Travelling families are a major trend currently sweeping social media. Whether they traverse the globe full-time or act as part-time roaming clans, a growing number of parents are choosing to pack up their belongings and their children, leaving a traditional ‘home’ in favour of a more culturally-rich, nomadic lifestyle.
For those who have what it takes to make it in the cutthroat travel blogging world and choose to make their online presence an entrepreneurial venture, travel is their vocation no matter how much of the year they actually spend on the move. While living life on a permanent gap year might seem like a dream, this lifestyle is often not as glamorous as the filtered photos portray.
However, it is also a rewarding adventure that teaches children about the world in a way that’s difficult to mimic in a traditional classroom. Culture Trip spoke with three travelling Insta-families to discover what their lifestyle is really like and how they make it work for them.
Family Off Duty are a multi-national family of three who are based in Ireland but travel the world whenever they have the chance. Now 50k Instagram followers strong and veteran visitors of over 28 countries, their account is run by mother Thass, lovingly known as ‘the boss’.
While the page mainly beams with the bright smile of daughter Vix looking serene and happy, Thass insists that her family’s lifestyle is anything but a walk in the park. ‘It is a full-time job for us,’ Thass says. ‘We work just as hard as if we had “normal” jobs.’
There are definite perks: ‘You have total flexibility on your hours, which is great. I like to wake up early and get things done before anyone else is up; I work for myself, so I can do that.’
With great power comes great responsibility. ‘Having a flexible schedule makes it even more important to plan ahead and stay motivated,’ she says.
Travel with Meraki, an Australian family, are in the same boat when it comes to advance planning.
Mother-of-five Kirsty Hill, who has amassed 13.1k Instagram followers, explains: ‘I am an over-planner. I have flights and accommodation booked as early as possible. I research all the places we want to see in a destination well before we leave on the adventure.’
This doesn’t mean that the family, who have visited 40 countries, aren’t spontaneous. ‘When we get to a new place we are always open to taking detours. We explore spots that locals tell us about and most importantly, we change plans all the time.’
Some might argue that travelling with children holds you back from spontaneity, or from truly taking in a destination, but Kirsty disagrees: ‘Before kids, travel is all about visiting a site or destination, but with kids you actually experience that destination to the fullest. You travel slower, take in more local sights and get to interact with so many more people.’
Travelling with children is no easy feat though, and the resulting Instagram posts don’t always show the baby screaming on a packed plane.
Thass recalls: ‘We were road-tripping through Italy and our daughter caught a bug and was sick in the car six times – that must have been the least glamorous moment.’ Unsurprisingly, this incident did not make the feed.
Bronwyn Leeks of Smiths Holiday Road is the matriarch of an Australian family of five who have ticked 23 countries off their bucket list. She remembers the toughest trip her family have taken: ‘Without a doubt, the hardest adventure yet was just recently when we explored Vietnam. My husband Andrew sprained his foot the week before in Japan. A few days in, Woody, six, got his foot stuck in a bike so he ended having to be carried. And to top it off, Pepper, nine, got an ear infection.’
The couple’s 13-year-old son, Cooper, has had a brain injury since birth and uses a variety of mobility devices while travelling. Bronwyn says: ‘Cooper uses a manual wheelchair when we travel which adds to the adventure. It involves more planning and we like to know what to expect as far as access goes. We will travel anywhere to test ourselves, though, and we really thrive when things are hectic because it proves that we can do it, that we can achieve a goal together.’
All the families agree that the rewards of exploring the world together far outweigh the hard times.
‘We are constantly amazed at how much travel has brought to the lives of our three children, and the effects are very visible,’ Bronwyn explains. ‘We see the confidence travel has given them when they approach new friends to play with. We see their tolerance for others, which comes from their first-hand experience surrounded by other cultures and alternate ways of life. We see the kindness they have developed from being shown kindness by strangers around the world. We see the curiosity they have for our world and its people now that they’ve had a taste of adventure.’
Perhaps this is why Bronwyn and her husband don’t hesitate to take the kids out of school to travel; because the trips act as schools of their own. ‘Last year we explored Asia for a school term,’ she tells us. ‘From that adventure we learnt about different cultures, customs, traditions and languages. We also learnt about ourselves and how to work as a team and be considerate of each other. We learnt to reconnect and manage sharing cosy quarters.’
For the Leeks family, learning extends far outside the classroom. Bronwyn’s advice for those who want to travel with their own children in term time is simple: ‘Communication with the school and teachers is key.’
As families such as Bronwyn’s, Kirsty’s and Thass’s prove, Western society’s definition of ‘home’ is slowly shifting. No longer is a family expected to stick to their roots in order to thrive.
‘Parenting is hard work,’ Kristy says. ‘Kids make you tired, have tantrums in the most embarrassing places and push the boundaries constantly. But they do that anywhere. So you might as well parent while exploring an amazing destination.’
Home is where the heart is, after all.