Wanderlust Led the Way for this Globetrotting Mama

Heather Greenwood Davis, the Globetrotting Mama, left her job as a lawyer to see the world. Named by National Geographic Traveler as 2012 Travelers of the Year, Heather and her husband prioritize travel and living a life of adventure with their two sons.

Project: Time Off's latest report shows that time off provides the quality time couples need to connect. I chatted with Heather about what led her to quit her 9-5, what the time together means to her family, and how she prefers to be time rich and cash poor.

I love how you acted on your wanderlust. What was the tipping point for you?
Thanks. I think for us it was the gift of time. I think a lot of us get opportunities that we don’t recognize as such in the moment. For us it was my husband’s job. His entire workplace was offered the opportunity to take a 20% reduction in salary for four years and then take the fifth year off with 80% of pay (essentially the 20% he’d loaned them for the four years previous). My husband was one of only two people at the time who recognized the opportunity and took it. We almost didn’t do it. Accepting that you’ll earn less for four years isn’t easy but we had always wanted to travel more and our past experiences in the workplace (I’m a former lawyer) meant we had long ago learned that time was the thing of value, not cash. Accepting that pre-paid sabbatical offer gave us a time frame to build towards. 

What advice do you have for parents who can’t make that leap but still want to explore?
I always tell people that they don’t have to take a full year off or go around the world to have travel impact them positively. Go where you can! Follow your interests and those of your children. Research places close to you that can be done in a day trip or over a long weekend. Have a “now” and a “then” jar. Save a little bit each week in each. Then keep motivated and focused by having the family create a dream board that keeps your eye on the prize.  Every trip counts. This isn’t a frequent flyer situation; you don’t have to go far to reap rewards. 

How do you and your husband make time off happen for your family?
I’m a freelance travel writer so time off is rare. I love what I do and I often travel to fabulous places for work, with and without my family. In order to maximize those trips, my husband makes the decision to work longer hours, take extra shifts when we are home. That means that he can earn time off instead of cash in his pocket. It’s a choice. It means we don’t have a lot of fancy things. Most of our furniture has been with us since university days!  It also means that we are time rich. He can almost always get the time to travel with me. We couldn’t afford a trip around the world. In many ways we’re still paying for it. But the rewards of that year can’t be overstated. 

What have you learned about your children through time off?
Firstly, I’ve learned that they are under a lot of stress. All of our kids are. School is a tough place to be.  Bells are constantly ringing. You’re asked to change gears all the time. You have very little control as a child over what you do and when you do it. Then there are the stressors of social groups and peers. It’s a lot. Taking my kids out of school at the ages of 6 and 8, helped me to see that. We were away for a few weeks when I noticed how much less stressed they’d become. Being pulled away from school for a while gave them a level of self-awareness and confidence that I don’t think they would have achieved if we hadn’t. Seeing that the world is bigger than their school and neighborhood offers kids more wiggle room to grow and be themselves.  Secondly, I’ve learned that kids have a vision of the world that we can all learn from. Every one of us has innate prejudices based on things we’ve seen on television or heard about other parts of the world. Kids don’t have that yet. They saw similarity where I saw difference. They taught me a lot. 

What are your top tips for families to keep the stress down when they vacation?
It’s so hard sometimes! You know that you’ve only got so much time for vacation and you want every minute to count but in doing so we often overplan, over research and over schedule ourselves. The result? By day 3 of the trip you’re stressed out because you have to be somewhere at 3 and the toddler missed his nap and the teen took too long. Tempers flare and vacations end up being as tiring as a week at work. My advice is always to resist that urge to fill all slots of time. Pick three things you want to accomplish over the week: Ride a certain roller coaster, hang out for an afternoon at a beach and eat at a certain restaurant for example. Then leave the rest to how you’re feeling when you’re there.  Another tip: Get the kids involved! Whether it’s packing their own bags or being in charge of family activities for a day. Release some  of the pressure you’re likely putting on yourself to make the vacation perfect by sharing the responsibility. 

What’s your most memorable travel experience?
It would have to be China. It was the place we found the most challenging. At times it was really hard. We didn’t know the language or the cultural norms. Everything was different. We were there for 30 days and it felt like every moment required adjustment. But by the time we left we felt like it had changed us for the better. We had more compassion for what it must be like for people who come to our country and find everything to be different than their homeland. I’m really glad we did it. 

What’s the next U.S. destination you hope to visit?
We are in the midst of a 30-day road trip as I write this. We will travel through New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon and Washington before we’re done! (Readers can follow us as we go at www.globetrottingmama.com or #ExpediaRoadtrip on Twitter.) We hadn’t even been three days into the trip when we started talking about doing a similar trip that allows us to hit some of the states we’ve missed!  I’d love to visit Nashville, Tennessee next. I’ve heard great things and we love music and great food so it seems like it’d be a great pick. 

If you had one more day, what would you do with it?
I’d hit the road! I love having the whole family together in a vehicle headed to a destination together. As the kids grow it continues to be the place we have the best conversations and solidify our family bond. 

All photos courtesy of Heather Greenwood Davis.

July 15, 2015