I have been following the blog Our Travel Lifestyle for over a year now. It was the first blog I found when I started researching long-term family travel and it has become my favorite family travel blog. The blog is beautiful. Tracy’s writing has the right mix of useful information and interesting travel stories mixed with just the right amount of family travel perspective. One of the things that hooked me on their blog is that their kids are the exact same ages as mine, which gave me an immediate sense of camaraderie with them!
Tracy is a mother, traveler, avid chocolate fanatic and the only thing that almost rivals her attachment to her family is her addiction to reading. Two years ago, discontent with their life in Australia, her husband came up with a mad scheme to travel the world with their children in search of a place to they wanted to call home. She initially thought he was seriously insane but gradually realized the amazing benefits that travel would offer her family – more time together than most families ever achieve, unforgettable experiences, a chance to help her children grow into better global citizens, time to find her passion – the list is endless. So they packed up their house and boarded a plane in January 2010. After twelve months backpacking through South East Asia, enjoying the most amazing food, temples, beaches, and more importantly every sweet food treat she can find, Tracy has returned with her family to Australia to camp their way around the country for three months before returning to Asia and onto Europe at the end of 2011.
How long have you been traveling for and what countries have you visited?
We’ve been travelling since January 2010. So far we’ve explored eastern Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia (as much as Bali counts as Indonesia!), Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Can you explain how you made the decision to travel long term as a family? What was the catalyst that made you undertake this unconventional lifestyle?
I’m not sure we fully understand all the reasons!
We were unhappy with our old life living in suburbia in Australia. There was nothing wrong with our life – we had great friends, the children were in a fantastic daycare and Noah was about to start at a good local school. But there was just something missing.
We were talking about moving away from the city to a smaller town but after a three week holiday to Malaysia in 2009 we started thinking about moving overseas instead. We felt like there had to be more to life for us than working 9-5 in jobs that we weren’t passionate about to pay off a house we didn’t love so that we could travel when we retired. We started asking ourselves what if this was our one life on earth – would we be happy living that life doing the same thing day in day out and regretting not seeing the world or spending more time with our children while they were young?
Colin had owned his own web design company for many years and the year before had sold it to someone else. He’d just finished a contract position, had six months worth of freelance work lined up and one day it just dawned on us that there was no reason why he couldn’t do that work from anywhere in the world.
Your children are still very young, how have they adapted to a life on the road?
I’ll be completely honest – at first the kids didn’t handle travel as well as we hoped they would. Our daughter was only 2.5yrs and she felt lost the first month. She had been overseas before and been on holidays within Australia, but this time she realized there was no ‘home’ to go home too. We had made plans to spend a month at the start of our trip travelling around Bali and Lombok, and instead spent most of our month in one spot to give her the chance to adjust. Noah handled things better but he did become very shy for a few months as a reaction against all the changes going on around him and the new people we were constantly meeting.
Once we slowed down our travel and gave them to the time to adjust and make friends, they both adapted quickly. If they weren’t happy to keep travelling than we would have stopped long ago – we’re in this together. Noah now says he wants to keep travelling so he can continue to make new friends all around the world. Hayley now has grand plans to buy the biggest RV available and head to Africa. She is firmly convinced that we’re a travelling family and we do everything together.
Noah is just coming upon school age, and I know you have struggled with what you should do about his education. What were your options for schooling and what decision have you made in regards to his education?
This has been one of our biggest challenges. In many states in Australia, as far as I can work out from reading the legislation it’s actually illegal to homeschool your children while you are travelling overseas. That’s really left us with two choices – to either homeschool him illegally or lie and say that we intend to move to another state in Australia when we return from travelling.
In the meantime, I’ve had a lot of help from other travelling families and expat families who homeschool their children. We do a lot of our work on the computer thanks to some great kids reading and maths programs, write the odd silly story and make the most of any daily opportunities we stumble across, like telling directions, playing counting games or helping to read a train timetable.
We are planning on spending 7months this year in Penang, Malaysia where we will enrol him in a local school and we’ll hit the bookshops there as they have excellent ESL resources which are prefect for young children.
How has travel changed you as a family?
We’ve become a lot closer as a family. Without family and friends constantly around, we’ve discovered how to be happy with our own nuclear family unit. Family and friends are amazing but they can also add a lot of conflict into your lives. Travelling together has helped us make our own family as solid as possible so we’re better able to weather anything life throws at us.
Travel also given Colin and I a lot more time to work together to find a happy medium between our different opinions on parenting. We have very different ideas on a lot of things! Before we started travelling I had pretty much been responsible for the day to day raising of the kids – what they ate, when they ate, routines – with Colin just around at nights and on the weekends. All of a sudden Colin was around full time and having input into everything. It can be really hard to adjust to going from the primary caregiver to part of a team. Colin also had a lot to adjust to – he went from working a 9-5 job to being around us all of the time. It can take a bit to get used to for everyone.
