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Questions & Answers About Soultravelers3 Family Travel

June 17, 2009

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"How do you travel the world and what exactly does extended family travel look like?"

We get so many questions via our blog, email, Twitter, Youtube and Facebook, that I have a hard time keeping up with them, so I've decided to add them as a post from time to time. That way I  can easily link back to them if they come up again. I still haven't finished our FAQ's so perhaps this will be a way to do that as well. I will also being doing a well documented diary of a typical week in our life, so keep an eye out for that here and on The Professional Hobo.

Here are some recent questions (in bold)   from a single mom with a 5 and 7 year old that discovered our website though Twitter (and our answers):

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1. Do you see any reason that being a single mom would not be safe or practical in this adventure?

I don't really, but I think it will really depend on the individual. It is a bit hard for me to judge as I am not a single mom. I think it will be a little harder as a single parent, but no harder than it is at home really.

In some ways it may be easier and in some instances it may be harder. I think one would need to gear the travel to how and where it would work for all of you. If you travel by camping in Europe during high season, most places have free child care and fun activities for the kids. We have found campsites very safe in Europe. There are many women who travel alone or with another woman.

There are other single moms who have done world travel with kids on their own. I was quite impressed to read about a mom with 5 kids who did the trip on her own ( from the book " One Year Off" and it was the mother of the wife in that family who was inspired by her own travels as a child with her mom and wanted to pass it on to her kids). I was in touch with a mom who did 8 months around the world with 2 kids on her own ( husband stayed home) but do not have that website now.

There is a discussion on Bootsnall about single moms and traveling that you might want to check out.

We find that having a good reader helps a lot on our travels because Mozart can occupy herself with a book, so I would keep that in mind. I think books help them get the most out of it too.

 

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2. My children are immersed in the American culture, even though I homeschool them, and I’m concerned about culture shock – any thoughts?

In my experience, young kids don't seem to get "culture shock". It all just seems like normal life to them. Even when we were deep into the Sahara, I can't say Mozart had any culture shock. She quickly adapted to a mud hut, nomad tent and playing in the Sahara dunes and oasis like it had always been part of her life.

We did ( while preparing) and do take time to educate Mozart about the places she visits, even more so if it will be a big change (like Morocco). One of the best parts about family travel is just doing ordinary things in extra ordinary places. Kids will enjoy playing where ever they are.

Most of the mainstays of American culture can be found around the world and/or found online. Free webcam calls with family and friends also keeps one connected to the American culture while immersing in a new culture. Reading American books ( and websites) also keeps them connected.

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3. We only speak English and a tiny bit of Spanish and French – did you learn languages as you went or did you already know some?  I was thinking of picking up some Rosetta stone learning programs for Spanish, Italian, German and French – what do you think?

 We did know a little Spanish before going. Mozart was the most fluent and had been speaking it from birth (we are primarily monolingual so we worked hard at achieving that). DaVinci also speaks pretty good Spanish as his grandmother was from Spain, but his parents do not consider him as fluent in Spanish and they never spoke Spanish in his home. My Spanish is much worse than both of theirs and all of us have gotten better by spending time in Spain.

English is the universal language and will be a big help, but it is really helpful to have another dominant language. I would probably just work on getting one other language down as best you can. Spanish is fairly easy to learn, is widely spoken and has also been a big help to us in Portugal and Italy.

We learn a few phrases where ever we go and carry a phrase book. It is a lot easier if you have more than one dominant language. Outside of major cities in Europe, in countries like Portugal, Italy, France, Germany, Spain, few people will speak other languages besides their own. It can be challenging, but usually between a phrase book and hand signs/charades  one can get by.

We knew we would spend lots of time in Spain, so we worked on our Spanish before going. We hired a teacher to help prepare Mozart for school by learning school terms in Spanish that she might need. We watched Spanish TV at home with subtitles, listened to the music, joined a bilingual group of native speakers, hired only babysitters who were native Spanish speakers and asked them to only speak Spanish, Mozart could only watch Spanish DVD's like Sesame Street, listened to Spanish music tapes in car and at home, took her to a Sunday school group 30 minutes away that was for native speakers etc.

We have learned languages as we have gone and our Spanish continues to grow, even Mozart's. I think it is an excellent idea to learn before and during travel. In Europe, one really gets to see the advantage of having more than one language and that lesson alone is fantastic for kids. Mozart has much more respect for Spanish now that she has experienced it as the dominant language. I have known people who have become basically  fluent in Spanish in immersed environments in 5 weeks. If you put your kids in a local school, they will pick it up quickly.

