What To Consider Before Becoming Location Independent And Nomadic with School-Aged Children

As you’d expect, long term travel with children requires a little more attention to detail than the “boots and a backpack” style you can pursue in your days of foot loose, fancy-free singledom.

But if wandering the world with your children is your dream, it’s more than possible…it’s completely doable. Not sure where to start?

Here’s a summary of everything you need to think about and where to start…

What is Your Family Vision?

Think of this as your “life philosophy” or even your long term plan for living. This is your family vision. It can help you to move intentionally in the direction of your dreams. This is why it’s so important to create one and be able to articulate it when you’re considering becoming location independent and nomadic (or even just planning more travel than a 2 week family vacation every year).

It’s an unconventional lifestyle and you will probably come up against people who disagree with your choices – creating a family vision can give you the confidence of knowing that you’ve designed this life consciously, with care and attention which can help you withstand the detractors.

Here are a few questions which can help you determine your own family vision:
  • Who are you? Individually? As a family?
  • What do you really, really want out of life? (ignore whether you think you can have it or not)
  • Do you have it?
  • If not, where did you go wrong, or what compromises have made?
  • How can this be fixed?
  • What is your dream?
  • What do you really want for your kids, your family, yourself?
  • Why do you want this?
  • What would it take to get this?

Answering these questions, preferably on paper where you can re-read, discuss and edit with your partner and those who matter, is the beginning of formulating your Family Vision.

Becoming nomadic with children is a huge step – and it’s not a way to escape the problems or issues you currently have. In fact, it could very well highlight them.

Travel is a lot of things but it is rarely a way to “find yourself” or “fix yourself” or fix problems in your family. All of the difficulties that you have at home simply go with you.

To give you an idea of what we mean by Family Vision, the following statements often resonate with families whose goal is to be location independent and nomadic:

  • You love people, not things
  • You value experiences over “stuff”
  • You are world citizens and you are raising world citizens
  • You seek to learn and experience all you can
  • Your kids are welcome members of your family, not the center of your world

These aspects of your Family Vision drive the choices you make in terms of lifestyle, travel, education and family life. Having clearly defined a Vision allows you to move forward with confidence in the direction of your dreams.

What About Schooling & Education?

For most parents of school-aged children, this is the primary question you’ll have about going location independent and nomadic with kids. If you’re in this position, there are a number of options to consider…

Firstly, you’ll need to consider your educational philosophy.

This is pretty important whether you’re location independent or not, so it’s a good place to start.

Goals should drive your choice of methods, not methods your goals – which is why the educational philosophy (what you’re trying to achieve with educating your child) should come before deciding which methods will best help you achieve this.

The next thing you need to consider are your options for education, here are a few to consider for nomadic and traveling families:

Enroll in Public or Private Schools

There are numerous families who have traveled extensively, using a particular place as a “home base” for a few months or more and who enroll their kids in a local school while they are there. This has several benefits:

  • The children learn to interact socially within their new culture.
  • Language acquisition is expedited.
  • Life long friends are made.
  • Flexibility is developed.
  • Ties are formed within the community that add depth to the cross cultural experience.
  • Parents are freed up to work or study on their own while kids are in school.

Online Schooling

With the rapid development of the internet and technology over the last decade has come an explosion online learning possibilities, even for the very young. Among the benefits of online learning:

  • Parents are freed from the time consuming task of selecting or developing educational materials for each subject.
  • Record keeping and progress is monitored by a teacher.
  • With a laptop and occasional internet access the child can live and work anywhere.
  • Lessons can be tailored to suit the needs of the child, as well as the travel schedule of the family.
  • For kids who are transitioning out of a traditional school setting, online learning can feel quite comfortable, as the content and style is often very “schoolish.”

Three examples of fully accredited online academies with a flexible array of educational choices are:

K-12

This fully accredited program provides a variety of options to families. All of the materials needed are provided, including a computer and a printer for each student.

