Erin Bender of Travel With Bender has been travelling the world with her husband, Josh Bender, and two children Mia (5) and Caius (4) since May 2012. They have been all over North America, Europe and Southeast Asia with kids from Cancun to Aqaba, Cape Canaveral to Manila. Along the way they’ve experienced everything from petting tigers to eating their way around Greece (where they are now) and they’ve logged it all on their blog. Erin tells suitcases&strollers what she and her kids love about being permanent travellers (and it’s not quite so adventurous or unachievable as you’d think).
Where did you get the idea of travelling permanently and why did you want to do it?
Everything is so far from Australia that long flights were expensive and stressful. Now we can take short flights and see the most amazing things. It’s also much cheaper to travel then it was to live in Australia. How could this not be a dream?
Where has been your favourite place to travel to?
These questions are so hard. How can anyone pick a favourite place? I have favourite moments in places which mean I have fond memories of those countries.
For instance, in Thailand we witnessed a lantern festival which makes Thailand a place I will never forget. And in Turkey I hot air ballooned over the most unique landscape I have ever seen, so I can also say how much I loved Turkey. Swimming with wild turtles in Mexico was also a highlight for sure. I better stop, otherwise I’ll go on forever.
Where is the most beautiful place you’ve travelled to?
Crater Lake, USA. Is that crazy? We’ve been to the Greek Islands, the Bahamas and the Caribbean, but I will never forget that moment at Crater Lake. The national park had just re-opened after the winter and there was still snow on the ground, but it was a warm sunny day. That magical mirror-like blue lake reflecting those snowy peaks…wow.
Where has been the most surprising place you’ve travelled to?
Kythnos. It is a very small Greek Island with no more then 1,500 people. There is no crime, the restaurants all grow their own produce, there are very few tourists. I have not been to anywhere so small and local and so extremely welcoming.
Where is the one place in the world that you haven’t been that you want to visit?
As much as people report their dreadful experiences in Egypt I have been fascinated with the pyramids since I was young and really want to see them.
Where has been the kids’ favourite place to visit? What did they like about it?
Mia loves where Nan and Pop are (that would be Israel). Wow, I didn’t see that one coming.
Caius wants to go to the playground. Easy to please!
Why do you think it’s important for kids to travel?
Travel is a learning experience that can’t be taught from a book or a computer or a classroom. Travel creates broader horizons and greater dreams. It introduces and immerses children in different cultures and will instill an understanding in them from a young age that regardless of where we come from, we are all the same human family.
Have you been to any places that are unsuitable for kids to travel to?
I cannot think of any place that is unsuitable for children. Every place has its less desirable parts, but every place also has its children. Party islands like Ios, Greece still feature family favourites and adult playgrounds like Amsterdam also have kids’ playgrounds. There hasn’t been a place yet we have thought the kids shouldn’t have gone to. Even Las Vegas was a surprising highlight for the kids.
How do you decide the itinerary and where you are going to next?
Very last minute and with much arguing! We have a fair idea of the direction we want to head in and the actual journey takes place when we meet people and hear their recommendations or when we see a flight that is cheap or when we realise it’s all been too much and we need a rest.
Recently we had the whole year planned out. We are one month in and already in a country that was not to be visited until the end of the year, plus we just decided to visit several others that didn’t even make the initial list. We are very easy going and flexible. It helps to prevent meltdowns.
How do you fund all this travel?
My husband is a web designer with his own business that he runs on the road. He’s chosen to greatly reduce his hours since we started to travel as our expenses are actually 60% less than what we were originally spending back in Australia. He’s also starting up several other online businesses at the moment.
Where do the kids call “home”?
Any place that Mummy and Daddy are. If I ask Caius, he would say a playground again.
How do you ensure the kids are maintaining their education while being on the road?
We left when the kids were 2 and 3 and formal education was not necessary. Despite attending no lessons, my 4-year-old learnt to count to ten in four languages and she understands geography as we study maps on where we are and where we are going.
Now that they are older they both use online learning tools. We also take opportunities to read road signs, count at restaurants, use math skills at supermarkets and [teach through] other every day life experiences.
The kids are naturally curious and learning surprisingly quickly from just being in an ever-changing world. We help them learn skills that are practical to their daily lives so they are absorbed faster, rather than try to force on them abstract concepts and discourage their thirst for knowledge.
Do you think the kids are unsettled at all from the lack of a regular “routine”?
My son seems to get unsettled much more then my daughter. She is outgoing and social, where he is a bit more introverted. It’s not so much the routine that bothers him, but the housing changes. He needs to feel safe in his environment. If we move too fast we notice a change in character; if we stay still for a few weeks or a month he is easier going and happier. We strive to make him feel “safe” at all times.
What is the best part of being a permanent traveller?
Costs. You only pay for one-way tickets. You only pay for one accommodation at a time, not a house at home sitting empty while you pay for a hotel. You hardly do any cooking or cleaning. You are never bored. And you get to see so much more of this amazing world.
Has your life on the road met or exceed your expectations?
I thought we would never make 6 months. Life on the road has opened my eyes and my mind. It has certainly exceeded my expectations. Six months has now turned into two years. It’s been one of the most rewarding decisions we made for our family.
When and where do you plan to stop and settle down, if ever?
We feel this might be our last year of purely nomadic travel, but we certainly won’t stop. We would like to setup a new, centrally located home base and an easy launching pad for new trips, perhaps next year. Who knows? In each city and country we visit we are also evaluating it as a new potential home base. So we’ll have to wait and see.
What are your top 3 recommendations for family-friendly holidays and places to travel with kids?
Singapore Sentosa Island is fabulously family-friendly with Universal Studios, beaches and resort-style accommodation. Singapore is clean and very easy to travel around. [For more travel tips on things to do in Singapore with kids, see the suitcases&strollers stories Singapore and Sentosa.]
Dubai, United Arab Emirates This city is amazing. Clean, the train system is flawless and the malls are huge. There’s something for everyone. We spent 3 days in one mall alone letting the kids ice skate or visit Kidzania, while mum shopped. There is also the famous Atlantis waterpark on the Palm, where you can waterslide through a shark tank. [For more travel tips on things to do in Dubai with kids, see the suitcases&strollers stories Dubai and The Dubai Mall.]
Istanbul, Turkey This place has playgrounds everywhere, so once mum and dad finish looking at an artistic mosque you can take a visit to a local playground. Not only Istanbul, but hot air balloon rides in Cappadocia, boat rides in the south and cheap prices make Turkey a family favourite.
The Permanent Travellers is a regular series on suitcases&strollers documenting the adventures of some extraordinary families. To read more about single mum Lainie Liberti who travels with her son Miro, click here. To read about the Zapp family who are travelling with four kids and an antique car, click here. Or check out the suitcases&strollers story The World's Most Travelled Toddler.