Radical Homemaking … In the South of France?

Shannon Hayes: Do radical homemaking and foreign travel mix?
south of france by maria gomes

Photo by Maria Gomes

For the past several weeks, our family has been living in Europe. Our itinerary has included a week in England, a month in a rural French village, a week in the South of France, and a week in Paris. After writing a book about home-centered, frugal living, a few readers have raised their eyebrows at how this could happen (thanks for your emails, by the way). Radical Homemakers with family farms don’t belong vacationing in the South of France…. or do they?

When Bob and I chose our life paths, we had no intentions of donning monastic hair shirts. Just because we choose to be radical homemakers doesn’t mean we choose to forgo all other non-home-oriented dreams. It is true that our incomes and environmental concerns don’t allow for us to take annual international holidays. But while it may inspire finger-wagging for ecological transgression, our family chooses to travel. Here’s how we do it:

Make it special

Trips like these only happen every few years. That gives us time to plan and save up, and allows us the continuity in our own home that is so important for sustaining our livelihood. It would be hard to carry on with our domestic production-oriented lives if we were traveling for two months out of every year, but it is certainly manageable to work it into the schedule every few years.

Count on family and good relationships.

Of all the things I’m proud of in my life, I count my relationship with my family at the very top of the list. They’re wonderful people, and each of the generations works to support each other. My parents want to see us enjoy our lives. They want their grandchildren to have terrific adventures. In our case, that means the family farm and businesses continue, even when a few folks are absent for a spell. We’ve learned that when we give each other the ability to break free for a while, it keeps our agrarian life vibrant and fresh.

Homemaking skills are portable.

In two months of travel, we’ll have a maximum of three nights in hotels. The rest of the time is in rented apartments and houses where we continue many of the radical homemaking practices that define our life in the United States. French restaurants and cafes are great fun, but we don’t need to be in them every day to have a wonderful trip. We eat out once per week, but take the rest of our meals around a kitchen table, or as picnics. I plan for leftovers, minimize the girls’ access to sweets (they tend to make the kids hungrier later on); and I save carrot stubs, onion skins, lettuce heels, and bones to boil into broth, which we drink for breakfast or make into soup.

Make more pleasure than you consume.

It alters our lives profoundly. We learn about different ways of living, see the world through a different set of eyes, explore how history has impacted our present world, open ourselves up to new and sometimes intimidating experiences.

Castles and museums are terrific…. to a point. They’re also pretty pricey, and don’t always offer insights into culture. We are certainly hitting some tourist attractions, but there are plenty of beautiful churches and castle ruins where walking inside is free. Much of our vacation is spent “at home” in the communities we choose to visit. We get to know local folks and learn history from the stories they share. Our play and relaxation entails taking walks; exploring foreign libraries, schools, and farmers’ markets; having play dates with new friends; reading to each other; cooking different foods; making crafts from found exotic objects; brewing a cup of tea and sitting quietly in the sunshine with some knitting or a novel set in the place we’re visiting. We’ve found this is far more pleasurable than burying our noses in travel guides or making sure the kids don’t touch some forbidden object in a museum. My daughters Saoirse and Ula flourish in the relaxed pace, and find endless fascinations exploring the new world and neighbors around them, and we aren’t confronted with daily battles trying to get them up and out the door at the first light, yelling at them for fighting in the car while we try to read a map, or herding them out of souvenir shops. (All of that does go on now and then, but not on a daily basis.) And finally….

Make it a goal.

I do not think that every family who chooses a radical homemaking path needs to figure out how to afford international travel. But it was something Bob and I wanted to be able to do. When we embarked on this path, we wrote very clear goals about what we wanted from this life. The freedom to travel with our kids, to make travel part of their homeschooling, was something we strongly desired. And since that is a goal we’ve articulated, we find we have a tendency to make it happen. We are willing to take on odd jobs here and there to get the money we need. We are willing to work extra hard before we go, so that we can have the time away. We reduce the number of trips we take, but extend the amount of time away to reduce our ecological impact. We make room for it in our lives. It is a choice we have made.

And in exchange, it alters our lives profoundly. We learn about different ways of living, see the world through a different set of eyes, explore how history has impacted our present world, open ourselves up to new and sometimes intimidating experiences. It allows us time to gather close as a family unit, to learn to count on each other. It inspires us to make changes, experiment with new ideas in our own lives, and experience personal growth. And at the end, we have the great fortune of coming back to a life we love, a life that allows us endless adventures, both home and abroad.


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