Swimming and Snorkeling with Young Kids


This article is about how to pass your love of the water, snorkeling, and diving to your children. Our kids love nature and seeing animals just like us. That love does not stop at the water’s edge. Swimming and snorkeling with young kids require time, patience, and practice. But this effort can pay off as you see them progress with both swimming and snorkeling!

As an overview here are the four key points we will cover:

  1. Start Early in the Water
  2. Get the Right Equipment
  3. Make it Fun!
  4. Make it Memorable
FIRE Travel Family - Swimming and Snorkeling with Young Kids - Giant Anemone - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early
Kyra knows this is an Anemone and she cares about its environment

But first, let’s start with some history…



Brock grew up swimming all the time and has always loved the water. On a 2002 trip for spring break to Panama City Beach in Florida with friends, Brock broke away from the group. He went snorkeling for the first time and has been hooked on water excursions ever since. Both Becky and Brock are PADI-certified scuba divers. Brock even went as far as becoming both a Divemaster and Instructor. Brock has worked in both Thailand and Cayman Islands and has been on over 500 scuba dives. He also snorkeled hundreds of times all over the world.


Becky learned how to swim as an adult (no easy task!). She then took this further and learned how to both snorkel and became a certified diver in Vietnam in 2010. Becky loves the water (when it is warm enough!) She loves the coral and seeing the animals below the surface as well.

Kyra’s Progress (as of May 2022)

We started programs and lessons as soon as Kyra was old enough. She is basically part fish now! When people saw her in the water while we were traveling in Mexico at 5 they were amazed at her comfort and skill. She can do all of the following:

  • Swim the length of the pool holding her breath the whole way
  • Dive to the bottom and get multiple items with one breath
  • Swim on her front or back
  • Jump in with reckless abandon from as high as 10 feet (probably higher)
FIRE Travel Family - Swimming and Snorkeling with Young Kids - Kyra Jumping in Cenote - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early
Kyra jumping into Aktun Ha (Carwash) Cenote near Tulum, Mexico on May 17, 2022

Verity’s Progress (as of May 2022)

Verity got a late start for programs due to COVID-19 and it originally made it harder for her. However, during our 2022 trip to Mexico Verity was in the water all the time. On the first part of the trip, we always held her. But for the second trip, we unleashed her with a floaty. Now she is everywhere in the water. She can do all the following with her floaty:

  • Move around in the water anywhere on her own
  • Jump in, as long as we hold her hands
  • Mostly ok with getting her face wet now while above water
  • She is willing to be dunked underwater with minimal complaints now
Swimming and snorkeling with young kids video on our FIRE Travel Family YouTube Channel

Where and when do you start?

When it comes to swimming and snorkeling with young kids the best time to start is today! The next best day is tomorrow. We took our kids in the water when they were weeks or months old. We did this on our own before we started programs or classes. Our belief is that they pick up on the enjoyment we bring to the water.

At 6 months old kids were eligible for local YMCA programs. For most kids, this may be the first time they were in the water. These were done with parents holding and moving the kids. Typically it is the mothers who attend these. But Brock also did some of these classes with the kids, which was great. In these sessions, the goal is to get the kids comfortable with being in the water. Additionally, there is usually a “dunking” element to the class where kids will go underwater. How this works is that you blow in the child’s face before very quickly having them go underwater. This is usually only done a few times from our experience. This part is usually the kid’s least favorite part.

For us, these classes were once a week and would last for about 2 months. In our area, this was the only class option until the age of 3. But you can do them as often as you want. We found these to be valuable to normalize being in the water. We also think seeing other kids/parents helps to make it normal.

FIRE Travel Family - Swimming and Snorkeling with Young Kids - Brock, Kyra & Verity In Pool - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early
Brock in the Pool with Verity & Kyra – Start Young!

What do you do after the first parent/child lesson?

