I’ve always known there is more than one way to live but it’s in the last five years that I’ve actively searched for those who choose, thrive and flourish in whatever ‘their’ way is and I crave learning more. As a public school educator in New York, my school was a traditional setting. I always knew there were many who chose an alternate route, but until searching there weren’t too many people in my everyday life who did. With a minimal look, I’ve found a community of travelers who have chosen other ways to educate their children and many use the world as their classroom. While teaching, I often tried to weave my travels into the curriculum. For ninth graders, pictures of the pyramids and stories of what the Acropolis looks like up close fit perfectly and for eleventh graders, sharing information of how students in northern Vietnam view the war worked well. But, I have always felt there was so much more to learn from world travel if only we were exposed. Stories and photos travel well, but others, like the tactic of bargaining at a market, the smells and experience of talking with vendors and eating street food in well anywhere, discussing economic and social policy with locals or even how the toilets in Australia don’t really flush ‘backwards’ are better viewed and learned in person.
I met Lainie and Miro online. In conversations and posts about world and unschooling, I became interested to see how her son (the same age to many of my high school students who sat in my classroom in New York) was experiencing and learning through their travels. Here she shares her story of a shift in values, looking fear in the eye and seeing the world as a classroom.
I am a former California business owner who worked in the advertising, marketing and branding industry for almost 20 years. In 2000 I started my own agency focusing on brand strategy, graphic design and messaging exclusively for green-eco companies, non profits and conscious businesses. One of the reasons I started my own agency was to remove myself from the destructive consumerist advertising world and focus on doing work for ‘good’.
1.When did you get started traveling? In 2008, the economy sank in California, so instead of choosing to struggle, I decided to opt for a change for both myself and my son. I closed my agency, we got rid of all of our possessions and my son and I set out to travel the world together. The economy crash was the opportunity we needed to actually live the life we were dreaming about and knew in our hearts, was the change we were looking for. The economy crash presented the opportunity to make personal changes in our lives. Today, 5 1/2 years later, we continue to choose traveling with no definite plans, no specific agenda, and allow inspiration to be our guide.
2.What made you decide make the jump to a location independent/travel-based existence? When Miro and I made the decision to leave the United States in 2008, we had no intention of permanently leaving our “normal life”. We believed we’d be traveling for the duration of one year, and then have no choice but to return to the United States and pick up our lives where we left off. Only eight months into our travels we decided to continue this lifestyle together for an indefinite time period. A location independent and travel based lifestyle felt right for us. Over five years later, we both agree this was the best decision we could have made for our lives. Together, we have experienced so many internal changes, grown as individuals, strengthened our child/parent bond, and discovered/learned so many new things based on our new found interests sparked through traveling.
3.What benefits do you feel you get from this lifestyle? The benefits we receive as a result of this lifestyle are vast and expansive. Everyday I am grateful for the opportunity to trust the world as a safe place, deepen our global perspective, experience inspiration through the many cultures and traditions we’ve encountered and appreciate our shared humanity. The most important benefit we’ve experienced is the realization that the world is the perfect classroom to learn, reflect, interact, investigate and participate within. We have transformed our travels into a journey of discovery, focusing on leaning naturally in the world and being open to all of the subtle lessons offered. Learning through travel (“worldschooling”) has become our life path and has provided meaning to our lives. Everyday we are intentional with our learning and consider that the greatest benefit.
4. How do you handle the nay-sayers in your life? The nay-says usually object to the transient nature of our lives. I suppose one could argue living a mainstream lifestyle is not a heathy one either, nor is it the only stable way to raise a child. We feel stability is simply a man-made concept and we perceive our lifestyle as being more stable because of the life preparation my son is receiving. In my mind, raising my son with the world viewed as a classroom, real-life learning as his teacher and hands on experiences cannot compare with our conventional life back in the States.
5. How did you save money to be able to afford living ‘on the road’/traveling often? How long did it take you to make the jump to a location independent/travel-based life? When we initially decided to travel, it took us 6 months to shed all of our possessions, close the business and finalize our accounts. During that time we prepared mentally for our journey. I paid off my credit cards, and when we left, we had enough in the bank to travel frugally and live off of for one year while budgeting about $35 per person per day. We did not actually spend that much money and were able to stretch it out to last us a year and a half. Eight months into our travels, when we decided to extend our trip indefinitely, I started to work on a strategy that would support us and adapted to the lifestyle of a location independent worker.
