It’s a fantasy for many: the idea of taking a break from conventional life to travel the world while your children are still small. Most of us, of course, never take the plunge – careers, schooling and the pressures of life get the better of us and what seemed a good idea over a drink on holiday gets forgotten.
For some though, the fantasy becomes a reality, whether that’s made possible by an extended break between jobs, a decision to rent out a property, or – in Garrett Gee and his wife Jessica’s case – the sale of his business.
“It started off as a joke,” says Jessica, 31. “We kept saying, let’s just sell everything and go travelling.” Garrett, 30, had founded a tech business – a mobile scanning app – with college friends and had worked incredibly hard building it up over the years. But the opportunity arose to sell to Snapchat – and suddenly freedom beckoned. “We put everything from the sale into investments and decided to head to the South Pacific for five months. Our son Manilla was just a year old at the time and Dorothy was three. But when we came home at Christmas we decided we weren’t ready to stop travelling yet.”
What’s interesting about what the family did next, though, was their decision to turn their extended adventures into a business all of its own. Free spirits they may be, but they are clearly entrepreneurial down to their fingertips, so they started posting news of their adventures on social media as The Bucket List Family. “Although it didn’t start as a business, our social media following quickly grew and we’re now able to work with hotels, brands, airlines and other companies to continue our journey,” says Garrett.
The reality of this very modern family adventure is a lot of hard graft in amongst all the thrilling experiences. Both Garrett and Jessica work many hours a week (Garrett estimates up to 60), editing videos, uploading blog and social posts and contacting brands and companies. They may spend their days swimming with humpback whales in Tonga, snorkelling in Tahiti, eating noodles in Japan or horse-riding in Scotland, but Jessica is clear that “it’s not a straightforward vacation. Our journey has essentially turned into Garrett’s second business.”
So what of the practicalities of being constantly on the move with two such young children? “Travel days are always difficult and tiring,” says Jessica. “Packing up and moving. Children feed off your disposition 100 per cent so if you’re cranky or upset, you can be sure they will be too. We have to have a regular schedule that works for us and we stick to it every day. Wherever we are, we wake up, have breakfast, either Garrett or I will do some exercise and then Manilla has a nap before we go out exploring. You can’t treat every day as a permanent vacation, it’s too exhausting. We try to end most days on the beach or in a park so the kids can run around and let off steam.”
Their other tip for family travelling is to be realistic about what you can achieve. As Garrett says, “It can be frustrating when you’re in an amazing new country and you want to get out there and see everything, but you just can’t – everyone gets burnt out too quickly, – so we often have to cut things back. In Australia we were going to make eight stops but we only managed two.”
Their success in turning this fantasy trip into a business is built on the professionalism of their social posts. They are an extraordinarily photogenic family and the children, now aged four and two, clearly enjoy performing for the camera. But their parents are aware of some of the potential perils of their lifestyle. As Jessica says, “We feel incredibly lucky to live as we do. But once a month we take a step back and say, OK, we need to put our marriage first, or our kids first, and if it becomes a problem we’ll just walk away.”
Soon, though, despite planned trips to the Galápagos and Africa, the full-time travelling will have to end. They intend to continue to take long trips away together, but Dorothy starts school this autumn and is beginning to crave proper, consistent friendships. “It’s the one thing I wish I could give her,” confesses Jessica. But the couple believe there is so much the family has gained from the experience. “It’s a joy to see Dorothy and Manilla playing with children from so many different cultures. They really do love and respect everyone.” Garrett concurs: “Some of the business success I’ve had doesn’t make me feel successful. But being able to offer these experiences to my children is very rewarding. I know it’s a huge privilege to see my children grow up and I think our culture has tricked people into thinking that only seeing your family at the weekend is normal. It isn’t.”
And Jessica adds, “The most important thing I’ve learned is that all that really matters is your family. There was a day in the Caribbean when our flights were cancelled, Manilla had fallen and had a bloody nose and both kids were screaming. I looked at Garrett and thought, ‘Should we just go home? Where is home?’ But then I looked at all the craziness in front of me and I realised, ‘This is it.’”