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This is the big year that both Paul and I turn 40 and while we never need an excuse to plan a trip, our 40th gives us the perfect excuse.
Way back in 2015 we took a 6-month trip where we trialed cruising life (living aboard a sailboat in the Bahamas). We loved it so much that we were determined to come home and start planning our big sailing trip. But then the opportunity to move to Australia presented itself and we took that leap. We parked our big sailing trip, knowing we would come back to it eventually.
When we moved back to Canada, we knew we had to act on that ASAP. The kids were getting older and we accepted that the high school years would tether us to one place. Buying a boat and sailing away was always the plan, but then while we were in Mexico last year, we saw lots of overlanders on the PanAmericas route.
Suddenly #vanlife seemed like it might be a better option for us. We wouldn’t have to worry about the weather, navigating our boat through coral reefs, or anchoring in a busy harbour. We would still be able to travel with a home base but we had long ago reckoned that we were travellers more than sailors. Traveling overland would allow us to travel farther and to more culturally interesting places in less time.
These dreams have taken shape over the last year and we are so excited to announce that we will be hitting the road this summer for a one-year road trip through North and Central America.
Originally the plan was to drive all the way to the southern tip of South America. But, we would rather travel slower and deeper. There are so many amazing places in Canada, the US, Mexico and Central America to keep us busy. We are looking forward to being immersed in nature and spending lots of time hiking, mountain biking, and backpacking.
Why & Why Now?
The better questions is “Why Not?”. Travel makes us happy, being together as a family makes us happy and slowing down makes us happy. This trip allows us to do all of those things. It also shows our kids that if you dream it, you can make it happen. This was modeled to me as a teen when my family left for a year aboard our sailboat. The greatest gift from that experience was the realization that my life doesn’t have to look a certain way; you can veer off the “normal path”. Life is too short to not do the things you really want.
There is never the perfect time to do anything. Likewise if you wait for all the stars to align, you may be waiting forever. Sometimes you just have to jump and trust that it will work out.
Ella will be in grade 8 next year and while we know it is possible to travel in the high school years, we want to be “settled” for those years. This feels like the last big opportunity to do a big trip together as a family. Ella has known about the trip for over a year and while she wasn’t very enthusiastic at first about missing her last year in elementary school, she has come around. The boys are excited to not have to go to school and do lots of biking and exploring.
Our kids still like spending time with us and we know that window might be closing (although really our plan is for that to never change!). The kids are at a great age to really dig into outdoor activities and we plan to do lots of hiking, biking and camping. The route will force us to develop our Spanish and we are looking forward to trying new activities, like surfing and multi-day hiking trips.
When at home, our lives are jam packed with activities and we are looking forward to slowing down and spending lots of quality time together. Living in a small space will force us to live minimally and be self sufficient. It will also allow us to spend more time outdoors and in nature. While we will be travelling with a full arsenal of electronics, I am hoping to use the time to unplug and focus on what is truly important.
We have spent the last year exploring every possible vehicle for our big road trip. We want something compact, with some off-road capabilities, but also comfortable to live in for a year with space for working and schooling. Here is what we have considered: a van, a travel trailer, a Class C RV, a converted bus, a converted ambulance, and even a Land Rover with rooftop tents.
We have yet to find anything that really ticks all the boxes. We even looked at importing a travel trailer from Australia. Yes, that is right: we are five months from our big trip and don’t have a vehicle yet!
Do you have any suggestions? We would love to hear your thoughts!
The main problem stems from being a family of 5. The other problem is that our ideal vehicle for the Canada and US National Parks is very different from our ideal vehicle for Mexico and Central America.
We plan to leave Ontario in the summer and head cross Canada to the west coast. We will spend 6 weeks exploring BC and Vancouver Island. After that we will quickly head south in order to reach Yosemite before the end of the season. From there we will spend about 10 weeks exploring the US Southwest National Parks and the California coast.
Next, we will enter Mexico and head down Baja. Our family is meeting us in Todos Santos for Christmas, which will be amazing. We then will ferry to the Mexican mainland and drive down the Pacific coast. After that we will explore Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.
