Family is a big deal to me. Literally. The Ord clan is best known for its prolific numbers. I’ve got two parents, two older sisters, two brothers-in-law, two younger brothers, and a new niece and nephew.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between family, livelihood, purpose, and travel. Sometimes all four seem to get along, but more often they’ve been clashing like rival siblings on a long car trip.
I’m a little adrift in uncertainty right now, making decisions about where I want to be and what I want to be doing. Keep moving until spring? Return home in the autumn and stay? I turned to my family for some insight about my nomadism, asking for open letters on some of the biggest issues they might have with my absence. I asked them to answer the following:
- What do you think about my decisions to live and work abroad for extended periods of time?
- What’s it like not knowing what my plans are or when I’ll be back?
- What do you like most about what I do? What do you dislike most?
- How do you describe me to your friends? What do you tell them I do? Do they get it?
- Anything else you’d like to say
Huge thanks to all six of them for their sincere replies and their willingness to share these answers publicly online.
My oldest sister Gina lives in Yakima, WA with her husband Scott. Gina’s an occupational therapist currently working as a community-based health specialist, and Scott is a research biologist. Also world travel adventure types, they have spent two years in the Peace Corps in Zambia and as much time as possible outdoors. They welcomed baby Travis into the world just over a year ago, right before I kicked off my long-term trip.
On living and working abroad for extended periods of time: I guess I just figure that is part of your career. You’ve done it for so long I haven’t thought much of it until you asked me to write this.
I like that you’re experiencing the world and you really have a commitment to making the world a better place through sustainable tourism. I can tell you have a passion for the work.
I dislike that you complain about the long hours and low pay. I feel like you have so much talent and abilities that could easily be applied to a “real job,” but that is obviously not your cup of tea! I also dislike that you want to have a relationship, but your career/lifestyle narrows about 99.9% of the population of eligible bachelors out of the playing field.
To my friends, I describe you as my nomadic sister who is a travel writer/web strategist who pretty much never lives in the States. Most of them are like, “oh cool, that sounds like an awesome job,” or “how did she get into that?” Then I say that you complain sometimes and I think many people are just so comfortable with how they live here in the U.S. that they don’t really get why someone would do that.
I really hope that one day you can find a home base and a community, even if it’s abroad. Sometimes the virtual world just doesn’t cut it in terms of community, and as you get older I think you will find more and more that having a sense of “home” (even if you travel away from it often) can help bring grounding, stability, and a sense of self.
Diana is my older sister, but we’re close enough in age that we were sometimes mistaken for twins growing up. We shared everything from American Girl dolls to headbands to neighborhood friends. She lives in our hometown of Denver, CO with her husband Tim and teaches English and life skills to the city’s resettled refugees. They’re also new parents; baby Cora will turn one year old in September.
On living and working abroad for extended periods of time: Sometimes I think you do it just for the sake of saying you do it. Saying that you work remotely and travel sounds more glamorous than it probably really is. Sometimes it seems as if your travel lifestyle lacks focus or purpose. I don’t know what is harder – not really knowing where you are at any given moment and worrying about if you’re safe/healthy/happy or going for periods of not really even thinking about it because you’ve done it so much (like, oh yeah, haven’t heard anything from Cynthia in 3 weeks, hope she’s still alive).
I like that we can hear about your travels and live vicariously (although that can also be a little bit of a dislike) and sometimes come visit like we’ve done with Spain and Mexico.
I dislike that we don’t see you too much and I feel like we aren’t as close as a lot of siblings. I also dislike that you say traveling makes you happy, but sometimes when you’re going it alone for long periods of time you seem pretty unhappy and lost. I want you to be happy.
To my friends, I pretty much just say my sister works remotely doing different gigs as she travels and has been doing that for most of her adult life. People who don’t know you say that sounds pretty cool. I tell them as with anything it probably has its pros and cons. There are reasons why more people don’t choose that lifestyle for the long term.
