Six families in search of adventure
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There are hundreds of families around the world adventuring together. In this piece, Stuart Wickes & Kirstie Pelling profile six different families from around the world who adventure together in quite different ways and for quite different reasons. If you want to get a sense of what's possible and why people do it, read on.

Stuart and Kirstie are Directors of The Family Adventure Project

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.
Six families in search of adventure
"Security is mostly a superstition.... Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." Helen Keller, 1957

The Ross'
World schooling...
.. it's an education
The Cohen's
Giving it all up...
..a family gap year
The Eber's
Biking for breath..
..a personal mission

The Schulz's
Sailing through life..
..a family philosophy

The Cleminson's
Get away from it all.. ..see what you have

The Grant's
An adventure in living, working and parenting

Many independent travellers fear that having a family will quash their adventurous spirit, while wisdom has it that responsible parenting is parenting without risk. For many families adventure is an active weekend at CenterParcs, a rollercoaster ride through Disneyland, or a month under the stars at EuroCamp. More adventurous parents push the boundaries, using specialist family adventure travel companies to put together exciting itineraries in exotic parts of the world, trusting experienced guides with local know-how to somehow keep their family safely challenged.

Yet, others argue that adventure cannot be organized and packaged; that unless you do the planning, make the decisions and sense the personal responsibility that goes with that, unless you experience the freedom, uncertainty and anxiety of developing and trusting your own judgment about what is and is not possible, then no matter how exciting and challenging the experience is, it is not adventure. Such parents actively and independently plan, organise and execute their own adventurous experiences for their families. Not content with the ordinary challenges of marriage, parenting and family life, these people head off with their brood of familiar faces to unfamiliar places, unusual environments and alien cultures. Here they pit themselves against the day to day hazards and challenges of life on the road. For these people, family adventure is a month reindeer sledging across Siberia, three months cycling coast to coast in America, or a year sailing around the globe. Interestingly, this is not a minority sport played by irresponsible parents but a growing network of people who believe it is possible to be a responsible parent and retain an adventurous spirit.

A quick search on the internet quickly reveals hundreds of families out there exploring the world together; blogging their experiences, sharing the challenges and rewards, offering information and advice, showing the possibilities and recording the practicalities of independently organized, big-time, family adventure. What unites these families is the courage to think and live adventurously. Where others see difficulties, barriers and reasons not to engage in it at all, they see challenges, problems to be solved, opportunities to learn. However, their like-mindedness conceals a diversity. By no stretch of the imagination could these families be described as the same. They are as different from one another as any two families, with divergent motivations, aspirations and styles of adventuring. But different as they are, if their accounts can be believed then such family adventure experiences have great potential to provide challenge and growth for parents, children and the family as a whole. Adventurous travel with kids, while full of challenges, also brings many rewards: spending time together without the demands of school, work or the home; getting to know one another in different settings; learning about the world together; seeing each other develop and achieving things as a family.

But this is not the domain of wealthy, superhuman parents. Sure, money helps and many have 'before children' outdoor skills but it is not this which sets these people apart and makes their family adventures possible. The absolutely essential ingredient is an adventurous state of mind and these kinds of experiences are available to any family willing to dream the dream, acquire the skills, take the risk and give it a go, whether on a shoestring or a more generous budget. As most parents that have done it will tell you, it's not that difficult. Adventuring as a family requires a moment of inspiration, a little planning, an openness to the unexpected and the confidence to trust in your own and your children's abilities to cope with the world and whatever it throws at you.

Interested? Well if you want to get a sense of what's possible, here's a little taster of what we've discovered some families around the world get up to.

World schooling - it's an education
The Ross Family

The simplest way to adventure is to pack a few essentials, put one foot in front of the other and just keep on going. Cindy Ross and her husband Todd Gladfelter did just this when their kids, Bryce and Sierra, were just one and three, barely able to walk across a room. They spent five extraordinary summers hiking the three thousand mile Great Continental Divide, a harsh but awe inspiring trail along the crest of the Rocky Mountains. Starting at the Canadian border in 1993, they trekked hundreds of miles each summer, over the wilderness rooftop of North America, to reach the trail head at the Mexican border in 1998. And if this wasn't a unique enough proposition, a bunch of llamas accompanied them to carry the kids and support their little nomadic tribe on its annual walkabout.

Cindy and Todd are avid and experienced long distance hikers with a lifelong interest in nature. Having spent over a decade trekking together, there was no way having kids was going to stop their lifelong affair with the great trails. But there's something more that drives them to continue, the opportunity their journeys present to shape their children's outlook, talents and experience, particularly in their formative years. Their family adventures are about helping their kids develop a love, respect and understanding of nature, based on first hand experience of the joys and challenges of awesome environments, something that's lacking in today's world. "You don't see kids playing outdoors anymore. They don't go out in fields and watch clouds and build damns and creeks. I think if kids don't feel comfortable in that environment, they are not going to understand how valuable it is. They are not going to fight to protect it. If we don't take them there and show them all the gifts, then the whole environment and the natural world is going to be in trouble down the road." Cindy says their three thousand mile hike both tested and reaffirmed their marriage, and provided a rare opportunity for the family to be a family. "You go through every joy and every hardship together. That brings you close and it's closer than having a normal marriage because you are together twenty-four hours a day."

