Backpacking parents who homeschool their kids


(CNN) — Backpacking tends to be associated with young people with few responsibilities.

But more and more parents have been opting to take their children off on extended trips around the world in the past few years.

In fact, a recent travel trends report by American Express Travel found that 76% of those parents surveyed planned to travel more with their family in 2022.

For those traveling with kids for long periods of time, this often means pulling them out of traditional school and homeschooling while on the move.

However, trying to provide a high-quality education to their youngsters while living a backpacker lifestyle, along with working remotely in some cases, is certainly no easy feat.

Here, parents who’ve chosen to go backpacking with their children discuss the joys and challenges of homeschooling while living out of suitcases.

Traveling family

Emma and Peter Tryon have been backpacking around the world with their sons Hudson and Darien since 2021.

Emma and Peter Tryon have been backpacking around the world with their sons Hudson and Darien since 2021.

The Backpacking Family

It was a passion for travel and adventure that brought Emma and Peter Tryon together back in 2011.

The UK couple, who are both teachers, began dating when they were both on separate backpacking trips in Cambodia, and took many vacations together before getting married and having two sons, Hudson, now five and Darien, now two.

While they planned to stay in one place once they became parents, they soon got restless and the lure of globetrotting with their children in tow proved too tempting to resist.

“We were drawn to the idea that there is another way to live,” Emma Tryon tells CNN Travel.

After months of saving and making plans, they sold their home, officially withdrew their oldest son from school, and set off on their travels.

“I get why people would think we’re nuts,” she adds, admitting that they questioned whether they were doing the right thing at first.

“When I actually had to sign the papers to formally opt out of UK education — it hit differently. Just seeing it in black and white. I thought, ‘This is a big deal.'”

Under UK law, there’s no specific requirements for the content of homeschooling, only that parents must provide their children with a suitable education.

Peter Tryon stresses that one of the main factors behind their decision was the desire to spend more time together as a family.

“We’ve found that the adventure, spontaneity and the challenges of traveling bring us together and also create the opportunity to bond in a unique and strong way,” he says.

Over the past year, the Tryons have traveled around much of Thailand, as well as Singapore and Malaysia, all while juggling homeschooling.

While they have no regrets, both admit that their new lifestyle has come with its challenges. Although being teachers themselves has proved to be an advantage in many ways, Emma Tryon feels they perhaps “went in too hard with the education” at the start, explaining that they’ve since gone for a more relaxed approach.

“You’re so used to going through schooling more traditionally,” she explains. “We took a lot of misconceptions into homeschooling.

“But it’s amazing how quick, fast, natural and easy learning becomes when it’s done by intentionally living and learning as you go.”

In terms of structure, the couple each have one-on-one “intentional” teaching periods of around 30 minutes with both of their sons in the morning, and have found that this sets them up well for the day.

World schooling

Emma with Hudson and Darien during a visit to Thailand.

Emma with Hudson and Darien during a visit to Thailand.

The Backpacking Family

According to the couple, Hudson and Darien are progressing well and benefiting hugely from having individualized lessons.

“One of the things I’ve loved seeing recently, is that our [eldest] son is actually waking up and asking when we’re going to do schooling,” says Peter Tryon. “He’s getting excited about it.”

Aside from the morning learning periods, their teaching sessions are relatively informal.

Peter Tryon, who describes himself as a “science geek,” says he often uses swimming sessions to carry out floating and sinking experiments with the children, and recently taught his eldest son about buoyancy while they were in the water.

“There’s so much science in all the things that we do,” he says. “So rather than teaching it as a theoretical subject in the classroom, we’ve got all the experiences and the resources around us in the world.”

The couple recently began working towards a new structure where they spend one month backpacking and the following four weeks in one place.

“That’s been working really well for us as a family,” adds Emma Tryon.

Once they leave Malaysia, the family hope to travel to Cambodia and then on to Vietnam, before heading to Bhutan, Nepal and Indonesia.

They also have some education-based trips to Egypt, Israel and Jordan in mind, but are keeping things flexible for now.

Although they hope to keep going indefinitely, Emma and Peter Tryon say they’ll continue to reassess things based on the needs and desires of their children.

“We need to keep being sensitive to their developments and needs, which change from day to day,” adds Peter Tryon.”But at this stage they seem to be really thriving.”