I hope you find what truly makes you happy. I know travel and adventures will always be a part of your life, but I don’t think you can rely on it to be your only source of fulfillment. We’d love you to be around more, but only if you want to be. I hope you can find a good balance of adventure and stability/relationships that can make you happy.
After having three girls in four years, my parents took a six-year break. Then came the boys. My younger brother Tom is 26 and lives in Denver. He has Down syndrome, so his sense of time and distance is entirely his own. When I return from a long one-way-ticket trip to a far-off place, he greets me with the same smile and hug as when I came home from college at the end of a semester, or home from a weekend camping trip. I didn’t ask him the same set of questions but I’ll share a thank you email he wrote me lately (probably with a little help from our dad).
THANK YOU FOR THE SUBWAY GIFT CARD.
I HOPE YOU HAVE A GREAT LIFE.
I HAVE SO MUCH FUN AT MY DAY PROGRAM.
I LOVE YOU.
YOUR BRO THOMAS JOHN ORD
Finally there’s Phil, the recent college grad. As if he doesn’t even have a major neuromuscular disability, he’s done amazing things in the world in his 24 years. He got a full-tuition scholarship and aced a degree in biology, then turned his talents toward energy activism, rallying people around nuclear. He’s even managed to crowdfund his travels, taking on accessibility challenges on airlines.
On your decision to live and work abroad for long periods of time:
We miss you! I think you are a person that loves to explore, and working abroad is the best for you. I am happy that you are happy.
On not knowing what your plans are or when you’ll be back:
Ever since undergrad, it has been that way. I am used to it, and enjoy the times you do come back. Although, all the going-away parties and the welcome home parties get to be a little much, HAHA.
I like that you are helping to grow the economy of less-developed countries, but sometimes I get the vibe of poverty tourism.
On how I describe you to my friends:
I tell them you are an overeducated travel agent and writer. I just discuss the places you go or have been and say you rock the nomad life. They wish they had chosen that path.
Be safe, and help the poor people!
My mom has always been the most stumped by my long-term travel tendencies. Her view of the world is shaped by family, Catholicism, and obligation. She encourages me to look into a new career in healthcare, where the nice secure jobs are, and to join a church parish in Denver with plenty of good single men. Here are excerpts from two different recent emails:
Dear Cynthia, it’s hard to answer these questions in an email when indeed there are some very poignant feelings attached. I don’t understand your choice of a vocation. Your decision to live and work abroad obviously goes against family ties, especially in a family of special needs and elderly needs.
I care about you, Cynthia, and want you to know I pray daily to St. Elizabeth Seton for your safety and welfare. Of course happiness is important, but happiness I think comes from peace with Jesus. Invite him into your life, your good side and your dark side. Thank him for all He has done for you. I wish I could hug you and tell you these things in person. Love, Mom
I saved my dad for last because he really stole the show on this “open letters” assignment. An archetypal ‘dad’ kind of guy, he accepts the chaos and neuroses of the Ord clan and holds it all together at a Michael Bluth-ian scale. Here’s his thoughtful, textured response to my questions:
My dearest Cynthia, You asked me what I think about your prolonged worldly travel jaunts. I feel compelled to give you the long answer rather than one that can be expressed in less than 140 characters that is so much in vogue with your generation. So, at the risk of slipping into nostalgia and sentimentality, let me begin.
If you were able to ask all those who have passed before us what was their single biggest regret while living, I can only imagine that the regret which would most often be cited would be “I didn’t pursue my passion to its fullest”. There are very few of us who actually get to pursue our passions as there are so many reasons not to do so: “I don’t have the time.” “I need to have a “real” job.” “My family comes first.” “I’m not competent enough to succeed.” “It doesn’t pay enough.” “No one thinks it is important”, etc.
So many reasons for not pursuing the one thing that makes our lives so worth living. But every now and then there are individuals that dismiss the excuses and go “all in” in the pursuit of their passion. Many of them have made the world a better place for doing so. A small fraction of all those who turned their passions into lasting human achievements.
