Living abroad temporarily can seem impossible for families unsure of how to book time off work, fund their travels and keep schoolwork in check. Here’s a look at how four families did it:
The Family: Lisa Kisch, her husband and two kids, ages eight and 10
Travel dates: Jan. 3, 2017 to July 2017 (return date uncertain)
Where they went: Mexico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, England, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, Israel, Italy and Croatia.
How they handled school: Kisch discussed pulling her kids out of Grades 3 and 5 with teachers, who were extremely supportive. But her school board doesn’t provide materials for home schooling. Kisch loaded two e-readers with library books, and bought math workbooks for their grade levels. They spend 90 minutes each morning on writing and math, and research the area they happen to be in.
Income: Rental income from their family home and a cottage covers both mortgages and provides about $2,500 a month extra to fund the trip. Plus, Lisa continues to work online as a network marketing professional and receives a salary.
The cost: Mexico kicked things off with affordable comfort — they rented a large two-bedroom house with a pool in Merida for $2,500 a month. Uber rides, groceries and restaurants were cheap, while an iPhone SIM card cost $10 for three weeks of unlimited calls and texts, plus 300 megabytes of data. Day-to-day costs rose in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but over the course of the trip, Kisch expects they’ll spend about as much as they would living in Toronto.
Travel tip: Quell tantrums by picky eaters with help from food ordering apps that do the translating for you. “The day I got here I tried to order pizza … and it was an epic fail,” Kisch recalls of her nascent Spanish-speaking skills. “So someone gave me this app and now I can order the pizza, I can pay cash, I don’t even have to pay for it in advance.”
Family: Micki Kosman, her husband and her two kids, ages eight and 11
Home: Kelowna, B.C.
Travel dates: Dec. 31, 2016 to end of March 2017
Where they went: Mexico, Belize, Columbia, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands
How they handled school: They had already travelled a lot and learned to homeschool on the road with the help of B.C.’s online learning tools.
Income: The Kosmans run three blogs: The Barefoot Nomad, Canadian Travel Insurance Review, and The Parent Spot. Kosman says they make a little less than when she and Charles worked in IT, “but enough to live on.”
The cost: They’ve budgeted about $4,500 a month for airfare, lodging, food and entertainment. But past trips have cost as little as $2,500 a month. They’ve cut costs at home by reducing car insurance, shutting off the hot water tank, turning the heat down, and putting phones and Internet plans on hold. They can blog while they travel, keeping income constant, while savings cover any shortfalls.
Surprises: Homeschooling is harder than it seems. “Some people are very naturally born to it, we found it a little tough. Because not only are you a parent but you become their teacher, so it involves a lot of structure and following up on doing the grunt work. I have a lot of respect for what teachers do.”
Family: Yvette Duffy, her husband and two kids, ages 10 and 13
Travel dates: Sept. 7, 2015 to mid-June 2016
Where they went: Iceland, France, Spain, Morocco, Egypt, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Nepal, Turkey, Greece, Italy, England and Scotland.
How they handled school: Online sites were key for math — mostly IXL and the Khan Academy, but also the University of Waterloo’s “Problem of the Week.” Duffy downloaded ebooks and audio books related to each locale. Each kid blogged about things like blood cells and oxygen levels for their stop in Nepal, and “impossible loads” in Vietnam where motorcycles routinely carry massive cargo. When they returned, the kids went to a French summer camp before resuming studies at their French immersion school.
The cost: They sold their car, lived frugally and arranged a home swap for one of the costliest legs — three weeks in the south of France. Planning really began four years earlier when Duffy started deferring 20 per cent of her teacher’s salary so she could take a year-long leave. They offset hefty airfare costs by using a travel app that scoured multiple airlines for deals.
Travel tip: Keep baggage light. “Our thing was to purchase our experience and not to acually purchase consumer goods unless we felt we were helping somebody in some way…. Sometimes (the kids) wanted things. And then the question was: ‘Are you willing to carry that for the remainder of the trip?’ And it always came down to: ‘No.”’
Family: Dallas James, her husband and three kids, ages seven, 13 and 15
Home: Stouffville, Ont.
Travel dates: Feb. 24, 2016 to March 30, 2016
Where they went: The U.S. Virgin Islands
How they handled school: The kids each missed four weeks of school, but James scheduled the trip during a less-busy time of year for her oldest son. Teachers provided him with assignments for phys-ed, English, geography and drama to do in his spare time.
The cost: James continued to receive a passive income as a network marketer, while her husband combined vacation days and overtime hours to get a one-month paid holiday. James estimates they spent well over $10,000 on the month-long adventure: nearly $1,000 for a house-and-dog sitter, about $2,500 for flights to St. Thomas, and $6,000 to rent a boat. They saved by serving as their own crew and skipper. Groceries in the U.S. Virgin Islands are expensive — a box of Cheerios could run you $10, says James. So the family brought their own dry goods: rice, beans, cereals, pizza shells, pasta and canned food.
Lasting impact: “The biggest lessons were for my husband and myself — realizing that the break-neck pace of life is just not working for us. To the point where we’re planning our next sailing trip…. And we’re thinking of a bit of a radical life change. We’re actually exploring the minimalism concept a bit.”