Apiece Apart Woman: Taryn Elledge-Penner
Words: Leigh Patterson
Photos: Martin Penner
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”— Anaïs Nin.
Taryn Ellege-Penner, one-fifth of Quartier Collective — a “boutique travel agency helping families travel in richer, more connected ways,” — lives by the experienced philosophy that faith is better suited for the unknown future, rather than the known fear.
From a humble beginning in small-town Idaho, and persuaded by the sheer, inexplicable longing for “exposure,” it seems Taryn has always risked and renewed the necessary path to growth. Her story reveals that even the constancy of adventure does not exempt you from life’s chapters, which, no matter where you find yourself, come as often as they close.
What’s left, as Taryn describes in our conversation, are the seasons of re-defining our sense of self, the trials and triumphs of growing alongside the inner lives of others, and the importance of always staying curious, open, and passionate about what's around the next corner.
"I was raised in Boise by parents who were born and bred in small-town Idaho. I grew up watching my mom raise two kids by herself, independent and strong, even through the toughest of times. From early on that spirit has been a part of my character. But it hasn’t been until recently, after selling most of our material possessions, and putting more faith in our dreams than our fears, that I have really been able to harness that independence. I have been able to tap into a creativity and strength I didn’t know I had."
Growing up, our weekends and family vacations were predominantly spent at our cabin in the mountains or camping in the great Idaho outdoors; it was wonderful, but from a young age I was aching to see the world. When I was five years old I went for my first solo trip to San Francisco to visit my ‘cool’ aunt. At 15 I was traveling solo to New York, and at 16 I lived in Seoul for a short while. I graduated high school early and, at 17, moved into my own apartment in Seattle.
I knew the world was so much more than what I could see in front of me, and those early travels were confirmation. There’s so much value in exposure to ideas and patterns outside our own bubbles. I need that exposure, and it’s something I want for my kids as well."
You describe that “[this lifestyle] is not a network of convenient relationships.” What have you been learning about how to cultivate meaningful, even if inexpedient, connections with others?
We left a wonderful community of friends in Seattle, most with whom we have a shared history and set structures that support that sense of community. Since being on the road we have had to start from scratch. Now when we do connect or reach out it is because of a real sense of shared values. And when it’s not a great fit, we are much better at walking away and not feeling guilty about it.
Regardless, cultivating connections now often requires stepping outside our comfort zone, which is something we want to get better at and that we want to encourage the kids to do. It is really one of the main lessons we hope to walk away with at the end of our travels.
How do you ground yourself in each place? Walk us through your steps for recalibration.
Exercise has always been really important for me in finding balance, but even more so now that there are so few constants. Going for a run is the best way for me to orient myself in a new place. This is especially true of places where we are using metros, going underground, and then popping up in a new place with three kids hanging off of us.
And coffee is my fuel and a serious passion. Finding good coffee has become an anchor point and one of the first things I do in a new city. Often I will head out for a run and come back with an espresso in my belly and a bag of beans to deliver.
What advice can you give to other families looking to embrace a "better version of family travel”?
Search for people not just places. Look for a likeminded family to connect with before you set off. We often reach out to our network to connect us with families or creatives in the places we are going, and most of the time this is when the real magic happens. They introduce us to experiences you don’t find in the guide books.
And also: find the local version of what you love at home; a good coffee shop, a library, a bakery, etc. This is your anchor and chances are you will find your people.
As a seasoned traveler, not to mention one with a young family, what's become your non-negotiable travel essentials?
A travel speaker for impromptu dance parties (and packing days that require a mood boost). A good downloaded audio book for the kids. A backpack for each kid filled with their treasures (they can only put as much as they are willing to carry themselves). Masking tape for our favorite travel activity: in-flight magazine collage. Clothes made of linen and wool; they are the fastest drying and most suitable for all climates. An elastic, braided travel clothes line. A waterproof wet bag to keep swimsuits in (so you can take a last-minute dip before catching your flight). And a menstrual cup and period-proof underwear. This was something I invested in at the beginning of our trip and it was seriously a game changer. Finding sanitary products, let alone ones you’d feel good about using, can be next to impossible in some parts of the world.
"Nothing lasts forever but that can be easy to forget in the daily grind where, each day, week, and month are relatively similar. Moving from place to place we are constantly reminded that life moves in chapters, and this one, too, will come to an end. Knowing that each piece of this journey, each destination, will only last a set period of time makes it easier to really sink in to the ‘here and now.' And in the meantime we’re building memories, the stuff most likely to last a lifetime. Investing in experiences, in shared memories, is the most permanent thing we can give our children and ourselves."
What have you come to learn about the throughlines — the common ground — connecting families across geographic and cultural contexts?
It has been really incredible to witness all of the differences that exist between cultures and families as we have traveled from place to place. Sometimes it has posed real challenges for us and for the kids. There are a lot of things we don’t understand, and sometimes that can make it difficult to connect. But no matter where we have been in the world, no matter the space between us from a cultural or religious perspective, the presence of the kids has always provided a bridge. Whether in a small town in Morocco, or at a local birthday party in Sri Lanka, the love for children has been a constant. Everyone just wants what’s best for their family and that is the common thread that ties us all together.
We speak of "north stars" as a euphemism for a higher purpose. What has your dedication to exploration taught or re-taught you about your position and purpose in the world?
The more I travel the more I realize how important it is to remain curious and open. I am so humbled by how much there is out there to learn and how many incredible people we have yet to meet. I want to spend my time exploring creative ways to tell stories and connect people. Life’s richness comes from what we share with others, and curiosity and humility are what make that possible. If this chapter stamps that character firmly on my children, and encourages it in others it will be one that’s well spent.