How We Began A Life of Full Time Family Travel
Having kids isn’t for everyone but if something inside you is drawn to the indescribable chaos, adventure and joy of making your own little humans, then you may be wondering if you have to choose between a life of freedom and starting a family. Is it possible to travel with young kids, on a budget, and have magical, family-enriching, experiences?
After 10 years of nomadic living as a couple, Pete and I nipped back to England in between our backpacking adventures. We were staying in a friend’s attic. I noticed I kept protectively placing my hand across my front, I felt a little different. Almost on a whim, I bought one of those little sticks you pee on. Taking the test felt a little silly and as I was about to throw it away, I noticed a second stripe appearing.
Honestly, it wasn’t the Hollywood moment I had maybe been expecting, I didn’t know how to feel. I headed back up to the attic to show Pete. He didn’t know I was taking a pregnancy test, he had never seen a test before, so it took a moment for him to realise what this meant. As a smile appeared across Pete’s face, I knew everything would be ok.
Let’s fast forward to taking sensible jobs, getting a tiny terrace house, and learning how to do a ‘weekly shop’ at Aldi to the exhaustion and euphoria of keeping our new baby alive. We fell for what everyone told us, and out of fear of screwing up our kid, for the first time in our adult lives, we jumped in line and tried to do all things adulting the way you’re meant to.
The longer we did it, the more empty and forced life felt. We were trying to squeeze into a tiny box, literally and figuratively and nothing about it felt right. Once you have learned there is more to life, how can you go back to the so-called norm and worse yet, bring up your children as though there isn’t a world of love, adventure, and enriching experiences out there?
It felt scary and we had no idea of what it would look like, but whilst Hudson was still a tiny baby we booked a flight to Kazakhstan — even though not everybody would consider it to be one of the most baby-friendly destinations…
We stuffed some nappies in a backpack, and set off on a 7-week trip that would be make or break.
As we traveled overland through Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, hitchhiking, staying in yurts, and connecting with locals who were bemused and loved up to meet our baby, we learned more about being a family than we ever had before.
Hitting the road as a family was one of our most challenging adventures, but it showed us what is truly important. We loved being around each other so much; as we adventured through new life experiences together, we genuinely grew closer as a family.
Of course, we were super tired sometimes but parenting IS hard, and being out amongst nature, immersed in new experiences and cultures, energised us. We would sooner be exhausted after a long day of hitchhiking followed by jumping on a horse to get into the rural mountains of Kyrgyzstan than the equally exhausting banalities of a domestic routine.
After returning from our first family adventure, we felt thrown back into a faux ground-hog-day-esque life where we barely got to see each other. I remember the first time Hudson’s little eyes teared up as Pete left for work. This triggered that initial question – “Is there another way to live as a family?”
Is it Healthy and Safe for Children to Travel the World?
Is it possible to travel with kids as a responsible parent wanting to bring up happy healthy humans? Surely kids need a base and to go through formal schooling? We wrestled big time with our own and others’ expectations of what family life should look like.
Once you have kids, the general consensus is to get back into a corporate job, ship your kid out to institutionalised care and learning and spend snatched bits of time together on weekends. If you can carve out time to plan it, maybe even go on the occasional holiday together.
One of our biggest revelations has been that family IS the base and safe place for kids and creating the opportunity for young children to spend more time with their parents is absolutely a good thing. Being a present, loving parent intentionally invested in your child’s upbringing is more important than where you choose to live. We have seen consistently, deeply and truly that we are our children’s safe place and stability.
What is Worldschooling?
So what about schooling? …allow us to introduce you to Worldschooling.
The idea of worldschooling is a relatively new and exciting approach to children’s education. There is however a lot of controversy around defining worldschooling, but most would agree that in essence, it is using the world as your classroom; this has become true for us. You can explore epic destinations in depth and use them to genuinely connect with a topic and put it into a real-world context.
Much like homeschooling, there is no one established worldschooling curriculum, rather an exciting new movement of determined and innovative parents dynamically investing in their children’s education in a way that is true, good, and healthy for their children. Much of worldschooling breaks away from the damaging ‘one size fits all’ approach to education. Every family will differ in their approach depending on their children’s needs, stage in relation to education, and ultimately what they think is best as a parent.
Some worldschooling families take the unschooling approach where they believe you learn through experience and need no formal approach at all. Some stick strictly to their country’s national curriculum and use enriching travel experiences to bring it to life. There are many alternative curriculums that can be tailored to your travels, some resources are designed for the parents to deliver, and others are designed for your child to learn online.
