I discovered Quartier Collective via Instagram and have been following them for about 1.5 years now. Taryn, Martin, Tilly, Francis and Viggo have set off to travel the world while building a business that organizes family gatherings in the most inspiring places around the globe. I was touched by their honest and fun way of documenting their lives and decided to send them a few questions - and I'm so happy they agreed on answering them. Hope you will enjoy this interview. Follow their journey via their Instagram if you want to know more about them. Thanks Taryn and Martin for taking the time to share your thoughts with me.
Anne: To introduce yourself, could you explain us the concept of Quartier Collective and why you chose to leave (almost) everything behind? How was the idea born?
Taryn and Martin: Traveling with kids can be so, so terrible; the ballooning costs, the complicated gear, the stress about naps and food and where to find non-toxic diapers in a new city… We had an idea that connecting to cool, like-minded families in the places we wanted to go would help us meet some practical needs and enable us to get under the skin of a new destination. We started traveling to find people, instead of places. We’d read an article on a father or mother, or find a family on Instagram, and we’d basically ask if we could buy them a cup of coffee and chat about family life in their city. We started meeting these dynamic, fascinating families whose curiosity matched our own and who helped open new windows into the cities where they lived. Our first thought was to build a home swapping network to link these families, but we soon realized there was a major flaw: we didn’t want to know these people’s homes… we wanted to know them! What if, instead of passing like ships in the night, we could gather them together in amazing places, to explore, to share the joy of discovery, to open another bottle after the kids are in bed. So the idea of the Family Gathering was born. It’s a completely unique way to travel as a family and, has this wonderful quality of being totally confusing and uninteresting for some people, and deeply resonant for others. It’s self-selecting and, as those who’ve been part of our Gatherings know, a powerful and transformative way to build community and get to know a new culture at the same time.
Anne: During our email exchange, we were talking about trying to slow things down and how it is not an easy thing to do when everything around you seems to run on a a fast-forward modus. Add three kids and constant traveling to that and you get most parents’ nightmare. How is it for you? How do you stay sane and manage to slow down and still enjoy your adventure?
Taryn and Martin: We definitely have those moments where we’re standing on the edge of a train platform with three tired and hungry kids, it’s raining, our bags are too heavy (so much Lego) and we’re wondering what the hell we were thinking. We’re traveling the world with three small children, hustling on our own little business while maintaining health and growth for all five of us. It’s a lot. But family life can be busy and stressful no matter where you are. Our life has its share of unique challenges but we also avoid many of the more typical stresses: we’re not shuttling kids to soccer and ballet, we don’t have gutters to clean or plumbing that can burst. But we have something now we didn’t before, constant proximity. We spend all day together, every day. We’re often sleeping in tight quarters (our preference, actually), and this proximity to each other demands a kind of graceful presence. We have time to answer the kids questions, to talk through the frustrations. We know this little team can handle anything, and that gives us peace.
Anne: Homeschooling! Tilly is 9, Francis is 6 and Viggo is 3 years old. How do you combine homeschooling with running your business, organizing your next travel stops and the usual family shenanigans? In other words; what‘s your recipe to merge homeschooling and traveling?
Taryn and Martin: We keep it very casual. They have workbooks they dip in and out of, but mostly their education is based on what’s around them. They’re constantly exposed to new things and they’re learning to chase down what interests them. We use real-world opportunities to teach skills; we help them exchange currency or measure out the world’s longest cobra using floor tiles. We know this chapter won’t last forever and there will be more structured education in their future, but for now this feels right. I’m sure we’re “behind” on things like reading and math, but we see our kids stretching their minds around bigger questions, like how people in Sri Lanka feel about all the tourists, like how can the villagers around Marrakech keep their well-water from being stolen to fill the swimming pools of the rich, like how can people live without power or running water.
Our kids have become quite good at entertaining themselves, but there are places we’ve been where they kind of go nuts and helping them through that has taken way more energy than we were prepared for. Big cities are actually the toughest. We spend a lot of time in Paris, in an apartment in the 5th Arrondissement, and without daily outings they start getting pretty unhappy. We get an amazing amount of mileage out of the big bag of Lego we drag around, but still, kids need to run!
Anne: I like the honesty on your Instagram account and that even while traveling the world (which is an amazing thing!) there are shitty things happening, fall backs or kids pushing buttons making you want to leave them on the road with a ‚for free‘ post-it on their forehead. How have these challenging moments changed you as parents and as a family?
