With my baby strapped to my back, I lugged a pair of oversize travel bags up to the Eva Air check-in counter. They contained all the belongings I deemed important enough to make the trip to Thailand, and we wouldn’t be coming back. Both overshot the weight limit by a mile, so with my husband’s help I steered the bags off to the side and started to unload, shaving down the “absolutely necessary” list a little bit more. We were keeping costs down by traveling light—relatively speaking. There would be no moving vans here, and I was avoiding exorbitant shipping fees by stuffing everything I could into my checked bags. Once reconciled with the clerk at the desk, it was time for goodbye.
I had been dreaming about moving to Thailand for more than a year, but hadn’t been sure how I was going to make it happen. Simple living has always appealed to me, and the frenetic pace of American culture never felt right. When I gave birth to my son, Noah, it strengthened my resolve to leave the city and make a new life based on the idyllic vision I’d always had in mind. So I took a leap of faith.
We bought plane tickets just a few days before departing, when airlines drop their fares in an attempt to fill empty seats, in order to shave a couple hundred dollars off the price. I ended up paying $600 USD for my ticket instead of the $700 or $800 I would have spent had I bought it a few days earlier.
I braced myself for the 14 hour flight with an active 14 month-old, armed with baby-safe valerian, a smart phone, and enough baby food puree to last me a month, just in case. It was sheer grace that there was an anomaly in the timetable, with a flight leaving at four o’clock in the afternoon, making the timing perfectly congruous with Noah’s sleep schedule. It was another act of divine mercy that the flight was only half full, and that despite his being a lap infant, Noah and I would have the opportunity to spread out over three seats during the overnight flight.
My husband and I had formulated a plan that would make foreign living a viable financial choice. Although we lived cheaply for the expensive Bay Area, renting a master bedroom for $800 a month in a communal home, our new accommodations would be even more economical, costing $230 USD a month with three meals a day included for one adult. Noah would be free.
Going ahead with Noah while my husband moved into a smaller, cheaper room during the transition made the most sense monetarily. He would give up our master bedroom for a child-sized room costing a third of the price and cook his meals at home instead of ordering takeout, joining us in three and a half months, with his income as a waiter allowing us to live together for eight months out of the year. He would return to the US to work for the remaining four. While it wouldn’t be easy, it seemed to us a small sacrifice to provide our son with a life we consider ideal; living close to nature, in community, with the freedom to spend every day together as a family. No 9 to 5, no commute, no daycare.
We switched planes in Taipei, Taiwan, taking time to enjoy the novelty of the Hello Kitty-themed nursing station before boarding our final flight. We arrived at two in the morning, and I felt just a little silly wheeling a trolly with my huge bags and multiple carry-ons toward the customs line of the Bangkok airport while Noah slept soundly on my back. He woke serendipitously in time for the customs official to take our photo and stamp my visa, with fawning waves from the agents as we proceeded to the door.
In just a few hours, we’d be making our new home at Kailash Akhara, a yoga and permaculture retreat center and residential dharma community located in Phu Ruea in rural Thailand. Soon we’d be living among the rolling, flower-specked hills of Isaan, Thailand’s northeastern region near the famed Mekhong river, with a community of expats hailing from the U.S., Australia, and Brazil. The residents are families with small children and single adults who all have in common a love of the yoga tradition and a desire to live dharmic lives of practice and service.
When he’s old enough, Noah will attend The Siddha School, located on-site at Kailash Akhara. The Siddha School is the vanguard for a new educational pedagogy and curriculum based on developing an educational community that enables each child to unfold naturally, in a nurturing environment that supports their holistic development. It is offered to children of KA residents as well as the greater Thai community, particularly those who are underserved and vulnerable to human trafficking.
Once outside, our driver loaded us into an excessively spacious tour van with air-conditioning at full blast in the sticky morning heat. We hurtled down the highway in a style I would come to learn is distinctly Thai, passing flaming trash heaps blazing in the dark and a new 7-Eleven every few kilometers.
When Noah slept, I used the silence to enjoy the scenery as the morning sunlight began to creep over the horizon. We made it out of the city and headed down a highway dotted with bamboo farm stands, every now and then passing an orange-robed monk walking barefoot along the road. Tractors plodded on the shoulder and motorized scooters, sometimes carrying three or four, darted speedily around us. We gazed and napped, played and sang, breaking out our collection of essential board books that had made the final cut. We exhausted the stack several times and read them all over again.
After a climb through the mountains, we pulled off the highway and drove down a dirt road into a village of closely-huddled homes. The driver stopped to ask directions from a woman hanging clothes on a line, made a U-turn, and pulled off in the direction of an expanse of farmland. We passed uniform rows of rubber trees and cassava, both mainstay crops in this region, and eventually came to a sign written mostly in Thai, except for the words Adi-Yoga. We had come to the end of our eight-hour ride.
I brimmed with gratitude as we were given a tour of our new home, passing trees proffering papaya, coconut, and jack fruit and a congregation of chickens led by a pugnacious rooster named Frankie. It is a gift to be able to make our vision of overseas living a reality and to give Noah the chance to live at the slow, untroubled pace of nature. All it required was the willingness to challenge ourselves to try something different and to think about our resources in a new way. With such low-cost living, a strong community with humanitarian values, and the opportunity for a free, quality education for Noah, relocating our family to another continent was the most obvious choice in the world.