When we said yes to around the world travel with kids, we certainly created a project for ourselves. On a basic level, we needed to determine an itinerary to fill our 15 month journey. We knew we would have three months in Latin America followed by seven weeks back in the U.S. to attend a few work events. We planned to head to Southeast Asia for six months after that and then possibly end our trip exploring southern Europe. But the farther out, the more vague the plans.
It seems that understanding your own world travel style certainly helps in making your journey a more pleasant one. Though we expected this to change and evolve as the year rolls on, after only a few short weeks of our trip we’ve learned so much about how our family prefers to experience the world.
How are we pulling off our world travel?
Our primary family income is our online meal planning business, RealPlans.com. Because all of our work takes place online, we are essentially “location independent” – meaning we can work from anywhere in the world – as long as it has good wifi. The small downside to this type of travel is that if we want to visit a remote locations, we need to plan a mini “vacation” sans internet and we can't get any work done. We have joined the growing ranks of “digital nomads” who have left their homelands to live more cheaply and/or explore the globe working online.
To offset our living expenses, we’ve also been able to rent our home and sell our cars. Without these monthly bills our extra spending is typically only transportation to and around the countries we visit and any extra activities we may decide to try.
So far, in Panama and Costa Rica, the cost of accommodations, transportation, and food is not much different than at home. It’s not even as cheap as Mexico, which seems to hit that mid range between U.S. and Southeast Asia prices. While it’s not impossible to travel here on the cheap, budget travel is not really the norm.
Our grocery bill tallies lower than at home (thanks to the lack of Whole Foods), but we do eat out more out of convenience and interest in exploring the local cuisine.
Overall, our version of travel in Central America has so far broken even when it comes to budget compared to everyday living at home. We expect this will tilt more in the favor of travel when we head to Southeast Asia where we may actually SAVE money overall by being away from home.
For many aspiring travelers, the logistics of cost and the ability to “get away” often become insurmountable barriers to taking the leap. While we’ve set up a lifestyle that happens to be conducive to traveling, there are many, many other folks out here in the world who’ve figured out other ways to make living or exploring abroad a reality too. So if you’ve got the travel bug, consider feeding it one way or another. 😉
Sightseeing vs culture immersion
When it comes to around the world travel, many folks assume that we aspire to see the EVERYTHING. The seven wonders of the world, all the ruins, temples, waterfalls, volcanos, beaches, exotic animals, colonial neighborhoods, and magnificent skyscrapers.
In reality, we are not the type of people that need to see all the things everywhere we go. Instead, we like to absorb a place. We like to move though it (hiking, walking, surfing). And we like to eat it.
This is not a new thing for me…
When we backpacked through Europe in our twenties, my best friend and I happily skipped seeing the statue of David in Florence because of the long wait to get in. We made a beeline out of the Colosseum in Rome because we just weren’t feeling the crowds. But we loved wandering the streets of any new city, sharing a picnic on the train, or making friends with foreign travelers.
Years later I was nonplussed by the ruins of Chichen Itza (and the associated heat exhaustion) but loved eating tacos from little Mexican roadside stands and snorkeling the crystal blue water off the Yucatan.
When I've been to Paris and London, I adored the art museums and historical sites but certainly didn’t need to see them all.
Last summer in Norway, my husband and I could not get enough of driving through the amazing scenery, hiking, and sampling local foods. But the cheesy touristy viking museum in Lofoten was a no go.
We don’t need to zip line through the jungle, pet stingrays, or see every attraction. Surfing, chatting, and eating with the locals (and expats from around the world) creates the right degree of adventure most days.
You get the picture.
The way I see it, seeing the sights and soaking up a place fall on a sliding scale. You can do a bit of both or be one or the other. With immersion being at one and sightseeing at ten, our family falls at a three.
This doesn’t mean we don’t have bucket lists.
So far we’ve surfed the famous Endless Summer breaks at Witch’s Rock and Ollie’s Point, and we plan to paddle out at many more beautiful spots with perfect waves around the world.
We also aspire to get our Spanish up to conversationally decent whilst in Latin America and enjoy ALLTHEFOOD in Southeast Asia, southern Europe, and Morocco.
My six year old is begging to see Paris and the Statue of Liberty (!?!) – though these may not be on this trip. Our ten year old wants to explore Rome, and my husband has always dreamed of traveling to Japan.
Finding our perfect pace
Travel with kids makes for a completely different travel experience than that of a free-spirited couple, a single wanderer, or a group of (grown up) friends. For one thing, the pace slows. Way. Down. For another, you’re less likely to go bar hopping and dance the night away at clubs.
But beyond these obvious things, every group of travelers will find their own unique rhythm.
We have some friends that are a family of seven and experienced globe trotters and homeschoolers. Even with a large family, they prefer to move at a much quicker pace than us, taking in culture, learning language, and having diverse experiences along the way. They’ve traveled for a year on a shoestring, which allowed them to be immersed in local culture as they traveled and dined with the locals.
I’ve watched another family of six hop the globe in a year, usually staying at high-end resort hotels, hitting all the tourists sites, often chartering private planes, and even bringing a tutor for the kids.
Our little family of four fall somewhere in between. We prefer to scout out a location we love, then stay for at least a week or longer. Currently we are renting a sweet little home near the beach in Costa Rica for a month to spend our free time surfing and studying Spanish. Lots of reading and journaling mixed in with real life math problems keep our kids' academic brains engaged.
The pros and cons of a flexible itinerary
When I started to solidify plans for our world travel, I thought that I had a pretty good idea of where we’d like to go and what we’d like to do.
Shortly after getting started, we stayed a week in Bocas del Toro, Panama where we discovered that we would have probably rather had escaped to the mountains of Boquete.
Soon after, I promptly cancelled three reservations in rustic jungle locations when we realized that we mostly wanted to surf and absorb the local culture and taste regional cuisine in between catching waves.
So a huge lesson for us: don’t make big decisions about a place until we’ve had a chance to take it in – unless we’re willing to suck it up for the duration. (We aren’t.)
On the downside, by not booking ahead, there’s a risk of not being able to book your first choice of affordable accommodations – especially if it’s a holiday weekend or peak season. So far though, this hasn’t been the case for us; we’ve been able to extend reservations or find last minute places for extended stays.
Dialing in our world travel style
We know we're picky, but we prefer to call it “knowing what we like and don't like.” And the longer we travel, the more we've been able to understand our specific world travel style.
We’d prefer to not hang out with a ton of tourists. We need to be physically active. These are known facts.
We knew we liked beaches, but come to find out, we only like them if they are swimmable and/or surfable.
We seek out delicious food everywhere we go, but long term travel requires special attention. Last week, my kids begged to have french fries with lunch (again). I had to explain while they’re ok as occasional fun/vacation food, papas fritas are not part of our daily diet.
Traveling with kids in a city sounded hard, but is actually fun if we don’t plan to do much. A nice (but affordable) hotel in a bustling city with a pool makes the perfect oasis from our adventures.
We knew we don’t like to rough it. And we also learned that air-conditioning in a hot climate is a must for our sanity. Why add more suffering to the inherent challenges of working plus world travel with kids?
We do us, you do you.
So what’s your world travel style? Fast or slow?
Do you prefer to see all the sights, immerse yourself in one place, or something in between?
Do you have a bucket list of things and places you MUST do and see?
Are you willing to rough it or do you prefer to keep your creature comforts?