It seemed like a pie-in-the-sky idea for Jennifer Powell. An around-the-world trip had always been a dream for the Toronto mom and last year it became a reality when she, her husband Chris, and their two children left their jobs and city life behind to travel the world for a year.
What initially kick-started the idea was a climb the couple made to Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to celebrate a 10th wedding anniversary and a 40th birthday. From then on their holiday goals shifted from typical tourist to living like locals.
But what pushed Jennifer to take the leap for her family was the sudden passing of one of her close friends.
“It was a very big wake-up call for us because it suddenly took that timeline that had seemed infinite to (one where) there was actually an end date,” said Jennifer. “Tomorrow may become never.”
The family turned the “what-if” into a “let’s-go” on New Year’s Eve, making 2016 their year of travelling the world.
“Setting the date was the hardest and most freeing moment of this entire experience,” explains Jennifer.
They sold their home in Toronto and on October 27, 2016, left on an adventure that took them through six continents from South America to New Zealand and Australia through Southeast Asia, Africa, and a final few countries in Europe before heading home. At every touch point, physical activity and being outdoors were the number one priorities.
The first stop, for example, was a walk along the equator in Ecuador. From there, the kids, then 9 and 10 years old, learned to surf in Peru, swam with marine life in the Galapagos Islands, snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef, and conquered fears ziplining across canyons in Ecuador – just to name a few of the family’s new adventures.
For Jennifer’s family, a five-kilometre charity walk pre-trip was pushing the limits, but on the road, the new norm was going on daily hikes. She recalls one 13 km trek in Bolivia where they had to sprint the final three kilometres (in order to catch the last bus.) It was the first of many physical tests that the family faced together and a turning point where she and Chris saw their children step up to the challenge and “become far more part of the team.”
“We would say the next day was 20 km and the kids wouldn’t even blink.”
Perspectives on what kind of activities to do also changed while on the road. Jennifer explains that physical tasks that may have seemed too complex before became “of course we are going to do this because the whole part of this experience was getting physical.”
“You realize how capable the kids are when you put them to the task,” says Jennifer.
But the kids weren’t the only ones who learned to push their mental and physical limits. While on the trip, Jennifer attempted scuba diving again. A negative experience 20 years ago kept her above water. But during this second attempt, she panicked. It was her daughter who pushed her to try again.
“My daughter said, ‘but Mom you always told us that even when we are scared, just give it a try once,’” explains Jennifer. “How could I ask her to leap and be courageous if she is looking at me and I am not?”
Later in Sri Lanka, Jennifer and Chris got their scuba diving certification – and for their last dive, their kids joined them.
Experiences that were once full of fear at the start of the trip became something they did together as a family.
“We are far more daring than we used to be.”
Since their return to Toronto in summer 2017, Jennifer, a business owner, event producer, and writer at Mom Dad Cuppa Kids, says the family has shifted to a simpler life and become more aware of their choices.
They choose to walk to the grocery store instead of driving, leave electronics behind when they take a road trip, and have opted out of signing up for extracurricular activities. Instead, her children are tasked to find one activity that they can do as a family each week.
And after months of spending the majority of their time hiking on mountains and swimming in oceans, the new priority back in Canada is spending more time outdoors. For Jennifer, it is when they felt the healthiest and most connected as a family.
Ultimately, the experience has shifted their perception of travel into one that is best described as a family adventure.
So what’s next?
“Places that challenge us physically,” says Jennifer. The family is currently considering a trip to Baja, California to see mantas mating and go scuba diving.