In the summer of 2018, Taryn and Marty sold nearly everything they had, packed what they could and left for a wild adventure. Together with their kids Matilda (8), Francis (6) and Viggo (3), they started travelling the world, full-time and full of enthusiasm. On their Quartier Collective website and Instagram they allow all of us a peek into their day-to-day. With a story so fascinating, we couldn’t help but reach out and ask them some of the questions that came to our mind. Marty answered them brilliantly.
How did you get the travel bug ? Was it passed on to you by your parents or how do those things work ?
We both grew up in landlocked towns, Taryn in Idaho and myself in rural Canada, where life beyond high school was basically written like a doctor’s prescription. The girls could be nurses or teachers and the boys could be cops or work in the oil field. The world seemed too big to know and most in our towns were happy to leave it that way. Taryn chose her own fate; she graduated early and moved to the “big” city of Seattle. She got an apartment and a job in a restaurant and never looked back. Modeling gigs took her to faraway lands, and the hook was set. I papered my bedroom with maps pulled from National Geographic magazines and listened intently to my father’s tales of his own grand voyages in far-off lands in his younger, wilder years. But the big world still pulled at my father, and when I was 13 the family sold everything, bought a big pickup truck and drove to Belize, on the Caribbean side of Central America. The year spent there, and the long road trips down and back, were life changing.
What was the first big trip you embarked on and what memories do you still carry with you?
Taryn spent a couple of months in Seoul as a 16-year-old, working for a modelling agency. On her first trip through an Asian market she recalls pig heads on sticks and animal parts unknown, smells and sights that let her know she was a long ways from Idaho. She stayed in an apartment with a few other girls, all models and all similarly far from home. It was a lesson in independence, but also in listening to your gut. In my 16th summer my twin brother and I took a train across the Canadian prairies and Rocky Mountains, then a boat up the inside passage to search for work in Alaska. We ended up in a logging camp, sleeping in a bunkhouse built on rafts that floated in a remote bay. We spent that summer growing wispy beards and trying to be as tough as the loggers around us. We chased humpback whales in a tiny aluminium skiff and got our work pants so dirty they would stand up on their own when dried against the wood burning stove.
Before reading up on you guys, we’d never heard of Vashon Island. Can you briefly tell us how you ended up living there and what that experience was like ? How hard was leaving ?
Vashon is a strange, magical little island, deep green with cedar and home to a holdout community of old hippies, organic farmers and fishermen. We got our produce from unmanned farmsteads where you’d just leave cash in an old coffee can and bring a little extra next time if you were short. The kids walked through the forest and across a field to a darling little school where they spent their days out of doors, whatever the weather, caring for farm animals, making medicine from plants and singing songs to the earth. The island is a short ferry ride from downtown Seattle, so my days started and ended with a long bike ride and a beautiful ferry passage. For Taryn, though, the island in winter was dark and wet, lonely at times and with social codes that ran in ruts and were difficult to cross. A month in Mexico was a balm to her seasonal depression. But with balance, Vashon could be paradise. We lived on a legendary property called the “Jesus Barn Farm”, named after the old barn with “Jesus” painted on it in great, swirling letters, that had been the nexus of a band of peaceniks who’d revolved around the farm for decades. By the time we arrived the barn had become an events space, with a sound system and a broken disco-ball. Everyone on the island had stories of the Jesus Barn Farm, getting drunk at a wedding, doing mushrooms out in the field behind the barn, fistfights and drama too. We revived a bit of the fun, hosting family dance nights with neighbors and friends from the city. The only mushrooms were in the quiche. We knew when we left, we were not likely to find a sweeter way of life. But we were excited for change and growth. Maybe someday we’ll be back, at least for a barn dance!
It’s been over a year since you packed up and left your old lives behind. What changes have you noticed within yourselves ? In what ways have your children changed ?
We’ve all become more adaptable in very real ways. We can react to changing plans more quickly and with less stress. We can pack up in thirty minutes where it used to take days. We’re carrying much more stress, but we have learned how to stay focused and not get overwhelmed. We ask each other for help more than we used to. When everything around you is new it’s easier to drop the ego and admit the gaps in your knowledge. The children have become braver, more willing to make mistakes and risk looking foolish. For Viggo this comes naturally but the older two are quiet and bookish and typically horrified at the idea of making a mistake. This has been a great development for them.
From experience, we know it’s hard enough keeping one kid entertained during a flight or a long car ride. How do you manage entertaining three ? Any tips ?
First, it's probably easier with three than with one, but YES! Our hottest tip ever: we make collages from the inflight magazines, sticking them together with tape or gum and posting them up on the walls. We’ve passed hours this way; a perfect game for those short to mid-range flights where there’s no inflight entertainment. Sure, we get some dirty looks from crusty flight attendants, but we bring a lot of smiles to most! For long hauls we give them two movies and then they need a nap. Any more than that and they turn into beasts. They each have a notebook, pencil crayons and paints with them at all times. They don’t have their own devices, but this is still a bit of an open question. Screen time seems a universal challenge for families, and we’re nervous to open that door. Audiobooks are a lifesaver as well.
We’re all instilled with the idea that young children need stability and structure. One could say you guys offer both, albeit in a non-conventional way. What are the little routines that you’ve integrated into your nomadic lifestyle?
This is a really important question and one we grapple with all the time. We know this nomadic chapter won’t last forever, but while we are on this great voyage, we want to bring the right kinds of stability and security to our kids. That starts with us. We spend 24 hours a day together, every single day. Our family is our platform and love makes it secure. With everything changing around us all the time, it’s critical that our kids know they can rely on us and that we are there for them. We pause our work, we let them finish their questions or thoughts, we sit patiently with them, we ask for their help. We’re also starting to return to places we’ve visited before, and to people we love in different corners of the world. We have a community of people we love and who love us. Sure, it’s spread around the globe, but we keep the lines attached and the visits as regular as we can. On routine, we make granola everywhere we go, and chicken noodle soup! We were given two rollup beds at the beginning of our travels, and Matilda and Francis love these to pieces. They’re so cozy and practical, and we’ve unrolled them, with stuffed animals and doudous tucked inside, on the floors of chateaux in France, villas in Greece, jungle huts in Sri Lanka, hip apartments in Japan, mud-walled shacks in Morocco, and everywhere in between. Knowing that, no matter where we end up, Matilda and Francis have their own known beds is a meaningful piece of security. And then we do the same things people do in less transient environments. We read bedtime stories, we eat breakfast together, we brush teeth together. Small things, but they’re important (especially the teeth).
What are the biggest misconceptions people have about travelling all over the world with three young ones in tow ?
That there are “right” and “wrong” ages to do this. Or that you need to wait for the perfect moment. There is no perfect age and no perfect time. Viggo may be too young to remember the details of this chapter, but he’ll carry the spirit of it with him. Plus, we can’t imagine travelling without him! He creates a wake of smiles (or cringes, depending on the moment), and makes friends with everybody. Also, don’t over-accommodate for the kids. You can adjust and change pace, carry strategic stashes of almonds or sweets, but don’t forget that you are travelling to discover, to celebrate mystery and romance and to learn. That’s hard to do without getting a bit dirty or challenged or, for the kids, bored.
What would you say to parents who dream of travelling with their kids but are scared to take that leap?
We found a quote that helped inspire us to make our own big leap: “The problem is, you think you have time.” Not to make you nervous, but you don’t have time! Time is rushing in like the tide and, as far as we know, there’s just this one, short, wild life. One chance to build memories, to make something beautiful, to do something to bring peace and love to someone else. In the end that’s what we have, a head full of memories and a heart that’s marked by what we’ve done for others. If travel is part of that for you, don’t wait! It won’t get easier and even if it did, that’s not the point! After a year on the road we can say this is NOT easy, but it’s so, so rewarding.
And the last one: Are you avoiding Belgium on purpose or what’s the deal? : )
All over the world, some of our favorite people have been Belgians. We NEED to come visit, and not just for the waffles. But also, definitely for the waffles.
Pictures : Quartier Collective
Words : Bjorn Dossche