the work-travel juggling act
Have you ever wondered how families afford to go on lengthy bouts of travel? Yep, so did we. No matter how much adventurous spirit we thought we had, we had to work out how to fund this thing. It takes a fair bit of digging to get a fulsome picture of the many and varied methods that all those wonderfully crazy peeps before us adopt to support their wandering ways. And varied they are! These are not always young backpackers that I still carry a romantic view of; able to work half the night in a local bar or wait tables from dawn to dusk. With kids in tow, gap year and other long term travellers are more likely to turn to these ways of deriving an income: e-commerce, blogging/vlogging (not us… we’re too ill-disciplined and unreliable), teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL/TESEL), share trading, remote IT and other specialist consulting, seasonal farm work (eg. WWOOF) and other random work/volunteering (eg. WorkAway).
Let’s not forget that some families sell many if not all their substantive assets (house, apartment, family car) before they leave to either provide a savings boost, relieve debt, shed the mental and practical burden that comes with possessing lots of stuff or, indeed, all of the above. We decided not to sell our house; we rented it out instead to cover our mortgage. We did though sell our car and most of our furniture. Whilst we’d saved for many years, we knew that snagging some paid work would help maintain a financial safety net and potentially keep our options open to travel for longer than we’d originally budgeted.
a philosophical moment
Also, being a somewhat anxious, uptight kind of personality – with a young family to support – I wanted to keep a hand in the working world and stay ‘match fit’ in my chosen career. At this point, I just want to say here that being married to a particular ‘career’ can be one of the biggest anchors to breaking away from a cyclical work-consume-debt-work lifestyle that makes some of us (including me) thoroughly miserable. A career can quickly morph into our sense of identity, whether we particularly enjoy or feel fulfilled by our work or not. Even after a year of travel, I haven’t yet shaken completely the need to pick up where I left off with my career, mostly out of fear of taking an unknown path at this fork in the road. And no, I still haven’t a real clue what my next work move will be.
I’m truly not a self-help/advice book kind of person – but I can be a flaky hyprocrite – so for more on the interesting topic of careers, and the excessive importance we place on them, I personally recommend reading Minimalism by The Minimalists (why of course!) or just get onto their blog and search under ‘career’.
I worked as a sustainability consultant for much of this year. A few hours here and a few hours there were enjoyable and fit neatly around travel and day-to-day tasks. But when I opted for a 30-hour-a-week contract over three months of the European summer things got a bit crazy and the way we travelled had to change. Fast.
We thought we were already converts to slow travel. Well, when working so many hours (including at set times during the evenings for teleconferencing), we put the brakes on for a whole other level of sloooow travel. Serendipitously, we’d already planned a three-week stay with family in Holland, three one-week housesits in London, Sligo (Ireland) and Geneva, and a 5-week housesit in Zurich; all promising sufficient time, space, wifi and furry company.
On the flip side, our plans included a week-long Ireland road trip with Lisa’s mum and cousin promising an itinerary jam packed with tourist destinations, winding roads and Guiness. We had been especially looking forward to this week, sharing it with loved ones in a country that holds special significance to Lisa and her family. We decided we’d make the best of it and I’d pull out the stops to work around our schedule. But if there was ever a better way of learning my organisational and physical limitations on the road, this week was it.
I’d worked all night before our flight from London to Dublin, requiring a productive powernap at a petrol station on the drive to Waterford with the kids speculating loudly from the backseat whether I was sick or, possibly, dead.
During one afternoon wandering around Dingle, I disappeared into a wifi cafe for a teleconference call. Seemed beautifully straightforward to me. But the cafe ‘muzak’ was coming through the call so I picked up my bag, phone and laptop and transferred to a sunny outdoor seat. Almost immediately the nearby traffic noise forced a hasty retreat further up the hill. The next hour had shades of Monty Python, as I sat on the gravel in a corner of a near-deserted car park squinting into my laptop screen, talking at high volume into my phone as I held it above my head for one extra bar, shuffling out of the path of an occasional car and stressing about battery life.
Later that same day, driving back to Killarney, we found a beachside cafe for my final call of the afternoon. Any muzak? No. Tick. Power socket for my laptop? Tick. Wifi? Tick. Chair to sit on? Tick. Latte? Bonus. Then, four minutes before the call was due to start the waitress told me the cafe was closing. Ok, no worries, I’ll just sit outside. “But you know there’s no mobile signal here?”, she said helpfully. What???!!! Not again. I ran for the car, charging cords trailing behind, past puzzled family members and drove up that narrow Irish road like a madwoman. The instant the phone displayed two bars, I screeched to a stop and ran the meeting roadside trying to ignore the sound of roaring trucks and tractors just inches from my sideview mirror.
These moments were stressful at the time but pretty funny in retrospect and firmly reside in the ‘first-world-problem’ basket. More interesting was the way we had to both adjust to the change that came with a larger workload.
We had to refine our plans during those months, scheduling more half-day than full-day excursions and working where possible on bad weather days or weekends (when touristy destinations would be particularly crowded).
We spent much more time at ‘home’ and, of that, most of the kid-wrangling suddenly fell onto Lisa’s shoulders. When there were few toys and no play dates to be had, Lisa assigned more time to homeschooling. In fact, the kids revelled in hanging at home and resisted at times our suggested excursions. We assumed cabin fever would besiege the kids but it actually became a reality for the first time on our travels …. for us!
The kids had become very accustomed to having me around and available 24/7. So when I locked myself away for hours at a time they’d moan, “when is Mum going to finish?” which drove us round the proverbial twist but there was no small benefit to them witnessing a direct relationship between paid work (even if it was in a sedentary pose on my bed contorted over a laptop), our budget and immediate travel options.
We take our collective hats off to those who manage to work and travel long-term, especially whilst constantly on the move. It is an unconventional life but exhilarating and varied, with no two days the same. We’d do it again but have learnt our lesson; for both the kids and adults in TeamBuss, slow travel is key to making it work best and we’d aim to stay in each location for at least two months at a time.
That only leaves the burning, mind-contorting, all-consuming question of … what work will I do?
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Great post 😊
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Thank you for your feedback 😊 Glad you enjoyed it.
Great post, as always! I loved my minimalist years, but I was single then. It would be a WHOLE ‘nother animal the way you lot are doing it. Part of me envies you, another part (that has settled comfortably into a more traditional lifestyle) shakes its head and even trembles a bit, and all of me respects you!
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Nothing traditional about you Bill! 🙂 We loved our nest building life when the kids were younger…. but kinda knew it wouldn’t last and we’d wander off. Feels like the adult version of wagging school.
Great post, Steph! I really admire you’re way of living with your family like you do now. I’m sure something will come up….
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Great posts. Where in the world are you now? Has your gap year ended? Would love to know your adventures, especially considering the pandemic.