6.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? We chose our destinations simply by the closest geographical location, budget and where we are inspired to next explore. We are mainly overland slow travelers. Since we’ve decided we are not in a hurry to get anywhere or live according to anyone else’s schedule, we prefer to live in a single location for as long as we are both inspired. We both have different interests and we always accommodate both of them. Since we really enjoy Latin America, we began heading south, starting first in Mexico. We both absolutely love the site and community found on couchsurfing.org. In fact, Miro and I are traveling ambassadors for the organization. We have always been grateful for the knowledge and support of our hosts and when we settle in a single location for a period of time (like we did in Cusco, Peru and Antigua, Guatemala) we always host couch-surfers. Over the past five years, weI have lived in all kinds of accommodations, both shared and private, but always local versus tourist accommodations.
7.How much money do you traditionally need annually to support this lifestyle? This is one of those impossible questions to answer about anyone else’s life other than ours. We now live frugally, on less than $1000 a month for two of us, living as visiting locals collecting experiences versus things. It took us a while to get to this point, and frugal living is not for everyone. We find that we don’t need much more than that to live a comfortable and immersive experience. That doesn’t mean we don’t splurge on trips and activities that we want to experience, but it’s not the typical consumerist lifestyle we used to live in the States.
8.How do you make money on the road and save for retirement? We live day to day. I’ve become clear that “working” is no longer my life’s purpose. To go from earning $10,000 a month to living off of that amount per year, didn’t happen over night. We made adjustments about what we valued. If Miro and I did not adapt an attitude to “collect memories” versus “collecting things”, we would not be able to live the way we do. The first step of living within our means was changing our relationship to “stuff”. We had to relearn how to live within our means. I recognize I was privileged before, where I had the ability to buy whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I would put things on the credit card and have anything I desired in a fraction of a moment. Instant gratification in terms of purchasing and adjusting that relationship to money took some practice. My life before was completely different. Now, we have no credit, no savings, no safety net to fall back on. I don’t have a spouse to help. Miro’s dad doesn’t contribute at all either. My family (although I’m certain they won’t let us starve and have certainly helped us in the past) does not support us in any way. Without credit cards, we have to always be acutely aware of what we are spending and what we have in that moment. Without a savings account we cannot plan ahead. Without a permanent source of income we become grateful for each day. And because we don’t know what is going to come in each month, we have had to learn to be comfortable with what we have, no planning for the future and always living in the moment. For many, I suspect that’s the most difficult obstacle.
9. Is living on a shoe string the most difficult part? No. I think the “uncertainty” is what prevents many from taking on this lifestyle. And I’m not going to lie to you, it’s NOT stress-free. This is not intended to scare you, but we have had the experiences on three separate occasions over the past five years of completely running out of money. Are you surprised? We had under $10 in our bank account without any idea of how we were going to earn more money. Did I freak out? Maybe a little. But each time, we were able to find a solution. The biggest lesson we’ve learned from becoming self-sufficient while traveling is creating multiple streams of income. Not one is consistent and our income varies from month to month (some months, close to nothing comes in). The key is to diversify. Here’s how we’ve managed up to this point:
- web advertising
- freelance writing
- freelance consulting
- small income from our retreats
- Miro makes a small profit from sales from his store
The funny thing is, we always seem to have exactly what we need. It was possible, because we did rethink everything including the way we participate in this world. And creating multiple streams of income seems to be the solution. Every time we thought we were stuck in the world without money, we’ve been provided for magically. Living with the knowledge that we are always going to be ok was a shift out of fear that is more valuable than any stream of income. I do know that takes time to get there.
10. How do you handle visas, vaccinations, legal documents/passports, taxes and healthcare while living without a home base or an ever-changing one? Once during our travels we had to renew both of our passports. We were in Lima, Peru and were able to utilize the services of the US Embassy. In terms of visas, we’ve been visiting each country using a tourist visa and adhere to the immigration laws of the particular country we are visiting. Heath care is one of those things we address locally as needed, as healthcare services are relatively inexpensive in Central and South America.
11. If you decide to settle somewhere – where and when do you think it will be? We really try not to predict the future and stay open to our inspiration. That being said, we both love Latin America. Right now we currently find ourselves in Ecuador after spending the last 3 years in Peru. Guess what? We miss Peru.
