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7 Ways Full-Time Family Travel Will Ruin Your Life

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Last Updated on June 5, 2024 by Leslie Stroud

Conquering the world as a family since 2018

Today dawns the fourth anniversary of our most impactful decision as a family.  This day, four years ago, we departed our “normal” life after selling our cars and home, putting our remaining possessions into storage, and leaving with seven backpacks and four checked bags that contained our new life.

The emotions, fatigue, adrenaline, and fear that day, as well as the few leading up to it, nearly consumed us.  I felt like we were climbing a huge mountain, and truly I struggled those last few steps.  Moving is traumatic by itself.  Moving to a completely unknown world is another matter.

Our traveling kids sleep well on the road

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We told ourselves, “We can always come back and admit we were wrong and move into my parent’s basement”, or “We will either love this or have made the largest mistake of our lives.”

Perhaps both scenarios came into reality.

Four Years Later: Where We Are Now

Fast forward to this morning as we wake on this Tuesday morning. We are in our own home, with a car in the driveway and a new dog and cat in the picture.  What happened to us in the last four years?

Granted, this beautiful morning begins in a foreign country I would never have anticipated us to be living in Portugal.  My children speak English and Portuguese as they pack their backpacks for 8 hours of Portuguese school.  

Their uniforms, neatly pressed by our housekeeper, Anna, will soon be playing “futból” and suffering stains of the daily Portuguese soup that precedes every hot, homemade lunch at school.   They will return, tired and a bit carsick from the school van drive on windy, narrow Portuguese neighborhood roads.


Chris, my husband, and I wake bleary-eyed after too little sleep.  We work late into the night, often 1-3 am, to work US business hours.  While we love our work, we hate these hours.  Our children are gone most of the day, and when they get home, we are in the thick of the business day in the US.

We are tied to Portugal now by many strings.. church community, pets, sports for our teenagers. Many of the strings we severed before our full-time travels lifted off, tetherless, into the great unknown.

What Were We Searching For Four Years Ago?

Yes, to brighter beginnings as a full-time travel family

We set off those four years ago full of anticipation and excitement for where God would take us.  We planned to visit over 20 countries that we had never set foot in, knew little about, and for which we really could not prepare ourselves.

We left with this idea in mind: As we can live anywhere in the world (due to the nature of our businesses), why don’t we explore the world and truly make an informed decision? What kind of culture are we seeking to raise our children in? What landscapes bring us the most joy? Do we want to stay in the United States or experience another country?

I was constantly high-strung for the first three months.  A pit of stress constantly lived in my belly.  The inability to project and plan the next few months would eat at me.

More times than we would like to admit, we wondered what in the world we had done.  To be adrift as a family of seven seemed insane. Our families regarded us as slightly courageous and a bit crazy.  Our parents missed their grandchildren fiercely, and we could not tell them when we would return gave them heartburn.

Working while traveling

Finding A New Normal

Eventually, we found our rhythm.  We created new traditions on the move that grounded us together no matter where our current Airbnb was located. Small things like Friday night movie nights, Saturday cartoons, and adventure days on certain days of the week gave us a sense of stability in an unstable world.

We learned how to live together 24/7.  It may sound easy as you are already a family, but in reality, families spend little time together and are even less isolated from the rest of the world.

I would feel delicious freedom knowing that our little unit was somewhere in the world that no one really knew.  Sure, we could be found in an emergency by parents or our assistants, but in reality, no one knew where we were at any given time.  No one in that place knew us or expected anything from us.  It’s a freedom that is impossible to explain.

Visiting the Azores with mom

Seeing the world is as magical as it sounds. Take out the daily chores and routines that don’t leave just because you are in a new place, the child tantrums we’ve dealt with all over the world, and the fatigue that full-time travel induces, and you have pure magic. Seeing new and wonderful things, nearly daily, with those you love most is magical. I’ve often thought it is like Christmas morning over and over and over again. To swim with dolphins in Brazil, see an erupting volcano in Iceland, eat my birthday dinner at the “potty-themed” restaurant in Tapei, and laugh so hard I nearly spit out my food…. these memories are treasures.

