Maybe it's just the circles we're in now, but it seems like more and more families are exploring the idea of long term travel with kids. Sure, everyone knows a young 20-something that's backpacked through Europe or hiked the jungles of the Amazon, but what about families?
Is it possible or even worth it to travel for extended periods of time with your kids?
We think it is!
Long term travel with kids can vary widely depending on what works for your family or your budget. Here are suggestions of ways you can do it, based on our own personal experiences and the experiences of our friends.
1.) Plan a RTW (Round the World) trip.
These kinds of trips are usually for a specific time period, like a year or so. (Although many people we know decide to extend indefinitely while on these trips.) You move at a moderate pace, trying to see and experience as much of the world as possible in a certain amount of time. Based on what we've read by RTW trip families, the time spent in one spot usually doesn't exceed a month because of the (self-imposed) pressure to see more of the world.
This is ideal if you have a flexible monthly budget (because Europe will be far more expensive than Thailand) or if you have a job that is letting you travel and work remotely for a year. Ideally, you will have saved up quite a bit ahead of time and planned out your stops along the way. Most families have a bucket list of destinations they want to make sure they see.
2.) Plan a long term stay in one location outside your home country.
We've met several families online who took a year and lived in another country. One family spent a year in France. They had a specific plan to get their kids completely fluent in French (it came more easily to some than others) and really immerse themselves in French culture. Of course, they did do some exploring around Europe, but France was their main base.
Most people who do this type of long term travel incorporate regular work into their plan, whether they continue running a business or have other types of income that do best with some sort of regular and predictable schedule. This type of travel tends to look the most like "regular life", but in a new location. You develop friendships with locals, can put the children into schools or music lessons or sports/dance classes, etc.
This is the type of travel we've done so far. It seems to be the most budget friendly because you can rent a home for several months or a year (versus paying for short term nightly or weekly rentals that cost more) and develop a regular family routine that includes eating and cooking more meals at home instead of always eating out. The main budget items for us involve renewing our visas and the expenses involved in a border crossing.
3.) Plan short stays in many locations over a long period of time.
This is a bit different than a RTW trip because it doesn't necessarily have an "end" to it OR you just focus on exploring one specific region, say North and South America or Southeast Asia or Europe.
We have many friends who are dotting all over Southeast Asia at the moment, sometimes spending 3 weeks or so in a certain city and then moving on to another spot in Southeast Asia. They might start off in Thailand, then hop over to Malaysia, and then Vietnam, and on and on. They get a taste of the cultures within a larger geographic region, but don't necessarily stay put to the point of settling down like those who choose option #2.
Depending on the area of the world you're in, this type of travel can get expensive if you're using air travel or have lots of kids, like we do. But unlike a RTW trip, you get to see more of a region and can become much more comfortable with the nuances of, say, Asian life.
Some families won't fit into any of these boxes, starting out with one plan and then drifting into another. We've known some families who handle a fast paced travel schedule well. They adapt easily to new places every few weeks. And others, like our family, get worn out with even small bursts of travels. The month that surrounded our nightmare visa renewal from Costa Rica to Panama and then to Nicaragua was just plain tiring. Our family needs lots of down time between adventures.
Whether you've got bank accounts full of cash or have ways to make an income that don't depend on you being in one specific location at all times, long term travel with kids can be a very rewarding experience. As with anything, there will be days when nothing seems to go right (again, a reference to our trip to Panama), but that's just life. Kids (and parents) will get sick at the least convenient times. Banks will do something funny or mess something up and you'll be strapped for cash for a day or two while things get worked out. Things may get stolen or lost (like a rain jacket left on a bus) or broken (like our cracked iPad) and you'll wish for the conveniences of replacing things in your home country.
And never forget that you WILL get the "Gringo special" or "tourist pricing" when paying for local goods or services. Once, my husband paid $28 for a taxi ride that should have been half that. Or the time our friends were overcharged at a restaurant because they were a bit rusty on their Spanish. Or when we paid WAY more for a Mexican traffic violation than we should have, but just wanted to get home! Those are just the costs of traveling.
Usually, though, the hardest part of all this is making the decision to go! If you're really afraid you won't like it and have to return home, have a strong backup plan, but go anyway. The worst that can happen is you try it, hate it, and come home early. Even that experience is one that can change your lives.
Long term travel with kids is a great way to see the world and grow closer as a family. Are you planning to go?