Did we find what we were searching for in our two years of full-time travel? Five kids, 30 countries, dozens of flights, trains, boats, taxis, cars, and more. To say it’s been a lot of work is an understatement. How have we changed? What have we learned?
Table of Contents
- 1 Where Did We Go?
- 2 Why Did We Do It?
- 3 How Can We Afford to Travel Full-Time?
- 4 What Have We Learned Through Full-Time Travel?
- 5 The Value of Time
- 6 Full-Time Travel Makes the World Your Home
- 7 Overcome Your Fear
- 8 What If You Can’t, Won’t or Don’t Want to Full-Time Travel?
- 9 Would We Choose to Travel Full Time Again?
- 10 Thank You!
Where Did We Go?
We’ve spent six months on the west coast of the US and Hawaii, seven months in Asia (Bali to Japan), six months in Europe (road-tripping from Portugal to Croatia, back to Rome, Paris and around France) and are currently in New Zealand.
Why Did We Do It?
The simple answer: the create a life we want and choose and discover what that life looks like by trying different lives around the world. From farmhouses to small city apartments, we’ve experienced dozens of homes. We’ve lived in the city, in the country, close to people and far away. We’ve sampled a dizzying array of cultures from the loud to the super quiet, the polite to the flagrant. From remote villages in Thailand to fancy hotels in Tokyo and many moderate suburban homes, we’ve lived in many environments.
How Can We Afford to Travel Full-Time?
This question greets us with each new introduction. We own our own businesses and work remotely. We work business hours in the US, which results in many time zone headaches. We’ve worked through the night, before sunrise and in the afternoons. We spend about a month in each location, both for cost savings as well as less disruption to home and work balance.
We set out, after selling our home and most of our possessions, to find a new life. By eliminating the “clutter” of life, we hoped we will be able to rebuild our lives in a way we all loved even more.
Full-time travel has been our medium for finding this change. Learning, socializing, exploring and struggling through so many countries worldwide has shaped us into new people. We have seen so much beauty around this globe.
What Have We Learned Through Full-Time Travel?
Our children have learned basic, polite words (hello, thank you, please) in so many different languages they often mix them up. With this comes the discomfort of being “the outsider” that cannot communicate properly. I’d say one of the first things we learned, after going international, is a great amount of empathy for those who immigrate to the USA. We struggled over and over through botched Google Translate conversations. Instead of a quick judgment call when we see someone struggling to communicate, we feel pangs of distress and want to help them feel more comfortable.
Through so many different cultures, we’ve seen beauty around this world. We’ve learned little nuances of cultures that make them unique. For example, people in Japan are incredibly kind and reserved. However, they frequent onsens (public bathhouses). Within these bathhouses, which are segregated by gender and incredibly clean (like all of Japan), they open up like social butterflies. While the Westerners are cowering in the corner, the Japanese women are chatting it up in the buff. Such a fascinating dichotomy!
We’ve fallen in love with Thai people and seriously consider someday moving to Thailand. While social and economic infrastructure can be a bit spotty, the people are the real gold of that country. Thai people simply just LOVE deeply. They can meet you for the first time and are picking up your young children, wiping their nose, fixing their sandals. They will help you find anything you need and never worry about your language or social blunders. We haven’t felt as welcome and loved as we do in Thailand (the only country we’ve actually visited twice in our adventures, which says how much we love it). Night markets are one of our favorite things and you can read about our favorite here.
We were surprised in Italy, not only by the incredible taste of the food but by the undertone of “right by me” attitude. Don’t be surprised to be swindled just a bit there. They also are very loving people, but honesty isn’t always their strong suit. They sit on miles and miles of incredible history in Rome. However, like most people, they quickly can take this for granted and are tired of the constant excavation and preservation. To an outsider, this can be surprising. Italy is built for tourists and is heavenly to get around.
In France, we went in expecting the classic “unwelcome” attitude towards US tourists. While it is there, Parisians are actually quite kind. If you make even the slightest effort to speak their language (we all butcher French, but A for effort, right?!) they warm up like lightbulbs. They take food and social time seriously in a way we can all learn from.
We found the most delicious food in the world in Paris. It makes my mouth water to even think of it. Pastries that resemble art, flavors with various delicious layers, and utmost quality make food in Paris the top of our list.
We’ve cooked at home much more than we’ve eaten out, but we enjoy the new foods of countries we visit. I’m up for anything (even if the rest of my family is not).
In China, we took on the role of panda keepers for a day.
We ate lunch in the staff cafeteria. We were warned we might not like the food, so comfort foods were purchased for the children and brought for them. However, I wasn’t about to pass on a local meal! I piled my plate high and found it delicious. The next day, we visited a local morning market. Many stalls sell fresh animal meats, organs, skins, and parts. We saw cow hooves, chicken feet, brains, intestines, rabbits being skinned and pelts thrown away, and more. I found one bucket and recognized an ingredient from the lunch the day before. When I asked our guide what it was, she let me know I’d eaten cow intestine for lunch. Haha. It doesn’t phase me!
Another frequent question: what’s the favorite animal you’ve seen? Human attraction to animals varies a bit by culture but is universal overall. In some Asian cultures, eating shark fins is a delicacy. To many cultures, this is appalling.
We’ve interacted with dolphins, elephants, tigers, birds, snakes, and more. Where some cultures are strong for animal rights, others sell those in their markets. Overall, it gives perspective to live in a culture and see that they are still good people, even if they believe different things than you. Some people make their money in ways you wouldn’t want to, but at the end of the day, everyone is trying to feed their families and find happiness where they can.