The more we continued, the more we loved it, and the more we dreaded the day it would inevitably end.

Sensing The Need For Change

The extreme freedom of full-time travel can border toxic isolation. As a big family, we suffered little sense of loneliness.  However, the older kids yearned for friends and a “normal” life of school and sports over time.  Parents can only be so much of a friend to a pre-teen or teenager.  

When Covid descended upon us, we lived in New Zealand.  Of course, Covid derailed travel for everyone but was especially catastrophic for full-time travel families.  Families who lived travel and survived on the fragile stability of a full-time travel life found themselves essentially stranded in the middle of their dream.

We soon knew it was time to settle more permanently and that Covid would be a part of our future for a long time. We bought a home intending to live in it for only a year and then moved to Portugal.  We felt guided to Portugal and had picked it as our new home many months before Covid ravaged our globe.

Our Favorite Memories From Full-Time Travel

Often we are asked, “What is your favorite thing from your travels? What’s your favorite food? Or favorite animal you saw?

In anticipation of our anniversary, we compiled some of our dearest memories from these precious four years.  Narrowing it down to a single memory is impossible for all of us, but we all have our list of treasured memories.

What Did Four Years Of Full-Time Travel Do To Our Family?

How are we different after this experience?  Did it improve our lives or fracture us apart?

In many ways, it ruined us for the rest of our life. In other ways, we collected such a treasure chest of memories that I truly feel we’ve lived. I could die tomorrow and have no regrets other than missing those I love.

Being back in a “normal” routine with our kids, we get so little time with them that it pains us daily. We made more memories and spent more time with them over the last four years than most parents get in a lifetime. For this, I will be truly and forever grateful.

Why Full-Time Travel Ruined Our Lives

Full-time travel transformed us into a new family. We see the world differently than we could have before this experience. We carry some scars from scary experiences and appreciation for many blessed moments of safety and help from our loving Father.

We’ve also learned we can never go back to what we used to be.

1. Full-time travel reveals the painful reality of how precious time is. 

As you country-hop from month to month, soaking up incredible experiences in each new place and striving under the weight of this alternative lifestyle, you can remove a lot of the “life clutter”. 

It’s like spring cleaning for your life.  Gone are the PTO Meetings, the weekly lawn mowing, and the homework grind each night after dinner.  The things that fill our days and keep the wheels turning also blind us to how much time is actually passing.  We go week to week, looking forward to the precious weekend, and we are shocked to find it is the holidays again and another year has come and gone.

Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge

This doesn’t happen with full-time travel.  With each precious memory, you know that moment is gone forever in your soul.  You will never be in that place again with your children at that stage of life.  In fact, you may never be there again with children, period.  The incredible joy is balanced with a stab of pain and regret that time escapes us quickly.

Removing the blinders off the passing of time can also happen with a great loss, a fatal medical diagnosis, or other shocking changes.  With full-time travel, it may be more gradual, but we constantly, daily, mourn the loss of precious time.  Even our children sense the loss.

Celebrating Easter 2022 with our Ukrainian family

2. You’ll never truly be home again.

We’ve settled deep into our new Portugal life.  Getting pets should demonstrate that! Pets are fantasies that haunt your full-time travel days.  I told the kids for years, “we will someday,” when asked about getting a dog or cat.  Well, our someday is now.  We have a home again.  We are building our new community.  Our daily, weekly, and monthly commitments bind us to this new home.

However, I’ve realized that we will never have the same sense of home as we did before FT travel.  The bubble burst and will never return.  

Yearly family photoshoots

We live in a dichotomy of yearning for the new and appreciating the life of being settled.  We all want both for different reasons.  However, even our year spent in our own home in UT before coming to Portugal never felt like home (at least not for us parents).  

We now know what is out there and will never be as satisfied with traditional life.  We also know that FT travel is not sustainable as we did it before, moving month to month.

I believe as we settle more and more into our new life, a feeling of home will continue to increase.  However, I know there has been a shift in my soul, and home now resides where our family is, not a place.

