We are not original and we were not alone.
When we took our kids out of school, packed a few backpacks, and took off for SE Asia with only a couple of nights in a hotel booked and no other plans except to spend 9 months exploring the eastern side of the earth, we had no idea how many other western families had made the same decision. When we arrived in the East, all these friendly, like-minded people with backpacks, kids, and no plans except to explore the Earth came out of the woodwork like the Munchkins in the Wizard of Oz (except taller).
Imagine our delight!
They welcomed us to the magical place in which we had landed, shared their worldly travel wisdom and suggested various yellow brick roads we might choose to skip down while we were there. These traveling parents and their munchkins (the short ones) shared our desire to journey to the proverbial Oz, which for world travelers is any country and culture that calls. There are many Oz’s in the traveler’s mind, far off destinations that beckon you to slurp their noodle soups, climb their karsts, run through their rice fields, bask on their beaches, haggle in their markets, and meditate with their monks. When you arrive in Oz with your munchkins in tow, you feel at home inside yourself, that part of you that knows you are sharing something magnificent with the short people you love. For me, there’s no place like that home.
And there’s nothing as validating and supporting while you’re out there exploring the yellow brick possibilities as connecting with others on this or that side of the rainbow, who are willing to share the brains, heart and courage of travel with you.
(btw, I’m no Dorothy, though I’ve sung “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to my sleepy children more times than I can count. I am chasing a dream, but I didn’t run away from home. I made a choice, with my husband, who is from Kentucky, not Kansas. My youngest is as scruffy and yappy as Toto. There is no Wizard and there is no Witch, so don’t wait for it.)
The number of families I now know making world travel a priority in their parenting years is much more than I had expected, but it’s also surprising how few people I knew personally who had done this before we did: ZERO. The families we’ve met this year are not fancy. They don’t fly first class, they don’t travel with nannies or tutors, they don’t wear designer shoes – which would get ruined in a nano-second. Some watch every dollar they spend, eating as cheaply as possible, cramming the whole family into one budget hotel room. They aren’t rich by American standards, but they do live richly.
These folks are as privileged as we are, and as many of our contemporaries at home are. Having the freedom, know-how, and means to travel the world is a great privilege. However, nobody handed them the opportunity to travel with their children on a silver platter, nor were they swept up by a tornado. They chose this experience, and with that choice came some risk.
We met lots of families virtually on Facebook groups (Worldschoolers and Families On The Move). These groups gave us thoughtful and specific advice on just about anything that came up along our way: how to renew visas, how to find babysitters or a decent Dr. in themiddleofnowhere, how to handle homesicknesses, which trekking company to use in somemountaintown; you name it, someone on those groups has been there, no matter how remote “there” is, and has a suggestion (or two!) – which, needless to say, was immensely helpful and supportive.
Through these groups, we met a handful of families in-person and enjoyed campfires, museums, waterfalls, mountains, and volunteerism alongside our new friends. Our munchkins just loved hanging out with their munchkins.
Allow me to introduce you to a few of our traveling family friends…allow them to inspire you!
Meet Bliss Broyard, Nico Israel, and their munchkins Esme and Roman of Brooklyn, NY. Nico is Associate Professor of English at Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center. Bliss is a writer of books and magazine articles about culture, women, and parenting, and the author most recently of One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life – a Story of Race and Family Secrets. The adventurous, kindred East Coasters started their travels with Nico’s sabbatical, and have explored many countries since. We met them in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where we climbed a waterfall together, and where both families (9 of us) huddled around our laptop to watch The King and I followed by a street food gorge (all must-do’s in Thailand). We saw them again in Cambodia where we volunteered together in excruciating heat at a village school (our video about this wonderful school), attended a local circus performance in excruciating heat which included setting objects on fire 5 feet from our sweaty faces, and rode a speedy and quite rickety Bamboo Train. Bliss wrote a beautifully descriptive storytelling post featuring vignettes of their trip’s highs and lows (and she’s like, a real writer). Since they live so close, and because all Philadelphians should have a place to crash in NYC, we may actually see these guys again!
Meet Aaron Eden, his wife Corrina, and their munchkins, twin boys and a daughter from Northern California. Aaron is a kindred out-of-the-box educator, and we realized right away that we had much to discuss on how children learn. Aaron left his job as Director of Education Technology at a private school to travel the world with his family, and to seek inspiration for his next career move. After several months of exploration, he found it unexpectedly in Ubud, Bali, where while on a tour of The Green School, he was offered a job as Director of Entrepreneurial and Enterprise Education. Aaron and family spent the next two years immersed in The Green School community. I find Aaron’s approach to rethinking traditional education thought-provoking. Here are some of the paradigm shifts he discusses in his blog, edunautics: 1. Education should be focused primarily on creating advanced learners, not primarily on transferring particular sets of information. 2. We should approach learning based on strengths possessed by each individual, and approach all learning through those. 3. We need to get rid of the idea that school is separate from the rest of our world; much of what we learn through should have a positive impact on the real world now, not at some later date. 4. We need to find a way to remove coercion from education. We’re sending the wrong message about learning. I look forward to following his ideas and continuing our conversations!
