who are we? what are we doing? why?

Welcome to Lifestyle Traveller, a collaboration between married couple Peter Barrett (journalist) and Emma Byrnes (photographer/designer). Born out of their mutual interest in 'deep travel' and raising three children to value a natural curiosity for the world, this is an independent platform for Peter and Emma's travel stories, ideas and images. Here's what they have to say about it, in their own words...    

 Our daughter Arkie taking in a street scene in Can Tho, Vietnam

Our daughter Arkie taking in a street scene in Can Tho, Vietnam

Peter Barrett:

There was this guy I travelled through Turkey with in my 20s called Scott. Almost everywhere we’d stop, he’d look around and say, “Gee, I could live here!” It was a joke of sorts and we inevitably moved on to a new locale. More than 20 years later, though, I still think about the idea: what if you could ‘live’ where you travelled rather than just stopping by as a tourist?

"So much of our experience of travel these days is fleeting, pre-packaged and surface-deep."

So much of our experience of travel these days is fleeting, pre-packaged and surface-deep. What if you could stay a while longer; get to know the locals; give yourself time to observe and absorb the unique quirks of everyday life in a different place? 

Of course, the idea is nothing new but life gets complicated. Today I find myself happily married with three beautiful kids. Life is a full-time occupation with plenty of responsibilities, grounded in our family home in Melbourne, Australia. But the yearning for discovery, the curiosity about what life is like in different places around the world hasn’t changed. Why can’t we share that with our children?

"The idea of homeschooling our kids is to me, frankly, terrifying..."

School is one thing – our children are currently aged two, seven and 11. They have to go to school, right? Well, if you talk to my wife, not necessarily. She’s a big fan of unschooling, a global homeschooling movement all about self-directed learning and using your community and personal/professional networks as teaching resources. Above all, though, it's about not killing your child’s natural capacity for curiosity and treating each other - big or small - with respect. Of that I'm a big fan.

But the idea of homeschooling our kids is to me, frankly terrifying. Nevertheless, my journalistic instincts say, keep an open mind. Thanks to the internet the world is a completely different place to the one I grew up in and it has created opportunities that simply didn’t exist when I was a kid. I see that and I want to give the idea a chance.

So, is it possible to unhook from ‘regular school’ and not ruin our children’s futures? I certainly hope so.

Which is why we decided to take three months away from our regular lives in Melbourne - to find out. Working as a freelance food, culture and travel writer, I’m used to working for myself and on the fly. Emma, a freelance photographer with a background in small business and textiles, also has the same freedoms. 

"We’re taking our time to explore the country; to get to know the locals; and to absorb some of the details of everyday life a bus tour will never deliver."

So, here we are, in Vietnam. We chose this country because a dear friend has been hassling us to come. Also, it's more affordable than travelling around Australia and offers something completely different in terms of culture, climate and terrain. 

We’re taking our time to explore the country; to get to know the locals; and to absorb some of the details of everyday life a bus tour will never deliver. We'll be using this blog to showcase some of our travel stories, ideas and observations. 

Finally, we not only hope our kids will learn a few things along the way, but that we can share our adventures with a few other curious people, too. Perhaps that’s you. If so, be sure to follow us here at lifestyletraveller.com.au.       

 Ziggy about to have a fight with a Vietnamese lawnmower.

Ziggy about to have a fight with a Vietnamese lawnmower.

Emma Byrnes:

For many years I have been hooked on the idea of unschooling/worldschooling our children. What does that mean, you ask? Essentially, I have imagined that we would take the children from the current paradigm of formal schooling into a life that allows learning to happen at their own pace - where they could follow their passions and learn anywhere, anytime, anyhow.

And, to show them through real-life experiences how wonderful the world is so that they could learn about it in a natural, deep and authentic way. (If you'd like more detail on this stuff, please see the links at the bottom of the page.)

"It takes a brave person to take the leap of faith that this mode of learning requires."

My husband Pete and I have three children (two are in school) and whilst I would have happily schooled them in this alternative way over the past five years, he has not been so keen. He has a more conservative approach to education and what it should look like. 

And it takes a brave person to take the leap of faith that this mode of learning requires. From a lifetime of being raised and living within the societal "norms" - it is not what we have been programmed to do.

As a collective force Pete and I have not yet found ourselves standing on the common ground that would allow us to choose this path. And that is OK. In the meantime, we've found a great little school that ticks many boxes when it comes to (relatively) autonomous learning and free range children. But it is still a place that they have to go to every day. A place that determines what they learn, with whom and when. 

So, the upshot is that over these years with our children in school I have had an itch that needs scratching. I have often dreamed of having the audacity to take the time out and see where this mode of education that I am so interested in would go. To follow the journey that each child would take themselves on (and our whole family as a result).

"So much of the time that could be spent learning and loving and living joyfully is taken up fitting within the constraints of a perceived 'normal life'..."

The world is a very interesting place and I believe that, with the right amount of support and nurturing, it can provide all of the lessons we need in order for our children to grow and thrive and have their natural learning needs met.

