Theodora of Travels With a Nine Year Old


Theodora Sutcliffe and her son, Z, set out on a 1-year RTW trip in January, 2010 and… well, just kept on going! They’re still out on the road, sharing their adventures on Travels With a Nine Year Old.   * Now at EscapeArtistes *


Today I’m very pleased to chat with Theodora about how they got started traveling, how they wound up becoming long-term nomads, what it’s like traveling with a young child, their favorite places, and their future travel plans. Check out one very interesting, adventure-filled travel life… Here’s Theodora:


Q1. When you were planning your RTW trip with your son, did you have some traveling families you were following for inspiration, advice and ideas? Or was the trip something you’d dreamed up all on your own?


This is probably a terrible admission, but I’d never read a travel blog until some time after I started my own, under two days before we set out…
The trip was something we’d talked about doing for a long time, since Z was two and a half. And my parents had hoped to do something similar with me and my brother, and had talked about how they regretted not doing it, while friends of mine had done RTWs (pre-kids), so it wasn’t an alien or particularly intimidating concept for me.


I’m also British. And in England, a RTW trip is a relatively common thing to do – it’s something a lot of middle-class students do between school and starting university, and there are plenty of older folk who do it too. We’d traveled quite a lot before we set out – Z had been to almost twenty countries before we left – so there wasn’t any particular fear of travel to overcome.


Z ATVing in the Ijen
Q2: You originally set out on a 1-year RTW trip. What were you intending to do afterward?


Ha! I was hoping to take a year out, travel with my son, establish some travel writing, and then come home. I didn’t have a clear plan or strategy in the slightest, although I had a couple of writing clients who had agreed to come back to me after I’d had my year out – and for whom I’m working now remotely. I have at least started publishing travel writing off the back of my blog, so that’s one area where the “non-plan” worked. But the key thing for me was to take the year out, and the rest would become clear after that.


Q3: When did you realize that you wanted to continue traveling more than 1 year instead of returning to ‘normal life’? Did the idea strike you suddenly, like an ‘ah-ha’? Or did it dawn on you gradually? Any particular events or circumstances that lead to your realization?


Well, I’d always known that, in theory, I could work from anywhere in the world with a wireless connection, and I’d often fantasized about taking the jump to move somewhere cheaper and sunnier than London.


I guess it was a phased realization. Firstly, that our schedule was too fast – we weren’t ready to leave Asia in June last year. So we shifted the plan from a one year RTW to one year in Asia, a second in Lat Am. We spent Christmas in Australia, and talking to my parents there, I realized that we wanted to go back to Asia, Indonesia in particular. So we ditched the RTW tickets altogether, and went back.
The one eureka moment I did have was “Why London?” As in, “Why go back to London?” We can live well and travel for the price of the rent on a London flat. I’d have to pull down US$100,000 annually to have even a basic lifestyle in London.


Z with a monkey in Bali
Q4: Does your choice have more to do with not wanting to return to a former life or more to do with loving nomadic travel life?


I love nomadic travel life – so does Z, although he does want a base for part of next year. Would I want to go back to working all the hours god sends to pay a London mortgage? No.


I’d had the year from hell in 2009, so travel was – as it is for many people, I think – not just the fulfillment of a dream but an escape, a break. I’d never had maternity leave, as I was self-employed, so the notion of taking a year to be a mum while my son was young enough to want to hang out with me appealed a great deal.


I think once you’ve realized how much there is to see, and that it’s possible to work and learn remotely, the notion of going back to a routine of being stuck in one place with only a couple of weeks off a year just seems ridiculous.


travel interview- Kuta Beach- Lombok- Travels With Nine Year Old
Kuta Beach, Lombok (not Bali’s Kuta!)

Q5: Are there things about a ‘normal life’ that are particularly unappealing to you now? Couldn’t bear the thought of doing/being?



The thought of having to earn the kind of money that you need to earn to support a child solo in London gives me the absolute horrors. I did it for a long time, but I wouldn’t want to go back to it.


Other things? I’m no longer adjusted to cold – I do want to go skiing, but I don’t want to put up with months of long nights and short, rainy days. I’ve always hated housework (though I do like it when we have kitchens when we travel, as we both like to cook).
And I think after more than three months in one place I’ll get itchy feet. There’s so much I want to see – new stuff and revisiting places. And you do only have one life in which to do that.


travel interview- Zac Sutcliffe - Motorbike
Z with motorbike in Indonesia
Q6: What do you especially love about your nomadic travel life?


Sooo much… Freedom. New experiences. Quality time. The ability just to get up and go at any point: “Where shall we go today?”
We’ve been traveling, largely, in low wage economies, and I’m aware of the global inequities that represents, but it does mean we can eat out when we want, go diving, etc. etc. There’s an immense freedom there that’s quite hard to comprehend until you’re actually doing it.
It’s also giving Z an amazing education. He’s confident interacting with nomadic hunter-gatherers in the depths of the jungle, successful Western adults in upscale restaurants, and at the same time of being a very normal little boy with other kids. His knowledge of history, religion, geography, life sciences is pretty phenomenal, too, and he’s picking up bits and pieces of languages along the way.


Q7: What are the advantages, benefits, best aspects of traveling with a child / your son?


I really enjoy Z’s company and he’s not going to enjoy mine forever, to put it mildly, so the key advantage is his society, his sense of humour, all the rest.


More generally, traveling with a child opens doors for you – locals are friendly, supportive, helpful, interested, in a way they might not be if you were a solo adult. You get a new perspective on things. You get to do stuff you might not otherwise do. Things like watching your child name and release baby sea turtles, coo over kittens, or, umm, blow stuff up with a new friend on the beach are just amazing. And theme parks and water parks are even more fun when you visit them with your child.


Q8: Are there any downsides of traveling with a kid? Any times you wish you were on your own for a while? If so, how do you manage those times?


Z was nine when we started and is ten now, so I don’t need to be with him constantly, by any stretch of the imagination. If he wants to go off with friends, that’s fine by me. If he wants to do something back at base while I go out somewhere, that’s also fine with me. So it’s not like traveling with a very young child who needs to be watched all the time and helped with basic bodily functions.


Z’s temperament helps. He’s always been patient, calm, independent and adaptable, and I’ve traveled with him since he was a few months old.
In terms of alone time: his father’s in Australia, and he’s been out to visit him twice this year so far. We’ve had family and friends come out to visit us, and stayed with friends as we travel, which also provide alone time. He was in school in Bali for a couple of months at the beginning of the year, he’ll do arts classes and similar solo, and he’s had sleepovers with friends, so we’re not as sellotaped together as most people would, I think, assume.


I haven’t been running screaming up the walls at any point. If I were to feel that way, I’d get a babysitter for the day. In practice, if I’m going out for the night with a friend, or whatever, and we’re staying in a small guesthouse, I can just tell him I’m going out, leave him my mobile number, and tell the girls at the guesthouse that he’s going to be sleeping there.


travel interview- Zac Sutcliffe
With hunter gatherer in Halmahera, Malukus
Q9: What does Z think about this traveling, non-schooling lifestyle? What does he most like? Anything he doesn’t like so much?


He really enjoys the freedom of not having to go to school, though we do fight quite a lot about my interpretation of unschooling. He believes in child-led learning, end of story. I think he should do some writing and some formal maths, but since he’s decided he has ambitions of going to a top university, he’s actually more engaged with more formal learning.


He likes the freedom of the nomadic lifestyle. He likes the chance to have adventures and be intrepid and have “bragging rights” from doing things that most kids don’t usually get to do. What kid wouldn’t like to go diving, go to theme parks, travel the world, instead of being in school?
He interacts with friends in the UK online and chats with them via Skype, but he’d like more of his friends to be able to come out and meet us (only one has been out so far) – that’s one reason we’ll be in Europe next year. He also misses his Lego and his chemistry set.


boats off Pulau Derawan

Q10: You recently spent several months traveling through Indonesia. What are your 3 favorite places in the country, and why?



Halmahera in Maluku and the islands around it are fascinating. We saw dugong, met gold miners, met nomadic hunter-gatherers, participated in a séance with the provincial governor at his mansion, foraged for roots, fruit and eggs in the jungle, camped on uninhabited white sand islands and fished for our dinner, dived an undersea volcano, picked fresh spices, learnt war dances, etc. etc. If you’re looking for the undiscovered Indonesia, this is a good place to go.


Pulau Derawan, off the coast of Indonesian Borneo, is a lovely little island, and very chilled. You stay in stilt houses over the water, and can see turtles swimming daily, just by sitting on the deck, and wander along the beaches at night and watch them nesting. We helped with turtle conservation, swam with manta rays. It’s a very simple place, very non-commercial, no night life – grilled fish, rice and veggies in the guesthouse type of deal.


If you’d given me four options, I’d have said the island of Flores, which is quite dazzlingly beautiful, but I’d have to say Ubud, in Bali. It is developed, but the spiritual and cultural core still remains. You can go from a fabulous Western restaurant on the main drag into utter rice field tranquility a hundred metres down the road. It’s an amazing place for arts, crafts, to engage with the culture.


Balinese kites on Seminyak Beach

Q11: How about Z? What are his 3 favorite places and why?



Bali – for the Waterbom waterpark, brunch at KuDeTa on Seminyak beach, Bali Tree Top adventure park in Bedugul, classes at Pondok Pekak learning centre in Ubud, and more.


Labuanbajo in Flores for the diving – we dived with sharks, turtles and rays in Komodo National Park – and the great Italian food at Made In Italy.


Maluku – for jumping off boats, swimming in rivers, camping on desert islands, hunting for eggs in the jungle, diving an undersea volcano, and learning to shoot his own bow and arrow.


Z with friend at Christmas
Q12: Any general idea how long you’re going to continue traveling? Another year or so? Until Z finishes school and becomes an adult? Until you get bored? Forever?


I’ll take my cues from Z on this one…


I see us traveling extensively next year, albeit with a rental for a chunk of the year at least, and a pause for at least two or three months in one place. I see no reason to settle down at this point, but I certainly won’t be able to provide for Z’s science and maths needs once he’s 13 or so, and at that point he should also have the freedom to explore personal relationships and generally be a teen.


So my guess would be that we have another three years or so to go, and that travel will generally coalesce towards a more permanent base. But that’s a guess. I’m just going to go with the flow.


Thanks so much for your in-depth insights on your nomadic lifestyle. Sounds great to me! Meet you out on the road someday. Cheers, Lash
Follow Theodora and Z on their continued journeys:


website:  formerly-  Travels With a Nine Year Old  currently, as of Oct 2012 at- EscapeArtistes
You might also like:
Interview with Lainie Liberti of Raising Miro – another mom and son traveling through S America
Interview with Miro of Raising Miro – the son half of Raising Miro


1 ping

  1. wandering educators

    love this interview!! what a journey they've had…

  2. LASH

    Thanks Jessie.
    Yeah, after I read it completed, I thought it gave a pretty in-depth portrait of their travels. I totally understand why they want to keep going! me too! Thanks for stopping by! cheers, Lash


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