Being a digital nomad has its difficulties, but being a digital nomad with kids can be a real challenge. You not only have to look out for yourself, you have the responsibility for your family as well. Is it, therefore, impossible? No, not at all!
But before you take the leap, you should take several things into account. I also seriously advise you to discuss these topics with your partner and/or kids (depending on their age). You really need to be on the same page if you want to make your location independent lifestyle a success.
Although I have to add, lots of aspects of your future digital nomad life are things you cannot imagine. So, while some preparation is advised, you should also take a leap and go with the flow when necessary.
Your financial situation is one of the first hurdles to tackle. When young and without a family to support, you are probably less risk averse than when you have kids. Many 20 somethings just leave without a lot of savings and find a way to support themselves on the road. Of course, this is possible with kids as well, but you might want to have a decent plan before you leave.
So what is this financial plan? Probably a combination of savings and a location independent job (for you, your partner or both).
There is no specific amount that you need before leaving, but I can help you step by step so you can find out what you require:
Analyze your current financial situation. The best way is to simply note every dollar or euro that leaves and enters your bank account. Be as detailed as possible! The goal is to find hidden spots to cut back. For example, after tracking our expenses for a few months, we noticed that there are lots of unexpected (but necessary!) costs we cannot anticipate We needed to take this into account when making a budget.
Cut back on unnecessary costs. Once you decide you want to change your lifestyle you should commit to this. New clothes, the newest gadgets, (expensive) holidays: all unnecessary since you will be living more minimalistic on the road. So why not live minimalistic in your home right now? Also mind the small unnecessary expenses, such as an outdoor lunch or coffee at Starbucks. This might be only a few dollars per day but adds up to a huge amount per month. Just take some sandwiches and coffee from home.
Keep a budget. Decide what you need every week or month and stick to this amount. Put the rest in your savings account.
Analyze what you will need once you leave. Be very critical! It is useless to leave out any aspects just to make it work on paper. On the road, you probably have some expenses you didn’t anticipate, so better to be realistic or even pessimistic about your expected costs to prevent any nasty surprises in the future.
Save enough money. This is a no-brainer, I know.
You are probably interested in a specific savings amount by now. Well, it depends on your family situation, such as the number of kids, your monthly income and the way you travel (e.g. by plane and in resorts is more expensive than with a trailer or RV). As an example, I can give you two examples: one is our financial situation when we left, and the other is of a family that left with almost nothing.
Our financial situation when we left
When we left with our 8 months old baby, we had no job. We set up our freelance business on the road (something I would not advise by the way) and because of this we needed a lot of savings. We sold our house with a positive residual value of € 36.000. With this and the little extra savings we had, we left. So in total, we had savings of approximately € 40.000. We needed the savings to live from because we expected to have no income for at least the first year.
Financial situation of a less risk averse family
We met a family with one baby in the Netherlands that left for an indefinite time with only € 2.000, but they had a relatively steady income and don’t have any problems with taking a risk. I think this is an important distinction: if you have a monthly income you start your digital nomad adventure with fewer savings.
Location independent job
If you don’t have a location independent job then this is probably step 1 of your preparation. In my step by step guide How to become a digital nomad, this is – after some soul searching – the first step. There are several possibilities to become location independent of which the following are the most popular:
Find a remote job or ask your employer to work remotely
You have your location independent job, maybe even a steady income, and/or enough savings to live the first year or so; it’s time to jump. You are probably wondering – at least, we did! – how you’re going to manage to work. You have no office to go to, but your kids will be around 24/7. In this section, I will explain some important factors about work-life balance on the road.
First of all, you need to accept that you’re not a tourist while traveling. You are full-timers and that is something totally different than going on a trip for a few weeks. Your pace will be slow. Really slow. This is necessary to keep up with a daily routine in which your children can flourish. You (and your partner) need time to work, to roadschool the kids and to keep your household running which is very much similar to running one in a house. Even though, when living in a trailer or RV there is less cleaning to do. And if you are staying in Airbnb’s or hotels, the cleaning is almost zero. But still, there is cooking, making lunch, washing clothes, wiping bottoms and dirty hands and faces, and doing groceries for sure!
