I recently finished the delightful book, “We Came, We Saw, We Left: A Family Gap Year” by Charles Wheelan. With travel curtailed for many of us during the last year, this book is a wonderful story about a two parents and three teenagers who decided to take a year away from home and work responsibilities to travel around the world.
I loved “We Came, We Saw, We Left” from the minute I started reading it. Charles Wheelan has a light-hearted but organized way of telling his family’s story. He focuses more on the people than the places, although the experiences together are the reason they undertake the journey. He begins with a chapter on why they decided to take a year to travel and then details how they did it.
The Wheelan family is middle class and they needed to stay on a tight budget to get in nine months of travel. This means they rode local buses and stayed at Airbnbs that weren’t top of the line or luxurious. Their family of five often shared bunk rooms with young 20-somethings or crammed into one or two bedroom apartments. They ate local and only took the luggage that each one could carry.
That being said, this family of five had some wonderful adventures and deep family time together. The trip was taken when just after their oldest graduated from high school and before the youngest started high school. Just the logistics of taking three children out of their busy lives and heading off together are daunting. The middle daughter delayed starting her trip until the high school volleyball season was over. The oldest daughter delayed starting college for a year and ventured away from the family for some trips with friends.
I am a person who prefers to visit developed countries, but the Wheelan family visited many third-world countries, spending most of their time in South America, Asia, and Africa. I was impressed by how independent and resilient the teenagers were. Charles and Leah Wheelan believe their children can handle diverse and challenging environments and they do. For instance, when the oldest daughter had to go to Germany for treatment for a flesh-eating parasite, the Wheelans sent her off by herself. I probably would have packed up the whole family so she wouldn’t be on her own.
The book details the adventures of the Wheelans as they visit six continents and live like locals. But, as I mentioned before, it focuses more on the relationships in the family than on the places they visited. There is plenty of local flavor but the book isn’t a travelogue as much as a dialogue about building family. The final chapter of the book talks about what they learned and where they are now.
At a time when many of us are evaluating what is most important in our lives and considering changes, “We Came, We Saw, We Left” gives a wonderful insight into one family’s decision to spend time with one another. If you need a chance to escape from your family for a while, I suggest you spend some time traveling with the Wheelans.