Probably I’m not the only one out there dreaming about living the location independent life, but I’m scared to the last atom that this will somehow ruin my child’s life. So could a sane (not mad, actually) person become a digital nomad if they have a family with kids?
It’s easy to find tens of families with one or more children, roaming the world, enjoying the life in various countries, discovering new cultures, becoming citizens of the world and being awesome. But are those families the exception to the rule? The dreamers? The 1%? The bravest of the brave or the craziest of the crazy?
I mean, how could you go on traveling the world with a toddler or even older children? They need constant care, they tire quickly, they speak no other language – they barely speak their native one, actually! There are risks involved. Culture shock. People they don’t know. People they’ll never meet ever again. Will that break them?
I could probably write 10+ pages of fears and worries and reasons why I should not do this. Being a digital nomad and living a location independent lifestyle is more difficult if you have kids. We all have friends and family who will politely remind us – as often as possible – how crazy it all sounds and is.
But does that matter? Does that apply to you? Does listening to friends and family who see the negatives makes you happy? Or does exploring the world, meeting new people, living the adventure, getting in touch with all the amazing cultures around us fills your heart with joy and gives you that warm feeling that you’ve actually accomplished something? Something that’s above and beyond the largest TV ever produced, the latest car and the most furniture squeezed in a square foot? Something’s that’s better than the quest to keep up with the Joneses.
This is something only you can decide.
Here is how I did it
I’ve always dreamed of becoming a digital nomad. And I have always found something to hold me back. In terms of excuses, I can be a PRO. (Does that sound familiar?)
But one day, I realized that my happiness is more important. I realized that I’m not getting any younger and I don’t want to live a life of constant regret that I haven’t tried it. It can’t be that bad – to just give it a try. So I did. And I took my family along, of course!
Our first long(er) term travel adventure as parents happened back in 2015, when our son wasn’t even 2 years old. We went for a month away from home, on our own. We jumped into a train and explored Europe. 9 cities, 30 days, a ton of fears and worries and premonitions that something will go horribly wrong.
And here I am, two years later, ready to write about that adventure and the many more that followed. Remembering that month as the foundation stone for the way I live my life today. If I hadn’t done that, I would’ve never known two amazing things:
- Having the freedom to travel the world and doing it fills your heart with joy, heals you, makes you a better person.
- Being a digital nomad is possible and not insanely difficult even if you have kids.
If I hadn’t jumped head first into this crazy European trip back in 2015, I would’ve never known it was possible. It was fun. It was not very expensive. It was not horrible because we had a toddler with us. I would’ve regretted my entire life for not giving it a try!
Are you willing to take that risk?
Because, yes, I consider it a risk not giving it a try. Most people consider it risky to even think about going away, but we’re not most people! Most people live a miserable life, always tired and upset, grumpy and sad that nothing interesting is happening to them. Watching Netflix as the main way to entertain themselves and having fake friends whom they only meet on Facebook and Instagram and Skype.
I know that I’m overreacting a little bit, but it’s for a noble cause. It’s for you. It’s for your family. See if it works. You will be surprised to find out that the most difficult thing to do in this whole thing is this:
Taking the first step
But once you do it, I am 100% sure that you will absolutely love it. You’ll love it so much that you will never stop. And you’ll fight your way through hell to make sure that it becomes a reality. And if not, it’s perfectly fine too: your friends will still be there, your family will still be there. Your old life will be waiting for you, but at least you’ll know that you gave it a try and not live with the “what if” question, dwelling on a potential life.
Is it easy to become a digital nomad with kids?
Ask the ones who are already doing it and most will probably say that it’s like a walk in the park. Ask those who consider it crazy and they’ll tell you it’s impossible!
If you’re asking me, I would say that it’s definitely not an easy thing to do. But, in the end, what does “easy” mean? It’s not easy to become a digital nomad if you’re solo traveling, it’s not easy to buy a house and pay the mortgage. Few things are easy in life.
So the question you should ask yourself is:
Is it worth it?
This also depends on what type of person you are. However, since you’re deeply considering this, I believe that you already have the answer. You know the answer already, but you might be too afraid to take that difficult step.
Yes, it’s worth it!
It won’t be easy to do it. I believe that anybody out there would agree on the fact that it’s more difficult to live like a nomad if you have kids. There are bigger expenses, there are more things to consider, there are limitations on where you can go and what you can do depending on the age of your children, but it’s still doable. And, for the right people, it will surely prove to be insanely fun. And I must say it again: since you’re already seriously considering this, you are in the “right people” group.
Keeping it real
Based on my own experience, here are the most important things that could make it or break it for you. There might be others too or you might consider that my “problems” wouldn’t apply to you at all (in which case you have even more reasons to just go for it!):
This is one of the biggest issues when it comes to living anywhere in the world, no matter if you’re a digital nomad or not. And when kids appear in the equation, the monetary requirements will be slightly higher.
But fortunately, kids don’t cost a fortune! Indeed, everything will be more expensive overall, but you can still keep that under control. Especially if you’re moving from a high cost of living country (like the US, Canada, Western Europe, Australia and so on) to a low cost of living place (South America, Eastern Europe, SE Asia and so on), things will look better costs-wise.
But based on my own experience, we found out that we have to pay more on accommodation when traveling with our kid (because we can’t go to cheap hostels anymore, shared dorm rooms or anything similar). Airbnb helps reduce those costs a lot and there are also house sitting opportunities that we haven’t tried so far, but we’re definitely considering…
Getting there (plane, bus or train tickets, insurance and so on) will also be more expensive in most cases. We choose the train right now as often as possible because our son gets to travel for free… but soon that won’t be the case anymore and costs will rise a bit. He’s already paying for the full ticket when flying and my pockets don’t like that too much.
