How we took our family of six around the world for a year

How we took our family of six around the world for a year

Here's how to travel around the world with a family – in a year! For cheap! What's stopping you from living your traveling dreams?

In 2013, our family of six embarked on an epic journey.

For one year, we lived nomadically, wandering from continent to continent, country to country, exploring, adventuring, learning, seeking, bonding, delighting and relishing in the daily discoveries that travel can bring. It was a phenomenal year, one that we dreamed of and prepared for long in advance.

When we speak with people about our travels now that we’ve we returned home, they usually ask three things:

  1. How many countries did you go to? (Answer – 30)
  2. Which one was your favorite? (Answer—this is impossible, it depends on which day you ask us)
  3. HOW on earth did you do it?

(The 4th question would probably be “WHY on earth did you do it?” which is a post in and of itself, but this might help to answer that a little.)

where we went map

There is no short and simple answer to how we were able to traverse the globe, for one year, and visit 30 countries with four children aged 8 and under.

This post is simply an overview, an introduction to how we did it. Each one of these points could be its own blog post or better yet, a book chapter, and maybe it will be one day.

But I’m going to attempt to break it down anyways, to show how a mostly normal family (I’ll confess, we’re quirky), without an inheritance from a rich aunt, without winning the lottery, without having jobs that pay extravagantly, was able to do something so unbelievable.

We’re not really special. We just really wanted it.

And I’m not naïve enough to believe the childhood cliché that we can all do or be absolutely anything we want. Circumstances in our individual lives do have an impact on how our lives play out. I totally get that, in so many ways, we have been wildly blessed.

But life is also a series of choices, and the best part is that we get to direct our path, set our own course, and live according to the dreams and passions that have been put inside of us.

ask god hand shovel

Image from The Art of Simple (and if you like this post, you would probably love her book, Notes From a Blue Bike, and the fact that their family is planning an adventure likes ours).

This was our dream and this is how we made it happen.

1. We had no debt.

This is the first prerequisite. Getting out of debt early on in our marriage (and then staying out of debt) was the first key to having freedom for anything else.

2. We got rid of ALL our expenses at home.

Our big idea was that if we could eliminate all expenses back home, we would essentially spend the year living on our savings and whatever we could earn while traveling. If we could travel and live inexpensively enough, then theoretically we could keep going so long as we were bringing in an income.

So we gave up our house. Sold our car. Had multiple garage sales to help fund our trip gear purchases. Closed everything down except for necessary bank accounts and life insurance, and kept our remaining stuff stored in the garage we continued to rent cheaply because it housed the office for our music school.

3. We saved up. Big time.

Our primary savings goals before we went were 1) to have all our plane ticket money saved (though not all flights bought ahead of time), 2) to pay for my husband’s Antarctica trip, 3) to buy all of our trip gear (high quality backpacks, suitable clothing and shoes, electronics for work and homeschool on the road, etc.) and 4) to save up enough to pay for our first two months of travel expenses, just as a precaution.

Clearly, these kinds of savings take years. We made our firm “yes, we’re absolutely doing this” decision to go only 14 months before our first flight lifted off (though we had been contemplating a year abroad for a couple years before that), so we didn’t save up that much money in such a short period of time. We had been saving (though we didn’t know what for) a long time before this decision was made.

In Kunming, China, our kids sit on all our worldly possessions, for one year, for six people.
In Kunming, China, our kids sit on all our worldly possessions, for one year, for six people.

Which leads me to #4…

4. To save up, we intentionally lived beneath our means for a long time.

For about 7 years, ever since we had paid off my university debt and gotten onto steadier financial footing, we had lived as frugal zealots.

Even as my husband’s career gradually took off and he began to make a more livable income than the rice-and-beans budget we lived on in our early, meager years, we barely increased our standard of living. We weren’t sure if we were saving for a house down payment, for some kind of financial investment, or something else altogether. We just knew that saving made sense and we didn’t see the need to buy more or nicer stuff than what we had.

In retrospect, those years of making wise, conscientious choices with our slowly growing income were a determining factor (perhaps one of THE biggest factors) in making this dream a reality in a relatively short period of time.

5. We became entrepreneurs.

If living beneath our means was the spark that lit the fire with our already mounting savings, this was the slow-burning wood that truly fueled the fire and sustained our trip.