Overall, we’ve learned how kind people are worldwide. Good people, who love their families and help one another, exist everywhere. In our quest for a home, we’ve only learned one thing: we can happily live anywhere! This proves to be a bit frustrating, but also incredibly comforting.
We’ve been blessed by people worldwide. We’ve been invited to dinner by relative strangers, included in family parties, assisted countless times by strangers. You can read here about kind strangers in Shanghai who helped us when we even lost a child! I had a sweet man in Tokyo help me all the way from the massive train terminal to the restaurant I was trying to find with four kids in tow.
The Value of Time
Time is precious. Full-time travel makes this even more apparent. When you are not lost in your busy schedule, but allowed to control your time in every way, the value of time increases. The more we move around the globe, the more we mourn for the time already spent. We crave those moments back and realize, with sadness, we will never had that moment back. Our time is much more as a commodity to be spent wisely. We no longer “put in the time” to then enjoy our life. We do our best to use every moment wisely, even if that is relaxing in bed and watching a movie.
Valuing the Journey
Often when thinking of travel, there is a goal in mind. A view to see, an adventure sport to try, a museum, a tourist experience. These are so wonderful! Yet, many times, they are not the real value of the trip. The journey is just as valuable, if not more so, than the expected climax. The hike to the waterfall brings more unity to our family than the waterfall we see at the end. Working through difficult days, difficult situations, having plans upset… these all are valuable too. Our children watch us daily in all we do! They watch us work, handle stress, get tired, play hard, learn new things, get out of our comfort zones and try to parent them in the best way we can. The life skills they learn as we travel together are immense.
The best way to see the value of something is to lose it. As we self-isolate in New Zealand, we are mourning the loss of our travel life. It’s suffered a tragic, fatal death to COVID-19 that we didn’t see coming. We now are making plans to settle in Portugal for a year this fall. If anything, we are incredibly grateful for the memories we have been able to make. We relish memories of places that are suddenly inaccessible. Aren’t you in awe of the days when we could hop on a plane, carefree? Those days will return someday, but we are so grateful for the memories we’ve banked. What if we had said, “Oh, let’s wait until the kids are a bit older!” Perhaps we could not have had this experience at all.
We are incredibly grateful to have this time with our children and each other. We cherish the inside jokes, the wrestle times, the laughter. These things are precious. We would trade a big house or nice car any day for just a few of the memories we’ve gained.
Full-Time Travel Makes the World Your Home
Through our full-time travel, our children have become global citizens. They’ve learned to be best friends and depend on one another in a way that would not be possible otherwise. They see the world as their home with memories sprinkled across the globe. Children of all colors, economics, speaking many languages can be and are their friends. They ask to visit new countries for their birthdays without any trepidation.
I hope the relationships between them carry on for decades to come and our travel experiences bind them tight. They are blind to many cultural differences after having no “normal” for so long. Normal to them is exploring together, experiencing new things, attending church in languages they may or may not understand, and learning to play with kids through non-verbal cues.
Overcome Your Fear
I’ve conquered many fears I had before we left. What if we have a medical issue? Well, two big medical issues arose so far and everything is fine! What if we have plans fall through? Yep, we’ve had that too and it all worked out.
I’ve learned over the last two years that our minds filter wonderfuly in retrospect. Even in our most difficult times traveling, we tend to only remember the good. The bad floats away and we are left with the real treasure of travel: the wonderful memories. These are the souvenirs we cannot gain any other way and the most precious of all.
One of the greatest things I've gained from full-time travel is I now feel like I can go anywhere. Nothing intimidates me so much it would keep me from going to a new place.
What If You Can’t, Won’t or Don’t Want to Full-Time Travel?
You don’t need to travel full-time to enjoy many of the benefits of travel. Getting out of your normal comfort zone is a great reward of travel. Empathy and understanding for things you didn’t know about before you left are natural results. Emotions strain at some point trying to figure out logistics of travel or upended plans. You leave your routine and form memories with those you travel with in new and fun ways. These bind you together even when you return home.
If full-time travel isn’t your thing, commit to doing something new. Break your routine. Do something uncomfortable. Talk to strangers and ask them for help. Learn a new language and find someone to speak with you. Attend a dance class when you don’t know how to dance. Take up swimming. Sign yourself up for a race. Start a business.
Would We Choose to Travel Full Time Again?
As for would I do it again…. in a heartbeat! Part of the reason we document so much is that is such a rich experience it is impossible to remember otherwise. It is like drinking from a firehose! It’s amazing and tiring and fulfilling and depleting all at the same time. It’s made us grow together, learn together, be uncomfortable together. Our kids watch us problem-solve constantly, disagree, and resolve again. They’ve watched us in all kinds of weird and different experiences…that alone I think is worth it all. Then add in all we’ve seen, the fun, the fantastic gospel discussion, and church around the world… I’d keep doing it forever if I could.
We see our next step to settle in Portugal as simply the next phase of this new life. Packing up all our belongings and moving our big family each month wears on us. We no longer want to make friends only to leave them a week or two later. In the future, we look forward to more roots, more relationships, more stability while still exploring a totally new culture. We will continue to push ourselves in learning a new language, living as expats in a foreign country, and exploring through travel.
For all those who have followed any part of our journey, I want to say thank you. We’ve made so many friends around the world that we cherish through sharing our journey publicly! I also hope we can inspire those considering a change like the one we made. I promise you will not regret it.
For more information on how to full-time travel, poke around my blog! I’ve got a series on full-time traveling, experiences we’ve laughed through in our travel funnies series, tips for locations, and more. You can also read more on this website where I started gathering tips also!
I promise if we can do it with five kids, you can too!