What a Quebec family saw travelling the world before children lose eyesight
Edith Lemay and Sébastien Pelletier are still unpacking, even though they’ve been home from their trip for a couple of weeks. They’re not procrastinating; it just takes some time to sort things out after more than a year travelling – especially for a family of six.
The couple left their home in Boucherville, Que., last March for an adventure across three continents with their four children. Each returned with cherished memories. Léo, 10, was impressed with the wildlife of Namibia, asking, “Mom, is it a real one?” the first time he saw a giraffe. Mia, 12, was moved to tears when horseback riding in the Mongolian steppes. Colin, 7, loved the slow train ride in Tanzania, and the parents surprised Laurent, 5, with a hot-air balloon trip on his birthday in Turkey.
The idea for the world trip was for the children to see the world – before they are no longer able to. With the exception of Léo, they have been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare and incurable genetic condition that will eventually leave them blind. The news came as a shock to the couple, who were unaware they had the genes that could lead to the condition, and then learned there was only a one in four chance of their children developing it.
A specialist told the parents it would be a good idea to fill their children’s minds with visual memories, and they took the advice seriously.
Ms. Lemay started documenting the trip, which took them to 13 countries, on social media for the benefit of friends and family. To her surprise, the audience grew quickly. More than 100,000 people now follow their adventures on Instagram.
“The fact that people follow my page really forced me to have the discipline to write everything down and sort my photos, which I might not have done if I hadn’t had people waiting to hear from me,” she said. She transferred everything to a blog she called Le monde plein leurs yeux (which can be roughly translated as “Their eyes filled with the world”), and is now grateful to have built this archive of memories. “It’s an extraordinary gift” for her children, Ms. Lemay said.
It brought opportunities, too. People in the countries they visited invited them into their homes. They were offered a stay in a luxury hotel suite in Bangkok, Thailand, and Egypt paid for a two-week visit, their last stop.
No one ever asked for anything in return, Ms. Lemay said. “We’re not influencers, we do not advertise.”
The adventure was not without occasional hiccups. COVID-19 delayed their departure for two years and pandemic-related border shutdowns nixed their plans to visit Japan.
They also faced some health scares, such as when Mr. Pelletier had an allergic reaction on Borneo, an island split between Malaysia and Indonesia, or when Laurent developed an infected wound in Tanzania. Fortunately, the family was carrying an EpiPen in Borneo and found a clinic and antibiotics in Tanzania.
And a trip with four kids presented its own set of challenges. “Children are the same at home and when travelling,” Ms. Lemay said, so parents must be ready for them to argue, fight and get impatient on longer journeys. But ultimately, “you just have to dare” to leave, she said.
Ms. Lemay, a business intelligence analyst, and her partner, an accountant, saved for years to make this possible before quitting their jobs and packing their bags, she said.
The children were home-schooled while they were away, but they learned a great deal outside of their makeshift classrooms, Ms. Lemay said. “It was amazing how they adapted to any situation, whether in terms of food or hygiene conditions, we could sleep anywhere and there was never a problem for them. It’s something that will really be useful to them when they lose their eyesight, because throughout their life they will have to adapt all the time to this new situation.”
Already, they face difficulties seeing anything in the dark, and Mia, the oldest, is sensitive to intense light. But none of this prevented them from enjoying the trip.
They also learned to overcome their shyness and connect with kids from different backgrounds. “They quickly realized that if they didn’t go ahead and show up and suggest playing together, well, they would pass an opportunity to make friends,” Ms. Lemay said.
She saw this in action when the boys approached young monks playing soccer outside a monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal, toward the end of the trip. “The language barrier, to play soccer, it does not matter.”
The couple developed a crush for that country, which they initially did not plan to visit and where they ended up doing a nine-day trek in the Himalayas. “The people welcoming us, the culture, the food, the extraordinary landscapes. It is really a country that has charmed us.”
The arrived back home on April 8, 2023. Returning to their everyday lives, the kids realize how fortunate they are to live in Canada and be able to take such things as access to education and electricity for granted, Ms. Lemay said. “Even though they live with a disability, I think they consider themselves lucky to have clean water in their tap.”
Conscious of the high amounts of greenhouse gas emissions produced by their plane trips, which the family tried to minimize by travelling by train as often as possible, Ms. Lemay said she will shop for carbon offset credits in the coming days.
As for what’s next, Ms. Lemay said she received proposals for a book, a movie and to give talks, but nothing is firm. Nothing except a six-week trip this summer, possibly to South America.