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4. Did you meet a lot of people who spoke English?

Yes, there are a lot of people who at least speak some English in many places since it is the universal language today. We have also been to many places where no one speaks any English. Road signs are usually not in English. Being able to have a second language that we can communicate in has helped a lot.

We can really tell the difference when we are in France and when we are in Spain as the latter is so much easier for us because we are so much better at that language. So yes, one can get by with English, but sometimes it will make life more difficult if you do not speak the local language.

It is not just the speaking, it is also understanding the answers to simple questions. It is reading road signs or trying to buy things at the grocery store etc. When you do not speak the local language, it tends to be harder, but it is also part of the joy of travel and people tend to be kind to travelers.

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5. I’m concerned about the children having opportunities to play and connect with other children – I didn’t see many photos of Ms Mozart with other children – was/is she ok with that?

I'm surprised that you did not see Mozart playing with other children as she connects to children and people of every age as we travel. She is a very social child and has benefited greatly by this travel lifestyle as far as friends are concerned. I don't always put pictures of the kids unless I get permission from the parents. Here is a video with a friend she met in France and they had a blast together, or tthe ones she met in Morocco or a group of kids she played with in Portugal.

One of the great things about campsites is families tend to use them a lot, so perfect for making friends from all over Europe! She usually finds a friend within seconds of arriving and has gotten very good at making friends instantly. I think that will serve her for the rest of her life. She prefers it if they speak one of her languages, but she also plays with kids that she shares no language in common with. Many pictures on this page are different kids that she has met and played with recently in Barcelona from the UK, Spain and Ireland.

I like this quote from a Pediatrician on the Transitions Abroad site:

“It is never too late to build family foundations,” says Dr. Nicholas Levy, a pediatrician affiliated with the Univ. of California, San Diego, who advocates traveling sabbaticals for families. “Travel, particularly international travel, exposes families to different lifestyles that intrinsically bring families together.”

“Adaptation and accommodation are probably the most valuable lessons that we can teach our children,” Levy says.

Once in a while, we don't run into kids, but she is fine just hanging out with my husband and I, or she often meets adults that interest her. We meet a lot of young backpacker types and they often enjoy her, especially the young girls or couples. Playing Uno card games for hours with a young couple from Austria at a beach in Croatia, playing backgammon and quizzing each other on Greek myths with other passengers on a gulet sailboat in Turkey, having long talks with a teacher from New Zealand in Samos, Greece...all come to mind off the top of my head. She even became such good friends this way with one of Japan's beautiful movie starts and a film crew that they added her to their film!

I agree with many experts, that  it is very valuable for kids to have some alone time in life and she is good at occupying herself with creative projects or books, which I think is a primary life lesson that few kids get today.

Also don't forget that we have spent the last three winters in the same  tiny 15th century village where she goes to the local school for five months. 99% of the kids are Spanish, but a few are expats that speak English as one of their languages, so she gets to immerse in several European cultures through that as well as Spanish. She also takes classes like flamenco, ceramics, violin there, goes horseback riding, plays sports, has play dates and sleepovers. She also maintains her relationships with family and friends at home via the internet and webcams.

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6. Is there anywhere on your blog where you talk more in detail about the finances involved?

DaVinci feels like it is a private matter, thus we just leave it to what we spend ( as that is quite easy to track). We do talk about what we spend on food and housing in greater detail and those are the main expenses.

We also mostly got out of the dollar in 2005 which has been beneficial for us. We have used two off shore banks  and a bank in the US that allows many currencies.Thus we were never hurt when the euro or pound was very high and the dollar very low.

The world financial situation is in a more precarious position than it has ever been, so I advise being very informed and forward thinking in these matters. Prepare for all possibilities. I have known people who did not look ahead at these issues and had negative consequences. We took a year doing nothing but preparing for our trip before take off as there is a lot to learn.

I'm not a financial planner, but I just put this as a caution to think financial plans out thoroughly before embarking. That would always be a good idea, but even more so in this world  economy that is still in process of a huge change. I also would not trust mass media for advice, but look deeper. I think those who predicted this crash tend to be  more reliable than those who created the problems.

There are plenty of websites that have breakdowns on expenses. Most of them spend a lot more than we do, which is only about 20 dollars a day for each of us and that includes everything from expensive piano lessons, to homeschool supplies to clothes and museums.  We have the advantage of slow travel and we don't have to stay at hostels or hotels every night.

