The tension between savoring beauty and real life

The other day I had to delete a comment from someone who accused us of being entitled and elitist. Her conclusion was that because we were recently in Tuscany with friends, and because we’re about to go around the world with our kids for a year, that we must be rolling in dough and live lives more like gentlemen farmers than blue-collared workers. (I don’t necessarily judge her for assuming something like that, what with our penchant and ability to travel, but the deleting was because of her mean-spirited and ad hominem attacks. I’m sure she’s on a journey herself, and I don’t know her giants or battles. All grace and no hard feelings here.)

I don’t doubt for a second that we’re not privileged. I mean, if you make more than $10,000 per year, you are richer than 85% of the world. If you make $50,000 or more, you’re in the top one percent of the globe. We’re there. We are utterly bizarre in this regard when compared with the rest of the world. But I don’t think that’s what my reader was referring to. I think she was referring to our freedom and lifestyle choices that allow us time to travel and to work in order to make a decent living. I’m guessing she probably isn’t a regular AoS reader, and simply assumed we are wealthy in the western world’s sense.

kyle

So, I thought it’d be a good time to explain a bit why we’re traveling around the world, with follow-up posts in the near future about the how (including budgeting). Not that I feel the need to justify anything, but I get the sense that as more and more people discover our trip, they’ll want to understand our perspective and choices.

Here’s the number one reason we’re traveling around the world for one year with three small children. Ready for it? It’s big and glamorous.

Because we want to.

That’s honestly our biggest reason for going. Kyle and I first met as travelers on a dirt road in the former Yugoslavia, and we’ve traveled together ever since. Traveling is in our blood. It’s our favorite way to spend our time, and we get a bit antsy if we’ve been in the same place too long (which is another topic itself, too).

I’ll get in to this more when I talk about finances, but we also mold and shift our budget so that traveling remains a priority after we take care of responsibilities. We have one 12-year-old minivan that permanently smells like little boy socks, and it’s on its last legs but we’re holding out until we hit the skies (we joke that we just need it to get us to the airport in a few months, then it can fall apart in front of the check-in desks, for all we care). We’ve never lived in fancy houses in the nice parts of town. We buy plenty of our clothes at the thrift store.

We do this because this is what it takes for us to travel. Not everyone is wiling to organize their budget the way we do, and we get that. But it’s part of the answer to how we can afford to. (More on this soon.)

Honestly, we just love to travel together. It’s one of the best ways we bond, it (usually) unifies our marriage, and because it’s in our blood, it seems to be in our kids’ DNA as well. They are fantastic travelers, and the more they do it, the better travelers they become.

Going deeper

I think sometimes we feel like there needs to be this extrinsic, sign-from-God sort of reason to do something this big. But really, what if God simply delights in us following our desires? What if we’re partly fulfilling our vocation (in the literal sense of the word) by acting on our deepest passions? What if it’s okay that parts of our life be ideal?

tuscan street

We talked about this, the friends I traveled with to Tuscany. It was stunningly heaven-like there, and we better understood why people suddenly move there to renovate a 13th century shanty. Part of us wanted to follow suit. We’d joke about finding villas on the Internet, flying back to the States to grab our kids, and returning to set up some glorious writers’ commune deep in the fields near the heartbeat of the Renaissance.

And yet we can’t help but feel sorta guilty for even wanting that. What about the worldwide refugees who don’t have the option to leave their government-issued tents? Shouldn’t we channel that passion instead into building wells where villages desperately need water? Or what about simply leaving a legacy and inheritance for our grandkids’ grandkids’? All important stuff.

It’s hard to live in that tension, the one where you want to dive deep into beauty, but where you also want your actions to matter. What a privilege even to live in that tension, right? When so many worldwide don’t have electricity or food, struggling between vacation or charity is a luxury in itself.

For whatever reason, I was born in the United States. I probably won’t know why until heaven, but it is what it is, and by default, this means I’m one of the world’s wealthiest (you probably are, too, if you’re reading this). So where I’m choosing to rest until God tells me otherwise is this: you can live in this tension, and both sides can be true.

