Family RTW Travel: This Is NOT Charity
Image: L.S. Doron
I’m always first to defend long-term travelers. So when I saw a piece on Boston.com about a family traveling the world and volunteering for a year, I began mentally preparing a defense in my head to take to the anti-travel trolls in the comment forums, just as I did in the Boston.com feature about Lillie from Around the World L.
Then I read the piece…and for the first time ever, I became one of the haters.
Here is the article: Are they courageous or reckless?
In short, Teresa Keller is taking her three teenagers and one of their friends on a yearlong trip around the world. They plan to visit 33 countries within a year, volunteering the entire way.
Here are a few excerpts from the article:
Keller has sold many of her family’s personal possessions to finance the trip and is pulling two of her children out of school for a year. She’s created a nonprofit organization, Round the World With Us, and website (www.rtwwithus.org) on which the five travelers will blog, podcast, and fund-raise for these projects.
Travel, food, and lodging will cost about $125,000, Keller estimates. To pay for the trip, they’ve sold off clothes, athletic equipment, furniture, even the family minivan. Keller, who quit her job, has also borrowed against her retirement funds to help underwrite expenses. Her goal is $100,000 in charitable donations. Personal expenses are all being met out of her own pocket, she says.
$100,000?! God! I can understand collecting donations for charity, but there is an enormous difference between raising funds directly for charities and asking people to subsidize your trip while calling it charitable donations.
Also, the trip has begun. They have yet to raise even $25,000.
When pressed, [her 13-year-old son] admits his biggest anxiety is returning home with his mom out of work and no house to live in. (Keller was offered a 6-month job leave but turned it down.)
Smart kid. But it shouldn’t be his responsibility to worry about that.
[Keller] hopes to write her own book someday.
And there we go. Everyone thinks she’s Elizabeth Gilbert. It doesn’t matter that Elizabeth Gilbert financed her Eat, Pray, Love trip with a book advance and was an established author to begin with.
This trip is reckless. Let me tell you why:
She expects others to pay the bulk of the expenses. If she were financing the trip entirely by herself, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. But she’s not. The Boston.com piece and the web site make it clear that this $100,000 will subsidize food and lodging for the family as they volunteer.
Why should people donate money to pay for her family to travel? Their donations would go so much further if they went direct to the organizations.
She is unrealistic about the reality of volunteering. A full year of living among the poor in the third world, including a month in the slums of Kolkata? Simply being abroad is stressful, and living among the poor adds to that stress exponentially. Additionally, this appears to be the family’s first foray into serious volunteering. I have no idea how they’re going to do this for a year.
Additionally, any RTW traveler will tell you that 33 countries in one year, especially developing countries, is pushing it at a breakneck pace.
She has no safety net. Teresa Keller had the opportunity to take a six-month leave of absence and have a job waiting for her when she returned. For whatever reason, that option wasn’t good enough. She chose to go about it without a home, without a job, and with a depleted retirement fund, all in the hopes that she’ll get a lucrative book deal out of it.
Yes, it’s possible to do long-term travel without a job waiting for you. But once you have kids, it’s not all about you anymore. You need to have some form of financial security for your children.
Is it possible to travel long-term responsibly with your family? Absolutely. Read the Soul Travelers 3 blog. They travel full-time on their own money, living modestly but not miserly, while giving their young daughter a rich education and a home base in Spain.
Or read One Year Off by David Elliot Cohen, a memoir about a family traveling abroad — on their own money, of course — for a year back in the 90s. They knew it would be difficult to homeschool the kids on the road, especially since they weren’t teachers, so they built in a lengthy stay in Australia where the kids could get a few months of proper schooling.
Teresa Keller could have done this. She could have taken the offer of her six-month leave from work, kept the house — or downsized to a smaller home — and spent six months in Central America, where the ground costs are cheap, the landscapes are diverse, and the need for charity is great.
What pisses me off the most is that whenever I feel like I’m actually educating people about how positive long-term travel can be, somebody like Teresa Keller shows up, gets all the press, and gets people thinking negatively about long-term travel once again.
I’ll finish with a quote from the blog of Keller’s 13-year-old son:
My mom also wants to write a book about this. I will be surprised if that works out because it is NOT something I would want to read.
NOTE: I have since learned directly from Teresa Keller that the $100,000 goal is being used purely to benefit the charities and not subsidize any of their travel expenses. Keep your eyes out for an upcoming interview with Keller on the site soon.