Ever dreamed of quitting your job and hitting the road with kids forever? It doesn’t have to be a fantasy, says Erik Hemingway of Family Adventure Podcast. These days long gap years spent traveling around the world are not just for backpackers; families are doing it too. Erik himself traveled for five years to 27 countries with his kids (Maggie, 20, Levi, 19, Emma, 14, Lily, 10, Zoe, 8, and Miles, 4) and has interviewed over 60 like-minded families on his podcast. He tells suitcases&strollers why and how you can travel with kids, permanently.
What inspired you to quit your day job and take you entire family on the road?
We were on the treadmill, and felt like life was being lived for us, we knew we wanted something more but couldn’t really put our finger on it. We were burned out of the “status quo”, achieving more and more and for what?! We wanted more quality time from the few years we get to spend with our kids.
We had loved to travel before kids and the thought of traveling with our kids seemed like a great sabbatical to recharge our batteries and connect with our kids.
We looked at it as an investment into our family and we knew it was going to pay dividends in a lot of ways that have nothing to do with money. Confident kids who could communicate well, kids who were friends with their siblings (not just roommates) and kids who have a deep sense of security in who they are and what they’ve accompished.
[To read more about life as a permanent traveler from a kid’s point of view, see the suitcases&strollers interview with 13-year-old Miro.]
Once we had it in our mind to make this trip happen, there came a point where we knew if we didn’t take the trip, we were going to have regrets. That was the point of no return for us; we just knew we had to make it happen.
What is the most common reason families decide to become permanent travellers?
I think people are wanting more out of all of their relationships. People crave a genuine connection with their kids and travel provides an amazing platform to do that. With our electronic world, it sometimes feels like we’re missing the connections closest to us and I think that’s a motivating factor as well. Fewer distractions and the inevitable challenges on the road provide a great opportunity to connect, solve issues and overcome obstacles. All the amazing, once-in-a-lifetime sights are not a bad bonus either!
Many of the families we interview usually had some travel experience before children and thought their traveling days were over until the kids at least reached college. When they see others doing it, they think, “Why not? why wait?” Which is exactly the message we want to get out: You can do it, and probably sooner than later!
In some cases, there had been an illness or even a death of a loved one or relative. It brings home the reality of this gift of life we’ve all been given. Life is short and there are no guarantees about tomorrow. If travel is something you’re passionate about, you should make plans to live without regrets!
How committed do you have to be to travel with kids permanently?
I think that’s the most overwhelming for families who are thinking about traveling for more than just a vacation; [they think] we have to “sell our souls” this this mission. Not true! I see people use all sorts of creative ways to get on the road!
You don’t necessarily have to sell your house, although for many that is their biggest source of money for the trip.
Some quit their jobs, feeling it was time for change anyway. Or they negotiate a specific time off their jobs, knowing they will have something to go back to.
That’s one thing I’ve learned through the interviews on our website: there’s no “right” way to family travel. Every situation is different and you need to do what you’re comfortable with.
[To read about a suitcases&strollers family that are traveling around the world in their 1928 vintage car, see the suitcases&strollers story The Permanent Travellers, Part 3.]
The best way to start is taking small steps. Family travel is not necessarily for everyone, so see how it fits your family before you sell the farm. Take some small trips around your state, or region, and see how it feels. Stay in a hostel next time you are on the road, rent [family friendly accommodation on] Airbnb, experiment with different ideas.
[For more travel tips on family friendly accommodation on Airbnb with kids see the reviews by two suitcases&strollers mums here.]
Load up on books from the library for inspiration, put maps on the wall and talk about what you want to see as a family.
We talked to our kids a lot about the trip during the planning months and years and really tried to explain to them why we felt like we needed to do this, what our motivations were and the heart behind it. We wanted the trip to impact them and our family as a whole.
How do permanent travellers support themselves when they travel with kids?
Certainly some careers lend themselves more readily to traveling than others. All you hear today is “location independent” and acquiring a “digital career”. While these are great, they are not necessarily for everyone or mandatory. Not everyone is savvy enough to build a business online and that’s OK!
There are hundreds of ways to build passive income or gain skills to take with you on the road. Personally, we use real estate (in the form of rental properties); some people use savings, so they don’t have to work from the road. Others acquire skills that are easily adaptable to travel: nursing, teaching English. Some families pause while they work and refill the savings with their career as a gourmet chef or as German translators for a New Zealand University!
What is the optimal children’s age for parents thinking of going permanently traveling with kids?
If you’re interested in long term traveling, the teenage years get dangerously close to the transition to adulthood. They are less likely to be onboard with extended traveling, missing friends and jobs.
Babies are surprisingly great travelers, as we and many of our guests relate. They thrive when surrounded by parents 24/7 and are typically very flexible. That’s usually a shock to our guests, and it was for us as well. I think that’s another reason why families might choose to delay travel; they have young ones and don’t think it’s possible.
[For more travel tips on traveling with infants, see the suitcases&strollers story Why Travel With Baby]
One of the best things I’ve found with traveling with young children, or even babies, is that you are so welcomed everywhere you go. Families traveling with kids are just natural magnets and we have been shocked at the openness we felt.
