Planning a trip around the world, or any extended travel, is not an easy task or one to be done too flippantly, especially when you have children. There was a time in my life that I packed up a backpack and headed to Peru on a one-way ticket. My only plan was to come back home in ten months and go to graduate school. While I do believe that flexibility and spontaneity have their place in our family’s travels, we needed some concrete plans in place, both at home and abroad. Below are some of the key components to work out before you set off on your adventure.
Preparing Your Finances
Let’s dive into the nitty gritty, money! For most people, this is probably the biggest topic to tackle. In many ways traveling can be less expensive than our day-to-day lives at home, but it also can be a lot more expensive. Consider that a $100/night hotel is the equivalent of $3000/month. That’s double our mortgage and not feasible for our family for an extended period of time.
You can read more about how our family affords to travel long-term, but it basically came down to four things:
Justin continues to work remotely, we had a base savings, we rent our home in Colorado, and we chose to stay in three “home bases” rather than hop around.
Here are some questions to discuss to get your brain and wallet wrapped around the costs of traveling with your family long-term:
- What is our monthly budget?
- How much do we need upfront (for plane tickets, deposits, etc.)?
- How will we earn an income? Or, do we have enough in savings alone?
- How much money do we have saved for travel? How can we save more?
- What expenses will we still have at home while we are away, and which will we eliminate?
- Should we consider renting out or selling our home?
- How will traveling long-term impact our careers?
Traveling with School-Aged Children
For families with school-aged children, extended travel will usually mean shaking things up for their education, and it is a big item on the list of considerations when planning a trip.
One of the reasons we are choosing to travel now is because our twins will start kindergarten in one year. Preschool is not compulsory nor free where we live, and it seemed like perfect timing. We affectionately call this trip their “kindergarten gap year.” I am loosely using a homeschool preschool curriculum, but our philosophy of education at this age is play-based, experiential, and more focused on social skills than traditional educational milestones.
Through this experience I have learned that I wouldn’t be incredibly well-suited at home schooling my children. There is a wealth of resources on the interwebs about homeschooling, world schooling and unschooling, and I am certainly not an expert on this topic. My biggest suggestions and encouragement are:
- Do your research
- Know yourself, your limits, and your abilities
- Keep making your children’s educational and social needs the biggest priorities.
It is also entirely possible to enroll children in a local or international school should you choose to stay in one location long enough to do so.
Choosing Your Trip’s Style
Before diving into where you will go, you really need to sort out the style of trip you want to have. Extended travel can be done in a couple of different ways. You can keep things moving and see as much as possible, or you can chose to base your family out of one or more locations. Which is the best way? You are the expert of your family. If you are considering traveling around the world with your family, you probably have a trip or two under your belts. Use these experiences to shape your itinerary and to choose a style of travel that will best suit your family.
It’s imperative that you not overextend your or your families emotional or physical capabilities while traveling. Think about changing timezones, sleeping in new environments, walking non-stop, being in extreme humidity. Almost anything is doable for a week or two, but extended travel will put you in these situations continuously. Traveling will heighten every emotion. It will bring out your family’s best, but it will challenge you in every aspect imaginable.
On-the-Move Around the World
Given an extreme amount of planning and coordination, it is definitely possible to travel long-term while continually staying on-the-move. Think of how much your family would see and experience if you only stayed in a city for a few days or even a week!
This approach is not for the novice travelers, nor the faint of heart. This style of traveling can be exhausting, but if you have the organizational skills and energy of a Leslie Knope, and super flexible and adaptable children, then this would be one amazing journey.
Seeing the World from a Home Base
I connected with a family on Instagram that is spending an entire year based in New Zealand. I am sure they have heard, “You have an entire year to travel and you’re only going to one place!” First of all, New Zealand is a magical fairy land and you could spend a lifetime there and not explore it all. More importantly, they will be afforded the experience of fully submersing themselves in the culture, which is an incredible gift.
Choosing one place in which to base your family is advantageous for several reasons.
- It provides stability that is almost on par with what they are used to at home. Your family can really settle into a space and a routine without the hustle and bustle of hopping on a plane or train every week.
- If your children are school-aged you can enroll them in a local or international school if you wish.
- The ability to learn a language is also feasible when based in one location for an extended period of time.
- And, of course you can take weekend getaways! Consider basing your family in a major city with an international airport and access to cheap, quick flights. Oh the possibilities!
A Hybrid Approach to Traveling the World
My husband wanted to stay in Valencia, Spain for the entire nine months of our time abroad. This is his preferred way to travel. He likes to live like a local and to get to know a place; to relax and not move around constantly. I on the other hand want to see as much of the world as possible. Ultimately, due to these style differences, not wanting to deal with a long-term Visa, and prioritizing the needs of our three young children, we chose to do a hybrid of these styles.
Our family is staying in home bases (Spain, Malaysia, Italy, and Croatia ) for one to three months each. We have smaller, three to four day travels planned during these stays and in-between. The longest period of time that we will be actively on the move is two weeks. Even with this model of extended stays, we will still see approximately ten different countries in our nine months abroad.
Now, three months is a long time. It would probably serve a family very well to take this hybrid approach and stay in one city for four to eight weeks.
Creating Your Around the World Itinerary
Once you’ve settled on the type of trip you want to take with your family, you can get to the fun part and start planning your itinerary. The possibilities are truly endless.
Make it feasible
It’s vitally important that your plans are realistic. Obviously, the trip needs to be financially feasible and you must have a firm handle on your family’s finances while abroad and back home. Take a strong inventory of your family’s needs and abilities and make sure your itinerary protects and provides for those needs. And finally, do preliminary searches for flights, trains, and busses between your stops. If getting from Point A to Point B takes 20-40 hours of travel, consider a stopover in an airline’s base city (i.e. Doha on Qatar Airways, or London on British Airways).
Make it family-friendly
Our family has two entirely different “Bucket Lists.” One list is just for my husband and I, and the other is for our family. The later includes places and experiences that we want to see and have with our children while they are still children. There are no words for seeing the magic in your child’s eyes when they witness something incredible. I want to collect those moments!
Our family’s bucket list includes extended stays in various parts of the world (check!), celebrating Christmas in Finland, going on a safari, spending the summer in an RV in New Zealand, and more. Some of these experiences, like Christmas in Finland, we want to feel magical, so we will go when they are young. Others require physical demands of an older child or teenager. We want to try our hardest to plan around these developmental stages to give them the best experience possible.
There are some things that we will see and do that they just won’t remember, but that’s okay! Remember why you are choosing to travel as a family, and know that they can always go again on their own adventure!
Make it flexible
As parents, we know how imperative it is to remain flexible – flexible plans, flexible ways of thinking, and sometimes literal flexibility are essential to parenthood. All of these concepts of flexibility are transferable to traveling the world with your family. As I mentioned earlier, we are booking our flights as we go. At this point, we do not have any plans between returning to Malaysia from New Zealand in early January, and attending a wedding in Jamaica in mid-May. Our itinerary says that we will be Uruguay, and that is the plan, but we currently retain flexibility. What if we fall in love with Valencia, Spain and want to return? Buenos Aires has been tugging at us a bit. What if Italy calls our names? We want the ability to lean into some of those whims…if it’s feasible.