Then there is a class all to themselves: world explores. Those that risk uncertainty, discomfort and the unknown for the sake of discovering different cultures, breathtaking landscapes and a fuller understanding of our small but oh so diverse planet. That would be our Cynthia. She joins a long history of kindred spirits who leave the safe confines of home not knowing when, or if, they are to return.
But what about the rest of us who these worldly travelers leave behind? Those of us that are pursuing other passions? Or have conflicting priorities such as taking care of family, professional obligations or seeking financial stability? None are so much “excuses” as well-meaning and important conflicting priorities. Those of us left behind in the comfort of our homes still ache for the emptiness of our beloved travelers. So far away. So removed from our lives. And if they are our children, the emptiness is even greater as we miss out being a part of their incredible lives. The closeness we enjoyed during their childhood has escaped. Our evolving adult companion is now so far away. But this is 2016. Technologies allow us to stay in touch virtually. A luxury that Columbus’ or Magellan’s family could not even imagine. However, no technology: e-mail, text, tweet, blog or skype will ever replace hugs or talks across the dinner table. Or as the case with Cynthia, long afternoon bike rides in the Colorado countryside.
In a perfect world, I could join you on your world adventures. And when circumstances permit, I have done so. Some of the most memorable times I have ever spent with my adult children were visiting them in those far off corners of the world. It was a magical time with you and Diana in Majorca, Spain. As was the weeks I spent with Regina and Scott in Zambia during their time in the Peace Corp. I was part of your adventures. And the world proved to be a marvelous place. But time and circumstance limit the ability to do so now. So we rely on your blog and social media to accompany you on your travels. It is that sharing which is one of the things I most enjoy about your decision to traverse the globe.
Not only do I benefit from your blogs, but so do others in your extended family and circle of friends. When others ask “What is Cynthia up to?” I direct them to your website and blog, as you can better describe it than I can. For many of those of my generation, it is hard to understand how you can sustain yourself in the virtual world of e-publishing without the benefit of staff, an office or an established physical address. For many of my peers, we may never get it. We can only watch in amazement as a new and bewildering form of commerce has emerged that you seemed to have embraced. And because it is strange to us we do harbor concerns as to how you can thrive in that brave new world. We are stuck with our old conventions of professional advancement, achieving financial security, acquiring assets, starting a family and settling down. It is hard for us to see how your current vocation will archive those goals which are so important to our old way of thinking. Our fear is that someday they may be important to you also. If that becomes the case, we hope you do not regret the current track you are pursuing which at best, may delay those goals or at worst, deny their attainment. Perhaps it is an unwarranted concern as it is hard to imagine you ever regretting your current adventures. But we are your parents. We always hope and pray that you will happy.
You asked what it is that I like most about what you do. More rewarding than reading of your travels, is the satisfaction that maybe I had some small part in instilling in you the courage to follow your dream, to pursue your passion. In the end, what more can a parent ask than to raise children who become confident, inquisitive and passionate adults. You have achieved that. I am so proud of you for pursuing your passion for international tourism unabashedly and without reserve. However, as you may know, the root or etymology of “tourist” is the Greek word for a tool used in describing a circle. In a sense, tourism intrinsically involves a circular itinerary in that tourists return to their point of origin — home. Hopefully when time and circumstances allow, you will return home to Denver, if only on an extended visit if not to “settle down.” We miss you. A big part of your life remains here. There are grandparents that may not be long for this earth. There are special need brothers that would love for you to hang out with them. There are sisters that miss their best friend. There is a new nephew and a new niece who won’t be babies much longer. They would love an aunt that could tell them about magical places far, far away. There is a mom that wants to be more involved with her daughter’s life. And then there is dad that would love to go on those long afternoon bike rides while he is still able.
But until that time, pursue life to the fullest. When that day comes when your last words are spoken may they be “I pursed my passion and I leave this world a fulfilled person.” That is my wish for you. Love, Dad