The Trip of a Lifetime

Janna Schuette essays

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Our family made the big decision to leave our comfortable lives in California and head out for a year away from home. Part of the time was going to be spent in Sweden, which was my home growing up. The more adventurous part was going to be spent in a camper exploring Europe in a way we had never done before. It was an opportunity to check off a bucket list of exploration together as a family.

We ended up spending eight months in our camper that our oldest daughter Saylor named “White Lightning”, logging 17,000 kilometers until we arrived full circle back in Sweden where we started. We added Morocco to our adventure, traveled through two continents, 11 countries, countless trains, buses, taxis, boats, bicycles, horse drawn carriages, two named catastrophic storms, a tsunami, flash flood and several blizzards. Through it all, we kept our wits and somehow stuck together as a family, even though each of us was tested in a different way.

It was a “once in a lifetime” adventure, yet it was also the hardest things we have ever done as a family. The biggest reason for the trip was to get more time with my daughters. I felt like I was failing as both mom and a wife as all my energy was going towards my career. The last few years had been immensely stressful with two new roles within my company and two physical moves. I had not been present in the same way with my younger daughter as I had been with my eldest. She was acting out. All she wanted was my attention.

However, I hadn’t anticipated that being a full time mom could be more challenging than a busy career. My patience was tested daily. There was no personal time anymore. So, we decided to spend eight months in a small camper, tossing any and every routine the girls had out the window.

For every amazing experience we had there was a moment or two of chaos. As time went by, the girls actually became more flexible and adaptable. I on the other hand felt like I’d lost some of my identity leaving my job. I was trying hard to control what I could which resulted in an obsession around mundane tasks like keeping sand out of the camper and keeping the beds clean.

Even though I wish I would have handled many situations differently and tried to “let go” more, I had no regrets on taking on this adventure. Our girls have turned into great travelers and have become inseparable sisters. Svea still copies every move of her older sister, but is also starting to find her own unique path in this world. Saylor is such a patient big sister and thinks she knows the path already. What they may have missed in their school lessons they have made up for in life lessons. It is incredible to hear their knowledge about different countries, cultures and the languages they picked up.

Living in a trailer in Europe for the last eight months is not necessarily normal everyday life, but you slowly adapt. We also learned that most things can be solved with a joke, and most issues are small. Thinking back on how the ordinary tasks in normal life become challenges in our traveling life created a lot of our “issues.”  When someone pees in the bed at night, it’s an issue the next day when you have to find a laundromat. Traveling to a new country every week or two means trying to figure out a new phone sim card, new terms for the yogurt the kids like and new business hours. We also learned that people can be so helpful and generous.  We were forced to step out of our shells and ask for help. It was beautiful to see how people of all different cultures treated our children. Everyone wants what's best for their or others children. That is universal. Traveling with children definitely opens some doors and allows for some unique experiences you wouldn’t ordinarily get.

Would we do it again? We both agree it was a once in a lifetime experience but in the end we were ready to get back to some form of normalcy. My husband and I have always thought that we were born with a sense of restlessness and exploration. Hopefully through these travel experiences our children will develop a sense of empathy, respect and wonder for other people and cultures. After three months back home, the trip is still fresh in our children's memories. Every night when we go to sleep the girls say, “I love you all the way to Morocco, Portugal, France and Sweden.”

I’m closer to our youngest daughter Svea than ever. I have a better perspective on life, priorities and what's important. It wasn’t an easy road for me and I can’t say I am 100% there. I just know that I will approach my next career move differently and remind myself that a happy and calm mom makes for a happier family.

I am extremely fortunate to have a healthy and supportive family to keep adventuring with even if it is staying “home” for the next few years.


About the Author

Janna Schuette

Janna Schuette is a wife and mother of her two daughters Saylor 5 and Svea 3. Janna grew up in Sweden and moved to the USA in her early twenties. She spent 12 years working for Google and recently went on a European Adventure with her family and spent 4 months in Sweden and 8 months on the road exploring Europe and Africa in a camper. Janna doesn’t consider herself a writer, though kept a blog of the family’s adventure called “Fun & Chaos” at .

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