Nothing like vacation: What 2023 taught us about full-time family travel

8 insights from 500+ days of world travel with kids

The start of 2024 marked 500 days of full-time family travel! We started traveling the world in August 2022. Not only did 2023 mark our first entire year of travel, it taught us a lot about what we like, don’t like, and how traveling the world full time is NOTHING like being on vacation. Here are 8 insights from our lives on the road.

“When you’re on vacation, the idea that you could stay for an entire 30, 45, 90, or even 180-day visa might not even cross your mind. When you travel full-time however, you quickly realize that you can stay in one spot longer than you might ever have imagined.”

1. Longer stays, less moving from place to place

More and more, we want to stay at least a month wherever we go.

A lot of travel media folks love to showcase jet setting, fast-paced travel. We’ve seen creators who, in a given year, might average one or two nights in the same bed. Or they’ll be in eastern Asia one week, and western Africa the next. Personally, this pace sounds like a debilitating road to burnout, and we long ago realized that a slower pace was essential for full-time family travel.

When you’re on vacation, the idea that you could stay for an entire 30, 45, 90, or even 180-day visa might not even cross your mind. When you travel full-time however, you quickly realize that you can stay in one spot longer than you might ever have imagined.

(Of course, visas, allowed stays, and entry requirements vary country to country. We’re coming at this from the perspectives of U.S. passport holders.)

During March and April 2023, we stayed in Japan for about 45 days. That’s the timeframe that worked for us. From there, we needed to come back to the USA for some work projects. However… we could be in Japan for up to 90 days. Next time we go to Japan, we plan to stay our full visa period.

In Porto, Portugal; Hua Hin, Thailand; and Sevilla, Spain, we spent a month in one place, in one accommodation. And we loved it. Instead of days of transit, we had more time to enjoy where we were, not to mention regular parts of life such as work and school.

As we plan our ongoing full-time family travel, we more and more are prioritizing destinations where we can stay at least 90 days.

2. Places and activities are not tasks on a checklist

The experiences we have are opportunities fulfilled, goals accomplished, and memories created.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the idea of checking off a destination or an activity. Yet that mindset reduces your trip or vacation to a travel version of your home to-do list. When visiting an amazing place or having an illuminating day tour becomes something you might check off the same way you would “mail taxes” or “dust the living room,” it’s hard to separate those very different things mentally and emotionally.

Your trips of a lifetime are not a to-do list. Your experiences are not tasks or chores. They are opportunities, probably tied to larger life goals.

It’s okay to treat them with joy, reverence and fun.

3. No FOMO

We accept that we won’t do everything in a destination. Instead, we feel content with fulfilling our priorities and having the experiences we did.

Even if you spent a lifetime in an area, you won’t do it all. There will always be something undone or that you never get around to. It’s no different for us. During our 6 weeks in Morocco, for example, we never went farther south than Rabat, the kingdom’s coastal capital. Casablanca, Marrakech, Essaouira? Not this time. Nor did we make it to more in-land destinations up in the mountains or the Sahara.

And we’re okay with that.

Even though we travel full-time, we still have limited time in each place. We’ve come to accept that no matter where we go or how long we visit, we will never do everything a place has to offer. There will always be something we don’t get to. We’ve learned to accept that. What’s more, it’s far better to be content with what we accomplish and experience, than constantly speculating about what we missed.

4. Our accommodation stopped being just a place to sleep and is now one of our highest priorities.

Our ideal accommodation combines budget, separate spaces for the kids, proximity to transport or attractions, and being a space where we can live, not just stay.

Jodie and I used to treat accommodation as little more than a place to sleep and a secure spot for whatever we didn’t need while out and about. Traveling full time, however, our accommodation choices have become far more about finding a good living space, not just a place to stay.

The distinction seems subtle, but it makes a world of difference. While we travel, our regular lives are not on pause. Rather, regular life combines with sightseeing. Not only does being able to cook in a kitchen save us money, it’s something we enjoy (plus I consider going to the grocery store or local market one of my favorite destination activities).

Jodie and I run our business from the road, and the kids have schoolwork to do. We might have a cooking class one day, and the next I might be balancing the books and paying taxes for our company.

