Families on the Move – Meet the Family Behind RealFamilyTravel.com & FamilyTravelBucketList.com

Families on the Move – Meet the Family Behind RealFamilyTravel.com & FamilyTravelBucketList.com
August 1, 2012 Lainie Liberti

Families on the Move

We have been blessed to connect with many amazing families online, all of whom have adapted a travel lifestyle in one form or another.  We wanted to take the opportunity to introduce you to them here and highlight the positive aspects travel has had on their families. Welcome our interview series called Families on the Move. Miro & I are honored to a part of this global community we consider our extended family.

Meet the Amazing Family Behind Behind RealFamilyTravel.com  & FamilyTravelBucketList.com

We’re the Whiteheads. Michael, my husband, is a former US Air Force pilot who turned in his wings to spend more time with his children and now teaches Aviation English and English as a 2nd language online and loves it.

We have 4 daughters and our son is the baby.
Our oldest is 14 and is a HUGE animal lover and wants to be a veterinarian in Costa Rica.
Our second daughter will be 12 at the end of August and loves cooking and baking.
Our 9 yr old is our “in house artist” and loves painting, drawing, working with clay, anything artsy.
Our blondie is almost 7 and she’s our language lover. She loves picking up any Spanish dictionary and just copies word after word after word.
And then, there’s our little guy who turned our world upside down. He’s too smart for his almost 4 yr old self and has been reading since he was 2. And I can’t take ANY credit for it!

Then, there’s me (Susan). I’m a serial entrepreneur with a major case of wanderlust. I love doing things online and my latest project is a magazine for iPad, Real Family Travel Magazine.

Where are you now, where have you been and how long have you been traveling?

We’re just about to hit our 1 yr anniversary for when we left on our long term travel journey on August 7th! We are currently living in Central Mexico, near Lake Chapala.

Why do you travel as a family?

We have several reasons why we travel, but the biggest reason has to be that we don’t want our kids growing up to be afraid of other people because they’re different than they are. We want them to love all people, no matter where they’re from or what they look like. Our secondary reason is to help our children become the people needed to lead in the future. For us, living in the suburbs is not the best way to prepare them for the world they will live in, and that includes learning other languages, experiencing other cultures and just knowing more about the world than we did growing up.

What are some of the benefits your family has experienced as a result your travels?

I think the biggest benefit is the tremendous freedom we have now as long term travelers. I used to feel so trapped, like our circumstances (either in the military or being tied to a small hobby farm in NC) controlled us and we couldn’t do anything we really wanted to do until we broke away from those things. Now, we feel like we can go anywhere and do anything. The freedom of our new life has been amazing!

What inspired you and your family to incorporate travel into your lifestyle?

Growing up in a bi-cultural home (my mom is Costa Rican, my dad is from West Virginia), travel was part of growing up. We’d visit my mom’s family every few years and do the same with my dad’s family. I knew how important seeing other cultures was because I knew it shaped me into who I am. My husband traveled extensively with the military and we never go to venture outside of the US, even though it was something we’d wanted to do. He also was an exchange student to Spain and that had a huge impact on him. It was never a matter of whether we would travel or not…it was always a matter of when.

How do you address education while you are traveling?

Education is so hard to address, not because homeschooling is something we don’t love, but because of the constant mental battle of dealing with the voices in our heads telling us that our kids need to know X,Y,Z in a certain order and remembering things that we had to “know” (actually memorize and regurgitate) from our public school educations that our children don’t. For example, memorizing all the states in the US and their capitals. Sure, it makes for great busy work, but is that really learning? They know quite a bit about the many states we lived in and know they can learn more if they want to in the future, just like we did as adults!

We do have set curricula we use for math and our children read quite a few living books for history and journal. I’ve started using apps for science, along with a curriculum I found that’s totally on the computer, minus the experiments. The oldest 3 girls are in Spanish lessons three times a week with a private tutor and she incorporates Mexican history into their lessons.

