Jennifer Miller is the second-half of the alternative education blog, Edventure Travel, where she and her husband chronicle their adventures traveling with their children. After doing their initial voyage and deciding they wanted to make globetrotting with kids their livelihood, they have now been blogging for the past 5 years. In our interview, Jennifer talks with me about how travel blogging has changed and where she hopes her family will go from here. Enjoy!
Jennifer, what inspired you and your family to sell your belongings and travel around the world together?
We’ve always known we would travel extensively with our kids. We wanted everyone to be out of diapers and old enough to travel well, so we waited until the youngest was five before we sold the house and hit the road big time. We planned to travel for one year, cycling through Europe and N. Africa in 2008-2009. To make a long story short, our gap year became our life and we just kept going.
You’ve been blogging and writing for the past five years. How has the travel blogging world changed since then, and what do you wish you knew then that you know now?
It seems like it’s changing faster than I can keep up with it. I wish I had known, at the beginning, that the blog would take off and I’d have a wide readership across the globe. When I started writing it I had in mind the grandparents and some folks who were following us for a geography project. I didn’t expect it to grow into an income stream or a platform for other sorts of opportunities. I might have approached it differently if I’d know that. Then again, the organic growth of it is part of the charm, I think and the story driven core of our blog is what appeals to people, and you can’t really over think that. Life just unfolds the way it does and I make the most of it.
At least two of your kids have blogs about their travels as well. Were they inspired by you, and what lessons have you given them about writing?
Yes, Hannah (17) has Edventure Girl and the boys share a blog: Have Brothers, Will Travel. Hannah is quite intentional about hers and just had her first post go viral this month, which she’s quite excited about. The boys are far more hit and miss in their posting. I don’t know if they were inspired by me or not, you’d have to ask them. Being products of their generation they quite naturally gravitate towards the internet as a communication medium. As far as teaching writing, yes, we’re quite focused on that as a part of our schooling. I teach them to write from a classical model, which will prepare them for anything from basic communication to academic writing. Our ability to communicate what we know through the written word is so important. The face we present with our written words is the one we’re first judged by in many circumstances and it’s a prime directive of their educational experience to ensure their thorough literacy and competence in written communication.
How has your income mix changed over the past few years and where do you see it going in the next 5 or 10 years?
After the stock market crashed in 2008, mid cycling trip, we had to quickly reevaluate our career paths and restructure our livelihoods. My husband started a consulting business through which he does freelance database development and design for big companies you’ve heard of and iOS/Android programming, among other things, for small companies you haven’t. That’s our primary source of income. The blog has grown and now provides a small amount of income, as does my freelance writing within the travel and alternative education markets. In coming years we hope to continue to broaden our financial base and continue to develop new income streams that are location independent. It seems that the new economic model is to decentralize income and instead build a network of smaller streams, leaving a person less vulnerable than relying on one big paycheck for a complete livelihood.
What advice do you have for new travel writers who want to freelance and are trying to get their first big break?
Keep at it. There’s no free lunch and it’s not an easy market to break into. With hundreds of self styled “travel writers” out there, it’s important to hone your craft, develop your writing, take rejection in stride and ask editors how you can improve your pitch or your presentation next time. There aren’t many travel writers who make “big money” at it, but there are many of us who make some money and find ways to support and develop the lives that we love through our writing. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it… just go do it.
Let’s talk about alternative education. You say you do freelance writing for the alternative education market—how would you describe this kind of education? What advice do you have for families who do not feel they can give up their homes (or do not want to) and travel the world as a family?
The very nature of “alternative education” defies a boxed definition. The simplest definition would be education without a classroom. Homeschooling, road schooling, world schooling, unschooling, along with many other “labels” fit into this general definition. I’ve schooled my own kids birth through university without darkening the door of a classroom and I’ve got a degree in education (so I know what I’m avoiding!) I spend a lot of time helping families find the style and materials that will be a good fit for their families. Many of the folks I work with are travelers, but not all of them.
I’m reticent to give advice, as we can only speak to our own lives and choices as individuals. My biggest encouragement to anyone I have the opportunity to speak with is to be sure that they are living their dream. For some people, this includes big time travel, for others it includes a life spent in one place building community deeply and creating beauty in one place. Both are wonderful ways to spend a life… so long as it’s passionate and intentional. There is no greater sadness than a life lived on auto-pilot and in the end filled with regrets at opportunities missed. We must all follow our passions and chase our dreams, no matter where they take us: around the world, or around the block! I teach a class to that effect, called Momentum, with my good friend Nancy Vogel.
Jenn Miller is gypsy mama to four wild adventurer children growing up with the world as their classroom. The Miller Family is in their sixth year of an open ended world tour that has taken them through about thirty countries so far. They’ve journeyed across Europe and N. Africa on bicycles, the length and breadth of North and Central America, deep instead of wide for six months in Guatemala, seven months across mountains and rivers through Southeast Asia. She and her friend Keri Wellman have written Bottles to Backpacks: The Gypsy Mama’s Guide to REAL Travel With Kids, a cradle to college primer on every aspect of child-life on the road for families who want more than a two week vacation with their children, and she also freelances for various places. To join her on her adventures, you’ll want to stalk her blog: The Edventure Project.
Interview conducted in September, 2013 by Kristin Mock.