Earlier in our full-time travels, we mixed apartment or home rentals with hotel rooms. Now, we are staying in rentals as much as possible. They give us more space, where we can live far more functionally day to day.

5. Accomplishing our destination goals matter far more than any things-to-do-in-X-place list

Wherever we go, we set our top 3–5 goals for destinations and activities, and focus on accomplishing those experiences. Anything else beyond that is a bonus.

We’ve all searched it: Things to do in… X.

A search like this is at least a starting point for many of us as we figure out what to do and where to go in a destination. However, it can become easy to take lists like these and think they are must-do lists instead of could-do options.

We do not even attempt to “do it all.” That kind of rushing and bustling isn’t our style. Not only that, the kids would mutiny, and my introversion would melt me down faster than chocolate on a dashboard in an Arizona August.

Instead, we learn about a destination’s activities and options. As we identify things that call out to our priorities, we put them on a list. From that list, we set 3–5 top priorities. Those are the most important things for us to do while we’re in an area. If we do anything beyond them, well, that’s nifty. But if we don’t, we can also depart feeling fulfilled, content in the knowledge that we did what mattered to us.

For example, we knew we would spend the winter holidays in Spain. We wanted to see Christmas lights, experience the holiday festivities in a different country, and enjoy quiet time celebrating the season in the midst of full-time family travel. Many typical tourist attractions were not a priority, but traditional cakes were!

6. We love traveling in East and Southeast Asia, especially Japan and Thailand.

That said, Spain and Morocco have quite taken our hearts as well.

We’ve visited places that we are grateful to have experienced, but they are one and done. Others, though, we discuss over and over. We talk about moments, meals, and memories. Every time we do, we more and more realize that our travels will be entering a different phase.

When you travel full time, you have the opportunity to get to know so many places. There will always be more out there, of course, more than you could experience in ten lifetimes. But you can do so much with the time you have.

I’m writing this from Morocco, which marks the twelfth country the four of us have visited during full-time family travel. With over 500 days of full-time travel behind us, and a 2024 and 2025 that are in many ways not yet planned, we are starting not only to talk about new places we want to visit, but the favorites we want to spend more time in.

Here are some of the countries we plan to return to over the next couple of years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them become favorites that we travel to regularly from now on:

7. Food, safety, and a slow pace

We travel best when we travel secure in our safety, in places where slowing down and enjoying good everyday food are a priority.

Hustle and bustle is not our style. More and more, our travels have shown us three things that matter the most to us. They have become our guiding principles as a traveling family:

  1. Slow down
  2. Enjoy
  3. Connect

More and more, our travels revolve around the places that help us do the three things above.

8. Every type of travel has its moment… and a point where it’s gone on too much

Or to put it another way, 6 months in an RV was 3 months too long.

Getting our Class C motorhome in April 2023 was a huge milestone for our family. Since we needed to be in the USA for a few months to see family and friends and to complete various work projects, getting an RV helped us combine accommodation and transportation.

We also got to do something, with our kids, that some people hope to do when they retire.

We traveled across the entire contiguous United States. Not only that, we crossed it from one corner to another, from the San Juan Islands of Washington State to the Sunshine State of Florida.

It was amazing. We had incredible experiences, which we’ve barely gotten around to relating yet.

But it also went on too long.

From April to November, we spent just about the entire time in the RV. For future RV travels though, we don’t want to go past 3 months. 

Travel living looks nothing like a vacation

During 2023, we also fully embraced that full-time travel living looks very different for us than it does for many people. Full-time travel looks nothing like vacation travel. We aren’t sightseeing every day. Some days we are just doing things at home, such as work, school, and maybe watching a show we’re into. Instead of bustling through our time, we take things pretty easy, and focus on accomplishing the goals we set for the priorities that matter to us.

It’s a different life. But with each day on the road, each country and culture we get to know a little better, each memory we make as a family, travel living suits us just fine. Travel living looks nothing like a vacation. Full-time family travel looks far more like we have simply made ourselves at home around the world.

About the author
Learners and Makers
We are the St. Clair Family: Anthony, Jodie, Connor, and Aster. As Learners and Makers, our family of four slows down, connects, and enjoys the world and each other's company. We have been traveling full time since 2022.

Leave a Comment