The idea that travel offers valuable, formative experiences is widely accepted. Until recently, though, long road or overseas trips were generally seen as for younger adults before they ‘settled down’, or older adults who had raised their families. The digital nomad experience particularly came with a stereotype: 20-something backpackers, plugged into their laptops at beach bars. But now things are changing, as more families take to the road.
For Joel Young, 38, it’s the idea of gifting his children with heightened cultural awareness along with a different kind of learning experience that informs his lifestyle. Young, a voice actor who runs his own production company remotely, and his wife Jenna, 39, spend up to six months of the year traveling around the US in a motorhome with their three home-schooled sons, aged between eight and 14.
“Jenna and I both grew up in rural Ohio, in farming communities. I didn’t go on an airplane until I was 17. We wish we had seen and experienced more before making critical life choices,” Young says. “We want our kids to have the benefit of seeing it all … It just leads to a better level of decision-making.”
Parents who embrace a travel-filled lifestyle believe their children have much to gain – whether that’s exposure to new languages and cultures, important skills like resilience and adaptability, or simply an appetite for adventure. Yet experts warn children might also stand to lose out in terms of the community and continuity that come with growing up in one place. As remote work frees up more families to explore new options, understanding the potential pitfalls of a traveling lifestyle can be key to harnessing its benefits.
Joel and Jenna Young spend up to six months of the year traveling around the US in a motorhome with their three home-schooled sons (Credit: Courtesy of the Young Family)
The Youngs are part of a growing demographic of parents who chose to travel for long periods with their children. A recent study by Lonely Planet and freelance platform Fiverr points to the emergence of the “anywhere worker”, a new breed of a digital nomad who, rather than being a freelancer, tends to have a stable knowledge-work job that allows them to base themselves wherever they want. Of the 1,400 people from 67 nationalities surveyed, 54% identified as anywhere workers – and 70% of those were parents who took their children with them on their travels.
“The families I know who could function nomadically were fewer pre-pandemic,” says Lonely Planet destinations editor Sarah Stocking. But two key changes have moved the needle: many more people can work flexibly now, plus parents have greater experience of non-traditional learning. “The pandemic showed a lot of parents what remote learning could look like, both good and bad, and how homeschooling could function,” says Stocking. “[It] also showed people how they could use tools differently to support their families.”