Holidays on the road: Making holidays special for a traveling family

halloween costumesHolidays are most definitely one of the highlights of everybody’s year. We all have our little traditions we stick to and, as kids, look forward to all of them. I used to measure my years by all the holiday traditions we had – making our own valentines… putting up a shamrock tree… the 4th of July parade… Thanksgiving with Grandma’s Cranberry Salad… opening presents on Christmas Eve… Magical indeed!

Celebrating holidays while traveling was one of the concerns I had when we made the decision to make travel a long-term lifestyle. We quickly decided the smaller holidays wouldn’t be an issue, but the biggies – we had to think of something! Fortunately, all is well in that department and the kids look forward to holidays just like any other kid in America.

Because we never know where we might be for any given holiday and have no idea what the circumstances might be, we have learned to be flexible and creative. We strive to make the holidays special, but how that special-ness will come is the exciting part of it all!

A Halloween Push

One year we were just leaving the Grand Canyon when Halloween was coming. Halloween had always been a favorite of our boys, and we were determined to get them someplace where they could go trick-or-treating. It was touch and go as to whether we could do it or not, but we made the decision to try – that was all we could do.

As it happened, the road to Williams, Arizona from the Grand Canyon is all uphill and we fought a terrible headwind. We “only” had 50 miles to pedal, but 50 miles uphill and against a headwind can be a battle. John, captaining the triple bike with our boys behind him, gave it a valiant effort, but was exhausted beyond belief.

Every mile or so, John slowly climbed off his bike and slumped to the ground. I could see the exhaustion in his eyes and weariness in his shoulders. He was trying – but would he make it?

Our sons, anxious to get to town for the big night, gave it their all. I watched as their legs pumped and they leaned into the wind to get traction. During each of the many breaks, the boys paced around, checking the clock to see if we still had enough time to make it in. “C’mon Daddy!” they urged excitedly. “We’ve got to get to town!”

As the hours passed, John’s pace slowed to little more than a crawl, but he somehow kept going. He was just as determined as the rest of us to reach Williams. But finally, three miles from town, he was done. He could go no farther. We pulled into the national forest outside town to call it a day.

The boys and I left John there in the woods and hitched a ride into Williams where we trick-or-treated until our feet nearly fell off, then hitched a ride back out to where John was waiting, snuggled up in his warm sleeping bag against the freezing temperatures.
The following morning, we feasted on frozen cupcakes and pies, stashed the candy in our panniers, and set out once again.

Christmas on the road

Santa has always managed to find us, wherever we may be. As teachers, my husband and I have always had Christmas off from work, and we have always traveled during the holidays. Once the boys came along, we continued with our travels and created new traditions for the holiday.

As we are never home for Christmas, we don’t bother with a Christmas tree or decorating the house, but we try to make the holiday special in other ways. No matter where we are – whether we’re in the Burmese mountains or a tent in Baja – Santa has always come. There were times when we wondered how, but somehow it always happened.

The boys have gotten their treats from Santa in a wide variety of manners – from actual Christmas stockings hung up in a hotel room to decorated bags left outside our tent to on top of a pile of grass – but they always wake up Christmas morning to find some kind of treat.

Our newest tradition is that of decorating our bikes. Every year I buy a bunch of garland and mini-Christmas trees and we enjoy making our bicycles festive. The boys have a blast decorating them, and we enjoy having our own little holiday spirit with us no matter we go!

Make the holidays your own

The important thing to remember when traveling with children is to be creative and celebrate the holidays somehow. Your old traditions of holidays at home will influence what you do, but think of new and exciting ways of making holidays special no matter you are. Your kids will always remember them.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

8 Reasons why biking with kids is good for them and you

biking the Dalton HighwayTravel is the best education a child can get. I’ve been a classroom teacher for 21 years and, although we do the best we can in the classroom, we are limited by those four walls around us. By getting out and seeing the world first hand, children will have a much deeper understanding of the world around them.

Travel is good for kids in so many ways, and traveling on bicycle is even more beneficial. There are many reasons I feel seeing the world from the seat of a bike are good for both parents and kids:

1) Determination. One of the most important skills for people today is the idea of sticking with a task even though it may be hard. Children learn determination when they try to climb a tough hill or battle fierce headwinds. They learn that by taking baby steps they can reach their goal – it may take a while, but they’ll get there!

2) Life is not a bowl of cherries. Some days are the pits, but we push on to get through. When traveling on bicycle, you will face tough days and all you can do is plod through it the best you can. We also know most days are wonderful and that’s what keeps us going. That’s exactly how life is – we don’t stop living just because we have a bad day or two.

pushing bike against headwind3) There are no limits to what they can do. Self confidence is a wonderful thing that helps us accomplish so much in life. If a child can pedal across the state, country, or world, is there anything he can’t do?

4) Understand the unifying nature of all humankind – regardless of color/religion/language. People are people, and by traveling and meeting people from all walks of life children learn that ALL kids are fun to play with, even if they can’t talk with them.

5) Built in play things rather than idiot boxes. Most kids today spend way too much time with electronic entertainment. Who needs all that when Mother Nature’s toys surround you?

6) Creative. Children learn to be more creative with what they have when they carry few toys. They use sticks and rocks and leaves and pine cones and berries and…

7) Contextual learning. If you learn something in context it means a whole lot more than learning random facts and figures. When you travel, all those random facts come together and make sense.

8) Active. In today’s sedentary world, need I say more?

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Why do people travel?

Planes, trains, automobiles, first class, economy and club. Today, it seems the list of where to go, how to get there, and what to take to get there, goes on and on. But after all this, where does the “why” start to come into the picture?

Medicine man in ZimbabweAside from the fundamental airport questions of business or pleasure, rarely does the question actually come up.

“Why do people travel?”

Of course some reasons are obvious. Maybe it’s for a business conference, maybe you’re coming home for the holidays or maybe it’s even for that “never can remember the name of” cousin’s wedding.

These are the answers that can be categorized as surface reasons. The things said at parties when people wish you “bon voyage” and to explain where you will be disappearing to for the next little while, but what is the deeper underlying “why”?

It all boils down to one factor: change.

No matter how comfortable or content someone is in their life there is always room for change. Jumping from everyday routine to backpacking adventures in Peru or marathon shopping trips on Rodeo Drive, travel is change at its finest. Creating new everyday routines from a bucket list of items that before were thought to be unattainable.

blue man of MaliThe sparkle of possibilities washes over people until all they can do is finally pack their bags and go. Even the most homesick person grabs onto the thought of “what if” to perk up the idea of where they currently are.

To some people this change is a change of pace. Turning a Wall Street broker into a beach bum or even just moving from the country straight into the city. Switching sunrises to high-rises to get a new perspective.

To some people the change is temporary, a chance to try a very different hat on for size just to see if it fits.  It’s for the person who wants to live off the earth for a week and then move back into their downtown loft by the first of the month.

To some people it is a solution, a recharge for the overworked or a new chance for those missing a piece of the horizon.

The amount, type and even longevity of the change are subjective but nonetheless the key motivation that pushes people to leave their homes and head elsewhere. From this change more change starts to come. New experiences breed new thoughts and new perspectives.

river boat in maliThe external in turn changes the internal, making the life people come back to in the end wholly better.

So whether or not the grass really is greener on the other side, when the thought of seeing the first pitch at Fenway Park or a fresh coat of snow on the Alps comes to mind, it becomes pretty hard to resist the chance for change.

This post is brought to you, in part, by the folks at Directline Holidays. We appreciate their support.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

7 Secrets Travel Agents Don’t Want You To Know

As a former travel agent, I’ve learned a thing or three about finding the best deals.

The truth is, many travel agents do have tools (and connections) to help them find the best deal anywhere. They’re also armed with industry knowledge of routes, hubs and the best supplier for each.

But you know what?

Many travel agent “secrets” can be used by the public. And in this post I’ll share you with several simple tips to save you a hundred dollars (or more) on your next vacation.

Ready? Then let’s roll…

#1. Airline Consolidators

Also known as “bucket shops”, airline consolidators are where travel agents go to buy tickets. They’re sort of like a giant warehouse of airfares: travel agents routinely buy tickets from consolidators and mark it up to boost their commission.

Which doesn’t do much for you, does it?

Instead, you can deal with (some) consolidators directly.

