5 Harsh Truths About Long Term Family Travel

October 8, 2018

Being on the road full time isn’t always all that it’s cracked up to be. While our Instagram accounts and Facebook status updates may make it look like we’re having the time of our lives, the realities of worldschooling and long term family travel can be quite different.

Life doesn’t stop just because you’re on the road. Parenting responsibilities, financial concerns, and work-life balance are as much a part of our world on the road as they were when we were stationary.

The difference now is that we have to figure out how to address these responsibilities while also changing our location from time to time. It’s just part and parcel to the realities of long term family travel.

This post was updated on January 22, 2022.

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A child walking by a mural in Hanoi, Vietnam while doing long term family travel
Walking by a mural in Hanoi, Vietnam (March 2020)

Getting real with long term family travel

I knew coming into this travel journey that the realities of long term family travel can be a bit stressful at times. I knew what we were signing up for. And I also knew that we are incredibly blessed to have this opportunity to be on the road full time.

But it's inauthentic to show people that this lifestyle is perfect 100% of the time. Like any family life, we have our ups and downs. I shouldn’t only show the pretty sides of traveling full time with kids. Instead, I need to also show the realities of long term family travel.

During our years of traveling full time, we've experienced sickness, health emergencies, and the scare of having a lost child. We've also had our share of arguments over homeschooling, budgeting for travel, and even where to travel next.

Want to travel full time with your family? Read my gap year planning posts here.

A family waiting for a metro in Italy while doing long term family travel
Waiting for the subway in Italy (June 2019)

1. Everyone carries mental and emotional baggage

As we uncover the realities of long term family travel, I realize that baggage isn’t just the physical bags that carry our clothes and effects. It’s also the emotional junk we’ve acquired over the years.

We spent a good amount of energy prior to our trip purging the physical things we didn’t need. The physical possessions that we own now can fit comfortably into a 17 foot Uhaul truck.

But in our process of minimizing, we forgot to also minimize the non-tangible things. These are the insecurities, worries, and hang ups that occupy our minds on a daily basis.

It’s tough to carry these things from place to place. They take up emotional space. And they prevent us from having the mental capacity needed to cope with the unexpectedness of travel.

I am still working on minimizing my own emotional baggage. But I know that it’s an important process to go through if I’m going to continue traveling full time.

My son sulking in New York City (October 2018)

2. Balancing work and life is still a struggle

Prior to our around the world trip, I really struggled with finding work-life balance. Working full-time, freelance writing, planning an around the world trip with my husband, and trying to raise two kids left me little time for myself.

Sadly, the struggle to find work-life balance is just as much a part of the realities of long term family travel as it is for families who aren’t traveling. This is particularly the case for families who are working while they travel.

A typical day during our slow travel journey involves fitting in time for work, homeschooling, exploring the city, housekeeping chores (cooking, laundry, tracking our expenses), and planning for future travels. We try to keep the balance of responsibilities fair between my husband and me. But there are still times when I feel stretched thin.

Finding time to pursue my interests, while still attending to the responsibilities of raising a family, is a struggle that I continually go through. That has not changed since being on the road (in some cases, it’s even amplified!). As our travels progress, I keep working to refine this balance.

Visiting the September 11 Memorial in New York City (October 2018)

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3. Adjusting to long term family travel can be tough for kids

I’ve been lucky that my kids are just as excited about our around the world trip as we are. We didn’t need to convince them too hard about leaving home to travel the world. But as the novelty of the trip dissipates, and the realities of long term family travel settles in, I see the stresses of travel in my kids.

The other day my daughter said she wished we weren’t traveling. She was tired of saying good-bye to her friends and not being able to buy the toys she wanted because they take up too much room in our bags. I truly felt sad for her. And my son often laments about how he doesn't have anyone else to play with on Minecraft.

We assume that the ability of our kids to adapt to new situations means that long term travel is a breeze for them. But in actuality, kids go through their own process of adjustment as well.

As parents, we need to be mindful of the difficulties and stresses that they may be going through. And we need to help them along. I suggest reading the book, Third Culture Kids, to understand how kids adapt to growing up in an environment different from their own.

Children walking through a colonial style street in Guanajuato, Mexico, experiencing long term family travel
Walking through Guanajuato, Mexico (December 2018)

4. Connecting to local culture isn't always easy

We've been lucky to be able to experience the cultures of so many different places around the world. We spent a month learning about food culture in Parma, Italy. And while we were in Indonesia, we got a chance to explore traditional art by taking batik classes. But I would be lying if I said it's always easy to connect to the local culture.

In many ways, we are still the outsiders. No matter where we go and no matter how long we stay in a place, there will always be a certain distance between us and the cultures we experience.

Taking tours, workshops, or classes help us to get a glimpse into the local culture. And staying in Airbnbs as a family in residential areas also helps us get a sense of what day to day life is like for locals. But often, language and cultural barriers prevent us from really connecting with local families. And that's something we constantly struggle with.

Trying my hand at batik in Indonesia (August 2019)

5. The logistics of long term family travel is stressful

As much as we like to think we're travel pros, the logistics of travel still throw us for a loop from time to time. It could be something small, like figuring out what Airbnbs to book. Or it could be figuring out how to fast while traveling during the month of Ramadan.

In the past, we only had to worry about visas. But these days, we also have to think about vaccine requirements, quarantine requirements, and PCR testing requirements for various countries we want to visit.

In 2021, our travel plans were constantly in flux. Between borders unexpectedly closing, flights getting canceled, and getting sick with COVID during the last leg of our England trip, we must have lost at least $2,000 from changing lodging and switching destinations.

So much time and effort goes into planning for the next destination. We've fortunately developed some systems to help make the process faster, but it still doesn't make it smooth and easy. That's just one of the harsh truths about long term family travel.

Despite the challenges, full-time travel is amazing! Here's what worldschooling life is like.

Enjoying our time in Brighton, UK (October 2021)

Adapting to long term family travel by living in the moment

With all the realities of long term family travel, the most important thing to remember is that this moment is fleeting. With the exception of a few destinations, we will likely never visit the same place twice. And faster than we realize, this trip will be done. We’ll be back in the United States living the "normal" life.

Instead of focusing on the hard parts, I try to remember to savor the sweet moments that happen during our trip: waking up to my little ones snuggling in bed with us; singing along to ‘80’s power ballads with my husband in the car; and witnessing the moments of wonder when we experience something new.

At the crux of it, the realities of long term family travel are no different from the realities of everyday family life. We are all just struggling to do what’s best for our families.

Have you experienced long term family travel? Share your experience in the comments.

If you're ready to jump into long term family travel, use my ebook, Hey Kids, Let’s Go Travel! as a resource for tools, advice, and action steps for planning your trip.

The Realities of Long Term Family Travel | The Wandering Daughter

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