How to make full-time life on the road compatible for your family.
BY MARK WILCOX
Standing on a paddleboard off the Baja Peninsula with his two young sons at his feet, a huge shadow passed beneath Steven Nascimento’s board. Shark. Roughly 25 feet of solid muscle, its fin broke the surface of Bahía Concepción’s emerald waters just near the board. The experience should have been terrifying, especially with two boys under 10. But the behemoth had more in common with the Big Friendly Giant than Jaws. It was a whale shark, known for being a gentle giant that feeds almost entirely on plankton.
Nascimento’s wife, Alexis, took her turn on the board, paddling out to the tranquil shark. It swam right underneath her when she arrived. “Hands down, the coolest experience ever!” she wrote in a blog post at the time.
That night, the beach offered another surprise to the family of four. The bay glowed bright blue with the bioluminescence of the creatures the whale shark had been feeding on. “It literally looks like something out of Avatar,” Alexis wrote. “Every time you kick or splash the water, the world around you lights up bright!”
These are atypical family experiences fueled by an atypical way of life. Living on a beach in Baja, Mexico, with your whole family may sound like paradise (and it is) but the experience has its price of admission.
Sell, sell, sell!
Steven describes the Nascimentos as a traditional family. He worked public affairs and was on the city council in Bridgeport, California, and served on a hospital board. Alexis handled digital marketing for a local winery. The couple with two kids had grown up in Bridgeport and were still close to their families there.
“We weren’t the typical ‘Let’s-get-rid-of-it-and- hit-the-road’ kind of people,” Steven said.
Still, encroaching demands weighed them down. They found it more difficult to get out and do the things they loved, especially working around school schedules. That’s when they bought a passenger van that Steven would convert into a campervan. After a monthslong process and a few trial runs, their new life came together.
The Nascimentos pulled their kids from school and sold their house. Alexis quit her job. Steven arranged to work remotely from the road. They sold their extra vehicle. The couple had modest investment income and set aside most of the money from their home as untouchable savings.
They earmarked $50,000 for ongoing travel expenses and said they’d revisit their income and lifestyle if they traveled their way to $10,000.
“We took the van down to Baja and never looked back,” Steven said. Within a few months, he’d quit his job and the family lived exclusively off their travel nest egg. It ended up lasting six months longer than the year they’d predicted.
“You’re not buying anything because you’re getting rid of everything,” Steven said. And the fun didn’t stop when the money ran out. Alexis’s former employer reached out to offer part-time work and she also picked up freelance writing while Steven homeschooled the boys.
Currently, Steven works as a camp host at a California campground for a free parking spot while they tool up a new Airstream/truck combo. It’s the first major purchase they’ve made in months, but one that offers the boys better sleeping spaces.
“It’s not expensive to live this way,” Steven said. But it does take know-how, and not everyone travels the same way.
While the Nascimentos are full-time campers and over-the- road travelers, others are looking abroad for more permanent travel plans. International living can be a transcendent experience but crossing borders does tack on a layer of complexity— especially with kids.
Jessica Averett is a Utah-based mother of five and founder of the blog bring-the-kids.com. In one 11-month “gap year” between living in Saudi Arabia and moving back to the United States, the entire family visited 17 countries. Sound expensive? Averett said a year of full-time globetrotting cost them less than living in America for the same amount of time. Including airfare for seven.
The Nascimentos made $40,000 over the last 18 months living the #familyvanlife. With nearly twice as many family members and a lot of flights, the Averetts spent $55,000 over 11 months and hit 15 more countries. At the time, the Averett children were between 4 months and 10 years old.
Those who can afford it might call travel with so many kids stressful. They’re right, but the simplicity in full-time travel can also smooth out relationship bumps. For a year, the seven Averetts lived out of one suitcase, two carry-ons and a couple backpacks. The only luxury was a second suitcase packed with snorkel and dive gear.
Traveling light meant no toys to fight over; nothing to trip on. All that’s left is family relationship-building time. And that happens more cohesively in new places.
“It sounds like full-time family travel is this really scary thing,” Averett said. “But it’s an incredible experience when traveling with kids who have a different perspective.”
One flawed paradigm, according to Averett, is that locals won’t accept family travelers in exotic places. After all, folks have horror stories of traveling in places like Egypt, Southeast Asia and South America. But Averett says locals tend to welcome family travelers and warn them about possible dangers. Strangers even surprised the Averetts, offering to carry their bags or entertain the baby while they dined at a restaurant.
For both the Nascimentos and the Averetts, the hardest challenge was scheduling work and school. With full-time travel, planning the next leg of the journey—or even the next day—can become consuming. Fitting in life’s essentials must be planned: Perhaps one parent attends a meeting while the other takes the kids to a library to get schoolwork done. Sometimes education consists of learning local history and geology while out exploring. Work-life boundaries need to be firmly delineated, but fluid, to keep it all together while building lasting relationships through shared experiences.
All In: Luxury Full-time Family Travel
While the Nascimentos and Averetts make it a point to travel somewhat affordably, others prefer a more luxurious approach. Phillip Lockwood owns a successful Colorado-based web design and digital marketing agency. When the pandemic hit, the Lockwoods plucked their three kids, now ages 9 to 14, from school and hit the road. They sold their Denver home and got dual memberships for a service called Inspirato. Starting at $2,500 per month, the family can stay in luxury homes around the world.
“It was time to leverage our career freedom and get the kids out of the textbook-based learning model,” Lockwood said, adding that the hardest part of full-time family travel for them is not having a home base. “You’re literally having to pack months in advance.”
Scheduling is also a challenge, he said, but schooltime and work hours tend to coincide. The couple finds after- hours time to produce videos for their fledgling YouTube channel, “Always Be Changing.”
Despite the challenges, the Lockwoods’ eyes have been opened through the education of full-time travel. Before this experience, none of the family had ever left North America. Now, they have experienced far-flung cultures and witnessed different perspectives that have left lasting impacts.
“It amazes me how moved I am by some of these trips,” Lockwood said.
While the Nascimentos are still full-time travelers, both the Lockwoods and Averetts have purchased homes in the Mountain West and still travel as much as possible. But the adventures stay with them.
“The takeaways weren’t the places we saw,” Averett said. “They were the experiences we had together.”
Traveling With Kids on the Cheap
Full-time travel can be expensive and at times uncomfortable. But Jessica Averett, mother of five “energetic and wild kids” who’s traveled with her family to nearly 40 countries, says it can be easier than you realize. Here are some pro tips to turn your family into global explorers.
START WITH CHEAP FLIGHTS
With flexibility and advance planning, you can find flights to exotic places under $100.
“We rarely stay in hotels because they cost us a million dollars and it stinks to be stuck in a room with just beds,” Averett said, adding that tempers flare in tight quarters. Airbnbs can be cheaper while offering more space.
GO FOR THE LONG-TERM
Airbnb and other similar platforms offer discounts for weeklong or monthlong visits. The Averetts targeted $70/night or less, then watched the rates drop as they piled on more time. Long-term stays also cut down on cleaning and administrative fees.
EAT LIKE A LOCAL
Locals don’t eat out every night. Find the small markets, cook your own meals and ask around for great food on the cheap.
Baggage no longer travels free unless you can pack super light. Plan for no more than basics and a few changes of clothes. “Each kid gets a storage cube and all their stuff has to fit in there,” Averett said.
SKIP THE CAR RENTAL
With planning you can find walkable places or take a bus or taxi to your destination. Foreign countries often have cheaper public transport and more-expensive rental cars, especially for family-sized vehicles.
Mark Wilcox is a veteran storyteller from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Most days, he helps business owners tell their stories better online. He and his wife live in northern Utah, where she homeschools their six brilliant children, one of whom published her first novel at age 11.