The Atkins family is probably one of the most ambitious and creative sets of nomads I have met in my several years corresponding with location independents. In 2007 at the time of our first interview they chose to sell their home in the U.K., purchase a large bus, remove their children from traditional schools and begin the adventure of a lifetime. Their first many months were spent in gutting and renovating the bus for the journey ahead. Their four children, Luc, Harry, Beth and Arthur were soon learning about automechanics!
Along the way the family developed as a musical group and entertained people in their various points of destination. They have recently completed a film. Hear what Manny, their mom has to say about their lives on the road and the education of their children.
What was your initial goal for your children and family when you chose to take on a traveling/nomadic lifestyle?
I think our goal first and foremost was to share an adventure. We were always a close family, who enjoyed each others company, but work and school meant our lives had become more separate. From the moment we started planning the trip, we were all working towards the same goal and it was a great testament to our strength as a unit. Joe and I also wanted to offer the children a sense that so much is possible if you put your mind to it and are prepared to put the work in.
Do you feel you have achieved or that you are in the process of achieving your goal?
Yes, I really do feel we achieved that. We had some wonderful, life-affirming experiences together, met interesting people, faced difficulties, and over-came them, and even though we’ve settled down in one place now, (in the French mountains) and again we’re all doing our own things, we are still a formidable team when we put our minds to anything. We made our first feature film this summer! Another family triumph (this time with a crew and cast which extended beyond us six!) but we knew we could achieve it, because our kids just “get it”!
How did you deal with educating your children while you were traveling?
I have to say that I loved every minute of home-schooling. We had such freedom, and the thirst for knowledge was so strong in all of us, that it never felt forced or a battle. We are quite disciplined as a family, and learning and working on projects, and researching routes and new destinations was something that happened naturally every day. Education gave us the rhythm of the days. The biggest privilege was having time to work through things together, and cater to their individuals needs. It was an experience I’ll treasure forever; and the way all four have coped with being in school/college/lycée, in a new language feels me with pride and awe!
Do you have an opinion about the age of children and doing extended travel? In other words, do you think there is a particular age group that benefits most from experiencing the world?
As a mother of four, I felt a huge shift in our lifestyle, and therefore our possibilities as a family when Arthur, our youngest turned four. We’d always travelled freely and easily, (although not extensively, or very far from home), but there was such a big difference when there were no pushchairs/nappies etc. and once the children had reached a point where you didn’t need to know exactly where they were all the time! We tried skiing for the first time for example, and it was this new-found freedom that made me feel confident that we could make a success of our adventure. It must be said, of course, that that’s a very personal view, and I’m sure it’s different for every family. For us we spotted a definite window when Luke was still young enough to want to come (he was 16 when we left the UK) and Arthur was old enough to be part of the team, and understand the significance of what we were doing (he was 7 when we left) For us, we had the perfect combination: four children, so no-one ever felt lonely, but older children who were happy to take care of the younger ones, which gave Joe and I a freedom too. We weren’t obliged to do everything together… although in fact we usually chose to!
What are the most difficult aspects of extended travel with kids?
For us I can only pin-point one difficulty, and we only really became aware of it at the point when we settled down again, and that was team sports/ dance classes/ peer group stuff. We were so harmonious and fulfilled when we were on the road, that it was never a problem; but once we stopped and all those things became part of the children’s lives again… it felt like good timing!
What have been the greatest joys?
I have one peak-of-happiness memory that always comes back to me – there were many similar times; but driving the bus through Greece, with snow capped mountains to our left, and crystal blue sea to our right. Crisp winter sun streaming in on us, and Mika playing loudly through our great sound system… the whole family singing along, pure bliss.