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A Family Adventure Around The World – Lessons Learned

A Family Adventure Around the World

Something changed inside of us when we had our first kid. In hindsight, they were those typical feelings that come with becoming new parents. Excitement, trepidation, fear, joy, hope, and every other emotion you knew was there but didn’t know could arrive all at once. People said after having a baby we are going to need a bigger home with more living space. We would wish we had jobs with better pay to buy all those new-fangled toys promising to impart to our baby the intellect of a theoretical physicist. But no, those feelings didn’t come. Instead, we got quite the opposite. We wondered why were we spending our days away from her just to afford child care. Why were we not there to witness in person the best moments of her young life? Something was not right. We knew we needed to reconstruct our priorities and perhaps our lifestyle so we could be the ones there to witness those magical moments.

But that shift in priorities didn’t happen as soon as she was born but twelve months later while on her first road trip from California to Arizona, a destination that felt a world away at the time. That trip ended with her being hospitalized for 8 long days as Marlene slept on a reclining chair next to her crib and beeping machines while I slept in the parking lot of the hospital in our little teardrop camper. When she was released and healthy again, a fork in the road appeared and we had a choice to make. We could have easily taken this as a sign and decided never to go camping again. But neither Marlene nor I took it that way. We both took it as a sign that we needed to spend as much time together as possible. Life was too fragile to spend all day at the office and daycare. Spending our days and nights together was now our number-one priority

What comes next is something none of us could have predicted. What started as a simple cross-country road trip in an Airstream trailer eventually became a continent-hopping, multi-country overlanding adventure in a 4×4 as a family of five plus a rotating cast of rescued cats that we never imagined. Along the way, we’ve met a lot of families on the road. Some had similar journeys as us, but most were on short trips and wondered how we could make an extended journey like this possible. 16 years later, our kids are no longer little, and we’ve survived and, in fact, thriving through it all. In case you ever decide one day to embark on a journey like the one we are on, let me help you get a jump start with some useful information so you’ll know what to expect and how to manage it all when that time comes. Here are 10 useful tips to make your own journey start out a just bit smoother.

From Small Circles to Big Circles
A lot of folks start overlanding with dreams of one day embarking on that big around-the-world journey. While it is the ultimate trip of anyone’s lifetime, starting small is always a good idea. We think of this as starting with small circles and moving to bigger ones. Because an extended overland journey requires you to be away from home for a long time, the circle analogy, as opposed to straight lines, means that you should take longer and longer trips over time as you make your circle bigger. As your comfort level builds, the safety net of being close to home for emergencies will no longer be as necessary. Before you know it, you will start thinking about getting rid of that home base as it will one day change from being an asset to a liability.

Don’t Over-Plan. Leave Space for Spontaneity
People are all different. We know that to be a fact. So some people will never feel comfortable going to faraway places without detailed plans. But at least try not to pack your schedule so full as not to allow spontaneous changes. Some of these changes will happen because you want them to as you discover hidden gems you don’t want to miss while others might be unforeseen interruptions you have no choice but to take. Either way, having flexibility in your schedule will make every journey less stressful.

Use Digital Alternatives for School and Play
Storage has and will always be one of the biggest challenges families face in small spaces. It is a fine balancing act to have comfortable indoor spaces as well as an agile and nimble rig that lets you explore hard-to-reach locales. Switching as many day-to-day necessities from physical to digital alternatives goes a long way in reclaiming much of that precious space. There at the obvious ones like books, music, and videos. Switching those to ebook readers and streaming services is a no-brainer. But also consider other items like coloring pencils, notebooks, and board games. Investing in a tablet like an iPad with an Apple Pencil can really help further slim down your belongings.

Pack Fewer Inside Toys and More Outdoor Activities
For kids that have spent most of their young lives living in a house, they will certainly have a lot of fun toys and entertainment devices that they will want to take along. It isn’t uncommon these days to see people at campgrounds with video projectors hooked up to PlayStations and Xboxes, But I would suggest replacing those with surfboards, soccer balls, and baseball mitts or prioritize game controllers with sand shovels and TV screens with binoculars can pay big dividends over time.

