Post Summary: 5 not so pretty truths about being a full-time travel family.
Have you ever dreamed about leaving it all and traveling the world full time with your kids? Perhaps on your lunch break during your daily Instagram scroll, you get swept away by a family on safari in Zimbabwe or a hippie couple living out of their camper van with sun-kissed babies gleefully running naked on the beach. Surely, they must be living the dream. You start doing google searches for “how to travel the world… when I have no money.” Or maybe yours is more like, “can I travel full time with my kids… and not kill them?” You begin to concoct elaborate fantasies on how said dream could come to fruition. You look up how much you can get for your 2002 Kia.
Not much you guys, not much at all.
Your travel dreams are crushed, and you go back to work, silently hating your coworker who brings tuna sandwiches to work every day.
That was me. No tuna sandwich hatred, but I did look up how much I could get for my 2008 Mazda 3. Rather than go back to work though, my husband and I ended up quitting our jobs and selling almost everything we had so our family could travel the US together. Now, that’s an incredibly short summation of a long and difficult choice we made when our backs were against the wall with financial debt. But all in all, we are a family that sold everything to travel for a year with our two-year-old son. You can read more about our full story here.
Is traveling the US everything we thought it would be? Yes! And no.
As a full-time travel family, I’m here to tell you there’s more to that perfectly edited photo you see on Instagram. A lot more. We all know that those heavily filtered photos aren’t the full picture, and yet we still see them and think, “their life must be perfect.”
Here are our five not so picture-perfect truths about traveling full time with our toddler.
You’re never really on vacation
I will be the first to say that traveling with a 2-year-old isn’t easy. I get a lot of people who ask me what it’s like to be on vacation all the time. I always pause and consider if this person is able to take in the information that you’re never “on vacation” when your kids are around. I often get this blank stare that tells me this person has no idea about the realities of parenting. It’s okay, I had that same blank stare as well.
Denial helps the species continue.
In all honesty, many family travel bloggers try to sell full-time family travel as the be all end all, but let’s face it, kids in all their glory are a lot of work. Traveling doesn’t change that. They are still emotionally volatile, vibrant creatures that require your attention and care 24/7. The only difference when you’re traveling full time is now you’re doing all of those fundamental parenting roles, but on the road with all your stuff jammed into a suitcase.
We travel with a strong-willed two-year-old, so I’m sure it’s different depending on the age and temperament of your child. We are dealing with potty training woes, nap schedules, sensitive sleep rhythms, and the all-consuming temper tantrums that seem to defy logic, space, and time. I’ve heard the sweet spot for traveling with kids is around 8-10 years old, but I’m sure there’s someone who would say otherwise.
What I’m trying to say is, the woes of parenting never stop, even if you’re on a glorious year-long trek across the US. You may think you will be less stressed because the burden of work will have been lifted, but rest assured, your kids will find a way to stress you out. It’s practically their birthright.
Your kids may not think it’s as awesome as you do
You think, this is so cool we’re going to Great Smoky National Park and maybe we’ll see some wild elk and black bears! Meanwhile, they’re like…can I just stay home and play Pokemon?
Our son definitely leans towards adventure and doing new things, but that being said, there have been many times on our journey where it was obvious he just wanted to stay home and play with his toys. The only people who wanted to hike a new mountain were his adventure-loving parents.
Kids are funny that way. You should be prepared that they might not think your epic family gap year in an RV is that cool. I can remember being 16 years old and being gifted with an incredible opportunity to go to Paris with my French cousin. I got to experience Paris with a fluent speaker who knew the ins and outs of this illustrious city. You guys, I refused to eat anything but hot dogs the entire time. Like I said, kids are funny that way. They’re just beginning to figure out this whole humanity thing, and their priorities aren’t always centered around experiencing different things and seeing this great big world. In fact, many kids (unconsciously) crave structure, familiarity, and the comfort of their social circles.
And while our son was too young to verbally communicate what he was experiencing, it became clear when his sleep patterns became highly irregular and he stopped sleeping well at night, that he was having trouble adjusting to the “new normal.” Overall, we worked through it, but it definitely took a lot of sleepless nights to figure out how to help our son adjust to full-time travel life.
