Our Story

Image credit: Tony Miller

As I sit to write this, the children are out in the garden, picking coffee. “Home,” for now, is a little ‘optimistic yellow’ cottage on the shores of Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala.

How we came to be here is quite a story, and it doesn’t begin with me, but with my parents. You see, we’re second generation crazy.

I could have been born on this lake, 37 years ago, had my American parents, who were backpacking, not decided to summer in Canada instead. But they did, and so I came to born into a one-room log cabin on the backside of a lake in Ontario.

  • There was no road to our cabin.
  • No electricity.
  • No running water.
  • My mother hand washed my cloth diapers until they could afford an old wringer washer and a generator.
  • My first meat was black bear through a baby food grinder.
  • I was potty trained on an outhouse a hundred feet from the cabin.
  • I had to wear a life jacket to play in the front yard.
  • By the time I was four it was my job to drag the porcupines my Dad shot up over the hill behind the outhouse so we wouldn’t smell them when they got stinky.
  • And then someone got the bright idea that we could eat them instead, so Mom canned the meat. They weren’t very good.

Over the course of my childhood we built two more log homes from scratch.

  • We learned to hunt, and fish, and trap turtles.
  • We had boats of all sizes and descriptions, some we bought, some we built.
  • We had an acre of gardens, a vineyard, an orchard, chickens and more.
  • We canned, froze, dried, gutted and cleaned our own food.
  • We did with less than most people, and learned to do almost everything by hand.

I didn’t go to school for the third or the eighth grade. My Dad rolled the four of us, dog and all, into the back of a van and we took off for a 10,000-mile drive instead.

  • We rode mules into the Grand Canyon.
  • Got snowed in on the mountain passes of the Rockies.
  • Speared fish off of Baja and learned to snorkel on the coast that has now been ruined by “the Mayan Riviera.”

We learned more those two winters, chasing hermit crab trails on the beach by torchlight, than we ever did in school

At the tender age of nineteen I married my Knight in Shining Armor, who valiantly took up his sword and dove into the world as my partner in dreaming big dreams and creating a life of epic adventure.

His stable Midwestern upbringing remains the ballast to my nomadic wanderlust, even though ultimately I won him over to my gypsy ways!

Eighteen years and four kids later, we feel as though we’re just getting started.

Our family has never been on the common path.

  • Early on we opted out of the advertising driven clothing and toy stream.
  • We’ve kept our children with us, valuing family interdependence over of individual independence.
  • We learn together, instead of apart.
  • We work together, instead of apart.
  • We’ve been TV free for the better part of a decade.
  • We have only one car, when absolutely necessary, but we prefer to ride our bicycles.
  • We invest in memories instead of things.
  • We travel like crazy people.

One day, when our youngest child was just four, we sold our house, the car and almost all of our stuff and set out on an epic journey as a family.

  • We rode our bicycles from London, UK to Africa; that took a year.
  • We learned smatterings of six languages and experienced complete illiteracy in the Czech Republic.
  • We made fast friends across two continents.
  • Rode camels for Christmas.
  • Learned to dread Mediterranean ferry crossings.

Wintering in Muslim Tunisia was, perhaps, the best thing we’ve ever done for our kids.

Next we took a road trip through Central America, climbing pyramids, getting the big kids SCUBA certified, letting the little guys taste termites & get eye to eye with monkeys.

There is nothing for getting a grip on the fact that the world is bigger than the mid-western American mindset like being the only light skinned, English speakers in a good couple of hundred miles.

Our goal, over the next ten years, is to touch our kids‘ feet to each of the continents and to let them live and learn with the world as their classroom.  Hence, the coffee project in the garden this afternoon.

Our choice to live “outside the box” is not a value judgment on what anyone else is doing.

We simply want to live our lives fully, our way, according to our own passions, our own dreams and the gifts we possess.

When we die, nothing goes with us but our memories, and our relationships, so we’re choosing to spend most of our time and our money in this life investing in the eternal instead of cars, clothes, knick-knacks and noisy toys.

It is our greatest joy to encourage others, who have a vision for it, to do the same. If we can do it, you can do it; we’re nothing special. We’re doing our best to honor our parents by taking the very best of what they handed us and building upon it, to pass on the legacy of an Uncommon Childhood to the next generation.

What’s YOUR story?