Savoring and craving beauty is a creation-born thing. It’s native in each of us, though it manifests differently. So it’s more than okay to pursue its many forms, I say. And longing to care for your fellow man because it’s right and good and true is a creation-born thing, too. There’s no creative end to the many ways humans have helped each other, and I don’t think this will stop for a long while.

When I think of us traveling around the world this year, and when some people wonder if our priorities are straight, this is how I rest my head in peace each night: that our family is diving deep in both places, setting our backpacks on that parched grass that divides the line between noble causes and resting in splendor.

coffee

We are traveling around the world. We are giving money where its needed. We are seeing the globe’s greatest wonders. And we are riding busses armpit-to-face for hours at a stretch, sleeping in spare bedrooms in remote villages, giving a small voice to people living their lives daily for others, and buying breakfast at local farmer’s markets and then sitting on the nearby dirt to watch the sun rise. Not because we’re holier than thou. But because we want to live in the tension of both.

It’s both. This is how we choose to live out our passions. This is why we live simply. And with this trip, we are living out very tangibly the core of who we are.

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36 Comments

  1. Jamie

    Tsh, this was a great explanation and summary of the “why” and “how” of what you’re all about. I’m always so saddened by the license to be mean and judgmental that the internet seems to give. I know you’ve written and spoken on this before that people wouldn’t say the things to your face that they write to you.
    I think it’s awesome that you’re living out your passions in this way and giving others courage/permission to step off the “normal” path. Your words also get people to look outside themselves and gain a new perspective of the way things are in this world whether we see them or not.
    I too want to ask Jesus why I was born in the US and not in a mud hut somewhere. It’s a very humbling thought.

  2. Desiree

    What I love about this is your stating that’s how your family bonds and that traveling unifies your marriage. My husband and I struggle each day with our marriage and the direction we are going as a family. We can’t seem to find common ground. I applaud you for making your family bond and marriage a high priority and still showing compassion for those less fortunate than we are.

  3. Desiree Fawn

    Beautifully expressed <3

  4. Melissa McIntyre

    Beautiful. And that pic. of you and Kyle? Priceless! Too often the men I know give a fake camera smile that looks more like they are in pain than happy 🙂 I usually have to tickle my hubby to get him to really smile!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Thanks, Melissa! It was the last day of our time in Tuscany, so we were pretty well-rested, relaxed, and content. 🙂

      • Melissa McIntyre

        🙂

  5. Amy

    I have followed your blogs for a couple years now and admire how you and your family prioritize travel. You wrote that you would expand on the finances and budgeting involved in your travels and I’m looking forward to that! I will be bold in asking if you’ll share detailed info–your budget broken down into percentages, uncommon ways you’re saving money, great deals on goods/services/utilities, etc. I’m cringing as I write this–a ballpark of your family’s income? We are a family of 4, making more than 50, but less than 100 and live frugally and can’t imagine how it would be possible to travel. I need the nitty gritty and I hope you’ll provide it!

  6. Ali Edwards

    One of the things I loved about your Blue Bike book was how you wrote about your choices and your love of travel and how you just make it happen. It’s not about having a lot of money, it’s about figuring out how to make it happen with what you have in front of you. Excited for your next adventures.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Thanks, Ali!

  7. Barefoot Hippie Girl

    The fact of the matter is that everyone chooses what to spend their money on. We’ve gone on a “big” trip almost every other year of our marriage. Why? Because we love to travel and we want to see the world. Next on our agenda is a 2 week trip to Spain next February with our 4 kids. Will it be costly? Yes. Is it affordable for most people? Yes. It all comes down to what you are willing to spend money on now versus later. We don’t spend on high mortgages, cars, eating out, cable, smart phones, so that we can travel later.
    Also, our 7 year plan is to spend a year living and traveling in Europe before our oldest goes to college.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Well said, Barefoot.

    • Melissa McIntyre

      Amen!

