Inspiration and Social Proof: An Interview with Julie Gibbons

Gibbons-Family

The Gibbons Family in the Alps

As we always preface at the beginning of our interviews, one of the things we hope to convey with this site is the fact that there is no single *best* way to be location independent parents, travel the world nor educate your child.

We all choose to do different things, based upon what works for each of us. So with that in mind, we have interviewed a wide range of location independent parents (of all types – nomadic or not) to demonstrate this!

We also have found it useful to be able to point to others living this lifestyle, when faced with questions and challenges from friends and family – so with this series, we’re hoping to give you plenty of social proof for this very purpose!

In this interview, we feature Julie Gibbons who runs an online personality profiling company – People Maps – with her husband…

What type of location independent parent are you? (nomadic, entrepreneurial & nomadic, stay-at-home entrepreneur). Can you give us a brief overview of what you do & how this enables you to be location independent?

I would say we’re fully location independent, entrepreneurial travellers – with a permanent base in the UK. We run an internet business – PeopleMaps – and home educate our son, which allows us to travel wherever and whenever we like. I usually say, “we work from home – but that ‘home’ can be anywhere in the world” – and that philosophy is central to our business, and applies to every member of staff.

We have 11 people working with us at any time, and those people are all over the UK, Europe and India – and mostly all choose to work from home. In fact, one of Martin’s main goals when setting up the business back in 2001 was for it to allow him geographic independence – but we only fully realised that as a family when we removed Ruaridh from school a couple of years ago, before setting out on our first 3 month long home exchange adventure.

What benefits do you feel that travel and being location independent brings to you & your family?

This is a difficult question – there are just so many benefits! Travelling is a great eye opener, and head leveller. For Ruaridh, it offers him the best of educations. There is the journey itself, which affords so many of the great memories (particularly when things go wrong!).

Being stuck in a car for hours on end kicked off Ruaridh’s voracious reading habit which has continued to this day – and the limited choice of material on offer leads to some choices which aren’t so obvious – like the time he read “The Importance of Ernest” and declared Oscar Wilde a genius – I’m pretty convinced he wouldn’t have chosen to read Oscar Wilde at the local library!

Also, the more often you get in the car and head off for months at a time, the more courageous you become. I must declare “Doris” (our GPS) as the best invention and must-have gadget though – my map reading skills are still quite limited even after 10,000 miles.

The locations themselves offer up endlessly fascinating options and more often than not, throw up ideas and challenges we might never otherwise consider. Like the time this summer when I was allowed to indulge my love of Vincent Van Gogh by dragging the family around the Van Gogh walking trail in Arles to see the very sights and locations of some of his most famous paintings.

This most certainly wasn’t a choice that Ruaridh might have made himself (especially in the 40 degree sunshine) but it was one which introduced him very personally to one of the great artists – even if, at the end of the trail when heat exhaustion had set in and we arrived at the washerwoman’s bridge he declared, “a bridge is a bridge, is a bridge”.

Gibbons-Bridge

Learning a second language or more has been one of the most practical benefits and is a very strong factor when choosing our destinations. We’re pretty competent in French now – and almost totally through exposure when in the country itself, although we do take some lessons at home.

Spanish is our next European destination and between us we have very little vocabulary, so that will be our next linguistic challenge (slightly easier than the Moroccan Arabic we were trying to learn at the beginning of 2009, when we were supposed to spend a couple of months in Morocco!).

But I would have to say that the greatest benefit is meeting new people. Travelling helps to build up that global world view, and I’m sure if more people travelled and understood that, cultural differences aside, people are just people all over the world, there would be less conflict and even less poverty. We have made lifelong friends on our travels, been exposed to tremendous generosity and in turn have been comfortable enough to welcome strangers into our own home. Our mindset has changed, and we find the most value in that.

When you’re not travelling, what advantages does being location independent bring to you and your family?

Even when we’re at our home base (which we have been for around 3 months and counting…) we know that we could respond to any opportunity that comes our way – and therein lies a great deal of ‘freedom’. Staying at home has also allowed us to play host to some wonderful visitors from abroad and enjoy the experience of sharing our country and culture, whilst still experiencing some of theirs.

What about schooling? How do you do it on the road or overseas?

Our policy on schooling is pretty ‘free range’ even when we are at home and it’s not really any different when we’re travelling. The travel, the people, the language, the culture is in itself an education of course.

