3 Off-the-Beaten-Path Families
I’ve always been swayed by this Henry David Thoreau quote: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.” But as I slog through my daily grind with two kids, the bold existence I once imagined seems far, far away. Like many parents, I desperately want to slow down, work less, meet new people, and have more adventures. I had no idea how to realize these desires until I talked to three intrepid families who are blazing their own way through the world.
Brittany and Scott Meyers
Hometown: Chicago (now living in Tortola, British Virgin Islands)
Kids: Isla, 4; Haven and Mira, 2
With three children (including twins) 4 and younger, the Meyers’s mornings are super-busy—diapers need changing, breakfast has to be made, chores need to get done, and everyone’s still a little sleepy. But unlike most parents, Brittany and Scott can take their coffee, cereal, and kids above board and sit on the deck of their sailboat, watching the sun rise over the Caribbean. Chattering gulls, a bluegreen ocean, white sandy beaches, the smell of salt, and the warm sun are the backdrop for the family’s everyday life.
That’s exactly how Brittany and Scott imagined it would be when they got married in 2010. Both grew up around boats, and they met during a sailing race on Lake Michigan. “Before kids, we didn’t own a home or have other obligations, so we decided to quit our jobs—I worked in corporate recruiting and Scott was in sales—and sail from Chicago to Trinidad,” says Brittany. The couple returned to Chicago 18 months later to have their first child, Isla, but then embarked on another ambitious expedition, covering 5,000 nautical miles to Grenada, while Isla was still an infant. They moved back to the Windy City after finding out Brittany was pregnant with twins, then spent a year adjusting to life with three young children. “We always knew we wanted to return to the sea, so I spent a lot of time planning how this would look with three little kids on board,” says Brittany.
They returned to their 44-foot sail/motor boat, Asante, in the British Virgin Islands, where they never have to sail more than a few hours to a safe harbor. Recently, they made the island of Tortola their permanent home and purchased Aristocat Charters, a day-sailing business, with savings from working seasonal jobs. They live aboard their boat in a bustling marina and still enjoy many of the benefits of the cruising lifestyle they sought. To minimize expenses and energy consumption, Brittany and Scott charge their batteries with solar power and do laundry by hand. They use a reverse-osmosis filtration system to turn salt water into fresh water.
The family lacks many staples of land life: a car, a dishwasher, a TV, a microwave. The kids spend the bulk of their waking hours outside, watching seabirds, snuggling and reading with Mom or Dad, playing on the beach, and learning to swim and paddleboard. This forced simplicity works for them. “Living on a boat shows you how little you need to live happy,” says Brittany. “There’s only so much room, and everything must have a purpose.” The family celebrated the twins’ birthday in a way that encapsulates the easygoing, fun-loving life they’ve created: “We invited other cruiser friends to join us on the beach,” says Brittany. “The babies were running around naked—playing, laughing, and eating sand. The adults enjoyed cocktails and good company. You can’t beat an afternoon on a perfect beach in paradise.”
Brittany and Scott plan to remain in Tortola indefinitely, cruising and sailing when the charter season slows down. With so many beautiful islands nearby, there’s always a new destination. “This is an incredible way for our kids to grow up,” says Brittany, “and as our girls get older and more adapted to boat life, it will get easier.” How long will they live this way? “Who knows. We cross bridges as we come to them.” Or, more accurately, as they sail by them.
Anastacia and Jason Simon
Hometown: Reynolds Station, Kentucky
Kids: Jacob, 8; Lillian, 5; Clare, 5; Mary, 3; Edith, 11 months
Jason Simon’s alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m. every day so he can tend to the many animals he and his wife, Anastacia, keep on their 5-acre farm. Their four kids wake up around 6 for a busy day highlighted by homeschooling, farm chores, and play. By 7:30, Jason heads off to his other job, as a video producer for a local community-access TV station, while Anastacia starts the kids’ daily lessons. They learn math by counting toy storm troopers, read on blankets in the yard, tend to the garden, observe nature, and have lots of free time to nurture their imagination outside.