In my opinion so much of the time that could be spent learning and loving and living joyfully is taken up fitting within the constraints of a perceived “normal life”:

  • the alarm clocks, forcing children out of bed to go to a place that they don't want to go
  • pitting children against each other for grades and bureaucratic outcomes
  • imposing the adult will over their deep desires
  • interrupting their curiosity in order to get to the next class, to submit to arbitrary rules and regulations that exist to keep the status quo
  • being in the same place with the same people day-after-day-after-day.

"There has been a revolution in work consciousness."

And, in school, it more often than not becomes about learning how to acquire good marks rather than deep learning for its own sake. Not to mention the perceived norms that the parents buy in to, in order to keep up with the Joneses, who are also on this drudgerous path: mortgages, car ownership, alarm clocks, tedious jobs, etc.

 Our blonde-locked youngest, Alby, creating interest for the locals wherever he goes. Here he is in the streets of Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City, respectively. 

Our blonde-locked youngest, Alby, creating interest for the locals wherever he goes. Here he is in the streets of Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City, respectively. 

Over the past 20-or-so years there has been a revolution in work consciousness. A shift in how we as a culture view work and our relationship with it. Job security meant finding a position (often for life) in a good company, showing up on time and performing one’s duties reasonably well. Advancement in the ranks was also fairly predictable. Our school system was and still is very good at providing reliable worker bees for this economy.

But there is one problem…this economy no longer exists. Downsizing, restructuring, temping, contracting, buy-outs, mergers…..these are all a reality in today’s economy. In order to thrive and make a living in this environment one needs to be resourceful, adaptable and a self-starter; not one who relies on a "job-for-life" approach nor who requires to be spoon-fed and is apathetic.

Both Pete and I are freelancers - we live in a precarious work-world and, in order to remain viable within this paradigm, we constantly need to be open to change, to be adaptable, flexible and resourceful. And in order to raise children who can cope in this ever-changing work environment we need to ensure they also develop these skills.

"How would we pay the bills whilst pursuing this wonderful life of travel?"

And so I asked my husband to trust me and allow our family to break free of our daily constraints for a little while and go travelling. To get some perspective on what it was we had constructed and whether, in fact, it was truly the life that we wanted for ourselves and our children. He could view the time as a sabbatical (because you definitely don’t get paid long service leave as a freelancer!) and we could spend some precious time together as a family.

lifestyle traveller emma byrnes
lifestyle traveller emma byrnes

During this time we would need to think outside the box in order to generate an income - how would we pay the bills whilst pursuing this wonderful life of travel? (More details on that in posts to follow.) What would the realities of the day-to-day with 3 children on the road be? For our children, witnessing how we overcame these obstacles and challenges would be a part of their education on the move. Not to mention the wonderful and constant stimulation that using the world as a classroom provides.

"I want our children to know what makes them passionate, hungry for more - to immerse themselves in deep, rich and true experiences."

And that brings us to the present - one month into our three-month family roadtrip through Vietnam. This blog hopes to cover two areas: first, it's an on-the-road collaboration between Pete and myself as professionals (he writes about food, lifestyle and travel and I am a designer, photographer, textile lover); and second, it will also, over time, contain personal musings on our worldschooling journey and how it unfolds.

 Arkie wandering the markets in Hoi An dressed in her tailor-made Ao Dai (the traditional Vietnamese costume)

Arkie wandering the markets in Hoi An dressed in her tailor-made Ao Dai (the traditional Vietnamese costume)

 Brothers cooling off at dusk, An Bang Beach, Hoi An, Vietnam

Brothers cooling off at dusk, An Bang Beach, Hoi An, Vietnam

 Older brother Ziggy taking Alby on a tour of the Ha Linh lantern factory, Hoi An, Vietnam

Older brother Ziggy taking Alby on a tour of the Ha Linh lantern factory, Hoi An, Vietnam

I want our children to know what makes them passionate, hungry for more - to immerse themselves in deep, rich and true experiences. No pathway is going to be perfect but I wish for them to choose a life for themselves that makes them fulfilled and to pursue their dreams with Pete and I on the sidelines barracking for them. I also want to establish myself as a life-long learner - someone who continues to grow and thrive and be interested in what the world holds for me.

If anything, this is an opportunity for our family to grow together and to see a much bigger picture outside our cushioned life in Australia. What the long-term holds is anybody's guess.

Stay tuned.

And below are some useful links.

UNSCHOOLING

  • Sandra Dodd - she is the go-to resource for information on unschooling.
  • Pam Laricchia - I listen to Pam's weekly podcasts on unschooling. They are insightful and contain personal anecdotes that I find very helpful and inspiring.
  • Lulu - I enjoy her personal musings on unschooling.

WORLDSCHOOLING

  • I really enjoy following Alyson and her world travel family as they homeschool on the road. They have been on the road for 3 years now and her insights into this type of lifestyle are refreshing and informative.
  • Jennifer Miller is in her fifth year of an open ended tour with her husband and four children. This a great article about their learning.

And to close, this wonderful quote from Oscar Wilde:

"Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught. - Oscar Wilde

 Our friend Angel giving Ziggy a lift on her motor scooter in Can Tho.

Our friend Angel giving Ziggy a lift on her motor scooter in Can Tho.