Last year, Tracey Carisch and her family — husband Brian and three children, Emily (10), Liv (7) and Alison (5) — woke up one day and decided to do something different — something that would impact on them as individuals and as a family. The family decided to attempt to travel around the world and volunteer 100 times. Part of their journey brought them to Castletownshend in West Cork. Tracey speaks to Mary O’Brien about their experience.
Out of the 13 countries they have visited so far, Ireland and West Cork has left a big impression. “Our time in Ireland has been a highlight of our trip,” says Tracey. “While we’ve been here we’ve spent a lot of time in Skibbereen and it’s surrounding towns. We became regulars at the Skibbereen Library, Apple Betty’s Cafe, Lough Hyne and the Skibbereen Saturday Market. We explored the Wild Atlantic way and tried to see as much of the coastal areas as we could. We volunteered a number of times in the area and always met really nice people in the process.”
Tracey says the people they met while in West Cork have been the best part of their trip. “Alan in Castletownshend was the first person we met as we drove up to our rental house,” she says. “He was incredibly helpful, even coming over to address a leak that erupted in the attic of our rental house one night. He became a good friend of ours. He often had a can of cider in his hand and a mischievous twinkle in his eye. Our children made friends with a family of siblings in Castletownshend. They spent many hours making forts in the woods near our house. Our family also shared meals and laughs with Mark, Anne and Abby Townshend, who we met through volunteering at SCAR. Mary, the owner of Lill McCarthy’s pub in Castletownshend also gave a lot of advice on the things we should see in the area. She would tell us a good place to go, as we drank a beer at her pub, and then a few days later we would be back on the same stools telling her about our experience there. We couldn’t have asked for a better trip to Ireland thanks to these and other great people who made us feel so welcome.”
While in West Cork, the family volunteered at four projects; They cleaned up a shoreline in Rineen Woods, helped out at the West Cork Multicultural Festival, volunteered as stewards on race day for SCAR and made Christmas boxes for Team Hope. Other volunteer work in different countries along the way has included helping at blood drives, gardening work, caring for animals, working in a community centre, picked up litter, an making sandwiches for a soup kitchen
The family has become much closer, as a result of spending the last six months travelling and volunteering together. “Looking back, it’s easy to see the treadmill we were on, running from work and school to sports and activities,” explains Tracey. “We didn’t realise it at the time, but we had gotten sucked into the chaos of modern family life. This travel has slowed us down, brought us together, and helped us operate as a team. It’s made us a true family unit. As parents we’ve also loved getting to experience these new places through the eyes of our girls. Kids live more in the moment. They’re more observant and engaged in the environment. They point out things Brian and I would have overlooked and urge us to do things we wouldn’t have considered.”
Home schooling is going quite well. Although not a teacher by training, Tracey is using a lot of online tools for math and grammar help. The girls also keep travel journals, do research projects about the things they find in nature, and give presentations about the places visited. They seem to be enjoying this different approach to learning,” says Tracey. “When we eventually return to the US next year they will go back into the public school system.”
Brian is a software developer and has worked remotely from his clients for years, so he can work anywhere and is continuing to work full time while the family is travelling. “We also don’t have the expense of maintaining a home, cars, or utility bills back home. We are essentially spending and making the same money that we did when we were back in the US,” says Tracey.
Tracey says the one thing they would do differently on such a trip is not pack so much stuff. “We thought we were packing quite light by having just two large and two medium suitcases for the five of us, yet we’ve realised we have a lot of things we don’t wear or use. We donated quite a few things to a local charity shop while we were in Skibbereen and will be sending back a large bag of things to the US to lighten our load a bit.”
There has of course been other errors made along the way; language barriers, inaccurate navigation from the SatNav lady, a few misplaced items, and so on. However, the family has managed to see the funny side in most of the frustrating situations. “If approached with the right attitude, there is a lot satisfaction and even joy to be found in overcoming obstacles and muddling through a little confusion. We’ve had to do this over and over again in every situation imaginable — from the grocery store to toll booths to border crossings. One would expect that this repeated uncertainty would get exhausting after a while, but instead it’s become quite entertaining and makes for some good stories,” says Tracey.
After Africa, the family will continue to venture east, staying in Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, and then finally in South America before hopefully returning to the US next Autumn.
Tracey says their view of the world has changed drastically as a result of their journey. “Being away has given us a very objective look at our past life style, our country and our family’s goals. As a result, we will be living more simply and putting more time toward family than we did before. For instance, we thought it would be difficult living only with what would fit infour4 suitcases and our backpacks. The truth is, this minimalist lifestyle has actually made life so much easier. We didn’t need all of the clothes, toys, furnishings and gadgets we had before. We’ve gotten a better understanding of what we truly need to be happy, and the answer is: not very much. When we get back we will be prioritising where our money goes much differently and limiting the ‘stuff’ we buy. We want to put our money toward experiences our family can have together not the things we can put on a shelf.”