We left home over 5 years ago to travel the world. We never wanted to go back. We became a nomadic family, a digital nomad family if you like and the lifestyle worked well for us. We visited around 50 countries, several of those 4 or 5 times. We’ve been to 5 continents and flipped between the hemispheres. We have two boys who became full-time travellers at 6 and 8 and were still happy to continue as teens and tweens. I am a mum and a travel blogger. My husband became fully retired from his old job as a chef. to work alongside me and travel. We did it, we achieved it, we still love it and we never had plans to settle down again.
My good friend Erin wrote a post recently explaining why she quit her full-time travel lifestyle and the drawbacks she found with being a nomadic family lifestyle. The drawbacks of a nomadic life that she pointed out were these:
- she put on weight, became unfit and unhealthy.
- her kids wanted a home, toys, school and family
- she loves shoes and nice clothes not a backpack wardrobe
- she missed family and friends
- she and the kids missed pets
- laundry was a struggle
- blogging and working online was a time suck and the income unreliable
- they struggled to find doctors and dentists
- travel planning was hard, stressful and time-consuming
All her points were good ones, for her, but for us the exact opposite is true. We did alright on this lifestyle and really didn’t want to live any other way
So the reality of a nomadic travel lifestyle, our way, the flip side of Erin’s post because I felt it needed to be said. I like Erin a lot and I had no beef with her, but her needs and ours were different.
What I want to say is, it’s not the lifestyle, it’s the individual and how they handle it. Could you handle it? I don’t know. But you’re here reading about it so obviously it’s something you’d consider trying.
Erin and I are very different yet we both embraced full-time travel for 5+ years. Our lifestyles on the road, I think, were very different. They were maybe even as different as our lives are today as she and her ex-husband travelled and blogged in a very different way.
They have my full respect and affection but our reality and theirs is not the same. We started travelling because of the kids and their education, that has always been a major driving force and still is. I didn’t feel that the kids got enough whole-world exposure when we’re stuck in bricks and mortar. I guess that’s why people send theirs to school.
Nomadic Family Lifestyle Realities
There was no typical day, month or year, everything constantly changes and the nomadic lifestyle ( digital, if you like) evolves to suit whatever we felt like doing.
No rules stop full-time nomads from doing exactly what they need to do, when they want to do it and that freedom is precious.
I can put an extra spin on this post now. We went home. We were home a few months. It was fun, not un-enjoyable. We bought the kids piles of stuff and bedroom furniture. I bought far more clothes because a static lifestyle, strangely, seems to require that. We were, I think, equally happy at home as we were on the road but I missed it. Boy, I missed it. D did too, Chef and Boo were easy either way. We got back out there very, very fast. You can read why we came home and what it felt like in this post.
Travel Planning Takes a Lot of Time
It does and that’s absolutely true. It can be a headache. But just compare an hour or two of booking flights, routes, visas and hotels to the tedious, soul destroying monotony of heading to a place of work for 9 hours ( which could be 14 hours with a commute) 5 days a week while your kids are packed off elsewhere.
There’s no contest. I’ve done it.
I worked hospital job and it sapped my soul. I would NEVER go back to working for somebody else. Travel planning really isn’t so bad when it’s done over a couple of beers on a hostel rooftop of an evening with your husband and/or kids.
Just know that booking that hotel, which you thought would take 10 minutes, usually turns into a frustrating 2-hour job.
Diet and Fitness are Better
Erin piled on a lot of weight on the road but has managed to shift it since stopping. The opposite is true for me. I feel so much better and healthier on the road, particularly in Asia or any country with a rice based diet and abundance of tofu. I put on weight at home.
Freshly cooked Asian food is healthy and so delicious and light that the weight drops off. Couple the better diet with greater physical activity and lugging a backpack around and travel really does keep you fit.
I wear a Fibit, I KNOW that on the road I was hitting my 10,000 steps almost every single day. I also run sometimes, having 2 parents free from work schedules allows for more exercise time.
You’ll maybe know that we recently went to Everest Base Camp, my husband takes part in international Ironman events and my younger son in Ironkids. There is no way that travel made us in any way unfit or unhealthy.
I also hate cooking, so travel for the double win here, a better, more delicious diet and I don’t have to shop, cook or wash up. That’s obviously a huge time saver for me.
Full-time travellers eat out, particularly in Asia and menus are a wonderful thing, everyone gets what they want. My carnivores get meat, I get tofu at just a dollar or two a plate. You can order extra plates of greens or a couple of extra eggs to make dietary requirements super easy to hit. Just say no to pizza every night.
