Recently I had the chance to meet Janelle, a fellow traveler I had connected with through our mutual love of Earthley and several other things we have in common. As she was making a stop in North Carolina, Janelle graciously agreed to let me interview her and share her inspirational story of nomadic living as a single mom of four children. Read on to learn all about her early travel life, how she navigates homeschooling on the road, and tips for how you can live a nomadic lifestyle!
- Can you share a little about your background growing up overseas and having dual citizenship and how that shaped how you view traveling now? I always knew the world is bigger than our little corner of it. My parents were involved in many ministry opportunities throughout my life – from a summer in Alaska and another summer in Manitoba, working in local ministries and then moving my family to Haiti when I was 6 years old. We grew up with one set of grandparents in Pennsylvania and one Grandpa in Ontario so even going to visit Grandparents was in different countries. When I was 10 I had officially lived in 3 different countries in my lifetime.
- Have you always been interested in pursuing a nomadic lifestyle with your family? If not, what sparked your interest in doing this? I started thinking about nomadic living after I became a single mom in 2015. I honestly had never even thought about being a nomad before this. I joined some groups about minimalism and decluttering and was introduced to the idea of being nomads through these groups. I still didn’t really think I would do this with my family but the seed was planted.
- How long have you been on the road so far and when will you return to your home base? We moved out of our rental November 30th 2021. We don’t currently have plans to return to a home base full time but we are open to God’s leading and direction in this. I can’t help but think it’ll be a hard adjustment to stay stationary after traveling for so long but if the Lord leads us there we will trust him for that season too. Like Pa Ingalls said “My wandering foot gets to itching…” when I stay in one spot for too long.
- Would you ever continue being nomadic outside of North America? Oh for sure. I consider it all the time. It’s just currently easier with 4 kids ages 11-5 to stick them all into the van, strap them in and away we go rather than dragging them through an airport where I’d end up carrying ⅘ of the luggage by the time we are halfway anywhere. Plus plane tickets are not cheap for a family of 5. I have a lot of friends who live nomadically throughout the world and I also follow people on social media who live this lifestyle. I also really enjoyed reading “At home in the World” by Tsh Oxenreider.
- How have your children reacted to being on the road? Very well. A few of my children were a bit resistant at first because they didn’t want to leave what was familiar and especially the friends they had but now that we’ve been at it for over a year they are mostly excited about it and they have learned the beauty of being able to have friends in multiple locations and really look forward to being in the part of the country with different friends and getting to experience so many new experiences and a variety of cultures and worldviews even just between Canada and the United States and between the North and South.
- What organization/minimalist tips do you use to consolidate all your belongings into a minivan? A major thing for me is instead of deciding what to get rid of, decide what to keep. By doing it this way you can keep what you know you need and want without getting stuck on the unimportant. We have a small suitcase and a backpack each for our clothes and belongings, we need homeschooling supplies (but that is very simplified too), we carry a small bin of kitchen items such as a can opener, some silverware, collapsible cups, and a few other useful items, our wellness tinctures which are important, plus we always need some space for snacks, blankets and pillows. It’s important to remember that minimizing to this extent is not a fast process. I decided we were going to move into a nomadic lifestyle in May of 2021 and spent the next 6 months decluttering. I sold a ton of things on facebook marketplace, gifted a ton more on my local buy nothing group and took a bunch of loads of things to be donated. And this was after already living a fairly decluttered life.
- What steps did you take to prepare for being able to travel full-time and how long did it take to plan? I feel like beyond decluttering, the major things to prepare are mental. I read books about being brave and talked with people who were already living the lifestyle I wanted to live. I joined facebook groups for worldschoolers and female travelers. And then you have to go and just do the thing!
- How much do you stay/visit with friends vs. stay in other accommodations? Since we only own a mini van for our vehicle, my plan was to rent airbnbs for month long stays but once we got going it quickly became apparent that we have a lot of people in our lives who are HAPPY to have us stay with them and, in fact, people are truly lonely for companionship and so we have mostly stayed with friends and family and supplemented with a few hotels along the way. I am so thankful for the abundance of wonderful people in my life.
- What have been the most challenging parts of traveling? To never have my “home” I can retreat to when I’m feeling more introverted. To feel like I have to always be “on” and alert as the only adult. To have to always make all the decisions of where, when, how, etc.
- What have been the most rewarding parts of this lifestyle for you? Learning to more deeply and daily rely on God for our daily needs has been huge, also learning how capable and resilient I am. Being the recipients of so much kindness and love from so many people. We are flooded with regular bad news and how people can’t be trusted – but through this journey I have seen so much of the good of people and how many people are simply trying their best. Being with people is so rewarding to me. I love doing life with others. I don’t think we were created to be as isolated as we can be in our North American lifestyles. Being able to not just read about places but actually go to see the places has been really cool.
- Do you have a particular itinerary planned out every week or do you leave it flexible depending on how much you like a certain area once you arrive? The number one thing about being nomads is that you have to be very flexible and hold things extremely loosely. I know my general plan of where we are hoping to be during certain months of the year and I usually have most of the upcoming month figured out for at least where we will sleep most nights. Sometimes, though, I don’t know those details until that very day and I’ve learned that things always work out the way they are meant to be.
- What does a typical day look like as far as balancing teaching your children, travel time, self care, personal time with friends, etc? Hmmm a typical day… I’m not sure what those are haha. Really the days are flexible and change a lot depending on where we are, who we are with and what the plans are for that day specifically.
- What curriculum do you use for homeschooling? We use Gather Round Homeschool as our core curriculum and add Masterbooks Math for a living education. And we are huge fans of learning through life. We have enjoyed going to many places as we travel that help us learn – whether that is the aquarium, the zoo, a historical site such as Abraham Lincoln birthplace or Gettysburg or getting groceries or interacting with people. What better way to learn than hands on?
- What advice would you give for someone looking to travel full time, either alone or with a family? My sister told me this when I told her about my plans, “no matter if this is a short term, 1 year experience or if this is a multi year lifestyle, you will never regret the experiences you have with your kids.” (paraphrased). This was so encouraging to me to remember that just because I’m choosing this lifestyle for this season of life it doesn’t mean that I have to do this for the rest of my life unless that’s what I really want to do. And it also means that it is not a fail if I choose not to continue being a nomad for whatever reason I choose.So my advice is, if it’s something you want to do, do it! Surround yourself with people who encourage you, people who are doing what you want to be doing and people who help you step out of your comfort zone.
- Can you share about your Etsy shop and how you got started creating earrings? We learned that my oldest daughter can’t wear metal earrings and while I was looking for options for her I decided that I may as well make some myself. I thought that there must be others who are looking for a plastic option so why not try selling them on Etsy? So here I am. All my earrings have the option to either have plastic OR metal hooks. I named my shop Wandearrings by combining wanderings and earrings.
- Anything else you’d like to share? Our big goal is to see all the lower 48 states and all the Canadian provinces (not territories) by August 2029 when my oldest turns 18. We are currently at 23 states and 5 provinces as a family.
- How can people follow along on your journey? You can sign up for my monthly “ish” newsletter, follow me on Instagram, or reach ou to me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I also run a small homeschooling group on Facebook.
Emily again! I hope you enjoyed learning from Janelle as much as I did. Any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below.
Thanks for reading!