Rachel Denning didn’t begin her traveling career until the age of 28 and as a mother to four children. Their family adventures began in 2007 with a road trip from the United States all the way to Panama. But it didn’t stop there. They spent a year living in Costa Rica; six months in the Dominican Republic; five months in India; drove from Atlanta, Georgia to Alaska (where baby number five was born); and now are driving from Alaska to Argentina in a veggie-powered truck.
I found out about this amazing family through another world-traveling friend of mine, Talon Windwalker. When I went on their blog, the first thing I read was: “Live. Deliberately. We believe that life should be amazing. If you only do what you think is possible or reasonable, you cut yourself off from what you really want and all that’s left is a compromise.” I knew that I had already fallen for this family and needed to share them with the world.
First…What what what? You are doing what? And with how many kids? Whose idea was that?
We’re currently driving from Alaska to Argentina with our FIVE children. I say it was my idea in the first place, he says it was his, but we’re ‘equally yoked’ on it. This may take us 3 years or 10 years, we’re not sure. So far we’ve been out of the US for one year, and we’re in Guatemala.
What did your family and friends say? Any advice for others out there who may have an untraditional dream, but who do not have a positive support network?
When we started this trip in April 2011, we had already been nomadic for four years, so our family and friends weren’t too surprised, though we did still get some kickback, like I wrote about here on the Attack of the Zombie Dreamslayers: http://www.discovershareinspire.com/2011/08/warding-off-an-attack-of-the-zombie-dream-slayers/ But starting with our first adventure (driving from the U.S. to Costa Rica in 2007), we’ve experienced plenty of kickback, ridicule, nay-saying and ‘I told you so’ with any of our failures. The approach my husband and I take is to share our big plans only with each other, and other ‘like-minded’ individuals. We don’t tell anyone else (family or friends), until our decision is made and plans are in place. This helps to avoid any of the negative, demoralizing conversations that might occur to ‘talk you out of it’. Once the tickets are bought, and you make an announcement, then those who don’t support you just have to deal with it, instead of try to change your mind. This works for us.
What did the kids think at first?
Our kids have been traveling since before they can remember. It is normal for them. In fact, we’ve been staying in a house in Panajachel, Guatemala for three months, and just the other day my six year old son said, “When are we going to leave this house? It’s taking forever to live here.” They are accustomed to being on the move. No idea we present is outside of their reality.
What has been the biggest challenge of life on the road?
I think the biggest challenge of actually ‘being on the road’, as opposed to renting a house abroad, is just balancing life – work, education, cooking, showering, etc. When we rent a place, we have a nice routine, we have reliable internet, we have a place to shower. When we’re on the move, it takes most of our time each day just to handle basic necessities – finding food, cooking, finding a place to shower or do laundry, finding internet. It’s time consuming, so we get less done. Another big challenge, even when we’re renting a house, is getting books! We have used Kindles, which are awesome to travel, but it’s hard to find books to buy or libraries at all in the countries we travel. We really miss that.
You guys are probably pretty overwhelming for some locals, with the truck and the large, diverse family. What is the best way that you have found to connect with locals?
I think children are a natural connection. They always make the local people smile – they want to talk to them, hold them, touch our daughter’s hair (who is African-American). Then since Greg and I both speak Spanish, we start chatting (okay, usually Greg starts chatting) and soon we’re friends.
How have you changed since leaving the US the first time? What changes do you see in your husband?
I think I’m a totally different person than I used to be before leaving the U.S. Although I didn’t know it then, I had prejudices and misconceptions about other cultures. I was small-minded, and I had a lot of stress – stress about things that didn’t matter. I’ve gained a greater perspective about what’s important. I also discovered that happiness isn’t dependent upon location or financial standing, but is something that comes from within, and can occur anytime, if you let it. My husband has always been amazing. He’s traveled more than I have, and has an amazing perspective on challenges. But I’ve also seen his mind expand to new realities – such as discovering that Mexico City wasn’t as ‘dangerous’ and terrible as he had been told; or that yoga isn’t all that bad after all.
I’m sure you get this question all the time, but how do you manage the kids’ education?
We follow a methodology that focuses the early years on hands-on,experiential learning, character development, instilling work ethic, and creating a love of learning. This is easily done while on the road, because we have so many incredible experiences, opportunities for growth and development, and chances to serve. Add to that our daily reading from classic books, and their educational foundation is being laid. As the children get a little older and into more of a ‘scholar’ phase, our travel style will change so they’ll have more time to focus on a more intense study. Perhaps we’ll do that in Europe or Asia.
