This is another guest post from the Smeenks, a Canadian family of 6 traveling overseas indefinitely. You can read Jenn’s initial post about preparing to leave Canada and how they let go of their possessions here. It’s a great read. Particularly if you have a larger home or many children.
Today Jenn is going to give us more details about how they travel and what they travel with. Reading it has given me more to think about for our everyday living. Quality over quantity can’t be beat. And I love hearing about the impact travel and living a minimalist life has had on the children. Enjoy and thanks again, Jenn!
You can follow the Smeenks adventures on their blog At Home in the World.
Living on the Road with 4 Children
This past year, our family of six spent seven months backpacking through the countries of Spain, Morocco, Italy, Turkey, and France. Carrying our belongings with us was an important factor to consider.
This second post describes in detail what our minimalist travel lifestyle has been so far during our travels.
What do we travel with?
We started our travels with one large backpack and two carry on day packs for us adults and our two older children (ages 9 and 8 at the time). Our two younger ones had a small day pack each. We also had a small carry-on rolling red suitcase filled with our homeschooling books. Over time and a couple countries, we still found we were carrying way too much. So during our third month in Turkey, we sent home two of our day packs and many of our homeschooling books, and gave away our extraneous clothes and toys to the locals there.
Each member of our family owned 5 pairs of underwear, 3 pairs of socks, 1 fleece jacket, 1 bathing suit, a microfiber towel, a pair of sandals (the girls brought their black boots on top of their hikers and sandals), tuque, mitts, rain coats and rain pants, 1 set of pyjamas, 4-5 interchangeable outfits (1 sweater included, 1 dress for the girls and 1 button-up shirt and dress pants for the boys). I also brought my running clothes. As well, we ended up buying rain boots in Turkey.
We tried to bring as many light weight, quick drying clothing in dark colours. We brought SmartWool socks (keeps feet dry and warm, does not smell, and dries quickly) for the adults and black cotton sport socks for the kids. We regretted going cheap here and not buying the children SmartWool socks, and will certainly stock up before our next adventure.
We packed our electronics in our daypacks: A Garmin GPS (super handy with walking maps – we didn’t get lost in the chaotic mazes of Morocco’s medinas), Kindle e-Reader, 1 Canon digital SLR camera, 2 small point and shoot cameras, 1 digital video camera (we never used it and mailed it back), 3 Nintendo DSi’s, my Garmin running watch, 1 iPod shuffle, 2 laptops, and 2 netbooks (one for the girls and one for the boys for homeschool).
4 international travel adapters, 1 red umbrella, toiletries, one pair of binoculars, first aid kit, medication kit, 4 head lamps for reading at night, 2 braided rubber laundry lines with carabiners, international rubber sink plug, a small bottle of liquid laundry soap, and sewing kit.
How long do you typically stay in a city?
That varied tremendously because of our goals and activities in each country; but typically, we’d like to stay at least one week to get a feel for the place.
In Spain we spent 1 month in an apartment in the Costa del Sol, which was a five minute walk from the beach. We lived there and homeschooled. We took day trips to the surrounding areas such as Gibraltar, La Ronda, Sevilla, and Marbella.
In Morocco we spent 6 days in Marrakech then took a road trip loop around the country across the High Atlas Mountains, through the Dades and Todres Gorges, stayed a night in two different Saharan deserts, then spent our last three nights in Fes.
After Morocco, we stayed in Barcelona for a week to rest and catch our breath. We walked around the city to admire the Christmas lights and decorations. We spent our Christmas and New Year Holidays in Rome and Vatican City, as we were there for 20 days.
After New Years, we stayed 2 months in an apartment in Turkey to rest and catch up on homeschool. We then spent our third month backpacking around Turkey, ending our trip in Istanbul. From there, we spent 3 weeks in Italy – 1 week in Venice, 1 week in Cinque Terre and 1-3 days in other cities like Milan, Florence, Bologna.
We spent one month in France with a week stay in Cannes, 2 weeks in Montpellier, and 10 days in Paris.
How long do you see your family traveling for?
