An Interview With Christine Gilbert

Keynote Speaker for Family Adventure Summit 2017

An Interview With Christine Gilbert

Mother, writer, filmmaker, adventurer, and world traveler, Christine Gilbert and her husband started their traveling lifestyle before children and continued their traveling lifestyle as their family grew. Two of their three children were born overseas! Christine has been inspiring others to travel through her writing at Almost Fearless, a documentary about location independence The Wireless Generation, and a book about family travel and language learning Mother Tongue.

Tell us a bit about your family and what kind of traveling you have done.

My husband and I started traveling in our early 30s before having kids, and had our first child about two years into our travels. We’ve grown our family as we traveled (we now have three kids!) so our travel style has changed quite a bit in the nine years we’ve been on the road. We started as backpackers, going from hostel to hostel and renting apartments. We did a lot of travel this way with way with our first baby, because he was so content in a carry-on wrap and we could take him anywhere. When our second child came along, we began renting houses and traveling slower staying three months in a place at a time. We did manage to bike across Europe with the two children (3.5 and 18 months at the time) and bike-camped for a summer. We just had our third child and we’re getting more settled into having a home base and scheduling travel a few times a year. Our oldest is now seven, so we’re fully into homeschool-mode and we’ve found that having a permanent home is more conducive to this phase of our travels. Of course, we love nothing more than a spontaneous trip, so we stay flexible and fluid.

How old were your children when you first started your traveling lifestyle?

They were all born into it. My first child started traveling at four months and his first country was Colombia. My second two children were both born in Mexico, but I’ve been pregnant in the US, Canada, Belize, Lebanon, Cyprus, Thailand, Malaysia and Mexico. My youngest two children have dual American-Mexican citizenship because of their place of birth.

What was the catalyst that made you decide to live life differently and travel the world with your family?

I landed my dream job and before the ink had dried on my business cards, I knew I wanted out. I spent the next year plotting my escape, trying to figure out how I could make a living from the road and where I’d go if I could travel the world. It was getting that perfect job, where I knew I should finally be happy, only to discover that I wasn’t that made me willing to take the risk.

How have you chosen to educate your children while traveling? What are your educational philosophies?

My kids are still very young (7, 4, 1) so we’re still trying to figure it all out. I would probably classify what we do as secular eclectic homeschooling with a dash of unschooling. We’re very laid back and child-led but I do prefer a little bit of structure, so we carry some school books with us and do a combination of project-based learning (recently we researched megalodons together) and more traditional reading, writing and math practice. I keep it light though, at their ages, I go by the more European model (esp. Finland) of letting kids start later and filling their day with more kinetic and outdoor play.

Tell us one of your best worldschooling moments.

I always love seeing our kids using Spanish without our prompting. The other night, we were at the beach, and my kids were playing in an increasingly large surf. One wave caught our daughter, and a Mexican woman got to her before we did. We ran down to hear our kids telling the woman empathetically that the flag was “rojo y peligroso,” (red and dangerous) while pointing down the beach.

What is one thing you know now that you wish you had known before you started out on your traveling lifestyle?

That it was possible! I have an old journal from my twenties where I day dreamed about traveling almost six years before we finally started doing it. I was nervous to travel, but I really didn’t know that I’d end up having three kids – or two of them overseas. Whenever people tell me traveling with kids is hard, I just think, having kids is hard. It doesn’t have to be harder because you added travel into it. You just have to reframe the idea that you will struggle if you try to cram everything in to one or two weeks of travel. Take it slow, and it can be rewarding and wonderful and not so much harder than just wrangling three kids in general already can be.

How do you find community on the road?

Blogging has made this easier for us. Although to be honest these days there are so many Facebook groups for local expats, I depend less and less on my blogging connections and simply go search out the local group in a new place.

How do you finance your travels?

We work from the road. I’m a writer and my husband is a graphic designer. We largely make our living from our writing, photography, filmmaking and teaching gigs, but sometimes we’ll pick up some client work too.

What is your favorite country so far? Why?

arthem?I love Mexico. I don’t want that to my answer, I want it to be something more exotic, but we just keep getting drawn back here. It’s to the point that when I’m in the US, I look for Mexicans to hang out with… I want to hear Spanish, I want to be surrounded by that group dynamic. I feel incredibly comfortable with the way they live, it’s all about family, music, togetherness and food. I like that they love kids but are also protective of them. I love that there are people of all ages at any party. I love the music. To me, any culture that centers their life ound their family is one that I’m going to like. Spain is also a favorite for many of these same reasons, you can have a social life, have your family with you and not feel like you’re out of place. They have cafes that serve wine at the playground! What else could you want?

What are some of the difficulties you have encountered in traveling and how have you overcome them?

Working at home with children, especially while traveling, can be extremely difficult. I mean, seriously Olympic-class challenging. The travel days are easy. Just relax, get on the train or bus or flight and we’ll get there eventually. My kids are pros. But working from home in hotel rooms or en route or trying to get wifi in a café – with young children running around or crawling on you like monkeys? Yes. It takes a special level of focus to make it work. Over the years, we’ve come up with novel solutions, but what seems to work best is to fill up the kids with lots of love and activities in the AM, then spend a few hours working while they rest in the afternoon, then have dinner, then work after they go to sleep. It means some late nights for us, but on the other hand it also makes it feel like every day is a vacation day, since we’re always very active.

Tell us one thing that you have learned about yourself, your family, or the world through travel.

It taught me that most parenting choices are just that, choices. That ultimately, whether we mean to or not, we end up raising kids just like us (in other words, Japanese parents raise very Japanese children and American parents raise very American children). It made me relax about the idea of “molding” my children into something exceptional and instead focus on building a strong relationship with them and enjoying their childhood. My hope is that our bond and that foundation will give them the strength and support to do great things on their own one day.

I’ve also come to appreciate, truly, deeply, to the core of my soul, that all humans are essentially the same, in that we love our children, we have hope for the future and we want comfort and safety. The rest is culture.

What are your future travel plans?

We are changing things up this year. We’re moving to Colorado after nine years on the road and trying to become ski bums. We have trips planned to Australia and Europe, but mostly we’re taking a deep dive into the now foreign-to-us small American town.

What aspect of the Family Adventure Summit are you most excited about?

I love connecting with other traveling or would-be-traveling families. They usually have really cool kids and interesting parents who are fun to hang out with!