Recognised by Forbes and CNN as the fourth most influential traveller in the world, Eric Stoen has been to all the seven continents and travelled to over 90 countries. What makes him popular on the Internet though is that he's a dad who lets each of his three kids decide on a destination anywhere in the world for a one-on-one holiday with him.
Although I secretly wish for him to just adopt me (like most of his followers), I stuck to interviewing him about quitting his job to run a travel website and vacationing with his family.
What has been the major difference for you between travelling solo and with your kids?
Solo travel, or travelling with my wife or friends, is easy. Travelling with kids is more challenging–especially planning trips from a kids’ perspective so that everything is interesting, with enough down-time built into each day to avoid complaining. And even though I don’t mind when things don’t go according to plan, with my kids I really try to make sure that all things go right.
You quit your job and became a full-time travel influencer. Were you ever afraid to leave a stable income job, especially since you were a family man?
No. I was never passionate about healthcare (where I worked for 18 years). When I quit I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I wanted it to be something that I was passionate about. After all, there are a lot of people in the world who love what they do. And I think success can come from being passionate. I simply started writing about our travels and inspiring others and it turned into an amazing new profession. Was there some risk? Of course! But I set a timeline of five years. If I wasn’t making more money after five years than I was in healthcare, I would go back to a stable job. But I reached my revenue goal after only three and a half years.
What are some common problems that you have faced while travelling with your kids?
The only big problem is the very hot days when our kids get into a very bad mood. We need more downtime or indoor activities on days like these. Otherwise there’s just sibling fighting, but it’s no different when we travel than at home.
Besides that, my 13-year-old now would rather be at home than travelling. She enjoys things everywhere we go, but still would rather be with her friends. That’s getting to be more and more of a consideration as we’re planning travels.
What is the one thing your kids can’t leave behind when they’re travelling?
Electronic devices. 16-hour flights aren’t bad at all when the kids have their own entertainment. Otherwise we travel light. There aren’t many must-haves.
What is the motto that helps you navigate through frustrating moments that may arise by combining parenthood and travel?
Step back, separate and distract. Remove yourself from the situation a little–both physically and mentally. Separate the kids if necessary and split up the parents with one or two kids each for a while. And change the activity.
You suggest people to plan all activities around the kids on holidays. Does it not ever get boring for you as an adult?
No, not at all. We’re only with the kids for 18 years until they’re off to university. It’s not a sacrifice to plan trips for those 18 years around the kids. That doesn’t mean just kids museums and playgrounds. It means art classes and cooking classes where we all have fun. Kid-oriented city and museum tours are still interesting for adults – it’s just that the history is simplified a little, and there are usually fun activities integrated into the tours. Food tours are always good for the entire family. And there’s a little more downtime than would be necessary in an adult vacation, but that’s fine.
What qualities has travel helped imbibe in your kids?
Our travels have given the kids a worldly education that has led to them being highly respectful of other cultures and people. They’re empathetic. They’re also excellent eaters. We love learning everything we can about the local foods when we travel, and then coming home and integrating our favourite things into our nightly meals.
The amazing life that you have now of running a travel website and travelling with your family – was it all by design or something that just happened?
Really, it just happened. When I quit my healthcare job, I hadn’t even heard of travel blogs. And when a friend showed me one, I still had no idea that it could be profitable. I simply started writing about our travels, in the process combining my love for family, travel and photography. I was still thinking though what I wanted as a new profession when my blog and social media started becoming more popular, and I attended some blogging events and saw how others were making money from them. Then I realised that this could be my new profession!
Do you think your kids stand out among their peers because not every parent considers travel as a priority? Does it get weird for them or you?
No. I love inspiring people, including the parents of my kids’ friends, simply by travelling a lot and documenting those travels and answering their questions about destinations and specifics. And my kids never talk about their travels. Travel has made them who they are, in a million little ways, but they don’t brag about how many countries they’ve been to or anything like that. And they have friends who travel, so it’s not necessarily unique to be somewhere crazy in the world during school breaks.
You have been to India before and you have said that you can’t wait for your kids to go there as well. What are you most eager for them to experience in India?
My son and I stopped in Mumbai during our around-the-world trip last year, so that gave him an introduction to India, but really I love the colours, the spirituality of places like Varanasi, the more rural areas of Rajasthan, the scale of the Taj Mahal (one of my three favourite buildings in the world), and of course the food everywhere.
Was it difficult for you to teach the kids about some new cultures that they were going to be experiencing?
No. We really don’t talk much about our destinations in advance. Of course we all have some knowledge about where we’re going, whether it’s from school, friends or even YouTube, but we discover destinations together as a family by exploring and talking to locals. All of our discussions about the world and its cultures come from those experiences. There wouldn’t be the same benefits from doing that in advance of a trip.
What are your tips to families who want to travel more with their kids?
Do it! Ask your kids where they want to go, and then figure out the best, least-expensive way to travel there. There are some destinations that are very difficult to do on a budget, but a lot of the world is accessible – especially if you travel during non-peak times, and save up your frequent flyer miles. And plan the trips around the kids. It doesn’t matter if you’ve always wanted to see the Louvre. Five hours there with kids isn’t going to be enjoyable for any of you. Either find a kid-friendly way to do it, or return later on without the kids.
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