The Pan Americas road doesn’t actually connect North America to South America. There is an 106 km gap, called the Darien Gap that you have to ship your vehicle across. This remote jungle on the border of Panama and Colombia is impenetrable and it seems like a natural point to finish the trip.
We have never been to the South American continent and although we won’t be making our way all the way to Tierra del Fuego, our original destination, we want to get a little taste of South America. We have been hearing amazing things about Colombia so the plan is to leave our vehicle in Panama and spend a month backpacking through Colombia.
That will get us to summer 2021. We will then sell the vehicle or ship it back, return to Ontario, enroll the kids back in school, go back to work and start the high school years. We know in all reality it will be a tough adjustment returning to a sedentary life after the freedom of the road. We have been through these transitions a few times and they only get harder the more time we spend away. But, at least it won’t catch us off guard!
We would love to hear your tips or suggestions for awesome places along our route!
As people hear about our plans and this big trip, we get asked a lot how we can do a trip like this. My Travel More post and interview series profiles many different ways families can take these extended trips together.
But, here is how we will make it work this year.
Paul will continue working as an environmental project manager for the company he has worked for since University. He will work remotely about 25 hours a week while we are on the road. Last year in Mexico and India, this worked well. Generally, he worked 2 hours in the mornings and 2 hours after the kids went to bed. Many people are surprised to hear that this is possible to do with a traditional job. Rarely is anyone going to offer you these types of opportunities, but if you are a good worker, our experience is that if you ask and make a case for what you want to do, a good employer will work with you.
As a teacher, I have been able to take a 1-year leave of absence from my position.
Even being budget travellers, our finances have felt the effects of 4 years of frequent travel. While we know we will never regret those travels, we are conscious to not create a financial mess.
Other then the initial investment of our vehicle/camper, we will budget to limit expenses to Paul’s salary while we are traveling. This will mean sticking to a $150 CAD daily budget, which will have to include gas, camp fees, food and activities. In all reality, the trip will likely cost us $10,000 in savings plus the cost of the vehicle (which will be sold after the trip). We will include budget updates as we travel so you can see the actual cost.
It is surprising how much cheaper travel can be compared to our lives at home. Camping keeps costs down and we will cook our food when in Canada and the US. Luckily in Mexico and Central America, we can eat like kings for not much, so we can afford to eat out some meals there. No spending on kids activities or stuff (where would we store it!?) and lots of free outdoor activities to do.
We are firm believers that education does not need to take place in a classroom with four walls. We have seen the way travel allows our kids to organically learn and fosters their curiosity. I know many parents worry about taking their kids out of school for an extended time period, but they will be okay. We use a lot of simple strategies to incorporate learning into family travel.
In the past, we have done a combination of homeschooling and unschooling when we have travelled. We keep up with reading, writing and math, but not in a very rigid or structured way. Next year, the kids will be in grades 8, 6 and 4. My plan for next year is to do some structured learning most days when Paul is working. This will entail reading, writing, math and French. We will let the other subjects occur naturally as we travel. I will definitely be posting more about our worldschooling and roadschooling approach.
We have already rented our house out to a lovely family for when we are away. This allows us to cover our fixed costs while having someone look after the house as well. We have always had good luck finding great tenants when we have rented. The side benefit of constantly moving in and out of your house is that it forces you to do those spring cleaning tasks you never get around to and forces you to continually purge stuff and to live more minimally, a la Marie Kondo.
Trekking – West Coast Trail
To kick off the 40th birthday celebrations, Paul and I are hiking the West Coast Trail with some friends in July. While the kids will be at camp for 2 weeks, we will spend a week hiking the 75-km trail along the southwestern coast of Vancouver Island. It is a bucket list experience that will test us physically and mentally and just the thing to convince us that being 40 doesn’t limit what we can do. We will climb ladders, trudge through mud, walk through rivers and endure the rainy and unpredictable weather along the coast.
We really want to hear your suggestions, tips and advice for what vehicle to buy and destinations not to be missed. Leave a comment below!