  8. Marie Morache

    What a great post – I love how you describe it as a tension. I would also argue (although I know you will agree, so not an argument to your post or you) that your priority to travel with kids is bridging the gap between living in the wealthiest country and those in need. I traveled to Tanzania in 2007 and Ecuador in 2009. I saw first hand how people in remote villages live. That experience went deeper for me than hearing a talk or watching a clip of someone in need. I saw a glimpse of how people live day in and day out and how it is very different from life in the U.S. After the trip to Ecuador I told myself “I have to take my kids to other countries. It is essential for them to see not everyone lives the way we do.” I know you would say this very same thing! You are giving your kids such a gift to be able to see the world – to open their minds and their hearts to people, cultures and in some part of the world – those in need. This is part of your legacy – your kids will grow up with first hand experience with all different kinds of people and cultures and will be able to give more deeply and more freely because of these experiences. Such a joy to see your family live out of its priorities, passions, desires and calling.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Yes – there is definitely high priority to this worldview as well, and hopefully I’ll write about it soon. But thanks for bringing it up here, too, Marie—we love that our kids understand that the world is not American, and we want to keep reminding them, first-hand as much as possible. 😉

  9. Fabiola J

    The one reason I love reading you is because you live an inspired life. Like that person said you seem to have made many choices that I often thought were for someone else (perhaps more “entitled” or with more “time”: From cloth diapering (how I found your original site), to working from home and traveling… But you bring them within reach and that’s exciting. By sharing about your journey it makes me reflect on mine.

    Thank you

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      I’m so glad to hear this, Fabiola! This is completely my goal for all our online stuff.

  10. Diane McElwain

    Your words sound like I think. Thanks for sharing this Tsh, some of us are born with a map in our hands!

  11. Maria Leon

    Taking my children to see other countries is something my husband and I are working hard to make happen. When I first read your plans to travel with your kids for a year, I was so happy for you and so grateful to you. Grateful because you gave me HOPE that a normal family living on a budget can make a grand adventure like that a reality. So happy you launched the Art of simple travel, I am hoping this will help us in our dreaming and planning. Please don’t leave out any details! Thank you for allowing us, people you will never know or meet to come along on this adventure!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Thanks, Maria! Trust me, we are totally and completely normal. 😉

  12. Lisa

    Tsh, love that you named it! That tension is real and felt and in a part of so many of our family’s decisions as we apply values to our choices. I think I’ll take the time to wrestle through it a bit more. We’re currently in Kathamndu, Nepal (not a lot of beauty) and am craving the Maldives or somewhere of extreme beauty. I love that we are seeing and living “real life in a developing country”, yet in order to embrace this life, I need to know we won’t be here forever and maybe will find ourselves living somewhere indulgently beautiful for another season. It’s both/and…..and then how to live out the tension (and not just ignore) when we are back in N. America?

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Good thoughts, Lisa, and I remember wrestling with many of those exact things when we lived in Turkey.

  13. Sarah Caldwell

    Ahh, this is so, so good Tsh! I have been following your blog for awhile now, but mostly since you transitioned to ‘The Art of Simple’, and I have been SO excited to see the launch of this travel site! You both are living a dream I’ve had for some time! My husband has a wonderful job, but doesn’t allow him to be as mobile as I’ve been in my work previously. (Before settling in Texas with my husband, I was an actress, and focused getting most all of my work in traveling tours, so I could act and travel the world at the same time! 🙂 We are trying to figure out how to budget so we can travel more often as well. I am always so inspired by your words, Tsh. I hope one day I can meet you again (we met ever so briefly at Allume in 2012, but I don’t even know if I told you my name. 🙂 I also dream of writing at this blog, or a blog like it. Blessings to you and your family!

  14. Danielle

    I loved this post!

    I’ve never done any international traveling (ok, one trip to Canada) and long to. And take the kids at some point. One thing I notice about families who prioritize travel–and I know about 3 of them–is their homes look very different to homes where people make other priorities. Their homes have Ikea furniture, worn out sofas, and live in area where the cost of living is cheaper. Because their priority is to put that money in a different place than their home. I have other friends who buy their furniture at Pottery Barn and never travel. Each family is free to choose how to allot their income. And we’re very privileged to be able to make that choice, like you say.

  15. Malinda Fuller

    Thank you for explaining “diving deep in both places.” I have had a hard time, in the past, living in the tension that you described so well. But, I agree – it is possible to live there; I think it actually makes us better. Beautiful post!! Loving your new site!!

  16. Susan

    Travel is a blessing. But how do you remain away from the States for periods longer than the allotted time available to travelers without long term visas? Is it limited to three months (my understanding) and does the U.S. government have limitations for tax purposes? Just wondering.