It’s definitely a fluid learning style and we never really take a break from it except when we’re changing locations.

How do you and your family experience being global citizens?

It’s hard to explain being a global citizen. We’re citizens of the United States of America on paper, but half of me (and ¼ of our children) are Costa Rican. I’ve always been in a sort of “citizenship limbo” mentally because of my own family heritage. But the idea of being a global citizen, while offensive to some, is something I feel we must embrace if we want our children to be prepared for the future. Physical barriers that used to exist are no longer there. I can chat with my graphic designer in Romania, read an email from my virtual assistant in the Philippines and Skype with my 2nd cousin in Costa Rica all in one day. Technology has broken down those walls and, I believe it has made our world so much smaller. Also, with the Olympics, it was SO neat to see our children get genuinely excited about athletes from countries they’re familiar with and have a connection with. That is something we would not have seen if we hadn’t begun traveling…the budding of them being global citizens.

Can you share one of your family’s most memorable experiences?

One of the most surreal experiences we had was only about 6 weeks into our travels. We went to my mom’s home town of Turrialba, Costa Rica to celebrate their independence day on September 15th, 2011. We stayed at my great aunt’s home and prepared faroles (luminaries) for a special parade on the 14th. The whole town turns out in the Central Park and then walks through the town, in the dark, holding these luminaries. There were store bought ones, simple homemade ones and elaborate ones that had to have taken months to create. Many of them had lit candles inside. We used electric lights. LOL!

As we were walking through the streets with my great aunt and her daughters, it struck me that we were doing the exact same thing my mother (my children’s grandmother and their great-grandmother) had done so many times. I’d never been able to experience anything like that from my mother’s childhood before and it was amazing.

Can you share one story from your travel experiences when you and your family had an “aha moment”.

I remember one day, in our rental home in Atenas, Costa Rica, we had to call the property manager about a loose electrical outlet. It was literally falling out of the concrete wall and we didn’t need our very curious 3 year old learning about electricity that way. The man she brought over was rough looking. He had messy hair, dirty clothes and hands, was missing a few teeth. We were quite guarded simply because he looked like many of the Hispanic men we’d seen photos of on the 11 o’clock news in the US that were wanted for various crimes.

He finished his work quickly and had to wait in our home for the property manager to come pick him up. We could tell he was a bit nervous or uncomfortable being in our house (we were!), but we offered him something to drink and began asking him about his family. In just a few moments, we realized he was just a normal man, a father, who had the same hopes and concerns for his family that we did. But because he looked like a horrible stereotype we’d been conditioned to fear, we initially were a bit afraid and intimidated by him.

After he left, Michael and I both agreed that we would NEVER have let that man in our house in Brandon, FL. But he was just a normal man…no one to be afraid of. It was then we realized how much we’d been taught to fear others that are different than we are in the US. It opened our eyes to our own ugliness and now, thankfully, that fear doesn’t show up as often. It still does (I do trust my intuition in many situations), but not like it did before.

What’s next?

Well, we’re not 100% certain! We hope to be in Europe in 2013, but aren’t sure where we’ll settle or even how long we’ll be there. One of the benefits of travel is the freedom, but that freedom to go anywhere is also hard because we realize that we have to make a decision to be somewhere! And that means we’re making a decision to NOT go somewhere, too. Being a large family, we always look for places that are fairly affordable to get to and stay, so, when we find a place where those 2 things intersect, we start making plans.

Name: Susan Whitehead


  1. Claudia Looi 12 years ago

    I remember those days when you were preparing your family to travel. Time flies and you already have great experiences under your belt. Travel is not new to me but long term travel is definitely something very new. We have been planning for over 2 years, finally sold almost everything and are ready for our trip in 6 months. You and Lainie have been great inspiration. Would love to find out more about Peru and will look through your blog posts. Thanks.

  2. Shara 11 years ago

    Always love reading about traveling families! Can’t wait for my girls and I to get the opportunity and hoping to cross paths with one day, everyone of you! <3

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