Global Travelers - SoulTravelers3

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

I'd like to share with you one of my very favorite world travelers, a family traveling the world and sharing it with us. SoulTravelers3 is a fantastic website, full of great travel information, stories of homeschooling abroad, traveling, and learning while exploring different cultures. Each time I peruse their site, I am more and more inspired to get our own plan of extended travel speeded up - they are an embodiment of many, many travelers dreams. I was lucky enough to sit down and talk with Jeanne, the matriarch of SoulTravelers3, about their journey. Here's what she had to say...

 

 

WE: Please tell us about your site, soultravelers3.com...

ST: Our site, Soultravelers3.com, is primarily the ever-evolving story of our open ended world tour as a family. We are into our third year as a continually globetrotting family, which seems to be unique and we are living large as we do it on just 25,000 dollars a year! We blog about our experiences as we travel with tons of pictures, resource links, videos and provide lots of how-to information about extended travel, frugal family travel, mobile living and keys to homeschooling education while traveling.

I think our first video tells our story in a nutshell, although it is just a quick look and we have 26 more videos and are in the process of putting together the second 18 months montage video to match this one:

This post on "How to do Extended Travel & Mini-retirements" is one of our most popular. I want people to know that extended world travel and exotic travel for families is not a pipe dream, but something anyone, even a very ordinary family like us, can do. It has been easier, cheaper and more fulfilling than we ever dreamed possible, so I have become a bit of an evangelist, wanting others to know this.

Our primary purpose in going on this journey was to educate our daughter to the highest standard as a global citizen of the 21st century and have more time together, but we have gained so much through this experience that now we are taking multitudes of people with us, including many disadvantaged classrooms in NYC through Reach The World. If your readers are interested in supporting this award winning nonprofit that connects travelers on unique journeys to schools with kids that might never travel, please tell them that Soultravelers3 sent you (we are the European Journey there).

We have traveled to four continents, over 68,000 miles, 29 countries, used every conceivable mode of transportation from camel to punt, and see no end to this exploration at this time. We prefer traveling over land or via boat, immersing deeply, slow travel and living like a native. We spend about seven months traveling and we winter for five months in a tiny 15th century village in Spain, thus far.

Some have called us "the Tim Ferris of family travel" and we jokingly call ourselves the "three laptop family". We have been surprised to find that our connections, collaborations and explorations on the internet and through web2.0 has added a dimension we never expected that helps enrich our travels. Most of our travels have been in Europe so far and we are so grateful that we have been able to experience so much of this continent together as a a family.

 

 

WE: How did you decide to globally educate your child (and yourselves)?

ST: It is something we thought about for a long time and discussed even before our daughter was born, but suddenly, in 2004 quite a few things came together that made us think that it was "now or never". As house prices in our area near Silicon Valley skyrocketed, I started wondering who would ever be able to buy it when we retired, as salaries were not increasing as much as home prices. We had award winning, high-rated public and private schools in our area, but I still could not find a perfect fit for my daughter (who taught herself to read at two), so it was becoming clear that homeschooling would be the best choice for us.

We are also older parents who waited a long time for our child, so we did not want to miss any of the experience. Perhaps the seed was planted when my husband took seven weeks off at our daughter's birth as we cherished that time together. I was a stay at home mother and he left corporate life soon after her birth to work from home, but still he missed too many hours of our daughter's fast moving life, working.

We realized that if we sold our home, vehicles and most of our possessions, that we could retire early and put our attention to those things that really mattered to us, which were freedom, being together, education and experiencing the world together. We were inspired by others who had retired early or did extended travel. We realized that if we moved our assets like our home to cash and more liquid assets, that we could buy ourselves the freedom and time that we wanted. Our goal was to live large on little by slow traveling and living like a native as we grew our investments.

We had worked really hard on our dream home and were very attached to it, so letting go of it was the hardest decision, almost heart-breaking at times, trying to know what was the best course. We sold at the very peak of our market in 2005 and many of our friends thought we were absolutely mad, as it was a unique, beautiful home and vineyard, that was an extremely rare find in our area. As much as we loved that home, it has been surprising at how little we have missed it or our home area. This life of true freedom has suited us more than we even imagined.

You will notice on our Soultravelers3 logo it says "heaven on earth", as that is the promise we made to each other in our wedding vows as something we would strive to create together. We did that with the two homes we created together and other life plans and then all signs seemed to point to yet a new way that we could co-create heaven on earth together.

I am a risk-taking, big-dream kind of person who likes to fulfill dreams. I had filled all of my dreams but this one. It did seem almost impossible when we first started seriously thinking about it, but the more we looked into it, the more everything seemed to lead in this direction. Homeschooling allows one so much freedom and is a perfect combination with slow and extended travel. We always knew that we wanted to have her spend time where her second language and culture is dominant and we love the combination of allowing her to do that in the winter in Spain and traveling for six or seven months straight during the warm months.