Among this program’s strengths are it’s flexibility and it’s comprehensive coverage of subject matter. Children using this program will meet the curriculum requirements for American schools and be prepared to take the college entrance exams. In some American states this program can even be used for free through the public system.

Laurel Springs

This program offers three options for the elementary school years: textbook, project based, or on-line schooling. It is a fully accredited, college preparatory on line private school.

They provide an online social network, clubs and even a high school prom and graduation for their students. They also provide academic counseling and advisement for students.

Indiana University High School Program

Indiana University is a highly rated university in the United States and has been providing distance education for high school students since 1925. They offer over 100 high school level courses, including Advanced Placement courses, dual-credit courses and honors level diplomas.

They pride themselves on individual attention to each student with assignments and exams being personally graded by instructors, as opposed to “scantron” type evaluations.

Home Schooling or Road Schooling

It could be argued that any education happening outside of the school system is “home schooling,” but I disagree. Home schooling is a fairly distinct movement in which parents are taking complete control of and responsibility for their children’s educations. There are as many definitions of “home schooling” as there are families doing it.

Road schooling, is like home schooling on wheels. Road schoolers often share the same philosophies of education as their home schooling counterparts, but they use the world as their classroom instead of the living room.

Again, identifying your philosophy of education and your goals up front will help immensely in making sense of the dizzying amount of information you’ll find if you Google any one of the following categories. Here are four (over-simplified) categories of home schooling into which most families fall:

Classical Schooling

This is a fast growing trend in home schooling in which there is great emphasis put on teaching the Trivium, Great Books, and the inclusion of Latin and Greek from a young age. It is a very structured and labor intensive method of education, for parent and child but it can produce some very impressive results.

Classically educated children are often well versed in history, art and music, they tend to be extremely well read and able to articulate their thought process and hold their own in intellectual debate.

This is largely due to the emphasis put on logic and rhetoric in the later years. Most of the materials available in the Classical vein are Christian, as classical education finds it’s roots in monks under the reign of Charlemagne.

To learn more visit these sites:

Ecclectic Schooling

My bet is that most home or road schoolers fall into this category: those who pick and choose their materials and their subjects, creating a customized education for each child.

There are so many excellent resources available to people who’d like to teach their own that it’s impossible to even begin to showcase the best. One of the great joys of self education is the ability to choose from the buffet of educational methods and options to build upon the interests and passions of your child. You really CAN do it your way.

Here are a few sites with excellent resources to get you started:

Unschooling

As with other methods, there is a broad range of what is considered “Unschooling.” In general, Unschoolers reject any external structure or materials being forced upon a child. Instead, they cultivate “real life” and “interest driven” learning experiences for their children.

Nothing is forced. Everything is nurtured. Children are allowed to grow and learn according to their own bent. This movement finds it’s origins in the work of John Holt.

To learn more about Unschooling, see the following:

School… At Home

When most families begin home schooling, they gravitate immediately reproducing what feels like “school” at home. Why? Because this is what most of us know, being products of organized schooling ourselves!

If you’re happy with “regular school” but you’d just like to make it portable, there are MANY curriculum providers who will be happy to sell you “Third Grade In a Box” and you can simply follow the directions, fill out the work sheets and check “schooling” off of your list.

A curriculum source to check out:

Taking Advantage of What is Locally Available

When you decide to travel long term with children, one of the great benefits and opportunities is the ability to take advantage of what is locally available. Perhaps you’ll find the art co-op when you rent a cottage on Cape Cod, or maybe your kids will take intensive Spanish lessons in a backpacker’s Spanish school.

Making the effort to check into programs at local libraries, at children’s centers, community centers or co-op centers may yield some of the most unique and memorable learning experiences your children will ever have.