Being an entrepreneur is no easy or small thing. It is a lifestyle. It is thrilling and grinding and toiling and sweating and risking and wrestling and dreaming and working with all of your might until you can’t work anymore. We would recommend it, and the freedom that it brings, to anyone, but we cannot advise it lightly.

It has been one of the most rewarding decisions of our lives, but there is a great cost involved.

The tenacity it takes to not only dream big dreams, but work long and hard enough to see those dreams through to fruition, hour after hour, day after day, week after exhausting week, is what brings success in business. Not secrets of online success or fancy strategies or get-rich quick schemes. Just hard work, plain and simple.

It’s so important to note that nothing in life is guaranteed. You never know if your ideas will succeed or completely flop, regardless of how tirelessly you work. We have had numerous failures ourselves (dismal ones at times), as well as successes. But we’ve come to see that with great risk comes even great reward, and so we embrace both the failures and the success as best we can.

Caden's cannonball attempt in Jaipur, India didn't go quite as he hoped. Same goes for business.
Caden’s cannonball attempt in Jaipur, India didn’t go quite as he hoped. Same goes for business.

6. We worked our tails off.

Did I just cover this clearly enough? We didn’t stick up a website, launch a music school, put in a month or two of good efforts, and sit back to watch our bank accounts fill up, while we packed our bags and researched the best time of day to view the Taj Mahal.

We worked harder and longer than almost anyone we know, for more than 5 years, so that we could get to a relatively stable place of steady income from our businesses. I’m just talking moderate, steady, full-time job income. Nothing earth shattering, but enough to live on and sock away in savings while continuing our modest lifestyle.

7. And then, we worked some more.

When we got there, we didn’t stop. We continued to work and tweak and refine and improve our businesses. We had earned ourselves enough of a buffer to not physically kill ourselves as we did in those early, hard years, but still.

To this day, even though our businesses are becoming more mature and established, when things need to be done, when we launch a new project or product, when we dream a new dream… we go straight back to the grind and do whatever it takes.

Here's how to travel around the world with a family – in a year! For cheap! What's stopping you from living your traveling dreams?

8. We worked while we traveled.

This is the clincher. If we could live debt free, on a modest income, save like Scrooge, and keep toiling away, that got us close, but not all the way.

Achieving location independence while continuing to run and work at our businesses is how we actually freed ourselves up to take off for 54 weeks at once (and for those interested in this concept, I highly recommend reading the 4 Hour Work Week– while we don’t agree with 100% of what he says, there is so much good stuff in there to learn and glean from).

(One other thing that’s important to note is that we could have done this trip only on our savings and music school income. Running a web business is not necessarily a prerequisite. We would have burned up all our savings, and needed to cut our expenses (see point #9 below…), but it would have been feasible.)

Much as we would have loved to stop working for a year (and many families that travel for an extended period of time do find ways to do this and I could explore it in another post), it really wasn’t a possibility for us.

We cut back on some of our day-to-day tasks, partly due to the logistical necessity of different time zones, being 30,000 feet in the air with no means of communication, spending time in developing countries or regions that lacked infrastructure or practicalities like power that didn’t go out twice a day. We also hired more team members, delegated and increased their responsibilities, and a couple times we took off days or weeks where we could be truly offline and on “vacation”.

But we never stopped running our businesses from afar. When people would refer to our travels as a one-year holiday, we laughed. Hard. That couldn’t have been further from the truth.

It also needs to be stated that we walked into this year with our eyes wide open to the possibility that our businesses could fall apart in the process. We carefully, painstakingly, evaluated the potential risks of this trip, what it could cost us financially (every bit of savings we had, failed businesses, having to start over completely). We counted the potential costs and risks against the potential gain and benefit, and we found the risk to be worthwhile, but that didn’t diminish the fact that those risks were a very real possibility.

Ahhh... Starbucks. A little taste of home, a lot of free Wi-Fi.
Ahhh… Starbucks. A little taste of home, a lot of free Wi-Fi.