But in all areas, if you really do your homework and research, you can still get amazing deals and cut the costs a lot.
For example, when we went in Budapest last year, we booked well in advance and stayed in an awesome 2 bedroom apartment in the heart of the city for one month. The cost? 800 Euros. And there were cheaper options available, but since it was our first month away from home, I wanted to spend a bit more and see if we could cut costs in the future.
This year, we checked prices one month before getting there and you could rarely find a good 1 bedroom apartment for less than 1,500 Euros in a similar area (but still not as good).
The same goes with everything: the more time you have to plan things ahead, the cheaper you can find it and the more options you have. Do your research and you’ll still keep costs at a minimum.
2. Slow travel
This is not a problem for me, but for those on a quest to see as much of the world as possible, it might be. Fast travel with kids is definitely more difficult and they will burn out extremely fast. You will too!
Our first month-long trip around Europe has taught us that. We spend, on average, 3 nights in each city and it was way too much. It was so crazy that I rarely managed to get any work done. We were always in a race around the clock to see this and that, to see as much as possible… And everything was even more difficult because we had to carry our son everywhere.
We were in such a rush that he spent most of the adventure in a wrap that either his mother or myself carried until we were exhausted and couldn’t walk any more. He was still a toddler, so he didn’t miss much… but that way of travel is not my style. Way too fast to matter, way too confusing, way too little time to actually get the chance to feel the place you’re in.
As the kids get older, it becomes more and more difficult to carry them around… so you should prepare for small bits of walking and enjoying the world and a much, much slower pace.
We found out that we love slow travel better because it gives us more time to really get to know the place you’re in and the people there. Not being rushed by an extremely limited amount of time you have to spend in that particular city also lowers stress levels and makes everything that much more enjoyable.
In the end, you should travel for yourself and for the happiness of your family, not for getting the best photos for Instagram or Facebook or bragging rights!
3. Education & friends
This is my biggest problem, to be honest, and I hate it. It’s a bit more complicated in our case or at least so I consider, but we’re working hard on that as well.
The problem is that when you’re on the road, traditional education is completely out of the question. You can’t send your kids to school and they will miss out on that extremely important experience in life: being part of a social group, making friends there, bonding and learning to get past obstacles on their own, plus everything else that the traditional school system bring.
But is that really a problem?
Homeschooling (or “worldschooling” as some travelers call it) is definitely the alternative. However, despite it getting more and more popular, it’s not that widespread and therefore many people don’t have complete faith in it. Myself included.
In my family’s case, things are even more complicated. I say that because we’re coming from a country – Romania – where English is not the native language. Apart from our country, the Romanian language is not spoken anywhere else unless you meet Romanian expats during the travels. And you rarely do.
This makes things even more difficult, because our son finds it harder to interact with others and make friends. It’s true that kids have their own “kid language” but it’s still hard…
We are trying to find ways to fix this and we’re trying to teach him English… but it’s going extremely slow, as one would expect when unskilled teachers (us) meet a 4 years-old boy (him).
It also depends a lot on the type of kids you have. Our son is extremely shy, emotive and clingy. Once he truly gets to know a person, he’s extremely fun to be around, friendly and talkative… but getting there usually takes time, time that kids not speaking his language don’t have. If your kids are extroverts and have no problem meeting new people and being around strangers, it will all be a lot easier.
But, in the end, no matter how they are, they can still get to love travel and the experience itself and you can adapt and make sure that everything goes right. It takes a bit of work as well and it takes away some of the travel time, but it’s best than not having any at all.
But there’s one extremely important thing to have in mind at the end of the day:
Don’t lie to yourself!
I’ve read, over the years, stories from many travelers who went back home, completely worn out by the constant travel lifestyle. Many were saying that it was no longer fun. They could no longer do it. It wasn’t their thing anymore, and accepting that was the most difficult part. But they were starting to live a miserable life in a complete lie…
Traveling the world and exploring all these beautiful places has absolutely no value if it doesn’t make you happy. And when you have a family, you get an extra layer to consider: are these travels making all the family members happy?
This is probably the most important thing to consider. Fortunately, it rarely happens that opinions about traveling the world clash so badly that it just can’t be done. And even if your other half or the children are not as excited about this as you are, it’s still not all lost!
This makes it even more important to be aware if such a problem exists. If your dream of traveling the world and seeing other countries, living there and experiencing local culture is not shared, you really need to sit down, make a plan and see how to tackle this.
I said that you shouldn’t let the other family members trade their happiness for yours. However, you shouldn’t give up what makes you happy just because they don’t have the same feelings! You all need to compromise a bit in order to keep the happiness levels as high as possible.
And this is the right approach, not lying to yourself or the world that everything’s perfect when it’s not. For example, if the dream of traveling the world is not shared, you can accept not to do this full time. Take just a month each year and go wherever you want, while spending the rest at home with your family. See if you can go alone for a while. Make it three months with your family. Talk with the other family members and find a solution to this. There are so many possibilities, actually!
I’ve never met anybody who doesn’t want to travel at all. Many might be reluctant when it comes to leaving everything they’ve built behind and hopping on a plane to Thailand, but hopping in a plane to Thailand for three months then getting back home could be a completely different story!
When everybody’s happy, everything’s better!
So… can you be a digital nomad if you have a family and kids? Yes.
Although it’s not easy, it’s not as difficult as many might consider. If you’re thinking about this – and it’s probably something you’ve been doing for quite a while now – make it happen. Set a date and give it a try. Take a break and give it a try. Stop dreaming and give it a try.
No matter what I say, no matter what other experts say, no matter what friends or family say, no matter what the naysayers tell you, you can never know for sure unless YOU. Give. It. A. Try.
So right now, set the date: 2 or 3 months from now, you’re doing it. And do it!