Now they’ve spent a year traveling while homeschooling their children, both say it feels completely natural, and they have no regrets.

“It’s not a gap year [for us],” adds Emma Tryon. “It’s a genuine, deep change in life.”

Nomadic lifestyle

The Tryons say packing up their lives and hitting the road with their kids is one of the best decisions they've made.

The Tryons say packing up their lives and hitting the road with their kids is one of the best decisions they’ve made.

The Backpacking Family

The prospect of packing up and traveling indefinitely with their children was something that Astrid Vinje and Clint Bush had often thought about.

But it wasn’t until the Seattle-based couple, who’ve been married since 2009, attended a family travel conference in British Columbia and spoke to other parents who’d done it themselves, that they decided to go for it.

“That [the conference] was the beginning of the school year and by the end of the school year, we had made a plan,” Vinje tells CNN Travel, explaining that both she and her husband had been feeling burnt out and were concerned that they weren’t spending enough quality time with their children.

Their initial plan was to spend three years living full-time on the road with two of their children, (Bush has an older son from a previous relationship) Mira, now 12, and Julian, now nine.

As children in the state of Washington are not legally obliged to attend school until they are aged eight, the couple were only required to declare their intention to homeschool for their daughter at the time.

Although Bush and Vinje are not trained teachers like the Tryons, they actually met while they were both working at an after school program, and also have nieces and nephews who are homeschooled, so they had some understanding of what they’d be signing up for.

The family set off in 2018, and went on to travel around America, as well as to Costa Rica, UK, Spain, France Italy, Vietnam, Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Bush, now a software engineer for a bank, was working full time at the start of their trip, so much of the homeschooling fell to Vinje.

Educational travel

Vinje Bush family Costa Rica OIAL

Clint Bush, Julian, Mira and Astrid Vinje in Costa Rica back in 2019.

Deb Brunswick and Tawanda Scott Sambou/CNN

However, he began to take on a bigger role once Vinje, who runs their family blog, The Wandering Daughter, also started working digitally, which was an important shift for all of them.

“I guess I felt a little disconnected from what was happening with the kids,” explains Bush. “So it was nice once we got into the flow of things and I felt more engaged with what they were doing from a learning perspective.”

While their schedules varied depending on how much moving around they were doing at the time, Vinje says they usually spent around one to three hours a day on learning.

“Some days we just do a museum visit,” explains Vinje. “Then other days, we have an hour of math, an hour of reading, an hour of practicing writing and then a language class.

“I really don’t think that kids need a lot of hours to learn, because they’re learning just by observing the world.”

Although both she and her husband had some concerns about removing their children from the traditional school system, they feel that they have benefited massively from learning while traveling.

“I often feel like there are a lot of subjects that are missed [in traditional school,] because they’re so focused on following a certain set of standards,” she explains. “History is a big one for me”

Vinje stresses that they try to teach their children about all of the different groups that lived in the particular place they are in order to get “a more well-rounded perspective.”

“In that sense, I feel like they’re [the children] getting a better education,” she adds.

Social development

Vinje Bush family Quepos Costa Rica beach

The Bush-Vinje family spent four years traveling around the world together.

CNN/Deb Brunswick and Tawanda Scott Santou

While Bush admits to initially being worried that missing out on regular interactions with children of their own age might negatively impact their social skills, he’s been thrilled to see that this not been the case at all.

“Our kids are absolutely incredible in other environments with other kids now,” he says.

After four years of traveling — their trip was extended by a year due to the pandemic — they returned to the US this summer and are now re-adjusting to being back in one place.

“If it was up to my husband, and me, I think we would just travel indefinitely,” says Vinje, before explaining that it was their son and daughter who were keen to return home.

Mira and Julian will be going back to school this September, but Vinje says they may return to homeschooling further down the line depending on their needs.

While they’re likely to stay put for the time being, Bush and Vinje hope they’ll be able to embark on a similar trip at some point in the future, providing that the children are willing.

“We acknowledge that this experience is definitely a privilege and not something that everybody can do,” says Vinje, who has written an ebook, “Hey Kids, Let’s Go Travel!,” to help other parents who are considering going on an extended trip or gap year with their children.

“But if you are able to do it, I think it is very important.”

Top photo credit: Astrid Vinje

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