the history and I’m very impressed. I think it is one of the most respectable and honorable overtures extended by any organization, let alone a government. 

We have noticed many signs and attitudes that express that we are on land that is traditionally under the stewardship or one tribe or another. Castlemaine and the surrounding area for example, is part of the Dja Dja Wurrung people. There are signs posted in official buildings and before events begin there is a Statement of a Welcome to Country and Acknowledgements of Traditional Owners

I hadn’t realized before arriving that there were many many different tribes among the indigenous australians. Here’s a quick map showing the different indigenous peoples:

The nation of Australia, was founded as a British penal colony. England was out of room in their prisons and they found a new land, so naturally, they wanted to exile prisoners to be the next colonists. I think they were just bitter about having just lost their last colonial project to rebellion. In my big picture of history the colonies in Australia started immediately after the Brits lost the American colonies. They had a war about it and in the end parted ways with their colonies, so maybe they needed a rebound. Captain Cook claimed the land for England in 1770. The American Revolution in 1765 – 1783. Then in 1787 the First Fleet departed from Great Britain for Australia to begin European colonization. They started this new colony by deporting their convicts and exploiting yet another land that didn’t belong to them. In the US, I’ve learned about the treaties made between the Native American tribes and the colonies, but in Australia they made no treaties. They saw the indigenous Australians and savage barbarians and didn’t count them as human. As in the americas, disease followed the settlers and wiped out many of the natives at first contact. Then they simply removed any indigenous people that were in the way. There were plenty of laws created to strip the aborigines of their families and rights and very existence. Decades passed, a century passed with not much change. Between 1910-1970, many Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families as a result of various government policies intended to “civilize” them.

The generations of children removed under these policies became known as the Stolen Generations. This caused intense generational trauma to the indigenous peoples. Many lost their language and culture as a result. This special culture who has existed undisturbed for 40,000 years in Australia. The longest unbroken beliefs and myths are Australian. There are even new studies that are proving aboriginal people were the first agricultural people in the world. They have suffered greatly with the “invasion” from the British. Their land has been exploited for gold and other minerals and land taken for farming and grazing pastures for sheep and cattle. Anyways, if you’re familiar with any world history you’re no stranger to a native culture’s mistreatment by a “Western” or “White” or “European” or so-called “Civilized” people. Africa, the Americas, Australia, Pacific Islands, etc etc etc.

Anyways, that’s enough of my history soap box. Australia has publicly said something that not many other countries or governments or even organizations have said. They’ve been mature enough today to say “Sorry”. They even commemorate it with a national sorry day every year. I think it’s fabulous! They are acknowledging that their history is tarnished and they want to correct the wrongs. The first step to making things better is admitting past failings.

I think many other countries could take a lesson here (The US, UK, Spain, France, Portugal etc). Many other places have been exploited. Whole people have been exploited even, stolen from the coast and sold into slavery only because they didn’t have guns to fight back or defend themselves. I think the South, no, the whole United States could work to repair some racial issues with official apologies for slavery and racist laws. Maybe that would go a long way rather than the arguments around removing statues/monuments for fear of appearing to support certain old (yet wrong) ideas. There are many reparations to be found with our past (and current) treatments of our own indigenous people, so many broken treaties and trails of tears. Other organizations have things to apologize for as well! Perhaps it’s something churches with troubled pasts could learn maturity in this as well. There are many stories of child abuse and churches more interested in defending their good name than in defending real victims, it’s never too late to man up and own the error and make things better! My own Mormon tradition could benefit from some heartfelt apologies and acknowledgement of wrongdoings (polygamy/polyandry, racist teachings as doctrine, homophobic tactics, shaming, even some excommunications, etc). It takes a lot of maturity to recognize past faults and even more to come out publicly and apologize! I’ve heard many times that an organization (church or country) should not apologize because it’s a sign of weakness… I call bull. I think that it’s a sign of strength and honor and even love. While Holding back on an apology is a sign of immaturity. It takes a lot of bravery and vulnerability to say sorry and own up to something you’ve done wrong. There’s a song that I learned as a child that has stuck with me, “Do what is right and let the consequences follow”.

We can see examples of good and integrate that good into ourselves. This has become part of my focus in our nomad travels. Find good (wisdom or maturity or love) and work to integrate that into my life. Granted, this can be done at home too, (so you have no excuse) but it has helped me to break out of the bubble and comfort zone of home and see new places and new people even new problems and new solutions.

The Aboriginal Flag

To continue this Australian Sorry story, last year in 2017, the Aboriginal leaders of Australia gathered together and came up with a statement asking for representation, called the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Sadly, it has been rejected by the Australian Government. Hopefully things can work out still, but this shows that just saying sorry is not enough. It’s a first step and we must continue on the path of rebuilding to make a real difference. Still, I’m super impressed with the respect and maturity the Australian nation has shown. Good on ya, mate.

