A year around the world with four children: One family’s solution to the housing crisis

Sara Banks and Mark Duckenfield found Dublin rents too high, so they’ve taken their sons on the trip of a lifetime

The family adventure

The family adventure

 

Sara Banks feels it was her family’s first move, from Wisconsin in the US to England when she was eight years old, and the subsequent realisation the world was a bigger place than home, that gave her the travel bug. And, once bitten, she was hooked.

The prospect of leaving her home in Ireland and travelling around the world with four young children, Milo (eight), Reuben (six), Benji (four) and Felix (22 months), working and homeschooling along the way, would be enough to put most parents off, but not Sara and her husband Mark Duckenfield, who’ve set off with their young family in search of adventure. So is it proving to be the idyllic trip of a lifetime or just the familiar chaos of parenthood in a different location?

Nydri waterfall
Nydri waterfall
On the beach at Ergemni
On the beach at Ergemni

Founder of SteamLine Luggage, Banks says: “I was talking to one of my colleagues on the phone the other day… feeding them what we’re doing and all these beautiful beaches and turquoise water and everyone’s like ‘oh it’s so blissful”, before conceding it has its challenging moments too. “You can go abroad and do all these amazing things, but life is still life. Bad weather has hit and you still have the kids and everything else. It looks amazing and it is amazing, but it’s travelling with a family and it’s hard,” she admits.

The family is in Lefkada in Greece as I speak to Banks. “We’re really nestled in an olive grove here with a sort of backdrop of mountains behind us. It’s absolutely spectacular. It’s a really tiny village,” she says describing their surroundings.

The couple are both entrepreneurs [Mark owns The Good Mask company] and are continuing to run their businesses as they travel. They brought a young Irish woman with them on their trip to help out with the children, particularly when it comes to the homeschooling aspect as the children attended a Gaelscoil in Ireland, but as Sara is American she doesn’t speak any Irish herself.

Homeschooling
Homeschooling
We have school every morning until 12pm or 12:30pm. They feel really good about that routine

Four-year-old Benji is in junior infants. As a junior infant travelling the world, his experience of “big school” is naturally quite different. “I think always when you are going against the grain of what the rest of society around you is doing, it can feel a little strange,” Sara says, but adds their principal was very supportive. “Even the teachers were coming up to us individually and saying to me ‘You guys are doing absolutely the right thing’ which is just really nice to hear.”

And while the mere mention of the seesaw app may be enough to reduce parents of schoolchildren here in Ireland to shuddering shadows of themselves, it’s proved invaluable in helping the Banks children keep up with the curriculum while on their travels. The children’s teachers upload their homework onto the app and the children submit their completed work through it.

“We have school every morning until 12pm or 12:30pm. They feel really good about that routine. They all just grab their books. We go to the cafe or garden and they just know what they’re doing,” she says. “Then we do the quiet time, they can play with their Lego, and then we go off for a big adventure in the afternoon.”

Seeing how quickly the eldest, eight-year-old Milo, was growing up was one of the catalysts to get things moving, although initially Milo was reluctant to go, Sara explains. “Initially Milo was ‘No way. I’m not leaving school.’ He’s really studious and loves his school and routine and football.” He came around to the idea however and Sara says knowing the family will return to Ireland has helped, before adding “I mean our hope is to come back”.

Like many other couples Sara and her husband have found it difficult to secure a mortgage and purchase their own home. “You can afford the mortgage, but you can’t afford the rent to be in the same community that you want to be in,” and so they left Ireland without the security of a home to return to. “Our whole goal is to be able to travel this year for the same price as it would be to live in Ireland.

“In some ways it’s turning a negative situation on its head,” she explains. “We have an enormous 37m pool outside our house right now and we’re paying less than we would in Ireland.

“We’re staying and making sure that all our accommodation was in the budget of whatever the rent would be, but it’s huge gardens or pools, or big bedrooms. It’s like this completely luxurious life, for the same as what a three bed [house to rent] would be.”

We’re going to places that are on their way to vaccination or that we feel are really safe

Travelling during a pandemic involves careful route planning and Sara explains that the family started in Europe as they felt if something were to go wrong, they were just a short plane trip from home. They are keeping a close eye on countries’ vaccination rates and planning accordingly.

“We’re going to places that are on their way to vaccination or that we feel are really safe. During the pandemic we were supporting a couple of friends we had met on previous travels,” she says, describing one friend in particular in Sri Lanka who she had supported during the earlier days of Covid, when the crisis had hit them badly. “I think if we go back to Sri Lanka and check in with them or go back to Kenya and see the Maasai warriors that we had befriended on a previous travel, then there’s also people in these countries who care about us.” Bali, Indonesia and the Philippines are also on the itinerary, though Sara adds they’ll “play it as we go”.

The warmer climates in some of the countries they’re considering mean that the family can be outside more, an important consideration in a pandemic. “We only have two suitcases of clothes,” Sara says, “and we only have one jumper and my husband said ‘I do not want to wear a jacket this whole year,’ so we are going to try to stick to warmer places and that suits us from a pandemic angle as well as packing!”

Sara says the children have adjusted very well to their new surroundings, something she’s not surprised by as her children have travelled since they were very young. “I think that if you could travel with your kids early, it just helps you build up your resilience to travel as much as it does them.”

 

Benji cooking
Benji cooking
Cooking spanikopita
Cooking spanikopita
They’ve been cooking spanakopita and things you wouldn’t necessarily be able to get them to eat at home and they are just really exploratory

Fussiness around food hasn’t been a huge issue for the children either who are receiving cooking lessons from the woman who lives next door to the family in Greece. “They’ve been cooking spanakopita and things you wouldn’t necessarily be able to get them to eat at home and they are just really exploratory.

“I mean we do eat a lot of pasta here. If we can balance it with some interesting meals and especially if we bring them along the journey of the cooking part of it – Benji is four and he was peeling garlic the other day and made the whole dinner – just given the opportunity it’s amazing what they can do,” she says.

For youngest child, Felix, however, Sara says she’s glad she’s still breastfeeding him. “I actually don’t know what he’s eating otherwise,” she laughs. “I don’t know how much he’s even getting from me any more, but well it’s also a source of comfort I guess for when you’re really upsetting his normal routine.”

And while many of us might worry about missing our family too much, it won’t be an issue for them as Sara says her in-laws and her own family from America are all planning to visit them over the course of their trip, wherever they may be, and “hopefully several times”, she adds.

Leaving Dublin
Leaving Dublin
They know that Santa is going to find us wherever we are

With Christmas approaching, thoughts have turned to how the family might mark the festive season, while still on their around-the-world trip. “Christmas will be interesting,” Sara admits. “They know that Santa is going to find us wherever we are, but that Santa will be checking with me because they can’t take anything super big with them either.” But, she says, she’s looking forward to doing things differently too and adding to their traditions.

“That kind of stuff is a big deal,” Sara says, adding she’ll have to find a way to make occasions really special. The tooth fairy has already paid a visit to one of the children while they’ve been away, even leaving a personal note under their pillow, albeit in Greek, so the children know they have nothing to worry about.

You can follow Sara’s travels at @steamlinewithsara on Instagram