Placencia, Belize

The view from the window of my home-made camper is almost like a postcard. Tawny sand stretches out to meet the glittering sea which reflects the fading light of day.

Inside my little house I'm listening to Jack Johnson and preparing dinner for my family on my little camp stove.

I'm feeling really good about life. My children are playing contentedly in the Caribbean sea and the trade winds are keeping my sworn enemies at bay.

My husband climbs into the camper and embraces me, and I can't help but smile and feel warm all over, and gratitude for having such an amazing life. Wow, I'm so blessed.

But then an image flashes into my head that makes me laugh. I realize that I've become one of 'those' people - a vagabond, that lives in her truck with her large, free-rein family, and listens to Bob Marley. If you describe me that way, basically, I'm a hippie.

I can just see my (wonderful) sister telling her friends, "Yeah, my older sister lives in her truck and is wandering through Central America with her five kids. They don't have a job, or a home." Yeah, that pretty much sounds like a hippie.

But the thing is, I don't feel like a hippie. I don't think I look like a hippie (maybe I'm wrong there. Though my kids do look like hippies sometimes.) Really, I feel pretty 'normal'.

I share my thoughts with Greg, and he laughs too. "We think that we have this awesome, enviable life," he says, "but a lot of people probably look at us and say, 'Those poor saps, living out of their truck. And their kids...they're growing up to be hippies. Poor things." Then we laugh at the irony.

I remember when a life like the one I'm currently living seemed so weird and just plain crazy. "Who lives out of their truck? And drives through foreign, 'dangerous' countries with their children? People just don't do that. That's not 'normal' (aka, socially acceptable)."

Back then, 'normal' to me was my husband's career; a house with a mortgage; a stack of bills to pay each month; two car payments plus insurance; shopping at Walmart; Hamburger Helper for dinner; a 401(k); looking forward to the weekends; and dreading Monday mornings when my husband went back to work.

I remember when I thought it was vitally important that each of my children have a room, or at least their own bed. I remember when the minimum size house I could consider was 3 bedrooms, with newer carpet, granite counter tops, and 4 inch base-board. What would people think if my house was run down, or not clean when they happened to stop by?

Now that life seems light years away. And 'weird' and 'crazy' has become my 'normal'.

'Normal' has now become camping on a beach in Belize, cooking on a camp stove in a home made camper, and sleeping in a roof top tent. My kids all share one, large bed that extends above the truck cab, and we haven't seen carpet for months.

We had arranged a meetup, but after receiving word that friends won't be coming to Placencia after all, we eagerly head toward the Cayo district of Belize - an area in the mountains that borders Guatemala.

Driving along the Hummingbird Highway, we see some of the most beautiful scenery since entering Belize. I'm reminded of our time living in the Dominican Republic, with the green, tree-covered hills and colorful wooden houses.

Cruising the Hummingbird Highway

For them, this is 'normal' transportation

The first stop is at the Blue Hole, an under ground river that is partially exposed, creating an incredible swimming hole. Kids are free, adults pay $8 Belize each (U.S. $4).

We stop to buy some bananas for our hungry munchkins at the 'grocery store'. This time it's a house/store/art studio ran by a man without a shirt. Eighteen bananas cost us $2 Belize, or $1 U.S. This is all perfectly 'normal'.

The sun is getting low and sending streams of light which seem to paint the already bewitching countryside with a magical, golden hue - almost like fairy dust has been sprinkled over the entire district. Deep green pastures dotted with grazing cattle; stately ceiba trees command the horizion; thick rivers carve through impenetrable jungle.

But as usual, what's most fascinating to me is the people. One woman from Mexico who had visited the United States, drove through a suburban neighborhood in Texas and asked her host, "Where's all the people?" It's common for us to be sequestered indoors, and 'keep to ourselves,' or our television.

That doesn't happen in Latin America. Being 'out', walking, riding, standing, hiking, working, playing, washing, talking. It's all part of 'normal' life. It would be 'weird' to stay inside your house all day and never talk to your neighbors. They would think you were very strange.

Now as dusk approaches, dozens of people are gathering for the evening at the river's edge to 'bathe', wash laundry, and just spend time together as family and friends, a daily event.

'Normal' for these people is something entirely different than what I grew up believing 'normal' was. It's wooden houses, dirt floors, walking and riding bicycles, and washing laundry in a river.

'Normal' is sharing the same room, or even the same bed, your entire life; never shopping at a Walmart; buying groceries from your neighbor who has a store in their house; and never having a mortgage or a car payment.