With both her age and our ages, and the economic climate, it seemed like it was "now or never" if we were going to do this adventure.

 

 

WE: What has been the homeschooling process you've gone through, while teaching your daughter as you travel?

ST: We are eclectic homeschoolers, but at our core we are basically unschoolers and life long learners who think we are always learning and it is one of the best things in life! We are bookaholics and have gladly passed that trait on to our daughter, because we think books are the key to any education. We carry more books with us than anything else and most of them are for Mozart (We adults read more online, although Mozart also loves online libraries).

Once when Mozart was a toddler, the head librarian at our local library asked me if I was a student majoring in Children's literature, since I was always in there looking at and asking about good books. I took that as a high compliment. I knew absolutely nothing about children's literature before I got pregnant! I have had the same kind of passion for learning about travel, traveling as a family and using it as an educational base.

I spend lots of time on finding great books and matching them to our travels. I think good literature adds such a richness to anyone's travels and we love making up family itineraries based on good children's literature. You have probably seen the Youtube videos we did on this subject of combining books with travel for kids and families like the ones we did about Venice or Hogwarts in the UK.

Mozart has been reading such things as Homer in Greece, Astrid Lindgren in Sweden, Harry Potter in England, etc., which grounds the travel experiences and opens up greater learning in both the cultures and the writing! Our daughter is as thrilled to see a bookstore with English books as she is to see a chocolate shop. We always take time to savor them or the wonderful libraries (like in Finland and Sweden).

She was reading her beloved Homer and Greek myths when we toured ancient Troy, Ephesus, Pumukale, and more in Turkey, or saw Agamemnon's mask, Knossis in Crete and Santorini in Greece. We stumbled upon great books for her in museums while touring Rome, Pompeii and Athens. They are not just names in books to her, but real places that she knows well by our slow, deliberate travel. We see the sites but also do every day activities like the natives, things like shopping, going to markets, riding local transportation and just every day life with people who call it home.

I can not even fill in all the names of the ancient civilization sites that she has visited. How many kids get to pretend they are an acheologist and dig up ancient shells in Troy while touring with an archaeologist there or watch and talk to working archaeologists at Ephesus and Aphrodisias? Life as a field trip has enriched our homeschooling beyond measure. Books are the icing on the cake, but so is the slow travel and connection to natives of an area. We tend to have a very different experience than someone on a fast tour to these same places. We can hardly watch a movie now or read a book where my daughter does not have a strong connection to the places covered.

We have used Singapore math since she was three as it really works well with her and is also very portable for our travels. Sometimes we go off exploring from our RV or rental for a month or more with just a small daypack each and find it easy to bring our basic homeschooling supplies. The beauty of travel is she can do her school work outside, on ferries, trains, in our RV, hotels or hostels, buses or whereever we are. We try to keep her "must do" areas to a minimum and allow her to self direct with lots of time for play, family reading and discussions between touring. She is great at helping me plan itineraries.

We bought her a Macbook last Christmas which now makes us a three laptop family. We find web2.0, collaborating with others around the world and online sources are a great addition to our home schooing and think that will increase as time goes on. She recently tested and is eligible for the great online programs through Johns Hopkins CTY, so we start them soon. We do her piano lessons on one continent with her teacher on another via Skype webcam which has worked out wonderfully. We might be the only family since the real Mozart to travel the world with a violin and piano, but thankfully we do not have to do it by horse drawn carriage!
 

 

We homeschool all year in English, but we also enroll our daughter in the local school in Spain primarily for the language immersion and consistent friendships. It has been a fantastic addition to our homeschool and allows her to immerse deeply into the written language, literature and culture of her second language, better than we could have ever done it in any other way. The hours are just 9 to 2 and they are fine with her doing just a few months and if we take time off to travel some during the winter. She was already a very strong reader in English, so it was perfect timing to add this element and also gave her a good place to practice cursive and add extras like learning flamenco from a local expert.

 

 

 

 

WE: Where do you decide to travel next?

ST: We align it somewhat on weather, because we find it is a lot more fun to travel in nice weather and we also try to avoid the crowds as much as we can, to get the most out of an area. Sometimes we have certain themes, like our second 7 months straight travel was geared toward ancient civilizations. We had been reading a lot about these areas and wanted the history to build upon itself and show the connectedness. We focused on Morocco, Moorish Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Croatia on that trip, although we also went to Austria, Slovenia and the Czech Republic.

We have a pretty open approach and make much of it up as we go. I do have an idea of what we want to accomplish, based on things that I have read and researched, but always remain flexible and adaptable. We wanted to see Green Spain our first year, but did not get there until this year. Russia is on our list and we thought we would get there this year, but had to postpone it as we planned too much for this year. It certainly is not an exact science and we love the freedom of making it up as we go. If we like a place, we have found ourselves staying much longer than originally planned and it is not uncommon for us to stay a month or more as we have done in Croatia, Santorini, Sweden, Ireland, France, Turkey and Barcelona.

