4Suitcases – One Family on a World Adventure

[singlepic=1487,250,,,right]In June of 2009, Marc and Danielle Hoffmeister completed a 9-month trip through the Caribbean, South America, the South Pacific and Asia with their daughters Hannah (11) and Olivia (8) – which they chronicled on their travel blog: 4Suitcases. They took the time from readjusting to life back in Texas to answer some of our questions about their experience.

What made you decide to take a career break and travel with your family?
Danielle: There wasn’t any one thing in particular, it was more of a gradual realization that our secure and stable life wasn’t completely fulfilling.

Marc: Yeah, we were definitely stuck in a rut. I realized I was spending way too much of my time driving in traffic or staring at a computer screen and not enough with my family. The kids were in a rut, too – spending too much time at school doing mindless busy work or preparing for tests and not enough time really learning and growing. I decided something drastic had to be done!

What was your travel experience like prior to your break?
Just occasional week-long vacations (mostly cruises) that never seemed to last long enough. Before this trip, the longest we’d been away from home was 8 days.

What were some of the ways you prepared for this new experience?
We decided the best way to prepare was just to go out and do it. We didn’t take any test trips or stock up on travel guides or language courses.

How did you prepare the girls for the experience?
The kids were just as excited as we were to take the trip, so we didn’t have any issues there. And we used our blog and other social media tools to stay in touch with family and friends.

The obvious questions here is – did your family, friends and co-workers think you were crazy?!
Probably, but they also thought it was an awesome idea. Once they got over the shock, most of them seemed to “get it”.

[singlepic=1486,250,,,right]How did you prepare for your long-term travel – what did you do with your house/possessions/pets?
We made a clean break and sold almost everything – house, cars, appliances, and most of the furniture (we didn’t have any pets). We‘d been doing our banking online for years, so we just went paperless with our few remaining bills, and got a PO box where a family member could check it periodically.

How did you decide on what to do and where to go?
Marc: Besides spending more time together as a family, we wanted to test-drive some of our retirement fantasies, so we started our trip by living on cruise ships in the Caribbean for a few months. That was fun!

Danielle: Seasons and budget also played a part. We had originally planned to go to Europe after South America but it was just too expensive, so we opted for SE Asia instead.

How did your children adjust to life on the road and home-schooling? What did they miss most?
The girls adapted to life on the road surprisingly well. They enjoy playing together and are at an age where they still want to be with us, too. That helped a lot.

Home-schooling wasn’t really an ordeal for us. We’re fortunate to live in a state without many requirements, so we didn’t have to bring a whole suitcase full of books or anything. They’ve learned far more this past year than they ever did in a year at school.

They did miss the grandparents and other things about “home” (we all missed the food!), but the trip has given all of us a whole new appreciation for things that used to be taken for granted. Priceless!

We look at a lot of things differently now. It’s amazing how little we miss all the stuff we sold, and how much more we’ve enjoyed the experiences we got in return.

While on the road, what helped you through any doubts or struggles you encountered?
Danielle: Have you heard about our family motto, “Suck it up”?

Marc: We were fortunate not to encounter any serious crises, and getting through all the little problems and struggles was one of the most rewarding aspects of the trip. We all learned to worry less and be more flexible, and the girls are so much more confident and adventurous now.

What was each family member’s favorite destination/activity?
Danielle: It’s actually hard to pick just one thing and when we ask the kids, their answer changes constantly. Maybe the fact we can’t choose is one of those signs that we must have done something right.

Marc: Yeah, it was all good. But I think the places we’re most eager to visit again someday are St. Thomas, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, New Zealand and Thailand.

[singlepic=1484,250,,,left]Reflecting on your career break, what insight have you and your family gained?
We look at a lot of things differently now. It’s amazing how little we miss all the stuff we sold, and how much more we’ve enjoyed the experiences we got in return.

This trip has really helped us figure out what kind of life we’d like to have in the future, too, and we’re excited to work on making that a long-term reality.

What advice would you give other families thinking of doing this?
Don’t stop thinking about it! When we first got the idea to do this, there were dozens of obstacles that came to mind. But as we continued to work on it, we found solutions to every single one.

Also, when it comes to actual planning, we found it helpful to build in plenty of “down time”. Packing up and moving too frequently, sleeping in too many different beds, and running around every day looking at stuff can be especially hard for kids. Some of our happiest days were the laziest ones.

Is traveling with a family of four around the world for a year expensive? Do you think you would have spent more money if you had stayed put and not traveled?
It can be. Street food and hostels aren’t always our thing, so we had to take that into account when budgeting. I think we spent about the same on the trip as we would have back home. Our next trip should be a lot cheaper though, because we don’t plan to move around as much.

[singlepic=1485,250,,,right]Did you meet many Americans doing long-term travel? Why do you think Career Breaks are a foreign concept to Americans?
Danielle: We met very few Americans – and even fewer American families. I think most Americans are too addicted to their illusions of security.

Marc: A perfect example – last week I was chatting online with a friend back home who said, “I would love to be in a position to do what you’re doing, but I’d be worried about things like health insurance.”

What next?
We are back in Dallas, Texas, where we get to start over with a clean slate and build the lifestyle we really want. We plan to keep home-schooling the kids and get an apartment in the city, where Marc already has some freelance work lined up with his former employer. We’ll try to keep our possessions and expenses to a minimum, so when adventure calls again we’ll be ready. No more ruts for us!

You can read more about the Hoffmeister Family’s world adventure on their blog – 4Suitcases

Other comments

5 Comments on "4Suitcases – One Family on a World Adventure"

  1. John Bardos on Tue, 7th Jul 2009 9:49 am 

    Great Story!

    If a family of 4 can manage a world trip and home-schooling there is not much excuse for couples or single people.

    It is great to hear about people with the courage to do cool things in life.


  2. Best Lifestyle Design, Personal Development and Travel Links | JetSetCitizen.com on Thu, 23rd Jul 2009 12:36 pm 

    […] Family of Four Starts Off on a World Adventure […]

  3. Travel-Writers-Exchange.com on Wed, 19th Aug 2009 12:16 pm 

    Kudos to you for traveling with a family of four. Most people wouldn’t dream of selling all of their possessions to travel with their family or even alone. Your daughters have been exposed to other cultures and go to see the “real world” versus the world painted by the media. It was probably an experience for them, one that will benefit them in their adulthood.

  4. Celebrating Long Term Travel | Ottsworld on Wed, 2nd Sep 2009 1:18 am 

    […] how to take a break and come back to a career, or start a new one if you want!   The site inspires and (hopefully) demonstrates that a career break is not going to destroy your career; in fact […]

  5. Rosalin on Mon, 14th Mar 2011 4:47 pm 

    My husband and I are leaving in 2 weeks to take a career break and travel around the US/Canada for 6 months. Any recommendations on what to do for health insurance? We just don’t want to run into unforseeable situations and get in debt with hospital bills, etc. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks.

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