We found Wi-Fi everywhere we could (thank you Starbucks and McDonald’s for going global– wait, did I actually just thank McD’s???), I wrote posts on airplanes and trains and scribbled inspired thoughts in journals I kept in my backpack. Ryan had conference calls over sketchy internet in Africa and answered emails over breakfast in Turkey. We stayed up late in one-room rental apartments hoping the glow of our laptops didn’t wake our sleeping children. I did podcast interviews in cold hotel rooms in China and noisy coffee shops in Australia, and at one point, Ryan even traveled back home for two weeks to check in on our music school and take care of things that needed to be done.

You can hear me chatting in a recent podcast with Kat of How They Blog a bit about what this looked like for us, the chaos of working while traveling. Or hear me in that noisy coffee shop in Australia, talking with Tsh of The Art of Simple all about our big trip.

9. We got really creative with our work.

We could have done our year cheaper. There was some choice involved.

We wouldn’t have gone to as many countries, and might have skipped out on a few activities (Antarctica for Ryan, our Kenyan safari, etc). We could have stayed put longer and traveled around less within countries with a large landmass which made travel expensive (like China or Argentina or Australia).

But once we were on the road and already doing it, we realized we would rather find some creative ways to earn more money in order to really maximize our trip. We had already come so far and put so much effort in to make it a reality, we didn’t want to regret what we didn’t do. We found a way to make it happen.

So we poured ourselves into a new business venture that had shown itself successful, joined together with a new partner, and put on two huge events during our year abroad. That business is called Ultimate Bundles, where we create and sell these enormous, awesomely helpful eBook bundles, with a sky-high value and a really low price, together with 100+ other bloggers.

Spending time with school kids in Kampala, Uganda, a few weeks before our big sale launched.
Hanging out in Kampala, Uganda, a few weeks before our big sale launched.

Was this hard to pull off while traveling, with four young children, even in developing countries? (Our 2nd sale launched the day after we said good-bye to 5 weeks in eastern Africa– internet was a beast as we were frantically preparing for the sale).

You bet it was. But it allowed us to continue to do what we couldn’t have done otherwise, so we made the sacrifice and (you guessed it) worked really hard to make it happen.

10. We did our best to anticipate our monthly expenses in different locations, to ensure that our income could match up with our projected expenses.

This is a toughie, I’ll confess. We looked up the cost of living in countries we were thinking of visiting. We researched costs of travel, read umpteen books and websites and travel forums, and made some preliminary guesstimate budgets based on what we found.

It’s difficult to predict all your expenses, especially when your trip spans a year and so many different countries. I simply ran out of time to do all of the research I wanted to do. If you think of how much time and effort it takes to plan a 2 week road trip in your own country, you can imagine how much time it takes to plan 54 weeks of travel, in 30 countries you’ve never been to, in different languages and currencies, on a tight budget, while preparing your businesses for your departure and packing up your home.

Hindsight is 20/20. Many costs exceeded what we had anticipated and budgeted for, and that was sometimes hard to deal with. We learned a LOT and I’ll have to eventually write how, if I were doing this all over again, I would predict travel costs and prepare a preliminary budget much more accurately. I think it can be done and I’ve learned some of the tools for doing it (experience is a great teacher, huh?).

An adorable example of how our family tends to march to the beat of our own drummer... Abigail rocks out to her iPod in a Japanese commuter train.
An adorable example of how our family tends to march to the beat of our own drummer… Abigail rocks out to her iPod in a Japanese commuter train.

So that’s how we did it. How we achieved our dream of trekking around the globe with our kids.

There are a few things I want you to walk away with (and some things I hope you don’t take away).

1. Don’t compare yourself to other people. There’s always someone more successful or faster at achieving a goal than you are. We see people do far better in business than we do and know that what we’ve done is still small peanuts. For some people, the path is longer, it looks different.

2. Some times things just work (and others don’t), and we never know quite how something will go until we try it. We’ve had a lot of flops, for sure and we just count those attempts as lessons learned, pick ourselves up and try again.

3. We don’t consider ourselves particularly special or smart. There are an awful lot of better business people out there. Now, stubborn, persistent, dogged, driven… sure, you could apply those terms to us. But don’t put us on a pedestal. We didn’t do anything beyond the reach of anyone else willing to hustle and run hard after their dreams.