Parents worldschooling young children tend to use resources such as Twinkl, ABC Mouse and Reading Eggs to guide their child’s learning and even form lesson plans. Parents worldschooling older children tend to gravitate and teach towards more formal curriculums such as IGCSE online (International GCSE) or MYP curriculum, both of which are excellent foundations for higher education. Some worldschoolers don’t believe in working towards more formal education and will mentor their child more directly towards turning a particular passion into their vocation.
How We Make Worldschooling Work for Us
Personally, we are passionate about lifelong learning and love to approach education holistically. Pete and I were both secondary school teachers prior to becoming digital nomads. To be honest we’re pretty geeky. Yes, we adore all the enriching learning experiences that could only come about through schooling whilst traveling, but we also have a passion for academia and love delving deep into all kinds of topics with our children.
We are mindful of the UK’s national curriculum as we teach, but ultimately find there is a world of education beyond the syllabus and love exploring that as we travel. Our dream is to equip our children to understand and access as much of the world as they want and need to thrive and find true happiness in whatever they choose to do as they grow up.
At first, the idea of worldschooling was overwhelming. Our eldest was due to start formal schooling the year we set off and to be honest it was scary signing the papers to essentially say we would become responsible for his education. Less than a year into full-time family travel and worldschooling, we feel it is one of the best decisions we have ever made and are excited to keep going.
We have a 5 year old, 3 year old and are presently backpacking with another baby on the way. We get to spend so much more time together and work out what truly works (and doesn’t work!) for us as a family.
How Worldschooling Fits in With Our Travels
The beauty of it is that you choose. You can build a life and education that works best for your children. One thing that surprises us most is how quickly you can get through the more formal subjects such as Maths and English when teaching your children directly. This creates a lot of flexibility in your schedule.
Many families tend to do more formal schooling in the morning and then explore where they are in the afternoon as a basic structure. Based on location, interests and opportunities you can take days to learn by exploring the world firsthand.
What most will only ever read in textbooks, you can go visit and learn about in person. Remember that epic feeling of going on a school trip, where you actually leave the school for the day to really learn about something? You get to do that as often as you want.
Thinking that your children need to be in formal education is one of the biggest barriers to full time, long term family travel. It is something you will want to read more deeply into as you work out what is best for your children. There are so many options it can seem overwhelming to get to grips with, but rest assured that it is absolutely possible to make it work.
What Full Time Family Travel Really Looks Like
Every family’s journey and experience will be unique. Sharing travel stories and moments is what connects and inspires us as a travel community, so here is a little insight into our journey into full time family travel.
Following a season of giving away pretty much everything we own, we set off with only what we could carry on our backs. We have one check-in bag for the whole family. Choosing faith over fear we took that one-way ticket east in August 2021. Though the pandemic was starting to calm down, we still found ourselves on an almost empty plane, escorted through airports with people in hazmat suits, crazy amounts of paperwork, and of course, relentless nose excavations.
Most of the world was still requiring long, intense hotel quarantines, which we know have been intense for fellow travelers, but this is a good first example of where travel with kids is different. We knew it was just not an option to keep two wild and free bubs in a room for two weeks. So we were stoked to get on Thailand’s unique quarantine program where after the first night, we were free to explore the island during the remainder of the 2-week quarantine.
Courage, Compassion, and Culture
We are now more than a year and a half into full-time family travel and we definitely made some mistakes along the way. We thought we needed to adapt our travel style slightly and slow down. It turned out we needed to adapt our travel style a lot and slow down A LOT. We went from staying in a new place most nights and using overnight buses as accommodation to learning that one month of high pace backpacking followed by one month of slow down and plugging into a culture works well for us.
This allows us to get to explore epic intrepid places as a family but also slow down before we burn out and really connect with a culture. From living with a traditional tribal family in rural Vietnam to enjoying Island life in a small Thai village, the months where we stopped to live in a place have become some of our most meaningful travel memories.
We genuinely learn so much about travel from our children. I certainly wish I had learned to travel slower sooner, you may tick off less experiences, but the ones you do are more special and honestly, the kind you actually want to do. As a family, you can’t waste time and energy going somewhere just because you’re ‘meant to’. We never did this much before anyway, but when traveling with kids you weigh up even more carefully if it’s something you really want to experience as a family.
We also find we connect way more with locals. One of my favorite little travel moments was when our toddler scampered up into the bamboo hut of a Bajau tribe family because he saw a toy car. Everyone just burst into laughter, no common language was needed-the giggles and connection were instant.
