Extended travel is really a fabulous way to go and it seems more and more people are looking at this option and we want to be able to help others fulfill this dream! I recently got a twitter message from a cyber-friend who has a great family travel site called Delicious Baby which is particularly good for families with babies and young children. There seems to be more curiosity about long term family travel, which I think is a great thing. The big questions seem to be "How do you do this?" and "How much does it cost?" so I thought I would address these in greater depth here.
I realize that it often seems like the impossible dream, but in our experience it is really much easier and much, much cheaper than most people think. The rewards are more than worth the effort. I read somewhere that 70% of families would like to do extended travel together. We find that we can travel the world and live large for much less than living at home and we have been primarily based in Europe thus far ( that some find so expensive with the ever falling dollar). As I have stated before, we lived on a grand total of twenty five thousand dollars for all our expenses in our first year and plan to stay in that range or less every year.
As Ralph Potts explains in Vagabonding ( a book I highly recommend as well as his website vagabonding), travel does not really costs that much, maintaining stuff does. This was an important insight for us and my mind started to shift and rethink things after reading my friend's the Terhorst's site about early retirement and we also bought the Kaderli's ebook and recommend their informative early retirement site. The first step is always opening ones mind to the possibilities and there is much to be learned from other's experiences. Truly, anyone can do extended travel.
One of the first things to look at for cutting costs in extended family travel is flight costs as they tend to be the most expensive item when creating a family travel plan. It really does not make much sense to me to act like a "two week millionaire" and spend like crazy for a short rushed vacation. We have always been frugal, so I like to see how much luxury I can pack in for the smallest amount of money. We can splurge on some luxury hotels partly because we do not spend money on expensive flights.
So that leads to the other important key for saving money ...by staying longer and if at all possible going off season. Housing is the next greatest expense, so look at ways to reduce costs. One can save a bundle on monthly furnished homes, villas and apartments and even renting them by the week, it is usually cheaper and more convenient for families. You can buy locally and cook most of your own meals which usually works best for families any way. If we go out to eat, we usually do it at lunch time as it is cheaper then.
I realize few will want to sell everything and take off on an open ended journey around the world like we are doing, but I can see so many ways that people can incorporate what we have done and make their own long term escapes. I wonder if it is a new pattern now as I see more and more people doing it and interested in finding a way of doing it. People have been asking me to write a book about our experiences which I will eventually do, but in the mean time I think there are some great books on this topic.
Here is a reading list that I would use if I was in the dreaming or planning stages of creating an extended family trip. We retired early, but not everyone has or wants that option. One of the most popular books today with good information on how to free oneself from work obligations is Tim Ferriss' The 4-Hour Work Week. He has a huge cult of people fascinated with his techniques and it makes me wonder if this is possibly an avenue for a paradigm shift in family/work balance. I think some of his ideas like virtual assistance are revolutionary and one can use the advice to tweak to ones own needs.
If you want to go towards a gap year ( taking one year off as many are doing today) then look at books like Dan'sEscape 101 and Elise Bernick's Family Sabbatical Handbook. There are also more helpful books on this topic in our family travel book reviews. Why not open your eyes to early retirement like the Kanderlis and Terhorsts have done? Both couples retired in their thirties over twenty years ago and have thrived on it, so lots to be learned from their books. Tim Ferris talks about multiple "Mini-retirements" which he sees as different than sabbaticals or early retirement and seems to think that they are much more available to people than most realize and I agree. Recently there was a good interview by J.D. Roth and discussion about this at Get Rich Slowly.
We love to ride bikes, but riding and living on bikes for two years would not be our thing. Some would not like to RV or camp like we do for half the year. Some prefer different countries. We were much more interested in Europe than South East Asia, so wanted to find a way to spend more time there on a very low budget. The possibilities are really endless, so it is really up to you to dream up what and how you want to do it. I have read about people who have walked, rode a donkey, taken one car for twenty years, taken an antique car and had a baby along the way, sailed, about to world travel with 8 kids and more, so there are no shortage of examples to follow or pick and choose from. Look to our link page to read lots of interesting stories from families who have done or are planning to do extended travel.
