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The Modern Day Swiss Family Robinson: On the Road with Sheralyn Guilleminot

This is a traveler case study. (Read others or nominate yourself.)

Sheralyn Guilleminot didn’t want to run the risk of never getting around to traveling the world. She and her husband Paul took to the road as a young family, home-schooling their sons while experiencing life in Southeast Asia. Here’s their story.

Tell us about yourself.

I’ve lived most of my life in Manitoba, Canada. It’s where I grew up, got married, and worked. My husband Paul and I wanted to travel the world, but it seemed impractical. Once we had our two boys, though, I felt like there was never enough time to spend with Paul, with our family, or to indulge in being myself. And I didn’t see an end to being pulled in too many different directions. Something had to change.

I figured the easiest way was to quit our jobs and travel full time. I know that must sound insane, but we’ve been traveling for almost a year now and home-schooling our kids, ages 5 and 7, on the road.

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How do your sons feel about being home-schooled and living a non-traditional lifestyle? 

My oldest actually felt like regular school took up too much of his day and he didn’t have enough free time to do the things he liked. For him, home-schooling was an easy sell because it takes up so much less time. My youngest has never been in regular school, but after hearing his brother’s opinions, he thinks our way of education is a better deal.

Paul and I check in often to see if the kids are happy we left on our “World Adventure.”  We can’t help but second guess ourselves and worry if we are doing the right thing. So far, they want to continue on—and so do we. We’re flexible, and if things stop going well, we can always re-evaluate and change course.

Our kids are young enough to not have any pre-conceived ideas of what “normal life” should be. They are very open-minded, and we’re very lucky they feel this way.

What inspired you to travel?

True story: Swiss Family Robinson. Ever since I saw that movie as a kid, I wanted to live in a treehouse in a tropical paradise. I’ve since dropped the treehouse requirement, but the pull of the topics never left. I love the lushness, the way the humidity and heat wrap you in warmth the instant you step off the plane, and the smell of salt on the ocean air.

As an adult, I’d read all kinds of blogs whose authors were doing incredible things travel-wise, including The Art of Non-Conformity, and I longed for that life. I wanted the feeling of adventure, the freedom of limitless traveling, and being completely location independent.

And finally, I didn’t want to risk Paul or I dying sooner than expected, having never gotten the chance to see the world together. Maybe it’s morbid to say, but it’s possible our lives are half over. I felt an urgency to stop putting off our travel dreams, and make it happen now.

What’s one of your favorite destinations?

As an Indiana Jones fan growing up, I always wanted to step foot in an ancient temple. Getting to explore Ta Prohm in Cambodia was thrilling – just like stepping into another world (and like joining Indy on one of his adventures, minus the bad guys).

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You’re a travel hacker: how many points have you earned?  

Before we left, we’d amassed about 1.1 million Aeroplan points and about 80,000 Marriott Rewards Points. With Aeroplan we purchased business class return flights for the 4 of us, from Hawaii to Southeast Asia, 3 times. For short-haul flights, we pay cash for economy class tickets. We primarily use credit card sign-on bonuses to amass our stash of points.

Describe a challenge your family has encountered, and how you’ve overcome it. 

Managing our time has been a day-to-day challenge. Most long-term travel blogs are run by people without kids, so there aren’t many tips out there for how to balance your time when you have young ones. Paul and I are constantly learning to manage our expectations for what we can reasonably accomplish in a day. We have to be constantly vigilant to ensure we don’t take on too many projects and end up in a rat race of our own making on the road. 

It’s easy to get caught up in your ambitions and fall into working every spare minute. To avoid this pitfall, we’ve set up a schedule for ourselves, with clear times for work, family, and days off.  Initially, we tried more of a go-with-the-flow method, but it didn’t work for us.  

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Do you have an encounter from the road that sticks out in your mind?  

In Bali, our 5-year-old fell and skinned his knee. He was screaming blue murder at the sight of his own blood. A woman saw our problem, ran into her house and came back with bandages and antiseptic for him. He was still crying hysterically, and a minute later a local man pulled over, asked if our son had broken anything, and offered us a ride to the hospital. The spontaneous assistance made us feel as though it would be okay in this new place.

The great debate: aisle or window?

Window! Though I usually take the aisle so our kids can have the coveted window seat.

What has surprised you on the road?

English is more widely spoken throughout Southeast Asia than I ever imagined. Every airport has signage in English. And in every single country we’ve been so far, many local people are able to speak English well-enough to get by.

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Best travel tips. Go!

Your money will go a lot further if you travel slowly.

A long stay always decreases your nightly rate for accommodations. Right now we’re paying $33 a night to stay in a gorgeous, 1450 square foot 3-bedroom modern high-rise condo here in Penang, Malaysia. We’d never get that rate if we were only here for a week.

Break up 24-hour air-travel journeys.

So long as your stopover isn’t more than 24 hours, you can usually incorporate it into your current ticket without paying extra. Our recent flight from Hawaii to Bangkok stopped in Narita, Japan. Rather than carry on to Bangkok right away, we put off our departure by about 23 hours and checked into a hotel for a good night’s sleep—then did some quick sightseeing.

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Where are you headed next?

We are in Penang until the end of March, then we’ll spend another two months in Bali.

Follow Sheralyn’s journey at Escaping Expectations or via Twitter @WeAreEscaping.

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