4. The way we did this is NOT meant to be exemplary for anyone else. This shouldn’t read like a how-to (beyond some of the basics, like not having debt and saving up). This is really just the way that we did it, what worked for our family. There are a million different ways to work towards being location independent, traveling or living overseas with your family, being able to tent-make while serving or doing missions work, etc. A million ways.

One last thing to mention is that this is only half of the story. We had to make and save the money to go, yes. But on the flip side, we had to find ways to live and travel in a manner that was affordable and sustainable for such a long trip.

That’s part two. It’s coming, I promise. There are so many ways to travel smart and keep your expenses low, even as a large family.

I’m sure that this alone has sparked a lot of thought and questions. I cannot guarantee that I will be able to answer every question or comment, but I will do my best.

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  1. Would LOVE to ready a how-to if you ever have the time to write one! It’s our little dream to do a scaled down version of this when the kids are older.

    1. Well, I’ll be starting to write about our trip and how we did it, our preparations, etc. more in the upcoming months. Most of it will probably be on our family travel blog,, which we began before we left for our trip, but I had to abandon during the trip because it was all just a little too much for me. Now that this bundle is ending and we are finally settled into our new home since returning to Canada, I will be getting back to that blog and talking travel. Yay! But also, I am working on a full length book, which I hope to get on shelves in the next 1.5 to 2 years. 🙂

  2. We are currently living abroad (since last summer) and it is quite different than living at home, for sure. We both work remotely for our companies, and I have a side business that I have had for over 9 years ( It takes a lot of hard work, living below your means like you said, and dedication.
    We are so lucky that we were able to keep our same jobs. But sometimes it is frustrating living in a Third World Country where internet isn’t as reliable as you’d like, and we don’t speak the language well enough to communicate, and our cell phone doesn’t have reception at our rental home. It sometimes makes me feel isolated.
    But if we can do it, I think anyone can do it. Like you said, it takes a LOT of work and perseverance. If you are not willing to do that, then it will be impossible.

    Dream big. 🙂

    1. I can hear you on the isolation part. That was definitely one of the bigger struggles we faced during our travels. I think it takes a lot of guts to live abroad for any longer period of time, but good for you to make it happen!!! 🙂

  3. I love this post, Steph–LOVE it. And I love your sweet family. Your are amazing, inspiring and such a blessing. You did it!!!! <3

  4. I so admire your family for traveling and exploring other countries and cultures with your children while they are young. My husband, who is 35, recently had to have a cancerous tumor removed, and our life is forever changed. He is doing well and we are hopeful, but it is a good reminder to me that while saving for retirement and long term goals is good, we are not guaranteed tomorrow, and to cherish our time with each other and the children the Lord has blessed us with. May God continue to bless your family and your businesses.

    1. Oh Katie, I am so, so sorry. I very much understand and it is a hard road you’re walking. At 27 (almost 7 years ago now), my husband had a cancerous tumor removed as well, and went through 6 months of chemo and another year of recovery. It was a challenging season of our lives, to say the least. But I think that as you said, it reminds us that we are not guaranteed tomorrow. We wanted to live life fully in the here and now, not the someday. Doing this trip now, while we could, was a very conscious choice for us, which I know stemmed partly out of walking through cancer. Praying for your family and continued health and healing for your husband, and strength for you!

  5. I love this post. It is so realistic and you lay it all out so well. It is very inspiring that with some wisdom and lots of hard work you can achieve some of those dreams you have. I am often discouraged b/c my blog is growing so slowly but I am also homeschooling, caring for an aging mother in law, committed to a gluten free whole foods diet for my family. All of those things take much time and I have to make choices daily about where to put my time. Thanks for the takeaways at the end.

    1. And that’s exactly why I added those takeaways. Is this possible? Yes! But will it happen for everyone at the same speed, in the same way? Absolutely not. We all have different circumstances, unique things on our plate, and it makes so much sense that with the things you mentioned, you would have to move a bit more slowly with your blog. Sounds like you’re being wise, actually. 🙂

  6. I have been so excited to hear all about your trip, and I’m so glad you were able to share a little! I really appreciate your tips & encouragement to get out of debt and work hard. You all are such an inspiration!

    1. I’m glad it was an encouragement! I promise I will share more as time goes on. It’s taken us quite a while to get home, get a little settled after buying and moving into a new home in a new city, plus run this bundle. Phew! 🙂

      But more and more, I will begin to write about the trip, and also what we’ve learned, how we’ve changed, etc.

