BENEFITS AND CHALLENGES OF WORLDSCHOOLING – THIS MOM TELLS IT AS IT IS
Get to Know the O’Mara Family
Do you want to hear the truth about worldschooling? The benefits AND the challenges? Today we’re going to talk about just that!
Today we’re going to get really honest about worldschooling. Most people talk about how amazing it is – today we’re talking to a mom who tells it like it is – both good and bad.
Meet Nikki O’Mara, an Aussie mom of two who, along with her husband, loves to travel as much as possible, educating through experiences and exploring the world together as a family.
Like a lot of parents Nikki loves to talk about the amazing experiences they’ve had, and is a huge supporter of worldschooling, but she’s also very open about the challenges of traveling with kids.
If you’re after the truth about Worldschooling warts and all, this interview is a must-read. Let’s meet Nikki now.
I’m Nicci O’Mara. I live in Australia in a town called Toowoomba, which is in Queensland, not far from Brisbane. I’ve got two boys who are now aged terrifyingly, 10 and 12. So we’ve just hit high school here. And I’m also married and have a dog.
Why do you Worldschool?
We believe that travel is important for us as a family and for our kids, on pretty much every level. We want them to get outside of the town that we live in. And it’s not just going to the big city, the cities of Sydney or other places within Australia. We want them to experience different religions, different ways of life, to look at how lucky we are within our country because we are a very lucky country.
We want them to learn, we take them to the supermarkets, we take them to bakeries in Italy, and we make them learn to speak the language. I make my boys go up and order a loaf of bread, with very basic Italian; it’s the most wonderful thing for their confidence.
It boosts our relationships as a family, as well. It brings us closer together because life’s pretty crazy otherwise, in between sport and school and work, and I find it important that they can go to a park and they can talk to kids, who don’t necessarily speak the same language, but they learn so much about others.
Over the years, when I’ve gone to parent and teacher interviews, the teachers say, your boys have learned so much from traveling, it’s just incredible. They’ve learned confidence, resilience, and to be more flexible (because things don’t go well a lot of the time!) Things break, things go wrong, you miss things. I think it’s a wonderful skill because it’s like you’re in a bubble when you’re at home. It’s such a wonderful experience for them to learn all about themselves and the world, and also about what they learn in books. It brings that to life. Luckily for me, my boys love reading, which is another fantastic thing.
So travel, I think on every single level, is wonderful.
When did you start Worldschooling?
We started worldschooling when my youngest was born, he was probably a couple of months old, and we absolutely loved it. There is a two-year age difference between my boys, and for the first two years, we loved it; we traveled wherever we could. We did a lot of travel within Australia, flying to the islands off the Northern Territory and places like that.
When my youngest came along, he had reflux. So he would vomit continually for 12 months, and he screamed for 12 months. So when he came along, we stopped traveling. We didn’t go anywhere; I didn’t even go to Target, let alone anywhere else. That was sad and really hard for me that I had these two kids; we were in a new town as well because we had just moved to where we are now, and it was my wake up call. It took me a few years before I thought about traveling again because you pick up battle scars. My son was older, he was in those toddler years, and he got better, and we could travel further.
We started off with road trips, and then we said, okay, we need to prioritize travel again, which we did. We saved, and we got over all of those challenges that we had when he was a baby, and from then on, we haven’t stopped, and we’ve been overseas and throughout Australia, and we’ll just keep going.
What is Worldschooling?
Worldschooling to us is finding a place that we want to explore, that we can do things outside of the box that we normally wouldn’t do. We can go on the most incredible hikes, zip-lining through rain forests, and meeting people. I think in the middle of last year, we went and did an indigenous tour in Central Australia, and we ate witchy grubs, which was quite interesting. To us, travel isn’t just about lying around and seeing the sights; it’s really about getting ingrained and learning about the culture and the religion and all those types of things.
How do you Worldschool?
The way that we Worldschool is on school holidays, so between school breaks are when we mainly do it. Obviously, when the kids were much younger, we could travel, and we’d try to travel outside of those times because obviously, it was cheaper and much easier to do. Now that my boys are at school and one of them is in high school. Were a bit more restricted as to what days we can take off and how long, but still, we try to, especially in the June holiday break, we make sure that we take quite a long break there. It’s wonderful because coming from Australia, we can travel to Europe, the US, Canada during their summer, while it’s winter in Australia and during our big summer break. We get two months in December and January. So we traveled then as well. So we just work around work and school these days.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
Some of the biggest challenges for us, and for many other families, is going from having two full-time incomes to one full-time income. Even though I went back to work, it was only part-time, I wasn’t earning a great deal of money. So money and affordability, I think is always going to come in there.