18 Responses to “Our Story”

  1. Hi Jennifer!
    What a great site you have here! So happy to find a kindred spirit! Our family of six just sold our house last summer and started our journey as digital nomads this past October. We are currently living in Turkey for a couple of months to catch up on our homeschooling. Our oldest is 9 and our youngest is 4. I found your Family Edventure Project during my search for road/homeschooling information and travel (I was feeling a little anxious and discouraged about my abilities to actually teach the kids the best way they deserve). But now, after reading many of the fabulous things you’ve written, it has given me the necessary inspiration and reminder of why we chose this lifestyle in the first place. I read Charlotte Mason’s Companion book a couple of years ago after attending a homeschooling conference to prepare for our trip, and have enjoyed and put into practice some of her inspiring ideas about education. We also hope to one day take a bike trip across Europe with our kids, and are so happy to know your family has done this already! Thank you for sharing your life experiences and knowledge with us. Blessings to you and your family!

  2. Hi Jennifer!

    How great to meet another family like ours!! Turkey is one place we missed when we were cycling and we are SO SAD to have missed it… but the markets crashed when we were camped on a sea cliff in Italy and most of our money evaporated!

    It makes me happy to know that you’ve been encouraged! That’s entirely the point! I hope you’ll consider what you have to write about and contribute to the community! Your family is VERY uncommon indeed!

    Do keep in touch, and perhaps our paths will cross one day!!

  3. Hi, It sounds like the greatest adventure. You are so fortunate that your children are healthy so you all can experience such experiences.

  4. Thanks Mary Ellen,
    We are thankful for our health every single day! It’s a gift and we’re doing our best to protect it and use it wisely, without it, life would be very different for all of us!

  5. I was wondering how you afford to travel. Bicycling is free until a tire needs to be replaced. How do you find your next residence? Sounds very cool, but my practical side has lots of questions!

  6. Hi Mtnmomma!

    GREAT questions! I’ll give you the “short answer” but please feel free to e-mail me personally and ask away. We’re always happy to help others who are trying to figure out how to do something similar! Also, some of the answers are found on our family website: http://www.edventureproject.com (check the FAQ page!)

    In short: every single one of us finds a way to do the thing we’re passionate about. Long term travel is no different.

    When we first took off it was on money we’d saved and we thought we’d travel for a year then come “home,” “settle down” and get back to “real life.” Somewhere in there the road became our real life and we’ve never really found “home.”

    Since then we’ve figured out how to work from the road and support ourselves with bits and pieces of freelance work. My husband has a couple of good contracts that he can split between on line and in person work. What that means is that we are sometimes stationary for a few months while he works hard and we “replenish the coffers,” as he says. That’s what we’re doing this summer, south of Boston.

    For my part, I plan like crazy and work hard to find ways to make every dollar streeeeeeetch as far as I can. We choose our travel destinations based, in part, on what kind of income we have for the moment. When we’re places like Europe (very expensive) we travel in inexpensive ways, like on bikes, tenting it. But this winter in Guatemala we rented what turned out to be the nicest house (and garden) in our little town for less than it would have cost us to winter in the USA and had a lovely, restful time that included a gardener and a night guard, as well as take out laundry. So it depends greatly on where you are and what you’re doing.

    That’s the SHORT answer! HA!

    Please feel free to contact me if you have more questions!

  7. Hey,
    Just wanted to say that I so appreciate your desire for a close family unit. I too am a mother of 4 (1 girl and 3 boys) and in 14 years we have lived in 4 countries (5 if you count living in midwest and then southwest US seperately). I homeschool them and just love it, yes I have times of wondering why I am doing this, but that is usually when one of my children blast through the door with a ‘look what I found Mom…’ and I would not give that up for anything!

  8. You speak beautifully and poetically about your life. My family of four is like the overscheduled, harried, wired one you describe — but without the TV (so much). I read your story and I hear a voice calling me to a Way like yours. But another voice holds me back. So many practical questions in my suburban American mind — especially, how do you pay for it?

  9. Hi Jeff! If you head over to our family’s page: http://www.edventureproject.com and check out our FAQ you’ll find answers to a lot of the questions you have, especially funding! In short, we converted our careers to allow us to live and work anywhere over the internet. I’d be very happy to help you out and answer any questions you have!

