What is it like to raise your kids on the road? Two families describe how they changed their children’s lives by showing them the world, while a mum-to-be explains why she plans to do just that with her six-month-old baby.
‘Our dream is a reality’
Natasha Biran and her husband Yair quit their demanding jobs in 2014 to travel around Israel with their six-month-old son.
“When Maoz was born it clicked – we thought it doesn’t need to be like this, we didn’t have to do a 9-5,” said Natasha, who was director of an internship programme.
“I was starting to think about going back to work and we were looking at nurseries and were both just really sad about it – I didn’t want to be away from Maoz and to put him in a framework.
“It made us think, if we didn’t want that, what did we want? Do we want to be working and only seeing each other in the evening? I knew that’s how it would look; we wanted to live differently. We wanted to feel inspired.”
Natasha and Yair, who was a Ministry of Justice lawyer, put most of their belongings in storage and began travelling around the country relying solely on their earnings on the road.
“People told us we were crazy – it was like, ‘what are you doing? You’re insane; can’t you just [live] normally?'” said Natasha, originally from Whitefield, Greater Manchester.
“But Maoz was the most chilled baby and was nursing and just happy. Every baby is different and we’re all different mums, and I don’t think how I live is right for everyone, but it felt right for us.”
For a while they stayed in a yurt before eventually settling in an alternative community, where they stayed for three years and had their daughter, Geshem. Not long after, the couple had a vision to work remotely and travel the world. Then Natasha’s dad died.
“We were in the airport and Yair has this moment of clarity and said, ‘maybe this is the start of our travelling journey’. We got to England and it was hanging there and we thought we’d just see if the universe was telling us to continue.”
That sign came from a cousin in Bournemouth, who invited them to stay. Then they visited Manchester, Wales and London, before going to Germany and Switzerland then back to Israel. Since then, they have spent time in Thailand, Sri Lanka, north India and the Maldives.
“Some travelling families move around a lot, some less – we’re the nesting type,” said Natasha, who documents the family’s travels on her Instagram page, Trusting the Way. “In each place we create routine – we wake up at roughly the same time and eat at the same time, we go to the same cafes or restaurants to create an anchor. There is a feeling of structure, it’s just not a rigid one.”
Both parents work online doing translating, editing and writing in English and Hebrew – Yair works more regular hours, while Natasha mostly does project work in the evenings.
“You have to be flexible and creative, any place can become a temporary office,” she said. “Most places have wi-fi access and you can always use 4G or a hotspot. [Finding a connection] hasn’t been an issue for us, even in India with the constant power cuts.
“We even went for three weeks to a little village in the Himalayan mountains that took hours and hours to drive to then a 30-minute hike – we used a hotspot there.”
The couple also both home-school Maoz, five, and Geshem, two.
“I’m responsible enough as a parent to ensure [they’re] learning, but we think about school in a different way,” said Natasha. “Maoz is taking knowledge in all the time, he’s learning things kids his age don’t usually learn.
“During Diwali he was asking what it means, what the different ceremonies are for – it opened up chats about Hinduism and different religions and beliefs. I went to private school and have a university degree and Maoz already knows things I don’t.
“He is learning to read in English and Hebrew and he wants to and it’s at his own pace. On the beach, he draws letters and numbers in the sand; the twig is his pencil and the sand is his paper. It’s another way to learn.”
Currently the family is travelling around south India.
“Sometimes I can’t believe this is my life – I feel like we’re living a dream and it’s a reality,” said Natasha. “Nothing is about luck – we went with the flow of life [but] we took action. If you look outside the box, you see how wide the world is. That’s what changed – our perspective.”
‘An admiral taught them angles’
Caspar Craven had sailed around the world already – his wife Nichola had been on a boat twice and was sick both times. It didn’t stop them taking their three children on a two-year sailing trip in 2014 which took in 84 harbours, 26 countries and 35,000 miles from Southampton to Grenada.
“We gave ourselves five years to come up with the money and make it happen. The reaction was predictable, people thought it was crazy and told us all the reasons why we shouldn’t do it. And they were good reasons – we had never home-schooled, we didn’t have the money, what about emergencies?” said Caspar, 47.
