- Deseret News - Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Europe, Jordan, Southeast Asia, New Zealand, Australia and South America. Organizing a family vacation to just one of these locations would be a herculean task. But to visit them all?

It took the Totaro family one year to plan and 11 months to pull off.

“We had talked about it for a long, long time, since the girls were born,” said Paige Totaro, mother of twin daughters and family travel consultant with All Over the Map. “We realized once they hit sixth grade, we better start making a plan or it wasn’t going to happen.”

Traveling the world is a merely a wish for most individuals. But for some families, like the Totaros, it is a serious goal that can be accomplished with detailed planning, flexibility and creativity to arrange the basic food and lodging and create a curriculum for a memorable and valuable education when children are involved.

“Learning goes well beyond academic learning, it goes with experience supplement,” said Rainer Jenss of his family’s extended trip to 20 countries with his wife and two boys. “We really did want to, as a gift to our children, provide them with a foundation of having an experience like this. To understand the world better … It’s important to understand the way Americans do things is not the only way to do them.”

Jenss is founder and president of the Family Travel Association, an online resource for traveling families, one of many resources for families to not only plan the average-length family vacations, but also extensive trips. There are also numerous families who blog and share their experiences traveling with their family, like Theresa Jorgensen who traveled more than 12,000 on a road trip with family.


For the Totaro family, the first step in deciding whether to travel the world together was to figure out if the timing was right — not just when to leave, but when to come back — and other logistics.

“A year before our trip we started planning, started making lists of what we had to do: rent or sell the house, what would we do about schooling, what would we do about work?” Totaro said.

Totaro’s husband talked with his bosses at his law firm and left with sincere encouragement to take up to a year traveling with his family, teaching and showing their then-12-year-old twin girls about the world.

“Once that fell into place we knew we would go, we knew we’d be able to leave and come back, but we had to figure out if we would be leaving indefinitely,” Totaro said.

They decided to make it nearly a year-long excursion and rented out their house for that time period. Living in Virginia, where a lot of people will come and go for only a year or two, renting wasn’t difficult.

Then the to-do lists began: They included items like getting their stuff into storage, figuring out how they would communicate with their friends and family in the U.S. while they were gone, insurance and preparation for backing up pictures they would take.

The Totaros began their excursion with airplane tickets to Europe, a carry-on bag for each person and a rough itinerary for the next 11 months of their life. They knew which countries they wanted to visit, but much of what they were going to do would be decided along the way.

Jenss and his wife worked things out a little bit differently when planning their extended travel in 2009.

“My wife and I literally put our personal and professional lives in storage. We sold our house, traveled a little over a year. Our boys were 8 and 11, we went to 28 different countries and had experiences that ranged from five-star luxury to bare bones, hot on an island in Panama,” Jenss said.

Another part of the planning process? Real involvement for the kids. Rainer and his wife wanted their boys to be engaged in preparing and planning where to go and what to do, so that when they were actually there, it would be even more exciting.

According to a study conducted by HomeAway, a leading vacation rental agency in the U.S., 77 percent of parents report that their kids are involved in planning what activities are done while traveling, 53 percent say their kids help choose when to do different activities and 49 percent say their kids get to give input on the vacation destination.

“The planning process should be fun. It has its challenges, but it shouldn’t be a chore. Do it with the kids, get them involved, get them engaged,” Jenss said.

Planning where the travel will be isn’t the only planning to be done — the family has to be prepared with the resources and finances to spend more time exploring than working.


While traveling around the world, families can expect wild swings in the cost of living from one country to the next.

Lainie Liberti was burned out and just wanted to spend more time with her son, after selling her business during the recession of 2008. After discussing it with her 10-year-old son, Miro Siegel, they decided go on a trip for one year through Latin America.

However, after one year, neither of them wanted to go home and the trip became indefinite. But Liberti knew she needed to find a way to make a living. She had previously worked in marketing and advertising in Los Angeles for 18 years and decided to work remotely and use the skills she had.

“When I ran my business, we lived off of $10,000 a month. With the same amount per year, I can do that in South America … We live off around $1,000 a month and we live richly.”

After six years of travel, she and Miro also speak for learning from travel and culture immersion at conferences around the world. They run a popular blog, raisingmiro.com, about their travels and the best ways they found to combine work and school.

In meeting expenses for their trip, the Totaros found that their phone bills were a bit of a challenge and ended up doing a lot of research to figure out how best to pay for that expense while away. There was also budgeting on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

“There are so many different budget ideas. We did $100 a day for lodging and food for the four of us. Most of our money was traveling from place to place,” Totaro said. “If we decided to stay in one place, we could have saved a lot of money on our trip. But we found in a lot of parts of the world, like in Southeast Asia, it was $50 for lodging and food for the four of us. There are definitely ways to do it.”

Between couch-surfing, house-sitting and staying in hostels, the Totaros were often able to save money and spend it on actually seeing the world as a family.

“People will spend $5,000 on a beach vacation, when they could take the family to Thailand for a month for that,” she said.

Education from the world

Next to arranging for room and board, the challenge of ensuring the children don’t fall behind in their education while touring the world is equally important. The Totaro, Jenss and Liberti families wanted their children to learn from travel, but also to stay on the same level as peers at home in math, science, language arts, history and social studies.

Totaro and her husband purchased a DVD-based math course for their daughters and had a history textbook to help along the way. They set standards and knew when they needed to have accomplished certain parts of the curriculum at certain times.

“We didn’t have a set time for schooling each day. We worked it in when we had down time. So rather than keeping to an hour of math every day, we kept to, say five hours every week, so they could power through it all on one rainy day if they wanted to,” Totaro said. “We knew they were going to get a great education in what they were seeing and doing.”

They often studied history while traveling between locations, and the girls regularly read and wrote, two things they already loved to do.

Liberti and Miro decided on a different approach for Miro’s education after deciding on indefinite travel. Unschooling is unique and something not every parent or child may choose when looking for a traditional route, though Miro believes it is best for him.

“I started looking at these different schoolings and what came up through my search was this whole community of natural learners, people trusting their kids to learn from what they are actually fascinated in,” Liberti said.

“We would go to the ruins, and he would go back and research it on his own. It’s called unschooling … Combining unschooling with traveling gave us a really rich education, now we call it world schooling,” Liberti said, who promotes the approach through her Project World School.

Both Totaro’s daughters and the Jenss sons went back to traditional schooling once their trips ended, but they feel that their children’s education is now more rich, with more understanding of the world, empathy for other people and an appreciation for life.

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