When is the right time to travel the world? Most people would say it’s before settling down, buying a house, and having kids.
But for Brandon Pearce, world travel is a family lifestyle. In 2010, Brandon and his wife sold their suburban home and all the stuff that goes along with it, leaving behind the American Dream for the opportunity to explore other cultures together with their 2 (now 3) children.
The life of a traveling family is no vacation: working as an online entrepreneur, homeschooling the kids, learning the language and cultural practices of a new home -- these are the rewarding challenges of Pearce on Earth, the family’s website, where Brandon documents their adventures from Costa Rica to Bali, Indonesia.
How can leaving home bring a family together? Here’s a glimpse of what it’s like in my interview with Brandon.
1. How hard was it to leave your home -- not only the house but everything that it had come to mean for you and your family? What led you to make this life-changing move?
We reached a point where that lifestyle just wasn’t working for us anymore. I felt like I was stagnating in my personal growth, and I could see that my future was leading to just more of the same. I believed that living abroad would offer some fresh perspectives on life. And it certainly did. Inspiration for this move came from several sources, including books like the 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss, The Power of Less by Leo Babauta, and The New Global Student by Maya Frost.
2. When did you decide to take your work online? How did you develop your business to grow with your family as you started your life abroad?
I’ve been playing the piano and programming since I was a kid, and had felt an interest in those professions. I did teach piano lessons on the side, but eventually chose programming as a career. In college, I started creating a web application to help manage my own piano students (musicteachershelper.com). Eventually, I decided to turn this into a business so other teachers could use it, too. It started out very slowly, and I was only making about $1,500/month from it when I quit my programming job four years later to work on the business full-time. After a couple years of hard work, it was making enough to support us completely, and I had even hired some help.
3. What did you have to learn about online entrepreneurship to support your family’s travel lifestyle?
Everything. I never thought I would be an entrepreneur. But it was really fun building something that was helping make other people’s lives better. At first, I did it all myself, from the programming and design, to customer support and marketing, to business finances. I learned a lot from Google, books, and trial and error. Now I have a great staff of 20 people who do a great job running the site from across the globe.
4. What are some of the creative or professional opportunities that have come your way because of your location-independent business? Are there any experiences that you feel like you’re missing as a musician or as an entrepreneur because of your family’s travel lifestyle?
When traveling for extended periods, I miss having a piano with me. This has led me to start developing a new digital piano that separates into three sections for easier transport. I don’t know if I would have had this idea had we not started traveling, but there has been a lot of interest in it so far. It’s still in the design phase and we’re working on the second prototype, but we hope to make it small and light enough to fit into carry-on luggage, while still having realistic hammer action, high quality instrument sounds, and some other cool features no other piano has. It will be called the Groove Piano (http://groovepiano.com), and I hope to launch a Kickstarter campaign for it later this year. A lot of my energy is going into this project at the moment, but I have a great team helping me, too.
5. How have your children adapted to home and school in other cultures? Do they ever wonder what it would be like to have a “normal” life? Do you ever wonder?
They’ve adapted well. And yes, we wonder about other lifestyles. Finding friends for our kids when we travel has been one of our biggest challenges. Here in Ubud, Bali, there are a few other families who homeschool, but our oldest daughter (10) would like to find more friends her age that she feels like she can fit in with. She sometimes misses the idea of a suburb lifestyle (and snow). We’ve put them in school for a month or so, but it didn’t really suit them, so now they’re taking some classes in the community and making friends that way. This year, we’ll start looking for a second homebase in a more western, English speaking country to spend part of the year, to see how that goes, and to get our “1st world fix”.
6. What are some of the special rewards and challenges of traveling as a family?
When we’re traveling, we’re usually together 24/7. This provides a lot of bonding opportunities, and a chance to get to know each other at deeper levels. We talk about everything as questions arise, and try to support each other through the hard times. But this also means we see each other at our best and our worst. We still have to deal with typical family challenges of arguments and temper tantrums. But we try to minimize them by making sure we each get time to ourselves, sufficient rest, regular meals, and empathetic listening.
In some ways, we’ve enjoyed traveling with our kids more than we would have without them. They provide a fresh perspective on everything, notice things that we don’t, and have many times been the instigator of new relationships. (Not to mention getting through airport lines more quickly.)
7. Have any of your goals or values shifted over the course of your journey together?
Almost all of them. About 6 months after we left the US, we began to question the source we had trusted for truth, and found that it was faulty. This led us to leave our religious beliefs behind, which completely shattered our worldviews and perceptions of who we were. This opened the door for us to create our lives again as we wanted. For anyone interested in that part of my journey, I wrote a 30+ page document about Why I Left the Mormon Church, and continue to blog about the things I’m learning about myself and the world.
8. Does your family have a favorite place that you’ve called home?
We love it here in Ubud, Bali. Beautiful landscapes with palm trees and rice fields, warm tropical weather, welcoming community, delicious and healthy international food, interesting local culture, low cost of living, and a free and healing lifestyle are some of the reasons we like to call this place home. The downsides for us are the traffic on narrow roads, lack of parks and places for family activities, musical theater and arts, and other conveniences like online shopping. We’ll probably end up staying here 4-6 months per year for the next while.
9. Do you think that blogging about your adventures changes the way you view your experiences (as potentially inspiring or helpful to others)?
Not everybody enjoys travel, or wants to live a lifestyle like I do. So if others are inspired by my writing, that’s great. But I don’t expect everyone to be.
But blogging has helped me in many ways. First, it’s given me more clarity about how and why I feel the way I do. Writing in a journal helps, too, but when I know I’m going to make it public, I take extra care to express myself clearly to avoid misunderstanding, and this helps me understand myself better, too.
Second, I’ve written about some pretty vulnerable topics, including healing sexual shame, admissions of imperfection, and my beliefs about death, God, and purpose of life. Making these public admissions has helped me accept these parts of myself rather than hide them from the world, allowing me to feel more comfortable in my own skin.
Third, after writing, I very much enjoy the responses I receive in comments and email from both those who want to challenge what I say, and those who are inspired by it. It all helps me get more clarity, and gives me a chance to connect with others who think deeply about these topics. I’ve made several friends this way.
10. Do you see your family ever returning to the U.S., or to a settled life somewhere else?
It’s possible we might return to the US at some point. This year, we’ll be doing a road trip up the west coast, and spending some time in BC, Canada, Ireland, the UK, and possibly New Zealand, in order to identify a potential spot to call home for at least part of the year.
Travel is fun, but it’s a lot of work. I’m mostly done with traveling to see sites and visit tourist traps. History can be interesting, and natural beauty still touches me. But the main reason I travel is to meet people, to get a glimpse into other lifestyles and viewpoints, and to hopefully expand my own perspectives and deepen my sense of connection with others. Most importantly, I want to enjoy the journey along the way, whatever comes up.
Thanks for the chance to be interviewed on your website!
Brandon Pearce is a piano teacher, entrepreneur, and world traveler who in 2009 decided to leave suburban America and travel the world with his family. You can find him on his brilliant blog at Pearce on Earth and on Twitter @brandags.