  7. Love this!! Thank you for sharing! Jon and I have a dream to travel the Medittereanean (sp? blah) one day for 2 or 3 months. Not sure if that will ever happen, but we talk about it often.

    Also, you guys were in Kampala!! My parents go there every year as they work with a few local churches there. I also know they work with an orpanage… I am wondering if it is the same one you guys went to!! WOW!

    1. Oh, you should!!! That was really one of our favorite regions that we visited. We spent a looong time in the Mediterranean, with 5 weeks in southern Spain, 1 week southern France, 2 weeks in Italy, 2 weeks in Greece, 4 weeks in Turkey, then 4 weeks in Israel, plus a two-day jaunt to Morocco. Seriously, the whole area is incredible. I hope you can do it!

      And yes, we were in Kampala for just one week. We spent some time at Makere Full Gospel Church, as we have a connection there with a project that we sponsor. It was wonderful. 🙂

  8. This is so inspiring, Stephanie! My husband is a college professor, and I work mostly online. We are very close to being debt free, and once we are we’d like to save up for a short stint abroad (2 months) since he has summers free. We are planning to make Italy (haven’t decided where specifically) our home base and do shorter trips from there. I’d love to hear about any other resources you have for longer trips abroad! Are you writing an ebook or book on the topic? Thanks so much for sharing this incredible story!

    1. Two months using Italy as a base would be amazing. I love that idea! That’s sort of what we did with a small town in southern Spain last summer and it worked really well. 🙂 I am working on a traditionally published book about our trip/this topic, but it won’t be out in stores for a long time, yet. But, I do intend to start blogging about it much more. Not necessarily on KOTH, but probably more on another blog that my husband and I have at I haven’t been updating it for a long time because I got overwhelmed during our trip and had to give it up, but as of the next week or two, I’m beginning to get back to it, so if you subscribe there, you’ll catch more of what I write on this topic.

  9. Wow! I am so inspired when I learn about people who have a passion for something and accomplish it. My family is working hard now to attain our passion and this was wonderful to read. One way to be successful is to surround yourself with successful people. Clearly, you and yours are a success, and have been many times. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to more adventures!
    Janine @my lamp is full

  10. Wow! Sooooo happy that you got to live your dream and still it is only the beginning. You worked very hard to do it but worth it! We will always remember your visit to Gibraltar and our time together was short but a blessing. So proud of your family and an inspiration to many. Love reading all that you have done so keep them coming!!! Love to all from the Byrne Family 🙂

    1. Oh, we LOVED our time in Gibraltar and with your family. So grateful to you and the church for taking us nomads in temporarily and loving on us. We’ll always remember our day exploring “the Rock” and those darn monkeys. 😉 Love you all!

  11. Amazing! Thank you so much for sharing your story! I love that you took your small children with you. What a gift to them! Looking forward to reading more about your adventure.

  12. LOVED reading this post! I’m looking forward to reading the next. Actually, I hope that there are lots more posts to come. 🙂 I haven’t been out of country for more than 2 weeks at a time (and that was just me before kids) but I’m hopeful that someday we can take a family trip. I think if would be interesting to move to Europe for a couple of years and do lots of traveling from a base location. Even if that doesn’t happen an extended trip would be awesome. We are working on getting our house paid off and extra sources of income started and then we can start saving!

    1. I really love the idea of moving to Europe and using it as a base. You can really explore Europe (of course) but also the Middle East and Northern Africa from there quite easily. 🙂 Sounds like you’re making progress towards it– yay!

  13. Ok, so hard work is the name of the game? Got it. (: My husband is going to be a teacher, so on some years we’d like to spend 1 or 2 months in the summer picking a home base and exploring a new part of the world. We’d like to do Normandy, PEI, and various areas in the UK, for starters. First step is to pay off our student loans, as you said!

    Would you consider writing a post/book chapter on reentry? How your year abroad changed you as a family, if you’re doing life a little differently now, etc? That fascinates me. My family lived in Costa Rica and Chile for two years when I was in high school, and I’m still mulling over everything 10 years later.