3. The more you see, the more you want.

Like many of our friends and family, we believed that once we traveled around the globe, we would reach a point of “full” with travel. We would see, smell, feel, and be ready to choose a place to live on. How wrong we were.

The more you travel, the more you realize how little you’ve seen. You perceive the layers of culture, tradition, and history that make up each place on this beautiful planet, and you want to peel them back more and more. Your craving becomes a real addiction.

It’s no longer surprising to hear of people and families traveling for 5, 7, or even 12 years. If our children had been OK to do so, we would have too. We could leave tomorrow and slip back into the full-time travel lifestyle.

Getting stronger together as a full-time travel family

We now limp along with quick trips, being the classic “tourists.” However, the list of places we would like to see continues to grow and grow. Our next new country will be #40. I also have another 10 on my immediate wishlist I hope to hit this summer and a much longer wishlist for the next few years.

The “barrier to entry” for exploring new places diminishes with each new country, and the wishlist expands rapidly. What was “too foreign” or “too far” is a new adventure waiting to happen.

4. The “daily grind” becomes more and more detestable.

We still work a lot and pay a lot of bills. We cannot stop working or retire early. We are not independently wealthy! However, after traveling and working full-time in over 30 countries around the world, the idea of living and working every day just to spend the rest of your life in the same place seems ludicrous.

This can rub others the wrong way.  There is nothing wrong with the “normal” plan.  However, those adventure seekers that experience full-time travel and love it have a harder time accepting this plan. 

Christmas 2020

What do we envision for our future?  Visiting our children, which we expect may live across the globe, and counting our own adventures on our own.

Of course, life may steal that experience and hope from us through death, loss of health, or something else.  However, we are at peace with this reality, knowing that we’ve already lived what may be some of the best we will ever have.

5. You’ll crave more time with your children than society deems necessary. 

Full-time family travel requires fortitude and perseverance, but the bond you’ll form as a family is priceless.

Full-time Travel Family in 2018

We totally want our kids to be more connected with each other and love the reality of dreams coming true. The hours of being apart now and the loss of constant memory-making hurts all of us. Some of our kids beg to travel full-time again. They miss having their siblings as regular playmates. They miss the greatly-reduced school hours and the new experiences around every corner.

We literally crave time with our kids. We miss them constantly. We want to be together as much as we can. We don’t even feel whole if we are apart. Having a teenager (14) now tampers this just a bit as she struggles to find independence, but we still all love being together.

Sometimes our desire to be with the kids comes off as “too intense” or odd to others (or our kids and their friends! Haha!)

Full-time Travel Family in 2021

6. For better or worse, your mind will be opened to the impact we all have on the earth.

From living in Belgium and composting our food and separating all our recycling to doing an overnight cruise in Vietnam, which is sadly full of plastic trash, our minds have been opened to the sad reality of environmental impacts. We’ve never been the “tree-hugging hippie,” but we have more awareness of our impact on the globe.

Being a full-time travel family means more time with kids!

Flying and traveling on their own severely impact the globe, and we recognize that. If anything, we now try harder to better our beautiful earth, leave less of an impact, and mourn the loss of so many places worldwide.

After scuba diving on several continents, we are heartbroken about the state of our oceans and the amount of trash to be found in the ocean. The trash situation across many countries pangs our hearts, and we often contribute to organizations working to improve this situation.

7. Material goods don’t hold the same appeal.

Living off a wardrobe that fits in a large backpack for two years adds to your sense of style. Function over fashion is the motto for us! While we enjoy having a closet and not having to pack everything every couple of weeks, we get little enjoyment from buying material goods.

Beautiful Portugal

Having a home also becomes its own “ball and chain.” Constant maintenance and upkeep can make a home a job by itself. After many years of not worrying about this, we often detest it all!

Four years down, but as a full-time travel family, we still have much to learn and experience.



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Additional Reading

Moving Your Family to Portugal from the United States: What to Know

Lucy’s Accident Part 2: One Year Later

How Hard Is It To Full-Time Travel With Kids?