Annel and her husband, Tertius, of Mbombela are just like any other family, but with a few small differences. Their first daughter, Anika, was born with undiagnosed spina bifida in 2010.
“As a result, Anika has been to the operating theatre 28 times in her young life for back, foot and brain operations, and is a wheelchair user,” says Annel.
Their second daughter, Esti, was born in 2012 with hypoplastic left-heart syndrome, and sadly only lived for 36 hours. In 2015 the family was blessed with Reuben, a healthy, busy little boy.
Life, as always, carries on, and in 2017, the Strydoms decided it was time for change. They sold their company, started online businesses (courses and products), and then, they hit the road.
For nearly two years, this family of four have been travelling – full-time – around the world. Their somewhat unusual nomadic way of life seems to fit this happy family perfectly.
“Some doors in our lives closed and others opened,” smiles Annel, “enabling us to travel as a family and share testimony of Anika, living a full and happy life amid challenges,” she says.
”My daughter has overcome so many obstacles and achieved so much more than what doctors prepared us for at birth. And that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing. We just knew that we had to share our story of hope with the rest of the world.
“Tertius and I have always loved travelling, and to combine family life, ministry, work and school for this season of our lives was the perfect option, well, with one exception, budget!
“To travel, especially abroad, is expensive. So, we looked at several options and found a way to make it work. The answer to our predicament was house-sitting.”
There are a number of different house-sitting websites where you register a profile and apply for advertised house-sits all over the world. The owners then work through all the applications and appoint a house-sitter to look after their home, and sometimes pets, while they are away on vacation or business trips.
“It’s a win-win situation for both parties,” says Annel. “The owner can rest assured that everything at home is taken care of, while the house-sitters can stay for free (sometimes it even includes the use of a car) while staying in someone’s house instead of a hotel room.”
The family initially started with a three-month trip to Europe. “We did house-sits in France and Belgium, which worked well for us, and after three months in Europe we didn’t feel that the time was right to settle down again.
“There were more places to go, more people to meet. Now, we’re at almost two years and counting!” she laughs.
Up until quite recently, the Strydoms had house-sat in France, Belgium, Mauritius, Luxembourg, Ireland and in the United States of America (New York, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia and Texas), and can’t wait to do a few in South Africa.
“Every day is an adventure. When we stayed in France, we stayed next to a chateaux, which belongs to the winemakers in the area, for nine weeks and made friends with the owners. They invited us over to plant merlot vines with them, and we even helped to mix a new blend of wine!
“People blessed us with home-cooked dinners, local treats, toys, and even warm winter jackets for the kids when we had an unexpected snowstorm in Michigan.”
Anika loves the wayfaring. An adventurous girl, she is always willing to try something new.
She went kayaking on the Dordogne River, bum boarding and dog sledding in the South of France, snorkelled in the deep sea in Mauritius, experienced her first-ever wheelchair basketball match and sled hockey in America. She even attended school with newfound friends in Luxembourg and America.
“Even though the places and usual tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower, Disneyland Paris, the Statue of Liberty and Times Square in NYC and much more have been amazing, the best part of our travels have turned out to be more about the people, not so much the places. We’ve met amazing folks along the way and made friends for life.
“It amazes us how individuals all over the world are inherently kind.”
The Strydoms share their story through play dates and dinners with locals, chats with people while queuing at the supermarket and having conversations with strangers on the subway or bus.
They stick to the children’s tried-and-tested routines as far as possible, and always take some of their special toys, pillowcases, books and soft toys with wherever they go.
“We try to live a normal, day-to-day life. We work and do schooling on most days, and choose special days to go out and explore.”
Tertius and Annel have also found a way to combine their skills and passions to create online courses about topics they love and have dealt with themselves.
Topics they’ve covered include house-sitting, reclaiming your joy after emotional trauma, travelling with confidence, and taking the trauma out of travel for young children.
“Obviously, the journey does have its challenges too,” muses Annel.
“Living out of suitcases limits the number of things we own at this stage, but that has made us realise that we don’t need that many things! It’s also challenging to work, play, homeschool and live in the same space… especially with a busy four-year-old.
“We’ve learnt to think twice before buying anything, as our South African currency is very weak against the Euro and US dollar. We’ve become much better at shopping for bargains than we used to be!
“Also, the language barrier can sometimes be problematic, especially in France – thank goodness for Google Translate.”
The family have also had to learn to adapt their eating habits to the area they are in. “When you eat like the locals, you tend to spend less,” Annel says.
“In France for instance, milk, yogurt, cheese, cold meats and cream were very cheap. In Ireland and some areas in the USA, we could afford red meat and in France and the USA chicken is much cheaper than in South Africa.
“We’ve made our own boerewors and we love to spoil the locals with milk tart, braaibroodjies, malva pudding and bobotie.
“The lamb, however, will have to wait till we’re home. And yes, home is still and always will be the Lowveld!
“We really miss our friends and family. We make friends wherever we go, but always look forward to going home to the people we love. Luckily, we need to return to South Africa every three to six months to apply for and renew tourist visas, so we get to see the friends, family and grandparents whom we love and miss so much.
“We have a wonderful support network in Mbombela, which enables us to have alone time whenever we need it. While we’re abroad, we’re with each other and the kids 24/7.
“Even though we love spending time together as a family, I think all of us will appreciate a bit of a break from one another when we get back!” she laughs, but with a definite twinkle in her eye.
“Obviously, we won’t be travelling nomads forever, and we’ll settle again. But we’re thankful for this adventure and the precious memories we’ll get to cherish forever.
“The journey has taught us so much about life, about what really is important, about one another, about adapting to change, about facing challenges, about choosing joy after emotional trauma, having faith, and making the best of your situation – every single day.”
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Annel and Anika also write children’s books about animal characters with special needs and challenges, called the Okey-Dokey Series. The books are available on Annel’s blog,
Divinely Different, on Facebook.