The day is waning. We stop in the city of Santa Elena, Belize for dinner. Odd to me, it's BBQ chicken, baked beans (like they came from a can) and coleslaw. Seems like such an 'American' meal.

Conventional wisdom would tell us to call it a day. Instead, we decide we'll cross the border into Guatemala. Why not? It's only 9 miles away.

**Besides, we have some projects we want to work on once we get settled in Guatemala, so we're anxious to get there.

So despite common 'travel advice' about crossing borders early in the morning, we reach the border as the sun starts to set. We go through customs and immigration like we're waiting in line at Walmart - just another day.

We're not surprised when the system is slow and archaic, and it takes much longer than we would like. The kids are barely aware of what's going on. They're entertaining themselves and having a good time as usual.

We're mildly amused, but not astounded, when part of the process includes a jaunt into Guatemala to a local copy shop, to make copies of our paperwork. Just a 'normal' day at the office for these guys.

It's dark by the time we're through. Hungry, we stop at the first roadside stand we find for our first Guatemalan meal. It's an incredible chicken taco on Guatemaltecan corn tortillas with mandarina-limon juice squeezed on top. (It's amazing how many versions of a 'taco' you can find south of the U.S. border).

Then we drove. And drove. And drove. We drove into the night, despite the well known 'travel advice' about not driving at night in Central America, because it's dark, and windy, and people are walking and dogs are wandering, and at any moment the pavement could stop and turn to dirt (which it did several times). Though I would have to say, that's counsel I would prefer to stick by - driving at night is 'crazy' (but 'normal' for all the truckers we saw cruising the highway.)

The kids climb up into their bed to sleep, and we keep driving and driving. I doze off before we stop, and when we do we're in the parking lot of Tikal.

I get out of the truck and can't help but gawk up at the stars which seem to be bursting out of a blanket of darkness from their bed in the sky, reminding me again of why I love Mother Nature.

This 'average' day of my life might seem very strange, crazy or exotic to you. Maybe it seems like complete mayhem. Perhaps it's difficult for you to imagine living the way we do (and we don't ask you to).

However, we think our life is pretty great. We have each other; love; freedom; travel. We get to explore amazing countries, eat great food, and go new places all the time - something we LOVE to do.

More interestingly is that our life seems...'normal'. We still get up and make breakfast and clean up and brush our teeth and work and study and play and do all the normal things that everyone around the world does everyday.

But our life isn't 'normal' in a boring, hum-drum sort of way - it's normal in a what-I-once-thought-was-strange-weird-impossible-is-now-reality- sort of way. Does that make sense?

The appalling, frightening idea of being a homeless, nomadic 'social outcast' is now my life - and it's not that bad. πŸ˜‰

What is 'normal' anyway? Who defines it?

If there's one thing I've learned through our travels, it's that people live in all sorts of conditions, and are accustomed to all sorts of circumstances and situations that to others might appear absurd, unacceptable, weird or crazy.

The funniest part is, if you open yourself up to it, you too can learn to live the way they do - and then it no longer seems strange, but 'normal' (and sometimes even better than way you used to live.)

Β 'Normal' can be whatever you define it to be. You decide what you want as 'normal' for your life, and it can be completely different from what you know now, what others expect of you, or what society has prescribed as the formula you should follow. That's what it means to live deliberately.

It means that your life is lived consciously, intentionally, and with full consideration of all the options - even ones you're not currently aware of.

**Note: I don't think we make this clear often enough on our site. This website IS NOT about convincing you to live like we do - nomadic vagabonding. That is our dream. Please don't try to make it yours unless you really, really, really want it.

This site IS about convincing you to live your dream. We all have a unique gift, talent and contribution to make to this world. What is yours? By sharing our story, we hope to inspire you to discover and pursue your dream, and live deliberately.

What do you want your 'normal' to look like?



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19 Responses

  1. Kerri

    Thank you, Rachel and Greg- for taking the time to share your vital experience with the world.

  2. Lisa

    It’s so true, how our perceptions of normal change depending on our surroundings. I am a sucker for a hot shower. But after having lived in India for a few months, I remember vividly arriving at the airport a few hours before my international flight home. It had been an overnight hot, filthy journey by bus and train to get there. I went to use the restroom and found there was a familiar 5 gallon bucket and a spigot in the stall. “YES! I get a shower!!” was my immediate thought. Bathing with a bucket of cold water was absolutely my norm, as was using squat toilets sans toilet paper. It felt completely normal and even luxurious to bathe there in the airport bathroom. πŸ™‚

  3. Susan

    Hi there,

    First of all, I absolutely love your blog. Have been reading it for a while (though have not commented as I usually read it on my phone!) and enjoy your perspective, your writing style, and your wonderful “take” on things. I love the way you assess and analyze situations (esp loved the one about your kids being “naughty” poolside) and how you process and react to things … thoughtfully, deliberately, and with incredible insight. I do hope you are planning to write a book (or something beyond your blog) … you are very talented.

