We continue our spotlight on traveling families with this interview with the Miller Family. Their open-ended world travel as a family of six is inspiring to us and we think might be inspiring to you, too! We asked mom of the family, Jenn Miller, about their experiences on the road and how they made the transition from a "normal" life to a thrilling adventure!
We are the Miller family of the Edventure Project: Tony (40) and Jenn (37) and our four children: Hannah (15), Gabriel (14), Elisha (11) and Ezra (9) are in our fifth year of an open ended world tour. It began with a year long bicycle ride through Europe and North Africa, grew into a North and Central American road trip, rested half a year in the highlands of Guatemala, and has morphed from a “gap year” into our lifestyle. In just two days we lift off for a year or two of travels in Asia & Oceania!
1. Why do you think so many families think a traveling lifestyle is out of reach for them?
Time, money and social pressure seem to be the big three among the families we talk to. It takes a major priority restructuring to find the time to travel in larger chunks with children. So many families are locked into the status quo of work-home-school life that there is little time to even take a Saturday picnic, never mind a three month wander. It’s not that we have more time than anyone else (we all have exactly the same amount) it’s just that we’ve chosen to use ours a little differently.
Money is a constant struggle for lots of families, regardless of how and where we live life. With the internet as a resource it’s getting easier for parents to work remotely and we’ve just taken that one step further by converting our static careers into freelance careers that allow us to live and work anywhere. Something that surprises a lot of people is that it’s actually cheaper for us to travel and live our dream than it was for us to have a house, two cars and a “real life” in America. The key to finding the money for long term travel is two-fold: changing your priority structure and leveraging your skill set in new ways.
Social pressure is a biggie. It’s hard to live life very differently from the way those around you do. It’s hard to have the confidence that children raised in the world instead of in community and schools will be “okay” later. It’s hard to chase a dream when the world says “be realistic.” I’m very blessed to have been raised by parents who did all of these things first, so in our family our lifestyle is very normal. I was a kid raised on the road and it was the best thing my parents ever did for me, that gives me a confidence for my own children that might not come any other way.
2. What do you say when people say, "you must be very rich to live the way you do!"
I laugh! We are not rich. My husband’s freelance database design and iPhone/Android programming business makes plenty of money for us to live and we stretch that by choosing to live in places that the US dollar goes further much of the time. The real secret to being able to afford long term travel is to reevaluate your priorities, reduce overhead that needs to be maintained (houses, cars etc) reduce or eliminate debt and convert the skill set you have in your current job to something portable.
3. What inspired you to first take to the road with your family?
There were several motivating factors. One of which was my own childhood, the best part of which was spent traveling. But the seminal moment happened standing over my grandmother’s casket when I had this clarion moment. The world stopped and it was as if the Universe spoke: “She’s not here, her stuff is not here, her titles aren’t here, nothing she worked for, not her name, not anything she accomplished in this life fits in the box.” In that moment it was so clear to me: no one knows for sure what we take out when we die, but at best, it’s our relationships and our memories, and yet most of us spend the best twenty years of our lives (or more) working for the stuff that doesn’t matter. We decided in that moment that we’d do the opposite: spend the best years of our lives investing in the relationships and the memories. It required us to restructure our entire lives, but it’s been worth it, beyond measure.
4. If you don't mind answering, how do you provide for you family income wise?
I mentioned that my husband does freelance database development & design work in addition to iPhone and Android programming. If you’ve ever purchased an Ocean Spray product his work has passed through your hands as it’s his database that controls every layer of their packaging process. His business pays the bills.
I am a freelance writer for the home education and travel markets. It’s more of a “hobby that pays” at this point than a career, but it is fulfilling to me and is something I hope to do more of as our children grow up and out. I also teach a course with my friend Nancy called the Dream Intensive that helps people live their dreams and get big ideas off the ground.
We can both work anywhere we can find Internet which allows a great deal of flexibility.
5. What do you think are the two biggest misconceptions of traveling as a family?
That you need a lot of money to do it and that our children are somehow “missing out.”
We know a range of families, single parents with one child, to two parent families with seven kids, all of whom manage full time travel and support themselves as they go. It doesn’t take a lot of money, it takes a lot of creativity!
The idea that children who are raised outside of the status quo with public school during the week and soccer tournaments on weekends are somehow “missing out” is laughable to those of us who’ve been traveling for a while… and to our children. So much of what we consider “normal” for children is really an artificial social construct (when do you spend 8 hours a day with 20 people exactly your age and experience in the “real world?”) Kids who are raised in the real world don’t miss out socially, in fact they encounter a more diverse social set than they would any other way. They don’t miss out educationally either as parents who care enough to spend 24-7 with their kids, meet the challenges of funding, travel and language barriers also are savvy enough to know how to find the resources their children need to grow and develop without “missing out.”
6. How did you overcome your biggest fear around being a traveling family?
Because I was raised traveling we didn’t really have any major fears setting out. Our big fear emerged when we were camped on the highest sea cliff on the Adriatic coast of Italy in the fall of 2008. Overnight the stock market crashed and all of our savings was gone. We suddenly had nothing left in our travel fund that we’d saved up to travel our year on. That was terrifying. It was also, perhaps, the best thing that could have happened to us because it forced us to really think through what we were doing, what we wanted and how to make it work. We took a ferry to Tunisia, where we could live less expensively, and set about creating work for ourselves, and building the business that now supports our travels. Without the desperation brought on by the market crash, we might not have been forced to be as creative and we might not be where we are today.