Wow!! Today marks 1000 days since we embarked upon this journey of teaching our girls about the world by experiencing it first hand. We have a lot of new readers visiting the Sherman family blog, so we thought we’d do a quick recap of our journey so far.
Before we get into the recap, let me give you the quick version of who we are and what we’re doing. We’re a family of four… Dan (Hater of Pants, Lover of Warm Weather), Allison (Professional Overthinker/Worrier, Lover of Coffee and Social Stuff and Writer of This Blog), 11-year-old Zoe (Family Musician and Social Butterfly) and 15-year-old Haley (Social Introvert and Trivia Queen). We’re what’s called “worldschoolers” in that we use the world to educate our children. And we facilitate that through travel. We’ve been doing it now (and blogging about it) for 1000 days. (Cue confetti gun!!)
Panama – Where It All Began
It all began in late May, 2014. We started talking about doing something different in our lives. After a lot of discussions, we decided to leave Arizona and go to Panama for 2 years. We wanted the girls to have an international experience, learn Spanish and see a different part of the world. We set the departure for October, started a Facebook page called the “Panama Pause” and said we’d be gone for 2 years and then we’d be back, just in time for Haley to enter high school and Zoe to enter 6th grade. Sounded like a great plan! Right? Nice and tidy and fits just perfectly. Click, click, Add to Cart!
We didn’t own a house at the time, so it was easy to sell a bunch of stuff, put a bunch more stuff in storage including some chairs that we bought just a few weeks before leaving (we were sure we’d be back!). So off we went, with 13 suitcases, a 1-month house rental lined up in Boquete, Panama and 3 weeks of language school booked. After that, we had no idea where we’d go in Panama. We would just FSO… Figure Sh!t Out (we do that a lot).
I knew Spanish from my own adventures in Spain when I was 13, and Ecuador (in college when I was 21) so I took a different level Spanish class than the family. But soon we all took a different class than Dan (aka Spanish School Drop-Out).
We eventually settled in Pedasi, Panama… a little berg at the end of the peninsula at the southern edge of the country. We rented a crazy big, concrete, energy-INefficient house in the center of town, got lucky with the relatively best internet in town and had a front row seat to Every.Single.Disco that took place in the town square.
We loved Panama. And we hated Panama. And every emotion in between. It’s impossible, really, to sum up our experience there with one or two adjectives. We were hot, we saw sloths, we had blackouts, we met amazing friends, the girls went to public school and learned Spanish, we crossed a flooded river with our car, we visited deserted islands, we had a dog, we met amazing people, we went to the beach almost every day… beaches that we still miss to this date because of how amazing they were.. we ate chicken and rice and some more chicken and rice (oh, and more chicken and rice). We had visitors, too. So needless to say, Panama is an important part of who we are as travelers. Sometimes we say “Well at least it’s not as bad as Panama”. Other times we say “Panama was better than this!”. Zoe, in particular, says “I miss Panama” a lot.
But something happened after only a few months. We found ourselves changing our vocabulary. Instead of “When we go back…” it was “IF we go back…”. We also learned that because Dan was still working while we were out of the country (he is self-employed), we qualified for the FEIE, which essentially gave us an enormous deduction and helped fund our travels and save some money at the same time. That cemented our decision to continue this wild ride. It’s when we came up with the new title of our blog… at one point we just said, “Let’s Just Travel”.
So in December of 2015, after 14 months in Panama, we left for…
Why Mexico? Well, why not? But there were several good reasons. We started to notice other traveling families talking a lot about the Yucatan Peninsula (Cancun, Playa del Carmen and that area). We wanted the girls to continue with their Spanish. We like warm weather and water activities and there was a “worldschooling” conference taking place in that area that seemed like a good one to attend. So all that added up to… Mexico it is!