Babies are renowned for making up their sleep patterns as they go. We have seen a lot more sunrises than we did pre-kids. One morning when our baby woke at 5, in an effort to give me a little more rest and keep my inner Medusa at bay, Pete took our early little waker for a walk and found himself with a mountain temple to himself for sunrise.
Coffee shop catch-up days have also become a key part of our adventures. Until recently, we had no idea that this was even a thing for backpackers without kids. How did we miss this? I don’t care if it doesn’t sound cool or intrepid, I love these days. Granted, we have to be really careful as to which coffee shop we choose, but when we find a kid-friendly one and have a much-needed catch up on work, schooling and life day, we feel rested and reset as a family.
Our kids have taught us to slow down and look for meaning in ways we would never have thought to before. It may sound cliche but we honestly love seeing the world through their eyes.
People often ask if traveling with kids is exhausting. The truth is parenting is exhausting and there is no escaping that, you might as well be somewhere beautiful.
How We Afford Full Time Family Travel
This is one of the questions we get asked all the time. The short answer is we saved hard while in England and now work online. Over the years we’ve done a range of things, but now we’re doubling down on our family travel website. I used to make quite a bit of money on social media, but took a step back from it before we set off to really think about what we put out there.
We did a lot of soul searching and landed with ‘not wanting to make social media our main income’ as we want to keep it real, and often in social media, real doesn’t pay as well. We decided to focus more on our family’s YouTube channel as you can capture the highs and lows, the big and the small things more honestly. We chose to do this from the heart in the hope of creating a happy wholesome little corner of the internet where we can bring people into our journey as a family. A few surprisingly viral videos later and it is also really helping with our income too.
Where in the world do you actually stay?
This is one of the biggest questions to work through and will look different for every family.
If you get the balance wrong with this one, you’re going to whack through your money faster than you can imagine. Finding budget accommodation for a family is so much harder than finding budget accommodation for solo or couple travel.
We have picked up and worked out some great ways to get nicer, more spacious places to stay even on a small budget. Deciding where to stay will of course depend on the size of your family, your desired level of comfort, and how long you intend to stay, BUT along the way we’ve learned some tips and tricks on how to find the best hotels for kids that can help every family.
Being flexible and willing to try and test what works for your family to begin with can really help you save money in the long run. We have found that when we’re traveling faster, we’re happy to bunk into twin rooms together as it’s just somewhere to ditch bags and sleep whilst we go and explore. We have had longer stints of doing this, but it does tend to be less restful and if we know we’re slowing down or need to get work done, we tend to book triple and quad rooms and even apartments so we can have that little extra space.
Quick top tip: ‘Family rooms’ often come at a premium price when they’re not much different from the hotel, guest houses, or hostels’ triple or quad rooms. Always watch out for this. Hotel booking websites are great for finding what’s available, but if you’re staying longer, contact them directly and make a deal, often they will include the kids for free if you do this.
Housesitting, Couchsurfing, Airbnb, and Vrbo are all great if you need more space and you can usually contact the host to work out deals and set up. If you have younger children and a bigger budget ‘Tested by Tots’ is great for finding accommodation with all things toddler such as high chairs, potties and toys. Hostels can be surprisingly family-friendly. A private room in a hostel is usually cheaper than any hotel and this way you get community and all the perks of a hostel, but still the safety and privacy of a private room. Always check the age restrictions, but mostly they are very welcoming to families.
From budget accommodation to splashing out on dream stays, finding genuinely kid-friendly places to stay can be a nightmare at times. After years of trial and error, we have worked out some tips that can help every family find better accommodation as a family. Honestly, we really wish we had worked out a lot of this sooner. It is something you really need to get to grips with, as much of it isn’t as obvious as you might think.
Tips for Full Time Family Travel
It is always great to pick up tips and hacks for full time family travel, but ultimately, once you set off, you will find what works well for you. Every family is unique as is every journey, but hopefully, these tips will give you some actionable tools to help boost your confidence if you are working towards traveling full-time family nomading.
Downsize to upsize
Downsize your possessions to upsize your world!
It has been the best feeling giving away pretty much everything we own to travel light. The more you give away or sell your possessions, the more you realise you just don’t need them. This is especially true of all domestic, baby and kid stuff you are constantly sold.
Whether you are planning a family gap year or to actually set off indefinitely, try to get to a point where you own little more than you actually need. I advise you to do this early in the process of preparing to go for two reasons. Firstly, you probably have more than you realise and secondly, it’s great to get rid of loads of stuff and then live without it just to see you never needed it. Just a heads up, It will always take longer than you think, so make this a priority.
