Welcome to Gypsy Wednesday! Every Wednesday, I strive to highlight all the juicy morsels related to travel and beyond.
Something has been disturbing me of late. My links page is sorely lacking in the family way. For every ten solo travelers, there are one or two families choosing a nomadic lifestyle. If I’m wrong, correct me. Add yourself to my links page, I’d love to have you.
Based on that unsubstantiated statistic, I sought out Colin and Tracy Burns, a lovely couple with young children who recently left their native Australia for Asia, and who knows where else. Colin and company launched a website to share trials, lessons, and successes as a traveling family called Our Travel Lifestyle.
Why choose such a path? It seems contrary to the standard family model. Find out, and perhaps deep seeded ideas that were previously dashed away might come alive. Despite my links page, families do this, why not yours?
Q: Give us a little backstory on Our Travel Lifestyle?
BOTH: For a few years, we had been discontent with our life in Brisbane. Sick of living in a city, we were debating moving to a smaller coastal town to have a better day-to-day lifestyle. But the cost of living in Australia was still an issue for us. Neither of us particularly wanted to work the long hours needed to afford a nice lifestyle in Australia and miss out on seeing a lot of our children’s formative years while we worked. Halfway through 2009, we discussed the idea of traveling the world, focusing on staying in more affordable countries where we could continue working with our current web design clients in Australia, but work much shorter hours each week due to the cost of living being less. This would give us more time with our kids and the chance to see if the cost of living in Australia was really worth it. Excited with the idea, we sold our house and decided to rent until we were ready to go.
The actual decision to go happened quite quickly. One day we were a normal family and the next day we were packing for a new lifestyle. We booked our tickets for six weeks time, broke our lease and started organizing everything. We decided to create Our Travel Lifestyle for two reasons. One reason was to document our travels and the second reason was to provide information about travel with young children on a budget. There are a lot of informative websites out there for traveling with kids, but not too many for people who wanted to travel long term on a budget. Accommodation suggestions and recommendations where the nightly price ranges anywhere upwards of $200/night precludes a great many people. Although in its infancy, we hope to make our website a general resource for families that want to travel and show them that traveling long or short term with young kids is possible and doesn’t have to cost a great deal.
Q: Why choose this over a conventional life?
COLIN: Our discontent with the lifestyle we were living had been gathering pace for a few years. We were struggling with mortgage repayments, running our own business and enduring the day-to-day drudgery of working whilst raising two young children. In 2008, I sold my business and worked for the company who bought us out. This was a fantastic decision as it gave me the opportunity to dream again rather than just work, work, work! So, in late 2009 we decided to pack it all in and start traveling. We knew we had the ability to generate an income while we traveled because I am a web developer and my wife a graphic designer. We also had a number of clients who were happy for me to communicate with them only via phone, email, and video-conference if needed.
Ultimately, we choose this life because we feel that it can’t be any more difficult than the life we were living. Juggling work, mortgages, bills, maintaining a house, and raising two kids isn’t easy. We have offloaded our mortgage, packed all our belongings into a storage shed, confident in the knowledge that at anytime if we make the decision the nomadic lifestyle is not for us as a family we can return home (wherever that might be) and pick up basically where we left off.
Q: What do you hope your kids will learn from this experience?
COLIN: My wife and I have discussed this a number of times and (I think) we both agree that there are three things that we would like our kids to learn from our nomadic lifestyle.
- Speak a language (other than English) fluently. Although we aren’t 100% certain of which language we would like the kids to know we are both agreed that having a second language that you speak as well as a native is incredibly useful. Living in Australia and having a second language is rare, because we just don’t generally need to have one. At this point, we are thinking perhaps we will live in Central America for a year or two to give the kids the opportunity to learn Spanish, otherwise it might be Indonesian as the proximity to Australia would be quite useful for the kids.
- Understand that not all kids in the world are lucky enough to go to school, have lots of toys, and have a big house like we do in Australia. This one is a little more esoteric, but we want the kids to realize that the world is made up of many different people, with many different situations. If we can teach our kids the ability to empathize and understand the factors that influence these situations (even to a little extent) I think it will be creating a new generation who can help effect change.
- To know that they can choose the life they want to live. This one is particularly important to me as a father. Children often follow in their parents’ footsteps, but I want my children to know that it is up to them to choose the life they live. I want to ensure that I give them the tools (the frame of mind, the unrestrained imagination) that allows them to decide how they would like to structure their life. Whether that is a life of 9-5 work, with a house in the suburbs and a mortgage etc., or a nomadic life of travel. Life is for living, and having CHOICES is about doing it the way YOU (as an individual) want to do it not just following the example set by your parents or others in your society. I want my children to be brave enough to make decisions for them and their families not default to a norm that others have dictated. I want to reiterate that if my children choose to live the 9-5 life, then I can assure you I will be more than happy as a father because it will be their choice to live that style of life.
Q: How do you plan on dealing with schooling when the kids are older?
COLIN: Our son, Noah, was actually due to start school this year in Australia. This first year of schooling isn’t mandatory but we are trying to cover most of the content through homeschooling as we travel. From next year we will enroll him in distance education, unless we have found a place somewhere in the world to settle for 12 months. In which case, we will enroll him in school in that country. There are a lot of really good distance education programs run by different schools in Australia and we made contact with several before leaving to discuss the best way to arrange schooling on the road.
Tracy is also just finishing a Primary School teaching degree, so hopefully teaching the kids ourselves won’t be too difficult.
Q: How is traveling with a family different than in a couple or by yourself?
COLIN: I have done all three types of travel and long-term travel with young children is infinitely slower. There is no such thing as quickly ducking down to the shops. Or ducking out for a quick bite to eat. Having said that, nothing is done quickly living at home with young kids either, so really nothing is different from that perspective.
