Many think that having kids means giving up your freedom to travel. But some families blow that idea out of the water, earning dozens of stamps in their passports while forging indescribable international memories together.
For most of us, vacation means travelling one or two weeks a year. But for these globe-trotting families, travel isn’t an escape from life. It is life, with many of them logging months or even years on the road, on the water, or in the air.
Have child, will travel
Libryia Jones always wanted to travel, but the world kept throwing obstacles in her path.
She was offered a year-long internship in China, but the school wouldn’t let her bring her daughter. Then she tried to join a group that took people abroad for a year, but they also banned children.
“I got tired of continuously getting knocked down for something I’d been dreaming of,” she says. So Jones did it herself. She started Wandering Moms with a friend. It’s a community of 8,000 travelling women, most of whom are single moms.
“These moms literally give their children the world!” exclaims Jones.
Jones takes them on what she calls a “wander year.” They live in four revolving locations for three months at a time. Recently that included the Czech Republic, Thailand, South Africa, and Colombia.
She says it’s a misconception that a child’s stability requires a North American lifestyle. “Their stability comes from their parents,” says Jones. “If they’ve got us, they’ve got stability. The routine could be the standard: school, homework, dinner, bed, repeat. Or it could be that we head to another country every three months.”
Travelling with a teen brings its own challenges, such as giving them the friends and independence so many adolescents crave. “I made it a point to get her onto soccer teams in each location,” says Jones. “It was helpful to have her around girls her age.”
“It also helped that she had much more independence,” says Jones. She notes that many countries are safer than North American cities. In Prague, her daughter would ride the tram by herself. In Thailand, she’d call an Uber to go to soccer practice.
Education can also be a challenge with an older child. Jones recommends researching the options available. “There are homeschool curriculums, unschooling, and even virtual schools,” she says.
For Jones, the benefits outweigh these difficulties.
“You turn things most children only learn in books into real-life experiences,” Jones says. Two of her daughter’s favourite experiences were visiting Anne Frank’s hiding place, and standing where Nelson Mandela stood when he gave his first speech after being released from prison.
“At any time in your life, you’re able to choose the life you want,” says Jones. “Your children aren’t a hindrance to that. In fact, they should be a catalyst. Do you want to teach them that they can do anything they want with their lives? Who best to learn that from than you, and how best to teach them than by example?”
Keeping up with the jet-setters
“Parenting can be tough,” says Micki Kosman. “We may as well be parenting somewhere beautiful when the challenges come!” She shares her tips to keep kids happy and parents sane:
Travel with medical travel insurance and carry a first aid kit
“I always have the addresses of the nearest hospitals in my phone,” says Kosman. Her husband also packs an offline map of the area.
Look for kid- specific attractions
“We always find a nice outdoor space where the kids can run around and we can all relax,” says Kosman.
Involve kids in the planning
“Ask your kids what they want to do, and let them help you plan,” she suggests. “If the kids are as excited as you are, everyone will have a better time!”
Alleviate travel anxiety
“We tell the kids any parts that might be boring or long,” says Kosman. “Having the information beforehand puts a lot of their fears to rest.”
Take it slow
“Once a child reaches their breaking point, no one will have any fun,” warns Kosman. “Keep your days shorter, don’t pre-plan every second of your journey, and spend a few more minutes playing in the park and a few less walking through museums.”
From Kelowna to the ends of the world
Charles and Micki Kosman live in Kelowna, BC, although you’ll rarely find them there. Since 2003, they’ve travelled to more than 40 countries.
While they’ve made adjust-ments—swapping out cheap hostels and rickety buses for more conventional accommodations and transportation—the adventures didn’t stop when they had children.
“We knew children would complicate our travel, but we’d already met so many travelling families that we knew we could keep on doing it,” says Micki Kosman.
Their son was just three weeks old when they took him on a 1,300-kilometre-long road trip. By the time he was two years old, he’d been to much of North America, plus Cuba, Hong Kong, and the Philippines.
“There’s this misconception that travel with children is incredibly hard,” she says. “I honestly find that’s not the case.”
Their son is now 12 and their daughter is nine. The family recently went fishing for piranhas in the Amazon. “After that, we spent 10 days in the Galapagos snorkelling with turtles, sharks, and sea lions,” says Kosman.
The kids now have irreplaceable memories that span continents. “Our daughter still craves chocolate croissants from a bakery in Spain, and our son still talks about boogie boarding in Costa Rica,” reminisces Kosman.
A port called home
When I reached Behan Gifford, she was sailing through the 32 islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. “Can I get back to you?” she asked. “We may not have internet for a week.”
She and her husband, Jamie, along with their three children, have been floating around the world since 2008. “When we sailed from Seattle, we anticipated being away for two to five years,” recalls Gifford. At the time, their children were ages four, six, and nine. “I’m stunned that we’ve entered our 10th year, with no end in sight!”
On land, Gifford and her husband were very successful by traditional standards. But as they juggled careers and parenting, they craved a different life—one that was more minimalist and where their family lived in sync with nature.
“We considered other ways to rescale and reorient our lives, but always came back to nomadic life afloat,” says Gifford. “A boat is the near-perfect magic carpet for far-flung travel.”
The Giffords literally go wherever the wind blows, sometimes switching hemispheres to avoid hurricanes. “The specifics change a lot,” she says. “You can pick the date, or the place, but not both!”
This has taught them the importance of flexibility, both as travellers and as parents. Take their children’s education, for example. “Homeschooling was never something I aspired to, but it was necessary,” explains Gifford. And the family’s life on sea has become a classroom unlike any other.
“Our children have views based on first-hand experience instead of the media,” explains Gifford. “They’ve heard islanders in Papua New Guinea describe how their communities are sold out to foreign companies for timber or mining. They’ve swum on enough reefs to recognize a healthy reef ecosystem, as well as one that’s overfished or impacted by climate change. They’ve gained an appreciation for how rich their options are in life, their control over their destiny, and how precious and uncommon this is in the world. It’s a priceless education.”
How many cruisers around the world?
By some estimates, there are 10,000 nomadic boats like the Giffords’ on the water.