How to Raise Kids While Traveling the World
The Anderson family left their home to explore 16 countries in 14 months and trace their ancestral roots.
Photography by Quil Lemons
Illustrations by Bene Rohlmann
Ike Anderson had an experience in Ghana that would change the trajectory of his family’s life. “We were at one of the former enslavement dungeons, and I had an overwhelming feeling of every emotion possible,” he says, “because I felt I had an ancestor who came to Jamaica as a result of the atrocities there.” In front of his three children and his wife, Natalee, Ike sobbed. His kids held his hands quietly.
“For them to hold space for me to be vulnerable in front of them was powerful,” Ike says.
It might never have happened in their normal, busy lives in West Palm Beach, Florida. But it was precisely the transformative experience they had been seeking when they decided — about 18 months earlier — to travel the world together and learn about where their family of five comes from.
“The kids were basically born and raised in Florida,” says Natalee. “We wanted to give them a global mind-set of what’s really going on in the world.”
As a first step, Ike and Natalee ordered three different mail-in ancestry-DNA kits. When the results arrived, they charted an itinerary through the regions and countries traversed by their ancestors: West Africa, Egypt, England, Ireland, Scotland, and India.
Planning and Preparing
Next came telling the kids. Sisters Jasmine and Kaylee — ages 13 and 11 — immediately worried about missing school, friends, and their 14-year-old cat, Manni. Eight-year-old Layton thought it was a joke.
What made it real for them, says Natalee, “was purchasing a wall-size map and involving them in the planning.” The family met weekly, and everyone researched where they wanted to go. They added a few dream stops, includ-
ing Paris, Australia, and Bali. About a year passed between the birth of their idea and embarkation.
Health and safety were Ike’s biggest worries, and he admits to having second thoughts “every day until we got on the plane.” So they aimed to travel in the daytime and developed a routine to follow if things got “hairy.” The kids knew to “come to me, not to Daddy,” says Natalee. “Because Daddy is a black belt and will need to address whatever is happening. If Mommy isn’t around, you go to the oldest and stick together.” Thankfully, nothing happened.
A New Way of Learning
The kids took part in online homeschooling in addition to researching every destination. Their parents also required them to keep a daily journal: “You think you will remember, but you won’t feel the same way you did back then,” says Natalee, who turned moments of curiosity into lessons. “When we were driving around and they asked, ‘What’s that?’ I’d say, ‘Let’s look it up when we get back to our Airbnb.’”
Kaylee loved “taking what I was learning in class and going and experiencing it.” When the kids were studying ancient Egypt, they actually went inside the pyramids of Giza. “It was scary and cool!” says Layton.
To make up for missing friends — and to develop gratitude for the life they have — the family tried to connect with kids in every locale. All three children learned to make friends quickly, even when they didn’t share a language. “We found our own way to communicate,” says Jasmine, which is, says Ike, “a lesson everyone should learn: an openness to love and accept and be present.”
Strengthening the Family
The Andersons have accomplished one of Ike’s main goals: “learning to work together and solve problems as a team.” Kaylee feels they have bonded, too, while Layton says he has a newfound flexibility. “It doesn’t matter if a bed
is soft or hard — you deal with it,” he says.
Natalee was worried that being with her family 24/7 might “drive me batty,” but she discovered how much easier it is to enjoy one another when free of the pressures of domestic life. “There’s no ‘We gotta get ready for dance.’
When I took that stress out of the equation, I learned more about my kids than I ever would have staying home,” she says.
“We’ve created lifelong memories,” says Ike, some of them with new family members they didn’t know existed. In Canada, the Andersons met Ike’s great uncle, whose daughter and grandchildren had also done DNA testing, and they celebrated with a reunion in Toronto. They chronicled all their adventures on their website, Exploring Legacy.
Advice for Other Parents
Natalee believes some families might be wary of taking their children outside the United States because there is so much negative coverage of other countries in the media. But, she says, “when you’re in these places, you realize: It’s just people, and it’s just life.”
In fact, Ike felt much safer than he anticipated. “I realized that you attract whatever you put out,” he says. Perhaps that explains why Kaylee found that in “every place we went, everyone was nice and made us feel at home.”
They do recommend starting with smaller chunks of travel together before taking on a major time commitment. “We increased our save and decreased our spend. We got rid of the ‘dream car,’ the ‘dream house’ — everything we thought would make us happier.” Ike runs his own marketing agency and was able to work from the road, waking early and finishing before the rest of the crew was ready to see the sights.
What’s Next for the Andersons
In Ghana, the family wasn’t able to find experts who could put together the kind of experience they were looking for. “We felt a lot of people in Ghana didn’t really understand the dynamics of the African diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean,” Ike says. So they created their own tour. “My rite of passage affected me so much, I wanted to share the experience with others,” he says.
This April, the Andersons launched their new company, Your Healing Experience, to bring clients on that same itinerary that explores the journey of West African peoples.“It’s like our ancestors wanted us to travel,” says Layton. “So they made a path, and all of us followed it.”
Highlights Along the Way
Climbing to the top of the steepest, tallest pyramid in Yucatán.
Meeting up with newly discovered family in Toronto.
The diversity of the people.
Sleeping in a real castle!
Exploring the region that’s about 20 percent of their ancestry.
Favorite spot at the Louvre: the Arts of Africa and Asia.
Four-hour dinners and picturesque beaches.
The Acropolis and the Temple of Poseidon.
“Sailing down the Nile, watching kids playing in the water, ” says Natalee.
“Learning about the maternal line of my ancestors,” says Ike.
The untouched culture and open land.
An Ayurvedic retreat with no meat or sugar, and daily yoga.
Experiencing their first earthquake in Bali.
Interacting with the Aboriginal elders.
“The food was amazing, and the houses were awesome,” says Layton.
Coming back home: “This is where Natalee and I were born,” says Ike.
Peru, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, and Brazil
About the author: Kate Rope is an award-winning freelance journalist whose work has appeared in many publications and online outlets including the New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, Real Simple, and CNN.com. She is the author of Strong as a Mother: How to Be Happy, Healthy and (Most Importantly) Sane From Pregnancy to Parenthood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and two daughters.