Ultimately, when travel with young kids you need to set and expect a slower pace, which in many ways is just what we want. Instead of rushing from one tourist attraction to the next and packing multiple destinations into a long one-day tour, we stay in a particular place longer and try to get to know the place better rather than just seeing tourist attractions. It also means that some things we just can’t do. A two-day hike through the jungle isn’t exactly going to suit a family with two young kids where one of the children is allergic to mosquito bites and the other hates getting dirty shoes.
After a couple of months of traveling with the kids we’ve found that even our two year old is very aware of the difference between this holiday and a normal 2-3 week trip. As well as needing more time to see each place, we find with young kids that after 2 weeks in hotels and budget hostels they just want a home that they can sit on a couch in front of a TV, eat sandwiches and gets snacks out of a fridge. They also crave some stability. If we were traveling by ourselves we would happily change locations every few days and try to see as much of the world as possible. We are finding traveling with a young family, it’s better to do a mix of short term travel and 2-3 month stays in one place where you rent an apartment and have a home base for a while. Often renting an apartment for a couple of months is cheaper anyway and lets us really get to know the culture. It also gives the kids the chance to accumulate a few toys, become familiar with different foods and get in a routine, which keeps them much happier. Young kids like the familiar.
Q: If a family contacted you for words of encouragement, what would you say?
COLIN: One of the things I did before starting this lifestyle was to talk to a few families with grown up children who had either embarked on a gap year with their kids or considered it, and choose not to for one reason or another. Not one of the families who choose to spend the time with their kids regretted it. On the other hand, most of the families I spoke to who chose not to regretted that fact that they didn’t take the opportunity. Unfortunately for them, with their kids all grown up now, the opportunity will never present itself again.
I honestly can’t see a negative to what we are doing at the moment. We have an emergency savings account squirreled away so that in the very worst situation we can afford flights home to Australia plus a little bit of money to set back up again. We could be living the life we used to live within two weeks if we had to (but we have absolutely no intention to do so).
Q: You seem to subscribe to the 4-Hour Workweek. What’s so dang great about it?
COLIN: OPPORTUNITY! A lot of the negative criticisms that I have seen about the 4HWW are statements like “this can’t work for me” or attacking Tim Ferris’ credibility. For me, the true value was the encouragement to think outside the square. For example, freelance web design is one of the most portable professions around, but realistically how many web designers out there are taking the opportunity to travel and work?
If you are reading 4HWW and you find yourself saying, “I couldn’t possibly do that” or “Is he serious, I bet he couldn’t do that” then perhaps you need to take change your tactic and start asking yourself “WOW, what would my life be like if I could do that?” Once you ask yourself that question, it’s time to start imagining and planning ways to bring your life in line with your dream (whatever that dream may be). My wife and I are completely aware that working while traveling is still working and not spending time with the kids, so we are actively developing additional income streams that will help us free up our time and enjoy the time with our kids more. We are hoping that within the next 2 months we’ll be able to share with our new products that we are certain will help hopefully thousands of families who want to travel with young children.
TRACY: I haven’t actually read the 4-Hour Workweek, but I’ve heard Colin talk about it a lot!! From what he has said, the three major things that a person can get out of the book is 1) to question the need to work 9-5 for most of your life, 2) ideas for how you can reduce the number of hours you need to work while still making the same amount of money. You may never get it down to 4 hours a week but most people would be overjoyed if they could work a few hours less every day or one day less a week. And 3) to consider the lifestyle you want to lead. If you want to lead an expensive lifestyle with a big house and flash cars, and send your kids to good schools in Australia or America you need to work hard to do this, and may not be able to enjoy your lifestyle anyway. The book offers an alternative suggestion: think about whether there is another country where the cost of living is cheaper where you would be happy to live and have the same lifestyle, but at a fraction of the cost, so you have to work a lot less to maintain this lifestyle. This third part is really what got us started on this path. So, I guess listening to all Colin’s ramblings about the 4HWW and Tim Ferris were worth it. :)
Q: Finally, my readers adore puppies and babies, tell us a kid travel story – one representative of your journey thus far.
COLIN: We’ve had lots of funny things happen along the way. For example, in the Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali the baby monkeys decided that they just had to have Hayley’s bright pink Dora hat. You can see in the two photos that in the second photo Hayley has the death grip on her Dora hat. No little crazy Bali monkey was going to get her Dora hat.
One of the most memorable events to date was actually in conjunction with another family from Norway who we had just been on a full day tour to ride and swim with the Elephants in Kuala Gandah just outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
When we returned to KL after the day trip, we decided to have dinner together along Jalan Alor, a famous food street. The evening turned into the perfect storm. Two families, both storms in their own rights, collided together to produce the perfect storm (and quite frankly the perfect dinner out). The kids were all tired and by the end of the meal, there was more rice and Chinese food on the tables than there was in any of the tummies or even the original plates the food arrived on. But, the storm of children hit in such a way that all the adults still had the opportunity to chat and enjoy ourselves. Towards the end of the meal, another group, led by the owners of the apartment we were staying in, arrived to join us. As they stood around our perfect storm, they look shell-shocked and amazed. As I introduced myself to the new arrivals, my 2.5-year-old daughter who had been eating her rice decided to get down onto the floor and eat the rice that had fallen off the table. My wife discovered her about 2 or 3 minutes later. Ultimately, she was fine and no ill harm came from her decision to eat off the floor (this time).
I don’t know if this is really representative of our trip, chaotic, ill planned or just generally unsanitary, but hey, it was a great night and we all had great food and fantastic company. :)
Dora hat or not, Colin and Tracy are alighting the bushes, clearing all the obstacles blocking their path, illuminating a new way for families to travel and exist. Life is not an unforgiving box, and they prove it.