If you think packing up the minivan for a weekend at grandma’s is overwhelming, try prepping for 1 1/2 years on the road. Jessica and Garrett Gee have been traveling with their two kids, Dorothy, 4, and Manilla, 2, since August 2015.
After Garrett sold Scan Inc., an app he co-founded, to Snapchat for $54 million in 2014, he and wife Jessica decided to invest their earnings, sell most of their worldly possessions and travel the world using the money they made — roughly $45,000 — from their giant garage sale.
The family chronicles their adventures on the Bucket List Family blog, as well as on Instagram and YouTube, including diving with seals in Australia, swimming with the pigs in the Bahamas and surfing in Fiji.
The Gees are also committed to philanthropic work. Inspired by prayer flags in Nepal, they designed “adventure bands” that can be used as a scarf, headband or armband, and sell them through their website to raise money to build a school in the landlocked Himalayan country in South Asia. The first batch of bands sold out within three hours, raising $10,000.
In addition to supporting charities, they take nominations from their community and surprise other families with travel experiences. “We’ll be surprising a family to join us in Bali, where we’re volunteering at an orphanage,” Garrett, 28, said. “It’s this community effort to pick a family and send them somewhere incredible.”
Here’s a look at what they’ve learned and how they’ve handled the logistics of long-term travel with kids.
1. Kids don’t need that much stuff.
Jessica, 30, says she made the mistake early in their travels of packing everything they might need, including a double stroller and extra clothes and towels. They’ve since pared down. The family still carries a small travel stroller that folds down and fits in the overhead compartment, but for most other things they’ll buy or rent it once they get there. They don’t travel with a car seat, because island destinations don’t involve much driving. When they fly to Europe and rent a car, they’ll also rent a car seat. “Everything else, like diapers, we buy those wherever we go because people have kids everywhere,” Garrett said.
The Gees also don’t carry heavy jackets or warm weather clothing; when they travel somewhere cold, they’ll immediately buy jackets on arrival and stay in that climate for several months, or buy lighter items for balmier destinations. (Additionally, they'll gradually worked their way around the globe in short flights instead of making huge jumps to lessen the impact of jet lag.)
As for the kids’ toys, the Gees have a family rule that the kids pack and carry their own backpacks with toys. “If the backpack is too heavy and they don’t want to carry it, they have too many toys,” Garrett said. Jessica says Dorothy has actually thrived with fewer toys. “It mostly just means she is spending more time outside playing in the water or collecting sea shells or finding little bugs or animals,” she added.
2. You don’t need a fancy cellphone plan.
When the Gees first hit the road, they agreed to a tight travel budget. They decided to stick to living off the proceeds from their big garage sale, and not touch their savings or the money earned from the sale of Garrett's company. If they ran out of money, the couple would stop their journey. But they now make enough money as a traveling family, working with brands and companies through their social media accounts, to extend their travels.
One expense that had to go? International cellphone plans. Instead, the Gees use their iPhones when they have access to Wi-Fi. The couple say this budget cut has had an unexpected benefit: feeling more balanced and present with the family. “When we were out of the house, we didn't ever use our phones because they didn't work,” said Jessica. “So we would spend the majority of the day disconnected from phones and enjoying our family adventures, conversations, and you know, old-fashioned good stuff.” When they’re on Wi-Fi at a hotel or temporary rental, they stay in touch with friends and family members using Skype, Facetime or Google Hangouts.
3. Other countries have decent (and affordable) medical care.
The only recurring bill the Gees have is medical travel insurance in case someone gets sick or injured. They take care of routine doctor and dentist visits when they return to the U.S. at Christmastime, but both children have had emergency room visits for stitches on the road.
Dorothy slipped in the shower and split open her chin in Thailand, and Manilla needed stitches in Nepal. Even in a more remote area of Nepal, Garrett says the kids were in good hands, and the cost of the ER visit wasn’t hard on their wallets. “Both of those emergency room trips ended up costing around $200,” he said. “I’m not even sure we tapped our insurance for that.”
4. Kids are remarkably adaptable.
Garrett says their kids have enjoyed trying new foods and exploring new cultures. “One of my favorite things as a parent is to see this effect that traveling has had on our kids,” he said. “I think kids are just going to grow accustomed to their surroundings. If you let them be high maintenance, they’ll be high maintenance.”
Without the option of Cheerios or Lucky Charms, the kids have tried new dishes like udon noodles in Kyoto and fried bananas in Thailand. “We have a family rule that if there’s something new, you always have to try it,” Garrett said. “You don’t have to finish it but you have to try at least one bite. Almost always they’ll try one bite and like it.” (Squid and caviar were another story.)
Garrett remembers a run-down hotel in Nepal that was a little outside the parents’ comfort zone. “We were killing cockroaches, but (Dorothy) said it was her favorite because she’d never been in a shower where she got to squeegee the water,” he said.
“In a funny way,” added Jessica, “the kids have probably adapted easier than us parents!”