You and your family have to find a work-life balance that suits your family needs. You first have to let go of the 9-to-5-idea of working. There are 7 days in a week and although most people think it is normal to work 5 days and have 2 days leisure, this is probably not going to work when traveling full time. Also, in the evening (when your kids are asleep) you probably have the best hours of quietness in which you can really get something done. You might be a bit reluctant to give up your evenings of free time, but during the day you get to visit all these beautiful places. You will notice that this gives you more energy than watching tv several hours in the evening.
The age and the development of your kids also matters. Some kids need more time staying in one place just playing, while other kids prosper with more sightseeing. Some kids are easy to take out to dinner (which can be very cheap in SEA!) and others prefer eating at home (wherever your home is at that moment).
Keep talking about your work-life balance
You can agree on some things before you leave, but once on the road, you will truly experience how the new lifestyle fits with you and your family. It will be a constant balance of time and energy. We think this is the hardest part of the digital nomad lifestyle with kids. In a steady 9-to-5-life with a house and school, there is often less discussion about who works when. The kids are at school, you and your partner are at the office and before and afterward you have a clear defined set of tasks: for example, you cook, the other cleans up, you put the kids in the bath, the other prepares lunch for the next day, etc. And this continues almost on a daily basis for years. Of course, at times there will be disagreement about this as well, but in general, the daily routine is fixed. Only once or twice a year you discuss where you will spend your holidays or if a new car or a dormer are necessary.
When traveling full-time, roadschooling your kids and going on sightseeing trips a few times a week, you will have more discussions about who does what at which moment. Some tasks will be easily agreed on, like who makes the coffee or who puts breakfast on the table. But the rest will be a discussion once every week. Just when you have found a routine that works for you and your family, you decide to leave to the next place. Although some things will remain the same, you have to change some routines as well. It can be hard to constantly have this discussion, at least, we found it difficult sometimes. But no life is perfect, also a traveling life has its difficulties. Most important is to keep talking with each other.
Our work-life balance
When we first left, our baby was 8 months old and slept once a day for three hours. In the beginning, we thought of ourselves as being ‘fake’ travelers. We were barely sightseeing! And the places we did go, we visited only for a short while, e.g. an afternoon. After a while, we realized this was just how it was going to be. And that is was fine this way. We had a baby to take care of, who needed regular naps, we had work to do (setting up a business is very time-consuming!) and we needed time to just relax. There were lots of days we didn’t leave the campsite. This caused frustration in the beginning, but we accepted it as our new way of living in a few weeks. You should too. Traveling full-time while constantly on the road or visiting new places is exhausting. You wouldn’t be the first long-term traveler who experiences a burnout.
When planning our trips we took the baby needs first. He slept very well in the car and baby carrier but we wanted him to have regular naps in his toddler cot as well. So we only went for a whole day sightseeing once a week and planned short trips before or after his nap time. We worked when he was asleep. He still slept for three hours during the afternoon. On average, we worked 5 out of 7 evenings as well. On the mornings we stayed at the campsite, we took turns working and taking care of the baby. All these hours added up to around 30 working hours per week per person. Sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on travel days, the weather and our discipline.
We plan to leave again when our second baby is around 5 months old. With a baby and a toddler who probably doesn’t want to nap during the day anymore, our available working hours will be less. We don’t know yet how we’re going to solve this, but possible solutions are working more hours in the evening, make do with the hours we can work and travel even slower than before.
If you want to travel with kids of school age, some form of roadschooling is unavoidable. On the one end of the spectrum is ‘traditional’ homeschooling (where you take the class situation to your home, wherever that might be) and on the other end, you find unschooling. In between, there are lots of possibilities.
Lots of people criticize a roadschooling digital nomad life with kids because of a (possible) lack of socialization. Kids need friends and hobbies, is their arguments. Well, let’s start with a basic question: how do you think back at your elementary and high school period?
When talking about socialization, most people think about the typical way society works with school, classes, summer camps, and sports clubs. Although lots of kids really enjoy it (thank goodness), there are other ways. Just as you need to let go of the 9-to-5-idea of working and traditional school, as a traveling family you need to let go of the idea of mainstream socialization. As Behan from Sailing Totem writes on her blog: ‘Why is it presumed better socialization to put a couple of dozen kids the same age into a classroom with a single adult? Does a narrow band of peer-dominated socialization provide optimal social growth? I don’t think so, and research agrees.’
The origin of socialization
Brent and Stacey-jean of Travel Deep and Wide have a strong opinion about socialization. They state that ‘the vision of American public education (and due to its influence, classroom education worldwide) is not to develop the individual student socially but to “subsume” him into society’. Because of this, it is assumed that socialization occurs best among age-similar peers. This leads to a generation gap that is unquestionably accepted. They add: ‘Age-segregated, classroom-based socialization is no match for the opportunities found in full-time, long-term, world travel. I believe that parents sending their children to traditional classrooms need to seriously consider the outcome of their children “acquiring the habits” or “accumulating the knowledge of society” through age-similar peers.’
In conclusion, Brent and Stacey-jean describe their view on authentic socialization. Authentic socialization is:
listening to those that are older and wiser
befriending – even for an afternoon – young girls who eat only tortillas for breakfast and lunch and helping them chase a chicken out of their home
working, side-by-side, with people from all ages
communicating, even by long distance
If you want to know more about it, please read her whole blog post. It is truly inspiring and might give you some thoughts about how to respond when people ask questions about socialization on the road.
Pros of socialization on the road
There are several advantages to this perspective on socialization. Kids in regular places socialize almost entirely with their own age group. In school and in soccer practice, children of around the same age are put together. Is such a peer-dominated environment optimal for social growth? Traveling families have each other and there is no age classification involved. Therefore, you will notice that young teens from location independent families can play with (much) younger children and then easily switch to a decent conversation with an adult.
Another advantage is the lack of peer pressure and the influence of social media. No fashion trends, WhatsApp groups with bullies, no celebrities to follow or worship: of course they can if they like (they all have iPads and the internet), but children from traveling families are busy with getting to know unknown cultures, making new friends whatever their age, background or gender is, and learning history and geography from the places they visit.
Socialization on the road in practice
Steve and Renee (the co-founders of Hubud) explain in an article on Momentum: ‘we visited other worldschooling families and joined worldschooler meet-ups. We now have friends all over the world, and the tribe is growing.’ Their sons sometimes do miss other children, though. That’s why they spend about half their time settled in Bali or Canada. In this way, they feel grounded when they need to and the boys can reconnect with friends. It’s all about slow travel.
Behan and Jamie from Sailing Totem think that most questions about socialization while traveling comes from unawareness. ‘I suspect we are imagined off in the middle of nowhere, alone in our travels. [But] Most of our time is spent “somewhere,” among the company of other cruising families on an extended field trip. Our kids have to work out conflicts and appreciate the value of friendships. They more frequently face the social challenge to make new friends. They readily engage others across age and gender, and their communication benefits from routinely socializing with adults. Everyday life informs them about the real world.’
Want to know more about the socialization of cruising families? The interview with Behan and Jamie of Sailing Totem is very interesting! They were asked by SV Dalos about their experience with voyaging with kids. The result is an 8 part interview series on YouTube. In part 1 and 2, Behan and Jamie tell about homeschooling (or boatschooling) and socialization. And, very important, the interviewers asked the Sailing Totem kids for their perspective as well! You can watch the interview and see for yourself how mature, intelligent and grounded these children are.
A critical note on socialization while traveling
Nancy – a mom of two boys who traveled a year by bike – writes on her blog Family on Bikes about the process of friendship: ‘We have friends in certain phases of our lives, then we move on and establish new friendships. It’s a natural process, and we learn about ourselves and others through it. And that process is exactly what traveling kids miss.’
