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So you think you can’t travel because you have children? Tell that to Rachel Denning who is currently traveling overland from Alaska to Argentina with her husband and five kids. She blogs about family travel and how to fund a travel lifestyle at Discover Share Inspire.
1) How long have you been travelling and where have you been?
Our family started traveling in 2007, when our children were 4, 3, 18 months and 2 months old. Together we’ve driven from the U.S. to Costa Rica, visiting Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and later Panama (we lived in Costa Rica for a year.) We’ve also lived in Atlanta, Georgia; the Dominican Republic; Tamil Nadu, India; driven from Atlanta to Alaska (through British Colombia and the Yukon). In Alaska we added child #5 to the family, and in 2011 we started our Alaska to Argentina trip — back through the Yukon and BC, the Western U.S., Mexico, Belize and we’re currently in Guatemala. This year (2013) we plan to hit El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama… and maybe Colombia.
2) What made you decide to become digital nomads?
I became addicted to travel, and being a digital nomad seemed like a logical way to sustain our travels long term.
3) How do you fund your travels?
In the past we’ve used savings from working jobs; real estate and stock investments; international employment; freelance work.
Currently, I earn money from affiliate sales; advertising; product sales (of things we have created); freelance work; and website design.
4) Do you find it difficult to balance travel and work? How do you manage it?
Yes, it can be a challenge (especially with 5 kids!!) For me, it works best when we travel slowly (renting a house in one location for a period of time) and then breaking my days up into ‘education time’, ‘work time’, etc. It helps me make sure things don’t get too neglected on one side or the other.
5) What are the benefits and challenges of travelling long term with your children?
I’ve seen HUGE benefits from traveling with my children. Besides being multilingual, and learning first-hand about history, culture, tradition and more, they also have gained a lot of confidence; they adapt well to change; they have a larger worldview (it’s not confined to one little corner of the earth); they have a bigger perspective on what life is all about. They also love to travel!
There’s also challenges, obviously. It’s hard to find a bathroom, especially when they need one RIGHT NOW! There’s hiccups, and inconveniences and obstacles, and it takes patience on the part of everyone in the family to handle them without going insane.
6) Many people say they can’t travel because they have children. What advice would you give them?
If you really wanted to, you could travel with children. It’s not sunshine and roses all the time. There are definitely challenges. But being a parent is challenging, no matter where you are. Traveling with children ultimately comes down to being a better parent. If you’re not a good parent at home, you won’t be any better on the road. Work on becoming a better parent, (you can practice on the road if you want), and traveling with children will get easier and easier. You set the example.
Ultimately, I think you should do it. The pros outweigh the cons, and you’ll never regret doing it. The memories you’ll create together are irreplaceable.
(Erin’s note: Rachel has written a free guide called The Art of Family Travel)
7) Although there are seven of you you manage to travel on a budget. What’s your average travel costs per month and how do you manage to keep costs low?
We usually spend between $60 – $100 a day (sometimes less when we’re actually on the road.) We keep costs low by living simply. We prepare our own meals and rent inexpensive houses (usually $200 – $250/month). On the road, we usually camp (we have a roof top tent and a homemade camper on our truck) and we drive on recycled vegetable oil (when we can find it.)
8) What have been some of your highlights so far on your overland trip from Alaska to Argentina?
I love history, so seeing Teotihuacan, Monte Alban and Palenque (among other ruins) with my children was incredible. I loved the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City; the butterfly migration in Ocampo, Mexico; seven weeks on the Lagoon of Seven Colors — Bacalar, Mexico; hanging out on Ambergris Caye, Belize was a blast, eating coconuts and finding giant orange star fish; Tikal, Guatemala is a must see; and we’ve been almost a year on the shores of Lake Atitlan (it’s enchanting, and we haven’t been able to break away yet) :)
9) What are the pros and cons of travelling with your own vehicle rather than taking public transport?
While the convenience of public transportation in other countries is a big plus, I personally prefer having our own vehicle, especially when traveling with kids. You have a place to keep all of your stuff, so you don’t have to haul it around in backpacks (maybe we’ll save that adventure for when the kids are older.) You have the freedom to explore where you want, instead of sticking to where you can get to via public transportation routes and your own two feet. Costs may be about the same anyway, especially if you’re paying for seven of you on public transport. :)
10) Where are you heading to next? Do you think you’ll ever settle down in one place?
Next up is a beach town in El Salvador, where my husband wants to learn to surf. We’ve considered homesteading (while we’ve been here in Guatemala), and we might do that someday, but it would still be a ‘home base’ from which we would continue to travel. I don’t know that we’ll ever ‘settle down’ and stop traveling… but you never know. :)
You can follow Rachel and her family’s adventures at Discover Share Inspire.
If you enjoyed this interview then read about other long term nomads in our Nomadic Interviews series.
Yes travel is great a lot of fun and good to do with family, other than the world travel and all the education one can get doing this is wonderful , but wonder how are the children given a formal education?
I couldn’t agree more with Rachel’s evaluation of how travel has benefited the lives of her children. I left the UK when I was 24 and believe the experience of long term travel has given me a whole different perspective on life. The things I once held in such high regard are of little consequence to my current way of life. Gadgets, fashions and celebrity culture have faded into insignificance and I’ve become engrossed in local culture and the world that surround me. I can only imagine how brilliant it would be to grow up learning these values.
An inspirational story, thank you Rachel.
I love hearing of the Denning family’s adventures; they share amazing tips and advice, and remind me of infinite possibility. As a single mom of two children, I sometimes think (and hear from others) I cannot, but Rachel and her family remind me, oh yes, I *can*.
I am a great fan of The Denning Family, and I have followed their blogs for some time now. They are truly inspirational, and very open and generous with their lives. Their e-book Living Deliberately- How to Create a Ridiculously Awesome Life was life changing for me, and I’ve laughed and cried at some of their tales. One of the greatest lessons I have learned from them is that there is no such thing as failure, and I can tell you they have “failed” on more than one occasion! Loving these interviews :)
I love this story! On the road with kids is a great way to explore and really take it slow. We have been in Spain for 6 months now and will be a little more mobile in Europe over the summer. We agree it is easier with your own car, a little more freedom and with the kids that is great. You are an inspiration. Thanks for sharing.
What a great interview, thanks for sharing! They are a brave bunch to travel to other countries with their kiddos. It can be difficult to travel with kids, they make it look easy. I would love to see the Monarch migration someday.
A-mazing! I love reading about people like this, who totally fly in the face of everything people expect about those of us who travel long term. Good for them!
It´s really amazing how you can make things work with discipline, effort and creativity… What an example!
Wow. I’m so impressed, I feel like a total travel-Nana compared to them! I don’t know how they do it, but I think it’s awesome that they do.
Wow…so incredible and inspirational! Denning Family you have my utmost respect and admiration.