Questions & Answers About Soultravelers3 Family Travel
June 17, 2009
"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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
“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
“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.
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.
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.
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
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.
@passion4skatingHow 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.
@GuyNGirlTravelsWe have a question 4 your blog! Has your family ever been recognized at any of the places you've been?
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.
@marcusjrobertsI 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.
TMBMT@soultravelers3how 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.
@Luciaisur 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.
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.