Some countries make finding good food difficult, Malaysia was that way until vegan Malaysian becae easier to find and the more western the country the worse the diet usually. We don’t stay long if we don’t dig the food. We also keep a watchful eye out for MSG and look for restaurants that don’t use it.
Sometimes we found it tricky to find the right nutrients and because of my husband’s extreme training and my age, we do carry supplements with us. These are easy to find in some countries, in others impossible.
If we were in training for an event or simply wanting to up our fitness, we’d go somewhere perfect for that lifestyle in terms of clean air, less traffic, low or high temperatures and train whenever it suits us. We’ve recently joined Hash House Harriers so our fitness has also become social with my Ironkid and other Hash kids taking part too.
If you are a runner or enjoy any sort of outdoor sport, it should be easy enough to integrate into a nomadic lifestyle.
The Kids Don’t Suffer
I vowed never to put my kids in school unless they asked. They actively didn’t want to go.
Sure, it would have made my life easier to pack them off to a classroom but that’s not even a tiny consideration. They come first and I want them to have their liberty along with a broad, diverse education. These boys were as happy as two pigs in poop.
Erin talks about her kids wanting a home base and “stuff”. Travelling kids can have that if they need it. One of mine carries half a backpack of treasures including Pokemon cards, cuddly toys and sonic screwdrivers. The other isn’t materialistic at all.
We have several places that they think of as home around the world including rental houses, a recurrent house-sit and a handful of guest houses. Favourite cities or towns can give that “at home’ feeling of familiarity and travellers can go back to places and people they love often.
Both my kids have their ideal toy, gaming computers, so they don’t want for toys. Today we rode bikes around Bangkok, we rented bikes for 6 months in Hoi An and in Romania they own bikes and a unicycle so we’re over the kids wanting bikes thing.
Travel kids can potentially take part in whatever activity they desire, anywhere. The best thing is, they can take part in these activities any time because they’re not restricted by school or parental work commitments.
They played more games of Uno and Monopoly Deal than probably any other kids on the planet. Because we’re always in restaurants or airports together games like that were a big feature of their lives as they grew up.
Kids can carry every book they could ever read on their Kindles. My two were big readers and we encouraged that. I’m not into buying paper books when electronic is easier on the planet.
Nomadic kids can also enjoy pets. If it’s a big issue try pet sitting. We own bunnies at our home base in Romania, currently fostered out for 6 months but waiting for our return and there are 2 cats that we look after for 6 weeks every summer in London. They have the best of every possible world in pets that they never get bored with. Heck, in Vietnam we even had a foster fish which they unanimously decided was the most boring pet ever.
We never homeschooled or ‘worldschooled‘ purely to fit education conveniently around holiday plans. Our chicken came before the egg and educationally I think it’s been a success.
They’re two very cool, very smart kids and their London great-grandmother is proud of the way they’re turning out. If Nanna is happy, they must be OK. Nanna is the one person we make a big effort to see often.
They get along well with people they like, when they want to get along with them. One good friend gave my older son a job and at just 13, he was doing great and loving working with her. As an older teen he branched out into online learning and online earning.
Being around a classroom full of same-aged kids isn’t something they wanted, ever. Read about homeschooling and what we do here.
Relationships and Friends
Will you miss friends and family? I don’t know. But I know we didn’t. It depends how close your bonds are I guess. There are many ways to stay in touch. I know of travelling families where grandparent regularly join kids and grandkids on the road. Many nomads meet up time and time again. There are certain nomadic hubs around the world where people like us congregate for months on end. There is a circuit, you get to know people.
I actually find living “at home” behind high walls far more isolating than the constant social interaction of a travel lifestyle. Strange but true.
One time we were staying in a hostel, we’re rare hostel users but this hostel in Bangkok was a bit of a favourite. Every night had been a party. I was tired, Chef had gone out to meet yet another set of people while the boys and I had some much-needed downtime.
A man approached the kids and asked them, ‘ Do you have any friends?’
What a rude question. I doubt he would have been so bold had their dad been there. We see this a lot, human beings can be cowardly. Picking on women and kids is easy but when dad is around, they don’t do it. You’d be amazed how often we’ve seen it.
We’re travelling around the world, what need or time do they have for friends? How would it even be possible to travel with a small possie of besties?
