We’re the experts I guess. We left Australia almost 5 years ago and haven’t been back (nor wanted to go back) even once since. We’ve 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 are still happy to continue at 11 and 13. I am a mum and a travel blogger. My husband is now fully retired from his old job as a chef. We’ve done it, we’ve achieved it, we still love it and we have no current plans to settle down again. My good friend Erin wrote a post today explaining why she quit her full time travel lifestyle and the drawbacks she found with being a digital nomad family. All her points were good ones, for her, but for us the exact opposite is true. So the reality of a nomadic travel lifestyle, our way, the flip side of Erin’s post because I feel it needs to be said. I like Erin a lot and I have no beef with her, but her needs and ours are different. What I want to say is, it’s not the lifestyle, it’s the individual and how they handle it.
Erin talks about needing a home base, school, routine, toys and shoes. That’s cool, she’s Erin and I’m Alyson, we are different. We have both lived as nomads for 5 years. She is now a single school mum with a fixed base, we continue to travel into year 6. 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 driving force.
There is no typical day, month or year, everything constantly changes and the nomadic lifestyle ( digital, if you like) evolves to suit whatever we feel like doing. No rules stop us doing exactly what we need to do, when we want to do it. We are full time nomadic family travellers and have been for 5 years, it suits us for now but who knows, maybe next week we’ll have a better idea.
Nomadic Family Lifestyle Realities
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 14 hours, 5 days a week while your kids are packed off elsewhere. There’s no contest. I’ve done it. I worked a high level 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.
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. Freshly cooked Asian food is healthy and so delicious and light that the weight drops off me. Couple the better diet with greater physical activity and lugging a backpack around and I stay super fit for a woman my age. I wear a Fibit, I KNOW that I’m 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 my husband takes part in international Ironman events and my younger son in Ironkids. There is no way that travel makes us in any way unfit or unhealthy. I’m prone to putting on weight, sure, but it happens in the west when we sit still for a month or two and eat crappy western food and thankfully that’s not so often. 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. I eat at a restaurant at least once every day on the road and love that freedom. Menus are a wonderful thing, everyone gets what they want. My carnivores get meat, I get tofu. We order extra plates of greens or a couple of extra eggs making dietary requirements super easy to hit and we say no to pizza every night. Some countries make finding good food difficult, Malaysia can be that way. 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 find 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. We talk a little about some of the supplements, vitamins and minerals we carry, here.
If we are in training for an event or simply wanting to up our fitness, we’ll 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.
The Kids Don’t Suffer
I find the idea of putting my kids in school abhorrent so I’m never going to do it unless they ask. Sure it would make my life easier 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 that could never be found in a classroom. These boys are as happy as two pigs in poop.
Erin talks about her kids wanting a home base and “stuff”. Mine have that and more. One 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 a rental houses, a recurrent house-sit and a handful of guest houses. Favourite cities or towns tend to give us that “at home’ feeling of familiarity and we go back to places and people we love often. They both 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. They also ski proficiently, own toboggans, kayak, take high diving lessons and can shoot bows, arrows and Nerf guns to their hearts’ content. They 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. They have 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 have been a big feature of their lives.
They have every book they could ever read on their Kindles and whatever books they want, they get, they’re big readers and we encourage that. I’m not into buying paper books when electronic is easier on the planet.
They also have pets. We own bunnies, currently fostered out for 6 months but waiting for their return and they have 2 cats that we look after for 6 weeks every summer in London. They have the best of every possible world in pets they never get bored of. Heck, in Vietnam we even had a foster fish which they unanimously decided was the most boring pet ever.
My boys are absolutely delighted to not be made to go to school and they hate the very idea or forced school attendance cutting into their free time. It seems to me that they are very well educated and worldly. We work hard at that, after all, we travel because of their education. We made a choice to give them a better one than any school could offer and it’s a responsibility I take very seriously indeed.
