The travel community is filled with incredibly interesting people. If you’ve ever thought about living, working, continuous travel and education with your family in tow – Jennifer Miller of The Edventure Project is the one to talk to. Traveling for many years and educating her family in the world’s continents and communities, Jennifer shares her story with me. Here she talks about life on the road and education in the global classroom.
Interview with The Edventure Project (Jennifer Miller)
1.When did you get started traveling? We took off traveling in spring 2008. We set off to cycle in Europe and N. Africa for a year… and just kind of kept going!
2.What made you decide make the jump to a location independent/travel-based existence? Our first year we were traveling on money we had saved. When the US economy crashed in the fall of 2008 the money we’d saved disappeared and we were left with a decision to make: Go home and get jobs, or find some new way to support ourselves. Ultimately, we headed to Tunisia, lived cheap for 3 months and worked on expanding our options. At the time, it seemed like a terrible thing to have happening. In retrospect it was one of the best things that could have happened because it forced creativity in a way that traveling along according to our plan might not have. It forced us to ask some fundamental questions about what we wanted from our lives and careers.
3.What benefits do you feel you get from this lifestyle? How do you handle the nay-sayers in your life? We made the determination, early on, to design our life around our relationships and our family, instead of work. We wanted to spend the time we have with our kids truly with them. We wanted to show them the world and educate them in it. For us, the primary benefits have been time, relationship and shared memories. There aren’t many nay-sayers now. Early on there were people who worried (on our behalf) about our finances and our kids’ educations, about our future plans. Those criticisms and concerns have faded as the results have, literally, spoken for themselves in the voices of our kids. It turns out that it is entirely possible to make a very good living, working substantially less time than average, to educate and enjoy one’s children and to simultaneously chase a dream. A life of travel and adventure is not for everyone, but it is for us, and it’s the ride of a lifetime.
4.How did you save money to be able to afford living ‘on the road’/travelling often? How long did it take you to make the jump to a location independent/travel-based life? We started planning, saving and actively working toward making the break to travel a full two years before we took off in 2008, but we actually made the decision to travel lots and raise our kids differently very early on. Traveling for a living does not have to be expensive. The key is to diversify the ways you make money and simultaneously lower the threshold of what you “need” to survive happily.
5.How do you choose your destinations and for how long you’ll stay? What type of accommodations do you typically choose? Are there any specific resources you recommend? Since we’ve been traveling full time for six years now, there isn’t an easy way to answer that question. We choose our destinations based on where we would like to visit, where we need to be occasionally for work obligations, what the various interests of the individuals in our family are, and economics. We travel slowly, so we often stay in one place from one to six months. We alternate periods of digging deep in single locations and forward motion for a few months at a time. When we are in one place we often rent a (fully furnished) house or apartment in a local neighbourhood. This is a great way to get beyond the “tourist” experience and live local. When we are moving forward we often stay in hostels or inexpensive (non-chain) local inns. We also stay in tents and camp, we’ve slept across North and Central America in our Hennessy Hammocks. We lived in an RV in New Zealand for 6 months. We’re flexible and adventurous where lodging is concerned! We’ve also done a couple of 3 month house sits that have been fantastic experiences.
6.How much money do you traditionally need annually to support this lifestyle? The answer to that question is highly variable. It depends on where you’re traveling, how you’re traveling and what your definition of “family” is. For us, if we are in Central America or Southeast Asia, we can do it on a budget of about $100 a day for six people. If we’re in Australia and New Zealand, we need to triple that by the time we include all of the details. Of course if you do the math on that you realize that that’s still only $50 a day per person. There are economies of scale that actually make it cheaper, per person, to travel as a family, as opposed to solo travel, but at the end of the day, traveling as a family of six isn’t free. We only tracked, with precision, our costs the very first year we traveled, on bikes, camping and cooking for ourselves through Europe and N. Africa. That year cost us a total of $32,000 USD. Approximately half of what our stationary life the previous year and cost us living in the USA. Of course that was with no teenagers!
7.How do you make money on the road and save for retirement? Tony does database development and design/implementation for big companies you’ve heard of and iOS/Android programming for small ones you haven’t. I am a freelance writer/editor for the alternative education and travel markets. I also teach classes and do life coaching. We work about 20 hours a week, on average and we make more money than we did when we were living a traditional life, and Tony was working crazy hours for a division of Apple Inc.