We were inspired by this French family of four that traveled the world for four years by RV for just 1500 euros a month, total costs. We also learned a lot from our friends the Drapers who have been living full time in an RV in Europe and home educating their two great kids since 2000. We gathered lots of information from Families on the Road (FOTR) which is a great group of people who travel and roadschool in their RV's. Some of them like our friends Activated Storytellers have been doing it for 15 years, since their son ( now a very capable teen) was in diapers.
We had friends who spent 6 months one winter living in Spain. The father took some advance Spanish language classes at Salamanca University which got them a six month student visa, the kids went to the local schools and the mom telecommuted to her office in California. Many businesses now allow telecommuting and one can use many of the ideas in Tim Ferris' book or Six Months Off on how to create more time off and working from home. It is often just as easy to telecommute from a home in a foreign land as it is from your home that is an hour away from the office. Surprisingly, one can even save money by doing this.
I read recently that 40% of the workforce at IBM telecommute and that is becoming more of a trend in many businesses today. Another option might be to start creating your work in a mobile fashion.Business week said just last month, "According to the Small Business Administration, some 12.2 million
Americans, nearly 10% of the workforce, is self-employed, making the
possibilities of the home office endless."
I have mentioned them before, but our cyber-friends at Nunomad and Laptop Hobo have great information on creating a mobile office and you might want to check out their e-book. Location Independent Living also has some great information on mobile work for those that are looking to create that for themselves as a way to do more extensive travel as a family. Here is a post they did on analyzing expenses to show how they are living for less by this route. Every family will be different ( we find we live on less), but it is good at showing the comparison costs.
We sold everything to keep our expenses down, so that we do not have to worry about mortgage payments or cars and car insurance or high medical insurance costs, but that is only one way to do it. Before taking off on a gap year or extended travel, it is important to know your housing market very well. It is something few people think about before extended travel, but essential in the planning to make sure that one makes the best choice as many have made errors in this area.
Housing tends to go in cycles. Look closely to see if the trend is going up or down. If the trend is at the beginning of a downward spiral or at the peak after a long booming market as it was for us, it is far wiser to sell when it is easiest to do it and at the best price. We know other around-the-world families who missed this and some are still having a hard time selling at a much lower price. If the trend is at the beginning of a major upswing, after being down for a long time, it is often wiser to rent out one's house. The folks who wrote " One Year Off" talk about this mistake that they made by selling their home in a rapidly rising market when they took off, thus had to buy a much lesser home for more money upon return.In 20-20 hindsight, they saw they should have rented out their house instead of selling.
One needs to look at all the information to make the best choice as much will depend on the mortgage and how much is owed or if the house is already paid for, other costs involved and how long the family trip is scheduled for. If you are going for a shorter time, homes exchange might be an area that you could look into and one can often exchange cars etc in the package deal. This site is a good source of more information about home exchange.
If you want to just rent a place at first, you might want to look at a small village in Andalusia, Spain for the winter. One can easily find a really nice furnished rental for 300 to 650 euros per month and most will include internet cable and gorgeous ocean views. The winters are sunny and warm, but summer is the high season, so there are tons of places available and easy to negotiate a monthly price in the winter which is less than what the place goes for by the week in summer.
If you live like a native and buy things at the market and from local farmers and walk or take public transportation you can live on very little. Look closely at the winter temperatures and rain as my friends who wintered in Salamanca and Barcelona found out, it can be cold or rainy if you are not in the deep southern part near the ocean. We just looked at some Andalusia sites to find white villages that we liked and then googled the name of the village with "holiday rentals" and got a ton of sources to contact with pictures and detailed information on rentals. We negotiated a low monthly price knowing that most sit empty all winter. We have most of our experience with Spain, but this can be done in lots of places like Croatia, Greece, Turkey, France, Italy, Argentina,Equador, South Africa and more. It is much more pleasant in nice weather, so I would look at that area closely before choosing.
