Worldschooling is like homeschooling, but the whole world is your classroom. A unique combination of world travel and home-based education, where your home is on the road anywhere in the world. It can offer so many unique educational opportunities, as kids are able to see their subject matter first hand. It’s can also be challenging, as the logistics of world travel are never easy, especially with children.
I have this dream of spending the winter worldschooling someday, once my pre-schoolers are a bit older. My husband and I already work remotely, as we live off the grid in the middle of rural Vermont. That same work could happen in the middle of Thailand, France or Kenya just as easily, and would afford our children many more hands-on opportunities to learn about the world first hand.
For now though, worldschooling is just our dream for us, but there are plenty of people out there making it happen. The following is a guest post by Emma Walmsley Small Footprints, Big Adventures and chronicles her family’s worldschooling adventures, mishaps, and travel lessons after a few years of homeschooling in the global classroom.
Our family chose to try worldschooling as our main education pathway, supplemented by home education. When my firstborn was a baby I was very excited to learn that families were traveling all over the world with their kids: it sounded like such a wonderful way to learn and live our life together! I wasn’t comfortable with the traditional school system anyway, and very open to alternatives. I know from my own experiences that travel and exposure to other cultures is one of the best teachers of life, so when we were ready for it, we began worldschooing.
It took us seven years to prepare to travel long-term, and we are still refining how we do it and what we’ll do next. Following is the account of how we prepared for it, our many mistakes and the adventures we’ve has so far.
Preparing for worldschooling: for the kids
Dante was born in 2010 and Allegra arrived in 2014. We wanted her to be out of nappies before we travelled overseas, and that coincided with us being financially ready to leave.
We took several short trips within Australia while our kids were younger, and used a 2-week holiday to Kununurra, Western Australia in mid-2016 as a test run to see if we were ready to head overseas. Kununurra is about as far as you can get from our hometown, and the trip went really well.
After that, we started putting measures in place to wrap up our life at home, and booked our tickets to Malaysia for September 2017. We spoke about going overseas a lot with Dante and Allegra even before we had set a departure date, and in the lead up to leaving we also sourced many books and resources about travel for kids.
They enjoyed learning about animals we might see, places we would go and experiences we could try, and on many evenings we looked at maps together and learned where places were.
We also played games like getting ready for a big flight by practicing with a big teddy pilot! Allegra especially loved that, and it helped remind her about airports and ensure that she understood that we were going on a really big flight to another country.
Incorporating holiday gifts and play into our worldschooling planning really helped get the kids engaged and excited about our plans. We gave our kids their travel gear for the preceding Christmas, which both helped build excitement but was also incredibly practical.
They both got a bright Trunki suitcase, a sturdy backpack and an insulated lunchbox (which we didn’t end up taking overseas). We all also got travel towels and a voucher for other gear too. Dante and Allegra liked being able to use their backpacks and practice packing their suitcases and wheeling them about. We also incorporated them into our games which I think helped to cement the changes coming up.
Preparing for worldschooling: for the adults
Although we had been mentally preparing for a long time, we didn’t leave enough time to physically prepare. We had arranged to lease our home out for six months, and a family was found by our agents who wanted it for that term.
Anthony finished up at his job three weeks before we left, but there still seemed to be many things to wrap up in our lives. I had made a start on packing up our home, but it wasn’t very much, and in the final week many friends and family came to help us. Thank goodness they did, as we really left it until the last minute! And the cleaners we hired to deep-clean our home before our tenants moved in canceled on us at the last minute, so we had to do that ourselves too.
The rush to finish everything was quite stressful, and made worse by me breaking my little toe at some point in those final weeks. So many things needed attention, it was a whirlwind few months really. It takes much longer than we expected to pack up a whole family life and plan for extended overseas travel, so if you’re considering it, you should allow for double the amount of time you initially predict!
Things will go wrong and take more time than they should too. I changed my primary email address in that final month as I thought I’d been hacked, and that was a very time-consuming experience. With bookings made and passwords to recover, it wasn’t great timing at all.
I realize it sounds like we didn’t do anything right, and we really did make many mistakes. Our travel credit cards only arrived a few days before we left, which was also super-stressful. And, I changed our first accommodation booking in that final week, trying to get somewhere closer to Kuala Lumpur airport so that we didn’t have far to travel when we first arrived.
But with everything else going on I didn’t research very well, and our apartment ended up being 20 minutes away from where we thought it would be. And it was in such a new complex that we couldn’t actually find it, and nor could anyone else we asked! We were absolutely exhausted by that stage and just got a bed in the first hotel we could find.
There is another whole story with our baggage at the airport which I won’t go into here, but if you want to read more check out my post about our travel departure mistakes.
The final very big thing that happened – which wasn’t so much our fault but still could’ve been avoided—was our tenants not actually moving in. The job they had been moving to town for fell through, and to our amazement, they didn’t have a contract with us. We had assumed that as they had accepted our lease terms that it was a done deal, but apparently not.
