6 Travel Hacks For Going 'Off the Grid' With Kids

Bionca Smith, of Instagram's wildly popular Off-the-Grid With a Kid, has crucial tips for aspiring nomads who want to travel with their children.

Illustration of mom and teenage son in a RV with a view of a mountain landscape
Photo: Noa Denmon

Bionca Smith knew she wanted to give her child "an experience of a lifetime," long before she and her 13-year-old son Carter were Off the Grid with a Kid.

"I had a vision before Carter was born. It was me and my child at the Eiffel Tower," says Smith, 33. She knew manifesting that vision required leaving the image-obsessed, "soul-sucking" world of corporate America and giving away her belongings.

"I was extremely determined to make sure that when I had a child, that they would experience the beach at a young age and they would, you know, hop on a plane and do a lot of different things while they were young, because I just wanted to expose them to a lot of different opportunities," she says. For her, this was a crucial aspect of raising a child who could make their own decisions regardless of societal pressures. But there was no way she could have known that she and her son Carter would travel to France seven times.

She had limited examples of people who looked like her living the lifestyle she wanted—her family didn't travel growing up. But meeting Zondy Broxup, an African single mother of two who traveled full time and was living in London, showed her it was possible. "Seeing her do that, I was so mesmerized," she says. "I have to give the credit to her because she planted the seed from a social, single mom aspect. She planted the seed for me—the rest was history."

Since their first road trip from St. Louis to Atlanta and their second, a cruise to Nassau, Bahamas, they've seen the world. As she and Carter celebrate their fifth anniversary of camper life, the duo is an example for countless families.

Travel like a local—not a tourist—to keep costs affordable

Whether full-time or a short trip, if you're going to travel, "think outside the box and not plan as a tourist."

"If you plan as a tourist, that's where you're going to spend the most money," she says, reflecting on the trip to Thailand they took shortly after deciding they would travel full-time. She learned the best way to travel is to get there, get your feet on the ground, start talking to the locals, and traditional travel sites like Expedia and Priceline offer prices for tourists.

"I started mingling with the locals and realized that I was paying way too much for a hotel after I thought what I paid was cheap. If you act like a tourist, you don't realize these things,"she says."If you plan things online from a tourist or a Google search perspective, you'll spend more money. Even if you don't know the language, you're still better off asking a travel agency that's there [at your destination] because you're going to get a cheaper price."

Let the right people know where you are

Smith says make sure at least three people know where you are at all times as you travel, in case of emergency. You can share your location directly in your phone settings or you can use a resource like Life 360. "When you meet people, and they ask you, how long are you around? Or where are you staying? Do not give them an exact answer,"she says.

If you're sharing your travels on social media, she also advises against putting your social media handles on your vehicle, tagging your exact location on your social media posts, or posting where you are in real time. "If that's a challenge, post older or post content and tag a location that is not the actual location of where you are, but maybe somewhere where you were later,"says Smith.

Smith says it's crucial to be aware of what's in the background during live streams—identifiers like street addresses or names, unique landmarks—so others can't detect your location.

Stay flexible to make the best memories

Smith says there's an adventure waiting on the other side of every obstacle. "What we learned is that if you are going to travel full-time, you just gotta embrace it all."

Smith says decide what you want to experience before picking a destination or creating an itinerary. She recommends starting with an intention and researching options based on those expectations but advises against trying to pre plan every detail. The spontaneity of a trip is where the magic happens.

"Be open to change, because that is where all the magic and the best memories are made," she says. "If something goes wrong, or if another opportunity presents itself to you, that's like spontaneous, embrace it. Embrace that spontaneity because you'll never regret it." That, she says, is what made their five years special.

Live your truth, regardless of others' misconceptions

Over the years she's gotten a lot of looks and encountered assumptions and misperceptions about her lifestyle from people of all backgrounds. "When people would see us in our camper van a couple of times people assumed that we were homeless, as if we were down on our luck," she says. But it didn't shift her determination to transform her life "from miserable to just magnificent."

Smith said when they started living in the camper van, they stopped feeling the pressure to conform. "I started wearing my natural hair more and less makeup— the inner hippie was able to come out. We were always clean and happy and had a nice, clean vehicle and everything. But people could not grasp the fact that me and my son chose to live in a van."

"Every now and then, I got some looks, or I would hear from —even from African American people—you know, they will see us living in a van or camper, and they'd be like that's for white folks."

Know the choice is yours—find ways to make the rest happen. But don't forget, your children are watching.

Smith says those interested in travel should remember that they have the final say in how they chase their dreams—no cosigner needed. She knows their travels leave her son more prepared for their world.

"I've always wanted my son to understand that he gets to decide his reality, not other people. He can design, he can define and design his own life, and create it. And if he doesn't, it will be created for him, and he won't like it."

"When my son runs into obstacles in the future, he will roll with it." She describes Carter as someone who never freaks out, isn't reactive, and is ready to solve a problem if something goes wrong.

Know you—yes YOU—can travel too.

She says the first 30 days of traveling full time opened her eyes and gave her the faith to continue traveling full-time, despite hurdles. She wants families to know it's ok to learn as you go. "I realized that before you travel—whether it's a short time or full time—you can't figure out everything beforehand, " says Smith. She says the best place to start is with the question 'how will we afford this' and work backward.'Often, this means cutting expenses. It also means cutting fears.

Smith says it's crucial to develop a "How can I make this happen?" mindset as opposed to a "Can I do this?" mindset. If you change your mind or something shifts, you can adapt.

They've been in Houston since the start of the pandemic. "We absolutely love it here. And we are planting our roots here," she says. "My office space, and everything is in Texas. We have horses, we have a lot, a lot of different things. So we're, I think we're going to be here for a while."

But above all, she wants families to take their power back. "You have options," she says. "You can define and design your own reality, and your life can be unrecognizable.

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