I don’t need extra people permanently in my life and neither do they. Our lifestyle is different, we don’t need social distractions to stay happy. Why didn’t the guy ask me if I had friends? Why did he consider it OK to ask kids personal questions that he wouldn’t ask an adult? You can probably tell he annoyed me.
The irony is, this drunk, single, older man repeatedly sought the company of anyone who’d listen while we were there. He was obviously lonely. We’re not and never are, the opposite in fact. We regularly have too much company on the road.
This guy was a great example to my boys of how not to live life as he swore and passed out drunk nightly, so we’re grateful to him for that. On all 3 nights we spent with him around, we had friends visit us ( one in particular, we have all known well for years). He saw them, while he drank alone. Yet he asks if the kids have any friends?
We have lovely friends as I’m sure you do. We’ll see them someday or if we need that kind of company, or they us, we’ll make the effort to go where they are. If the boys wanted to be around same-aged kids they’d seek them out, they have plenty of opportunities, but as yet they’re really not too bothered.
My relationship with my kids is good. We know each other inside out and laugh and joke about anything. I feel my parents never knew me as I spent most of my life in school. They saw the edited, monochromatic, squashed, version of me dragged down by school and routine. I think travelling together enhances that family connection tremendously.
The bond between we parents gets tighter and tighter and as the kids get older we spend more time together particularly now that we run together. Shared interests, shared time, shared life. A new and wise friend said to me the other night ‘If the parents are happy the kids are happy.’ I think there’s truth in that. We love our lifestyle and love working together to make it as rewarding as possible.
Clothes, Shoes, Glamour, Possessions and “Stuff”
Yes, you’ll have a limited wardrobe if your clothes amount to just 65 L. It’s no big deal.
We long-termers tend to pick up something new, discard something old, but we’re never going to be particularly well dressed. You get used to it and you get good at it. You start to identify, accurately, what you actually need and what you don’t.
I have exactly what I need and choose to carry in my backpack. I get regular pedicures ( but only when we travel) and I carry a few products I love as treats but otherwise my beauty routine consists of showering and cleaning my teeth.
I mostly hide my hair under a hat because I can’t be bothered with it. I like wearing a hat. Haircuts in Vietnam are very good and very cheap.
I have 2 good pairs of jeans, top of the range running tights and some baggy hippy pants. These are all I need.
One of the things I disliked about our old life was the amount of dressing up and pretty dresses that seemed to go with it. I hate it. That’s just me. I used to shop as recreation in my younger life and I owned way too much. Each purchase giving a fleeting high. I don’t feel the need to shop anymore, maybe because I’m too busy or otherwise fulfilled. The boys, obviously, have zero interest in fashion or beauty. They’d rather not shower if at all avoidable.
So no, I don’t need shoes unless they’re for running or trekking, I have the every-day Birkenstocks and flip flops I love and when they wear out I’ll buy a new pair. I revel in the minimalism of no excess, no waste and no extravagant consumption. It feels good.
Laundry, Chores and Necessities
The fact that I can drop a big bag of stinking clothes off at a local laundry and get it back the next day ironed, folded and smelling of daisies is heaven to me. It costs about $1 per Kg for this service in Thailand. Why would a traveller stress about laundry? What does stress me out in an ” at home” scenario is the mountain of towels and bedding. I’ve been more than happy to avoid that for most of 6 years.
Dental appointments were never a problem, we’ve gone wherever we’ve been and it’s been fine, but we’re blessed with good teeth in our family so maybe we have it easy. Likewise doctors, we hardly needed them, but finding them when we did was no problem. Most countries we visit have great, cheap healthcare. Just be sure to take out the right travel insurance.
We renewed a UK passport once in Bangkok. That was a pain, but in the end, after doing thorough research and planning it like a military attack, the whole thing took just 6 days. No problem is insurmountable, none that we’ve found so far anyway.
Blogging, Business and the Time Suck
Now yes, blogging is a big fat time suck but we’ve found ways to make it work for our family. I always tell new bloggers that travel, kids and work are incompatible and they are, unless you adjust almost every part of your life so that it all fits together.
Firstly Chef is now fully retired from the kitchens and the plan was that he would join me in helping on the websites but that hasn’t happened.
Instead I hired myself a VA. Chef’s time is better spent taking care of the travel, visas, currency, passports and so on. He’s taken on some of the laundry and housework and is even doing maths on Khan Academy with the kids. This really frees me up. You need to work as a team and split responsibilities.
