Have you ever dreamed of taking a journey around the world? I know I have. I met Tom and Kate and their family on Instagram. Say what you will about social media, but there are many interesting people out there you get to meet who share your interests. Since we started our blog in 2017, I have come across many fascinating individuals and families. Some of them live their lives and travel in a traditional sense. But others, and those have caught my eye, do things very differently.
Enter Tom, Kate and Family
Take, Tom and Kate, for example. What drew me to their story on Instagram, besides the eye catching name of their account (@HoboFamily), were their photos. I wasn’t seeing the typical traveling family’s pictures. There was no lazing around on the beach, or sipping cocktails at an all-inclusive resort, no theme parks with rides. Instead, here was a family, with photos of travel experiences I used to read about in adventure books as a kid.
“… our entire lives are in the small suitcase we drag around everywhere with us. ” – Tom from @HoboFamily
All of a sudden I had in front of me photos of a normal looking family that seemed to be on a very unusual journey around the world. I was seeing pictures of them in Rwanda, a place many Westerners don’t think of as a travel destination with their families. Next, I was seeing photos of them taking a tiny bus across the Sahara. And more recently, there was a photo of this family of five at a police station in the Sinai Desert. When you sum up all these things, you can clearly tell, their voyage is not what most families usually consider to be a typical family vacation.
Those of you who know me will know I cannot just sit and wonder. I need to ask questions. So I reached out to Tom to invite him to share his family’s story with us and with our readers. And I am so glad that I did, because their story turned out to be very inspiring. People travel for many different reasons. But whatever drove Tom and his family to initially begin their journey around the world, it eventually turned their voyage into a kind of collective healing for them.
A Family’s Journey Around the World
“My bucket list has my family on it.” – Tom from @HoboFamily
Q: Tell us a bit about yourselves and how you came to live your life as we see it today. You seem to always be traveling and having amazing adventures. What prompted you to choose this lifestyle of constant travel? What challenges did you face as you began this journey around the world?
Oh man, I could write pages and pages to answer this question and it’s pretty personal but the short answer is this. We are Tom, Kate, Dusty (11), Miles (9) and Penny (6) and we’re from Delray Beach, Florida. We didn’t plan this trip at all and we’ve never done anything like this before. It was totally spontaneous. Kate and I got divorced 5 years ago and we’d been living separate lives with new partners handing the kids back and forth on weekends like every other divorced couple.
I sort of fell into a hole after divorcing and stopped working and I got a really bad depression, anxiety and insomnia. I tried everything to fix myself including meditation, self help books, exercise, therapy, drugs and alcohol and, of course, medication. Nothing worked so, in desperation, I left south Florida (where we had been living for eight years) and I went traveling by myself, first to Great Britain and then to South Africa.
While I was in South Africa, Kate mentioned she wanted to take the kids on a road trip around America and I said “Maybe I could come with you guys?” And she said, “Okay!” So I flew back to Florida a couple of weeks later. We rented a van for one month (with crashing waves painted all over the sides) and off we went … Of course we had a great time and that one-month camping trip turned into the epic trip we’re on now…
Q: Tell us about your travels through Africa. Why did you choose this area of the world? How do you deal with schooling for your kids on the road?
We’re travelling around the world. We bought around the world plane tickets. So we could kind of choose anywhere we wanted as long as our trip “legs” kept moving us on a sensible path eastwards. We spent three months in Europe. Then we spent another three months in Africa (we’re in Egypt now). Next week we head to India for three months. After that, we’ll be spending four months in the Far East (Japan, China, SE Asia, etc)… then onto Canada!… and finally back to Europe.
We tried to choose places that are fairly cheap so we could stretch our savings further. And as you can see on our Instagram, we also like places the US State Department says not to go to. 😉
As for schooling, we try to block off at least 3-5 hours every morning for schoolwork. The kids each have a workbook they work through and some apps on our phones they use. But we’re not too regimented about this. We see this trip as a super duper giant homeschooling field trip. Next year we can be all strict about their formal education. But for now we want to have a good time and see the world.
Q: What has been the most rewarding thing about your adventure? What challenges are you dealing with while on the road?
That’s easy. This trip is bonding us as a family. Our family was broken. Now we spend all of our time together and I can’t speak for everyone else, but I’ve never been happier. Also I’ve noticed my stress and anxiety have fallen away and I’m sleeping so much better (although I am writing this at 4 in the morning).
Challenges? Basic stuff. Where will we sleep tonight? How will we get there? What will we eat? What fun things will we do? Oh… and we get challenged a lot over money. People are nickel and diming us wherever we go — or just outright trying to take advantage of us — and it gets a little old after a while.
Q: How do you support yourselves while traveling the entire time?
Yeah, we get this question a lot. We’re living off savings. We aren’t professional travel bloggers or digital nomads or anything like that. We’ve just saved up and now we’re blowing it.
However, sometimes we exchange our services for lodging. For example, we found a volunteer position in Rwanda on a website called Workaway which connects volunteers with volunteer hosts. We got very lucky with this position. I contacted the place on a Monday and that Wednesday we were on their doorstep beginning our jobs. We had no plan B. As always, we were winging it.
Kate helped organize their library. It was a giant mess of donations before we arrived. And I helped them design a new website. I also took new pictures and wrote the new website copy and helped them design it. And, I also ended up speaking to a classroom of Rwandan kids (their teacher asked me to do it). I told them about America, so they got to hear something a little different that day.
In return, we got free lodging and the use of the school facilities to home school our kids. We borrowed library books and board games. We got to use their WiFi and we participated in some of the school activities. It couldn’t have been better for us. We are very grateful to them. And all that was set up in two days through one email.
