Hey there, I’m Keren! Daniel and I have been married for almost twelve years, and have lived in South Carolina for most of our married life (when not traveling, of course!). Daniel was born and grew up overseas for much of his childhood (South Korea), and when we were first married we had planned to work overseas in a ministry. So I already expected (and looked forward to) raising our kids abroad. Life changed and we did not fit the ultra-conservative group we had originally planned on working with. But we still had a desire for our kids to spend a considerable amount of time overseas. Daniel and I have always loved to travel, but with young kids, most of our travel took place within our own country. We now have four kids, ages 10, 8, 5, and 3; three adventurous girls, and one energetic boy!
In 2013, I found a great deal on plane tickets. At that time, we had a a 5, 3, and 12-month-old. We packed our lives into 2 carry-ons and headed off to Ecuador for 5 weeks. Those were some of the highlights of our lives! It was so good for us as a family, and so good for us individually. We headed home with plans to sell our house and relocate back to Ecuador. I ended up pregnant with our fourth child with some difficulty during the pregnancy, so had to delay those plans. Then, when she was just 5 months old, we headed to Mexico as a family of 6, and we all fell in love with Mexico!
We then revised our plans, established several rental properties, and made further plans to sell our primary residence and travel long-term for 18-36 months. We worked hard to make sure our lives could operate remotely. (Daniel has worked remotely for 8 years.) Then in April 2017, we had sold almost everything and put just a few items in storage. Our goal was to enjoy traveling, but also pay off all debt and accumulate hefty savings to invest into more rental properties (with the goal of early retirement).
We were making progress toward that goal and loving traveling through Latin America, when we learned that Daniel’s brother had an aggressive form of leukemia. We quickly made plans to get our family of 6 back to the USA from Ecuador. We had an emergency fund, but that pretty much used it all up. Upon our arrival, we learned that Daniel was the 100% bone marrow match, and would be needed as a bone marrow donor. We were also told (incorrectly) that he’d be needed for multiple transplants over the next 2-3 years. We quickly acquired housing and a vehicle so that we could be there for him. Daniel also lost his main job on the same day. The rest of his family was unable/unwilling to help financially during that season, so we ended up pushing our expenses in quite the opposite direction of what we’d planned.
It was an unexpected and sudden season of giving up our dreams and our savings, and then our credit. Thankfully, his brother is now 100% leukemia free and his stem cells are 100% Daniel’s stem cells.
And now we are working to re-establish ourselves financially, taking sporadic trips in the US, Mexico, and hopefully elsewhere abroad in the meantime. We hope to be able to jump into a long-term travel adventure again soon.
Where abouts in the world are you right now?
After traveling in Mexico, we had to make an emergency trip back to the USA when my brother-in-law had leukemia, and Daniel was needed to be his bone marrow donor. The transplant took place in Kansas, USA, and we have our home base in South Carolina, USA.
What do you love about this place?
I’ll just go ahead and talk about Mexico, since we spent about 4 months there in 2017. We love the diversity of culture in Mexico. We have traveled through 5 different Mexican states, and each one could have been its own country.
Anything you don’t like?!
Not much! The heat was challenging in some areas during some seasons, as some of our family members have difficulty adapting to the heat.
What are the three most challenging aspects that stand out?
Definitely adjusting to the heat as a top issue. Another was encountering scorpions throughout our travels. Let’s just say that after finding one in my bed and on my pillow, sleep was difficult to come by.
A third...as a family of six, we sort of cross the threshold into being a larger family. Transportation, housing, costs, etc...can sometimes provide challenging because in certain situations there’s not enough or we need to split up.
One of our daughters also struggles with encopresis. Thankfully, the baby has been potty-trained since before age two; but traveling with encopresis (lots of uncontrollable bowel movements) sometimes creates challenges.
We’d also love to be fluent in Spanish, but aren’t quite there yet.
How’s the food!
Can you say taco? Or guacamole? We absolutely love the food in Mexico, and even experiencing the differences between regions and then price points. From dining in Enrique Olvera’s Pujol in Mexico City to dining in a restaurant overlooking the skyline of colonial San Miguel de Allende to beachside margaritas and guacamole in Playa del Carmen, to trying cactus (nopal), huevos de hormigas (ant eggs!) while visiting the pyramids at Teotihuacan, to trying crunchy grasshoppers, there is never room for boredom when it comes to trying out Mexican cuisine. In three words: we love it!
Any funny, interesting or daunting experiences along the way?
As alluded to earlier, we had quite the interesting experience in our encounters with scorpions. One in particular was on the pillow of the bed where I had been resting with our (then) two-year-old. Another time, we found ourselves in a house with a scorpion infestation. In the particular house, the property was over 500 years old, and had been redone by an architect. He built all the bedrooms as separate-entrance and detached buildings. So, that made things a little tricky with young children.
After multiple scorpion sightings, we eventually relocated to an AirBnb in a condo with no scorpions.
Another unexpected experience was going to an older city with fewer tourists/gringos. We then were surrounded by students who wanted to take their photos with our family. Some of our kids were a little nervous at first, but then they warmed up and loved the special attention.
And then there was that time when I was accidentally stranded in the desert with 2 of my kids. Thankfully we found someone along the way after over a mile of walking, they called a “friend” who just happened to operate an over priced taxi, and we were rescued. Oh, the stories!
Can you give us 3 tips for making it work?
Pack light and minimalistically, try new food, but also allow your kids to eat foods they like and have some comforts from home.
Do you have any financial tips for travelling?
Have an emergency fund, and then some. Know your specific family situation. While we sold our home and vehicles, neither of us have a really strong extended family support network. We had an AirBnb that we thought we could use to live in if we needed to return with advance notice...but it was booked during the time of our immediate return. So for us, having a home base proved to be more important than we realized.
We also thankfully had a small stream of income from our rental properties. While it was not enough to live off of, the small trickle of cash helped during the 5 months that our lives were basically on-call to help save my brother-in-law’s life.
Also, a big thing for me is travel-hacking. We were able to fly to Mexico for free (and pay taxes) because I’d accumulated so many airline miles. Then, we hacked a good bit of our accommodations by using home swaps and exchanges. When it did come time to spend a little more on experiences or accommodations, we didn’t feel guilty because we had saved so much elsewhere. If you can hack just one area, you can not only save a lot of money, but have some amazing experiences and use some of the money you save to put towards really special experiences!
What do you miss, if anything?
Convenience of Amazon Prime?... Maybe. (Like, there were a few times I needed medicine, a blacklight flashlight to find scorpions with, or something I couldn’t easily buy in our location. At those moments it would have been nice to have 2-day delivery.)
Maybe climate control!
But I’d give that all up just continue traveling again!
What advice would you give to other Mamas planning on travelling with their tribe?
Go with the flow. There will be crazy stuff happen, but more so there will be amazing things happen. (Besides, crazy stuff happens at home, too!) We didn’t get to travel as long as we had expected (and plan to travel more), but we realized our kids had grown and matured so much due to our travels.
I actually feel a lot more freedom to be myself or just do what works when we’re out of our country. Maybe you will, too.
Also, make time to explore by yourself and to practice self-care. Although we never had a babysitter or travel nanny, we did make sure to swap turns of who could go out in the evening, for a day, etc… And if you do have great options for a babysitter or nanny, by all means go for it!
Where can we find you?!
Right now, I’m most active on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kerenthrelfall/.
Daniel’s account is here: https://www.instagram.com/danielthrelfall/.
We’ve shared some of our travels here: http://wanderfam.com/