Here are just a few to get you started:

#2. Clear your Cookies

Have you ever found a cheap flight, only to find it’s gone up – a lot – just a few hours later? Clear your cookies and try again. Sometimes (but not always) you’ll see the old price. It’s a trick booking sites use to get you to buy now – and it works. You see the price has gone up and buy to prevent paying more tomorrow.

(Note: Sometimes airfares do go up on their own, so this isn’t fail-safe. But give it a shot – you never know!)

#3. Think Globally, Book Locally

Local providers are almost always cheaper and – thanks to the Internet – you can book with them directly instead of paying the middleman.

For example, let’s say you want to rent a car while traveling in New Zealand. Simply Google “local car rental Auckland, New Zealand” and you’ll have dozens of options to choose from!

#4. Be Very, Very Flexible

It’s possible to save over a hundred dollars if you can fly a few days early (or later). This is especially true for international flights, both due to its distance and holidays you aren’t aware of!

#5. Book Six Months In Advance

A rule of thumb I learned as a travel agent: always book in advance. The only exception? You’re planning a last-minute trip or found yourself inspired to go somewhere new.

A recent report from the New York Times revealed the best time to purchase tickets is roughly 21 – 24 weeks in advance. You can wind up paying significantly more if you wait – so if you’re ready, act now!

#6. Buy Your Tickets On Wednesday

Hat tip to Peter Greenberg for this one.

To summarize his article, fare wars between airlines start on Friday, and Wednesday is usually when airlines are willing go the lowest (before the weekly process begins again on Friday).

#7. Leverage the Cheapest Hubs

All airlines run the majority of their flights from one or more hubs. For example, American Airlines’ main hub is Dallas, while Delta’s is in Detroit (both airlines have multiple hubs, these are just examples).

Next time you’re booking your flights, check for flights to major hubs first. Then see if it’s cheaper to purchase a ticket there and an onward ticket versus a direct flight. You can see a whole list of hubs here.

So there you have it: seven simple secrets travel agents have used for years. Now it’s your turn!

What tips do you have for saving money on flights? Let us know in the comments below!

Adam Costa is Editor in Chief of Trekity, a free travel inspiration website and co-founder of the Travel Blogger Academy, which helps people build successful travel blogs. Follow Adam on Twitter.

travel pics

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Experiencing a Honduran chicken bus

==This post is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Changing Gears: A Family Odyssey to the End of the World. While we are hiking the Colorado Trail from Denver to Durango this summer, I’ll post an excerpt every Monday.==

selling mangoes on Honduran chicken bus

Selling mangoes on a Honduran chicken bus

An old school bus that had long ago given up the ghost in the USA had been revived in Honduras was parked in a large gravel parking lot. Shortly after we claimed seats, a young boy about eight years old climbed up the steps carrying a plastic tub full of bottles.

Refresco! Refresco!” he shouted as he made his way to the back of the bus. “Sodas!  Sodas!”

A couple seconds later, a teenage boy came in. Plastic bags filled with various vegetables hung from his shoulders and arms. More bags were tied to his belt loops and dangled around his knees.

Chiles! Tomates! Cebolla!” he cried, competing with the soda vendor in volume. “Ten lempira per bag! Only ten lempira!”

Then came an older woman with an apron wrapped around her waist. “Mangos!” she called. “You want mango? With salt and chili?”

The vendors worked their way through the aisle of the old bus, selling their wares of whoever indicated the slightest bit of interest. Passengers squeezed past the throng of humanity crowded into the aisle to take their seats.

honduras chicken bus

Everything from sodas to nail clippers to hand cream is sold in Honduran chicken buses.

Our friends, who had been riding local chicken buses for quite a while, ignored the mayhem. Davy and Daryl, new to this novel method of transport, watched with wide-eyed amazement.

A man climbed aboard and stationed himself a short way from the doorway. “Ladies and gentlemen!” he announced in Spanish. “I’ve got here the most unique, the most effective, the best program for learning English you’ve ever seen. What makes it so unique, you ask? It is unique because this program not only gives you the English word for things, but also has those words written phonetically in Spanish….” All the people on the bus listened to the salesman with rapt attention.

Once the English language vendor had finished his spiel, he made his way through the bus and numerous people bought his program.

He pushed and shoved through the other vendors to get back to the front of the bus, carefully stashed his fabulous, unique English program in a bag and pulled out a small container of cream.

“Ladies and gentlemen!” he hollered. “I have here the most amazing, the most remarkable cream…”

By this time, we were in stitches at the mayhem, commotion, and sights and sounds around us. Even though we wanted to get back to Omoa, we couldn’t help but relax and enjoy everything going on.

The whole time the English/cream salesman was talking, another man was quietly waiting in the stairwell of the bus. In time, the cream spiel ended, he collected money throughout the bus and departed – and the other guy took his spot.

boys selling tomatoes Honduras“Brothers and sisters!” he announced as another soda kid squeezed past him. “I am here to tell you about the love of God.”  After preaching to the crowd for a few minutes, he pulled out a pile of nail clippers. “And to remind you that God loves you, I’ve got some nail clippers here for only twenty lempira each. Each nail clipper has a picture of the virgin Mary on it, so every time you clip your fingernails you will be reminded of God’s love.  And furthermore – these nail clippers come complete with a bottle opener so each and every time you open a beer bottle you will be reminded…”

Right about then, the bus left the parking lot. Two blocks later, the bus stopped.

The nail clipper preacher climbed down the steps to leave the bus, a soda vendor climbed on. “Sodas! Cold sodas!”

A vegetable vendor climbed on carrying plastic bags draped over his shoulders. “Tomatoes! Onions! Ten lempira per bag! You want tomatoes?”

It took well over an hour to ride the ten miles back to the small town we were staying in, but it was the most entertaining hour we’d had for a long time.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Lessons learned from traveling with a disability

I was riding a bus in Ecuador many years ago when the woman sitting next to me quietly pulled out some kind of pen, fiddled with it a little bit, then pulled up the hem of her skirt a few inches and gave herself a shot.

“Insulin,” she said. “I’m diabetic and need to give myself insulin or I’ll die.”

I admired her guts. Many others with severe diabetes would choose to stay at home; or at the very least travel to “developed” areas. This woman chose not to go there – she preferred to live life on her own terms and deal with the consequences.

She’s a lot like Jessie Voigts, who has refused to allow her disabilities to prevent her from living life to the fullest. Here’s Jessie to tell you about lessons she’s learned the hard way.

Voigts and Forteau family, County Kerry, IrelandTraveling with a disability has proved to be quite a learning experience.  The challenges that pop up in travel will not only surprise you, but will require new ways of thinking to get you through.  Remember that no two disabilities (or disabled people) are alike. Some travelers with disabilities cope with chronic pain, while others have hidden disabilities; some are in a wheelchair, while others might be deaf or blind. Each disability requires different coping skills.

I have several disabilities, including a mobility disability, chronic pain, and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. They have impacted my travels since I was 18. The following tips are my own hard-earned lessons, for my particular disabilities. Your experience will be different – but some things stay the same.

Your body comes first. When you travel, either with companions or by yourself, pay attention to your body’s needs. Put your body first – you’ll be able to enjoy your travels more if you are as healthy and pain-free as possible.

Only you know what you need. While others that love you may try to judge your capabilities, only YOU know what you need. Maybe on a day when you’ve bought tickets to an attraction, you just don’t feel well enough to head out. Either reschedule the tickets or count the money spent as a loss. Your health is much too important to waste. As well, only you know when you might be able to push a bit more to do something.

The highest hurdle might be your expectations and desires. You WANT to go do something, especially if you’ve saved money and planned for this dream trip. If your body doesn’t cooperate, it’s extremely frustrating. Rest up if you can, and plan for the next day. It’s not giving in to your body – it’s recognizing that your health is more important than your desires.

People are very kind and generous. When a location isn’t accessible or you need assistance, you’ll find that people are both kind and generous. They might help lift your wheelchair up stairs, or find a bench for you to sit and rest upon. Strangers might help you navigate unfamiliar terrain, or help find gluten-free items in the grocery store or market. Which leads to the next point…

Learn to accept help. It goes against my grain – I’m very independent. But especially when I travel, I need more help than I do at home, where everything is easier and perfectly set up for my disabilities. Swallowing my pride or discomfort at asking for help not only helps ME, but helps locals make their location accessible to me and other visitors with disabilities. And that’s what travel is all about – getting to know a place and its people.