We settled in Cancun, which was the only place we could find a house that was affordable enough and comfortable for our family (we like space). We got lucky with the internet once again but the unlucky part was that it came unfurnished. We initially only planned on being there for 5 months. But then when we realized we’d have to buy some furniture for our newly rented house, we upped our plan to staying for 1 year. Dan cringed at the thought of spending money on furniture only to get rid of it a year later… but it was just all part of the journey. So thanks to Costco and Sam’s Club, we sparsely furnished a 5000 sq ft, 5 bedroom, 5 bath, 3-story house (also highly energy INefficient) in a really nice Mexican gated community.
We had more visitors in Mexico. We love visitors. We hosted my sister in law (Kim, pictured above), my mother, my sister and her kids, and even my best friend and her kids! They just kept coming. When you have an entire floor of a guest room with a private bath, the visitors just show up. We didn’t mention that the only other thing in the guest room was a mattress on the floor and a plastic Adirondack chair. They didn’t need to know that part.
We loved Mexico. Although I loved it the least out of everyone. The heat became annoying and I soon tired of managing all the workers that seemed to be ever-present in our house. We took part in homeschooling activities with other expats and locals. We played in cenote after cenote after cenote. We went to the beach, we entertained all our visitors and we even got musical. The girls didn’t go to local school but they had plenty of classes both at home and in the community. So every day felt like a school day… in that we learned something… not the yucky part where you have to get up early, go to a building with hundreds of other people and sit through 6.5 hours of classes…. not THAT kind of school.
After our last visitor left, we decided it was time to see more of the world. We loved the comfortable house, but it was a big wide world and we had only been to two countries. It was time to get busy. So after only 10 months, we moved again.
We sold all our stuff, mostly to the girls’ Spanish teacher, and hit the road in our Honda SUV (this was before it was stolen by the Mexican cartel… more on that later). First, we drove to the airport… we flew to Puebla, Mexico City, then Guatemala, then came back so I could take a quick trip to Alaska to see my mom while Dan and the girls hung out in Cancun. When I got back, we did a few road trips to Bacalar and Merida. We explored as much as we could but when our tourist visas were about to expire, we decided it was time for a new continent. We left our car with a guy who said he’d take care of it and help us sell it (best laid plans) and we left for Spain. The guy we left our car with later texted Dan with quite a story involving the Mexican drug cartels and our car. We no longer have a car in Mexico…
Why Spain? Well, why not! (Okay… we say that a lot.) But, actually, mostly it was the Spanish. We wanted the girls to keep up with it as long as they could. But we wanted to try out Europe and see where our curious minds took us. Our time there was much more limited, we can only stay for 3 months in all of the Schengen zone before we had to leave for 3 months. So we settled down once again at the beach in a fantastic apartment (furnished this time) in Marbella, Spain. We had visitors again, but this time we didn’t have a lot of classes. We did homeschool, we took a few road trips (Granada, Portugal, Gibraltar), we explored our area and we hung out with our rapid-fire internet and awesome sunny, ocean view balcony.
I’ll be honest: Spain was not our favorite. Dan struggled with the Spanish disregard for logical business practices and city planning, I didn’t have as many friends as I would have liked (I would have liked more than 1) and we felt like we learned more about Britain due to all the expats in the area where we lived. We laughed about Spain’s love affair with ham but admired their many parks and plazas. The girls loved riding scooters at the mall but not the relatively isolated community where we lived.
But, alas, 90 days goes fast and in January 2017, it was time to get out of the country for 3 months so we left for…
Why South Africa? Well, it was warm (their summer time) it was out of Schengen yet on the same time zones as Europe. Seemed like a great place to go and had some important history lessons for the girls to understand more fully. We Dan adjusted to driving on the left, locking doors at intersections, we fell in love with Biltong, chicken pot pies and the amazing people we met. The girls embraced the barefoot culture and begged for trips to the mall so they could leave their shoes at home. We did a lot of hopping around in South Africa: Johannesburg to Cape Town to Durban back to Cape Town and we finally stopped for a month at a crazy quirky rental house in Gordon’s Bay. Oh, and we took a quick trip to Victoria Falls, on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. South Africa brought us up close and personal with a lot of animals, including penguins, rhinos, hippos, ostriches, cheetahs and meercats.
We had the
fortunate unfortunate interesting timing to be there as the politics in South Africa were making international news. It was an ultimately fascinating experience and we left hoping for the best for our new friends. As we prepared to return to Europe, we had a long layover in…
We noticed that our flight to Amsterdam allowed for a layover in Dubai so we spent a week in Dubai checking out this modern city, renting a boat to take us around the artificial islands and we swam in the extra salty ocean. Last but not least, we will never forget me “losing my chit” on a desert safari.
No time for crying, it’s time to get to…
All the way back in Panama (because we now refer to time as countries, as in “I’ve had these pants since Mexico, Mom!”) we declared we wanted to see the tulips in bloom in Holland. This means getting there in late April to early May. Due to the Schengen rules, we had to plan this out pretty far in advance, thus the timing of our arrival into and subsequent departure from Spain in the fall of the previous year, then back into the Schengen in April. We timed it right and we saw those darn tulips! They ended up being the backdrop (foreground) for our annual family photo, which happens every year in April (we have 22 of them so far… and counting).
A month in Holland mastering public transportation, bike lanes, enjoying the spring weather, another visit from my sister, another road trip and then off we went to sunny….
We keep ending up by water in warm weather. Don’t you hate it when that happens? Anyway, it’s what we do. We had a few “to see” items in northern Spain so we went back during their warmer months, when Dan can tolerate being outside
and we can tolerate Dan. So we easily hung out for a month in a cute vacation condo in Spain, complete with a road trip to northern Spain and a whole bunch of homeschool.
Our new 90 days in Schengen were almost up so just before we would have become immigration fugitives, we left for 3 weeks of very fast travel through…
And that’s where we are now, 1000 days after we started. Now what? (Boy, you ask a lot of questions.) We leave for Thailand in less than two weeks. Our plan is to stay in Thailand for 4-5 months (with a 3-week “visa run” to Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia and probably the Philippines). In addition, Haley will be attending a month long teen retreat in Thailand in November. The rest of us will be relaxing a little and recuperating from so much fast travel and the additional expenses incurred.
Then, in December we plan to move to Colombia. The girls have asked to attend public school again in a Spanish speaking country (insert surprised looks from parents here) and continue their Spanish fluency, and we want to explore more of South America when it’s… you guessed it… warm. After Colombia, we don’t know what we will do but we know we want to do at least one more 3-month stint in Europe and we have a lot of Asia that still needs to be explored.
Our current plan is to continue our travels until 2020, when Zoe will be entering high school. Zoe, the social butterfly of the family, has said she wants to go back to the USA and have a traditional high school experience. At that point, Haley will be 18 and probably more than ready to explore this world on her own. She’ll have an amazing “base” from which to start her adult life.
In Conclusion… The Next 1000 Days
So by now you probably think we are either living your dream or we are crazy. How about a little of both? This blog is about our adventures, good and bad. I don’t sugarcoat when I write but I try to not judge either. We make $00.00 off this blog and in fact, we pay for it to keep updated and working. I write to share the story with whomever wants to hear it. Not advertisers, not the hotel where we stay and not anyone else. It’s our scrapbook, the girls’ transcripts and our life. It’s how I reassure my mom that I’m not lying in a ditch.
Will we stick to the plan? Will we end up in some other continent altogether? Who knows. Hang around and find out. Be sure to subscribe so you can get notified when another post comes out. (We have an email signup box to the left if you’re reading this on your computer and down at the bottom of this screen if you’re reading it on a phone or tablet.) Be sure to LIKE us on our Facebook page, too. For you Instagram fans, we have a daily picture @shermantravel. Remember, we love visitors too so feel free to join us in real life, as well.
In our next blog post, we’ll go over some great and not-so-great lessons we’ve learned over the last 1000 days. We’ve learned over 1000 lessons but we
promise not to might not list them all. Subscribe, stay tuned and you’ll soon find out.