  10. Thank you for sharing your story. I am home schooling four and we travel quite a bit as well, usually by car or train. It is such an encouragement to know that I’m not the only one that believes this is a rich way to raise children, and to live life. I often remind myself that this might be our last day on earth, so let’s see, do, experience, as much as possible, and love each other fully as a family and in community. My husband’s job involves helping the homeless and refugees in our city, so travel is a problem at times because he cannot leave for long periods of time. I end up traveling with the kids, without him sometimes. Do you ever face this issue?

  11. Hi Jenny! I’m so glad you found us! It would be great to meet you guys before we head for Asia (May) as we’re on Cape Cod now (a short train ride from the city!!) I hope you’ll find much encouragement from the many wonderful contributors to this site. Traveling alone with kids… yep, I’ve done my share, since they were tiny. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it. Mine are all big now and it’s much easier! Please feel free to shoot me an e-mail editor(at)uncommonchildhood(dot)com I’d love to know more of your story!

  12. WOW!!!

    I absolutely LOVE what you have written here! You are speaking my heart. I’m South African – but we have exactly the same problems here (not that I need to explain that to you – you’re a world-traveller, so I know you don’t think that Africa is just mud huts and elephants). I’m so so tired of all the advertising (especially directed at our kids). We ditched the TV 2 years ago – BEST thing we could have done… but still, the advertising blares out at us from everywhere… and every Christmas and birthday, the relatives all buy the kids branded clothing & toys (LOTS of them!).

    I had a different upbringing to yours – but there’s a few similarities. Firstly, we were always outdoors (lived on a farm)… and I had a wonderful childhood building tree houses & forts, climbing trees, riding horses, picking fruit, etc.

    These days – most kids go straight from school to their homes, where they watch TV or play games. The whole…. SYSTEM…. doesn’t make sense to me (including the education system).

    So – as for us, we’ve opted out. First thing to go was the TV. Then we stopped buying branded clothing & toys (although not sure how to stop the relatives!). Then we took the kids out of school. Now we’re renovating our house, putting it on the market – and we’re going to travel the world… like you – EXPERIENCES and MEMORIES are far, far more important than “stuff” and “things”.

    I just wanted to say that I RESONATE with your story on so many levels! And better – it is so wonderful (and such a relief) to find like-minded people…. (even on another continent). Our friends – and especially our relatives – think we’re rather strange and are constantly questioning our decisions…. (our choice to home/world/un school is a biggie!).

    OK – I’m rambling on too much… just wanted to connect! :-)

  13. Hi Heather!

    SO GLAD you found us!! More of our family story is over on our other website: http://www.edventureproject.com if you’re interested in learning more.

    At the moment we’re in Thailand… this will be our base for about six months, then headed south from here.

    Feel free to connect, ask questions, contribute ideas or articles! It’s the diversity that makes this site rich!


  14. Thanks! I have read your other blog… (Edventure Project)… and also read a few interviews online (that I clicked on from the Facebook groups – Travelling Families and The Escapists).

    You guys are so inspiring! We’re a couple of years behind you progress wise… but we’re on our way – and it’s really helpful for me to see and understand and be inspired by other families who PROVE that it’s possible!

    Thanks again! :-)

  15. Hi Heather! SO GLAD you found us on both sites!! Please let me know if there is anything at all that we can do to help you forward. Anything is possible if you’re willing to do the work and persevere!!

  16. My family and I are doing the very light version of this life for the year–we are usually in Denver, CO but for 2012 we’re living in New South Wales, Australia while my husband participates in a teacher exchange program. On the way there, we did a village homestay in Fiji that was life-altering for us. We hope to do something similar in northern Thailand on the way home. I yearn for a life like yours for my family but practically, we may have to settle for exchange teaching opportunities and the like. Thanks for inspiring me further!

  17. Great story. I am the child of a father with wanderlust and was born while in Alaska and lived in between places till we settled on a farm way off the beaten path. The wandering only stopped because he died at a young age but I’m living my own version of it now. I won’t write more because it is too long but look forward to following your journey.

  18. Hi Jenn,
    Just exploring this site after finding edventures this morning – I so love finding other travelling families and I`m loving reading about your life story, family and travels – inspirational! And thrilled to find we`re all in NZ for awhile! We`ll definitely do whatever we can to meet up in the next week before we head off again. Very best wishes, Mo

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