After that our home was vacant for nearly two months, and as the rent was our only source of income at that point, it was a big loss to take. We eventually found some more tenants who would only accept a 12-month term, but they paid on time each week and we finally got our steady income back. If we were leasing it again we would ensure that everything was complete and tenants were already paying rent before we left!
I hope I don’t put anyone off from our experiences! We obviously made many mistakes but we also got to Malaysia in one piece, with our kids and passports and bags! We had a wonderful time too, and got into the groove of traveling together pretty fast.
I have been asked if it was worth all of that stress, and I absolutely think it was. It was a huge life change and of course, we could’ve done things better, but we persevered and made it happen despite all of the challenges. We’re going overseas again soon so it definitely didn’t put us off!
Our worldschooling experiences so far
On that first trip, we spent four months in South East Asia, traveling through Peninsular Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and a brief stay in Singapore. We focus on sustainable and ethical experiences wherever possible, and found some wonderful eco-friendly accommodation to support too.
One of our first experiences was at a farm stay in rural Malaysia, which was a beautiful place and introduction to traditional Malay foods. Straight after that, I arranged for us to volunteer to help sea turtles on Tioman Island, where there is an excellent conservation program that accepts volunteers, including children.
We stayed there for a week and had an amazing time, meeting passionate people from all over the world, learning from the dedicated staff, and helping in many ways to give the turtles the best chance we could. We monitored the beaches and cleaned the headquarters, and got to help transfer a nest of eggs to their hatchery for protection. We were also blessed to see some hatchlings scurrying to the water for the first time, which was magical.
That week was one of the highlights of our trip, but it was also very tiring, especially on top of all that happened before we left. After our volunteering was complete we started taking things a bit easier and traveling slower, which suited us all better. We spent almost two months in Malaysia, making our way up to Langkawi before heading to Thailand.
We decided to just choose two places in Thailand, as we only had a one-month visa and didn’t want to be on the road too much. We travel overland as much as we can to reduce our emissions, and I have to say that the public transport systems in Malaysia and Thailand are much better than Australia’s!
The main place we stayed was in the north of Thailand, and we really loved it there. We found some wonderful sustainable activities in Chiang Mai, and enjoyed getting to know our lovely AirBNB hosts and exploring the city. Chiang Mai is quite a hub for travelers, and we met up with another traveling family from Canada and a fellow blogger from the US there.
From Chiang Mai we were collected for another big experience: going to see elephants in living in the forest. In most of Thailand there are ways to see elephants, but we knew we didn’t want to attend a work camp or elephant show. There are some ethical rescue centers, but we chose to see them living in very close to natural conditions and support the local community involved in the Mahouts Elephant Foundation program.
It was an amazing few days in which we had a beautiful homestay with a local family, hiked through the forest to find the elephant herd – and watched them living happily together, grazing and playing in their natural environment—and also picked organic strawberries, tried our hand at traditional weaving, and got a taste of living in the Thai mountains, cold-bucket showers and all! It was wonderful, and definitely the best way to see elephants.
Soon after we headed to Siem Reap, Cambodia and parked at an outstanding eco-guesthouse for almost three weeks. It was over the Christmas and New Year period, and we wanted to have time to relax as well as explore Angkor Wat and the city. It was a good plan (we had learned well by then!) and we really enjoyed our time there, getting to know staff and other travelers, slowly exploring the ancient wonders, and being fortunate to have some friends from home visit too.
We also had a nice stay in Battambang, and got to know a local man who offered to be our guide. Mr. Kun was lovely and opened up a little about the time of the Khmer Rouge, when he was a boy. He also took us to meet people we wouldn’t otherwise have met, and it was a such a great example of on-the-ground tourism that really benefits locals as well as teaching us a lot.
Coming Home After Worldschooling
And that was four months of travel! Instead of continuing on to Mexico as we had planned to do after Asia, we decided to surprise our families and come home when our visa for Cambodia expired. Dante and Allegra were homesick, and we all weren’t feeling optimal by then. It was great to come home, recharge and reflect before heading off again.
We decided last year that we’d stay within Australia for our next trip, as the kids still wanted to be a bit more local. We bought an old caravan (trailer) from a family member and set about making it as efficient and sustainable as we could before setting off around the country.
Well, that turned out to be another big mistake! We thought we had bought it in good condition, but it had been leaking for years and the interior walls were quite rotted. Many other things needed fixing on it too, and it took Anthony almost six months to complete it. We had hoped to depart in May or June last year, but it was the end of October before we finally left.
We drove through South Australia and up to Uluru for our maiden voyage, which we could reach in time to then return home again for Christmas. Uluru was our top priority for our Aussie adventures, as the kids and I had never been there, and it is such a great place to learn about Australia’s history and our first nation’s people. It was a really good trip too; we had time to stop at all of the outback towns along the way, learning and camping and meeting people. The route we took is an iconic Australian road trip, but as it takes a long time and is quite remote, it is not as common as driving around the coast.
