Called “one of the best family travel blogs in cyberspace” by National Geographic Traveler, Soultravelers3 is the initiative of Jeanne D’Arc, Da Vinci and Ms. Mozart – a family of three who nicknamed themselves after some of their heroes.
Soultravelers 3 is now entering their third year of around-the-world-travel. I recently got in touch with Jeanne to learn more about their previous travel experiences and future plans.
Erica Johansson: You sold your home and vineyard in California and retired early to travel the world. What caused you to finally take the decision?
Jeanne: It was something we talked about for many years, plus planned and saved for, but never were sure if we would actually do it. Sometimes it just seemed too overwhelming to prepare for such a big dream. Then a number of things happened at around the same time, that suddenly made it seem crazy not to do it. We were making this big decision in 2004 and 2005.
We were mostly motivated by wanting to educate our child in the best way possible to be a global citizen of the 21st century, to have the freedom to do as we pleased and the luxury of ” full time together” for both parents. From our perspective as older parents, childhood passes very quickly and neither parent wanted to miss any of it. We are always happiest together.
Although it is standard in Sweden for families to take time together at birth, it is very rare in the U.S. for fathers to take extended paternity time for a child, but DaVinci, took seven weeks off at Mozart’s birth ( without pay). His company thought he was a little crazy, yet we think he had his priorities straight . That was probably a catalyst for us that started a strong seed for early retirement, as we thrived on that time together. Soon afterwards, he left corporate life to work at home, but it still did not give us the full freedom and time that we wanted.
We calculated that our skyrocketing housing market and those around the world would crash because busts always follow booms no matter how many say “this time it is different” or “it is different here”. We were concerned about the choices being made by banks , the booming deficit, the political people in power and how that would affect the dollar, the U.S and world economy in the near future. We always like to look ahead to trends.
It was an often, heartbreaking choice to make at that time as we were really attached to our dream home and vineyard that we had worked so hard on creating and were not sure what the best choice was. We knew once we made the choice, there would be no turning back.We were reading books about how to protect oneself and profit from the coming crash, when most people did not seem to be aware that their was a looming problem. Most people laughed at that kind of thinking.
As it turned out, it was absolutely the best decision for us by far and once we made the decision, it all became much easier. We sold our house at peak for our area in 2005 and moved into a rental while we prepared for this major transition.
Mozart learns very quickly and taught herself to read at two, so that impacted our decision to homeschool. She could read Harry Potter on her own at four, so we wanted her to be able to be free to be herself and that allowed us to leave earlier than we might otherwise, as a reading child can get more out of such a journey and is easier to take. Also, after a bilingual child is a strong reader in their dominant language, it is the best time to focus on their second language reading and writing skills.
Extended traveling is a perfect combination with homeschool, thus all of these factors affected our decision. She was at the perfect age and so were we, so it seemed like now or never. I am guessing that when she is older she might want to be in one place and we want to do this while young enough ourselves to be healthy and fit.
It has been the very best decision of our lives!
I read on your blog that you spent your first winter on the road in Andalusia, Spain. Where else have you been so far?
Yes, we are about to spend our third winter in a gorgeous 15th century white village in Andalusia, Spain. We have grown very fond of “our” village and Mozart goes to the local school to immerse deeply into her second language’s written language, literacy and culture. We continue to homeschool in English all year long, but this gives her a chance to bond with the same kids and have typical childhood joys like sleep overs. She also takes flamenco lessons with a great teacher/dancer and participates in all the festivals of Spain in our intimate village of only about 1000 people.
We love combining a winter home in a village house there and then following the weather during the spring, summer and fall months in our RV to create an “endless summer” kind of world field trip. I just found the village on the internet and made up this part winter monthly rental home and part RV traveling style, but it has worked out so well and is perfect for a family.
We have been to four continents, 29 countries since we started. We have been to Turkey, four countries in Scandinavia, four in the British Isles, Morocco, Croatia, all over France, Italy and Spain, Germany, most of the Greek Islands plus much of the mainland, Switzerland, Slovenia, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Portugal, Austria, Montenegro and more. We have taken every kind of transportation from camels in the Sahara to a punt in Cambridge, England and stayed in everything from a hostel on a fijord in Norway to a 5000 year old cave (5 star boutique hotel) in Capaddocia, Turkey.
What are your favorite places? Any city or town you’d like to return to, or do you prefer seeing new places?
There are so many favorite places, it is hard to pick. We really loved Morocco, especially the Sahara and Fez. We loved Sweden this summer. We loved Croatia and Montenegro. Sintra, Portugal, too much of France, Italy and Spain, loved the Greek Islands and Turkey, particularly Santorini, Rhodes and Capaddocia. We loved Germany, Netherlands, Norway fijords, Austria, Lake Bled and Prague.
We could see ourselves returning to maybe live in Spain at some point. We have grown very fond of Andalusia in the winter and Galicia is one of the true gems of Europe in the summer. That would also leave us close to all of Europe which we love.
We do like exploring new places, but also enjoy returning to places we have not seen in a while. We love the standards like Paris, London, New York, San Francisco, and Florence, but also really love the small villages and rural areas very much. Cities are exciting with the cultural opportunities, but I think one gets to know more of the heart of a place in rural environments, maybe more so for families as cities are just harsher environments.
When browsing through some of your older blog posts I found Crazy Travel, where you write “If you are going to laugh later, you might as well laugh as it happens.” That’s a great mindset to have – especially when on the road. What has been (or is) the most challenging aspect of your journey?
