Sara with her first three (of four!) sons, Benji, Ruben, and Milo, on the family's second visit to Lamu, Kenya, in 2019.
Our Great Layover: Teaching us to Pause, Listen and Learn—like Explorers at Home
I had started SteamLine’s first blog post a few months ago with a completely different announcement. We had just welcomed our fourth (and final!) son into our family and had planned on leaving our home in Dublin to travel for one entire year. And when I say travel, I mean the way my husband and I traveled in our wonder years: motorbikes in India, tuk-tuks in Sri Lanka, boats in Kenya. Only this time with four little blondies in tow. We had spreadsheeted our way to a plan that was even more practical than a year of city life...and it was going to be rich with the kind of learning we have been craving for ourselves and the boys. We were going to take our business fully remote and fulfill the dream of uprooting from our routines to slow down, get outside our bubbles, and let our sixsome enjoy the pure exhilaration of exploration.
But then the pandemic rocked all our worlds, and before we knew it, instead of planning which country we would visit first and for how long, we were mired in our version of the struggle being experienced by the rest of the world. Then in spite of the challenges, heartbreaking loss of life, fear of contraction, and economic toll, something miraculous occurred: we quickly saw ourselves and our friends intent on seeing the positives and emphasizing—to paraphrase Joni Mitchell—the something gained, rather than the something lost, in living every day. And just when I found myself feeling proud of the human spirit for its infinite adaptability, for being wired to find silver linings, for being hellbent not only on surviving but thriving, the murder of George Floyd forced the overdue task of pulling off our blinders to the human rights crisis in our midst. As we all careen from this real-time reckoning with our most painful truths, it’s patently clear that rather than wish things could “go back to normal”, that they most urgently must not.
Although I’ve called Ireland home for 15 years, I am an American, Minnesota-born mere miles from where George Floyd was murdered. As a member of the global American expat community, I wish to share my support of Black Lives Matter and to affirm that this is indeed a global movement. And while I consider the tremendous political reforms needed to address systemic racism, the idea to which I keep returning is that a worldview of communal care—a life in which you ask less what your neighbor can do for you than what you can do for your neighbor—is a way everyone can help combat the parallel pandemics viral, mental health, and racism we are fighting today. In my experience, I have come to believe that there is no greater teacher of this worldview than travel, the urge to experience other cultures and the resultant empathy that costs so little but gives so much. Looking at the world right now, I hold a deep conviction that, whether or not we are physically traveling, how we think when we travel is precisely how we need to live at home.
Slices of life from our repeat extended stays in Sri Lanka and Lamu, Kenya, two of our most beloved
Personally speaking, my family travels to escape in a different way—less from than into, less to rest than to stimulate, as we strive to understand other communities, cultures, and lives. We go fewer places but stay longer, trying to become part of the woodwork for a while and take baby steps in others’ shoes. The incredible joy of the human connections we’ve formed on our adventures led to my building a company and life around seeing the world. Right now many White people are communicating their hunger to pause, listen, and learn. Travel teaches us precisely this—the Oz-like magic that gently unfolds the moment we step on foreign soil and all our senses begin to soak up other customs and ways of life, to listen deeply and openly in order to understand what people do differently and why. At this crucible moment I believe that in a sense we are being called to act as travelers in our home countries, to adopt that spongy attitude we have when we travel. To acknowledge just how much we don’t know, what our truest selves may have to share, and the lessons from others that we must take home.
The moment our borders reopen, my family will resume traveling for the very reasons we have made it an essential priority of our lives. Because I want our children to know how special this world is, to see how many differences we can have yet be the same, to show them how other people live, experience how they go to school, eat what they eat. I want them to see that they can develop a community around them by simply engaging with other people, that feeling new to a place is scary and how good it feels when being welcomed into a community—so that they will do it in turn for others. I feel that the more we can bridge these cultural gaps, the more empathetic we will be to others, the happier we will feel, and the better place our world will become.
We may have been given a hard lesson, but perhaps it’s an opportunity to reconcile errors in the way we lived before the health, economic, and social crises that are upon us. Let us not squander the opportunity to live warmly and openly, with real empathy for others. If it is so easy to bridge cultural barriers when we step on foreign soil, maybe we can practice the re-emergence into our own homelands with the same compassionate views for our communities, to walk in our neighbors' shoes for a step or two, to listen to each other until we find a common thread.
May we return to work with a plan to protect our employees’ physical health with proper virus protection and their mental health with reasonable expectations for their time, along with the flexibility that empowers the best work and happiest worker. May we return to the world armed with informed love in lieu of implicit bias. Not because we were told to but because we have learned to actually care, inside our hearts, about the human lives connected to our own. Because, in the all-too-contemporary words of Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
This photo of me from our visit to Sri Lanka in 2017, between pregnancies three and four, reminds me that we are always facing the unknown.
So instead of blogging about my family adventures for the foreseeable future, I’m going to practice my longtime dream of nurturing a community of kindred travel bugs who uphold their cultural values under every roof they call home. I’ll be sharing interviews and stories from our editors, ambassadors, and people we are inspired by who are using the present to look back, and ahead, on travel and life—some even from their childhood homes or pop-up getaways that have become homes-away-from-home while we continue to navigate this singular time.
For my part, I might share aspects of my own juggling act as a working mother of four who is now running a business remotely, homeschooling haphazardly, plotting hopeful travels, and trying above all to stay present, to pause, to listen, and to learn.
So please join this layover with us. It would be my greatest joy to hear from you with anything you would like to know about SteamLine and me or want to dispatch from your world that might serve our community as we await our next horizon together. I hope you’ll take the occasional slow scroll with us!
SteamLine Founder, Sara Banks