How has travel changed your children?
They are a lot more outgoing now and adaptable. They’ve learnt that wherever we are is home, not an actual physical location. It’s quite amazing that at 3 and 5 we can arrive in a new country and they’re instantly referring to our latest accommodation as ‘home’.
Hayley now spends all her days making up strange words and telling us they are African or German. “Mum in Africa they call burps ‘kaflaka’!“ She’s developing an amazing ear for languages and is happy to give any words a go.
Noah can make new friends in minutes. He’s amazingly accepting of any child he meets, no matter their ethnicity. Last year when we were stopped in Penang for a few months we ran into an Indian family whose son Noah was friends with. We asked Noah later if they were Indian, wondering if he was starting to pick up on the many different cultural groups surrounding him in Penang. His reply? “No they eat noodles” and then just shrugged off the rest of our questions with a clear air of acceptance. He’s clearly learning stereotypes but it just doesn’t matter to him – his friends are his friends no matter colour, language or background. We hope that this ability to see people as people will stay with him forever.
What things are in your backpack that you would not have packed if you weren’t traveling with children? Do you pack many toys, books, games, etc?
Colin does our packing so there’s not as many of those kinds of things as there would be if I packed!
But yes we travel with a lot of colouring supplies, school books, lego, toys, extra iPods and bed wetting sheets! And a baby doll. I’m actually constantly surprised at home much attention a realistic looking baby doll attracts as you travel. Whether it’s hanging off our backpack as we all pile onto a bike or whether Hayley is carrying it through a markets, Hayley’s little doll will have local people coming from all directions to dare each other touch it to see if it’s real or ask for a hold. Did you know that dolls aren’t part of the culture in Laos and Cambodia? We do now after meeting literally hundreds of older women in the markets all throughout these countries wanting to check out our funny looking ‘baby’ and falling over in hysterics as they realised it wasn’t real.
Our medical kit is probably a lot larger than the average traveller. Dora bandaids, Vicks chest rub, natural mosquito repellents so we’re not always smearing the kids in Deet, a pretend doctors set. By the time you add in my medication, our medical kit literally takes up half one of our packs!
How do you fund your travels?
Colin is a web programmer who works with a small number of clients while we travel. I write the occasional paid travel article and we’re working on a few online projects that we hope to release soon to add some additional revenue streams, but until then Colin is the one funding our dreams.
When we first set off we had $10000 put aside from the sale of our house to get us started on the road – vaccinations, bags, visas etc. But half of that got used up when I had to have two operations right before we left. We did use the remainder though to get us started.
Do you try to stick to a budget? What is your average cost of travel per month for your family of four?
We try to … but one thing travel has helped us realise is that we aren’t the type of people to go without air-con when it’s hot to stay under budget or live on Dahl for three meals a day. We’ve met families of four who travel on less than $50 a day for a whole family months on end. That’s just not us. We can do it for a week and then we feel the need to treat ourselves. Our budget is also constrained by the fact that Colin needs to work while we travel – so most of the time we need to stay in places with WIFI, with 24r electricity to charge laptops, with AC so he can work during the day, and often centrally located so I can entertain the kids while Colin works.
When we do track our spending we usually spend $70US per day in developing countries. Most of the time we forget though and end up spending closer to $100 per day. Our month budget usually ends up being between $2500-$3000, depending on the country and how good we’re being.
I know that you two are like Mike and I in that you have dozens of plans in your head and you never know which one will take fruition, but what are your plans at the moment? Do you plan on keeping this lifestyle indefinitely or do you see an end in sight? What areas of the world are you keen to explore next?
Oh you know us so well and we haven’t even met yet!!! We don’t see us living a vagabond lifestyle indefinitely. By the time the children have reached late primary school we’d like to find somewhere we’re happy to stop until they are finished high school. The original idea was to spend two years travelling around before finding somewhere we’d like to settle down in for a few years, then moving onto another location and another.
We’ve just decided to move to Penang and use that as a base to explore the world from. We hope to set up a house there and spend at least half each year in Penang. The rest of the time we’ll rent out the house and travel. Come November we have tickets booked to go to Europe for a few months. We’ve been promising the kids a white Christmas for years and this year we will finally make it happen.
As for grand plans we are actually releasing a new website very soon. The idea for the website was born when we continued to meet so many fantastic travelling families while we have been on the road. Before we left we researched quite a bit and there was dribs and drabs of information, but no real central location to meet other travelling families and to share stories with one another. And so VagabondFamily.org was born. VagabondFamily.org is about creating a central community around information and sharing. There are so many extraordinary stories to tell and we want them to be heard.