From the prioritization point of view, we could go out all the time when we didn’t have kids; we’d go out; we’d do some incredible things, we’d go to concerts, and all of a sudden we thought well if we want to travel, we have to make it a priority.
Also, looking at other places that we wanted to go. Would the hotel be baby-proof if the kids were starting to walk? How much stuff would we have to take? I think that still astounds my husband as we go to pack the car or the bags. It’s much easier now than what it was, but you always take too much, especially when they’re babies and toddlers. I was pleased with our last few trips, no nappies, which is just an absolute godsend.
I also think fear will always be one in terms of what happens if they get sick? What happens if they get injured? There’s always a lot of what-ifs. We have an amazing first aid kit that comes everywhere with me in the car because I’ve got one of the most accident-prone kids. I think I have learned over the years to relax, and it will all sort itself out, and how to deal with those problems. That’s always a good thing as they get older, we learn.
What qualities do you think your children have developed because of Worldschooling?
When it comes to the kids and the qualities that travel has brought about, I think confidence is one. They can have conversations with adults and with kids that they don’t know and feel comfortable with. They’re not scared of too many things, we’ve been in scary situations obviously, but they have that confidence. They also have empathy. Empathy for other people, for their situations, how they have been brought up, and a much greater understanding of how the world works. I think they’ve got a much better understanding than I ever did as a child because they have traveled so much.
I love them meeting new kids and kids from different countries and backgrounds because we live in a very sheltered society at the end of the day. So they can go out there and meet new kids or adults, and it’s such a wonderful thing to witness.
Things along the lines of caring for the environment, they have a vested interest, they will say, mom did you see someone was feeding the dingoes or the squirrels, or whatever animal it happens to be, and they will say they’re not supposed to do that. They have an understanding of how the environment works, about fire, and about conservation of water. I just love that they have grown to be these beautiful, loving, resilient kids who can pretty well take on anything they want these days, which is good.
How do you think travel has effected your relationship with each other?
When it comes to family relationships, I truly believe that traveling has made us so much stronger as a family. Travel takes us so far out of our comfort zone, whether it’s going somewhere where we have to speak a different language or even just grocery shopping.
Waiting in lines, we are more patient with each other.
We can have real conversations with our kids and with each other because you have time to; we’re not all rushing home at five o’clock or three o’clock, whatever it is, in the afternoon, and then rushing to finish the day.
I look at our life, especially at the moment, having started high school, and it is insane; which I didn’t even realize that it would be busier now than it was in primary school when they were younger. But there’s sports training until 5 pm, and then all day Saturday we spend doing kids sport.
Travel for us has given also given us the confidence to have those tough conversations as well. The tough conversations when you’re traveling because things don’t go well all of the time. There’s something that always goes wrong when you’re traveling.
We learn so much about each other as well. The first time we took our kids away for six weeks, my husband had not spent six weeks continually with the kids since they were babies, so it was a real eye-opener for him. I’d done it because I was the one at home. But the first few weeks, he’d go, “wow, they make a lot of noise, and they never stop!” So I think that, especially for parents who work, it is such an incredible thing because he then got to learn so much about his kids. He adores them greatly, and it’s one of those wonderful things where every time we travel, they’re at a new stage in their life. So whether it’s every six months that we go somewhere, they’re at a new stage, and they will continue to that to do that from when they’re a baby, to when they’re in their 20s. So, it’s really lovely. I do love it. It’s made us stronger and better for it.
Do you buy travel or trip insurance?
We always use travel insurance every time; apart from domestic, we don’t bother about it internally. But every time, the moment that I fork out the money to buy the flights or anything else, I buy travel insurance that day. I’ve always been like that; I think my mother was the one who instilled that into me. Thank you to her. I’ve only claimed once, but that once was about $15,000, and that was when my sister died when I was in Africa. I had to fly back home, urgently.
It is something that I would always get, and I never go with credit card insurance. I always make sure every time that I always check. What are the policies and procedures? What am I covered for? What am I not? Depending on which country I’m going to.
And one lesson my mother learned – she always paid for her travel and paid for her insurance on the same day. She didn’t do it on one occasion, and of course, then Coronavirus happened. She didn’t have insurance, and she had paid for a trip to Israel, Palestine, and the Greek islands. Of course, she couldn’t travel because she’s older, and it wasn’t advised from a health point of view for her to travel, so she’s pretty well going to lose everything. She did get travel insurance, but it was too late because once it had been announced, that was it, nothing was covered. So it’s a very good lesson to get insurance on or before the day you book your trip.
What tips and tricks do you have to save money while traveling?
Everything’s a matter of choice. We have a budget; I always hated budgeting with a passion. But what I found over the years is I’m better off budgeting, so that I know exactly where our money is going, where I can save, where I can shave off money if I need to.
