Home is Where We Lay Our Heads

It’s hard to pack when you’re not sure where you’re going or when you’re coming back.

Here’s what we did know: we would start in July in France, move through Europe, North Africa, then Asia or Latin America. Why not. Multiple climates and various seasons. At least a year on the road. Oh, and there are five of us in the family. If we each take three pairs of shoes that’s fifteen pairs of shoes.

As we packed up the old farm house in preparation for our grand voyage, we placed every last thing we owned in one of four piles: one to give away (by far the largest), one to sell, one to store at my twin brother’s place (maximum 12 boxes) and one pile to bring with us. That last pile would grow and shrink and grow again over the weeks we spent packing. But we knew in the end it needed to be a pile that we could, as a family, pick up with our own hands and carry indefinitely. Anyone who’s traveled with their kids knows asking them to carry too much can literally turn them into puddles on an airport walk-a-lator,. And Viggo (at two years) is highly unreliable at tasks like carrying things, or walking in a straight line, or not stealing candy from kiosks. So the “Bring” pile needed to be something Taryn and I could manage alone.

We agonized over this pile. Every item was considered for weight, practicality and number of applications. We fought a lot. I adopted a totally irrational but highly consistent “don’t think we’ll need that” position, and Taryn, to my mind, seemed determined to break our backs and guarantee overweight baggage fees on every flight. And we had a lot of flights to take. This wasn’t going to be easy.


At the top of the tall tall list of things Taryn thought were necessary for our family’s new life of full time travel, but which I thought were too heavy or too overkill or too single-purpose, were the Bundle Beds. Knowing we would spend the next year or so on the road with our three kids, this small company graciously offered us a pair of these integrated, roll-up bed sets and express shipped them from their London office. Think a self-inflating camping mattress velcro-ed inside a jersey sheet set, with a pillow and duvet, all zipped inside a tough, vinyl cover then rolled up, cinched down with burley buckles and carried over the shoulder like a tiny hockey bag. They arrived in the midst of our last days before departure, and I grumbled loudly about the impact these bundles made on our Bring pile. Taryn did her best to ignore me. Her best is very, very good.

Taryn has witch’s blood in her. I’m not joking. Her maternal great grandmother had The Sight. She left France as a teenager and arrived in Idaho where she married a farmer, then refused to learn English till the day she died. The Sight may have failed her from time to time, but she passed something down the motherly line all the way to her great granddaughter. Taryn is always right about people. She knows if you’re telling the truth, if there’s a hidden agenda or some surreptitious motive. She gets “hunches” and they’re right every time. It’s annoying as hell.

For this and other reasons I don’t win arguments in our house, so when we headed to the airport for that one-way flight to Paris there were two Bundle Beds slung over our shoulders. The agent at the Norwegian Airlines check-in counter loved the beds and checked them in for free. A good omen. The Sight would not let us down.

Having beds for Matilda and Francis has allowed us extreme flexibility when searching for places to spend the night. Viggo sleeps between Taryn and I (a handy location which allows him to easily kick both of us in the face), so our threshold for “stay-able” is one double bed and a bit of floor space. Back in the farm house we had four bedrooms to work with. Now we use one.

In the last ten months, in nearly a dozen countries across four continents, Taryn has been proved right. We have unrolled on the chevron floors of a Parisian apartment, on top dusty beds in an old castle, in the back of a vintage VW camper van on the Portuguese coast, on the tiled floors of riads and village houses in Morocco, in bedrooms and living rooms in places with names like Palma, Procida, Marrakech, Ahangama, Pyrgos, Unawatuna, Kensington, Taormina… 

One of the most curious results of having very little is you realize how very little you need. What  started out as a way to lodge flexibly has become a preference. We like being close. We house-sat a three bedroom in Marrakech for a couple of weeks. The kids had beautiful bunkbeds in a room filled with toys. But on the third evening Taryn unrolled the Bundle Beds next to our bed and, without a word, Matilda and Francis crawled into their comfy, known little cocoons and drifted off to sleep to the sounds of our collective breathing.

Contemporary wisdom says kids need stability and security to develop and grow. We’ve stretched the bounds of this over the last year, and in the years before that too. We’ve favoured the stability of a loving, if at times shouty, family over a home or a collection of things. We’ve leaned on each other as the constant. Our kids don’t have a room as a sanctuary. They’re learning to have themselves.

But they also have their beds, a small piece of security that is the same no matter where you unroll it, that carries them through their most vulnerable hours. They fall asleep resting calmly in familiar sensations.

There have been days on this journey that began with us not knowing where we would lay our heads when the sun went down. But no matter how opaque the future may look, whether we’re talking about a day, this grand voyage or the rest of our lives, we know we’ll go through it together. It’s not everything we need, but it’s most of the way there.