Talon Windwalker is a single parent, author, writer, former hospice chaplain, Zen monk, ultra runner, snowshoer, endurance cyclist, certified endurance running coach, scuba instructor, photographer, and lover of travelling, languages, and cultures. After years of working in intensive care, trauma, and with the dying, his motto became Vivez sans regrets! (Live without regrets!) In keeping with that motto, he left traditional life and embarked on life as a full-time nomad, traveling around the world slowly with his young son who was 9 years old when they began. www.1dad1kid.com
While more men are adopting as single parents these days, we’re still a relatively small club. So that in itself makes us unique. Among traveling families, we’re a definite minority. There are some single moms traveling with their children, but single dads traveling with their kids is quite rare. To top it off, I’m also gay which adds another dimension to things. My parenting style is quite different from many people’s as well in that my son and I function more as a team than “because I’m the parent and I said so.” We discuss and plan together, compromise, etc.
My son does a type of “unschooling” for his education. In lieu of a set curriculum, we use real-life practical teaching moments throughout the day. In addition, he is free to research and pursue the topics that interest him rather than studying about something simply because the school says you have to.
We have been traveling full time since May 2011 and so far have been on 6 continents and are in our 21st country. It’s been quite the experience for sure.
–I’ve noticed on the biography from your website that you’re a ‘Zen monk,’ do you mind telling my readers a little about this lifestyle choice and how it’s helped/changed your life? I’m interested in how you remain balanced under pressure and strife, as well...
It doesn’t really affect our lifestyle as much as people might think. As a wandering monk, I don’t live in a monastery. Zen is also very different than many of the schools of Buddhism. As Zen is something that is highly useful in every aspect of life, I definitely have plenty of moments to practice it. Sometimes it’s during long travel days when instead of burying my nose in my Kindle to read or play games, I will use the time to simply be present and experience as much as I can from every moment. Buses, trains, and ferries add to the robustness of this since I have scenery, scents, other conversations going on around me, etc., to experience.
I don’t believe in forcing my spirituality on my child, so I encourage him to explore things, thoughts, etc., and sometimes we have very deep conversations like “What is the purpose of life?” I learn a lot from him, and I definitely have seen him shape some of his ideals based on these conversations. I always try to provide different points of view so that he can digest them and see what resonates with him. One of the beautiful things about Zen is that there isn’t a dogma I am expected to share or pass on. It’s all about being completely immersed in the moment. Travel is really Zen on steroids sometimes.
Being “Zen” about things is quite conducive to reducing stress. I purposely don’t work much, so our monthly income is quite low. Sometimes the bank account gets shockingly low, and I’m tempted to stress and worry about it. Instead, I breathe and know that things ALWAYS work out, and I give it up and let things unfold. For rough travel days when things don’t seem to go as one would want, being able to let it go and just be present to the situation saves me quite a bit of stress. Tigger’s standard response to bumps in the road is “Oh well. Life is like that sometimes.” Kids listen more than we realize.
–How do you afford to travel constantly? How big of an influence to your son Tigger’s life has travel been thus far? How do you feel it will help him grow in the future?
I work on the road. Our blog is popular enough that I’m able to sell advertising which makes up a good portion of our income. I’ve also written some books which brings in very small amounts of income. Occasionally, I will teach scuba or do freelance jobs as well. I like to have as many streams of income as I can, but I also want to limit my work time. One of the reasons we began this journey was to get more living into our life and so that I could have more time with my son. While sometimes things would be easier if we had more money, for the most part it isn’t worth the sacrifice.
Travel has been an incredible thing for Tigger. Before we left the States, he suffered some pretty severe anxiety and had to be on 2 different medications just to make it through a day at school and afterschool care. He was also fairly dependent when he moved in with me at age 6. Now he’s 12, off all medications, amazingly resilient, and extremely independent. Language barriers don’t faze him, and he’s remarkably adaptable. Travel has provided him with the environment to really thrive, become his own person, and stretch his wings quite a bit. As many other cultures are more permissive and encouraging of children to be kids, to run, jump, play, make noise, etc., he’s been able to enjoy freedom that he really wouldn’t be able to have back home.