Ruaridh is mostly free to study subjects of his choosing with our guidance and lots of the work he does involves a computer, so as long as he is connected to the internet then that work can continue uninterrupted no matter the location.

Our next destination is Kolkata, West Bengal and is firmly based around our business, so we have a very firm project in mind for Ruaridh for that trip and will hire a tutor whilst we’re there to help him achieve that.

How do you cope with working from home and having the kids around you?

This is one of the best parts! I think it was Brian Tracy who said that the exception to the “quality over quantity” rule was for time spent with children. Our aim is for quality but of course it really is very much a question of a balancing act when it comes to spending time on the business and time for the family – and one we don’t always get right. We’re all too often aware that the business is creeping in too much and try to limit the subject when we’re at the dinner table, for instance!

I’ve been working from home since Ruaridh (aged 11) was pre-school, so he knows how we expect him to behave throughout the day and how to handle business calls and such – and we have very few embarrassing events.

We have the great luxury of spending lots of relaxed time together – 3 meals together in a day is in itself a wonderful opportunity that most families never get to experience, for instance. That’s not to say that there aren’t a whole set of other challenges – but we take them as they come and find that we get better at it the more practise we have.

What fears did you have about becoming location independent that turned out to be unfounded?

Probably our main fear was based around being away from our home for such long stretches at a time. Ruaridh wondered how he’d cope without ready access to his friends and everything in his bedroom. I worried about leaving all my kitchen accoutrements behind! Martin had experienced lots of extended travel on his own but as a family we’d never been away from home for more than a month, so he worried that we would all miss home too much whilst we were away.

This all turned out to be inconsequential. Sure, Ruaridh missed his odd game or book and his pals, and I missed all of my kitchen gadgets. Martin missed his sofa – but the truth is that travelling fills up your time and opens your mind to such a great extent, that there’s little time to miss anything and we find the unburdening of ’stuff’ completely therapeutic.

As regards home education and location independence, we have complete confidence that we’ve made the right choices for our family. We don’t take it blindly for granted though  and constantly reassess our choices and appraise our delivery against our aims and expectations.

We know it isn’t the right choice for everyone but would encourage anyone who is hinking about it to let go of their fears and do it even for a short period of time. It’s so easy to be location independent without making any grand gestures of leaving the country for good so you really can dip your toe in the water without fear of ‘no turning back’.

Did any of your fears materialised? And if so, how did you overcome these challenges?

Not being in control of our own environment throws up the greatest challenge for us and aside from the ties to home, our greatest fear is being stuck in a location we don’t like.

Staying in a down-town apartment in Marseilles this summer came closest to that and after a mugging outside our apartment and enduring incessant noise from traffic and nightly neighbourly disturbances, we were feeling pretty wretched about our choice.

It was completely our fault that we’d ended up in a location which just didn’t match any of our wish list yet once we’d accepted that we were where we were, we began to settle down and enjoy the city for what it was, instead of holding on to what we wanted it to be.

It was hardly a life or death situation but did remind us that the dwelling can be almost as important as – if not more important than – the city or country you choose. I’d advise anyone starting out to make sure you make informed choices against a clear check list of requirements to avoid having to endure any uncomfortable situations.

Your top 3 tips for parents or soon-to-be parents wanting to be location independent?

#1 Do it. Do it. Do it! It’ll be the best fun you’ve ever had and the best education you could ever give your children – no matter their age. If you have school-age children you will need to devise a policy for their education but remember you don’t have to stick to it rigidly: you might need to experiment with lots of approaches before finding the one that works for you. We’ve gone through some tears and tantrums and it has taken over a year to settle down into something that works for us.

#2 Be prepared for some negative reactions from friends and family and prepare your responses to avoid being caught by surprise. Most people are fully supportive and enthralled by this lifestyle choice but we have experienced some quite hurtful reactions, often from those closest to us. One of our biggest frustrations is when business contacts refer to our being ‘on holiday’; some people just refuse to believe you can travel and successfully run a business! You’ll certainly gain confidence and be reassured when you can network with like-minded families.

#3 Lastly, be open-minded and prepared for the extreme generosity of others. Be prepared to lose all your inhibitions and in addition to the destinations making an impact on you and your family, be prepared to make an impact in return. Be confident in your choices and be aware that your time with your family is finite. Make it count.

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