“So we wrote down every reason and went through each one in huge detail. Then we had five years of training – we had to get used to being on a boat as a family, being safe onboard, wearing a life jacket. We did training courses and both trained to be ship doctors. We were extremely rigorous.”
At sea, Caspar and Nichola, 48, shared the helm, working three hours each at a time, while Bluebell, nine, Columbus, seven, and Willow, two, had set bedtimes, mealtimes and lessons.
One of the most valuable lessons the trip taught their children was resilience, Caspar said.
“We had a power failure in the middle of the Pacific. We had paper charts and some GPS, so we hand-steered the boat by the sun and the moon and the stars and sailed our way out of it. It took us four days.
“In that first instance when everything goes wrong, your emotions go off the charts, but you figure it out. We had two months of food and water and would’ve ended up somewhere eventually. For the kids, seeing a situation [like that] and having to deal with it, they now have a blueprint for resilience.”
Traditional schooling on the trip was tricky, said Caspar, so they changed tack.
“I remember teaching Columbus about Tudors and Stuarts and he has this bored look on his face. So we just found things they were most curious about. Columbus was fascinated by the natural world, so we gave him lots of books about fish and dissected fish that we caught, and wrote about them for literacy and weighed them for numeracy.”
That said, the family wanted to come home in time for Bluebell to start secondary school. She had to work hard to catch up in some maths areas, but was much further ahead in things like prime numbers and angles, thanks to a chance meeting with a former US Navy admiral, said Caspar.
“He used to run the Pacific fleet and taught the kids to use sextants. When you’ve got someone who’s one of the best in the world at what they do, they explain things so easily that it just goes in and the kids absorbed it.”
The family now has a “normal life” in Weybridge, Surrey, although Caspar still travels for work as an inspirational speaker. Nichola has returned to being a lawyer, while the kids are “thriving” at school.
“They don’t think [what they’ve done is] unusual, they don’t really talk about it – it’s just one of those things [they did].”
‘I want to show its possible’
Pip Stewart travelled a lot with her Forces family as a child and hopes to do the same with her baby.
“When you’ve had that peripatetic upbringing, travelling is a normal thing to do. I’ve been a little afraid having children would change that, but my perspective has massively shifted with people showing us it’s possible,” said the 35-year-old, who is due in February.
“People with kids are probably thinking ‘you have no idea’, but I’m really excited about being a mum and travelling with a baby.”
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Pip and her partner, wellbeing consultant Charlie Hoare, plan to test the waters of travelling with a baby with a month-long European road trip in a camper van.
“Everyone has said around six months old is a good time – they’re portable and can’t really get away; they’re still breastfeeding, so you don’t have to worry about sterilising bottles; by that point you’re used to the lack of sleep and the upheaval of having everything change,” said the adventure travel journalist.
“[Friends who’ve done similar] said as long as there’s structure and routine, it’s fine. It’s like planning for any expedition – if you’re kayaking there’s a risk assessment and I get the impression that being a mum who wants to travel, you’ve got to be the same.”
If all goes well, the couple also plan to go to South America later in the year, as well as making shorter trips from their base in East Wittering, West Sussex.
“I say this while pregnant but it might be very different in reality. You can have the best-laid plans, like with any expedition, but if it’s not going to plan, it’s about stepping back and asking if it’s to the detriment of our child and if it is, knocking it on the head. But it’s better to try these things – that’s my philosophy.”
Pip hopes her new son or daughter will share her love of travel and benefit from the experience.
“Travel introduces children to that desire to talk to people and be inquisitive and that’s what I want to instil in my child,” she said. “While travelling [I’ve noticed] it’s the children that come over to you and ask you what you’re up to; it’s the babies that get passed around that are the bubbly ones. I’m hoping I’ll be happy to let my baby be cuddled and interact with people.”
Though she is winding down on long-haul travel in her final trimester, Pip is still active and recently hiked part of the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland.
“A lot of people have asked what I’m going to do career-wise and there has been a bit of negativity about [me] being a mum in the adventure space, being told ‘you’re not going to be able to [travel with a baby]. It just made me cross – it made me want to show it’s possible; that it’s more complicated but these things can be worked around.”