Some of the things I love the most about how travel has changed him are not only his resiliency and independence, but he now looks at the world differently. He doesn’t necessarily notice skin color, religion, gender, etc. He sees people as either being nice and friendly or as being otherwise. Our lifestyle has taken the focus of “things” and has instead emphasized experiences. When it’s his birthday or time for Chrismakah, it’s actually hard for him to think of things to add to his wish list since we just don’t like a typical consumerist life. He realizes that quality of life is not determined by stuff or money. Long-term travel has been the best thing I could’ve done for either of us.
–Where have you two visited lately? What are your son’s favorite places to visit and why? What were some of the more difficult destinations that you’ve traveled to in recent memory, and why?
We began the year on an oasis in Morocco. From there we’ve been to Lyon and Paris, France; Thailand 2 times; Malaysia 4 times; Vietnam; Indonesia; Australia; New Zealand; Sri Lanka; Rome, Italy; and now we’re in Romania where we’ll probably remain for a while.
Tigger really liked Utila, Honduras, where we lived for 8 months. It was a small island, so he had full run of the island, could swim in the ocean every day, got certified as a scuba diver, went shark diving, swam with wild dolphins, etc. It was really a remarkable place for him and his independence. He also really liked Australia and Malaysia. He thinks he would be quite happy living in Australia.
I haven’t really found too many places to be all that difficult; however, some places definitely challenged me more. Hanoi was grumpy and loud. Bali was way too contrived and had incredibly aggressive touts. New Zealand was far too “vanilla” for my taste. I really didn’t care for Bangkok on our 1st visit, but the 2nd one went much better and I ended up enjoying that city.
–I know that solo parenting can be a difficult and trying experience, but obviously rewarding, but you’ve taken the experience a whole lot farther, can you talk about the benefits, and the more trying times? And could you touch on the good and bad of this lifestyle?
One of the pluses is not having another parent to bounce things off, come to an agreement, etc. I also don’t have to divide my attention between myself and 2 other people. The obvious downside is sometimes I want time to myself, and that’s really hard to do when there is no other parent. I can’t simply relegate my responsibilities to someone else because I don’t feel like parenting. Also, when I’m sick, I don’t have anyone else to pick up the slack. It’s easier now that he’s older and can do most things for himself, though. There are times when I just want to do things and not have to consider anyone else. Back home I had a great network of friends, so Tigger could go stay the weekend with them, and I got to recharge and be Talon instead of Talon, dad, entertainer, chef, planner, accountant, etc. That’s probably been the toughest part. Tigger is a very easy kid to live with, but sometimes you just need a break from parenthood, to have your own space, to do things without having to be concerned about someone else. When you’re solo and traveling, that’s much more difficult to make happen.
In Australia, I had a spontaneous massive nosebleed and had to go to the emergency room. Instead of just being a patient and trying to deal with the discomfort of the huge pillows they shoved up my nose, I had to make sure my son was okay, that he was reassured, that he was comfortable, etc. It would’ve been nice to have someone else taking care of that so I could’ve just dealt with things. But sometimes you also have angels like when we were in Ecuador. In Quito, I contracted a virus that had me bedbound for a few days. The hostel staff kept an eye out for him, made sure he was fed, etc., and a fellow guest took him out for ice cream, played games with him, and so on. So when the need arises, everything always works out, but sometimes it would be nice to have another parent to hand the reins.
On the flip side, we have an enormous quality of life and time together. When other people are struggling to find an hour to spend with their child, we are together 24/7. Sometimes I may go for a walk or an errand by myself, but generally we’re always together. Most of the time that’s really cool. We’re able to have some great conversations, and the experiences we’ve had together, like shark diving in Honduras, wreck diving in Mexico, having a citywide water fight during songkran in Thailand, etc., are things I wouldn’t trade. I wanted to make sure that whenever my time comes to leave this life, if we are lucky enough to have time together we won’t be spending it discussing the things I wish I had done. Instead we’ll have all the memories of all the things we did together. That’s how I want him to remember our life and his childhood, and if he chooses to be a parent, I hope he creates his own version of a life without regret (our family motto is “Live without regrets!”).
Being together has also created an incredibly strong bond between us, something that to me is even more important since he was adopted as an older child. We didn’t have those huge developing years of infancy and toddlerhood to connect. But I can honestly say now that our bond is probably stronger than most biological families. I’m having an absolute blast watching him grow, mature, and discover himself. A “normal” life wouldn’t allow us the time together for me to be able to watch all this development. I feel like I have a special gift to be part of his life in such a unique way.
