An interview with The Family Without Borders: Anna and Thomas Alboth, parents, travellers and bloggers who've been around the Black Sea and around Central America with their two small daughters.
In 2010, a young couple from Berlin – Anna, a Polish journalist, and Thomas, a German photographer – decided to live on their globetrotting dream – and they decided to do it with their 6-month-old daugther Hanna on board. With a fully-packed Renault Espace they made a half-a-year-long road trip around the Black Sea, through the Caucasus to the Caspian Sea. The idea worked out so well that in 2012, already with their second daughter Mila, they travelled in Central America from Mexico down to Guatemala, Belize and Honduras.
From their first trip on they decided to share their unusual experiences through their blog, The Family Without Borders [en; Facebook]. The interest turned out to be so significant that in 2011 the blog was named the Best Travel Blog by the Polish edition of the National Geographic.
Global Voices (GV): Let’s imagine 25 years forward. Your daughters have their own children and want to go travelling with their babies. What is your reaction?
Anna (A): I hope it will be this way. Recently, we've had some discussions about parents, kids and grandkids and how it all can change. We were a bit afraid that maybe they will choose a totally other way of life than we did and that it would be hard to accept it if they would start saying things like, “I want to go to a hotel.” But on the other hand, the more they grow up the more I feel that I’m scared that something can happen to them, all these mother-ish things.
Thomas (T): I would have wanted it. But I’m also not so sure if they will like this lifestyle, I have friends who grew up in a community flat and then they turned into the opposite. I’m also pretty happy to be completely different from my parents. So maybe one day they will stay in a hotel, will have nice rolling suitcases and that’s ok.
GV: You received the National Geographic title for the Best Travel Blog in 2011. Why do you think your blog became so successful?
A: I think it was two things. First, we didn’t plan for it to be big, so we were just doing what we liked, and I think these things are always going bigger when you just do what you love. We have known all these travel bloggers who had business plans, but for us it was basically writing for the grandparents, so that they could see Hanna safe and smiling. That was the beginning. After a while we started to check the statistics and we saw that people from 20, 40, 50 countries were visiting the blog, and we were like, “wow”. There is this generation of young Europeans who are studying abroad, travelling, making international couples and they think that if they have kids it will be all over. I think when they see what we did, they see hope that it all really doesn’t have to be over.
GV: Did you have a clear work division: who is writing, who takes pictures and so on?
A: Yes, we had clear divided tasks. It happened that I made some pictures but not often, normally the camera was in his hands all the time. I was writing the posts, Thomas wrote maybe two posts in these three years. For the blog he does all the technical things and I do all the human communication work. And on the road Thomas usually drives and I usually tell him where we are going [laughing]. The whole thing works when we are doing it together. A couple of weeks ago, he was in Burma and I was in Palestine and we didn’t post anything on the blog, and it felt strange.
GV: Would your experience be different without the blog?
A: For me having the blog was very motivating to get more knowledge about everything. On the second trip, I was writing in a much more journalistic way, so I was noting many more things, asking for more context while talking to people, taking leaflets in museums and so on. I don’t know if I would do all of this without knowing that I will publish it.
T: I was a bit jealous, because writing means reprocessing, while editing pictures is not the same experience, you don’t need more knowledge, you don’t have to understand the situation to make a picture.
GV: What is your favorite memory when you look back at your travels?
T: More than a memory it is a feeling of being self-paced, that you decide about your own life. When you stay in one place you get into this daily rhythm, you get up, grab a coffee in the morning, you take a tram or metro and you go to your office, and 80 percent of your day is predictable. That’s what I liked about the trip, for a half of the year you decide what you want to do.
GV: Was there a moment when you thought, “This was a mistake”?
A: There was one such moment when I was scared and I thought that all these people saying that we were irresponsible parents were right. It was the night at a hotel in Guatemala where we saw three big men with guns passing by the corridor, talking angrily on the phone. We had to do something to feel better, so we asked them if they were dangerous. We didn’t speak too much Spanish but, luckily, we knew the word peligroso, dangerous. They answered “yes, but not for you and not here.” Then we learned that in Guatemala everybody has guns because they hadn’t been disarmed after the civil war.
GV: You say that your travels were about people and their stories. What was the craziest thing you heard or experienced?
T: If you come from a different world, even just the way people live their everyday lives seems interesting and sometimes strange.
A: During the second trip, in Guatemala, we were hosted by a Mayan family in their small house with plastic chairs and a TV. After we talked to them, they were surprised, but not by the fact that we were travelling for so long – but that we could live without a TV for so long. Then in the evening, when I started to cut potatoes for a soup, all these small girls immediately started to help me because that’s what they do, they do everything together. When we were leaving, they were asking when we would come back and it was heartbreaking, we wanted to say that we would call but they didn’t have a phone, they wanted to write a letter but they didn’t know how to write.
GV: Any plans for the future?
A:We have to go on a trip again, of course. But before we do it, I need to finish my book on Central America, then we will go travelling again.
On March 26, 2013, The Family Without Borders will share their pictures and stories at a slideshow presentation at the Globetrotter shop in Berlin. For more details, please visit their blog or Facebook.