I love that saying too and believe me, we have had to remind ourselves a few times. Yes, indeed, laughing keeps us sane! We mostly live large on little and enjoy this free life, but it is an adventure and we are always in new places, so there is a certain amount of insanity that we must deal with regularly.
I think the biggest challenge has been scary, mountainous roads and driving at night in an RV. We have an older (1998) camper that is extremely heavy due to lots of books for Mozart’s homeschooling and our heavy full digital piano. This is our home for seven months, so we have a lot more in it than someone on holiday for a week end or week. It has never failed us, but it certainly is extremely nerve wracking to feel her putt, putt, putting up a steep incline or worrying about break failure going down the steepest of hills.
I have vertigo, so don’t do well on the curvy roads with cliffs that go straight down with no railing. Our GPS sometimes has managed to put us on the worse possible roads and DaVinci is very calm and a great driver, so when he is nervous, I know we are in trouble. We do try to avoid steep mountainous roads and driving at night or getting lost, but we have managed to do this more times than I care to admit. Sometimes it is hard to avoid because there just in no decent place to stop for hours before dark.
I think the worst road was going straight up the worlds most curvy, cliff hanging, hairpin turns of the volcano at Satorni behind a huge truck carrying steal tubes, while fast moving mopeds and small cars zipped around us somehow on the wrong side where ever they could barely squeeze by. We had to go up and down that road a few times with taxi’s as we stayed there a month and traveled to other islands from there and I never got used to it. I dreaded the thought of driving our camper down that road, but we lucked out in not too much traffic and survived. We had an amazing month in Santorini last June, but I am not sure if I would have gone had I known beforehand, that going on that road was part of the package that could not be avoided.
We have gotten lost a few times in the dark in hilly medieval city centers with the tiniest roads, sometimes in rain or rush hour that adds a thrill along with not being able to read the street signs or talk the language. Once some young men had to literally lift up a parked car and move it out of the way, so that we could pass. Our RV is only van size with a cab over, but it can seem huge on tiny European old towns or roads. Mostly we love being on the open road, not knowing what is up the bend, but there are times it is quite frightening, perhaps even more so because we travel with a child.
We had another car run into us while we sat in a traffic jam on a freeway in France which caused a lot of damage to both vehicles. That was a great challenge and we are still dealing with that one, many months later. Handling insurance company bureaucracy in a language you do not speak is no fun, but we will get through that too.
Still, the good news in all of this is it has strengthened us all and helped us to work even better as a well oiled team. Every life has challenges, so I am glad my daughter is learning that they can all be solved by staying calm and just doing the best one can to walk through whatever one must walk through. We try to improve ourselves with each challenge and have gratitude even for our harder lessons, which helps us appreciate all the good times even more. I think the key to life is just loving it all!
One of my favorite posts is How to Eat Healthy & Cheap Traveling Europe! which gives some great advice and takes in the importance of eating less meat. If you think back on the days when you ate out instead of cooking, which was your best restaurant experience?
Oh we still take time out to splurge on dinners or lunches even when we are eating frugally. I am glad that you liked that post as it is one of my favorites as well. Eating out and eating the local specialties are a very important part of travel for us, so we do make sure we do that in every place we roam.
It will be hard to limit our best experiences, but here are a few that come to mind:
We stumbled upon a “to-die-for” meal in Dijon, France.
Loved this special meal in Prague.
Didn’t expect the meal to be so great at our wonderful Mozart concert at St Peter Stiftskeller in Salzburg.
We were totally spoiled by gourmet treats by our friends in Sweden who taught us all about making and creating a crayfish party, eating reindeer meat in a Kota, Herring and more, but if it must be restaurants, we had scrumptious Swedish waffles with cloudberry jam at Abacka Cafe in Linkoping, Sweden.
Scrumptious seafood meal in Cedrea , Gaicia.
Mozarts favorite meal was at Local Cavehouse.
Best Mexican food was in Santorini and Best Chinese was a tie between two little places near our campsites in Vienna and Croatia.
What are your future plans? And how much in advance are you planning your journey?
We are about to fly off to NYC at the moment to visit the disadvantaged school kids who come with us virtually as we tour the world. We volunteer with the award winning nonprofit, Reach The World which connects unique world travelers with school kids, but is an open resource supported by National Geographic and other sponsors. If your readers would like to support them or know of a company that would like to do that or school that wants to participate, please tell them Soultravelers3 sent you! We are listed with them as the European Journey, since that is our focus now.
We are planning to ship our RV to South Africa next to do a long stay exploring Africa. I have heard great things about RVing there and Boswana and Nambia. We will see other places while there with fly in’s or train, but I am not sure exactly yet. The tentative plan is to then ship our RV to Argentina and do a long stay in South America and then slowly drive our RV back to California.
We also plan a long stay in Asia, Australia and New Zealand and a long stay touring North America, but I have not even started planning those places, except gathering good links and ideas when someone mentions something, to follow up on later. We have a general idea about what we want to do, but are ever flexible.
We had planned on leaving Europe this year, but decided to add one more year. I ended up in the hospital last year in Vienna, so we had to cut short our plans for Romania, Poland and Hungary, thus we want to make sure we see them and other places to feel complete here. We also plan a trip to Jordan, Egypt and Jerusalem in March. We will keep traveling as long as it keeps working for us. So far so good!
Any last words?
Thanks so much for a fun interview!