There are times we spend more than others like when we stay at 5 star hotels or go to big them parks or some other splurges. There are also many times where we spend much, much less than that, so it averages out. There are some nights where we do not spend anything for lodging and we eat mostly vegan and lots of beans which means we save lots of money there which balances out with the splurges at fine restaurants.We do not spend any money on fuel during the winter and surprisingly little even during our travel time as we are often parked and walking or using mass transit.

This is an excellent new article by Nora Dunn about traveling full time on $14,000 a year. ( We've done it mostly in "expensive" Europe on less than $9000 a year per person ). I also love this classic article about how to travel the world for free from Matador.

For lots of good information check out Nunomads, Location Independent , Families on the Road and Digital Nomads. There has been a huge increase in people doing travel and work in the last year, primarily because of the economy, I think. Unfortunately, not very many families and few with extended experiences around Europe, but I found that one can learn lots from many different sources while creating your own unique plan.

You will find a lot of them on the resources I mention above, but also check out and join the Location Independent Ning and the Travel Bloggers exchange Ning. There are too many to name in this post, but here are a list of a few sites of  "lifestyle design"  people that may be helpful to you: Vagabonding, 4Hour Work Week,  , Art of Non-conformity,  Technomadia, and Mixerolgy ( especially on digital nomads)

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 7. What size RV did/do you have?

We have a 1998 Ford Rimor and it is an 18footer. It has a double bed over cab and two twin beds in back. I think the table folds to a bed too, but we have never done that and I would not recommend having a bed that you use daily that must be folded. Many nights, you will just want to crawl into bed without effort.This is the one and only RV that we have had from the start

Here are a few questions from pals on Twitter:

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@mashley9 What is your RV like?

This is a picture of it when we first picked it up in Amsterdam, one recent one where it sits all winter across from our winter home in Spain and I here is one taken this week in Barcelona.

 It has a double bed in front over the front seats. In the middle there is a table with two couches on one side and a "kitchen" on the other with two large windows on either side. The kitchen consists of a 2 burner gas stove, normal size sink, small counter, refrigerator and lots of cabinets above and below. Behind that area is a bathroom with a sink and shower. Across from the bathroom is a door and steps that lead to the outside world. Behind them lies the two bunk beds with two windows. There is also a window by the double bed and curtains that close off the double bed and driving area for privacy. There is a "large" closet for clothes (seen in the first picture link).

It is hard to get decent pics of the inside, but I have quite a few scattered throughout our blog. Sometimes we lust over large ones or brand new ones, but for the most part we are quite happy with this one and prefer to stay "low key" which I think helps with petty thieves. We have had no problems with that and it has run very well. We have a solar panel on top, so are self sufficient and don't really need to stay in campgrounds or pay for electricity when we do.

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@passion4skating How do you twitter while travelling? Laptop? Cell? Free wifi? Any tips?

We usually use our laptops for everything including twitter. Often times campsites have free or very cheap wifi. I'm writing this from our RV at a campsite in Barcelona. We also find free wifi at Mcdonald's, restaurants, cafes, hotels and even on the street sometimes.

We have a top of the line global quad cell phone, but we stopped using it right away as it was too expensive and a pain. We also had satellite and found that too expensive and a pain. We did buy a cheap cell phone in Spain, but rarely use it. We do almost all of our calls for free from our laptop.

We usually ask young people in their teens or twenties if we are having a hard time finding wifi. If we are really desperate we will use an internet cafe, but that is rare as often we would rather go unplugged than to use a different computer. Thier usually smoky, often unsafe and with frustrating foreign keyboards. 

My tip- be flexible and use a VPN.

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@GuyNGirlTravels We have a question 4 your blog! Has your family ever been recognized at any of the places you've been?

 Yes! Surprisingly, both times were people we knew from online communities who put 2 and 2 together and figured it out. The first time was on a roof top in the middle of the ancient  medina in Fez and shocked us! It turned out he knew us from Fordor's travel forum.

The second time, we randomly asked a stranger to take our picture in the crowded Piazzale Michelangelo and after talking a bit, something triggered her to realize she knew us from Slow Talk.

We rarely run into American's at all, so it's always fascinating when we do.

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@marcusjroberts I have a question! What was the hardest thing to let go of, when you started travelling?

 I think the hardest thing to let go of was our home. It took us a long time to make that decision as we were very attached to our dream home that we had put lots of work into. You can read about it in our first few posts. It was a rare find in our area and we knew if we let it go, we would not be able to find anything like it there again.

Also leaving family was very difficult. Our parents are older and our child was very close to her relatives.

