How we educated our kids as a full-time traveling family (and how much it cost!)
Over the course of a year and a half, myself, my wife, Alice Kabwe, and my two young kids lived out of our suitcases while traveling to South Africa, Kenya, Zambia, Spain, the USA, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. It was not always easy, but it was such an amazing time of growth and has given us memories that our family will share forever.
As we set off on these travels, one of our biggest desires was for our kids to experience different cultures and interact with people from different backgrounds, languages, and lifestyles. This, in and of itself, is a huge education for kids and we have seen the impact in how our kids interact with others.
We made it a point to have weekend adventures, exploring new places and meeting new people. Since I was working remotely full-time and Alice was working part-time, there were periods when we needed them in school so we could work during the week. As Alice’s work ebbed and flowed, there were also periods when she was more available to spend time with them and we could explore other forms of learning.
The ways that our kids learned as we traveled are pretty representative of the different options that families would have if they also want to travel for longer periods with their kids. Here are the details of what we did:
A local private school in South Africa: ~$320 per child per month
My wife was savvy enough to get online and search for a Reggio Emilia school in Cape Town because of the child-centric approach that they take. The school we found was amazing! Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays they met at the small schoolhouse in town, Tuesdays we dropped them at a park at the base of Table Mountain where they would hike and learn about nature, and each Friday would be a different location where they would learn about their environment, whether a beach, a museum or a hiking trail. We also became friends with many of the other local families at the school, hosting dinners and park meetups. This is still my oldest son’s favorite school. Since the school itself was small and struggling to get numbers, they were happy to take us in for just a few months. We’ve found a lot of alternative local schools in different parts of the world are in the same position and willing to take on kids for a few months.
Tutoring in Zambia: ~$400 per month per child
For two months, our oldest child met a tutor at a local farm just outside the capital city, Lusaka, who would teach them, play with them, and take them horseback riding, which the kids loved. Since Zambia was a previous home of ours, we found the tutor through some friends, but you can also find them on Facebook groups. Our youngest went to a small pre-school hosted at the same farm (also about ~$400 per month per child). I would often drop them at the farm and then go set up for the morning at a lovely local coffee shop.
Worldschooling in Spain: Just the price of excursions
For about a month in the south of Spain, our kids were not in school and allowed to play most days. On the weekends, we took the kids to small pueblos, nature reserves, and historic sites. Their “education” was walking around and ordering food from people of different cultures. It was climbing the walls of the Alhambra palace to learn about the Moors who came from North Africa to conquer the Iberian Peninsula. It was visiting old churches and navigating the railway. Some families combine worldschooling with supplemental math or reading lessons, but in our case, we were happy with where our kids were in these areas, and we would weave these topics into our excursions (e.g. “What does that sign say?” “How much change did we get?”) so we did not.
Unschooling in the U.S.: No cost
While in California for a month and a half over the holidays and again for one month later in the year, we “Unschooled” our kids. Unschooling is a movement that holds the view that through a child’s natural interest, they will learn all they need to, often through taking on projects or experiences. During this time, our kids got really into skateboarding. At the local skate park, they worked on overcoming their fears, building confidence, and just having fun. They were also into Pokemon, so we leaned into the card game where they worked on their numbers, math, reading and strategic thinking. We also leaned on family to watch the kids while we worked.
School for traveling families in the Dominican Republic: ~$620 per month per child
Wanting to build relationships with others living the same lifestyle, we traveled to the Dominican Republic to a school built and designed for traveling families. There we met and lived alongside families who had all come with a mindset of building community. I called it “summer camp for families!” The kids attended a child-centric school with six-week terms, each one focused on a different United Nation Sustainable Development Goal. The weekends were spent at the most beautiful beaches, eating local food and swimming in the turquoise waves. In addition to learning at the school, the kids learned to navigate the world. For example, when our youngest asked to buy an ice cream from a local vendor that didn’t speak English, we gave him the cash and told him to go buy it. Our kids also made great friends with other traveling kids and have learned that they can maintain long-distance friendships. We are planning to meet four of the families we met there in Southeast Asia next year.
While I’m painting a pretty picture here, it wasn’t all smooth. Dealing with constant logistical headaches was stressful and each time we moved it felt like any systems my wife and I had just built were blown apart. After a year and a half, my wife and I were tired and ready to set up a home base! We also dealt with a bullying issue in the Dominican Republic, and knowing that the situation was temporary, it was easier to walk away than to dig into the issue.
From a money perspective, since we were not paying rent on an apartment “back home”, the experience was about the same cost as our stationary life with kids in private school. We actually probably saved money through this experience, as we took advantage of staying with family and house-sitting opportunities at times.
Regardless of the challenges, the experience was amazing, and we would definitely do it again. It’s an experience that my wife and I will remember forever. The bond between our two kids was definitely strengthened and they continue to be each other’s best friend, superhero sidekick, and the most mischievous duo!! And even if their memory of the experience blurs as they grow, the lessons and effects it had on them will remain.