–For other solo parents wanting to experience life more to the fullest with their children, what advice can you offer them? What are some of the things that most people might not realize or think about ahead of time, that might surprise them once jumping into this sort of a lifestyle?
I’ve worked in trauma, intensive care, and hospice for decades. I have never been with a family who said something like, “Remember how we used to watch TV every night? That was great.” This type of lifestyle is not going to be for everyone. Sometimes you have to create space and time for experiences. So even if you have a very busy work/school life at home, there are ways of making space. We all have the same 24 hours in our day. Get rid of the television. At dinnertime, we don’t allow electronics like phones or devices. We visit while we eat. While traveling it can be tempting to just spend the day in the hotel room, or wherever we’re staying, and sometimes you do need those moments, but generally speaking we get out and explore together. There’s no reason you can’t explore your hometown. Go down a different street, find a new neighborhood to walk around, whatever. Play board games. Go to the park together. Don’t feel like your kids have to be enrolled in every possible extracurricular activity out there. Back home we did after school activity a week. If he was in Tae Kwon Do, that was it. Some families have kids doing sports, homework, and all sorts of classes. There are lots of ways to have more time together, and there is nothing wrong with having down time. In fact, it’s pretty healthy.
For this lifestyle, I think the biggest surprise for people is that it doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, it’s cheaper for us to live a life of travel than to be at home. In our traditional life I was making around $50K a year, and even with that sometimes we were struggling financially and weren’t able to take trips often, etc. Now, I make FAR less. In fact, our current income places us well below the poverty line in the US for a 2-person family. Yet our quality of life is hundreds of times greater. We’re doing things I couldn’t afford in the US, like scuba, and we’re traveling the world! And my stress is far lower. It seems counterintuitive, but often travel is way cheaper than the boring normal life back home.
–For individuals that are interested in living a similar work abroad lifestyle that me and you both have – through travel writing, freelancing and blogging – what are some starter tips you can offer up? Also, what are some of the more unique challenges to career choice that you’ve faced and are able to offer advice upon, so that others don’t exactly follow in your footsteps – trying to reinvent the wheel, per say?
Start right away. It takes time to get a blog and freelance career to the point where it’s sustaining you. I began blogging about 6 months before we left the States, and I’m really glad I did. It meant by our 6-month mark of travel, the blog was already live for a year and had a following. I began freelancing before we left, and even though it meant a few more months of extra work, I was established enough that once we hit the road I was able to produce an income.
Don’t fall into the trap of gimmicks. Some bloggers write just for traffic, and I think that’s a bad idea. Those are usually the people complaining of burnout later or whining about how “Sure, I’m in this really great exotic location, but I’m spending 10 hours a day or more in my room working.”
Have faith in yourself. I think we generally tend to downplay our skills and worth. I know it sounds cliché, but when you’re looking at making money in a location-independent way, you truly are only limited by your imagination. Sit down and make a list of everything you love doing and everything you’re good at. You might be surprised to discover you already have some great marketable skills. And if you love something and don’t know much about it, you can start learning now so that when you’re ready to launch you’re better equipped.
If you begin blogging, avoid the temptation to become obsessed about numbers and rankings. It’s a deep dark hole that can swallow you and completely unmotivated you. Focus on building community and doing what you love. As long as you’re pursuing your passion, you can’t go wrong.
–Well Talon, it’s been a pleasure mate! I’m glad we could connect here... To put a close to your interview, I’d like for you to leave us with a thought or phrase, or quote that inspires you most and keeps you driving and striving when things seem too tough to handle:
I have a couple. The driving force is always our family motto of Live without regrets! When I use that as a basis for decision making or anything else, it helps everything else fall in line. “Will I regret not doing XYZ?” If the answer is yes, than I know I need to do it.
Otherwise, one of my favorite movie quotes from Auntie Mame is: “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” It works well alongside Robin Williams’ character in Dead Poets Society when he says carpe diem wasn’t good enough. They wanted to suck the marrow out of the bones of life. That’s how I want to live, and knowing how to truly live, and not just have a pulse, is one of the greatest legacies I can leave for my son.