We have not missed our house at all and that decision became easy once we committed. It has worked fairly well with family too thanks to frequent webcam calls and the internet. It many ways we actually stay in better touch now than when we lived close by.

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TMBMT@soultravelers3 how long did you have to save up to be able to do this? or are you making a living somehow while you travel?

We always lived a frugal life and well under our means. We had no debt except our home. Saving and living large on little is our natural way. Certainly, selling our home at peak and all we owned was helpful too.

We earn a living primarily from passive income. Our goal, just as if we were home, is to continue to build our nest egg, while living large on little. 

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@Luciais ur ideas 4 travlng from SF 2 Seattle/Vancouver?

Sorry, but that is way out of my field! If it was me, I'd probably like to do a slow drive up that beautiful coast in the summer with lots of stops.

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@oddwebthings  where are you heading next? :)

Italy I'm thinking now, but who knows for sure. Before that we will do some exploring the hidden areas of the Costa Brava and a little of France and Andorra I think. I just read about an interesting gem in the Pyrenees that sounds so tempting too.

Portugal, Barcelona area, Minorca, Sardinia, Corsica, Italy, Switzerland, Poland, Hungry, Romania, possibly Bulgaria and Paris are all on our list this year, along with Egypt, Jordan & Jerusalem in the fall. We will play it by ear and see how many get seen. Vilinus too maybe.

We were staying on track until we got to Barcelona. Now, due to the tourist time crunch on us,  I'm thinking we will have to try and pick up Sardinia and Corsica in the fall on the way back. I may cut some things out this year because our main goal is to go slow and really enjoy ourselves.

And a couple from our facebook fan page:

pool, Barcelona resort camping holiday

Holly McCann Bretschneider

Did you rent the RV? Are there a large number of campgrounds in Spain? Thanks!

I suppose it could be called renting or leasing as we have a buy back plan and they handle all the insurance and paperwork. We think of it as buying it as we can also sell it to others if we want and we have a few people interested. The article linked above under question 5 about family camping in Europe has more details.

Yes, there are a ton of campgrounds in Spain and all over Europe. It is one of the best ways to see the country and meet Europeans. There is not a city or a site in Europe that does not have camping and in some cities it is absolutely the best way to vist them (like Venice!). Most Europeans, Australians and Kiwi's know this, but some how most Americans do not. Almost all also have cabins or rentals, so no tent or RV is even needed. It is popular budget way to travel and many are quite luxurious. Many camp all winter  in southern Spain and Portugal to get away from the cold and rain of northern Europe. Some even spend the winter in Nice or Barcelona (a little colder).

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Kelly StJohn

I'm very interested in the logistics of planning such a trip. How did you come to the decision to travel and how do you do it and still manage financially?

 This interview on  Suite 101 and this one on Wandering Educators, will probably best answer your questions in greater detail. We have done quite a few interviews, so you can google more if you like the question and answer approach. Also the beginning of our blog tells a lot about how we were feeling right before we took off.

I think I answered the second part above already. Travel does not really cost that much, maintaining stuff does. We actually live on much, much less by traveling the world than we ever did at home. Funny, huh?

If you have any more questions you can post them here on the comments or any of the many ways to reach us and I will get to them when I can.



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Account Deleted

Excellent information! I'm always impressed by how forthcoming and practical you are in the information you give. I leave this Monday with our 3 daughters for Brazil and will derive confidence from the information you've shared over the years. Thanks for the NuNomad mention!
Carmen

Nora

Great post, and thank you for the mentions!
It's amazing how illuminating - and educational - life on the road can be. To anybody who is trying to figure out all the details before going, I say: "Blaze your own trail! Chase your dreams down and don't look back".
I too, miss my old home in Canada, but not enough to go back to it just yet! :-)

Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish

Thanks for such detailed responses. I have started pondering some of those very questions as we about to move overseas. We'll be living in one spot for three years but planning to do lots of traveling and also hoping to spend our fourth year doing a more intensive year of traveling. You and your family are a great resource and inspiration to our family!

Jessie

WHAT a great resource - you really detailed it all in this article. i am so happy to know you guys - and learn from you! thanks for sharing!

Karen (KayKay)

What a great post! I've wondered about many of the questions that you answered.

Daniel

I like especially what you had to say about financial considerations in advance of long-term travel. I think that's something that gets glossed over sometimes in our bids to break free and travel long-term.

I think many of those who predicted this crash are, like the proverbial broken clock, correct at least twice a day!

Diversification is important, and hedging yourself against fluctuations is always important. However, from where I stand for you guys — who have been travelling so long, wouldn't currency fluctuations pretty much offset themselves over time? I don't know.