It all just starts as an idea and then we do some research to see if it is even possible. Right now we are planning on shipping our RV to Africa next for a long stay and then shipping it onto Argentina for a long stay in South America and slowly driving our RV to California (I have not even started any research on our Asia, Australia or North American phases yet).

So far it looks doable and an exciting adventure, but I still have lots more research to find out how easy or hard it is and what needs to be in place first. Changing continents adds a challenge, but I am encouraged by others who have shipped Rv's around the world and will set up some time to try to figure out the paperwork logistics like insurance and license and such. It will probably take as much prep or more for that phase as it did for a long stay in Europe and our best sources are people who have done it before.

 

 

WE: How do you envision travel and intercultural understanding changing
children (and our future)?

ST: As you know, there is really nothing better than travel to help intercultural understanding. Our experience and the data shows there are more families doing international travel than ever before and I don't see how that can help but be a positive influence. If you look at things like the popularity of Tim Ferris' "4 hour Work week", I think there might be a trend for families and others to take more sabbaticals and mini-retirements. 70% of families say they would like to do extended travel together and I am guessing that this trend will continue and perhaps increase in these economic times.

I think that would impact these individual children and those that they reach. I would love it if everyone could do extensive travel of some sort, but there are other ways of passing on this gift and experience to people that may not be able to do that. I think the internet has changed the world and web2.0 will continue that trend.

We have used internet connections much more than we ever expected in our travels through our volunteering with Reach The World and Teddybears Around the World and other ways we collaborate with others around the world.

I think this trend will continue and expand as the world becomes smaller. I watched in amazement last year when my 7-year old child was interviewed via live Skype webcam in Spain by two 6-year old girls from Boston about her travel experiences so they could report it to the class. They had been watching our videos on Youtube and were using our website as a jumping off point for leaning about the world. I am in awe of what some innovative educators are doing and think this will increase, hopefully helping world peace through intercultural understanding and collaborations.

When I watched my 6-year old child ride a camel through the Sahara to play a violin concert for 60 Berber kids who lived there with no running water and who had never seen a violin, I know that affected her life and these kids lives forever. Despite having no language in common, they connected deeply and both realized how much they have in common as they played together afterwards in the Oasis.

 

 

The internet has made it a very small world today.

 

 

 

 

WE: Traveling for years is a big leap of faith! Do you wish you
could do some things over differently?

ST: It really has been a big leap of faith and even though we took a year with our focus only on planning and preparing for it, that went by so quickly and I can not say we felt fully planned or prepared as we took off. Still, it actually has been much easier than we expected and cheaper. I can not think of anything I would have done differently. Perhaps not worry as much as we did, waniting to get everything just right before take off. You can only prepare so much and then one has to leap and learn as one goes.

Most of our decisions worked out really well and I am particularly pleased that we decided to spend part of the year traveling following the good weather and then spending the winter in the same small 15th century village. I just made that up, partly based on my year as a young woman living in Italy and trying to find ways to prevent homesickness and give a consistency for Mozart. That was probably my wisest choice and the village we picked which I did just from the internet. We have not had any bouts with homesickness, although I think that is partly because we stay in very regular contact with family and friends through free Skype webcam calls.

It was also good that we had a very centrally located village house our first year. Too many pick country places, which we also love, but they leave you isolated. We were in the center of all the action, could walk to the school and all the little stores and had the perfect view of all the festivals as they began.

I am also really pleased that we decided to travel by small RV. I had thought we would use a smaller one at first, but as soon as we arrived, it was instantly clear that we should go with the next size up as it is also van size but with a bed over the driver's area. I wish we would not have bothered with the satellite for internet as that was one of our less good choices. It just did not work for our style of travel and was too expensive. We have gotten really good at finding free wifi, althought internet connection on the move still has its limitations and frustrations on a budget. We were also not pleased with the global phone we picked, so we ended up just buying one in Spain and use Skype or pay phones as we roam on the rare occasions that we need one.

 

 

WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

ST: Thanks so much for asking us to do this interview. We really love your site and what you are trying to do here. It has been a real pleasure getting to know you in cyberspace, Jessie, and I wish you the best of luck! We look forward to contributing more here and welcome your readers to stop by our site and use it for a resource or if they are in a mood to travel with us vicariously.

WE: Thanks so much, Jeanne. I always look forward to your Youtube videos and watching Mozart grow up around the world. You have shared so much with us - I appreciate it! We plan to do a similar type of travel, and are working toward achieving it.

For more information, please see:  soultravelers3.com/

Comments (1)

  • familyadventure...

    11 years 3 months ago

     I have run into you guys around the internet, but hadn't had a chance to watch your  videos.  We enjoyed the ones included in this article.  My five year old was fascinated.  We will be following the adventures of Soul Travelers 3 more closely in the future!

    Bridget Smith

    Founder Family Adventure Guidebooks

    Author, The Unauthorized Guide to Legoland, California

    www.familyadventureguidebooks.com

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