How a Middle-Class Family Is Exploring the World by Yacht

May 13, 2019

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Ever since a fortune cookie I got when I was 16 told me I’d be a world traveler, I’ve explored every corner of the globe I could reach, from the gondolas of Venice to the rickshaws of Asia, the placid waters of Lake Lucerne to the soaring structures of Machu Picchu.

But then came three kids, an SUV, a house in the suburbs of Adelaide, Australia, and a literal white picket fence. And on a middle-class budget, I grew to accept that I would have to be content with the life I had chosen. Child-care bills, a mortgage, private-school tuitions and a crazy work schedule at a midlevel government job to pay for it all had replaced exotic vacations. Those aren’t complaints, just facts.

A documentary called “Maidentrip” that we came across while flipping channels in November 2015 changed all that.

It was the story of a young girl sailing around the world, exploring foreign lands on her own boat. We had no idea traveling and living on a yacht was even possible, assuming it was reserved for pioneers, ship captains or the rich and famous. We were none of the above. We’d never owned a boat and had little savings in the bank.

Yet the idea of our family exploring the world on a yacht took hold.

Photo by Erin Carey.

For two years, we scrimped and saved until we had enough to buy ourselves an old yacht on the other side of the world, sight unseen, off the Caribbean island of Grenada. (We also saved for five airline tickets to get us there — this is where airline miles can be very handy.) Our new home was a 1984 Moody 47. She was solid, seaworthy and had two large cabins, two bathrooms, a kitchen and a living area.

We rented out our house and convinced our bosses to give us two years leave without pay. We also radically altered our budget in the years leading up to the journey. We canceled subscriptions and memberships, applied for promotions, worked overtime and hosted international students in our home. We refinanced our mortgage and borrowed enough to supplement our savings. Eventually we had enough to buy our $90,000 boat outright with some cash left over for upgrades.

Roam yacht
Photo by Erin Carey.

In the meantime, we researched and planned, attending sea survival, seamanship and first-aid courses where we could. We bought ourselves a 21-foot sailboat and learned to sail in our local bay, and crewed on larger yachts at the local yacht club every week. We even enlisted the help of a family of five who had lived aboard a yacht for 10 years themselves.

Photo by Erin Carey.

When we were finally ready in February 2018, we flew to the Caribbean in high spirits — the boat was all our family had talked about for two years. Yet we were also a bundle of nerves, since we were fully aware we didn’t really know what we were doing. Heck, we still had no idea how to anchor or moor a 47-foot yacht! But we ignored the naysayers, and my husband, our three boys (now 9, 7 and 4) and I were unshakeable.

We visited 12 countries in our first 12 months and are still sailing. It certainly hasn’t been all sunshine and cocktails. On our very first sail from the main island of Grenada to Carriacou, our engine stopped working in high winds and rough seas. We had to be towed to safety in the dark, wondering if we’d made a big, colossal mistake. Soon after, we ran aground on Union Island and needed to be pulled free by local fishermen.

Roam yacht
Photo courtesy of Erin Carey.

The obstacles we’ve overcome as a family have taught us resilience, and our family bond is stronger than ever. Home schooling has created opportunities for discussions we never had at home, and the children’s confidence has soared. We are healthier than we’ve ever been, and we’ve never felt endangered while at sea or on land. That’s partial due to the safety training courses we took before we even purchased on our boat.

Our children once always had their hair short and their clothes neat but now look wild and carefree, with shaggy blond mops and tanned skin. We’ve hiked mountains and volcanoes, peered into craters and gone swimming with turtles as they grazed gracefully on seagrass. We’ve walked barefoot around deserted islands, climbed palm trees as our wet hair dripped down our backs and sand covered our feet. We’ve marveled at iguanas basking in the sun and danced to calypso tunes under starry skies.

Truthfully, the farther we travel, the less we want to return to the rat race we once knew. On the water, we are free from schedules and expectations. Free from judgment and little things like haircuts and ironed school uniforms. We are the captains of our own ship figuratively and literally, free to use our time as we please.

The days aboard Roam, our home on the sea, are precious and irreplaceable. Living this way has truly opened our eyes to what’s important in life.

You Can Sail the World With Your Family, Too

We weren’t sailors or hedge-fund babies, yet here I am, writing to you from the cabin of our boat. We had a dream, so we planned and made it work. There’s nothing inherently special or unique about our situation, so if we can do it, you can, too. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

I don’t mean to oversimplify the process of selling everything and sailing the world. There are a lot of interim steps and tons of planning and learning, but all you need to get started is a dream and the guts to make it happen.

Here’s how to begin drawing up your plan for traveling aboard a yacht with your family:

  • Decide whether you want to sail the world.
  • Overhaul your entire budget and look for every little way you can scrimp and save. Be prepared to make sacrifices.
  • Set a date — this is an important part of the plan. Don’t make it too far away, but give yourself enough time to save and prepare. Two to five years should be enough.
  • Be honest about what you’re getting into. Sailing can be dangerous even without children involved, so you need to have a frank discussion with your family about the responsibilities you’ll all be taking on not just as a family but as members of a sailing crew.
  • If you don’t already know how to sail, pay a visit to your local yacht club and offer to crew in their weekly yacht races.
  • Start reading. Research everything from boat types (for example, do you want a monohull or catamaran?) to storm tactics, toilet maintenance to chainplates.
  • Teach your kids to swim and get them comfortable in the water.
  • Learn as much as you can about diesel mechanics and electrical and plumbing systems. If you are in a remote place, you will need to be able to fix your own boat.
  • Consider selling your home or renting it out. Look into Airbnb or student rentals to increase your return. (Thinking of becoming an Airbnb host? Here’s how to do it right.)
  • Apply for leave without pay if it’s an option. Having a safety net is always a good idea. If your job allows remote work, talk to your company about whether it’s possible to work remotely (as long you’re honest with yourself that internet access and time zones will often work against you). In some cases, you may have to leave your current job entirely to make this dream a reality, so build up that savings cushion as much as you can.

Resources to Get You on Your Way

Videos and Podcasts


  • “The Voyagers Handbook” by Beth Leonard
  • “Boat Owners Mechanical and Electrical Manual” by Nigel Caulder
  • “World Cruising Routes” by Jimmy Cornell
  • “Voyaging With Kids: A Guide to Family Life Afloat” by Behan Gifford, Michael Robertson and Sara Johnson

Facebook Groups

  • Kids4sail
  • Women Who Sail
  • Liveaboard Sailboat

Find a Coach

  • Employ the services of a coach, such as Sailing Totem, and be sure to check out her blog. It’s a wealth of information.
  • Partake in an offshore sailing expedition with an experienced sailor, such as John Kretschmer.

Read Our Blog

  • Follow Roam’s adventures for inspiration, tips and advice.

Secure a Good Credit Card

  • Since you’ll likely be sailing in foreign waters, be sure to carry one or two credit cards that don’t charge any foreign transaction fees, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve, Citi Premier® Card, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard or the Platinum Card® from American Express (see rates and fees).

Bottom Line

Find your own adventure, be it a week in Hawaii, a year in an RV, a hike through the Himalayas or a new life on a boat. Make a date to begin your adventure and work backward from there. You’d be surprised what you can achieve as a family when failing isn’t an option. Work harder than you ever have to make it happen, and don’t give up. I promise you this: You will never regret living life differently, and embarking on a travel adventure with your kids is just the right place to start.

Featured image by © / Getty Images

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