Seek Out Fun Educational Opportunities
When we decided to start homeschooling our kids, we honestly felt a bit lost as we were not formally trained as educators. We felt the urge to follow a curriculum like the ones we grew up with. We searched for textbooks, online classes, and tutors to make sure we were giving our kids the best education possible. But in retrospect, the best education, at least while they were at a younger age, was to let them explore the world around them. Trying to incorporate your surroundings into educational opportunities far exceeds anything you can find in a classroom. The Junior Ranger Program at the National Park System is a great example of this. Over the nearly a decade of exploring North America before we began our international journey, our kids earned over 150 Junior Ranger Badges across all of our parks around the country. And that only amounts to a third of all of the park units that offer them.

Give Your Children Responsibilities/Jobs on Your Trip
A multi-year extended journey like the one we are on means that it should not feel like a vacation. This point is important for several reasons. First of all, vacations are expensive. Living on the road like that can quickly become financially unsustainable. Picking and choosing days to do fun activities also means balancing other days for daily chores. Chores like keeping their personal areas clean and tidy, washing dishes after family meals, or setting up and breaking down chairs and tables at camp. Letting your kids be responsible for these aspects of their lives on the road can help bring purpose and normalcy to their otherwise extraordinary lives.

Embrace Detours As They Lead to Unexpected Experiences
Just as unexpected things can happen to our everyday lives, lives on the road come with twists and turns in their own unique ways. Vehicle breakdowns, hazardous weather, and political instabilities can send you careening off of your planned schedule and route quickly. Rather than trying to salvage what is potentially a lost cause, look for opportunities in the new path. A week surfing at the beach might become a hike up a volcano while a weekend of shopping in a Turkish Bazaar might turn into mint teas shared with new friends in a rural village. If you are open to all of the possibilities, you will never be disappointed.

Use a Wi-Fi Extender to Avoid Extra Work
Sometimes the simplest things that can make your life easier are overlooked because the solution isn’t obvious to those used to a more static life. With all of the devices people use today for work, school, and fun, it is multiplied by each person in a family. With our kids getting older and now each having their own computers, going around logging everyone into every wifi hotspot became something I despised. The simple solution I came up with is to just use a USBC-powered portable wifi extender. It has its own WiFi hotspot that everyone’s device is always connected to. At each new location, I simply connect the extender to the local hotspot and everyone is magically online. Setting up at a new campground no longer feels like a day in the office.

Daily Journals to Help Remember Your Journey
For every journey, whether it is for a day or a decade, there will be an end at some point. Even in our 16th year on the road. We are well aware that the kids will soon be grown and go out to start their own independent lives. Sharing our lives on social media has helped preserve many of the memories we have collected over the years. But not everything we experience is meant for public consumption. There are moments we want to keep for ourselves and we do our best to keep regular private journal entries. In my opinion, there is no greater joy in rediscovering a forgotten moment that you once treasured from an old journal entry.

Don’t Wait Until Your Kids Are Older
The last piece of advice I will give to parents wanting to explore with their kids is that you shouldn’t wait until they are older. Sure, there are some advantages, like the ability to engage in more rigorous activities or being able to remember more details of the trip. But those specific memories are not necessarily what we think is the most important. What is even more important is how they will feel while exploring with you during those early impressionable years. They might not tell you any details of the routes you took, creatures you saw, and even names of the towns you stayed at. But they will forever feel that togetherness you had as a family during this time. Those are the feelings they will carry on forever well into their adulthood.

Our oldest, who started this adventure with us as an infant, will be a senior in high school this fall. By the time we finish the drive down to the southern tip of South America, she will be ever closer to starting a new chapter of life on her own. We will always be here to support her but we hope the time we spent together as a family on the road around the world will help shape and mold her to be the best version of herself. We can’t yet tell you how our story will turn out in the end as we are still living through it but we can confidently say that we have given her everything she needs to succeed. We hope these few tips we shared gave you some insight into how life on the road can be sustainable and possible for families and perhaps one day you will embark on a journey like this with your family.

Read more: Travel Safe in Baja and Beyond

Images: Daniel Lin and Marlene Lin

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Daniel Lin has been living on the road since 2008 in various vehicles with his wife, Marlene, and three kids Ava, Mila, and Luka. Their first rig, an Airstream, took them to all 49 continental US states. Their next one, a Four Wheel Camper, started them off on their international travels through all of Canada and Mexico. And now, a DIY Sprinter 4x4 has been to 49 countries on five continents. He and his family are currently in South America on their way to Ushuaia, the continent's southernmost tip. Between balancing work, road school, and adventuring, they adopted two stray cats because there apparently isn’t enough chaos in their day-to-day life. You can find out more about Dan and his travels at malimish.com.