As someone who has been travelling the world with my three most valuable possessions since 2010 – my children – you may think that when it comes to family, I was already as rich as one could ever hope to be. But you’d be wrong.
You see, as my fellow travelers can testify, when you embark on the nomad’s life, you open yourself up to continually expanding your family. Maybe not in the conventional way, but the strong bonds that form when you are far away from what was once home are unbreakable in a way that a relationship that solely depends on biology can never hope to be.
There’s a saying that friends are the family we choose for ourselves. I’d like to argue that this goes even further when you’re a traveler, as the multitude of people we meet when we are potentially at our most vulnerable get inside our hearts and refuse to leave. People who are much more than both friends and, indeed, family. People we both choose to love because of who they are and the joint experiences we share. People who enrich our day-to-day lives just by being in it.
You may not expect to make a close family member on the beach, but that’s exactly what happened to us in Vietnam. A young businesswoman, Terry, took us under her wing the moment we met her. She’s the fun aunt to my girls – the one who will take them shopping, out to nice restaurants and to spas. I trust her implicitly with my children – as was demonstrated the time I left them with her when I had to go to Hanoi for the day. God knows what she got up to with them – I didn’t ask – she didn’t tell me – but I suppose that’s the whole point of an aunt, isn’t it?
Next up: Meet Lola (‘grandmother’ in Tagalog). True to her name, she is the Filipino matriarch of our family. Always there to help us with whatever we need, she teaches my daughters to fish, helps us cook and soaks us in Filipino customs. Most importantly of all, she takes us to the market and spoils us all – just as a real grandmother should.
And just as, I should add, our Ladakhi grandmother – and the rest of her family – do, too. Having received the excruciatingly difficult news that my mother had died the last time we were in Ladakh, this very special family supported us throughout – heralded by the matriarch who repeatedly told me “you’re not alone”. It’s no wonder that between the grandparents, their children and grandchildren, they, too, have become our extended family. My girls are best friends with theirs and accompany them to the temple to turn prayer wheels, knowing, even, the Tibetan prayer schedule. And we, in turn, help out wherever we can, too, babysitting their newborn, as just one example. It’s just what you do for family, isn’t it?
Blood may be thicker than water, but the family that you choose when traveling the world can be - and is so often - stronger than both.