12.What advice do you have for others trying to make the jump to a location independent/ travel-heavy lifestyle? Learn to breath through the fear, trust yourself and trust the world. Reach out to others who have made this journey before you and create a community of support Remember, always be where you need to be and don’t wait another moment…live your life NOW.
13.In your experience, what have been the two most significant gifts of travel? I’ve learned to trust the world as a safe place, deepen our global perspective, experience inspiration through the many cultures and traditions we’ve encountered and appreciate our shared humanity. Everyday, we are intentional with our learning. And what we value most is the realization that the world is the perfect classroom in which to learn, reflect, interact, investigate and participate.
**If traveling with children on the road:
1.How do you manage the education of your child? As we started our trip, I had no idea such a thing called Unschooling existed. I noticed Miro was talking about geography, sociology, history, economics, mythology, language and second language, literature, math, science. I sat back and realized how brilliant the idea of having the world teach my son was! Engaging in life, children (and adults) learn! I discovered the formal name for what we were doing was ‘unschooling’. In some circles it’s called “Radically Unschooling”, “Worldschooling” or “Roadschooling”. There are similar principals to each of those ‘disciplines’ all based on child-led learning. It is a radical departure form homeschooling circles which teach a formal curriculum in a home environment. The philosophy behind unschooling is that children will learn what they need to know when they are ready and want to learn it and this flows through every other aspect of life. The whole essence of unschooling is that children, when empowered, will learn based on their individual interests. I’ve seen games spark Miro’s interest in mythology, quantum physics, history and culture. We’ve had an open platform to discuss humanity, violence, and choices through video games. I’ve also seen Miro’s research skills improve as the internet and google have become second nature to him. I didn’t like going to the library to research when I was his age because it was overwhelming. To have a library at your fingertips is a drastic change for this generation. I have discovered first-hand that by virtue of being in this world, we can’t help but to learn. Children learn naturally and retain so much more when they are engaged and leading the process. I realized this by watching an empowered Miro blossom daily. As a result of my unschooling education, I am also growing as Miro teaches me how to be a better and more effective parent.
2. How do they feel being world travelers and moving from place to place regularly? Miro and I check in often about our lives with what’s working and what’s not. We don’t move as quickly as we did the first 2 years of our travels and always manage to travel at a pace that suits us. We both really enjoy this lifestyle and aren’t being forced to live it. Together, we choose it each and every day.
3.What do you think he gains from living life this way as opposed to a ‘traditional upbringing’? Travel keeps us connected to our natural love of learning. As I described above, we are approach education through the unschooling philosophy. But in actuality, we identify with being “worldschoolers”. What is the difference? As unschoolers, Miro’s self-directed learning has always been interest led….with one clear exception: learning from ideas we are exposed to as a result of our travel experiences. Since we’ve been living a “travel lifestyle” for over five years, those exposures tend to be daily experiences. By virtue of being in the world, we are exposed to things, ideas, cultures, environments, history and experiences that may have not been guided by either of our interests but are instead guided by travel. We see it as an opportunity to pursue greater information to place context into our experiences. It’s immersive learning driven by experience. The biggest gift I’ve given my son as a result of our travel lifestyle is the ability to connect life experiences with a life-long love of learning. Travel is fun, and so is learning from the world.
4.How has location independent living changed your family dynamics? Living a location independent life wasn’t the sole catalyst for change within our family dynamics. I think seeing Miro growing up and growing into who he is has contributed more, as he’s naturally grown from 10 years to 15 years of age while living this lifestyle. While growing up, our dynamics have changed too. When we set out into the world, our goal was to partner on everything. As he’s grown, he’s stepped into the role of an equal partner with ease and confidence. All aspects of our adventures are decided upon equally which empowers Miro with real world decision making experience.
5.How do you feel this lifestyle will help your child in his future? I think the rewards gained from our lifestyle choices are immeasurable. Miro is learning and participating in the world and receiving a “real world” education in exchange. My son has the opportunity to experience his own humanity in so many ways such as volunteering, connecting with people young and old and stepping outside of his comfort zone daily. Miro is learning that consumerism and ownership are not that important, and has seen the supply chain from sweat shops and cheap labor in some economically challenged countries, as well as visiting farms and local markets. Miro experiences a sense that he can really do anything in his life that he desires.