She explains that during the first part of their travels, socialization was not an issue. Their boys played with whom they met; age, culture, language, it didn’t matter, they just played along. But after a year or so, the boys were hesitant to go and find local kids. Nancy and her husband talked to their boys. They didn’t found a particular reason for their lack of making friends, but they continued traveling. Nancy writes: ‘we acknowledged that the lack of social interaction with other kids was an issue, but it was a price we were willing to pay.’
So, is socialization an issue? No, but Nancy emphasizes it is something to think about. She gives parents the following advice: ‘If you are considering long-term travel with your kids, know that this socialization thing could be an issue. All kids are different, and there is no way for me to predict how your kids will react. I would NEVER suggest that a family not travel out of fear of the “socialization issue.” Never, ever. But go with an exit plan. Know that if things aren’t going as planned and it doesn’t look like your children are handling it well, be willing to change gears.’
Changing gears doesn’t necessarily means going home. You can also travel more slowly, to tick in a culture and let your kids join clubs and make friends. Just keep a backup for when things do not work out.
Behan from Sailing Totem has a side note on socialization as well: ‘Socialization is more multidimensional, and about individual personalities as well as the environment. But our kids are growing as social beings in a very different way than their peers at home. We have to be open with them about these differences, so they don’t expect seamless interactions now, or transitions later. They are largely outsiders to mainstream culture. They don’t know the names of the latest celebrity newsmakers, musical hits, or fashion trends. But for the most part, it’s because they don’t care: they’re not in a bubble, and they can find these things online, and choose what’s important to them to follow.’ She also emphasizes that it does take work to meet other traveling families and you have to be flexible in your plans to make this work.
Meeting traveling families
Then how do you meet other traveling families? Thank god for the internet! This will give you the opportunity to actively gather with like-minded families. There are a lot of full-time traveling families out there, traveling slowly and they all like to meet other digital nomad families.
Interested in meeting up with other traveling families? You can start finding them on these Facebook groups:
Ask in these groups where people are, if they know of worldschooling communities or location-specific Facebook groups for traveling families. Connect with them, ask questions about their whereabouts and see if you can find a place to meet.
To meet with other traveling families you do need to take a lot of effort. You have to actively seek out families with kids that are near. Be flexible when you plan your next destination. Or stay a while longer when another family is heading your way.
Retreats for traveling families
Retreats for worldschooling families with kids and teenagers is also a great way to socialize. For example, with Project World School your kids can join 15 to 24-day learning communities where they focus on things like outdoor exploration and adventure, cultural immersion, organic farming, natural building, and history. These retreats have a price tag though.
Stability while living a nomadic life
A lot of people say kids need stability in their lives. And I cannot agree more! The question is, however, does living in a brick and mortar home in the same place for years offer stability?
Brent and Stacey-jean of Travel Deep and Wide write on their blog about stability on the road: ‘Stability is something that is born within the family, no matter where you are. Most daily routines can be picked up and brought along with us.’ For example, their bedtime routine is the same wherever they are. I can second this: eating, sleeping, cleaning; all these things remain the same. Although, it is your responsibility as a parent to keep these routines the same. Brent and Stacey-jean conclude their story with: ‘One of the greatest stabilities that we can provide for our children is a mama and papa who are able to stay home full-time with the family.’
Michelle and Matt of And Off We Went affirm the importance of sticking to daily routines. In their blog about how to make traveling with kids easier, they mention: ‘Now is not the time to change your routine unless you feel your kids will be okay with doing so. If they have a snack at 2pm, then changing that routine may cause a minor or major meltdown depending on the day. If your kids need to nap, then find a quiet place and let them nap; if mealtime is at 5pm on the dot, then do your best to accommodate it. Travelling can be stressful, however, if a child is allowed to continue on with their routine from home, then a foreign location may not seem so foreign to them after all.’