What I do know, however, is that I am slowly moving investments over to unhedged emerging markets funds. The reason is two-fold!

Soultravelers3

Carmen- Thanks! Enjoy your adventure!

Nora-Thanks! I've been amazed at how little we have missed home. Webcams, videos & blogs help so much with keeping close as one roams!

Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish-Thanks! Sounds like you are in for a great adventure!!

Jessie-Aw, thanks! We have so much info, the hard part is having time to put it all down.It's hard to believe how much we have learned by doing.

Karen- Thanks! Glad your questions got answered!

Daniel-Yes, I have heard that "proverbial broken clock" line many times about those who predicted it, but have to disagree with it as it is usually said by people who were caught totally by surprise with the downturn.

They just weren't paying attention as there were many signs and many people who were very specific and accurate in predicting it and telling how to prepare for it.

I'm coming from a place of having read all the warnings years before the main stream had a clue & watching every thing track just as many predicted. Listening to them when others were not, was one of the smartest things we ever did. They were not guessing, but talking logic and details.

Nobody knows the future, but history allowed many to be very accurate in their assessments and how to take advantage of the coming crisis. Mainstream press & our gov't are too controlled by corporate banksters IMHO.

Why I say don't listen to the mainstream is because it will lead you in the wrong direction. When we sold our home at peak,on the COVER of Time magazine there was a lead article about what a great time to buy a house. There could not have been anything further from the truth. My heart was sick as I saw young families buying their first homes as we sold...ALL of them are in deep trouble now. NONE wanted to hear one word of my warning & everyone thought we were totally nuts to sell our dream home when we did.

As I say in an early post...Timing is everything. Go and look at some of those resources and how they predicted things accurately LONG before mainstream media.

We think it is VERY important to watch currencies in this environment when almost all fiat currencies are in trouble. For instance we had a lot of money in Sterling pounds early on when they were strong, but got out of them while high and before they took a big dive.

One wants to maintain and grow ones funds, not lose it by currency debasement and or inflation.

Cath Duncan

Thanks so much for sharing how you do things - there's some really great practical advice in here!

You guys are an inspiration, and I love the way you're educating your daughter!

Cath

Willow

Hello, I have been homeschooled for a few years now and love what you have been doing, it seems like such a wonderful way to grow up for Mozart. I was wondering what got Mozart so interested in music?

soultravelers3

Thanks Cath for your kind words and glad to see you here!

Willow - Glad to hear it! I think Mozart just came in with an interest in music as she had it from very early babyhood and why we followed her lead.

I just happened to take her to a family concert with our local orchestra when she was a baby around 9 months old and she was so attentive and seemed to love it so much.

She actually asked for opera when she was not yet a year old which certainly stunned us and I wrote about it a bit here:

http://www.soultravelers3.com/2009/07/family-travel-photoengland-globe-theatre-king-lear.html


She did MusicTogether from babyhood too.

Also most of the kids in our neighborhood played violins because we happened to have an amazing teacher that lived nearby. Some little ones played at her birthday parties and such and I think that influenced her interest in the violin at such a young age. She just wanted to do what the big kids did I think.

Jim and Jane

Hi. Just discovered your blog. I have a question for you. We are an English couple, who in 2004, sold up in the UK, flew to Florida, purchased a huge RV and tow car and travelled the US and Canada for a total of 6 years. We now have a trailer, (caravan) and doing the same thing in southern Spain. My question. When we were in the states, we could stay no longer than 6 months at any one time, and so spent summers in Canada, ( the immigration guys did not always like us doing that) winters in either Southern California or Florida. Our traveling in the states had to be confined to spring and fall. We also went home for 3 weeks every April.How do you manage to stay longer than 3 or 6 months in Europe without upsetting the immigration officials, who I hope are more friendly here than they are in the US.
Am still reading your blog, is really interesting. Maybe we will bump into you sometime while we winter here in southern Spain.

Jim and Jane

I forgot to mention, feel free to visit our blog,
Britsontour.blogspot.com

Regards Jim and Jane

Jeanne soultravelers3

Glad you discovered us Jim and Jane! Sounds like you have been enjoying your adventure too! ;)

Since you are UK citizens you shouldn't have any problem in Spain or Europe. As USA citizens we got a long stay retirement visa for Spain and it was a BIG pain and not easy at all to do.

BUT I know others who manage in a similar way that you did in the US. That is quite easy to do with out the pain or expense of a long stay visa ( but slightly less flexible).

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