You can always repeat swim classes. This is something we have done before. However, don’t let lessons or classes be the only time kids get in the water. Find ways to get your kid in the water in any way possible. For those with discipline, you can set a bi-weekly or monthly recurring event to go to the pool as a family.

When kids are old enough, usually age 3, they can start taking independent swim lessons with instructors. We highly recommend these. Swimming and snorkeling with young kids are learned the best with help from other adults. But as a word of caution the quality varies dramatically based on the instructor they get.

Example Swimming Classes

Our “local” YMCA in Dubuque, Iowa describes the three levels of swim lessons as the following:

  1. WATER ACCLIMATION Students develop comfort with underwater exploration and learn to safely exit in the event of falling into a body of water in stage 1. This stage lays the foundation that allows for a student’s future progress in swimming.
  2. WATER MOVEMENT In stage 2, students focus on body position and control, directional change, and forward movement in the water while also continuing to practice how to safely exit in the event of falling into a body of water.
  3. WATER STAMINA In stage 3, students learn how to swim to safety from a longer distance than in previous stages in the event of falling into a body of water. This stage also introduces rhythmic breathing and integrated arm and leg action.

By age 5 they can move on to more demanding lessons depending on their skill level.

The younger you start the kid in these lessons the better. Realize that it is normal to repeat the same level of classes multiple times. Kyra did Water Movement 3 times. Part of the reason for this was an interruption due to COVID. But it is best to have the kids be able to easily do the skills from each level before moving on. You can take breaks between the classes if you want, we usually did.

FIRE Travel Family - Swimming and Snorkeling with Young Kids - Outside Small Pool - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early
When in the Midwest small deck pools count, anything to get kids in the water

What should I do and not do to help swim lessons go better?

Do: Set Expectations

When it comes to swimming and snorkeling with young kids it is critical to set expectations. Kids have to know that they are not going to be good at this right away. They have to understand that progress and trying are the most important things.

Do Not: Get in the Instructor’s Way

First, you can and should go to the lessons and pay attention. This is especially important early on and with younger kids. Doing this allows you to talk with your kids after the lessons. But remember your role is that of a spectator. Stay out of the instructor’s way. Do not hover and do not interact with your kids during lessons. Parents can be the biggest thing that prevents their children’s success. Do not be that parent.

As Kyra got older Brock mostly took her to her lessons. He started swimming laps during the first 30 minutes of her lesson. But he would hang out in the hot tub for at least the last 15 minutes of the lesson and free time to watch her. This worked well. For one, she liked seeing Brock swim. It wasn’t something that only she had to do. Secondly, she always smiled when Brock got there to watch. It gave her a renewed focus for the last part of her lesson.

Do: Talk with the instructor after the lesson

When it comes to swimming and snorkeling with young kids you need to stay out of the way during the lessons. However, it is great to talk to instructors after lessons. My main question was what can we work on outside of swim lessons that will make things easier. But I also like to ask if there is anything that I can do to help my child have a better lesson. Usually, this was a no. But sometimes there were small things that I could discuss with Kyra to make things smoother. For instance, talking about what the instructor wants for certain strokes.

Do Not: Leave as soon as the lesson is done

Want to accelerate your kids’ learning? Get in the pool with them after the lessons. Use what you learned from the instructor on items to work on. But don’t start there. I liked to have Kyra do the thing she liked most or whatever she wanted to show me first.

We also liked to play games. She loves make-believe so sometimes we would do things in the water that have little to do with lessons. But usually, these things help improve her overall comfort level in the water. We found a rhythm of doing one thing she wanted and then one thing I wanted. I made sure not to always pick something that seemed like work. It is important to not do this for too long. It is also important not to make it another full lesson. This is just meant to be fun for the kids and a way to share the experience.

Bonus: Sometimes I knew we couldn’t stay late. So we would arrive 5 to 10 minutes early. This allowed us to jump in and do some fun things or maybe work on one item.