I don’t have the sort of kids who need me to work when they’re in bed, they’re big now, little ones are harder. If I’m working and they’re using their computers, we can all sit around companionably and have a very nice time, so the kids and work are in no way incompatible. I’m also an early riser and my brain works better at 4 am than 4 pm, so I’m an early morning blogger and the kids can sleep as late as they like.
Whichever way you look at it they spend way, way more time with me, their dad and each other than they would if they were in school and their parents in work. It’s been fantastic having them with me every single day.
Blogging isn’t a problem with family but blogging is, certainly, a problem with travel. I can’t do the two things at once because we are not slow travellers and sometimes there’s just no wi-fi. The trick is to get everything set up to function without you. Scheduling tools mean I can disappear up Everest for 3 weeks or head out to sea and everything ticks along just fine.
The big difference between us and other blogging businesses is that we don’t do sponsored travel and press trips, it’s not our thing and this makes our lives easier. Chasing those opportunities takes time as does writing them up afterwards. We rarely say yes to an invitation out of the blue but we don’t chase those jobs and because we pay for most things ourselves I’m not obliged to write about every hotel we stay in and every attraction we visit. We like it that way, it’s what works for us and everyone is happy. I’m not saying it’s the best way or the only way, it’s just easier.
Sometimes we’ll stop for a while, recently and for the first time ever, we rented a house on the road for 2 months in Hoi An. This was primarily because of Chef’s Ironman training but I also got a lot done on the websites and the boys completed a lot of educational projects. Taking a break from time to time suits us well, as did travelling from our base in Romania for the last 2 years. Don’t be afraid to mix it up and go with the flow. Try every style of travel, see what works and what doesn’t. Just do you.
We’ve had 2 Christmases in apartments in the UK and 2 in Breb, our village in Romania. This next one will be our first in Asia with kids, in a hotel. Of course, back in Australia every Christmas was spent in a hotel as my husband was exec chef in a big 5 star resort. He worked every Christmas and we had to join him in the hotel.
We have deliberately planned every Christmas while travelling to be in a relatively static period so that we could have a tree, buy heaps of presents and cook the traditional turkey with all the trimmings. We missed being at home and cooking a proper Christmas lunch after the years of hot hotel Christmases and we longed for the cold and dark of Europe.
2 white Christmases surrounded by crazy Romanian winter traditions have been particularly superb.
This year will be a challenge, Christmas in Singapore. We picked this destination on purpose to make memories, lots of Christmas themed activities, big buffets and Universal Studios. It’s all about making Christmas great for the kids.
For Chef and I Christmas is unimportant, even at home it was never something we got very excited about. We have this lifestyle where almost every day is spent together doing enjoyable things, so we don’t look forward to the holiday festivities or time off from work. We’re just different.
We’re not too bothered about being away from friends or family. If I’m honest, the major emotion I feel at Christmas is guilt for not being with them. It shouldn’t be like that.
The Romania Thing, Houses and Bases
Do we miss having a home base? Well maybe. It makes life easier having somewhere to stash the stuff, but generally no. We still have all our ski gear and many bags of junk stashed in our home in Romania. Will you miss it? I don’t know. Are you dedicated to homemaking and enjoy having comfort and possessions? If so you may hate a travel lifestyle. Do you love your own bed and a comfortable chair? Are you somebody most at home in a well-equipped kitchen? It’s not my thing so I don’t miss it.
I’m very glad we didn’t sell all of our possessions now. They were nice to come back to, as was the house in many ways. I’ve often described it as a millstone around our necks, a big fat headache. I was glad of it when we returned, although it’s still an expensive headache. Living on the road in undoubtably cheaper and greener. I hope to never own a car again, it feels wrong somehow, now.
We owned our house in Australia, we do not own property in Romania but we do plan to return. Likewise we have connections in the UK and places to call home there with friends and family. We have choices and we have options. Were it not for Brexit and a big mess on the part of the vendor in Breb we would own our house in Romania by now. We still haven’t given up on that.
We generally suggest people don’t sell their houses to travel unless they’re an insurmountable financial black hole but now, I think I’ve changed my mind about that.
So onward, we love this nomadic family lifestyle and, as I mentioned, we have regular family conferences to see how the kids are doing. They want to continue for now. This time next year I have no idea where we’ll be because there are no rules and we reserve the right to change our minds any time we damn well like. So that is all. Thanks for following. First published in 2017.