In the end, it’s a personal choice and, even if the kids aren’t school-aged, they are learning and soaking up more of the experience than you may realise.
What is the best way to handle schooling if you are a permanent traveller?
This has been amazing to see through the interviews. Permanent traveling itself is a form of school and a lot of our guests insist it is the best kind of school because it is so immersive and authentic! You don’t read about places, and people. You visit them!
[Single mum, Lainie, travels with her teenage son and believe in “unschooling”. To find out more, read her suitcases&strollers interview here.]
So many families are concerned before they leave that they will do damage their kids’ education by traveling since they won’t be in a “normal” school. They are all pleasantly surprised when they return to school and find that the kids are typically ahead of their peers, not to mention the mountain of experiences they are now privileged to have.
With the increased popularity of homeschooling, there is a plethora of resources available, great for travel, and not requiring a lot of expense or expertise.
A simplified travel education recipe?
● Take 2 maths books (at their level and above);
● Fill a Kindle or electronic reader with a variety of reading (new, classic, fun);
● Have the kids keep a journal (or draw if they’re young) of things they see and like;
● Enjoy! These will be your most enjoyable school years, I promise!
Realistically, what is the impact of a nomadic lifestyle on kids? Can they be unsettled or have difficulty in integrating into an environment?
I try and ask all of my guests about negative impacts because I think that’s what many parents fear before they travel. We tend to let our fears paint us a worst case scenario. Thankfully, almost all these fears are unfounded and we have yet to hear of major negative results from permanent family travel.
There are, of course, the usual travel inconveniences: missed flights, lost luggage, but typically these make for the best stories later!
My experience is that kids really thrive with nomadic travel. They typically become much more confident and independent. That seems to be one of the added bonuses of travel as a family, you’re all on the same level, dealing with unknown surroundings and experiences. You get to work as a team to adapt and figure out your surroundings.
Some families are concerned about social opportunities before they travel but they find that kids tend to make friends wherever they go, even if they can’t speak the same language.
[Want to meet the world’s most travelled toddler? Check out our suitcases&strollers story about 2-year-old Noah here.]
What are the three biggest disadvantages for families choosing to be permanent travellers versus living a more conventional lifestyle in one spot?
There’s typically the aspect of missing extended family and community. It comes back to life choices. There are trade-offs with everything we choose to focus on. Every family needs to weigh the pros and cons for themselves and make a decision.
I don’t hear from families that they wished they would not have traveled so they could have worked more or earned more money. I typically hear that once they discover how enjoyable, less expensive and beneficial for their family world travel is, they wish they would have done it sooner.
Are some parts of the world more popular than others for permanent travel with kids?
Europe seems to be very popular because of it’s first world status and immense amount of history in fairly close quarters.
But the tradeoff is it one of the most expensive places to travel. We’ve spoken to a few families on the show who transported RVs over from the US for a year or more (to cut down on hotel and restaurant expenses) which is a great way to see Europe.
Southeast Asia is another zone that seems to see a lot of families because there is a lot of diverse countries in a relatively dense area.
[To read about a suitcases&strollers family that backpacked around Asia, see the suitcases&strollers story Inspiring Travel Stories: Backpacking With Kids.]
Our experience was on a sailboat which is a great way to travel, sleep and eat relatively inexpensively. We sailed across the Atlantic, so there was $10,000 in airfare we didn’t pay for.
[For more travel tips on sailing with kids, see our story about the suitcases&strollers family Sailing Southeast Asia With Kids.]
Is there a common demographic you see in permanent travelling families?
They are a pretty diverse lot! College professors, professional people, construction workers, school teachers or truck drivers! But there does seem to be a thread with what types of people are either drawn to travel or thrive in it. They have a healthy outlook on life, are very flexible and are willing to take risks.
What is the general reaction of other people to permanent travellers with kids?
I think most people are supportive. We met so many wonderful people on our travels who were so encouraging about the benefits we were giving our kids; the education and the experience. Some people we knew before we left were jealous, some negative, but that’s OK. You’ll always have that. For us, it was a good litmus test of who our real friends were.
Are there any places people can get information if they are thinking about becoming a permanent travelling family?
The internet is a treasure chest of information! I really like sites that give a lot of information, not only inspiration. If readers are interested, they should have a listen to our archives for first hand interviews with families out there doing it and hear their advice.
What are the top 3 things readers should do if they are considering traveling with kids permanently?
1. Communicate. Talk about why you want to travel, what do you hope to gain from the experience. Is it just for the stamps in your passport? Talk about where you want to visit. Why? Talk about how it’s going to change your outlook, what it’s going to be like to be away from extended family. I promise you will communicate a lot on the road, why not start now?
2. Get out of debt. This is hugely freeing. You can’t go anywhere for long struggling with debt but the reverse is also true: once you’re debt-free, the world opens up and all kinds of amazing possibilities are available. All of our guests can attest to how inexpensive travel can be when it’s done for longer terms as opposed to short vacations.
[For more travel tips on traveling on a budget with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
3. Do it! It’s one thing to dream about it, but all the planning in the world won’t make it perfect. Just make sure you go and learn on the way about what works best for you. You don’t want to have regrets, so make the most of it!