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Tips, Tricks and Technologies from a Family who Backpacked for 9 Months around the World
How did we navigate the world as a family of four? How did we stay safe, manage tension, and live in close quarters? These, and more, are the questions we get from other families curious about their own adventure.
Here are some answers and resources to spark your own research, where you’ll find a ton more information to explore and create the trip of your dreams.
We invite you to enroll in our Our Taming Travel Tension course. I’ve packed it with the kind of information I wish I’d had for our own trip. You will learn alongside other families, so the shared ideas and insights will be rich. Visit our Courses page to find out when the next class begins.
- Conversation starters: What will we do…
- If we get sick of each other?
- If we get separated?
- If someone gets seriously hurt or sick?
- With our time every day?
- With school and work?
- With all of our stuff?
- If we get homesick?
- If someone at home gets sick or hurt?
- Agreements. We as a family talked a lot about the trip and we made some agreements before ever setting foot on the plane. These are some of the agreements our family made with each other. Yours may be way different. The important thing is that you all agree to it and have permission to remind each other (graciously of course) if someone strays off the path. Our family agreements started something like this…
- We agree to treat each other as equals and treat each other with respect.
- We agree to be accountable for getting our work done on time even when we want to play.
- We agree that we will always travel in pairs and not go anywhere alone unless someone else knows all the details.
- We agree to participate in volunteer activities and contribute positively to the trip.
- We agree to give each other room and space as needed without making them feel guilty or bad.
- If we get angry at someone in the family, we agree to discuss it openly and honestly without screaming at each other.
- We agree to say YES as often as possible.
- Expectations. Each of us came into the idea of the trip with varying expectations. We needed to get on the same page so we each shared our individual expectations for the trip. The list looked something like this.
- To have fun
- To stay safe
- To meet as many people as possible
- To learn about new cultures
- To volunteer wherever we can
- To forgo expensive resorts and hotels so that we can afford experiences and activities
What type of travelers are you?
- Loves the unplanned
- Loves the planned
Books for travel planning
- How to Travel Full Time by Colin Wright
Set a realistic budget
- Nomadic Matt – claim to fame – how to travel the world for under $50 per day http://www.nomadicmatt.com/ Lots of guides and strategies for you to travel better, cheaper, longer.
Deciding where to go
Books for Inspiration
Frommers 500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up
1000 Places to See Before You Die
501 Must Visit Destinations
Unforgettable Places to See Before You Die
Travel Agents with walls of marketing materials for tours and excursions
- https://nomadlist.com/ provides detailed information on many places around the world using many filter choices like wifi access, safety, climate, environment, activities and friendliness
- www.Gadventures.com – travel website with lots of locations
Safety and cost considerations
Health and travel insurance
Vaccinations – a link to a post about our vaccination journey: https://thecouragevibe.com/2012/11/navigating-the-world-of-vaccinations/
- Really depends on where you are going
- Many local pharmacies have international travel clinics that can provide additional information and consult. After a visit to our doctor who tested our titer levels, we then used Safeway and Fred Meyer pharmacies for the vaccinations. They proved to be less expensive than the travel clinics and since most were not covered by insurance. Also, use your best judgement when it comes to accepting all recommendations of drugs and vaccines. Consider what you are willing to pack and what you are willing to buy when in-country.
Storage units – if you are choosing to store your belongings, then you will need a place to put them while you are gone. Storage units are quick to confiscate your belongings if you miss a payment, so you may consider paying it all in advance if possible.
PO box – where to send your mail. PO Boxes are nice because they can hold your mail until you or someone you authorize can pick it up
Legal documents – giving Power of Attorney to someone you trust who can make decisions on your behalf may be necessary
There will be more stuff – just trust me on this
- As little as possible. You will be able to purchase most things you need on the road. Seriously, PACK LIGHT!
- Items that we were glad we brought with us:
- power strip
- knife sharpener
- wd-40 (travel size)
- deck of playing cards
- duct tape
- small sewing kit
- Leatherman or Gerber Artifact tool – pack these don’t try to carry them on
- Donations: we donated our stuff to a variety of places from Goodwill, Salvation Army, friends and family, local charities
- Selling your stuff: Great tips and tricks for selling your stuff and paying off debt. www.manvsdebt.com
- Storing: we stored the balance of our belongings in a small local storage unit. We also loaned some furniture to friends with the agreement that when we returned home we could have them back
Travel and Accommodations
- Incognito windows – using an incognito window supposedly stops the search engines from adding cookies to your computer. In the case of travel booking, travel sites remember what you have been searching for and will sometimes increase the price because they are tracking your searches. Incognito windows are one way to possibly block it. To open an incognito window in Chrome…
Skyscanner and ITA Software
- Choose “everywhere” as a destination
- Choose “whole month” or flexible dates
- Use their new interactive map
Hostels vs. Hotels vs. Homestays
- www.AirBnB.com – great site for homestays, shared homes and private homes. If you are traveling with more than four people, it seemed to be more cost effective in some places than hostels or hotels.
- www.Hostelworld.com – you can book hostels, bed and breakfasts, hotels. They also provide sample itineraries and guides.
- www.hostelbookers.com – another great site for booking hostels, hotels and homestays
- www.Hotels.com – surprisingly, it gave some good options and was used as a back up when we weren’t able to find a hostel or airbnb.
Taking it on the Road
Staying sane while traveling
- HALT – Hungry or Homesick, Angry or Anxious, Lonely, Tired. Here is a link to a blog post about this topic and how to use this tool: https://thecouragevibe.com/2012/11/she-taught-us-to-halt/
- De-briefs – when you don’t have technology and your only travel companions are your family, you get to spend time talking and we fell into a pattern of sharing our ideas, lessons and feelings over most dinners. We used the time to check in with each other and to talk about the day’s activities. Everyone got a chance to share without interruption. After they were done, we could ask questions and make comments.