You Start To Crave Normalcy
When you bounce around from city to city and live in 10 different Airbnb’s in a month, you start to crave a feeling of “normal life.” All of a sudden, going to the gym seems like the most AH-Mazing luxury. Instead of visiting a national park, you begin to want a day of binge-watching Homeland.
My hunch is that this is more true for parents who travel full time than those who travel full time without tiny humans. I’m sure those who solo travel or with a travel companion feel it a little bit, but there’s something about traveling with kids and the constant planning of:
-Do we have enough food, snacks, and water for the tiny human so he doesn’t fall off the deep end and become hangry?
-Are we getting enough physical activity during the day so that the tiny human will go to sleep at night? Please God, make him go to sleep.
-Have we packed enough diapers, wipes, extra clothes, a travel stroller, and various toys for all possible scenarios and outcomes to the day?
You start to feel like, screw it, let’s just stay in.
We quickly learned that when traveling full time, you have to learn how to weave in “normal” days where there’s no plan or outing. Just a day to veg out and do nothing.
Your Life Becomes Child Centric
Before I became a mom, I envisioned I would be the kind of parent touted in bestseller books like “Bringing Up Bebe” where I would give birth and go about living my fabulous life. My life wasn’t going to stop just because I had a baby. I would simply bring my well-behaved baby everywhere I go. Dinner with a friend? Bring him with me! Surprise pop up concert in L.A? Strap some headsets on and bring him with me! An hour-long drive to the beach for some fun in the sun? Sure! He’ll love the drive. Bring him with me!
Oh man, I had no idea there was an 18 wheeler semi-truck called motherhood coming straight for me.
Traveling full time means you are stripping away and leaving a community of friends and family who can help to alleviate the stresses of parenting. You can’t call a friend or babysitter to watch your kids for a few hours. You can’t send them to their best friend’s house so you can have two hours of quiet to decompress. Nope. It’s just you guys.
Before we left, our son had plenty of time to foster independent play while we did other things. But when you live your life on the road, you have to minimize your stuff. We keep a few toys with us, but for the most part, we have to get creative about finding ways to promote independent play. Often times, we end up being his sole source of entertainment. It’s great for family bonding and creating close ties, but sometimes… we just want him to play with something else other than us!
Your problems don’t disappear just because you’re traveling
Popular internet wisdom likes to espouse how moving somewhere new won’t solve your “problems” and they’ll follow you wherever you go. I tend to disagree with this as a blanket statement. Leaving LA and wandering the US in search of where we want to live has greatly improved our quality of life. But at the end of the day, we’re human, so we still have problems regardless of where we are.
I still disagree like crazy with my husband and am constantly maneuvering the complexities of marriage. I still have a two-year-old who on the daily tests every last bit of patience I have. I still worry about having enough money and if we’re going to make it. I still struggle with self-worth and battle my own inner critic.
We live in a culture that likes to commodify and sell us on the idea that “if I just __, then I will feel __.” It usually goes something like this:
If I lose weight, then I will feel confident.
If I become rich, then I will feel safe.
If I find a partner, then I will be happy.
If I travel the world, then I will be living the dream.
This basic premise implies that one thing will be THE THING that leads you to ultimate bliss.
I wish I could tell you that travel has radically exploded my life into nonstop nirvana with unicorns and fairy dust. It hasn’t. The tender parts of being human still follow me wherever I go.
Traveling with your family will greatly deepen and enhance your life, but it’s not a magic pill for bliss.
Now that I’ve been a total Debbie Downer about traveling full-time with your kids, let me talk about why it’s awesome.
We’re traveling full time with our family!!!
No matter the issues that arise, it’s pretty freakin’ cool what we’re doing. We are well aware of how lucky and privileged we are to have this opportunity. We got to slide down a natural rock slide in Asheville, NC. We saw firsthand the extraordinary fall colors on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We experienced the epic beauty of a natural hot spring in snow-laden Idaho.
I know that our family is creating a mythology of adventure and exploration that will be shared and treasured in our family line for generations to come.
I offer the realities of what it is like for us to live on the road with our kid because I think it’s important to have your eyes open to what it could potentially be like to travel with your family. That being said, I doubt many people would regret making the decision to take a family gap year. We certainly don’t.
When all is said and done, being a full-time travel family has its hard moments, but…when has family living ever been easy? That’s part of being a family.
Have any questions about taking a family gap year? Drop us a comment below!
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