Project Driven Learning

Regardless of how you “school” your children, one fun way to sneak in a little more learning is by designing projects to last several months (or a whole trip) that are age appropriate and inspiring to your children. For example:

  • A middle schooler can collect “Dead People.” Historical figures that fit the places you’re going and the museums, the ruins, the cities, the art and the music that you see.
  • A child with an eye for art can create a continent-wide photography project out of church doors or grocery shelves. Any child could collect and write postcards to himself, mailing them home to a trusted friend for a scrapbook that will last a lifetime.
  • A young child might enjoy collecting candy wrappers from each country you visit. Our kids keep journals and collect embroidered patches to be sewn on their “traveling jackets.” With a little creativity, you can combine learning and fun!

What About Our Stuff?

Hot on the heels of education, is the question of what to do with all of the STUFF?

This becomes a serious issue when contemplating long term travel with kids. Children are STUFF magnets. Check out your nine year old’s room and see if I’m not right. Perhaps the biggest hurdle to overcome in making the switch from a “normal life” to full time travel is sorting out what to do with your things.

The reality is that you’re going to need to pare down, so decide how you’re going to do it and work methodically through the process. And then repeat. Again and again!

A good rule of thumb is this: if you don’t love it (really love it) or need it (really need it) then let it go, because you’ll PAY to store whatever you keep.

What do you REALLY need?

The answer to this will vary slightly by family and by adventure, but in general what you REALLY need is about half of what you think you need.

Another good rule of thumb: You can buy almost anything you really NEED anywhere in the world if you’re willing to adjust your expectations on brand and quality!

It’s cliche, but less really IS more. It’s not about minimalism, it’s about contentment and practicality.

What About Health Care?

When we set about the project of lifestyle travel with four kids, healthcare created a lot of my sleepless nights. We were leaving a job with a major company with excellent insurance and how to prepare for the emergency you’re never prepared for occupied a lot of space on my checklist.

There are two types of healthcare that must be considered before taking off:

Maintenance Healthcare

This includes:

  • Physicals
  • Well-baby visits for the kids
  • Considering any immunizations you might need for the places you are going
  • Dental care
  • Vision care
  • And any other sort of “regular” healthcare that your family requires.

Six months before launch is a good time to start talking over any potential issues with healthcare providers and stocking up on “extras” that you might need, like glasses, prescription medications, or specialty items specific to your family’s circumstance.

Emergency Healthcare & Health Kit

This is the part that kept me up at night. What would you do if the worst happened? Three years into it, the worst has not happened, but we’ve had a few hair raising episodes, to be sure.

To be as prepared as we possibly can be, we:

  • Keep up-to-date with our First Aid and CPR certifications
  • Carry an extensive and well stocked medical kit with us
  • Look ahead on our destination lists and identify where private hospitals are, when possible

In addition, we adhere to a specific supplement regimen that lessens our potential for illness and we eat as healthfully as we can at all times.

Three things I would NOT leave home without in my health kit (we’ve needed all three):

  1. A suture and needle/IV start kit
  2. A full prescription of antibiotics for each person
  3. An emergency inhaler of Albuterol

Health Insurance

There is no traveler’s insurance that is going to cover maintenance healthcare the way insurance in your home country will and pregnancy is almost always excluded. There are coverage caps and high deductibles.

That being said having traveler’s health coverage for emergencies is not a bad idea. In addition to hospital stays, dental and vision emergencies, emergency evacuation for a medical emergency and repatriation of remains, most policies also have a rider that covers your gear against damage or theft and trip interruption, which are more likely than a medical emergency anyway!

Editor’s note:

Depending upon your country of origin, you may be able to find worldwide cover which isn’t much more than private cover at home. We are covered globally via BUPA worldwide insurance which is not much more than we’d pay for private cover in the UK.

What About Your Kids’ Interests?

Perhaps you don’t have a baby who can be tucked happily into the sling and totted off without protest around the globe.

Perhaps instead, you have a twelve year old who’s addicted to his X-Box, can’t imagine life without Friday nights at the mall with his friends and who rolls his eyes when you branch out and order Thai take out.

You can’t imagine he’ll EVER agree to leave it all behind and go on an epic adventure overseas. That just wouldn’t be cool…or would it?