They're also particularly well educated about the personal habits of llamas.

Read more about the Ross' in 'Scraping Heaven' by Cindy Ross. Buy it from Amazon .

Giving it all up - a mid life crisis family gap year
The Cohen Family

At home in California, David Elliot Cohen was experiencing the first signs of a mid life crisis. He felt a family adventure could prevent a full scale melt down. "I decided the only way to truly purify my life and reclaim my old spirit was to sell our house, close down the business, liquefy our possessions, and take off around the world for an indeterminate length of time. Now there was just the small matter of telling my wife." Armed with round the world tickets and the takings from their lifestyle garage sale, Cohen and his wife Devi set off with their three children, Willie (7), Kara (8) and Lucas (2) on a year long journey across the world.

Their 13 month, fifty thousand mile tour zig- zagged across five continents; from California to Laos, via Costa Rica, Europe, South Africa, India, Australia, and Cambodia. Their journey, a family version of a gap year, encompassed hotels, restaurants, sightseeing tours and a travelling nanny. Broken bones, erupting volcanoes and lost children provided challenges that forged intense, and positive relations between the children and their parents. And, at a price tag of a hundred and twenty five thousand dollars, it was still worth the expense, risk and aggravation: "Would we do it again, if we could? Would we toss sleeplessly in fleabag hotels, eat disgusting food, wear dirty clothes for a week, get sick from Indian air pollution, suffer long, crowded flights, listen to children whine and cry all day before collapsing exhausted into bed? In a heartbeat."

Their adventuring led to some important reappraisals of family life including downsizing and closing their business. Devi now competes across the western United States in mountain bike triathlons, while her husband spends more time with his children. And the midlife crisis is a distant memory "It may be that I've made the necessary transition from young adulthood to middle age and that journey was my rite of passage. Now it's out of my system, I've calmed down considerably."

Read more about the Cohen's in 'One Year Off' by David Elliot Cohen. Buy it from Amazon.

Biking for breath... a personal mission
The Eber Family

Biking is the Eber family thing; Paula, Lorenz and their two children Anya (14) and Yvonne (12) have just completed a 15,000 mile, 25 country world tour, pedalling through Europe, Asia, Australia and heading back across the US to their home in Washington State. Travelling on two tandems, this was a once in a lifetime adventure and a very personal family mission. Paula's childhood was deeply affected by asthma, only overcoming it in her adult years; "I began camping and bicycling and backpacking: activities I would have considered impossible just a few years earlier. And with the birth of our incredible daughters Anya and Yvonne, and the death of our son Jens, who battled for two month's to breathe on a respirator, I began to dream, of the day when no child would ever again have to fight, simply to breathe."

The Eber's world tour is part of a charity mission to raise five million dollars for research to help find a cure for asthma and lung disease. For many children, school is a building where they go to learn about the world outside, but for the Eber kids on the road, school is the outside world, and their curriculum the history, geography, and languages that they see and hear for themselves; cycling through the Greek ruins of Delphi; peeling Soviet era housing estates; the reedy bamboo groves of Mongolia, or the steep coastal mountains of Taiwan. 'So why bike around the world?' they were asked at the beginning of their trip. "It will be a great adventure, we could cure asthma..we love cycling together as a family, we want to make a difference in a child's life, we love to travel, we want to inspire others to live their dreams. and most of all because we can." For the Eber's each mile pedaled is a symbol of hope, and each new encounter widening the "circle of hospitality that has nurtures us so warmly on our journey."

Read more about and support the Eber's Bike for Breath project at

Sailing through life - a family philosophy
The Schulz Family

The Schulz family love being all at sea and their 40 foot yacht 'Regina' is like a second home to them for several months each year. Leon Schulz is passionate about his family's sailing adventures. For him, the attraction of family life at sea is simple and compelling; life aboard offers an escape from and alternative to the multiple demands and frenetic pace of the modern world. "Here, all essentials in life are given. The world becomes both smaller and, at the same time, larger. The focus is obvious, compact and clearly defined. At the same time, the horizon is indefinite. Nature, the air, the sea, the power, the adventure. all in direct vicinity. Time passes slower, life becomes longer and thus rich. One gets time for quietness, thoughts, talks and solidarity."

Born in Sweden, Leon was brought up in Germany, but his heart never really left his homeland on the Swedish West Coast where he returned each summer to explore the coast. Starting with power boats, then dinghies and finally introduced to yachting by his uncle, the sea found a place at the centre of his life. It continued to shape it when his first yacht landed him his wife, Karolina, "After our return from our sailing vacation, Karolina suggested we could rent a boat in Greece for our honeymoon, if we got married one day, that was.. By coincidence, I shortly therefore asked if she wanted to be my wife. She accepted. What a great idea that was, by the way.well, also the marriage, of course."

Sailing remains central to his family life with Karolina, his daughter Jessica (10) and son Jonathan (8) as trusted crew. The boat has strong family connections too, being named in honour of his grandmother. Every summer they live aboard Regina and cruise for two months. Their 2004 plan is to sail along the west coast of Norway, then cross to the Shetlands, before heading back via Denmark to Sweden.

Karolina is now the best offshore sailor in the family, and the children talk of the boat as their real home. And their parents wouldn't have it any other way. "Sailing with children has, for us, always been as natural as sailing with your partner. Who else would we sail with? With my girlfriend maybe? Well, I did that once, but I married her eventually. As they say, if you need a crew, marry her."

Find out more about the Schulz philosophy and experiences at

Get away from it all to see what you already have
The Cleminson's

Vaughn Cleminson never lost touch with the spirit of adventure he developed camping with his folks and as a scout. Now he uses his scouting skills to take his family on 4x4 off-road driving and camping tours in some of the special, wild and beautiful National Parks in South Africa and Lesotho. For Vaughn, his wife Carrie, Emma (3) and Megan (), family adventure is a month bumping three thousand kilometres along dusty tracks, fording streams and navigating precipitous hairbends in their trusty LandRover, Lily. Camping under the stars, game spotting, ostrich riding, canoeing and horse riding are all part of the mix as they dip in and out of the tourist trail, travelling along in their own way. Close encounters with tortoises, elephants and baboons provide drama and spectacle for the adults and extraordinary sights for tiny eyes. And at the end of the day, Lily's fridge has the ice cold beer to help Dad relax after a busy day in the bush. "We live fairly separate lives, since we don't work together, and travelling allows us to rediscover each other. It keeps us talking and reminds us of what we have when we come home. The kids love spending time with us and play and have fun wherever we go. It binds and excites us and reminds us there is more to life than the daily grind."

While that all sounds great, many people would still not contemplate a trip like this with two toddlers. But the Cleminson's find such attitudes strange: "I was surprised that other people consider it difficult to do what we do. The children are more resilient and adaptable than most adults. We aren't special and we manage. and this helps us see other parts of parenting as possible." To those who say, better to wait until everyone is a bit older and wiser, the Cleminson's say: "Get out there and do it. It doesn't really matter what you do or how big it is. You only get one chance to travel with your kids as they are now, so don't miss out!"

Read more about the Cleminson's adventures at the Cleminson family website (no longer available)

An adventure in living, working and parenting
The Grant Family

People like Gaia and Andrew Grant see the journey of life as an adventure. In the absence of organised package tours for life you have to figure out who and what you want to be and go get it, negotiating your own way through the unpredictability and possibilities that involves.

It's not unusual for new parents to reassess their lives and the Grants were not unusual in wanting to swap pressurised city lifestyles for more carefree, community based living in which to raise kids. What marks them out though is the way they pursued their dream with 'determined spirit and open hearts' until it came good.

Packing up their home in Sydney, they took off on a life changing journey across Asia. Travelling overland by train through India; trekking through the foothills of Nepal with their two year old in a backpack, until eventually they found the lifestyle they were searching for on the island of Bali. There they now run an international business from a beach hut. Gaia is clearly content with the result, "I can walk out my front door onto a white sandy shore, or duck out the back into a coconut grove and pluck fresh pawpaw from the trees. I can feel as though I am worlds away from the twenty-first century -yet whenever I re-enter my thatched bamboo hut the contemporary world comes to me. I have found the best of both worlds."

The Grants approach to parenting is influenced by their encounters with other cultures in their work and travels. One of their guiding principles involves including their children in the adult world and they live this out in their travels. Their first child was camping out of their van and touring South Australia for six weeks at just six weeks old. At a year she was off to Tasmania in a backpack. Their second was on his way to Indonesia as soon as the passport was rushed through at three weeks of age. For Gaia it was a question of principle. "I was determined not to be another casualty, another statistic. Another one of those parents who vowed never to be tied down by children, changing tune the day the child is born."

The children have become an essential part of the travel experience and according to Gaia enhance the adventure, "Children can form an amazing link with people in other places, and particularly in other cultures...children also have an interesting, pint-sized perspective on life, and their knee-high observations can be absolutely astounding." Gaia still travels extensively with her a family. ".these days I would carefully consider going anywhere without my children. They have become too much a part of the whole travel experience, and are usually the highlight of our travels." For the Grants, experiencing and learning about other cultures through family adventure is an important part of the new rhythm of their life.

Read more about the Grant's experience and philosophy in 'A Patch of Paradise' by Gaia Grant

© 2004 All rights reserved Stuart Wickes & Kirstie Pelling





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