But we don’t aspire to be perpetual travelers. This is a sabbatical and at the end of the year we’re going to re-enter normal life somehow. I have absolutely no idea what that entails right now… where we’re going to live, how we’ll earn money, etc but I’m sure we’ll figure something out. Not worried about all that right now. Before we left Florida we both got rid of all of our things, ended the leases on our apartments, said goodbye to our friends and I quit my work). We have a small storage locker there but otherwise our entire lives are in the small suitcase we drag around everywhere with us.
Q: Where are you off to next? Why are you going there?
India. Why are we going there? Well, it’s India. ‘Nuff said.
Q: Have you met any people during your travels that really stuck in your mind? Can you tell us what made them stand out?
Yeah, many actually. Too many to list. The thing they all have in common is they evoked strong emotions in us… either because we clicked as friends… or because they were kind to us… or because we had conflict with them. There were people who tried and sometimes succeeded to take advantage of us. Others stick in our mind because they made the kids laugh or because they taught us something.
Q: Can you think of the most memorable experience you’ve had on the road so far? What was it?
I tried hard to pick a single experience for you but I couldn’t. There are just too many and they’re incomparable. How can you choose between seeing the Grand Canyon and chilling with mountain gorillas in the Congo? Or riding the sleeper train from Budapest to Istanbul versus riding in a hot air balloon over Cappadocia? Or seeing the Great Pyramid of Giza vs seeing Bryce Canyon? You can’t. But I still have an answer for you: the most memorable experience is being with my family on an incredible adventure. That is what I’ll remember. Not the places or the experiences. My bucket list has my family on it.
Q: What’s the most surprising place you have visited on this journey around the world? What surprised you about it?
Gosh, your questions get harder and harder. I’m surprised how cold Egypt is in the winter. How friendly and curious the Rwandese were towards us. Rwanda’s culture was most foreign to us of all the places we’ve been so far. How friendly the Albanians are… and how much ancient Roman and Greek ruins they have. Oh… and a big surprise was how fun driving and camping across America was. It still might be the funnest thing we’ve done so far. We all absolutely loved it. And it really beat our expectations.
Q: If you were to stop your voyage right now, what would be the most important lesson from your travels to date?
Two things actually. One, that I need to take sabbaticals from work and life from time to time. Working for decades under stress without a break did not lead to happiness. And second, spending a lot of time together has been a very good thing for our family. We’ve gotten so much closer and gotten to know each other so much more deeply. I know we were divorced but I think this would apply just as much if we’d still been married and I was working all the time. We’re going to do a family sabbatical every 7th year from now on. I guess the bottom line is, the travels have been very good for my head and I hate to speak for Kate and the kids, but I’d guess they’d agree.
Q: Was there anything you discovered on your journey around the world that completely blew your mind and perhaps changed your outlook on life?
That giving myself a break from the responsibility of earning money… and spending that break with Kate and the children was a decision that led to a lot of happiness for me… more happiness than I remember having ever felt before… most happy I’ve ever been my entire life…
Q: Have you learned something about people you didn’t know before?
Hmmm … you mean like humans in general? I don’t think so. Human nature has already defined itself pretty well to me — through reading and traveling — and I don’t think it changes much. The corollary to that is, I have learned a lot about myself. And how I should best approach life.
Q: What advice would you give to a family thinking of embarking on a similar journey around the world?
Haha! I hate giving advice. I wouldn’t give them any advice. Instead I’d say “you’ll see.” But if you asked me what advice Tom today would give to Tom of nine months ago, well, that would be the following. Take it slow, and don’t try to see, do, and control everything. The real fun is in being with the people you love most. Whether you’re chilling all day in a hotel room or you’re seeing one of The Seven Wonders, it doesn’t matter. As long as you’re together, you’re winning. There’s no need to try to see and do everything. As a matter of fact, we even have rest days several times a week and we try not to do more than one tourist activity per day when we are exploring.
Tom and Kate were kind enough to share with us some of their photos from their journey around the world. All the photos you are seeing in this post belong to them. This photo’s description written by Tom particularly grabbed my attention.
It’s not necessarily what he said (because it is not unique to his experience) but that he was brave enough to say it:
“Back in America, I used to dread spending time with my kids. I was so wrapped up in my own selfish agenda that spending time with the kids often seemed like a duty or an inconvenience. Essentially I was a grumpy babysitter … Now, traveling as we are, we spend all of our time together … often in the very cosy (read: cramped) studio apartments we rent. And I couldn’t be happier.”
Final Word on Tom & Kate’s Family Adventure
My takeaway from interviewing Tom about his family’s journey around the world is this. It’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey. And who you are on that journey with is paramount. And that you should make time for play as often as possible. Sometimes, while we are too preoccupied with our careers or other goals, we forget what is most important. We are busy doing instead of just being. We forget to take a break, to simply enjoy what we already have. And sometimes we even put our families on a back burner.
Tom’s story reminds us that we only have the one life to live and we should not waste it on things that do not fulfill us. Tom and his family’s journey around the world may have began as an act of desperation after they went through some tough times. But it turned into a process of healing for their entire family.
I sincerely want to thank Tom, Kate and their lovely kids for sharing with us their deeply personal story. I think their eventual ability to let go of things and of their past is enviable to a lot of us. To me, their story is one of freedom. Would you be brave enough to embark on a journey around the world such as the one Tom and his family are on?
In addition, Tom has graciously agreed to answer any questions you may have about his family’s journey around the world. So go ahead and leave a question for him in comments below.
Enjoy your journey!
For other interesting people we have met through our travels, see: