Coming Full Circle in Belize

Back in 2008, Paul and I went on a month-long backpacking trip in the Caribbean. Fresh out of university, this trip was all about freedom, exploration, soul-searching, and adventure. We were not yet married, but both now being free from any school obligations, we were turning over a fresh page in life. Paul had already decided to move back to the mountains. And it was on that trip that I decided, “heck, why not go back to Banff for a year and see where that takes me?” I have my answer now.

Paul and me sitting at our campsite at Brewer’s Bay, Tortola, BVI, back in 2008. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
Paul and me sitting at our campsite at Brewer’s Bay, Tortola, BVI, back in 2008. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

Considering this newfound freedom, my thoughts on that trip were far from any notions of motherhood or having a family. But on the island of Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, there was a couple and their three-year-old daughter staying in the same campground as us. One afternoon we sat with them and talked while the little one ran bare-bummed into the ocean and climbed a few feet up a tree that bent over the water. I have always been so grateful to my parents for instilling in me a love for travel through our family trips to places like Florida, Hilton Head Island, the Bay of Fundy and Banff National Park. But these hippy parents, far from their home on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, gave me my first personal encounter with a young family travelling well off the beaten track.

As we talked, they offered their perspectives on alternative parenting practices. Their philosophies and opinions were more extreme than mine are as a parent now, but I appreciated the exposure it gave me to a different way of raising children. It seeded the idea that it was possible to continue pursuing travels and adventures as parents. Meeting that family will always stand as a milestone and pivotal moment in my personal life.

Biking along the ocean in Belize. Photo Meghan J. Ward collection.
Biking along the ocean in Belize. Photo Meghan J. Ward collection.

Seven years later, here we are, husband-and-wife in Belize with our almost two-year-old. The other morning, Maya and I went to the beach to play. We cycled by the ocean, dodging palm branches and skidding through piles of sand on the path. She told me all about “Monsieur Crab” as I relished in the care-free feeling of rolling along on two wheels, sun rising out of the ocean, the wind in our hair. We turned onto Avenida Hicaco and began the dance of weaving cautiously through tourists, golf carts and men on bikes selling coconut bread. Our path took us past the local football field, around the corner next to abandoned bikes and boats, and finally to the beach outside the Iguana Reef Hotel.

Wet, dirty, happy. Photo Meghan J. Ward.
Wet, dirty, happy. Photo Meghan J. Ward.

There we got out the shovel, cups and rubber ducky. Playtime on dry land lasted only a minute or two. Soon, we were in the ocean, Maya squatting so low that her shorts and diaper were completely submerged. Returning to the beach, she sat down in the sand with a piece of coral in each hand. Wet, dirty, happy.

As I looked up from my perch next to her, I glanced across the water between this West coast of Caye Caulker and mainland Belize. The scene was rather cliche: a few sailboats bobbing in the distance and pelicans perched on wooden posts jutting out the sea. But the scene right in front of me was far from ordinary. It mimicked exactly the scene of that family on Tortola: a young girl playing happily in the sand on a beach far from home.

Seeking adventure as a wee family of three. Photo Meghan J. Ward.
Seeking adventure as a wee family of three. Photo Meghan J. Ward.

In that moment, I realized we had come full circle. That seed of an idea – of venturing off the beaten track with a family – is no longer just our inspiration as parents. It is now life as we know it. It is kayaking in Maupiti and trekking to freshwater pools on Niue, driving New Zealand’s Forgotten World Highway and biking the sandy beaches of Belize. As parents, it requires an investment – emotionally, financially, even physically. We have endured many discomforts for the gains of adventuring as a family.

Time will tell how that influences Maya as she grows up, or whether it does at all. But, I like to think that the immersion in other cultures, the discomforts of long-distance travel, and the unknowns of new places will teach her some valuable life lessons, and ones that aren’t easily taught in a classroom.

The world can be her education – and ours.

Author: Meghan J. Ward

Meghan J. Ward is an outdoor, travel and adventure writer based in Banff, Canada, and a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Meghan has written several books, as well as produced content for films, anthologies, blogs and some of North America’s top outdoor, fitness and adventure publications. She has a forthcoming travel memoir (Fall 2022), to published by Rocky Mountain Books.

13 thoughts

  1. I admire you travelling with a young one. It is something I wish I had done more of with both of my children. It really is the best education! See you home soon!

    1. Today I realized how glad I am that we’ve done it because Maya will never be that young (and inexpensive!) again. We look forward to many more travels to come! See you soon!

  2. This is really beautiful. I love how people can expose us to different lifestyles and inspire us to find our own path to happiness. It must have been pretty powerful to come full circle int this way.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Sabrina. Despite its simplicity on the surface, it was a powerful moment to realize we had come full circle from our first encounter with that other little family. Just yesterday we were in the pool here at our place in Belize and another young couple was asking us about travel with a child. They are thinking about parenthood, but wondered how that worked and we chatted about it. Maybe we’ll start the circle for someone else. 🙂

  3. That is a wonderful insight Meg… It fills my heart to hear your story. Though mine is evolving with different adventures, they are our amazing adventures nonetheless and I wonder what Iyla will know, grow, and be influenced by. Hehe… Let’s see where our girls are at in 7 years!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Jolene! That’s just it – we each have our own adventure, our own story and sometimes they weave with others. Looking forward to catching up when we’re back!

  4. Meghan, you write so beautifully and paint an amazing picture. I love travel and all you learn while on the road, the connections you make and the people who cross your path certainly do shape your perspective of the world. It must feel wonderful to be passing that inspiration onto others. Our son is 2.5, our adventures have been close to home so far but we have dreams of packing up in a few years and hitting the road. We are already exploring homeschooling options and trying to adapt our lifestyle to suit travel. Thank you for sharing more inspiration 🙂

    1. Thanks so much for your comment! We’re all on different paths, and adventure strikes at just the right times! All the best as you plan and dream up your next trip.

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