Get some savings behind you
It takes longer to save for long term travel as a family and you will probably want a bigger safety net if you’re traveling with kids. Some save harder for longer and work out remote work as they go, while others establish their remote work before they set off.
Surround yourself with a community that inspires you
It is so hard breaking away from the norm and you will have some hard days that may make you doubt your decision to travel full-time as a family. This is why we are big believers in building connections with other traveling families and surrounding ourselves, where we can, with inspiration and community. A great way to kick start this is to get to know some epic and inspirational family travel bloggers that are making it work.
Choose the perfect starter country for your family
So whilst you COULD jump in at the deep end and backpack across Kyrgyzstan on horseback, there are so many other countries that are better to find your rhythm and build your confidence in.
Some of the best budget starter countries for family travel that offer adventure, culture, beauty, great food and just enough convenience in terms of travel and basic family necessities are Thailand, Indonesia (Bali), Morocco, Costa Rica and Greece. Our number one pick for many reasons would be Thailand. But you really need to know where to go and how to make longer-term family travel in Thailand work for you.
Try some bigger trips whilst you still have a base
If you are longing to travel full-time and long-term, give it a test run before you set off. Pick a country slightly out of your comfort zone and travel it on a budget you know you could afford longer term Go further than you have traveled before each time, and rest assured that while flying with kids might take some getting used to, it only gets easier as you go along.
Wherever you are in the world, most parents would agree on the necessity of snacks in surviving travel with kids. As an adult, you can just about push through hungry and skip meals, but that’s just not an option with kids.
Often you can find yourself arriving late and unable to find any open restaurants, so having a stash of things you know your kids will always eat is essential. We almost always have a big bag of oats, seeds, dried fruit, and UHT milk in our backpack. We also now spend more time stocking fresh food before long journeys, anything to keep the hangry at bay.
Don’t go too cheap on insurance
We’ve often scrimped on this in the past or only really focused on a decent medical for the absolute worst-case scenario. Please don’t do this if you’re traveling with your family. If something happens with your kids you need to know you’re well-insured.
Travel insurance is more complicated for families and you will need to do a bit more research to work out what is right for your family. There are a great range of travel insurance options but as you’ve probably started to notice it’s always a touch more complicated to get it right for a family. Get into the small print and make calls if you’re unsure before you take out a policy.
I know I have said it before and I will say it again, mostly just because I need to remind myself, too. Whatever your travel pace was pre kids, slow it down. I mentioned that we love a good catch-up day. Catch-up days (and even just chill days) are so important for families, scheduling them in helps to avoid travel burnout. It will take time to find a pace and rhythm that suits you and your family, try not to overdo it to begin with.
Staying connected with friends and family has never been easier. Zoom, Whatsapp, Facetime, Messenger-there are loads of great options. If you are trying to stay connected with not-so-tech-savvy relatives, have a few practice runs before you leave. Pick a time and regularity that works well for your relationships.
It can also be a nice touch to take photos of loved ones to help your kids keep that connection. Letters and postcards with little updates from your kids hit different in a digital world. We found they can be a nice way for our kids to consolidate their experiences and, of course, equally nice for far away family members to receive.
Take turns, dream team!
A huge part of making this work is developing a team dynamic within your family. Do everything you can to be on the same page as your partner and within that, make space for both of you to have your alone time. On the most essential level, we find we need to make work time for each other, where one of us has a day with the kids whilst the other works.
We both work a lot in the evenings at this stage, but independent work days are essential too. It’s important to keep very clear and open communication between each other, no holding resentment, absolute honesty over everything. Everything works better when you lead with kindness and understanding.
You can also support each other by building in time for each of you individually to recharge in your own way. Loving each other this way is healthy for each of you as individuals, as a couple AND it helps you sustain a healthy and happier family dynamic as you travel.
Getting Insured BEFORE Setting Off As a Family
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Final Thoughts on Full Time Family Travel
You’ve got this! If you are passionate about travel and believe it is the best way to raise your family, you can and will make a way for it to work. We are big believers in pursuing what you truly love and the rest will fall into place.
Increasingly, there are more brave and intrepid families heading out into the world to find shared experiences together. The opportunities for bonding, memories, laughter and life skills is truly unparalleled.
Long-term family travel may take longer to prepare for and longer to work things out, but if you are prepared for more poops and giggles than you thought possible, go for it. Traveling with your kids, whether it be Disneyland with toddlers or an off beat adventure helps you grow as a family and shows you the world is filled with more love and kindness than you ever thought possible.
Life doesn’t end with children, it begins.
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