They say necessity is the mother of all invention.
After our first 6 weeks of traveling, I’d have to say that living and traveling internationally has proven that true time and time again.
For example, take our first rental apartment in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
It contained one lone frying pan. With its oddly warped and convex bottom, there was no way to keep it flat on the burner, and thus, no way to heat it evenly (or hardly at all).
Enter the urgency of four small hungry mouths and a mildly culture-shocked mom who hadn’t yet figured out what healthy foods she could buy for her family besides eggs. I needed that pan.
My darling 8 year old daughter and I came up with this solution. Elegant? Not so much. We did, however, manage to cook and eat our eggs. There were no kitchen utensils beyond a wooden spoon with a flat edge, so it rapidly became our stirring spoon, spatula, flipper, and any other use than popped up in our culinary adventures.
Actually managing to feed my children meals, plus walking around a big city all the live long day, equals dirty clothes. Times six people. With no washing machine.
I did eventually learn the correct Spanish phrases for having my laundry washed and dried at the “lavandero” when we moved to our next apartment, but this first week was about pure survival.
So, I rolled up my (imaginary) sleeves and got to work, soaking and scrubbing and wringing out our clothes in a tub with scalding water (the only kind that came out of this particular faucet).
No dryer? No laundry line? No problem.
Some ingenious traveler created these stretchy, portable laundry lines, and so we brought two along with us. Using the outdoor furniture on the patio, and some pillows and baskets to weigh them down (after we sent a chair flying when the thick elastic band snapped back), we found a way to lay our clothes out to dry.
After my first roll-on stain remover ran out, I could only find refill bags intended for pouring into a spray bottle. Except that I don’t have a spray bottle.
Undaunted, I just poured it into a cup, and used my empty roll-on applicator to dip into the cup, then spread it on the clothes. Why not?
Toast is a staple in our family, and yet the house that we’re renting for a month had no toaster. What to do, what to do?
Frying bread in a pan, camping style. Works for me.
When you don’t have real toys to play with:
- You make forts out of extra sheets and dining room tables
- You discover a fold-out bed and turn our stairs into the slide of doom
- You give the baby random tupperware and non-dangerous cooking utensils from the kitchen
- Your children decide that cleaning the house is a fun game, and pretend to be housecleaners and be paid in pesos (no joke- this is for real, and don’t you dare tell them how much a peso is really worth)
Sleep time also poses its challenges, since our “backpack” style of travel didn’t afford us the luxury of bringing a portable baby bed along.
Kepler is learning flexibility at a young age. So far, he’s slept in a bed with us (not our favorite option), on a twin mattress on the floor with pillows around it, on a couch where we removed the cushions and made a little bed inside (wish I’d taken a picture of this one- it worked better than it sounds), on a regular twin bed at a hotel, in a queen bed with his big sister, and currently in a borrowed Pack’n’Play from a missionary family who lives in the city where we’re currently staying.
I haven’t loved all of those options, and no, neither has he. We realize that these are temporary situations, though, and try to make the best of them. Is not having a proper baby bed each night an excuse to stay home? Or something to get worked up about? I’m finding that it’s neither, and mothers all over the world send their babies to lullaby land without the benefit of Graco bassinets or dark cherry stained wooden cribs.
Making do with what you have isn’t really all that bad
One of the primary areas in which I’ve been relying on my creative juices is with cooking.
Cooking is a joy for me. I love coming up with inspired recipes, finding clever and delicious ways to use up bountiful produce in season, and cleaning out the odds and ends I find in my fridge to avoid unwanted science projects and tame our grocery budget.
When the foods around you are unfamiliar, however, and buying the right thing is made more complex by a lack of language ability, something that can usually be a pleasant chore can quickly turn into a burden.
I’ve had days of victory and days of utter frustration in my campaign to continue feeding my family real, whole foods, no matter where we are in the world.
If there’s one incredibly good thing that comes out of that frustration, it’s an increased drive to let the necessity of eating wholesome meals be the fuel behind my ingenuity and perseverance.
And in that spirit, I find myself:
- Creating simplistic granola bar and homemade cereal recipes, not with what I’m used to using, but simply with what’s available.
- Making smoothies (and about 47 other things) with a stick blender, a tool I’ve always thought marginally useful until I was faced with cooking sans food processor, blender, good knives, hand mixer, etc. I *heart* the stick blender in our current house. Not to mention, using it to grind oats into coarse oat flour. Awkward, but possible. Sure, our pancakes turned out denser than usual, but I found a way to make gluten-free pancakes that my little girl could enjoy.
- Seasoning our meals over and over again with the basics that I have easy access to — salt, garlic and onions, olive oil and butter, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and one package of Provencal herbs that has made it’s way into too many dishes to count.
The lessons learned when we don’t have the things we’re used to (or the ones we think we need) are vital. So often during this trip, I’ve found myself racking my brain for clever ways to make do with the things I have available to me.
The miraculous result? Realizing I can get by just fine with what I have.
As it turns out, I don’t need as many things as I thought I did.
It’s one of those funny words that we say thoughtlessly with little concept of what it really means.
I need a new dishwasher. I need a Vitamix blender. I need a coffee. I need a new shirt. I need raw milk. I need a new car. I need a bigger grocery budget.
Do you really? Do I?
Sure, those things are nice to have. You might find them particularly useful, pleasant or beneficial. They might make life easier. Some of them could genuinely feel like needs at times, and yes, sometimes they might be legitimate, honest-to-goodness needs.
One useful piece of advice I’ve heard is that if there’s something you want to buy, wait for a month and see whether you still need/want/care about the item in question.
Most of the time, we’d likely come to the conclusion that these aren’t so much needs as things that we want, we desire, we’ve convinced ourselves that we need to be happy, more efficient, a good cook, a better parent, an attractive woman, or whatever the case may be.
I don’t want to get all philosophical and deep on you (or is it too late for that?). What I will say is that this year of traveling is confronting my so-called “need” for things on an almost daily basis.
When I’m being honest about it, I need far less than I would prefer to believe that I do. Need is such a relative and ambiguous term, and our wants creep in so stealthily until the distinction between need and want becomes smudged and smeared and so mixed up that we can’t make out the black from white, but only a blurry mess of gray.
I don’t need perfect kitchen utensils and appliances. I don’t need the ideal baby bed. My kids don’t need a room full of toys and gadgets. Our tastebuds and stomachs don’t require a pantry and fridge with an endless array of ingredients and seasonings.
Just the other day, my husband was telling me that traveling like this was a superb way to stop caring so much about all of our stuff. I would have to 100% agree with that smart man I married. Only 6 weeks into our year-long travels, I feel like my grip on things is loosening at a surprising rate, and I couldn’t be more grateful.