Putting in Roots for a 2 Month House Sit

Arriving in Australia

Heading from Fiji to Melbourne we landed late at night and came out of the airport to get a ride to our hostel surprised by the cold! July in Australia is in fact winter! It’s winter in Fiji as well, but that felt like a cool summer to us, actual winter was a shock to us wearing shorts and t-shirts! We were able to finally secure a maxi-taxi to get us on our way and unpacked our winter gear in earnest! In the morning we hopped the train up to our first international house sit! They welcomed us warmly with dinner and new friends!



We were pretty lucky in our timing to arrive in Castlemaine, Victoria, Australia right at the beginning of term (as they call it here, the beginning of school and all kinds of other classes for kids). We were able to jump right into things like soccer, circus class and ballet. We found a local Pioneer Scout Hall and promptly signed the kids up for the equivalent of Cub Scouts in Australia. We also attended church some at the local Mormon ward in Bendigo, where we more than doubled their primary attendance.

Most influential though was a local homeschool group that was kind enough to let us join them for a couple months! We made fast friends in the group meeting weekly and met up during the week for play dates. A highlight of our time in Castlemaine was the homeschool group theater production we were involved with. We put on an adaptation of the Chronicles of Narnia – Lion Witch and the Wardrobe – but Castlemaine style, dubbed Castle-Narnia.

The slow travel has paid off on this stop and we were very happy to be able to quickly integrate with the community. A great community it is too! Castlemaine is close enough to Melbourne that many commute, but it’s also far enough that it has its own character. It has a feel almost of a liberal college town and a small town at the same time (reminding us of Athens, GA) while also having some rich history with the gold rush. It also has ancient history with indigenous people in the area for something like 40K years.

There were even a couple community events we joined in. A game night, town lunches and soccer social kicks (adult tournaments). Combine all this with all the other activites and field trips we made, it’s amazing we did it all in 8 weeks!

The photo barrage:


Adult Womens Social Tournament
Mens Adult Social Kick
Enjoying Youth Soccer Practice
Enjoying Youth Soccer Practice


Fire Night





Town Lunch


Games in the Maine




Touristing in Fiji, Heading Down Under

Though one of our goals is to not tourist, our flights went through Suva and Nadi, and gave us a lot of time to kill in each city. We had about 8 hours in Suva and 23 hours in Nadi! We did not want to hang out in the airports all day for two days so we went out to see what we could find.

After landing in Suva and taking a break to recharge phones and look up what we could do in our window of time and playing card games to corral the kids, we went out to see what there was to see. We hired a taxi van because a family of 6 can’t fit in anything smaller. We had looked up a couple things, and rather than go to the touristy markets, we went to a rainforest park. There was a little hike down to the river with a waterfall and a swimming hole. It was awesome! Not only a swimming hole but a rope to swing off the top of the falls and drop into the water hole at the bottom. We tried our hand and enjoyed the swing, but also enjoyed watching some locals doing incredible flips and tricks. There were a couple of friends that were olympic material. One would swing out and swing back and pick up the friend and swing together, then they’d jump off while pushing off each other and spiral twist back flips all the way down into the hole! Another guy climbed the tree, up above the rope knot and just jump into the water, it had to be 50-70 feet tall! We really enjoyed the cool water and playing in the creek above the falls. It was a great break between airplane flights, it was nice to see another part of Fiji as well. Talking with our taxi driver was humbling as well. His small wages and the house he pointed out and the nicer if hours he drives. 60+ hours per week and earning the equivalent of $20 a day. We got back to the airport when we wanted to, but I’m reality we had a couple hours to spare. It took all of 10 minutes to get through security and check in for the flight, so we played cards for a couple hours and made friends with the security and airport staff.

Heading to the airport all smiles after a week at Vorovoro – though we were quite sad to leave.
Our Taxi around town in Suva
The view as we drove around town
Colo-i-suva National Forest Park
The swimming hole
Swinging in. Likely the most graceful dive ever…
Playing cards and visiting with airport security

We arrived in Nadi and headed to the hotel we had booked. We’d heard and read that it was very family friendly, and it was. But it also felt a bit fake to me. After being in Vorovoro and seeing real Fiji life, the ironed shirts and matching sulus, drinks delivered on platters by smiling but silent servers felt detached. It felt like a production or presentation at Disney world. Don’t get me wrong, Disney world has its place, but it’s certainly not a place where you get an authentic experience with real people and real culture. It’s all pretend, and that’s the point there… Disney isn’t real. It was great to have a pool and to relax most of the day in it and reconnect with friends and family. It was also an awkward and stark difference after the cultural experience on the island. Having Fijians serving us and drive us around when we didn’t know them or share kava or live with them was hard. It felt like a sterilization to placate the wealthy tourist who doesn’t want to be aware of the culture or the people, who doesn’t want authenticity, who is not comfortable with seeing the economic divide in their face. Fiji is a beautiful country though, I hope people learn too that Fiji is a beautiful people as well.