Jessie VoightsWhat tips do you have to share for traveling with disabilities?

 Jessie Voigts works tirelessly at She also runs a fabulous internship for traveling teens who want to learn to be travel writers.




books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

AIN’T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH: How Travel & Adventure Can Help Conquer Your Fears

Today’s guest post is from Bret Love from Green Global Travel. In it, he addresses the thing that holds most people back from living their dreams – fear.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” –Mark Twain

Fear is a terrible thing. It can be overwhelming, even paralyzing, keeping us from moving forward into the lives we’ve always dreamed of. Unfortunately, fear of the unknown often leads us to settle into a complacent existence in which we never even get a chance to gauge the measure of our true potential as human beings.

We certainly don’t begin our lives filled with fear. Instead it’s learned over time, often instilled (whether accidentally or on purpose) by the institutions that supposedly have our best interests at heart. We’re told what NOT to do from the very first day we attend school, taught to obey the rules, stay inside the lines, and adapt to society’s definitions of “normal” lest we be cast out from the in-crowd for being weird.


Living a life of adventure now comes easily, but started slowly.

I embraced my inner weirdo a long time ago, and have made some of the biggest, boldest decisions of my life out of sheer rebellion against the repression of my childhood. And while some doubted the choices I made along the way, taking the road less traveled truly has made all the difference. But for others it’s not so easy to break out of the boxes our primal selves are constricted to fit into. To them, I say travel and adventure are the cure for what ails you!

Take my partner Mary, for instance: When we first met, she was coming out of a painful separation after a 15-year relationship and almost seemed shell-shocked. In her 20s she had traveled to India, Spain/Morocco and Ireland with girlfriends, but during her married life she increasingly stuck to cities, never venturing too far off the beaten path. The failure of her marriage had left her largely devoid of self-confidence.


Bret and Mary explored Hawaii in atypical fashion

Then we went on our very first ecotourism adventure on the Big Island of Hawaii. It was an amazing trip, filled with amazing little inns and luxury hotels, a remarkable helicopter tour over an active volcano and a topsy-turvy boat ride to see the lava flow meeting the sea at sunrise.

But the moment that stands out the most in my memory was the day we went snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay (where Captain Cook first landed in Hawaii, and was ultimately killed by the natives). Mary was terrified of putting her face in the water but, after a little hand-holding, she did it anyway. Later, after she got more comfortable, we snorkeled together in a cove surrounded by massive Hawaiian sea turtles­– an experience neither of us will ever forget.


Overcoming fear is key to bigger and braver adventures

With time, our adventures together got bigger and better. Less than 6 months after her first (extremely tentative) snorkeling experience, we were scuba diving in 20 feet of water with dolphins and hand-feeding sharks in Curaçao. Despite her crippling fear of heights, she slid and jumped down 27 waterfalls in the Dominican Republic, holding her nose daintily each and every time. And even though she is uncomfortable with complete darkness and battles claustrophobia, she was a total trooper when we swam in an ancient underground cenote in the Riviera Maya.

In short, she stopped letting her fears hold her back, and I fell even more deeply in love with Mary as I watched her blossoming with each new experience. Where once she had often seemed fragile and emotional, she soon became more outgoing and vivacious. Where once her fears had seemed almost crippling, soon the amount of time it took her to break through that obstacle and embrace the experience shrank considerably. When we went scuba diving for the second time in Panama’s Coiba National Park a few months ago, she barely needed any hand-holding at all.


Exploring pitch black caves is even doable

In confronting her fears head-on and tackling whatever challenges our travels throw her way, I’ve seen Mary evolve into a bolder, more confident woman that the person she was five years ago wouldn’t even recognize. I can’t wait to see how we will continue to grow together as our travels take us to even more exotic, far-flung destinations in the future (scuba diving in Jordan’s Red Sea, hanging with polar bears in the Canadian Arctic and a safari in Africa are on the agenda for 2012).

I understand that the world can be a big, scary place. But, the next time you travel, I urge you to follow Mary’s lead and challenge yourself to stretch beyond your comfort zone, try something new, take a few steps off your personal reservation and explore new places. Because, once you take that leap of faith into the unknown, you never know what amazing things you might find…

Bio: Bret Love is the co-founder/Editor In Chief of Green Global Travel, a web-based magazine devoted to ecotourism, nature/wildlife conservation and the preservation of global culture. Follow him at 

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Ten Things Children Learn About Life While Traveling

Today’s guest post is from Shannon Entin from Road Trips for Families. She’s summed up my feelings perfectly. Kids learn many life lessons from travel.

Traveling means many things to many people. Some value entertainment and night life. Some value relaxation or adventure. And some, like me, see travel as the ultimate classroom.

falling water with kidsVacations and travel are always exciting to children, though they might not realize the many lessons they are learning along the way. Here’s my top ten list of what kids learn about life while traveling:

1. You aren’t the center of the universe. When children travel, especially internationally, they gain a new perspective about their place in the world. They see beyond their own backyard and their minds are opened to different cultures, standards of living, and ways of life. Through travel, kids can learn that happiness can come in many forms.

2. Things don’t always turn out the way you planned. Surprised by a deluge of rain on your camping and hiking trip? Put on a poncho and make the best of it. Travel rarely goes 100% as planned, so kids learn to be flexible.

3. Trying new things builds confidence. While my daughter is always up for something new, my son would usually prefer to stay in his room. But when we travel, he experiences first-hand the sense of accomplishment that comes with trying something new, and that confidence transfers over into all areas of his life.

4. Reading a map is an essential skill. Learning to navigate, recalculate, and not be afraid of getting lost is a life lesson all kids need to learn. And this isn’t just driving a car without a GPS. Too many kids today fear the world outside of their own neighborhood. Travel can teach them that if they are armed with some basic knowledge, going outside their comfort level can be rewarding.

5. Being with your family can be fun! Travel time is a great opportunity to bond with your kids and share new experiences together. Instead of quieting your children with DVDs and headphones, share family history stories or play games. Sure, it takes more energy to keep kids engaged on the road but they will appreciate the attention.

6. Memories are made by people, not by places or things. Do you have memories of childhood family vacations? What do you remember most, the destination or some hilarious (or horrific) event you shared with your family? My grandmother traveled around the world – alone – when she was in her 60′s and the stories that meant the most to her involved the people she met along the way.

7. Patience is not only a virtue, it’s a necessity. Flights get canceled or overbooked. You have to wait in a really long line for a rollercoaster. We wait all the time, all through life. Travel helps your children hone this skill.


Letterboxing and geocaching are both great family travel activities

8. Games are a wonderful way to learn. My family has built some of our best travel memories around Letterboxing. We recently had to climb behind a bench and lift up some rocks and cinder blocks in a wall to find a letterbox at a zoo. The people walking by us probably thought we were nuts, but we were on a mission and it felt so good when we accomplished it! Geocaching is another challenging travel game loved by families worldwide.

9.History is alive and all around us. There’s nothing quite as captivating as a history re-enactment or a living history museum, especially with a “local” or historian that will talk to your family about your destination. Traveling can immerse your children in history if you take the time to look for it. Plus, seeing cannons fired in person may get children interested in a unit study on the Civil War and give it more meaning rather than taking the trip after the fact.

10. The destination is not always the best part. Travel can teach your children to enjoy the journey. Don’t rush through vacations or through life.

Shannon Entin is a homeschooling, traveling mom who loves a good road trip. She is the Northeast Editor for Road Trips for Families and her personal blog is 100 Routes Across America. Her goal is to drive through portions of all 50 states in the United States and bring her family along for the ride.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

8 Reasons Teaching is the Best Career if you Love Travel and Adore Life

It’s no secret that teaching has been good to me. I spent 21 years in classrooms in various countries and have had many experiences throughout my teaching career. Here, Lillie Marshall from explains some of the reasons becoming a teacher might be a wise career move for you if you enjoy travel.

Lillie Marshall volunteering in Ghana

Lillie Marshall volunteering in Ghana

Are you seeking a job that will fulfill your soul, excite you, and allow you to see the world? After extensive research, I declare that teaching is the best career for these goals!

My name is Lillie Marshall and I have been a teacher in the Boston Public Schools for eight years. I also love life and adore travel, and my teaching career is a perfect match for these passions. Here is why a teaching job could be a match for you, too:

1. Abundant vacation days. Make no mistake about it: We teachers work our tails off, but in return, we have more vacation days than any other career. Sure, I teach 150 kids a day (five classes of thirty 7th graders) and spend most of my evenings and weekends grading, but how many other working folks in 2011-12 spent: a week in December in Spain, a week in February in China, a week in April in Greece, and two summer months abroad? I did!

2. Free money to travel. You know those trips to Spain, China, and Greece that I mentioned? They were all free for me because of teacher travel opportunities. China was free because I was chaperoning a student trip of 42 Boston teens, Greece was a teacher tour that I got funded with a grant, and Spain was a teacher training that came with the China trip. There are more grants out there to help teachers travel free than there are for any other profession.

Lillie Marshall in China

Lillie goofs off with a student in China

3. Salary and stability. Even when I don’t use grants or programs for free teacher travel, I still have no problem seeing the world because of my job salary and stability. Obviously, teachers don’t get paid huge heaps of dough, but we do make a relatively solid wage which can be stretched well with a little planning and economizing. I spent five summers in Latin America volunteering and taking Spanish classes using the money I saved simply from not having a car.

4. Happiness and Fulfillment. After five years teaching, I took a one year leave of absence to travel and write full-time. During that year, I pondered whether I might leave teaching for good and dive into another career. I experimented with several different job options, but quickly realized: few careers give such a sense of fulfillment, excitement, and contribution to society as teaching. Sure, the vacations are great and the pay is stable, but what really draws me to teaching is how wonderful it is to be able to help young people learn and grow!

5. Exploration and active, constant learning. If you’re a person who loves to travel and adores life, you probably like things that are fun, creative, and on-your-feet. Teaching gives you all that! I love designing new lessons, engaging students in heated discussions about a text, and spending my days bouncing around instead of sitting in a cubicle.

Lillie in Ghana6. Experiencing the world without leaving home. Even if you don’t decide to travel on teacher vacations, teaching can give you experience with hundreds of different cultures from the comfort of a single classroom. In each of my classes, I have students from at least five different continents and fifteen different countries. The details I’ve learned from them about their cultures and ancestral homes are fascinating. When I finally do get to visit their countries (Vietnam, Ghana, Brazil, and more), students are so excited, and I bring with me the knowledge they’ve imparted.

7. A purpose for your travel. When I go on a trip, I love to share it with people (don’t you?), and as a teacher, I have a built-in audience! Every trip becomes professional development which enhances my curriculum. During our memoir unit last year, I shared with students the true life stories I had created with students during my three months volunteering in Ghana, and my Boston kids were inspired to read experiences of kids their own age, living across the ocean in West Africa.

8. Universal need. Finally, it’s delightful to know that everywhere on Earth needs teachers. You are guaranteed to find a paid or volunteer position someone, eventually. This provides wonderful life flexibility, both in finding summer positions and in moving locations.

So what do you think… Could teaching be a good career for YOU?

Lillie Marshall is a Boston teacher and Travel Blogger at and She tweets at @WorldLillie and runs the Education Bloggers group.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Roadschooling: The ins and outs

  • Will my kids learn everything they need to know?
  • Will I be able to keep up with my children’s education on the road?
  • Will I harm my children so they’ll never be able to live a normal life?

These are questions most parents ask before setting out for long term travel. Will the travel be good for my kids?

salmon bake on Yurok Reservation

Enjoying a salmon bake on the Yurok Reservation in California

The answers are no, yes, no, and yes. Your children will never learn everything they need to know, you’ll do just fine educating them, you won’t harm them, and yes the travel will be good for them.

I get a fair number of emails from people around the world asking me about how to roadschool. They’re wanting to take off and travel for a year or more and are wondering how to fit schooling in with travel. How, exactly, does that marriage work?

Today I got an email from Merlijn from Stirling, UK asking me the same questions. Excellent questions, I might add, that many parents have. I thought my responses to her would be perfect for other wannabe travelers as well.


This is truly a complicated question with many different aspects to address. In this post, I’ll do my best to explain our approach and how we dealt with it, but be aware that there are as many different ways of roadschooling as there are families wanting to do it.

What is Education?
What is Roadschooling?
How do I Roadschool?
Roadschooling Social Studies
Roadschooling Science
Roadschooling Reading
Roadschooling Writing and Researching
Roadschooling Mathematics
How much time needs to be spent on schooling?
Formalizing Education
Parental curiosity is key
Tips for enriching the experience
Materials for Roadschooling

What is Education?

seastars on oregon coast

Kids are naturally curious and want to understand their world

Kids are naturally curious and have an innate desire to make sense of the world around them.  In other words – they want to learn.  Have you ever seen your child out digging in the ground, trying to pull earthworms out of the dirt?  And then that same child proudly shows you all the segments and explains how the worm wiggles to move?  She is simply trying to put the pieces together to make sense of what’s around her.

Kids have an inborn inclination to want to make sense of their world. Education is the process of learning that.

What is Roadschooling?

Education doesn’t have to take place within the confines of four walls, and roadschoolers have learned to take full advantage of that fact.  Many families have opted out of a ‘traditional’ education, and have chosen instead to take their children out to see the world – whether in RVs, planes, buses, or bicycles. Roadschooling families make a conscious effort to capitalize on children’s natural penchant toward learning. They go out of their way to visit historical and/or scientific sites in order to arouse that sense of curiosity in children.

fort ross state park

History comes alive when you can climb on cannons

As families travel throughout the world visiting historical sites, children gain an understanding of what life was like on the fields of Gettysburg or in ancient Mayan cities. They visit museums and national parks and natural wonders. Roadschooling parents encourage their children to learn from everything surrounding them and the kids learn in a natural learning environment.

Learning takes place around the clock, wherever you happen to be. Education is a lifestyle, with the whole family taking advantage of a visit to a battlefield to learn about the Civil War or learning how locks work during a visit to the Panama Canal.

How do I Roadschool?

Each family’s approach to roadschooling is as unique as that particular family. Some families take a very organized approach and carefully plan out their destinations to mesh with their curriculum. They may plan trips to historical sites, buy books about that period in history, and make an entire unit out of it. Other families have a more relaxed attitude about their child’s education, believing he/she will learn just from the experience of travel itself.

We used a variety of methods, depending on what we wanted our children to learn. I’ll address the various subjects individually here.

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Roadschooling Social Studies

oregon trail

Being on the Oregon Trail gives kids a much deeper understanding of what the pioneers experienced

One of the things I learned from my many years of teaching and serving on curriculum committees is that schools don’t have all the answers. There is no magic set of knowledge that all kids need to learn. I wrote about that idea a while ago: Education = Learning = School?

Does it really matter if kids learn about the Civil War or Falklands War or Vietnam War? Do the specifics matter or is the important thing the overarching themes behind the reasons behind the wars? If children learn about one or two wars in depth, does that information transfer to other wars?

My experience has shown me that what’s important is that kids understand there are two sides to any war. The winner is not necessarily “right” or “better” than the loser. Once kids understand that idea, they are capable of understanding all wars.

Is it imperative that Americans learn about the Civil and Revolutionary Wars and Argentinians learn about the Falkland War? That’s up to individual parents: if you feel it’s important that your child know the history of your own country, then make sure you visit historical sites from those eras.

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Roadschooling Science

This is probably the area that is hardest because it’s so vast. The amount of knowledge and information in our world is doubling and tripling at an astounding rate. In the past, it was conceivably possible to teach kids pretty much all the science they needed to know. Today, it’s impossible.

joshua trees

You’ll see a variety of vegetation while traveling, which is a perfect lead-in to a discussion about habitats

Ultimately, the actual content kids learn doesn’t matter. Given the vast amount of information out there, it doesn’t matter if a child learns the phases of the moon, the parts of a flower, the nitty-gritty of how surface tension works, or the systems of the human body. What’s important is that they learn the process of figuring all that stuff out.

If you compare roadschooling to the typical school curriculum (in the USA anyway), it’s a pretty good comparison. One school might teach astronomy and carbon dating, while another teaches properties of matter and cell formation. One roadschooling family might spend time at the Grand Canyon and study the geological layers of the earth while another visits the Florida Everglades and studies march ecosystems.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what content your child learns. What matters is that he understands

  • That there is an enormous amount of information out there and
  • How to find out about it if he wants to

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Roadschooling Reading

reading a guidebook

Allowing kids to plan your destinations helps them feel more a part of the journey

Way back in 1995 when I was about to teach first grade for the very first time, I was terrified. I knew how to teach kids to read better, but had no clue how to teach them to read in the first place. A friend of mine gave me the best advice ever: “Don’t worry, the kids will learn to read in spite of what you do.”

And that’s true. All kids need in order to learn how to read is the desire, created by seeing parents read, and the opportunity. Read to your children, have books around, encourage them to read whatever they see. That’s all it takes. They’ll read.

As they develop into stronger readers, continue to encourage reading by being environments rich with words. Take time to actually read the explanations on displays at museums, have books in the car, read everything you can. It works, it really does.

I wrote about how my son’s reading improved dramatically once we hit the road here: How travel helps kids learn

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Roadschooling Writing and Researching

This is probably the easiest area to take advantage of your travels. Have your child keep a journal for his free writing skills. Have him write formal edited essays about what you see so you can work with him on spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc… It doesn’t matter what he writes about; it’s the process of writing that counts.

We tied writing with researching during most of our travels. Our kids researched what we were seeing and wrote essays about them. That gave us a chance to work with the boys on figuring out the research skills and also to help them edit their writing to perfection. You can read the essays our sons wrote here: Exploring the Pan American Highway

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Roadschooling Mathematics

Math, in our opinion, was the one area we were not able to adequately use our journey for. For younger kids (approximately under the age of 8 or so) everything they need in terms of mathematics can quite easily be worked in to your travels, but once they get into higher math, not so.

math homework

Our children worked through their math books in hotels or campgrounds

All younger kids need is an understanding of the number system and how to manipulate numbers with addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. All of these are easily incorporated into your travels. Have your child total up the amounts you’ll spend in restaurants or stores, calculate gas mileage for your vehicle, how many miles left to the destination, etc…

Once a child gets up to needing to manipulate fractions, decimals, and algebraic equations, it’ll be much harder to build a complete program into your travels. There will be many times when you can bring in real-life examples based on your experiences, but not the entire program.

For that level, we carried math books with us on the bikes and the boys worked through them in hotels or campgrounds.

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How much time needs to be spent on schooling?

Merlijn continued:


You’d be surprised. When your life revolves around education, you end up spending very little time on it. And yet you spend all your time on it.


Spending all day learning about Alcatraz means effortless “school”

OK, that sounds weird. What I’m trying to say is that as you travel, you’ll be doing this stuff anyway. You’ll go to national parks and explore the visitor centers and listen to ranger talks. That’s all “school.” You’ll take hikes around battlefields and talk about the wars that happened there as you walk. That’s “school” too.

Every time you visit a cheese factory or a zoo, when you play in tidal pools along the coast or race up sand dunes, it’s “school.” Take advantage of every opportunity to get out and play, and your kids will be in school all the time.

In the evenings, after a long day of playing tourist, you’ll need some down time – that’s when your kids will reach for books to relax with. There’s your reading for the day. Before they go to bed, have them spend a few minutes writing a journal entry.

You don’t have to stress about it – you really don’t.

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Formalizing Education

All the varied experiences are great and all, but if the kids don’t have the language to communicate what they know from racing up sand dunes, that’s a problem. I have absolutely no idea if there is an official term for this, but I call the next step the formalization process.

For example, my sons rode their bikes the length of the Baja peninsula. They had looked at the map and saw the long arm of land jutting out into the ocean. When they got to the southern end, they got on a ferry to the mainland because there was no land route across. They “knew” what that peninsula was all about. They cycled all thousand miles of it.

Yet they never knew it was called a peninsula. If someone had asked them about peninsulas, they would have responded that they had no idea, even though they knew more about them than most people. We needed to take their education to that formalization stage and give them the word for what they already knew. It just takes a few seconds once they understand the idea behind the vocabulary, but it’s a necessary step.


As you explore, be sure to use proper vocabulary so your children can communicate with others

A good guide you could use would be to have some science and social studies texts from school and jump around to coincide with when you see something. That way you have an idea of what kinds of words the kids will be expected to know.

That said, I wouldn’t worry much about it. We pulled our kids out of school for third grade to cycle around the USA and Mexico. They went back to fourth grade and came home complaining that they were lost – the other kids had learned a whole lot of stuff that my boys hadn’t. Within a month, however, that was over. As it happened, they had learned the same stuff, but didn’t have the same vocabulary as the other kids. It didn’t take long for them to associate the words with what they knew and speak a common language.

The conceptual understanding is the hard part – the vocabulary to name it is easy.

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Parental curiosity is key

All the research in the world won’t help much if parents don’t set the tone about learning. When we’re excited and enthusiastic about learning something, our kids are too. When we’re yawning and bored and want to head out, our kids pick up on that as well.

gaucho gil shrine argentina

Bright red shrines like this dot the roadsides in Argentina. They are dedicated to Gaucho Gil, a popular saint

One of our most incredible learning experiences was sparked by my curiosity. We had seen small shrines on the side of the road since Mexico, but in Argentina we starting seeing some that were painted bright red. The red shrines all had red flags hanging from the tree above them. I was puzzled. Why red? What was the story?

As we sat on the side of the road taking breaks, I puzzled over the red shrines. Why? It didn’t take long before my sons were curious too. As soon as we reached town, we researched and discovered a delightfully fascinating story. You can read it here: Gaucho Gil

My boys most likely never would have realized there were bright red shrines if it hadn’t been for me bringing it up. It was my excitement and curiosity that drove them to wanting to learn about it. Keep your love of learning active and delve into what’s around you. Your kids will do the same.

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Tips for enriching the experience

When you visit a new site, you basically have three options for how to deal with it:

  1. Research about it before you get there
  2. Research about it after the visit
  3. Don’t research at all, but learn what you can while there.
panama canal

A prior understanding of how ships were raised and lowered in the Panama Canal helped us to understand what was happening at the canal. It also allowed us to take our learning beyond the basics.

Depending on the situation, all three of those approaches can be perfect. Overall, I would say our sons learned more when we researched beforehand. When we knew we would arrive at the Panama Canal soon, we took some time to research the history of the canal, the engineering challenges they faced building it, and the ecological effects of connecting the two oceans.

By the time we showed up in person, our boys knew a lot about how it all worked and why it was special. That then freed them up to move beyond the basics while there. They could talk with the rangers and ask detailed questions to take their learning above and beyond. If they had arrived there with no knowledge at all, they would have spent their time at the canal learning the basics. The prior knowledge allowed them to take it further.

Although this is a great strategy, the truth is that it can’t be done all the time. Sometimes you’ll stumble upon a site that you didn’t know existed and other times you are swamped and simply can’t manage to do a bunch of research before visiting. That’s when you have two choices.

cannons in Panama

To this day we have no idea what these cannons in Panama are all about. We stopped, climbed on the cannons for a while, then continued on

You can choose to research after the fact. At the site, they’ve learned the basics and now they can take it a step farther through research. Although we did this a number of times, we found it was harder than researching before because most websites only have the basic info. The rangers could get us further than internet research could. That said, if it’s a fascinating site and you want to learn more, that’s a way to take it the next step.

Or you can choose to let it go. Accept that what you learned by visiting the site is enough and don’t research it at all. There were times when we did that simply because a) we were too tired to bother studying at all or b) there was something else nearby that we found more interesting. It’s all good.

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Materials for Roadschooling

You won’t need much to successfully roadschool your children. I’ve written about that here: What materials do I need to roadschool?

Nancy Sathre-Vogel and her husband are both long-time schoolteachers who made the decision to quit their jobs in order to travel fulltime with their children. Nancy taught for 21 years in grades 1 – 9, in both general ed and Special Ed. She has a master’s degree in Integrated Math & Science with an emphasis on brain research as it applies to learning. Now she’s homeschooling her teenage twin sons, playing with beads, and writing blog entries.


books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Becoming Location Independent: Where do I start?

life is like a coin. You can spend it on anything you want but you can only spend it onceFor many dreams, having a source of income that does not revolve around physically being present in a certain place is a must, but creating that situation can be difficult. It may seem, at first glance, as an impossible task, but I believe we’re all up for reaching our own personal unreachable star.

I’ve met hundreds (thousands?) of people throughout the world who support themselves in one way or another. Here are a few of the many ways people have done it over the years.

Develop a passive income stream

This is, most likely, the dream. All of us would love to have a way of generating income without actually doing much. That’s exactly what passive income is. It will take a bit of work up front (or maybe a LOT of work up front) but eventually the payoff will be money in the bank without much effort. Examples:

  • Book royalties
  • Rental income
  • Interest on savings

Build an online business

In today’s society, this is a very common and realistic goal. If you can find a niche that needs to be filled, you’ll be set. Don’t expect it to pay off immediately, but it can be your ticket to freedom if done right. Examples:

  • Content or information website generating income from ads
  • Offer specific kinds of services in exchange for a fee
  • Sell products – either physical products or digital files
  • Affiliate marketing


This is a wonderful option for just about anybody. Nearly all of us have some sort of marketable skill we can leverage for pay if we’re creative and willing to persevere. Some types of freelancers are:

  • Writing
  • Photography
  • Web design
  • Advertising
  • Graphic design

Part time consulting

If you are in a high-paying field, this option is perfect. Many people offer consulting services in a wide array of fields and are paid enough for a few weeks of work to finance several months of living the dream.

  • Computer programming
  • Engineering
  • Personal Finance

Seasonal work

Depending on what your dream is, seasonal work might be perfect. It’ll get you into wonderful locations and pay your expenses while there.

  • Ski resorts
  • National parks
  • Life guard


Becoming an expat is a great way to see the world, if that’s your dream. Not only does it pay you a salary, but it allows you to live in a foreign country immersed in the culture. Just a few of the many jobs available overseas are:

  • Teachers
  • Medical workers of all kinds
  • Engineers
  • Diplomats
  • Aid workers

How will you accomplish your goal? Only you can answer that question.

The beautiful part of all this is there are as many answers to the question as there are people asking it.


in this world we need to take chances sometimes they're worth it and sometimes not but we won't know unless we try

More information here:

Location Independent
64 Ways location independent people earn a living
Designing a digital nomadic lifestyle
Location Liberated

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Are You a Mileage Hoarder? It is Time to Show Your Family the World

I’m worthless when it comes to airline points. In fact, I’ve opted for a cash-back credit card rather than deal with points. But Justin, proud papa of the InACents family, knows the ins and outs of accruing those points. Here he’s got some ideas about actually using them.

money bagI am a self-proclaimed travel hacker. I have learned the ins and outs of mile and point collecting enough where I can build up large amounts of rewards for our family with little or no out-of-pocket expense. Along the way of learning about the various rewards programs and how to maximize savings and rewards, I have had a keen observation on those that collect. There are three categories of mileage and point collectors. Where do you group yourself?

The Non-Interested

First is the person who does not have any interest in collecting miles or points and saving money by using reward programs to their advantage. They either assume their time is not worth the effort, or they are just too lazy to want to learn the tricks that could save their families thousands of dollars each year.

Others that can be categorized in this group are those that may have a couple of reward accounts, but know nothing about managing them or maximizing their value. They know they should gets the rewards, but have no idea on redemption.

The Expert Reward Traveler

extra pointsThe second group of people are those that totally get every little deal of the system. They understand about using shopping portals to maximize their rewards during key promotions, they read all the popular forums and blogs, and they hop and jump all over the world using miles and points to experience travel that they otherwise not be inclined to purchase outright with cash. They are experienced pros and live off the rewards of their labor.

The Point Hoarder

The last group of people are those that understand how to build up their mileage and reward accounts. They may have one account with tens of thousands of miles or points, or might even have rewards across many different programs. The key difference between these collectors and those in the Expert Reward Traveler group is that the hoarder people do not ever use the rewards to their benefit.

I used to be in the third category of mileage and point collectors. Our family has never been frequent flyers enough to earn any substantial rewards in any one program, let alone status. We have accounts in practically every travel reward program you can name. Eventually, over time, we had built up quite an arsenal of rewards, but were always saving them for just the right moment to cash in.

Eventually, after I started to learn more about mile and point programs, our family made a plan to visit Hawaii. This summer my family’s dreams will come true. We will be flying out of Ohio to Hawaii, with a several day stopover in Los Angeles to visit Disneyland, all for free. Then we felt inclined to invite my wife’s parents along too, so I used miles to get them out to Hawaii. All for FREE by using those valuable rewards! In addition, a week’s worth of hotel rooms will totally be covered with points. Our family finally moved out of the Hoarding group and into the Make Your Family Happy group.

What to do with all those miles, points, and rewards?

I equate redeeming rewards to making a large purchase. For years we save up large sums of money towards a new vehicle purchase or home. You might be sitting on tens of thousands of dollars in the bank that is allocated towards that future investment. The problem comes when it is time to turn that money in for the reward. It can be a very scary proposition to lose that nest egg.

To give an example, after my wife and I married, we saved every single cent that we were given from our wedding. Every year we took our tax return and deposited it directly in with our wedding account. We continued to keep adding onto our account, and eventually the account grew to a large sum of money.

The main goal of all that money was to one day purchase our dream home together as we knew the home we were in at the time would eventually be outgrown. Then, out of nowhere, we found our dream home, and were placing an offer on it within 24 hours. Over the course of the next month or two, we were placed into every new home owner’s fear: how much to place on the house for the down payment?

money bagsWe had spent years building up this large cushion with the sole purpose of being able to use it for a house, but when it came time to actually cash in the money, it was a scary venture. All that money provided a peace-of-mind in case we lost our jobs or a real emergency surfaced.

We all know the rewards are well worth the investment in the end. Whether it be a new home, vehicle, or a dream vacation. After you saved all that cash, miles, or points, the reward in the end should ultimately make you feel happy and satisfied with your investment. The mileage or point hoarder needs to realize that if the rewards are sitting in your account, they are not saving you any money.

While the rewards sit idle in your account, one risks the chance of either a) losing the miles or points due to inactivity within a certain period of time as stipulate by each company, or b) worse, the company devalues the rewards program and now all of a sudden your rewards, which might have gotten you a free domestic ticket or hotel night, now will not cover the cost of the reward. Airline companies and hotels change their redemption levels all the time. What used to cost X amount of miles or points now might cost X+Y. Companies rarely lower the standard amount of rewards needed for a redemption.

The whole system is a big game of cat and mouse, supply and demand. Companies can pump in millions upon millions of rewards to their customers, all while controlling the amount of inventory necessary to redeem. Therefore, if you have miles or points sitting in an account, spend them. That is the point, after all; to experience the true reward of the rewards program, not to have an account full of, I use this term loosely, worthless points. Saving up for that big ticket item may never happen if the company devalues your points.

If you do not step out of your comfort zone and use that large pile of cash sitting in your account, you may never be sitting on a couch in your dream home with your wife in sweatpants sitting next to you with enough room for the kids to run around in another wing of the house. Now get out there and see where those miles can take you.

Learn more about saving money and traveling more at


books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Debt: The #1 Dream Killer

big debt small manI hear so much about debt in this country and, truth be told, I’m puzzled. I don’t understand how anyone can put themselves into the massive amounts of consumer debt this country is known for. It seems to me that debt is the main dream killer in our country.

I get that sometimes the debt is beyond someone’s control. Even a minor medical crisis can put one in debt for the rest of their lives in the USA. Sometimes taking out loans for university in order to pursue one’s passion makes sense. A reasonable loan to buy a small house isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

But I hear over and over again about the massive credit card debt the average American carries and I’m dumbfounded each time I hear it. The average credit card debt per household in America is $15,956.

It seems to me that carrying that debt means that you’re paying for yesterday’s dream at the expense of what you want to do today. Debt kills dreams.

And that doesn’t make sense to me.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll tell you up front that I’ve never been in debt. I did graduate from college with a small amount of student loans, but they were offered through a special program to entice Special Ed teachers and were completely forgiven after five years of teaching Special Ed. That’s it. That’s the only debt I’ve ever had.

erase debtEvery car I ever bought was paid for with cash. Every article of clothing or piece of furniture for my house I paid for with money I already had. My bikes, my vacuum cleaner, my blender – all paid up front. Every house I’ve owned was paid for with cash. Granted, we’ve chosen to live in Boise where housing prices are reasonable – our houses did not cost half a million dollars.

And yet John and I were both school teachers. Teaching is not exactly known as the highest paying profession in America ((insert sarcastic voice here)).

I can’t help but feel that if two school teachers can live debt free, then you can too. It’s all about setting priorities and spending wisely.

Do you really need a brand new $50,000 car or would an older used one get you to work and back?

Is that 3,000-sq-foot home necessary or can you live in something smaller?

What about that couch in the living room? Does it need to be replaced now or can you wait until you have the money saved up?

Is that shirt or those shoes worth going into debt for?

Are you paying for yesterday’s dreams?

shackled by debtI look at our life right now and I realize that the reason we are free to live the way we are is because of the freedom we have to spend our money as we choose today. We’re not paying for choices we made last month or last year. We’re paying for what we want to do today.

Every penny of our income now can be spent on today’s dream.

I’m not a financial guru and don’t claim to be qualified to provide financial advice. But still, common sense tells me that paying for yesterday’s dream isn’t a good idea. If that’s what you’re doing, get yourself out of debt. Then you’ll be able to breathe life into your dream.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

…and they say the USA has the best medical system in the world?

My husband’s sick. It’s Sunday evening and clinics are closed and we should probably head out to the ER, but we’re still at home because we’re living in the United States of America and we don’t have health insurance.

We’re having to make decisions based on knowledge we don’t have. Can we afford to wait? Will he make it through the night? Is it worth the many thousands of dollars it would cost for the ER if it turns out to be just the common flu?

This is not the way things should be in one of the wealthiest nations on our planet.

When we were in Nicaragua John slipped and fell and hurt his thumb. We visited the local hospital where he had x-rays and visited with a doctor. We were out of the hospital within thirty minutes and didn’t have to pay a dime.

In Panama my son needed to have his toenail removed in order to dig out a very serious ingrown toenail. The bill came to $15. He had the same procedure done in Colombia by a top-of-the-line specialist for $50.

Over the years we’ve sought medical care in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Egypt, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and others. I was hospitalized for a week in Argentina for pneumonia. As we gallivanted around the world, health care was the last thing on our mind. We knew we would find doctors wherever we went.

And yet now that we are back in our own country, health care is a massive struggle.

Choices are always hard to make, but when it’s a choice that you really don’t think you should have to make it’s even harder.

We are loving living in the USA. It’s a great place with a lot going for it:

  • We’ve got a great little house that’s very comfortable.
  • Our sons are involved in robotics and Boy Scouts, which they love.
  • The boys are taking a few classes through a world-class program through the public schools that we couldn’t find any other place. Our school system has been very supportive of our homeschooling and allowed us to pick and choose classes to make a tailor-made program for our sons.
  • Everything we need is here. We have running water and a flush toilet and a stove to cook on.

Overall, this is the best place in the world for our sons right now. We can’t imagine any other place that would be able to provide them the opportunities they have here.

But that all comes at a cost:

  • We’re paying a lot each month for a high-deductible catastrophic health insurance policy that will only kick in the event of some major accident or illness.
  • Each time we need to see a doctor, we have to consider the seriousness of it and decide if it’s worth the $300 or more to go. And yet we are not qualified to make those decisions.

What I really don’t understand is why we’re having to make these choices. Why should we in the United States of America have to make choices on whether we can afford to visit the doctor?

If our country can afford to destroy the entire country of Iraq, why can’t we afford to take care of our own citizens?

I’ve heard all the arguments for our private insurance system but honestly, none of them make sense. If other, much poorer, countries can provide health care for their citizens, why can’t the USA?

I do take comfort in the fact that we can leave the country. If, at any point, we feel we can’t handle this stress any longer we’ll pack up and leave for another country. But still – why should I need to do that?

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

A medical evacuation story – and why you should never travel without medical evacuation insurance

“I’m so alone,” I sobbed into the phone. “I’m so totally alone. I’ve never been this alone before.” Tears streamed down my cheeks and my shoulders heaved as I tried telling my mother, thousands of miles away, what was going on. I was alone. More alone than I ever thought possible.

I tried telling myself I wasn’t alone in Tel Aviv, Israel. My husband, after all, was a mere three blocks away in the hospital. But really, that didn’t help at all. In fact, that was the problem. My husband was in the hospital and was in serious danger of dying and I was terrified. The good news was that we WERE in Tel Aviv.

ethiopian tukulIt had all started on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where we had lived for the previous nine months while teaching at the international school there. For our summer vacation, we had planned a grand bike tour through Kenya and Tanzania and would be leaving in three weeks. That morning John and I set out for a good training ride.

It was a perfect day with bright blue skies and perfect cycling temperatures. Our bikes were stored at a friend’s house sixty miles away so we took a bus out there and started cycling back. The only problem was that we forgot our water bottles at home – that becomes important in a bit.

Ethiopian countrysideWe pedaled a few miles before I was thirsty. I stopped at the next village to get a bottle of water and sat outside the store to drink it. John sat next to me, twiddling his thumbs in impatience.

A few miles later, I stopped again. The high mountain air surrounding Addis was dry and I always drank a lot. “This is crazy,” John said. “We’re leaving for a tour in a couple weeks and I want to get in a good training ride. Would you mind if I just took off and you can take as long as you want? I want to ride hard today.”

I had no problem making my way back home alone, so I kissed him goodbye and he took off. Hours later I straggled into our house to find John collapsed onto the couch.

“Come feel my pulse, Nancy,” he mumbled as soon as I walked in. “It’s going crazy and I’m terribly winded. I can’t hardly even walk over to the bathroom with gasping for air.”

I felt his pulse expecting the typical bah-DUM bah-DUM bah-DUM of the heartbeat. But this time, rather than that expected beat, it was more like bah bah DUM bah DUM DUM bah. I couldn’t detect any pattern at all. It was beating, but not like one would expect.

In retrospect, we realize we should have raced him off to the hospital immediately, but we had no idea what was happening. We had never heard of an irregular heartbeat and figured we just didn’t know anything. He was obviously still breathing and living so all would be well. Or so we thought.

Ethiopian girl with babyThe next day John went to work. As the computer teacher at our school, he frequently had to haul computers around to various places. Normally, that wasn’t a problem, but this time he could barely do it. He had to set the computers down every few feet in order to rest and catch his breath.

On Wednesday he went to see a doctor. “Your heart is in arrhythmia,” the doctor said. “That means it’s not beating regularly. It probably happened as a result of dehydration on your bike ride which led to an electrolyte imbalance, but we’ll never know for sure. Take these potassium pills, eat plenty of bananas, and go get an EKG.”

John took the potassium pills and ate bananas, but he didn’t go get the EKG.

Until the following Monday. His heart had now been beating irregularly for nine days.

As he stood in line at the clinic waiting for his turn, he collapsed. The friend he was with rushed him to the clinic in a taxi and called me at school. I left my classroom and raced to the clinic.

I’ll never forget Nurse Sarah’s face. She calmly reached out to take John’s pulse, then calmly excused herself. A few moments later she returned and said, “The doctor will be here shortly.” Sarah told me later she had never felt a pulse that erratic in her many years of nursing and it took every ounce of professionalism she had to maintain a calm exterior.

The doctor arrived, felt John’s pulse, then turned to me and said, “You need to get him to the hospital now. I’ll call ahead and they’ll be ready to admit him into the ICU.”

I was starting to get a tiny inkling of just how serious this was.

John remained in ICU in Ethiopia while the doctors gave him a few medicines to convert his heart. By Wednesday, Day 11, they started talking about needing a medical evacuation to get him out of the country. The Ethiopian doctors knew precisely what needed to be done – they needed to shock him to convert his heartbeat – but they weren’t prepared to put in a pacemaker in case the shock stopped his heart rather than converting it. “If he was Ethiopian with no chance of leaving the country, we would take the risk. But since he has evacuation insurance and can leave, it’s better that he go elsewhere.”

Wednesday night I called our medical evacuation insurance company and told them we may need to arrange an evacuation. There was a Lufthansa flight to Germany Thursday evening, so we made plans to fly out then. I went to bed that night totally expecting to fly to Europe the next day.

A few hours before the flight, however, the Lufthansa doctor came to the hospital. He took one glance at John’s chart and said, “There is no way he can fly Lufthansa; he’s got a heart condition.”

Our hopes came crashing down around our feet in that split second.

I picked up the phone in the hospital room and called our insurance company. Tears streamed down my face as I sobbed hysterically into the phone. “They won’t let him fly out,” I hiccupped. “There’s no way to get out of Ethiopia.”

I have tremendous respect for people who can work in such a situation and I will always be grateful for the woman on the other end of the phone that day. I was wallowing in my own self-pity, terrified beyond imagination, and crying uncontrollably.

“We suspected he would be turned down for commercial flights as they don’t typically like heart patients on their planes. The trouble is that if he’s been turned down by one airline, he’ll most likely be turned down by them all. We’ve been working on getting an air ambulance in case this happened.”

Saturday morning – Day 14 – the insurance company called to tell me we would be flying to Tel Aviv that afternoon. “The plane will be there around noon,” they told me. “We’ll keep you updated.”

I packed a bag with a few items for me and John and headed off to the hospital to wait for our flight.

Around noon I got a call. “I just want to let you know we’re doing everything we can to get your husband out,” the Israeli ambassador said. “We’ll let you know when it’s time.”

That’s nice, I thought. I guess that’s standard procedure when someone is being evacuated out.

Fifteen minutes later I got a call from the American ambassador. “I just want to let you know we’re doing everything we can to process this evacuation. We’ll let you know what happens.”

I was a bit puzzled, but figured this was all standard. We had never been evacuated out before and had no basis for comparison.

One hour passed and we heard nothing. Two hours; still nothing. Three hours. Four. We didn’t worry. It was, as far as we were concerned, just a typical medical evacuation.

Five hours after first hearing from the American ambassador, he called again. “I think we’ve got it straightened out. I’ll come personally to escort you to the hospital.”

Another two hours passed before the ambassador walked into our hospital room. We got John into a wheelchair and took him out to the waiting car. At the airport the ambassador instructed us to wait in the car while he dealt with things.

John was, by this time, very weak. He couldn’t sit up for long; walking even a few feet was very difficult. He laid down in the back seat of the car and rested his head on my lap. We waited.

And waited.

air ambulance

An air ambulance is specially equipped to deal with many medical situations on board

More than an hour later, the ambassador returned to the car and told us everything was set. We got John into the wheelchair and headed into the airport. The departures area in the Addis airport is upstairs. The ambassador had arranged for us to pass through the arrivals area downstairs.

As we waited for the plane on the tarmac, the ambassador turned to us and said, “You never would have gotten out of this country if the embassy hadn’t gotten involved.”

We had no clue what he meant. I’m glad I was still ignorant.

The plane arrived, they got John on board, the doctor hooked him up to an IV, and we took off for Tel Aviv where, after a grand total of 22 days in arrhythmia, doctors were able to convert his heart.

The Behind-the-Scenes Story of John’s Evacuation

The behind the scenes story of what happened came out once we arrived safely in Tel Aviv – and I was ever so grateful we had a professional team behind us who knew what they were doing. I’m also grateful that they never, ever, let on just how difficult his evacuation was.

So what was that behind the scenes story? Get ready – it’s crazy.

I spent hours talking with Karen, the woman at the hospital who arranged the evacuation. She had been doing this job for many years and had never, ever, run into a situation like ours. She sat on the edge of her chair for hours, hoping and praying she could pull it off. I can’t thank her enough for her tenacity. Any lesser of a person would have given up.

She first got the call from our insurance company in the wee hours of the morning Saturday morning. She assembled the team – a doctor, nurse, pilot, co-pilot, and navigator and got them ready on the plane. By six in the morning, the plane was ready for takeoff for the 7.5-hour flight to Addis.

But then came the call from Egypt. “You can’t fly over the Sinai peninsula. It’s Egyptian airspace and you can’t fly over it.”

Karen launched into problem-solving mode, called the Egyptian prime minister to plead our case. “There’s a very ill man in Ethiopia and we need to get a plane down there.”

It took three hours to secure the permission, but the plane finally took off at nine in the morning.

Three hours later, Karen got a call from Ethiopia. “Don’t send the plane,” they said. “It can’t land here in Addis.”

Apparently the issue was fear – fear of who this American man was that Israel wanted so badly that they were willing to send a plane all the way down for him. Was he a spy? What was he doing in Ethiopia? Why did Israel want him?

“At that point I had to make a decision,” Karen told me. “I could call the plane back right then or let it go knowing I had three hours to work this out. I decided to let it go.”

Karen immediately called the Israeli embassy in Addis Ababa to get them involved, then moved on to the American embassy. At one point they had a conference call going with the Israeli ambassador, the American ambassador, the president of Ethiopia, the prime minister of Israel, and the hospital. All just to get my husband out of Ethiopia for medical care.

It was only through high-level diplomatic negotiations that the plane was able to land. It was held up for five hours on the tarmac before being allowed to leave. But in the end, it did leave and John got the medical care he needed.

I write all this for two reasons: to get it down (finally) for my own memories and to encourage you to always have evacuation insurance when you travel.

We like to think nothing will happen to us, but if my husband – a fit, strong, healthy person – can have this fluke of a situation, then you can too.

The air ambulance alone came at a cost of $90,000. That’s not including the cost of his treatment. Do you really want to have to pay that?

But I think the strongest reason for having medical evacuation insurance is simply to have the team behind you. I was thankful I had people trained in medical emergencies working on making arrangements. They had the contacts and know-how to pull this off whereas I would have been clueless. They were professional, they did their job, and they did it well.

According to all accounts, John’s evacuation was one of the most difficult ever, yet they did it. All I had to do was sit back and trust them.

Don’t you want that team working for you if you need it?

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

It’s all about perspective

It’s amazing what a difference perspective can make. Two people look at the exact same set of circumstance, but come to radically different conclusions. You know what they say…

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade

I’ve known a few military families in my time, and it’s always interesting to hear what they say. Some of them complain about it – they don’t like the “always moving around” aspect of military life. Some of them love it.

It’s all about perspective.

Sarah Vernetti, who blogs at Wandering Off has chosen to look upon it as an adventure. Each move their military family makes gives them yet another excuse for discovering another part of the country. She’s learned that “you shouldn’t judge a place until you get there” and lots more. Here’s Sarah:

Military life travelWhen my husband joined the military, we knew it would be a life-changing experience for our family of three. Rather than seeing the frequent moving and uncertainty as negatives, we decided to view this as one big adventure.

This lifestyle isn’t for everyone. We realize we don’t have the same freedom that most travelers do. At any time, we could be told to pack up and move to a new place; the timing and the destination are, in many ways, out of our control. We can’t decline the assignment and my husband can’t go on sabbatical.  Some people wouldn’t want to move as often as we do, but like many things in life, it’s all about perspective.

Each time we move, we use our new home as a jumping off point for nearby adventures, which has helped us explore much of the United States inexpensively. We still take “typical” 1 or 2 week vacations, but many of our travels come in the form of shorter weekend trips.

The moving process itself is also seen as an adventure, not an inconvenience. Whenever we move, I spend hours plotting our drive and looking for interesting sights along the way. If you piece together our various “moving routes,” we’ve practically driven from one end of the country to the other.

While these might sound like humble accomplishments to some, it has been an educational experience for my husband and I who both grew up in the Midwest and had never lived outside of a three-state radius until he joined the military. In fact, I was in my 20’s before I moved away from Missouri. By contrast, our four-year-old daughter has already gone through the moving process twice and has traveled more than some adults I know.

It can be difficult living far away from our extended family and feeling like we are constantly on a quest to meet people and make new friends. However, I’ve learned to overcome my natural tendency to be shy and reserved around people I don’t know. And I see our lifestyle reflected in my daughter, who is friendly and outgoing even with her newest friends.

One thing I’ve learned thanks to the military life is that you shouldn’t judge a place until you get there.

Some of our friends and acquaintances were skeptical about our move to Las Vegas. Why would anyone want to live in Sin City with a child? But we’ve enjoyed our adventures here so far, and this might even be my favorite place that I’ve ever lived. We’ve discovered that with a little effort, one can find plenty of kid-friendly activities despite Vegas’ reputation. We also see this as a great jumping-off point for nearby adventures in Arizona, California, and Utah. Luckily, it looks like we’ll be here for a few years, so we have plenty of time to explore.

Our goal is to eventually visit all 50 US states. My husband and I are about halfway there, and our daughter is not far behind.

Where will we go next? Who knows, but I look forward to the journey.

Follow Sarah and her family at Wandering Off

one way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel