6 Helpful Books for Family Travelers (for the Adults)
Here are six books we’ve found helpful along the way to process different aspects of our planned family gap year.
Choose Life: The Tools, Tricks, and Hacks of Long-Term Family Travellers, Worldschoolers and Digital Nomads by Daniel Prince (2017)
If you’ve considered long-term travel but you are held back by doubts and fears, this book is a must read. Daniel Prince left his day job to travel long-term with his wife and four kids. They ended up extending their “gap-year” for several more years. He covers a wide array of topics, most of them doubts we had and some of them issues we had never thought of, including what to do about school for the kids, how will we be able to afford it, and how do we talk to our family and friends and convince them we’re not crazy?
One of my most important takeaways was that other doors will open up when we close the door on the life we are living now. Chock full of travel hacks and motivational wisdom, this book will help move you past the mental hurdles that are preventing you from taking your leap of faith into long-term travel.
How to Be a Family: The Year I Dragged My Kids Around the World to Find a New Way to Be Together by Dan Kois (2019)
Over the course of a year, Dan Kois and his family try on different styles of parenthood and family life by living in and immersing themselves in four destinations around the globe. His style is funny and self-aware as he narrates friction between family members, their ease or difficulty integrating themselves in different cultures, and a variety of misadventures including wrecking a car on a test drive in New Zealand due to cognitive overload while driving on the left and a stomach churning “what if” ending that I won’t spoil here.
The book ends with a reflection on the ways in which a year abroad changed the Kois-Smiths individually and as a family, as well as the many aspects of their lives they weren’t able to change despite their best efforts. As a reader, it helped me reflect on my own expectations for life change on our planned year abroad.
Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts
Vagabonding is a unique and insightful look at long-term travel. It links modern travel and tourism with historical figures and trends. He quotes and profiles a wide variety of characters including Jon Muir, Henry David Thoreau, Thomas Merton, the desert fathers, and more.
One of the main points that impressed me was how long-term travel is a personal choice that one should only embark on if internally motivated to do so. I found this a refreshing take in a world where it seems like every life choice is a political statement, a critique on other choices, or a path to gaining social capital.
I found his stories, travel philosophy and references to anthropological studies on tourism engaging on a deep level. He even includes a chapter on the spiritual dimension of travel, which I haven’t seen anywhere else. If you have a traveler’s heart, you will find this an easy and pleasurable read.
Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, by Hans Rosling (2018)
If giving your kids first-hand experience of the world is one of your reasons for family travel, you should give this book a read. Factfulness is a reality check on what we think we know about the world, usually informed by the media and outdated grade school social studies textbooks. Hans Rosling attempts to reframe our concept of wealth and poverty, population growth, and trends in living standards using statistics, trends and analysis to show us that, no, the world is not getting worse. He argues that terms “first world” and “third world” are misleading, and should rather be broken down into four groups by relative wealth (check out dollar street with your kids to get visual snapshots of life along the continuum of wealth).
He tempers his optimism with global challenges and risks that he does think need to be managed on a large scale. Ironically, the first item on this list is a global pandemic, which seemed like a remote possibility when my wife and I were listening to the book in December 2019.
The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Tim Ferriss (2009)
This bestseller is a classic for those who are considering upending their lives for something “better”. In fact, we found out about the book from references in our first recommended book, Choose Life.
One theme of this book is “seize the day” – don’t stay in a job you don’t like to buy stuff you don’t need, go out and have experiences. A second theme is how to order life in such a way as to minimize all the unnecessary busy work that chokes off our ability to prioritize those experiences. It compels the reader to reexamine his or her to-do list and cull out that which is not engaging or life-giving.
Ferriss’ audience is not primarily families, but his approach toward work, arguing that most of what we do in the office is unnecessary and the critical elements can be condensed into a much shorter time frame, is one traveling parents can apply in many situations. Some of the chapters on how he started his self-running online business can be skipped over if that’s not your thing.
The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives by William Stixrud and Ned Johnson (2018)
This book isn’t about travel but the approach they outline is something we will carry with us as we world-school. They describe the parent as consultant rather than as manager of their kids’ lives, as well as practical advice on being a non-anxious presence and empowering children to make decisions for themselves. It’s also helpful to have the authors – a test-prep coach and a neuroscientist – affirm that success doesn’t have to be getting into a top college, but is more about nurturing kids’ internal motivation to learn and find their purpose in the world – which is exactly what we hope for our family gap year!