Jason and Anastacia, both devout Catholics, had a dream to give their kids a slow-paced, faith-filled life that would teach them the value of hard work, family, and cooperation. Both had an affinity for farms: Anastacia’s family lived on one, and Jason spent countless hours at our grandfather’s farm. (Jason is my cousin.) Buying a small farm seemed like the ideal way to achieve the lifestyle they sought.
The Simons save money—and eat well—by raising their own pork, chicken, and beef, collecting eggs, and harvesting produce. “Not only do we know where our food comes from and how it was raised, but it also tastes so much better than the store-bought stuff did,” says Jason. All of this food production takes a tremendous amount of work on everyone’s part, but it enables them to save around $400 per month in groceries—crucial for a family of seven. They also control utility costs by using solar heat, burning firewood, and collecting rainwater.
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Since life on the farm can be an isolating experience, Anastacia meets regularly with other homeschooling parents to discuss the curriculum and give her children a chance to bond with other kids who are being educated the same way. She also arranges frequent field trips, whether to the zoo or a historical site. The kids even visited a blood center to watch their dad make a donation and got to see the lab where the blood is processed.
The Simons’ goal for their children is simple. “We want them to think about the effect their actions will have on themselves, family, friends, and society,” says Anastacia. “We’re raising them to embrace their uniqueness and to pursue their own interests, and we consider that one of our greatest successes as parents."
Laura and Miles Morgan
Hometown: San Marcos, Texas (now living in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates)
Kids: Alex; 11; Vivianne, 3
Laura and Miles Morgan wake up each morning to the lilting Islamic call to prayer. By the time the melodic chant is over, Laura knows it’s time to get her kids ready for the day. They’re used to the sound by now, though living in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) wasn’t always part of their family plan.
When they married in 2011, the Morgans had nearly $70,000 in combined student-loan debt from Laura’s teaching degree and Miles’s aviation training. Miles’s job at a plane-remodeling company was barely making a dent in their debt, so he decided to take a bold risk. A colleague recommended him for an aviation-inspection opportunity in the UAE. The pay was double what he was making, Dubai is a largely tax-free country (and if you live there full-time your first $98,000 is not subject to U.S. taxes), living expenses were paid for by the company, and family time was valued. When the offer came through, they made the move.
The Morgans paid off their debt in two years, though their transition to a home more than 8,000 miles away wasn’t exactly seamless. “My first year here was a huge adjustment,” says Laura. “I went from being a mom who worked as a housecleaner and attended school full-time, to being an at-home mom trying to figure out the electrical plugs and how to beat the 120°F heat.” She also became pregnant shortly after arriving and had to navigate a health-care system that often uses midwives instead of ob-gyns.
Before arriving in the UAE, the Morgans had concerns about living in the Middle East: What about unrest in this part of the world? Would the language barrier be a problem? Would their son feel isolated? Their fears were quickly allayed. “We feel very safe—there’s less violence here than in the U.S.,” says Laura. English is the language of business, and the government supports the establishment of Christian churches. They’ve also had less trouble living under the Islam-based legal system, known as Sharia law, than they’d anticipated. “I drive, go out in public without an escort, and wear blue jeans and a T-shirt,” says Laura. Westerners are not required to wear traditional modest clothing like those of the Muslim faith are, but it’s considered respectful to cover their shoulders and their legs at least to the knee. “It does put a damper on being outdoors between May and September,” she admits.
Her kids have had the easiest adjustment, making friends with children from Iraq, Pakistan, China, Sudan, and South Africa. “It’s beautiful how kids don’t see other religions as something to fear or question,” says Laura. “We’ve had devout neighbors who stop in the middle of playing and go wash up and head off to prayer, only to return later and keep having fun.”
The Morgans stress the importance of appreciating diverse cultures, something they’ve also instilled during visits to Thailand, Rome, and Sri Lanka. Will their travels include a permanent return to the U.S.? They haven’t decided and are in no hurry to do so. “Living in the UAE has given our family opportunities that we would never have dreamed of in America,” says Miles. “We’re experiencing the world. The food, the music, the language, the weather, how you say goodbye—it’s different everywhere you go. You never truly understand that until you live it.”