“Travel Stars” is an interview series created to get to know people in the travel industry who are making a difference; writers/influencers, producers, and travel executives.
In this article, we had the joy of interviewing Heleen.
Heleen is the Matriarch of a family of 4 who has been traveling since August 2018. She and her husband, Jurgen, have been traveling the world with their two young girls while homeschooling and working online on the road to make it all possible. Their blog is meant to inspire people to change their lives, do what they love, become financially independent, spend more time together, and live sustainably!
Check out this amazing interview with Heleen.
Tell us a little bit about yourself – where are you from? Where did you grow up? Etc.
We are Heleen, Jurgen, Yuna (2010) and Hanne (2011), a Belgian full-time digital nomad travel family.
Jurgen and I both grew up in Belgium, in a small city where we met when we were young adults. We are now more than 20 years together and have had lots of different projects both together and on ourselves. I used to be a business consultant and teacher. Jurgen a cook and web developer. Together we owned our own physical and online shop and exploited a tavern. Now we’re building our own business in blogging, content creation and online courses.
Both of our girls were born in Belgium and lived their first years here, going to a regular school. From the age of 6 and 7, we started to travel the world with them. They are homeschooled for a couple of years now and they love it.
Can you remember what first got you interested in the world of travel? and why?
Very early in our relationship, Jurgen and I realized that travel would be important to us. He used to travel regularly before we met, and my mom used to work all over the world which made me follow her during school holidays.
Before we got the kids, we traveled for the first time together for 4 months to Asia. And it was fantastic! We wanted more. But then we got kids and life happened. We still traveled a lot, but on smaller trips in between work and school.
After having some very time-intensive jobs where we barely saw our kids, we decided to live a different life. So we quit our jobs, started to explore the world of online income, homeschooled the kids, and left for a one-year trip.
After coming back, we realized that we wanted to have the freedom to do this all the time, so we sold our house and became a digital nomad family. When we travel in Europe, we use our vintage VW camper.
In the next year, If you could only visit one place for one week, where would it be?
That’s a very hard question since there are so many places I would like to visit. But if I really have to choose, I think it would be Nepal. I’ve been wanting to go there for years and would love my family to see the Himalaya, the fantastic Nepalese culture, do some long multi-day trekking to for example Mount Everest Base Camp or Annapurna, and travel over land to India.
What are some of the top places you enjoyed visiting the most? Why?
Honestly, we have enjoyed almost all the countries we’ve visited. So it is hard to choose. But here is a list of our absolute top experiences:
– Iceland was probably the most epic country (nature-wise) we’ve ever been to. We saw glaciers, an erupting volcano, waterfalls, black sand beaches, … there. New Zealand was in many ways similar and also a fantastic destination.
– Morocco was a more recent trip and quickly became one of our favorites. The country has it all! A fantastic and colorful culture and history, friendly people, stunning nature with mountains and desert, surfing, and so much more.
– Costa Rica was an amazing experience, especially for wildlife. Our girls loved all of the animals they spotted. We also fell in love with the whole vibe of pura vida and with surfing.
– Other favorites were Australia (for the epic nature, wildlife, and their way of life), Java in Indonesia (for the volcanoes, beaches and beautiful temples), Mexico (food, culture and nature), and Italy.
Can you share a funny story that happened to you while traveling?
We were in Georgetown, Malaysia and had to take a long bus ride to our next destination. The kids were 7 and 8 years old. Jurgen booked us the tickets at 8 am in the morning. So we got up early, checked out of the hotel, took a taxi to the bus station and waited for our bus. And waited, and waited, … But no bus showed up.
So Jurgen went into their office, where they told him the bus was at 8 pm instead of 8 am ;-). As Europeans, we don’t use the am and pm notation. We had to take our luggage and the kids back to the town, arranged with our accommodation that we could hang around the common areas and waited until the evening to finally take our bus. Now, we always double-check anything Daddy books ;-).
What was one of your more popular posts in the last year? And why do you think it caught on?
All of our posts about Morocco performed really well. I think a lot of people in our audience didn’t realize what a fantastic country this is and how easy it is to do a road trip there. They loved to see how diverse this country is, with old medinas, desert, mountains and Berber villages, modern cities, and long surfing beaches. We got a lot of messages that inspired people to plan a trip to Morocco as well.
Where are you planning to travel next? and why?
In the near future, we have a cruise in the Mediterranean and a week in Switzerland. These are both collaborations to promote organizations on our Instagram and blog. By the end of June, we are going to Sweden with our old VW bus and we’ll probably stay there for two months or more. We are looking forward to camp and be in nature again, live the simple life. In October we have to be back in Belgium and after that, we hope to travel far again for a couple of months to either Asia or South America.
What are you doing now (or about to do) that you are excited about? Do you have any new projects?
At the moment, we are working very hard on our blog. We want it to be one of our major passive income streams. Besides that, I am also working on making my own courses. One is for people (and families) who want to escape the rat race, have the freedom to go where and when they want, and live the digital nomad life. The other one is about photography, how to improve it, and how to use it for social media or to earn money with it.
What is it like to travel the world with your family? What are the challenges you face?
To me, traveling the world with my family is my ultimate happiness. First of all, we get to be together all the time and I am there to see my kids grow up into young adults. Secondly, we can discover the world together, experience new cultures, learn new things, and discover all the natural beauty out there. I truly hope it will teach my kids many values to become beautiful people.
It does have some challenges too, of course. Being together 24/7 is not always easy and it means we have to respect each other’s personalities and give each other enough space.
Another challenge is the financial aspect and getting enough work done. Since we homeschool the kids, travel and are always together, it is sometimes hard to focus. That combined with not having stable incomes, means we have to find ways to make it work for us. Solutions are traveling slow, working in shifts on another location or even attending communities where the kids get education so we can work more. A great example of that is Boundless Life.
And last but not least, being away from family and friends makes it hard sometimes. Luckily, there are many ways these days to stay in contact.
On your blog, you talk a lot about living sustainably. Can you tell us what this lifestyle consists of?
We try to educate our kids a lot about the climate, our footprint, and living sustainably. Unfortunately, we often see the consequences of it while traveling (beaches full of trash in Asia that crossed the ocean with the current, glaciers that are melting, drought, …) Therefore, we also try to live that lifestyle ourselves, although we’re definitely not perfect.
During our travels, we usually travel very slow. That means, if we do take a plane, we stay at that location for several months. We try to avoid flying back and forth for just a weekend or a week. Also with our VW bus, we don’t cover a lot of distance per week.
Because of our lifestyle, we don’t buy a lot of stuff. It doesn’t fit in our suitcases anyway and we don’t need it. That way, we don’t consume or waste as much as a regular family. As far as food is concerned, we usually cook ourselves and always try to buy local products.
So in general, if we have two options, we’ll always try to choose the more sustainable option. Also in our choice of accommodations, we prefer to stay in eco-friendly and sustainable places.