4 Kids, 2 Businesses, and 1 Year Abroad: How I Manage Work, Finances, and Travel
Have you ever wondered if it’s possible to indulge your wanderlust while keeping your small business afloat? Here’s exactly how Sara Banks is making it work, plus the unexpected benefits she’s seen for her company.
Kids, 2 Businesses, and 1 Year Abroad: How I Manage Work, Finances, and Travel
Travel has always been a fundamental part of my life. A love for not only destinations, but for the journey to reach them, is what led me to found my company, SteamLine Luggage. So during the pandemic, being stuck at home while still promoting travel inspiration to my customers felt surreal.
In October of 2021, my husband Mark and I decided to pack up our bags and embark on a year-long digital nomad journey while each running our respective businesses (he owns Good Mask Company). Oh, and with our four young kids, all under the age of eight.
Me with my husband Mark and sons Milo (8), Reuben (6), Benji (5), and Felix (2) in Lefkáda, Greece.
We’ve gotten to spend the past nine months living it up in Lefkada (an island in Greece), Corfu, Mauritius (an island in Africa), and now Bali. Our businesses continue to thrive, and we haven’t completely drained our bank accounts. In fact, now that we’ve seen how well it’s working out, we may even keep at it longer.
If it’s doable for us, I think it’s doable for everybody. Here’s a rundown of how we make it work, and the ways I’ve found this experience is even beneficial for my business.
What It Takes to Make a Year-Long Trip Happen
The most frequent question I get asked is how we’re pulling this off. Here’s a quick breakdown of the cost and logistical juggling it takes to be a digital nomad, business owner, and parent to boot:
The Expenses: What it Cost for My Family of 6 to Travel for a Year
Accommodation: €3,500/month ($3,700)
Childcare: €2,500/month ($2,650)
Other Living Expenses: €2,000/month ($2,100)
Total: €8,000/month ($8,450)
When my husband and I were mapping out the budget for this journey, we had a theory that we could travel the world for the exact same cost as living in our home in Dublin for the year. We figured that our €3,500/month ($3,700) in rent would go toward Airbnbs, our €2,500/month ($2,650) in childcare costs would go toward flights, and all other living expenses would be the same, if not cheaper, in other parts of the world.
In general, this turned out to be true, even considering how travel costs have increased in recent months. Airbnbs in the countries we’ve visited are quite affordable, and we’ve been able to strike even better deals by planning to stay for a month or longer and asking hosts for extended stay discounts. Because we aren’t jet setting to a new place every other week, flight costs have remained reasonable (though we’re actively re-budgeting as flight prices skyrocket), and we’re able to search for tickets with flexible dates and (even flexible destinations) to manage those costs. And everything else, from food to activities for the kids to hiring the occasional caregiver to watch over them, has been much cheaper than it was in Dublin.
We have made the intentional decision to stretch our budget a bit to get the absolute most out of this experience. For instance, we found that spending an additional €500/month ($530) on Airbnbs would get us homes that were far and away better. Our current place in Bali, for instance, is a massive property with space for us to spread out, a lush garden and swimming pool for the boys to play in, and a private chef and housekeeper to help us out. We’re not generally lavish people, but paying a little more for these extras has made the experience of traveling with the family (and finding peace and quiet to work) much easier. We also try not to be too stingy with our budget for experiences, since we want our family to soak up everything possible.
Our house in Mauritius had two pools and a beach—not a bad office view.
Ultimately, we’re spending about €8,000 ($8,450) a month for our family of six to spend time in some of the most beautiful places around the world, which is a tiny bit less than our cost of living in Dublin. Of course, it helped from a budget perspective that we were coming from one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in and generally planning to travel to lower-cost destinations. Your mileage may vary depending on where you currently live and where you’re hoping to go.
The Logistics: How a Family of 6 Juggles Work, Life, and School
Traveling while running a business is definitely a juggling act, especially when you add children to the mix. My husband and I aren’t just business owners; we’re digital nomads who need to travel plan, parents who need to homeschool and entertain our kids, and travelers who want to enjoy the places we’re in.
Staying in one place longer has helped us manage the logistics of all of these tasks. We’re not having to constantly spend time and energy booking our next thing, and we’re able to settle into a bit of a routine, find people we trust to help us with the kids, and not feel like we have to rush to do everything a place has to offer all at once.
The pandemic also gave us a crash course in the skills that would help us make doing all of this possible. Not only are we more used to having the kids underfoot (although we had a nanny at home), my team was already accustomed to working remotely.
But, still, succeeding at running a business while traveling requires some scheduling flexibility. My days typically look like this:
- 7:30 am: The kids swim or exercise before school.
- 8am-12pm: The kids homeschool. Depending on our workloads, either my husband or I will look over them while the other has a few hours of focused work.
- 12pm-2pm: Our youngest naps, the other kids have quiet time for art projects or creative play, and my husband and I get some work done.
- 2pm-6pm: The kids may go off to a club activity or go to the beach with a caregiver, giving us a little more work time, or we may decide to do a family activity and either my husband and I watch over them so the other can have a few hours of focused work.
- 6pm on: Right now, all of our meetings and calls are conducted at this time and then after the kids are asleep (which happen to be good times to coordinate calls with people on the other side of the world). I don’t love taking calls after 9pm, but I make it work to foster this lifestyle.
- Throughout the day: I collaborate with my team of 10 employees and contractors via WhatsApp, and they know they can reach out to me at any time—but they also know I trust them to make decisions without me.
I still get all the work done I need to to keep my business moving forward, but rather than knowing I can sit down and get it done in a six-hour stint, it’s a bit more ad hoc. Even if you don’t have kids, it’s nice to have this kind of flexibility to be able to go on adventures during the day and to manage working across different time zones. And anytime I’m struggling through working at an odd hour, I remind myself that I am in [insert amazing country here].
What Long-Term Travel Has Given Me and My Business
Sometimes it’s hard when people only ask about the specifics of how we make this work, because I instead want to gush about all the positive things the experience of traveling has given me. There are the very obvious personal benefits of getting to see the world, spend quality time with my family, and give my kids uniquely enriching experiences. But I’ve also gained so much as an entrepreneur and leader.
What I’ve Learned as an Entrepreneur From Travel
For one, I’ve found it so much easier to problem solve and think creatively while I’m abroad, because my perceptions and senses are heightened by new things, people, and experiences every day. I was able to bring some of my team to Mauritius for a weeklong retreat, and we saw this expanded creativity across the company. In fact, we’re implementing several exciting projects today that started as ideas while all experiencing a new environment together.
I also think this trip has helped me step back and gain a bird’s-eye view of the business. Being in the weeds can be dangerous for an entrepreneur, and when I’m at home, it’s easy to obsess over the small stuff or get too hands-on with certain projects. Being so far away has helped me step back and understand what’s really important and where I’m really needed.
How My Business Has Done During a Year of Travel
So, how has all of this translated to my business’ bottom line? So far, our sales are up 63 percent over last year. And while some of this is a natural spike after the pandemic, our trip has also helped. Part of our goal this year was to share what we are doing and why with others, and we’ve already done six press interviews within the first few months of travel, which have brought increased awareness to SteamLine. I’ve also fostered some significant sales leads in each place I’ve been.
Finally, I’ve also met new potential creative partners along the way—people I would have never encountered in my day-to-day life in Dublin, but who have fostered ideas that I hope to bring to life in future collections.
Ultimately, my best advice for any business owner considering digital nomading is to just do it. The fears before leaving are so great, but the rewards of doing something like this are so high that any challenges you face really start to feel small.