Taryn and Martin: Doesn’t a little bit of honest misery make Instagram so much more interesting? And yep, we have our share of misadventures; Viggo alone is responsible for most of Marty’s grey hair. He was nearly potty trained when we left Seattle, but we saw some serious backsliding in that first half year. It was even more frustrating because we felt like he almost had it! But there we were, trying to make a good impression on our host Jean-Paul, an older bachelor exiled from France, along with his grey ponytail and push-broom mustache. Jean-Paul lived in a mud-walled house in a dusty village in the foothills of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. We’d been foisted on him by his neighbour. We were doing our best to ingratiate our not-so-small family to this lone wolf, to help him feel glad he’d said yes to hosting us in the little one-room dwelling above the garden. All was going well till we walked around the corner and there on the terrace was Viggo, pants around his ankles, making it startling clear we still had more potty training to do. We froze, sucked in our breath, Jean-Paul disappeared, returning a moment later with a sprinkle of wood chips from the composting toilet. A quick scoop and the offending pile was gone, nothing left but a twinkle in Jean-Paul’s eye.
An “accident” or a meltdown looks exactly the same whether you’re home in your living room, in a Moroccan village or a beautiful shrine in Kyoto. But life certainly isn’t easier out here on the road. We knew we were inviting higher levels of challenge and stress when we left a rather idyllic life in the Pacific Northwest. We welcomed that. We weren’t looking for “easy”. But tough moments take on a sweetness over time and produce the most resilient memories. That’s one of our big goals for this chapter, to create vivid, bombproof memories for our kids and ourselves. We don’t bemoan the tough moments. We know they’re making us stronger, or at the very least they give us something to laugh about down the road.
Anne: Now that you are packing experts, what are the 7 life-saving things that HAVE TO BE in every suitcase when going on an extended family trip?
Taryn and Martin: We love talking essentials! We distilled our entire life into two suitcases, and the experience was completely cathartic and liberating. Here are some of the things that made the cut:
Bundle Beds: This London company makes integrated, rollup bed-sets, and we travel with one for each child. There’s an inflatable camping mattress zipped inside a sheet-set with a pillow and duvet. The whole thing zips into a tough, stain-resistant cover that rolls up like a sleeping bag and can be carried on to an airplane. Viggo’s version even has inflatable bumpers, though of course he still prefers to root around in our bed like an orangutan. No matter where they are in the world, our kids can unroll their own, known bed, with its cozy blankets and familiar feel. They love it.
Bluetooth speaker: For dance parties, audiobooks and just setting the mood, we love having a portable speaker. We use the UE Boom2. It’s shock and water proof, which seemed excessive when we bought it. But on its first outing Viggo tossed it onto the rocky ground and it bounced into a lake. They should pay him to test these things.
Wool and linen: We love these materials. They can keep you warm or cool, they go longer between washes and dry more quickly than cotton. The whole family (except Marty) has wool sets from Babaa, a wonderful Spanish company from our friends Marta and Sam. They’re so practical and beautiful.
Travel Clothesline: With three kids laundry is a constant for us. Our super-stretchy line from Sun and Sheets has been hung in all kinds of places, all over the world. It’s braided, so clothes can hang without pins, and it’s still in perfect shape after a lot of serious use. For families this is a lifesaver.
Each child has their own backpack with all of their toys, stuffies, a notebook and pencils/paints. We make sure they’re stocked with tape so we can do our favorite airplane activity, inflight collage! We decorate our seats with hilarious creations from the inflight magazines. Fellow passengers are always amused, and we often see kids around us starting to make their own. Flight attendants, however, are not impressed.
Suitcases: We did a lot of research and, after a year and a half, our choice to travel with rolling duffels from Thule still proves prescient. They’re soft-top and each splits into two independent bags, both helpful features when you’re trying to get the whole family and all your gear in a Tuk Tuk. We use the “filing cabinet” packing method espoused by our friend Shaun in his book “How to Pack Like a Rockstar”. Each item is folded into a similarly-sized packet and inserted into the bag, like a folder into a filing cabinet. This way you can see everything you have at once, and everything stays in place.
Lego: For hours, sometimes days, our kids will create worlds and stories out of our big bag of Lego. They love showing us what they’ve built, and sometimes Marty gets a bit lost in it too.
Anne: And finally, where do you see yourself in two years?
Taryn and Martin: In two years we’d like to have a home base, a place we can keep a few things and to which we can return when we need to. We’re not sure where that place will be, but New Zealand and Portugal are high on the list. We have some plans for Family Gatherings in new places like South America, as well as a return to Japan, Greece and Morocco. We are developing the commercial photography arm of our brand and would like to do more work shooting campaigns for brands. We also have a big dream for a series of properties where the heart of the Family Gatherings can live full time. These would be small hotels where curious families could find community and local access, designed flexibly to accommodate different sizes of groups and with sustainability at the core. In two years we’d like to be close to an opening for the first property. Within five years we’d like to open two more.
All photos by Taryn and Martin