Meet the Kings (literally and figuratively). Sabina, her husband and their two munchkins, lived in Colorado before they took off for Costa Rica in 2010 with a toddler and a baby on the way. They left with very few plans or material things, not knowing how long they’d travel or what their next career move would be. Fast forward 5 years, and they’ve explored 17 countries. They now have a home base in Ubud, Bali, from which they travel 4-6 months a year, and several online businesses that they’ve forged together from the ground up. They are digital entrepreneurs whose inspirational, adventurous, do-what-makes-you-happy outlook tends to rub off on others. They open their Bali home to so many traveling families, bringing kindred spirits together for support and good, clean fun. If you’re passing through Ubud, you may find yourself jumping on a trampoline and sipping an organic juice, feeling like royalty at the Kings’. Follow them: Website, Facebook, Twitter.
Meet Ellen and her munchkin Clem from Gloucester, England. Before their travels, Ellen was in interior and theater design, and owned a small business upcycling and restoring vintage furniture. She saved up and closed down shop to travel with Clem. Her plan upon returning home is to continue interior design, focus on helping the planet get rid of plastic bottles, and begin importing Asian baskets. She funds their travels by renting out her home in England. We met these fine, English gals in Ubud, Bali, where we hiked ricefields and shared “puddings” as we watched the sunset on the gorgeously green paddies. We happened upon them again in Hanoi, Vietnam, where we visited the War Museum, went to the movies, and rocked out karaoke style (which is what the cities are for).
Meet Mark and his munchkin Sally from Manchester, England. Mark and his wife have a business selling instruments. They structured their company with a priority on simplifying and delegating to make more time for family travel. We met Mark and Sally in Chiang Mai, Thailand where Sally and our youngest discovered their deep, shared love for all things princess and all things competitive. We also enjoyed adventures with the Mark-Sally duo doing Tarazan stunts in a rainforest river, and bungee bouncing at a water park. This was definitely our youngest’s most special friendship on the trip, and she reminds us periodically that she misses Sally and that she is still bigger than Sally.
Meet Kati, David, and their two munchkins from Berlin, Germany, who have been traveling full time for 6 years visiting 11 countries so far. Before they began their nomadic lifestyle, Kati was a teacher and David was a lawyer. Keeping children out of a traditional school setting is illegal in Germany, so as long as Kati and David want to continue educating their girls unconventionally, they literally can’t make a permanent residence in their home country. They are master budget travelers and vegans who use house sitting, couchsurfing and other ways to experience the world with their children cheaply, fully and simply. They rent out the home they own in Germany as a monthly income. Kati and David were the first western parents we found when we began our trip in Bali. Little did we know at the time, we were one of at least 10 western traveling families (probably more) in Ubud at that time. David gave us our first motorbike ride – Thrilling! I was truly taken aback by the freedom and independence their girls possessed after roaming freely around the earth for most of their young years.
Meet Jonathan Fasman and Pet, and their munchkins Pi, Piow and Alex from Chiang Mai, Thailand. This cross-cultural crew is not a western family focusing on world travel like the others, though they have seen plenty of the world together, and they blend east and west beautifully. Originally a chef and restauranteur from Boston, Jonathan met his love and made his life with Pet in Thailand years ago. We arrived in Chiang Mai at winter holiday time and had no idea how or where to celebrate Hanukkah. Enter Jonathan and Pet! After posting an inquiry on an expat Facebook group (man, those groups are awesome), Jonathan, never having met us, invited us to his house for Hanukkah dinner. Their boys, who are still building fluency in English didn’t hesitate with a moment of shyness, and the 6 kids spent hours hootin-it-up on their property. A few weeks later they included our youngest as an honored guest at Piow’s birthday celebration, making her feel so special, with presents and a professional-grade Barbie Cake made from scratch by Pet, a budding pastry chef. I found it so interesting to watch Pet mother her kids without doing the typical western parental-hover-dance. I give Jonathan and Pet a lot of credit for navigating their cultural differences as parents. If we ever get back to Thailand, and I’m planning on it, we hope to enjoy another round of Jonathan and Pet’s Thai hospitality. If they ever get to Philly, they know who to call.
So, why did you just spend your precious time reading about the traveling families we met in SE Asia?
Because now you know there are all kinds of folks, like us, perhaps like you, making their way around the globe with kids but without big bucks or grand plans. You also know that if you ever venture out for a long stretch, you won’t be alone. You won’t be at a loss for information, support or kindred spirits. Traveling can be an opportunity to withdrawal from being social, but when you need connection, you can find it out there.
These parents see the world with their kids because it’s important to them, not because it’s a no-brainer, in fact it took a lot of brains, courage and heart to step out of their home cultures, to make their futures a lesser known quantity, and to skip down the yellow brick road.