How do you cope on the bad days, when the truck breaks down, the kids are whining, etc…
I used to spend my time ‘going crazy’, but now I’ve realized that it does nobody any good, most of all myself. Now I recognize it as an opportunity to improve myself, and that I have the power to set the mood for the rest of the family. I do what I can to make the best of it – whether it means reading stories, singing songs or playing made up games. Learning to cope well with circumstances beyond our control is one of the best life lessons we can learn.
Can you see yourself ever moving back to the US and planting roots once again?
I think that we will ‘plant roots’ sometime, and have a home base… but it won’t be in the U.S. Probably a country in Latin America, for starters. Maybe more than one around the world. We just don’t connect to the rules, regulations and consumerism of American culture anymore. And we find our quality of life to be so much better abroad.
Share a little about your time in Costa Rica and in Panama. In what ways do you prefer having a set residence, and in what ways do you prefer being on the open road?
We enjoy having a ‘residence’ -a place to stay and keep our stuff and have a routine. We loved living in Costa Rica, but mostly we loved having a vehicle so that we could explore the country (and down into Panama). We enjoy change and having new experiences. Being ‘on the road’ for now gives us the opportunity to change our residence as often as we’d like – but we’re doing it slowly, because we do enjoy the ‘other side of the coin’. We’ve been in Guatemala for three months already, and may be here quite a while longer. But when we’re ready for a change again, we have the means to do it.
How do you support your family financially while traveling?
We’ve tried lots of different things – investing in real estate (before the crash); savings; oversees job. Currently we’re using savings while we build our online, location independent businesses. I wrote more about it here: http://www.discovershareinspire.com/2012/03/9-ways-we-earn-money-to-fund-our-travel-lifestyle/
What advice do you have for parents who want to travel, but feel that they can’t because the kids are too young, would miss their friends or school, or would otherwise be ‘traumatized’ by leaving familiarity behind to live abroad?
Kids are quite resilient, and we find that it’s usually the parents that have a harder time than the kids with leaving the ‘familiar’ behind. Kids will be fascinated by their new surroundings and new challenges. If they ‘struggle’, it’s probably because they sense stress. We started traveling when our kids were 4, 3, 18 mos and 3 mos old. People said, “They won’t remember it,” and they’re right – they don’t remember a lot of it. But we are always surprised at what they do remember – at the flash back memories they’ll share with us. They may not even remember what country it is, but they remember certain experiences. More importantly, it helps to form who they are – their character and world view. Our kids aren’t afraid to talk to strangers and make new friends, try new foods, or new things and go new places, because of how they’ve been raised. They speak two languages, and they’re learning more. They know about the diversity of cultures because of personal experience. All of this is more important than whether or not they ‘remember’ it. If you want to travel with young kids, don’t let that stop you.
As for missing friends – our kids have never been without friends. They make friends wherever we go – locals, other expat families, adults, children, teenagers – they always have friends, and now they have friends all over the world.
And school – there are soooo many options available now days. Online classes and courses, tutors, lessons, curriculum. The choices are endless, and continue to expand and improve. More importantly, you kids will be learning more from hands-on experiences than they could ever learn in a room with four walls.
Familiarity can be had anywhere – even in new and ‘strange’ places. My kids can make themselves at home nearly anywhere they go. I think that comes from having a stable and ‘familiar’ family life – not from staying in one location. There are plenty of people who never go anywhere their entire lives, but their children are still traumatized by instability. Stability isn’t location dependent; it’s parent dependent.
Share a little more about your philosophy about living deliberately. It seems so simple and straightforward! Why do you feel that most people accept mediocrity in their lives? What are some simple steps that they can take to begin living more deliberately?
Thoreau said that “most people live lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with their song still in them.” I think it’s because they belong to the ‘unreflecting herd’. Most people never take the time to analyze their lives – why they are where they are, and why they do what they do, and – most importantly – if it’s what they really want.
If you want to begin living a more deliberate, fulfilling life, start by asking yourself some hard questions – such as, What if my whole life is wrong? What if everything I know is wrong? If I was starting over, with no memory of my previous life, what kind of lifestyle would I create for myself? Where would I live? What would I do? Who would I spend my time with?
Another thing you can do is to begin spending more time with people who think big and inspire you to do and be more. Start ‘masterminding’. (We’re actually beginning a bi-monthly mastermind group, where we’ll share great ideas and inspire each other in the pursuit of our dreams.)