Last year, our family traded morning routines for rain forest hikes, rush-hour commutes for sunset cruises. Instead of finger painting at preschool, our kids interpreted Botticelli paintings at the Uffizi Gallery. No, we didn’t win the lottery. But we did lose our taste for the daily grind.
Before we embarked on an epic adventure with two small kids, we had a nice life in New York City. Happy marriage, healthy children. With my work at a magazine and my husband’s career as a consultant, we could afford a nice apartment and a nanny. I wore expensive shoes — in which I was always running. To work, to meetings, to the grocery store on those rare nights I made it home for dinner. We were constantly trying to figure out how to get more done in less time.
There was no light bulb moment for us, just a growing sense of unease. Was this...it?
For years, Drew and I had fantasized about taking an epic trip — driving an Airstream around America or spending every month of a year in a different city. Something always stood in the way. Work. School. Rent. But this time, dissatisfaction drove me forward. I didn’t just daydream, I toyed with time lines and budgets and packing lists. One day in late 2016, I turned to Drew: “I think this is something we could actually do.”
Leaving our lives wasn’t easy. We had to find someone to rent our apartment, and lost half a year of our son’s tuition. We broke the news to our family. The hardest part was selling, donating and storing our belongings. The process was grueling — and worth it a thousand times over. Last April we boarded a flight to the Dominican Republic with no return ticket and most of our stuff in a single rollaboard. We spent the next two months island-hopping through the Caribbean, then flew to Europe, where we spent four months exploring Italy, Germany and the U.K. Along the way, Jack, 5, piloted a catamaran through the sapphire waters of the British Virgin Islands. Our 3-year-old daughter Lia learned to make cheese in the Alps. We saw Stonehenge at dawn and Venice at sunset.
Life on the road was simpler, yet richer. Instead of deciding what to wear, we decided what to do. When they got tired of playing with rocks or each other, the kids made toys from whatever was at hand. We were free to spend a day driving through the mountains or building a playhouse out of driftwood on a deserted Italian beach.
The trip wasn’t all golden moments. It was tough to adjust to being together all day, every day. I was writing and Drew was consulting part-time, and we struggled to get work done during nap times and at night. The kids forgot to leave their tantrums at home. Life on the road isn’t perfect — but it comes tantalizingly close.
Six months turned out to be too short, and we’re hoping to leave on another half-year adventure soon. But some families have turned travel into a full-time endeavor — and these three have plenty to teach the rest of us.
Why We Did It: Back home, I was working an insane amount of hours just to make ends meet and not seeing my kids. I’m a certified teacher, so I was basically raising other people’s kids and paying other people to raise mine. After I got divorced, there wasn’t much tying us to Hawaii, and I thought there had to be another way. I started researching families who were traveling and thought I could do that.
The Best Part: My kids’ horizons are so much broader now. And I get to spend so much time with them and see all of these aha moments every day. For example, my kids like to play this game called Would You Rather? My son recently asked a guy if he would rather have a million dollars but have to work every day or have $1,000 a year but have all of his free time. They get it — they understand that we didn’t leave so we could have vacation forever, but because spending time with people you love is more important than making a lot of money.
The Worst Part: As much as I love getting to spend time with my children, I’m with them almost 24-7. Sometimes I feel like I just need a break.
Top Tip: Embrace the minimalist lifestyle. You do not need to bring all of that stuff with you. We left with only carry-ons, and now I think for a week’s trip we probably could get all of our things into one bag.
Favorite Destination: I love Langkawi, Malaysia. This is a little island located south of Thailand that has spectacular food and pristine beaches. It’s just gorgeous — and the hotels there are stupid cheap.
Why We Did It: We were traveling long before the kids were born — we had a five-year honeymoon, and lived in different countries. Everyone told us that our travels were going to be over once we had kids, but it was a lifestyle that we didn’t want to end.
The Best Part: The family bonding. Getting to see your children interact with the world and see them learn and grow makes it all worthwhile.
The Worst Part: The 24-7, though we’ve been doing it for long enough now that it doesn’t feel as big of a challenge. It’s really important to give everyone their downtime, to have some kind of separation.
Top Tip: Involve the kids in the planning process: It helps them feel that it’s their journey as well, and it adds a really great element of fun and excitement. As soon as our kids could, we had them packing their own suitcases. We have a YouTube video of Savannah when she was 17 months old navigating the airport with her little suitcase.
Favorite Destination: We’ve always loved the diversity of the US, and traveling not just through the landscape but through different cultures. And we’re from there, but after traveling around the country for 18 months, we think Australia is just an incredible destination.
Why We Did It: Before we started traveling, we were living in a working-class neighborhood in Tokyo and it was very homogeneous. I wanted my kids to realize that there are a whole lot of other types of people out there. Also, I just wanted to travel more — I’d been sitting at a desk job for 13 years. And I wanted to do it with them. We thought maybe we should wait until the kids were older, but my only regret is that we didn’t leave earlier.
The Best Part: Having these adventures together and seeing my kids open up as a result. When we left, my son was a shy kid; now he’s really outgoing. These days, he can step into any situation — whether it’s with 15 tribal elders or a group of toddlers — and handle it.
The Worst Part: Time management and trying to keep the kids on track with school. And as they get older, our kids want more routine. So for the last couple of years we’ve been slowing down and staying in one place.
Top Tip: When you’re traveling, don’t just stick to water parks and amusement parks. Kids can enjoy museums and culture. Don’t underestimate them.
Favorite Destination: Taiwan. The kids? Hands down, they would say Spain, where we lived for two years.