  17. Leigh

    Thank you Tsh for speaking so beautifully about the importance of travel. I struggle so much because I want to give that experience to my kids ( they are exactly your kids ages) but we are still paying off all our student loan debt and my husband has a job where he can’t take a lot of time off 🙁 I know you’ve paid your debt off but I was wondering if you could talk a little about how you weigh savings/ house owing etc (maybe retirement or college savings?) with the expense of travel. Also do you have tips for families that can only take a week or who might have to travel by themselves because a spouse has to work?

  18. Alana Dimmick

    Thanks for that liberating thought! Never looked at it that way before…

  19. Marla Taviano

    This is why I love you. Needed this today. Thanks.

  20. jill britz

    thanks for cracking this nut open. this is such an important conversation to have. it’s easy to ignore our beauty-craving selves for judgment & martyrdom. but that only leaves us hungry. i want to live in the tension, too!

  21. Christie

    Quite simply, we don’t travel because we can’t afford it, either in dollars or vacation days. But that isn’t a tension for me. When I saw your Tuscany pictures, I felt inspired to keep on building a rooted life right where I am because the Tuscan lifestyle appears so content in its culture and tradition. I’ll read your travelogue with that kind of expectation — what can I learn from the places you visit that I can use and enrich my place? — and will enjoy your stories and pictures.

  22. Tina Kramer

    One thing I think people don’t often realize (I know I didn’t until I started traveling out of the US) is that it is fairly inexpensive to travel outside the USA. I admit, the plane ticket can be expensive, but that being said, a trip from Oregon to the mid-west, east coast can be fairly close to the price of a plane ticket to Europe. In places like Germany, France, Austria and Italy, we have found amazing places to stay for approximately 45 euro or $60. A bretzel (pretzel) in Germany was often 60 cents. So while some people like to vacation in a fancy hotel (which is fine), if you are willing to stay at a charming bed and breakfast and eat things like bretzels (which I am very willing to do, yum) for meals, you can see places like Europe quite cheap. All that being said, travel is also a mind set, I believe. It is about savoring, looking with fresh eyes, and being grateful, whether it is to Germany, Oregon, or to your local park.

  23. Natalie Rans

    Wowza! I strive to inspire and be inspired and man did you just inspire me! My husband is a website developer and I’m in the process of finding remote work. We want to live simply. We want to travel. We want our kids to be taught by the world. (I feel like Nacho when he said to Sister Encarnación ” Everything you just said, is MY favorite thing to do, every day!”
    Anyways, before I babble on and on, I’d like to thank you for reminding me to keep it simple; to remember it’s ok, even grand, to pursue our hearts’ desires.

    Thanks Tsh!

  24. Michele Desmarais Gresh

    I teared up reading this, specifically towards the end, when I wanted to shout, “Yes! Yes!” 🙂 I felt it. Thanks for that.

  25. Ryan Moore

    ‘”What I’d God simply delights in us following our desires.” YES. And you suggest that maybe following what we’re passionate about leads us into our vocation. I read this a couple times and each time a wave of deep emotion welled up in me.

    Why is it we are sometimes afraid to love the things God put in us? I think partly it is that love in the end will demand far more from our hearts than doing through the motions ever will.

    When we travel we fall ever more in love with the world don’t we? And in falling in love with the amazingly diverse and beautiful people and places we actually are falling more in love with God. God’s the one that came up with it all right? And I believe delights in it all immensely, beyond our imagining.

    Anyway, I didn’t really expect to get into all that in this little respone to your writing. All that to say I feel your passion and I know it deeply, and I bless it. You, your kids, your marriage, and your reads will undoubtedly be changed—and in ways you can never know until you go.

    I’m grateful I found your blog (by you linking to me last weekend). I’ll be cheering you on.

    Ryan

    (And interesting I’m the only make commenter on this post. I guess maybe I need to take up that cause

  26. Ryan Moore

    Ps. I accidentally hit Submit before I got a chance to proof for typos. And I can’t figure out how to edit! Feel free to make any edits you see fit including deleting this ps. 🙂

  27. Leisa Hammett

    Well put. Bless you. Bless you in your travels. For courage. Conviction. For moxie. Go!

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