This is an ever changing topic. We plan to be overseas for 3-5 years, returning home to Canada for the summers to be with family. Seven months was a good dip in the water for our first long term travel experience. It has opened our eyes to the possibilities of our future! Nothing feels more exhilarating to us than opening the world map and asking each family member where we’d like to go in the next few years. We’re dreaming big together as a family!
We’ve also learned that living out of a backpack and constantly moving is exhausting. We didn’t realize how stressful it can be to find appropriate accommodations for a family of six along the way, when most places take a maximum of 5 people to a room. We need and desire to travel more slowly!
Depending on our finances and time, I think we are going to be changing our travelling style by staying in one place for 6-12 months to get a deeper sense of a country and its culture.
We’re spending our summer at home in Canada to prepare for another year away. This August we’re returning to France and plan to live in Southern France for at least 6 months to immerse ourselves in the French culture. We plan to enrol the kids in the local French school there so they can continue to work on their second language.
How have the children reacted to moving and traveling? Do they ever ask for/about things you had back home?
I think one of the best gifts we’ve received from this whole experience of selling our stuff and travelling the world is seeing our children in a different light. We have seen first-hand how incredibly capable they are. Actually, my heart bursts with pride, joy and astonishment for them because they have shown us how naturally adaptable and cooperative they can be.
They’re great at walking several kilometres at a time, and have learned how to cross the street safely in all sorts of traffic. They’ve slept in trains, cars, and overnight buses. I am so impressed by how well they travel! I love their openness to new things and their positive attitudes in exploring different countries. On the other hand, who wouldn’t have a good attitude when riding a camel through the desert in Morocco, paragliding on a spectacular beach in Turkey, or visiting world famous monuments and museums? The world is their classroom and their playground! More than anything, we wanted to open our children’s eyes to the possibilities around them, like studying art in world renowned schools, and working, living, and volunteering internationally.
Travelling with school age children is great! They’re small enough to fit into a double bed and young enough to be half price for most admissions and transportation fares. We’ve received a lot of complements by strangers at how well behaved and patient they are. As well, our kids have learned how to watch out for each other and have developed closer relationships. We hope their childhood travel memories will bond them for life. Several of our family and friends have noticed a big change in our children. They’ve remarked at how mature they’ve become this past year. They’re less demanding and are able to sit still to think, read, or visit.
The things that they did miss were their bikes and some of their toys (especially their Legos and Nerf guns). However, backpacking for 7 months has taught us to look at our stuff differently. It helped us distinguish between our needs and wants. We discovered that we rarely needed anything, but we wanted so much; and that having too much unnecessary stuff to carry was a burden. What a valuable lesson!
We discovered that things wear out quickly. Our limited supply of socks and clothes sprouted holes from the constant wearing and washing. The kids, especially the boys, sprouted holes on the knees of their pants. Yet overall, we never felt like we had fewer things. It actually felt more the opposite – because we carried our things, we always felt we had too much.
What are the rewards of having fewer things?
Less to worry about! Having fewer things brings simplicity in our lives, a detachment from things, and a freedom from the preoccupation of keeping up with the Joneses.
Doing the laundry is no longer overwhelming because I deal with only one pile of clothes at a time instead of a mountain heap. I’ve actually enjoyed hanging them on the line to dry. The clothes we own are good quality and ones we love to wear. We’ve learned not to be careless with our clothing. For example, the kids have learned to be careful with not getting their clothes dirty so that they could wear it for another day. Back home, typically they would wear a shirt once and then throw it in the laundry, even though it was still clean. They’ve since learned that they could still wear clothes at least a couple of times (especially jeans) before throwing it in the wash.
Living with less has taken away our preoccupation to acquire things, clearing our minds to focus on what is really important – our personal growth, relationships, future, hopes and dreams.
Our travelling minimalist life is a choice, and we are incredibly surprised at how deeply rewarding it is. We love our travel lifestyle!
If you were to travel long term with your children, what would you bring and how would you carry it? How has your Minimalist lifestyle affected your children?
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