Not being good at touristing, making friends with taxi drivers and security officers and not wanting to be served drinks on platters as we sit by the pool is a sign that we are doing something right, right? Maybe we were just missing our new island family.

He was so excited to finally see our matching luggage on the belt (he’s been asking about this since we left home but it’s somehow the first time it’s happened (from carry-on only to no belts in the tiny Fiji airports)
Taking a hotel pool break after the traveling and 2 days of short flights
Catching up on Pokemon catching

We did have a little scare at Nadi airport checking in to head to Australia. All our boarding passes printed fine at the kiosk but one kept giving an error, so we had to go to the counter to figure that out. It turned out that even though our electronic visa application had been approved, it had since changed! One of our six visas to get into Australia was revoked… How exciting! Then they said it was only because the birthdate was wrong on the application compared to the passport. So, we had to reapply before we would be allowed to enter the country. This significantly added to the stress of the day. (After spending hours at the airport and not seeing any of our last 4 flights in Fiji board until flight time, we didn’t feel pressed for time, so we were a bit later than the recommended 2 hours for international flights.) Reapply for a visa to entry the country which you are currently about to board a flight for, no big deal. Luckily Australia has a fast and electronic application process, so they let me use their computer to get on and reapply really fast, and it actually worked! I just had to correctly enter the birthday and pay another application fee (luckily it’s only $20 Australian). My best guess, since I honestly do a decent job remembering my kids birthdays, is that I entered the date American-style (month, day) whereas it’s required to enter in like-literally-the-rest-of-the-world-style (day, month). Luckily they approved us with enough time to run to the gate and board the flight! If it hadn’t worked, we had already decided to leave 1 kid behind, I’ll let you think on who it was… (feel free to guess in the comments!)
Thank goodness for a near instant electronic visa application!
The sprawling city lights of Melbourne were quite a shock to take in after spending a week with barely any electricity!
The winter temperature was more of a shock when we stepped outside. We were freezing at midnight and had to wait an hour for a taxi that was big enough for the whole family. We should have just taken two, but we weren’t thinking clearly.

Embracing the Fiji Way

In Fiji, as in all our travels, our goal is to really get to know the local culture rather than just visit as a tourist. Bridge the Gap shares this same vision and it was very welcoming to be able to participate with real people in a real village. We made friends, learned about their traditions, and respectfully followed these traditions as guests. No natives were serving us drinks on platters or other resort/Disney-inspired representations of their culture. We were there and worked alongside them to prepare meals, wear their traditional clothing, and learn their phrases. We were able to help in a couple of construction projects, learn about the medicinal uses of the plants, fish with them, and more. We also laughed a lot with them, played games and volleyball, and spent many hours on the kava mat.


Crushing the kava root. Inside the steel cup is the root, and we’re pounding it with a steel pipe (used to be a car axle). You lift it and pound it down onto the root repeatedly.
Here’s the kava mat in the Grand Buré. The Tanoa between the guards with the kava being mixed. The chief is just to the left at the head of the mat.
Here is the Tanoa and the drinking/mixing bowls/cups. The cloth is used as a strainer to get anything that hasn’t dissolved into the drink as they mix the crushed powder. There is a certain ceremonial way to do all of this too.

As I mentioned before, in Fiji we spend a lot of time on the Kava mat. The time is well used to visit and join in music together. There are a lot of traditions and rituals surrounding Kava.


Here’s the helpful sign we have to guide newcomers in what to do during a sevusevu ceremony.


We played music with kava most nights on the guitar and uke. They had a spoon and a string they’d wind around the neck of the guitar to act as a capo.


Since there was no church on Vorovoro, Tui Mali usually goes to church in one of the other villages over which he is chief. We rode boats to church.
Saying goodbye to new friends after church.
Special meals we all ate together, this was our Sunday Dinner and it was amazing!


The school of Lengalevu
The students introduced themselves to their visitors.


Building a shed for storing the wood chips.
Taking the building down from the top down.


Preparing food for the Lovo
Snapping beans
Opening the underground oven up after everything has cooked

And More

Mateo (or affectionately called Potato by the kids) the undisputed coconut king
We got up early to watch some of the World Cup in Tui Mali’s home!
Composting toilet
Composting Bins

Island Time

Saying goodbye to our Fiji family



We hope to return soon!