- Voting – how did we decide when to move on, what to do, where to go? We voted. All the options would be laid out and then as a family we would vote on the next steps. Sometimes it meant that someone in the family had to pass on something they wanted to do or see. Everyone, at one point in time or another, compromised for the sake of the group.
- Saying YES – being adventurous as a family – one of our agreements! Saying YES taught us way more than saying NO. We learned what we liked, didn’t like, new skills, about ourselves, others, cultures and the list goes on.
Staying safe and healthy – rules of the road
- Arriving at night – if we knew we would be arriving after dark in a new location, our rule was to always have a confirmed reservation for lodging and clear directions on how to get to the hostel or home so that we wouldn’t be wandering around in an unknown city or town.
- Keeping backpacks secure – using bungee cords or carabiner clips, we would attach all bags together when we needed to store them or travel on a bus or train. This way if someone tried to “snatch and run” with one of the bags they would have to take all four (which never happened). We would also attach the bags to the upper railings when storing them overhead on a bus or train. The books we recommended above have tons of information on this subject.
- Communication and traveling in pairs – without cell phones we had to resort to clear communication and directions. It took some practice and we eventually learned the best way to clearly communicate with each other without the use of technology. Traveling in pairs was also critical and one of our absolute rules of travel.
- Food safety and bottled water – Avoid raw foods and tap water that said realize that food borne illnesses are everywhere. We carried Tums and just tried our best to be careful with what we ate
Staying on budget
- Moving Days – The more frequently you move the more it costs.
- Doing as the locals do – make friends with the locals and ask them where they eat, shop, hang out, get around. Doing as the locals
- Be aware of scams – when it says don’t send wires or cash advances through Craigslist, obey it. Also, beware of tourist scams where the drivers only take you to certain stores or restaurants that provide a kickback. They might offer you a free ride or offer tour guide services. Just be clear with them how they expect to be paid for their services. If someone carries your bag, they might expect a tip.
- In-country transportation – local transportation is usually the cheapest way to get around a city. Follow the locals lead and give it a try, if nothing else, count it as an adventure.
- Visas and extra “duties” for entering and leaving a country – link to the US Dept of State regarding Visas and info for each country: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country.html Also, here is a link about visas in general: http://www.travelindependent.info/b4yougo.htm#Visas Some countries (like Indonesia) charge for a visa and then another fee for leaving the country. Those extra fees can add up so check the rules and timeframes so you don’t accidentally miss deadlines.
- Proof of onward travel and booking one way tickets – we were asked this question a number of times when checking in for flights. The airlines want to make sure that you have an exit ticket. It only caused us issue in Ecuador, but the airline eventually let us on the plane.
Booking travel and accommodations on the road
- Incognito windows – same thing applies as stated above
- Skyscanner and ITA Software – see above
- Hostels vs. Hotels vs. Homestays – see above
Finding volunteer opportunities
- Websites – there are thousands of these sites. These two are ones we have followed and used.
- Workaway.info – great site for finding volunteer opportunities around the world. Most provide low-cost or free lodging in exchange for volunteering
- GoAbroad.com – all kinds of paid volunteer programs for all ages
- Job boards – most hostels have boards for posting job and volunteer opportunities. Local coffee shops sometimes also had boards with listings. If all else fails, start asking the locals for suggestions.
- Paying for volunteering – we did pay for some of our volunteering experiences. The fees we paid went to the families we were staying with and covered expenses for food and lodging. There is ongoing debate about these programs, so research them appropriately to make sure the money goes where stated.
- Working on the road – things to consider if you plan on doing this
- Time zone differences
- Access to reliable internet
- Having the discipline to work when you want to play
- Family schedule
- Play, work, rest schedule
Keeping a Journal
- Highly recommend some version of a journal whether electronic or a physical journal
- Take your time and don’t rushed to see everyone all at once
- Give yourself time to consider what you learned, decide what habits you want to keep and what you are ready to let go of.
Keep using the tools – go back and review them from above
- Saying YES
Telling your stories to others
- You will most likely have a lot of stories to tell about your adventures abroad. Because each of us love telling stories, we made an agreement as a family to let the person telling the story, tell the story without interruption or correction. After that person is done, then we can add our comments or perspective. This gives everyone a chance to share the excitement of the trip.
- Just because you are home does not mean you need to stop exploring and adventuring. Keep the thrill alive and plan local outings or adventures.
- There is just as much need here at home as there was abroad. Take what you learned and apply it to a local organization or charity.
Family travel of any length can expand you individually and bring you together as a family. We can’t recommend it enough! We are on a mission to change the dynamics of family travel. It is possible to take a family trip, experience the fun and adventure, and come home changed people with new ways to manage stress, communicate, and contribute to the community. Experiential, adventure travel as a family connects you in ways that you never expected, but always dreamed of.
If you want to continue your education and you are ready to dive into that dream of traveling around the world with your family, then here are two options.
- Taming Travel Tension, Part 1 and Part 2. Learn alongside other families wanting to break out of the daily rut and into a lifestyle of living brave, giving big and having fun using family travel as the catalyst. Click here to learn more and register for the next class.
- Courage Journeys. Trips we lead for those families ready to take the leap into a trip that will change how they view the world. Courage Journeys are your opportunity to travel with us to great destinations and implement the tools mentioned here and many more. Courage Journeys are not for the faint of heart, they are full-throttle adventures for the whole family. Not your typical trip by any means. We will be living brave, giving big and having a ton of fun, together. Read more about our next trip to the Dominican Republic and apply if you are ready to take your family travel to a whole new level.
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