    As for this post … it struck me while reading it (and I am a Christian with a very “Buddhist” perspective on life πŸ™‚ that part of what makes your life so engaging and alluring is not necessarily the specifics on what you are doing (travel, camper life, etc.) but that because you are often in “new” situations, you live more consciously … more “in the moment” and thus you are able to appreciate it. Buddhist philosophy will often talk about every moment as being “fresh” and I think your lifestyle right now lends itself beautifully to that. So you notice more than most of us do, and because you are so positive and well-grounded in your outlooks, you appreciate all of it, too … the good moments as well as the challenging one (I share your distaste for insects, btw!)

    In any case, thanks for yet another provocative post! Please keep them coming (and your photos are wonderful too πŸ™‚

    • Rachel


      Thank you very much for your very thoughtful comment. I am planning on writing a book one day, when we near the end of this journey. πŸ™‚

      I think I also have that ‘Buddhist’ perspective, and I try to capture the ‘intrapersonal journey’ that travel brings out of the traveler.

      Thanks for reading my blog!

  4. Jen

    You are doing a great job of convincing me that we can and should drive to Costa Ricainstead of fly. All the books talk about how horrible the guatemala border is and you barely mention it, just a blip in your awesome day!

    • Rachel

      Do it. As my husband says, when you fly, you fly over all those countries, and countless great experiences. When you drive, you get to go right through them.

  5. tereza crump aka MyTreasuredCreations

    When I first came to the USA to marry my DH and settle here, I walked everywhere. It was so funny! Everybody thought I was weird. Living in a small southern town without public transportation, everyone has a car. I was used to living outdoors being from Brazil, and walking everywhere was just “normal” for me. It was funny to see my husband pained. I couldn’t understand since he had been to Brazil and know our ways. Anyway, he bought me a car which a totaled within a week. So back to walking I went. πŸ˜€
    I have finally settled into my new “normal”. I got a van that I drive everywhere and toll my children around. πŸ™‚ life is funny. πŸ™‚

  6. Christina @Interest-Led Learning

    Even though we live in a 725 square foot home (which seems tiny compared to everyone around us, but I’m sure to those in Belize would seem like a castle!)and are a unschooling family, it still seems to me we often live in excess and could be following our dream even more. I’m always so inspired and uplifted after reading your blog posts. Thank you so much for blessing us with your wonderful words and story.

    • Rachel

      I applaud you for living simply in a country that praises extravagance. Way to go. Thanks for reading!!

  7. sabrina

    Hi dear Rachel and Greg,
    thanks for your wonderful stories and I love your pictures. Following you in your trip is really exciting.Hope to meet you again. Ciao Sabrina.Hi from Dario.

  8. Shawn Walker

    Reading about your experiences is very inspiring.

    I was a student of Greg’s in Morgan, Utah. He truly has made a big impact on my life. I always found a way to get into his class and looked forward to the class every single day. We even spent a few Saturdays together snowboarding in the mountains.

    What you guys are doing is crazy. I know you hear that a lot, but I mean it a pure compliment. Your stories and experiences inspire me to live life to the fullest.

    Thanks for sharing and continue to be safe!

    P.S. I had the blessing to help out with the funeral of Greg’s brother-in-law. What an awesome guy and an awesome family. It was an honor to serve that family. I was able to interact with many of the Dennings, what great people they are.

    • Rachel

      Thanks Shawn!

      Greg says that he remembers you. I’m glad you had the chance to help at John’s funeral. We would have liked to have been there.

      Thanks for leaving a comment. Take care and keep in touch.

  9. Wynona

    The way of living in Guatemala is very natural. Even their houses are what you can only see in provinces. I love to live on places like this.. Pollution-free air. πŸ™‚

  10. Lee

    I totally get what you are saying about strange becoming normal. When we turned to homeschooling it seemed like such a big, nervous decision to pull our child out of school. We were leaving the system and status quo behind. After barely a month it felt so right. A whole other world of people and perspectives opened up. It was like passing through a secret door into an alternate, parallel, better, more enriching world but still being able to see those on the other side. And I just couldn’t help but want to knock on the glass door and tell them to come on over so they could see and experience for themselves all the wonderfullness of doing things this way.


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