Another Asian family traveling on a gap year and blogging about it is rare, so I had to interview Natalie Chen of My Wandering Family from Surrey, B.C., Canada. She’s traveling with her husband and two adorable daughters (ages 7 and 4) for a year of family adventures around the world. They’ve started out their year of wandering the world with a stop in Paris and have plans to visit some other countries in Europe, along with perhaps Hawaii, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji in 2017.
Natalie Chen is a Day Dreamer. She decided to go all-in and travel with her family on a gap year. Natalie and her husband are creating memories and experiences that their children will never forget. If Natalie can live out her dreams, you can too. Read on to learn how Natalie deals with the challenges of family travel and what advice she has for parents who want to travel meaningfully with their children.
What gave you the courage and motivation to travel on a gap year with your family?
We currently live in an area with a very hot real estate market. Our original plan was to sell our home, pay off our debts and downsize to a smaller house closer to our daughters’ school. This would eliminate the 3 hours of commuting I usually do to take the girls to and from school, and also reduce some of the financial pressures of being a single income family.
When it came time to purchase another home we couldn’t find anything suitable and felt pressured to make a decision and pay over our desired budget. So, in a moment of frustration I said, “Let’s just take a break. Let’s just take the kids out of school for a year, travel, and see what happens with the market when we come back.”
My husband’s contract with work was just about to finish so the timing was right and he said the magic word, “OK!”
Did you get any skepticism when you announced to your family and friends that you were taking off to travel for a year? If so, how did you deal with it?
Yes, people thought we were crazy at first but I’ve never been one to worry about what other people think. We are doing what we think is best for our kids and our family. When we told them what our long-term plan was, we received a lot of support.
What is the hardest thing about traveling with your kids?
Luggage! We are currently travelling with 2 medium-sized suitcases (and a few backpacks) so it’s hard to keep them underweight for flights. Although we could add an extra one into the mix, the girls are too young to really help and rental cars in Europe are quite small, so we wouldn’t be able to fit it anyway.
I really like your idea with the Travel Scavenger Hunt game for your daughters. How did you come up with that idea? And how have your daughters responded to using it?
I wanted to come up with something that would be a fun way to learn about the places we’d be visiting. Kids love games so it was a great way to engage them and get them to observe their surroundings. I have a graphic design background and I love designing worksheets and printables for the girls. So far, they love them! It gets them excited about the next place we visit.
*Check out her Etsy shop for the Travel Scavenger Hunt game.
How are you budgeting your travel? What are some of the best tactics you use to save money while traveling?
We are currently using some of the proceeds from our house sale to fund our trip. We’ve budgeted our trip based on our expenses as if we were living at home. We are mostly staying in self-catered accommodations with a kitchen and laundry. By cooking at least one meal a day, it definitely keeps our costs down.
Renting a car has been really beneficial as well. We can stay a little farther than typical tourist locations and pay a fraction of the cost while having the freedom of taking day trips and travelling at our own pace.
Travelling long-term also has the benefit of us visiting locations in the off-season. You can usually find good deals on flights and accommodations and you don’t have to deal with huge crowds.
I also have a credit card that gains points that I can use towards travel, so I charge large ticket items like accommodations and flights on it, and so far have had enough points for car rentals and the odd hotel stay!
By actually living your dreams, what have you learned about yourself and your family?
We’ve learned we can live with a lot less than we are originally led to believe. We come from a very consumer-driven society where happiness is measured by the things we own.
The process of selling most of our possessions has helped us reinforce to our girls that it’s the experiences and memories we are creating as a family that’s important.
What’s your advice for parents who want to travel meaningfully with their kids, but never actually do?
Kids are never too young to travel, every age will have their advantages and disadvantages. If you have the opportunity to do it now, don’t wait. There is no guarantee in life and sometimes you just need to have a leap of faith.
About Natalie Chen
Natalie Chen is a Canadian mom who decided to sell it all to travel the world with her husband and their two young daughters. They have decided to take a pause from their busy lives, jump off the hamster wheel and immerse themselves in the the cultures of the world!