Anne has created a list on the Quick Facts page detailing how we’ve spent our different nights on the road. I got a kick out of reviewing the many different ways we’ve found rest throughout the trip and realized we’ve become flexible enough to handle almost any situation. Upon our departure last August, we were a normal, spoiled American family. Each kid was accustomed to his/her own bed and in the case of the big boys their own room. During our first two weeks I had an enlightening and humbling conversation with a man I met in church in New Zealand. He was thrilled by what we were doing and explained that he had tried to give his kids as much travel experience as possible on a limited budget. “We would pile all the kids (somewhere between four and six) into a van and drive somewhere in New Zealand for a week or two.” On these trips they couldn’t afford hotels but were all “happy to sleep in the van.” For the Andrus family that was unimaginable. At that time if you put us in a van, you would need to replace “happy” with “infuriated” and “sleep” with “all night leg wrestle.” However it was only a month later that we would be sleeping in a minivan outside the Australia Zoo.
We’re still not what I would call roughing it, but we’ve gotten much better at settling down and sharing a bed, a train, or an inflatable mattress. When our travel agent in India “forgot” to get us a hotel in Mumbai, our only option was to put the whole family in one double bed in a $130 hotel room. So we did. On the days when we were moving quickly through South Africa and striking camp early in the morning, all six of us slept in a 4-person tent. Many places we stay there are only three single beds or one double and one single bed. No problem. In no time three of us will be snoring and the other three will be enjoying their comparatively silent sleep. Of course this often means an extended check-in process at hotels or pensions as we try to convince them we can fit in one room (often a budgetary necessity). “It really isn’t that bad,” we explain. Most of the time we get our way, but as we’ve inched towards western countries, they sometimes get us with things like “fire-codes” and “hotel rules.”
Regardless of how small our rooms or tents have been we try to keep things in perspective. There are plenty of people around the world who sleep in far smaller spaces in far less comfort. When we arrived in India, we were shocked by how the children slept. Together 35 kids and four teachers shared six to eight woven plastic mats on a tile floor. They happily slept on the first floor while the six of us shared four single beds upstairs…at least during our first few nights we shared the four beds. Though it was winter, the temperature was still in the 90’s during the day and still stifling at night. The first night we had air conditioning, but the water running down the wall from the aircon unit didn’t bode well. By the second afternoon, it had given up the ghost and we were left to endure the night time heat the Indian way, with a ceiling fan. The kids and teachers on the first floor had a functional air conditioner, but they chose not to use it, claiming it gave the children breathing problems and really wasn’t necessary. Sticky, sweaty heat and tile floors are not the the ingredients for a good night’s sleep, but the kids and teachers had no complaints. After our third night of sleeping in pools of sweat, limbs sprawled and tongues extended as if we were dogs in a sauna, the kids moved to a thin blanket on the hard tile floor in order to be directly under the fan. If our kids are good judges, then beds and sheets don’t enhance one’s sleep as much as circulating air does.
When talking about our sleep, my size leads me to ramble about space. Anne would argue that space is not the big determining factor for how well we sleep at night. For her cleanliness, or at least a semblance of cleanliness, is paramount. She loved camping for this reason. She always knew our stuff–tent, mattress, sleeping bag–was clean. For nights of questionable hygiene, we have sleep sacks. These little silk or polyester sleeping bag liners have been lifesavers for us. Anne is small enough she turns hers into a chrysalis and emerges each morning unblemished by dodgy sheets and pillows. The kids have also been known to take their sacks out in situations where they would like to hide. They crawl inside and before you know it they are in a state of bliss. These sacks are what get us through situations like “the diarrhea motel” in Thailand, the “roach train” in Vietnam, and the many nights we slept with the lights on in an attempt to keep the bugs that come out in the dark from crawling into Anne’s mouth.
Whether it is a lack of space, bugs, or putrid smells, our family’s ability to sleep in diverse locations has changed radically on this trip. This was never an intention of ours, but it is an interesting and useful life skill that should serve us well and prepare us for many future adventures. I think I hear Antarctica calling.