8.How do you handle visas, vaccinations, legal documents/passports, taxes and healthcare while living without a home base or an ever-changing one? The short version: it’s a pain in the ass. We have a legal residence in NH (that should not be confused with actually having a house or lodging, because we don’t). That address allows us to handle the tax and legal issues. Vaccinations can be had anywhere, and we’ve had them just about everywhere. We carry health insurance both at home and abroad, both of which we pay for out of pocket, as we’re self employed. Taxes are made easier by employing an excellent accountant, which I recommend to anyone who travels and is self-employed. It’s very key to have some “ground crew” in the form of family, friends, or staff you employ (all three in our case) who cover the bases for you and fight fires when they appear as you are abroad.
9.If you decide to settle somewhere – where and when do you think it will be? There is no if; we will definitely settle. We’ve had an exit plan for several years and we’re in the midst of working on that now. We will build on property we have in Canada within the next couple of years. We’ll take over the legacy my parents have spent 35 years building in such a way that they can enjoy their retirement on their own terms and our crew of young people can take over the heavy lifting. We’ll still travel at least half of the time, but we’ll be based in Canada.
10.What advice do you have for others trying to make the jump to a location independent/ travel-heavy lifestyle? Take the time to do your homework and plot your jump. We don’t regret, for a second, having done thorough prep work up front; especially since we had four kids in tow. That time spent planning and preparing in our heads is probably a large part of what allowed us to weather the big bump in the road when the economy crashed and figure out how to beat the system. But once you’ve decided to go, and done your homework… just go. A person can second guess for years and waste a lot of time. Time is the only thing we really have and to gamble with it is dangerous business. If travel is in your soul, save some money and hit the road, figure the rest out as you walk. The answers will find you.
**If traveling with children on the road:
1.How do you manage the education of your children? That’s an enormous question that I’ve written quite a bit about. We’ve educated our own kids from birth through university entrance and even the uni is being done in outside the box ways. Or philosophy is a blend of the classical and Charlotte Mason approaches. Our methodology is heavy on hands on, experiential learning and we view education as something that is continuously happening, not something that happens between classroom walls or bells. We read voraciously, as individuals and aloud as a family. We use the world as our classroom. On a practical level, our kids spend about four hours a day, four days a week, on their “book work” which is just the tip of the iceberg of their entire educational experience. Our goal is to give our children an intellectually rigorous, culturally diverse and liberal education.
2.How do they feel being world travelers and moving from place to place regularly? You’d have to ask them, I suppose. Hannah (17) has a blog: http://www.edventuregirl.com on which she discusses some of these sorts of questions. I can tell you that they are enthusiastic partners in our adventures. The oldest three all have solo adventures planned for this coming year. Hannah is planning on a degree in Geography with a minor in Spanish. She’s working on her TEFL certification and she works for a travel magazine on the editorial staff. She has no plans to stop traveling, even as she leaves home. Gabriel (15) has active plans to circumnavigate in a sailboat when he finishes his schooling. He’s thinking about becoming a SCUBA instructor in the short term in order to fund his journeying. The younger two boys have plans for the places we’ll go and things we’ll do “once we get rid of them” meaning the older two kids who make everything expensive with their voracious eating and need for bigger spaces and more hotel rooms. They’re looking forward to maximizing the “small family” dynamic in the coming years.
3.What do you think they gain from living life this way as opposed to a ‘traditional upbringing’? It should be noted that I’m in no way opposed to a traditional upbringing and I don’t think that what my kids are getting is intrinsically “better.” It’s just different. We have specific goals for our children’s educations that included more than just cursory travel. We are hoping very much to produce adults who are engaged with their own cultures in a way that is considerate of others, who are able to navigate language and culture barriers comfortably and who can understand that there are lots of ways to live on this planet, and are able to choose their own way with some degree of perspective and intention. We knew we could not do that alone, so we enlisted the planet to help us.
4.How has location independent living changed your family dynamics? Our kids had not been to school even before we started traveling, so that was not an adjustment for them. We’ve always structured work around family, so they were used to having both parents available more than an average amount of time. For us, the biggest changes were creating routines that contributed a sense of “normal” and “home” even when we’re moving forward and the outward structures are changing.
5.How do you feel this lifestyle will help your children in their future? At the very least, our kids will have international experience that will help them to navigate the continually shrinking world, but what they do with their futures is their business and how they leverage their childhood experiences in that mélange is up to them. Like all parents, we’re doing our best to equip our kids with everything we can possibly hand them in terms of education, experience and family foundation. It’s all an experiment, like it is in every family, and time will tell whether it has been a success.
If you’d like to learn more about the Millers’ travels, family adventures or alternative educational choices..follow their travels at edventureproject.com.