If you’ve got kids old enough to be resistant to the idea of big time travel then you might think you have just a couple of choices:

  1. You could force them to go “for their own good.”
  2. You could stay home and let them be normal.

Or you could capitalize on their interests, their dreams and make it THEIR project…

Your kids’ interests can be your biggest asset.

That twelve year old might rather die than go on a three month tour of every art museum in Europe, but you might be able to get his attention with the promise of paragliding over Lago de Atitlan in Guatemala, bungee jumping in New Zealand or getting SCUBA-certified in Belize.

Discover your kids’ passions, ferret out their wildest dreams and then set about creating a childhood of epic proportions around cultivating the passions and fulfilling those dreams!

Maybe your child wants to make a documentary about child slavery in India. Or perhaps he’d agree to quit school and visit the occasional aquarium and anthropological site if he could also get his certification in kite surfing in Bora Bora.

At least half of parenting big kids is being a good salesman…and good salesmen know it’s ALL about the spin. Dangle that carrot: a big, fat one.

Give them what they want, what they REALLY want, and then once you’ve got them hooked, sell them the whole world on a half shell. Even the most sour teenager has dreams. Find out what they are and you’re golden 😉

Three things to cultivate in your kids if you want them to be on board with a nomadic, travel-based travel:

  1. Dreaming Big Dreams
  2. Passion-driven Living
  3. Missional Living: making a difference in the big bad world

Harnessing Technology for Good

Modern technology is the best friend of the Location Independent family. If you can manage to find the balance and create an environment in which technology serves YOU instead of becoming enslaved to the device, it can be the golden ticket to living and working anywhere and creating the life of your dreams.

These are just a few ways in which technology can become your traveling kid’s best friend:

It creates community

One of the biggest worries parents and others have about hitting the road with kids is the social aspect. Will they be okay without school mates and a play group full of peers? Of course they will!

In addition to making friends wherever they go, technology allows kids to participate in virtual communities using social media, and keep in touch with old friends and family at home. Simple tools like Skype, ichat, and their own e-mail account can help kids to feel connected and make the world a smaller place. Be sure you do your security homework though and put appropriate safe guards in place.

Education

If you are traveling with school-aged kids, chances are that you’re doing at least SOME of their educational work at home. A laptop with an internet connection opens up a whole array of educational games, books and virtual academies to your child.

Just as the internet has changed how business professionals do advanced degrees and professional development, it’s now changing how primary school students get through the basics.

Whether or not you are nomadic, you would do well to look into the educational possibilities available through modern technology for your kids. It’s a whole new world of learning!

Business Development

Of course, parents who are digital nomads are constantly working to figure out how to best leverage technology to create businesses and incomes that will allow us to live and work anywhere, but what about the kids?

If you have school aged kids, or teens, why not turn them loose on building their OWN business online? Who knows, they may create a business with six figures before they even get to college. They wouldn’t be the first!

Projects

Technology has made it possible for people to network and work together to do some pretty amazing things. If you have a child with a passion for a particular project, the time afforded by living outside the societal constraints of a school schedule, and the freedom afforded by technology can both be harnessed to do something truly great.

Why not make part of your Location Independent dream tackling a humanitarian project or make a documentary, or promote world peace in some new and creative way? Technology is your secret weapon. Embrace it and create a way to change the world, as a family.

In the words of Nike…Just Do It!

Yes, there are lots of things to consider before going nomadic with kids. Some of them are pretty serious and you need to take the time to work patiently through the check lists and dot all of the i’s and cross all of the t’s. It can sometimes seem completely overwhelming but it is possible and i is do-able.

If living location independent and nomadic with your children is your dream, DO IT and do it NOW. They grow up too fast to waste much time mired in doubt and details:

  1. Define your dream
  2. Make your checklists
  3. Methodically work through the items on your checklists
  4. Set a date
  5. Get going!

We’ve all done it…and you can too.

This post was written by Jenn Miller of the Edventure Project.