We spent over a week at Uluru and were pleased to find that the experience lived up to all of the hype. Exploring around the huge monolith of Uluru and the domes of Kata Tjuta was awe-inspiring and a lot of fun to do together. We took some great workshops, made friends in the caravan park, and watched the sun rising and setting in the vast Aussie bush. There are so many family-friendly ways to experience Uluru National Park, and we could’ve done even more than we did!
It was a wonderful trip, but it became clear pretty fast that it was not a sustainable way to travel. All of our work to keep the van light, use solar power and LEDs and more didn’t matter when we guzzled fuel at the rate we did. We had considered making our own biodiesel for the big trip around the country, but after speaking to some people who had been doing it for a while, we realized that it would be much harder than we’d hoped.
So we had to come to terms with giving up on our mini caravan-palace, and even though it had taken a lot of work and heartache to create, it was ok to let it go too. Anthony and I never continue with a plan for sentimental reasons, and we don’t give up easily if it can work! But what we thought we could do just wasn’t possible without a great deal more work, and still, the outcome would be uncertain.
Instead, we are heading overseas again later this year. For all of us to fly to Mexico from Melbourne, the emissions we will create will be far less than what we would’ve created towing our van all the way around Australia!
So that’s what we’ll do, and we’ll spend six months or more slowly exploring Central America and the US. We also have plans to visit Africa at some stage next year, and after that who knows? Now I am making some profit from our blog, and we will be leaving with no worries at home (our house is up for sale), we will just continue on traveling for as long as we’re all happy with it.
How our kids learn from worldschooling
There are so many ways Dante and Allegra have been learning throughout our adventures. Some are obvious, like getting first-hand knowledge of what baby turtles and huge elephants are like, or learning how to say hello, thank you and goodbye in different languages. They have had to be adaptable and get used to very different situations than at home, and they have both risen to those challenges.
They have learned about different cultures and how to be respectful within each; even within our own country they now better understand our aboriginal people’s history and some current issues they face. My kids can communicate with a huge range of different people, and Dante especially has a good understanding of different monetary systems now too. And they’re both continually getting more understanding of how we can live more sustainably and ethically, and why it’s important. They’ve seen huge amounts of trash by the road, enormous palm plantations, and slick oil washed up on a beautiful beach.
These are all sad to see but are great discussion and action prompts.
Kids often learn by doing, and travel is a perfect host for experiential learning. We’ve made paper from elephant poo, visited an awesome science center in Singapore, and climbed into tall treehouses in the jungle. Some people think that kids not being able to remember everything is a reason not to travel while they’re young, but it really doesn’t matter. They are being shaped by these experiences, knowing themselves and their capabilities better. They also greatly benefit from being around the people who love them most every day, and it has definitely been a highlight for us to simply be a family 24/7 and enjoy these adventures together.
Allegra and Dante learn constantly, as all kids do. They read and listen to audiobooks on the road, they make friends and play everywhere we go, and they ask millions of questions as they absorb the world around them. Even in the difficult places, they learn valuable lessons.
Cambodia was more of a challenge than the other countries we’d been to, being less wealthy and developed. We understood why and spoke a little about their history to our kids so they could make some sense of it too. They hadn’t come across children begging for money or amputees in the streets before, and they noticed it with curiosity and some sadness. Though it was harder I think it was good for them to experience those things, to really comprehend that not everyone is lucky enough to live like we do.
We think the main benefits of worldschooling are life lessons like that. We want them to be global citizens, aware of how we are all connected, all important, and all very similar. I think they already understand that; that even though we live differently to many people we have met, all of the kids like to play, and all people appreciate and deserve our respect.
They are also seeing how amazing our world is, another great benefit of travel. We want them to know for themselves how incredible all of Earth’s creatures are, and how beautiful different landscapes are too. Knowing how precious it all is will be a solid foundation for a life spent respecting and protecting it, whether in big ways or small. They don’t have to become ecologists to be conscious of their impact, including how their decisions may affect people a long way from home.
And our kids are learning how we can create an unusual life, and how we can be ourselves anywhere. They see Anthony and I constantly learning right alongside them, making mistakes but persevering to make our dreams a reality. They watch us interacting in new situations and challenging ourselves or being helpful to strangers. It’s great for them to see the best versions of us, and the worst on bad days, and everything in between! They know us deeply, and know we want to spend the time with them while they’re young.
So that’s our worldschooling life so far, and the many wonderful things it has given us. We are excited to keep traveling together and hope to do it regularly as our kids mature. If they don’t want to when they’re older that’s ok; at least we did it now, and at least we gave it all we could. Striving for the best life we can imagine right now is our guiding light, and we have no regrets despite the challenges it has brought.
They all make us stronger, don’t they?!
Emma and her family travel regularly, sustainably, and slowly. They combine ethical and responsible tourism adventures with a low-impact lifestyle to provide a rich learning environment and a connected family life. You can read more about their worldschooling adventures on her blog Small Footprints, Big Adventures or follow along on Instagram.