Talon Windwalker is a single parent of an adopted son whom everyone calls Tigger, former hospice chaplain, Zen monk, ultra runner (this after a wake-up call when he found himself unhealthy and pushing 300 pounds), snowshoer, endurance cyclist, certified endurance running coach, scuba instructor, photographer, and lover of travelling, languages, and cultures. Not bad for a one-sentence resume, huh?
Years ago, he had a dream of raising children in foreign countries and having them experience this amazing, large world. After years of working in intensive care, trauma, and with the dying, his family and life motto became Vivez sans regrets! (Live without regrets!) In that tradition, he decided now was the time to take his dream and make it a reality. May of 2011 he left his traditional work life and embarked on life as a full-time nomad, traveling around the world slowly with his young son, who was 9 years old at the time.
Tell us a little of what your life was like in the US…
Our life was pretty comfortable. I worked full time as a hospice chaplain, so I usually tried to get home a little early to have some downtime, go exercise, etc., before I picked Tigger up from daycare. We ate out fairly often, but I also enjoy cooking so we had a lot of homemade meals as well. When I cooked, I went all out usually, making everything from scratch. I also made all of our bread and most of our pasta. On weekends we had a blend of home time and doing activities, often joining friends. We also enjoyed doing day or weekend trips into the nearby mountain towns. Spring break was usually spent traveling within the United States.
How long did you take to plan your departure? What did you actually do to prepare that was helpful, and what did you learn that could make the transition easier for the next person?
When I first began planning our trip, it was going to be over a year away. However, within a few months that changed to only be 5 months in the future. First I researched visa requirements for some of the countries we wanted to visit, especially our first stop, to see what documents I might need to have available with me. I also researched required vaccinations to make sure we were all set with those. After that it was mostly looking at airfares to help us select our first stop, and a lot of our time was spent getting rid of most of our possessions. We weren’t planning on storing much and got rid of all but 2 small boxes of sentimental items and important original documents that a friend put in her basement for us.
When you’re planning on getting rid of things, it’s important to not be too attached to stuff. Sometimes we place sentimental value on something just because we’ve had it for a while rather than because it actually holds special memories and so on. One of the items we kept was a plaster paw print from our dog who had died earlier in the year. That was all we had left of him other than pictures. You could see his little claw marks and the pattern of the pads. We couldn’t get rid of something that special.
For special drawings and things that Tigger had done, I scanned them using my smart phone and store the images online. That way I have them to look at, and he can enjoy them when he’s older.
I’m sure you had plenty of people lined up telling you that you were crazy. How did you deal with the naysayers?
Amazingly, I never had anyone who was a naysayer. At least not directly to me. Sure, some people thought I was crazy, but they were also envious. It was so incredible getting that much support. More of the challenge came from me internally than anyone else.
Three words to describe your personality:
Adventurous, stubborn, compassionate
How do you earn income while on the road as a single dad?
I picked up a paid writing & photography gig before we left which helps a lot. Initially I was also doing medical transcription. During our journey I became a divemaster and then scuba instructor, and I worked at that for a while as well. Right now our predominant income comes from my writing, and our blog has started to earn a little as well.
What change has been the most notable in yourself since you left the US? In Tigger?
For me it’s been my level of happiness. I’ve had a very rough life and have had challenges with clinical depression. This has been the longest stretch ever of where I have felt incredibly happy. I’m a lot calmer and am much more flexible with dealing with bumps in the road.
Tigger had such severe anxiety in school, related to his pre-adoption life, that he needed to be on two different medicines to help him cope. He’s now off all medications. He has become a confident, adventurous, and independent person. It’s been amazing to watch his transformation.
Share one of your favorite moments since leaving the US…
Tigger became an open water diver (scuba) after his 10th birthday. It’s been so much fun to get to scuba dive with him. We celebrate the anniversary of his adoption every year, and in 2011 we did that by doing a shark dive together.
Name 10 things still on your bucket list:
I don’t have a bucket list, and we do minimal-to-no planning. I prefer to focus on where we are at the moment and the adventures we’re having currently. However, I still want to celebrate my birthday in Paris. My birthday is the same day as Bastille Day in France, and ever since I found this out as a small child I’ve wanted to be in Paris on my birthday because the whole country will be celebrating. I still want to see hammerhead sharks and giant manta rays in the wild. And if I had a bucket list, going to Antarctica would be very high up in the list, as well as getting my pilot’s license.
What would you have done differently had you known a year ago what you know now?
I would’ve made the decision to live this lifestyle a LONG time ago!
What’s next for you guys? Do you ever see yourself returning to the states to live?
We’re in Cuenca, Ecuador, until June 10th (because we’re renting a place and are paid up through then), and then we head to the coast where we’ll hopefully get to see the humpback whales migrate. After that we head to Peru so Tigger can visit Machu Picchu (I went 2 years ago). Our current thought process is that at the end of June or the beginning of July we’ll head to Europe so I can be in Paris for my birthday, and Tigger would like to go diving in Turkey for his birthday the following month. We’re still working that all out, though.
Any favorite quotes or books that keep you inspired?
My personal and family motto has become to “Live without regret!” That has become the guide for everything we do. When we’re in a travel conundrum or something like that, I ask myself “Will I regret . . .” The answer is usually pretty clear then.
Other than that I remember part of the movie Dead Poet’s Society where Robin Williams’s character, an English professor at an exclusive preparatory school for boys, talks to his students about carpe diem but instead of just “seizing the day” he talks about “sucking the marrow” out of the bones of life. That really spoke to me about truly living rather than just sitting back and letting life slide by.
I’m sure people are wondering how you are handling Tigger’s education…
We follow an unschooling approach which is child-directed education. Mostly I give him the space to pursue topics that interest him. Naturally, he isn’t so interested in writing and math, and those are important so we work on that together, a lot of which is done through games. For writing he is going to be doing a monthly written post on our blog. We also do a lot of informal teaching moments throughout the day. Travel really helps with this. For instance when we were planning on going to Cuba we had to discuss a lot: US and world history, political science, social studies, and so on. He retains better when he’s active, and comprehends better, too, so we do informal lessons while being active as well.
In one sentence, what advice would you give to someone still thinking about whether moving abroad is the right choice for them?
You’ll only really know by doing it, so get out there and give it a shot.
You can read more about Talon’s personal story at: http://1dad1kid.com/2011/01/02/getting-personal/.