It might sound like a strange thing to say, but a small remote island in the Pacific Ocean nestled between Fiji and Australia feels like home to me.
Most people don’t know this, but as a young girl, my father took a posting in a bank on a remote island in Vanuatu and subsequently moved our family from Amsterdam to the small island’s capital, Port Vila. To say it was quite a change is an understatement. We literally went overnight from a white Christmas to white sandy beaches, and it was an experience that changed me forever. 35 years later, I’m back here with my own family, and what I’m learning now about this nation, the people, and the lessons they have for us in the modern world is truly life-changing.
Why a return to my roots?
In 2017, my father passed away. He suffered a long battle with dementia and in his final years, we visited him often and reminisced about our life growing up in the Pacific. We would pour over photos, artifacts, carvings, and paintings, and tell stories of times gone by. At the same time, I had two young boys, was running Food Matters with James and felt like I had less and less time to spend in nature, connect with my family, and truly approach my mission with peace and a level head.
In a world that was so connected, I was beginning to feel more disconnected than ever. I felt like I was not connecting enough with the people I loved most. I felt like I was running on a treadmill with no off button. Our days consisted of preparing lunches, getting the kids ready for school while trying to get ourselves ready, then into the office for the day, home to scramble a some-what healthy dinner together, getting the kids to bed, cleaning up, then into work mode with James for the night, and off to bed, completely exhausted.
Running a business with your husband is amazing, but James and I felt like we could never switch off. A blessing, as some of our best ideas come to us late at night, but it felt like we were always working. Even our international holidays felt like work because we would time them with interviews for the film and then James would mostly be on his phone organizing the next leg of his trip.
I wanted my husband back. I wanted to experience “living in the moment” more, I wanted to see our kids grow up, I wanted us all to spend more time together as a family.
It was a continuous cycle, where sleepless nights started to become the norm, and stress and anxiety were more present in my life than ever before. Something had to give...
One day while rummaging through family videos in one of the boxes my father had left behind, I came across old videos of us as kids living in VANUATU...the good old days!
Watching my childhood in those videos ignited something inside, a craving to go back to my roots. I was drawn to reconnecting with my inner child, to feel young and free again. Away from our computers, iPhones, and endless to-do lists. I wanted this for myself, but more so, I wanted this for my children and family.
As a family, we decided to get real and reassess our goals. What beliefs and values do we want? We were ready to evolve as a family. We put our house in Australia on Airbnb, decluttered our entire life’s possessions and realized we didn’t actually need most of it. We moved over to Vanuatu with only four suitcases and three surfboards! We enrolled Rangi in Vanuatu’s International school, which has blown us away with its standards! And we decided to homeschool Hugo because he was only five at the time and we loved the space and the freedom it afforded him.
What do you think of living in Vanuatu?
I can tell you, hand on my heart, that there hasn’t been a nano-second of regret. Hugo is learning how to open coconuts with a bush knife. James is seeing the old me that he first fell in love with. We’ve got a veggie garden, we swim in the ocean and meditate each morning, and we feel at peace here. Hugo and Rangi have made the most beautiful friendships here and there truly is a great sense of community. For Hugo’s birthday party, we had 20 friends of all ages come over to our house to play old fashioned birthday games like an egg on a spoon race and pin the tail on the donkey. I drive at a much slower pace, which you kind of have to since there are no road rules and you are constantly dodging potholes! Rangi has fallen in love with horse riding in the local riders club in Bellevue. Hugo has learned how to snorkel and go searching for Nemo fish and colorful sea stars on the reef whenever we take him to the beach.
I have a fresh coconut for breakfast each morning, and papaya, limes, avocados, and local sweet potato are high on the list for every market trip. James gets to end the day paddling out at his local surf spot before enjoying a shell of kava in the local “pub”/ kava bar on the beach.
The challenges will no doubt continue to arise – like yesterday I had to take a cold shower because we ran out of gas and the only way to replace it is to physically drive to the petrol station and replace the gas bottle – but I now enjoy the zen of a cold shower. And James is often heard cursing the local internet provider as just when we have an important live call, it seems to drop out! And, of course, not being close to our family back in Australia, who we miss dearly. But, for the most part, I do feel like I have family here in Vanuatu. Every person we pass on our road greets me, and neighbors come and drop off excess vegetables and bananas from their forest garden. I’ve never felt more of a sense of community!
Plus, our House Lady Ruth, who helps out with the cleaning and house duties, has been a Godsend. Her family has now become our family, they have helped us and we have helped them. We are so grateful to have them in our lives and for the relationships we have developed with the local people.
Why did you choose to homeschool?
Homeschooling is like a classroom without walls. Kids under 7 are like sponges; they take in everything around them. So we decided to enroll Hugo in the school of life. He gets to travel with us, see how we run our business, meet with other homeschool children, and be out in nature every day!
We get to plant and grow our own food and learn how to prepare and eat it! We adventure to interesting places learning something new through the abundant sea life, waterfalls, hiking, and more! Then we get together with other homeschool kids to have classes at our house two times a week.
Can you be an expat here?
Many people assume that Vanuatu is just a holiday destination, and that’s true, but you can actually live here too. We are always amazed at the interesting people that decide to move here that are having a positive impact on the island.
Each day we’re meeting aid workers and volunteers from international organizations like the Red Cross, World Vision, Save the Children, The Australia Department of Foreign Affairs, and International Volunteer HQ. These organizations allow you to travel abroad with or without family to use your skills and offer your services for a salary or board. All to partake in a truly life-changing experience.
Vanuatu ranks high in the happiest places on earth, and when you live here, do you also become a happier person?
Deciding to live amongst the people here has helped us to also embrace some of their happiness! It’s not just the “chill vibe” you pick up on that has an effect on you, sure that helps, but you can’t help but feel the love and passion from the local island people!! You get to be more present in “being” rather than “doing.” Vanuatu has been quite healing for me, walking barefoot on the earth, eating the local food and bush medicine, reconnecting with my beautiful family, and becoming a much more grounded version of myself.
We’ve also been filming a travel vlog series WILD & FREE - A YEAR ON A TROPICAL ISLAND where you can come and join us on our adventure. Episode 1 is launching Wednesday, January 29 and you can watch the series on Youtube, Facebook, and IGTV.