So, not long ago, I canceled Spotify, which was a sad day for me. I still have the free Spotify, but when I travel, I reinstate Spotify, I will pay for a couple of months while we’re away so I can download songs. Some things are not negotiable, and there are other things that I look at what’s important to us. At the grocery store, you think okay, well can I buy these cheaper things, and they are just as good and don’t make any difference. And then there are things that matter that I will spend more money on.
There are different ways that I found that I can save money, and then there’s saving money on the travel itself. Look at going outside of peak periods and staying for longer in different places. We even went to Denmark a couple of years ago, we had family friends there, so we stationed ourselves there and had a car, and we drove everywhere and just came back every night. So there are lots of different things, and it’s all about priorities. Every single day, it’s about choosing the lifestyle that we want to have.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?
We started traveling 12 years ago. What I wish is that I’d had the confidence to say yes, let’s go jump on a plane. Let’s pack a bag. Let’s do all those things. But I wish I’d had even more confidence to say we can do anything anywhere.
The world is not such a scary place. I know there are health issues around the world, there’s terrorism, there are all these terrible things. However, the chance of it touching us is so slim. Now in my 40s, I always think, look, there’s just as much chance of one of us getting sick, there are people my age getting sick, parents dying, and all the rest of it. I think why didn’t I just have the confidence to go? Let’s go. Let’s travel more.
When they were little before they started school, I wish we’d gone for a couple of years. That boat has sailed for us; especially now they’re at high school. I’m okay with that. When they get older and leave home, that’s when we start again.
How do you incorporate travel into your lives when you are at home?
We would love to travel full time in some ways. In some ways, I love the balance that we have; we have a stable home life; we can then save money to go and travel. I also know I wouldn’t be a very good teacher. I freely admit that. It’s better that my kids go off and learn from a teacher who has the patience to do that, and I’m okay with that.
From a day to day perspective, it was my youngest birthday this week. I just bought him a beautiful, Lonely Planet book. It was fantastic. I can’t even remember its name, but it was a new one, and it was a Choose Your Own Adventure type book that had him going from London on a plane to somewhere in India, and it was so wonderful. So we try and incorporate even in our daily lives, learning about new countries. They love geography, they’ve got an amazing love for geography now, and technology these days is incredible. My oldest came home with some homework; he had to do. They had a world map, and it showed them a place, and they had to look around. It was like Google Maps. They had to look around the area to try and work out where it was in the world, and then they had to pick a spot on the map where they thought it was. It was incredible because he was so close a lot of the time.
So we try and bring in all those types of things. My father was born in Denmark. So we also bring in those cultural things and being Australian. There are so many different cultures that live here. We have the boys choose a theme; we might have to have a Canadian night. They have to go and find food that they would cook in Canada or Thailand or India. So we have dinners that revolve around different countries as well. There are lots of little things that you can do to introduce them to different countries, and I’ve found that’s also good just before you travel to a country, because I’ve got one fussy eater, and sometimes introducing them to food in another country is interesting.
What’s next in your Worldschooling adventure?
At this point in time, we’re at the stage of wondering where we want to go? So we’re all arguing over who gets to choose the next fights. It looks like it might go to a family travel conference in Mexico. So we’re waiting to see if I do that. I think the biggest thing on my list would be a white Christmas. Heading over to the likes of Germany, Czech Republic, Denmark, maybe even up to Finland, Norway, and going and doing a white Christmas because we don’t get White Christmases in Australia for our kids. They’re still young enough that they want to see that wonder, and I’m hoping that will be the big one. We’ve got lots of little smaller trips throughout Australia. At the moment, I’m happy with that. So because I’ve got a big contract on at work, we’re not looking at anything big until the end of the year. But the good thing is, we can just make it be and do it all at once and do like your six weeks, and then we’ve got a trip plan to Africa next year.
What would you say to someone who is considering Worldschooling?
To any family who’s thinking should I do this? Could I do this? Could I travel with my kids? I would say absolutely. Hands down, do everything in your power to grab the opportunity. Save, plan, talk to people, get in the Facebook groups and things along those lines, do your research, and get the confidence to go, because you’ll never regret doing it. You’ll regret not taking the opportunity sooner.
We can always say I’ll put it off for tomorrow; we’ll put it off for next year, when the kids are older, when we’ve got more money when the kids have left home, that’s another one I often hear. Don’t wait. just go. Even if it’s a bit uncomfortable, do it. It’s the best thing you’ll ever do. And you will thank yourself forever.
The kids will leave home quicker than you could believe. I always thought when they were tiny that they would never leave home. I know now that it’s going way too fast. So, grab travel and have an amazing life.
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