We have never homeschooled or ‘worldschooled‘ purely to fit education conveniently around holiday plans. Our chicken came before the egg. I would never wish school, testing or examinations upon them because I want them free to learn their way. There’s nothing odd or weird about them, they’re two very cool, very smart kids and their great grandmother is very proud of the way they’re turning out. If Nanna is happy, they must be OK. They get along well with people they like, when they want to get along with them. Being around a classroom full of same aged kids isn’t something they want. Read about homeschooling and what we do here.
Relationships and Friends
This week we’re staying in a hostel, we’re rare hostel users but this on in Bangkok is a bit of a favourite. Every night has been a party. I’m tired, Chef has gone out to meet yet another set of people while the boys and I have some much needed down time. A man asked them 2 nights ago ‘ Do you have any friends?’ What a rude question. They’re travelling around the world, what need do they have of 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? The irony is, this drunk, single older man has repeatedly sought the company of anyone who’ll listen while we’ve been here. He’s obviously lonely. We’re not and never are, the opposite in fact, we regularly have too much company. This guy has been a great example to my boys of how not to live your life as he swore and passed out drunk, so we’re grateful to him for that. On all 3 nights we spent with him around, we had friends visit us. He saw them. Yet he asks if the kids have any friends? The answer to do we have friends is of course, but not with us and we don’t need or want them to be with us. We’ll see them someday or if we need that kind of company 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 insanely 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.
The bond between we parents gets tighter and tighter, 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, Posessions and “Stuff”
I still have no need of stuff and 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. 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, it seems fake and that part of me is never going to change. I used to shop as recreation in my younger life, I owned a lot of very expensive clothes and shoes but I always leaned towards the cool rather than the pretty. I don’t feel the need to shop any more, 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 I stress about laundry?
Dental appointments have never been a problem, we’ve gone wherever we’ve been and it’s been fine, but we’re blessed with great teeth in our family so maybe we have it easy.
We renewed a passport this last month 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. 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. His 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. I don’t have the sort of kids who need me to work when they’re in bed. This is good as I normally fall asleep long before them. If I’m blogging and they’re using their computers for whatever purpose, 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 4am than 4pm, 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 and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
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. Luckily the blogs don’t take much maintenance now so these months in Asia have been OK, I’ve let things slide. The big difference between us and other blogging businesses is that we don’t do sponsored travel and press trips. 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. 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. So we mix it up and go with the flow but the travel we love is fast paced and busy and that’s what we spend most of our time doing.
We’ve had 2 Christmases in appartments in the UK and 2 in our village in Romania. This next one will be our first in a hotel with the kids. 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 on the road 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 hotel Christmases and we longed for the cold and dark of Europe. It’s been great and we’ve never felt like we’ve missed out on anything. 2 white Christmases surrounded by crazy Romanian winter traditions have been particularly superb. This year will be a challenge, just a few days in a fancy hotel in Singapore. We picked this destination on purpose, lots of Christmas themed activities, big buffets and Universal Studios. It’s all about making Christmas great for the kids. For us adults Christmas is unimportant, we have this incredible lifestyle where almost every day is superb so don’t look forward to the holiday festivities or time off from work, we don’t need it, we don’t want it. In all honesty Chef and I have no interest in Christmas ( ditto New Year, Halloween, Easter, or any other public holiday) so for us they are just an inconvenience, we do Christmas purely for the kids and to give them amazing memories. Extended family or old friends aren’t something we miss. We have a new life that we love and we don’t cling to the past or tradition.
The Romania Thing, Houses and Bases
We own 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 idea. Even if we buy 2 or 3 smaller bases around the world we will never become slow travellers, I really don’t enjoy renting houses and apartments or house sitting, I enjoy fast paced travel and the social interaction of guest houses and hotels. We seem to be using hostels more and more too, with older kids they work OK. They’re not the cheapest but these days we’re not looking for the cheapest. So onward, we still love this 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.