    1. Yup, I think you’ve got it. And if it really is the name of the game, you’ll be just fine. 🙂 Those goals sound great– we really want to go to PEI and tour around the UK as well!

      And I can’t promise anything on reentry yet, as quite honestly, I’m still really reeling from it myself right now. it has totally affected us, in so many ways, and I think it will take a long time to really understand it all. It actually doesn’t surprise me that you’re still affected by what you did 10 years ago! We lived in Japan for a year about 10 years ago, and that still impacts me, too. But I think that’s part of the beauty of these international experiences… maybe we’re not supposed to ever really figure it out, you know? Maybe it’s ok that we continue to dwell on them and be impacted by them. But eventually, I’m sure I’ll write about it. I just need to sort it out more first. 🙂

  14. I love your post, experience and what you are doing. Can you share please what kind of internet business you created how did you started it, and everything about it… I am very interested, I am a single mom, and of course would love to be able to take more care of them. Congratulation for your successes .

  15. Stephanie, when I first heard of your trip on the Inspired to Action podcast, I thought it was super duper cool! It literally sounds like a dream for only the rich and famous! Thanks for sharing so openly that it is something that is doable for anyone who is willing to work hard and make sacrifices.

    My husband and I want to travel with our children more, and you’ve definitely given us hope that it can be done. Thanks.

    Btw, did you homeschool throughout the trip? How did you manage to do it? Btw, can you give any tips on homeschooling and managing a business. I’d love that!

  16. Wait, you went all the way to Australia and didn’t cross the ditch! Well, I’m offended on behalf of all Kiwis. Joking…
    My husband’s family is originally from the South of France, a little village at the base of the Pyrenees, so small you have to magnify the map to full to even see it. My dream is to be able to take my daughter there and live so that she can experience where her great, great grandfather came from. We are currently half way through a payment plan to get rid of our debt, so the dream is getting a bit closer to being plans and goals.

  17. terrifiic!!!! just lv this, and all of It! whew super inspiring!!! if i go back in time to your age maybe i couldn’t imagine myself & my husband do something like this with the kind of work we have. now that am retired at 58 and dreaming of travelling, i wonder what kindava job i can get to finance travel like this. thanx muchO! one day i hope to see U in the philippines, i will be happy to tour you around my province & the neighboring areas that might interest U! keep moving, keep posting & writing, cz i will keep reading & feel like i am traveling too with your stories! GBU

  18. I’m so excited your family got the opportunity to take this trip! What an amazing experience. Our family is working towards similar world-seeing goals right now. I would *love* to hear what exactly you packed for everyone…what your kids’ wardrobes looked like, your own, how you packed it, what “extras” you brought, etc. I love that your whole family traveled so lightly.

  19. Loved reading this! But you ARE totally writing a book about this, right? 🙂 If you ever do, I’ll spread the word about it on my blog! Thank you for being such an inspiration! While I’m not keen on traveling the world with my kids the same way, I am really looking forward to traveling with them in general. We’re in the ‘building the business’ stage in our lives, so it may take a few years for us to have enough savings to travel more, not just in U.S. 🙂

  20. I?m so glad that I found this article. My daughter choose this way of life together with her husband, and to be honest I was quite disappointed with their decision to leave Canada and live so far away. They are currently travelling through Southeast Asia and it seemed to be more like fun, but now I see that it’s also about hard work and dealing with various problems which we don?t know, such as unreliable internet connection. My daughter is a web designer so I thought nothing will change for her no matter where she is, but now I think it will be a great ?school of life? for them. Thank you for making their path more understandable.

  21. How very awe-inspiring! And what great school lessons must have come accompanied those cultural class trips just outside their traveling home! Look forward to part 2 as although we cannot all travel around the world, we could all use tips for traveling more affordably 🙂
    Many blessings,

  22. Sigh. That was beautiful. I’m almost in tears! 🙂 Four years ago my husband and I got rid of 99% of everything we owned (we kept some clothes 😉 and moved over to Far East Russia with two kids under two. Most people thought we were insane (including the Russians!), but all the craziness is worth all the lessons learned in trusting God and learning to love in ways you never thought you’d have to. 😉 We would love to travel again, but maybe not with such tiny children this time… Thanks for sharing, I can’t wait to read more! 🙂

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