One of the great things about extended family travel and mobile living is the educational experience for the children. That has been our primary motivation and it has proven to be an unsurpassable education, far superior to what we even imagined. We primarily do homeschool year round, but we have also found going to the local school in Spain has been the ultimate in giving her the best bi-literal and bi-cultural immersion in her second language. Here is a video of our Mozart reading one of her school books:
Going to local schools is an option that others are taking advantage of too. Our cyber friends, the Woods family spent six months in Provence where their twelve year old daughter went to the local school and they enjoyed their Grand Tour so much that they later started an excellent business based on their experiences and knowledge gained. In the book " One Year Off" , David Cohen talks about their positive experiences of the kids going to school in Australia for six months ( they also traveled with a bilingual nanny which is another possibility).Their daughter later used the richness of her travel experiences in her impressive college application letter. My friend Jane moved to Tuscany for a year with her husband and grandson. He had a wonderful experience in the school there and became fluent in Italian at eight years old, despite being from a monolingual family.
A family that I recently met online moved to China for a year to immerse their preschool children in Mandarin. The mother was working at a school teaching English. That is another possibility for those that want to do extended travel. One can teach around the world and or teach English in many places. One family I know, volunteered to homestay with a local family and taught in Thailand though this organization. They loved the experience and it cost them very little.
Some people worry about older children and taking them out of school, but many have been successful with that and all of them seem to feel it was by far the wisest and most enriching choice for their children and for the family. Here is a thread on Bootsnall forum
where the subject was meeting older kids needs during extended travel
and I left lots of related links. The Frost family did international
travel with four teen age daughters and learned so much that she is writing a book on this topic which sounds fascinating. The Ardrus family from Sixintheworld traveled the world for a year with four kids in 2006 and did distance learning with the two older boys, who had no trouble adapting back to school on their return.
There are some wonderful distance learning programs out there now. If one qualifies, the EPGY programs in math, writing and more are highly recommended. There seem to be lots of cyberschools that some recommend and have been very happy with like Calvert and Laurel Springs. We have a wonderful piano teacher that we take lessons from on a different continent and he teachers students all over the world. There are endless opportunities today with learning and collaborating online and I will get further into them in a separate post.
I am also planning on doing an e-book and then a regular book as soon as I can get some time to get all the information that we are learning through experience organized, collected and produced. People keep asking how this can be done and frankly, it is more enjoyable, easier and more enriching than we ever imagined. It does seem intimidating before you do it, but it is really accessible to all. If you have any questions or areas that you would like to see covered please let me know in the comments or send an email.
I cannot cover it all in one post, but this should give you a starting point and food for thought. I think one of the first things to do is begin to shift one's perspective to knowing that this is easily doable today. The internet makes it easier than ever before and also effortless to keep in touch with family and friends while traveling. We looked at a lot of ways that other people did extensive travel before leaving and then made our own plan. We like the 6 or 7 months of travel via RV combined with 5 or 6 months of deeper immersion in one place.
There are just so many ways that one can do extended travel as a family. The bonding alone and shared adventure is worth the effort and the educational & experiential values are priceless. When we started out in 2006, we were not sure if we could do this or that we would enjoy it, so it was a gamble to a certain extent. Now, we find this mobile life the best way to live large on little and to really enjoy the freedom of life and our time as a family. If your heart calls you to travel and live a more mobile life, I highly recommend you start putting that dream into motion!
Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back,
always ineffectiveness concerning all acts of initiative and creation.
There is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless
ideas and splendid plans; that the moment one definitely commits
oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help
one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events
issues from the decision raising in one's favor all manner of
unforeseen events, meetings and material assistance which no one could
have dreamed would have come their way. I have learned a deep respect
for one of Goethe's couplets: “Whatever you can do or dream you can,
begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now!”