Do: Be fun and focus on positive

It is important to remember we are talking about swimming and snorkeling with young kids. Chances are they will not be great at all the parts of lessons. That is fine. Value the effort. Focus on what they are good at and build them up. I am not talking about lying to kids, please don’t do that. But don’t compare them to other kids (good or bad). If possible focus on what they want to talk about from the lesson. If they want help with things they are struggling with that is fine. But keep it fun and about progress, not perfection.

When to start snorkeling

Swimming and snorkeling with young kids is the title of this right? But so far we have focused only on swimming. That is because until young kids are comfortable in the water it is not worth trying to start snorkeling. Comfort is a hard thing to measure. But I think the point where the child is starting to do things easily without a floaty is a good proxy for this.

Additionally, the child needs to want to do this. If they do not it should not be forced. You will do way more harm than good. The first part of snorkeling is starting early. But in this case, starting means more education and less practical doing. We started with actions like:

  • Talking about the underwater environment and how it looks
  • Looking at pictures of things like fish, coral, and more
  • Going to aquariums
  • Reading books about sea creatures
  • Watching underwater videos

We helped Kyra learn to love the underwater environment while above water. For instance, she released 3-day old sea turtles in Sri Lanka. We have watched this video dozens of times. This has also made her love learning about turtles and other sea creatures.

So yes for snorkeling you also need to start early too. In this sense, it is more about awareness and creating a connection than being in the water.

FIRE Travel Family - Swimming and Snorkeling with Young Kids - Sand Dollars - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early
Sand dollars Kyra & Brock collected while swimming together off the coast in Florida in the fall of 2021

Get the Right Equipment – Swimming

The right equipment is required when swimming and snorkeling with young kids. Don’t think this means a lot of items or expensive items. For swimming the most important items are:

  • Swim goggles that are easy to put on
  • A bathing suit that is the right size
  • An overshirt for keeping kids warm or when in the sun
  • Floaty that can be used when younger
  • Some fun items that kids can play with

With goggles especially you have to make sure you help the child use them properly. First, you should do anything you can to defog the goggles. I know there are chemical solutions for this. But our solution is the good old spit method before starting. The kids love this, but I am not even sure they know why they do it. Also, make sure if a child has long hair they know that it has to be outside the goggles to prevent water from coming in. Water in the goggles is hard for young kids to deal with, especially early on.

We found it best to try out the equipment we have before we started swim lessons. It not only helps the child get used to it. But you can also see any issues that would otherwise distract from the swim lessons. You also have the chance to answer questions about use. This is also a good time to just have fun in the pool without worrying about learning. Success for swimming and snorkeling with young kids equals getting them comfortable.

Get the Right Equipment – Snorkeling

The main items you need for snorkeling with young kids are as follows:

  • Wetsuit (this is important for buoyancy, warmth, and protection)
  • Boots and fins
  • Mask and snorkel


Wetsuit sizes are very specific for kids. You need to take measurements. Make sure you understand the manufactures sizing chart. You cannot buy sizes that are too big otherwise they are useless. A suit that is too small does not work either. The way wetsuits work is that they allow in a thin layer of water. This layer is then warmed by the body and kept in the suit. If the suit is too big the suit cannot keep this water inside. As with everything for kids, they will change sizes fast and outgrow items.

Boot and fins

We do boots and fins. You can buy fins that go on the kid’s feet only. But the boot and fin setup is better. That is because it is more comfortable and it prevents blisters. Also, the boots can be kept on even with the fins off when you are done snorkeling but still in the water. Again make sure you pay attention to the sizing charts when buying these.

Mask and snorkel

Now to the item that has been the most difficult for us. Brock and Becky both learned with a separate mask and snorkel. But when we tried this the water around Kyra’s face seemed to be uncomfortable for her. It freaked her out. We did online research to learn about full-face integrated masks and goggles. It had great reviews and seemed like a great idea. The problem is in reality this has not ever worked well for us. We have done everything we can to adjust it and Kyra still always has water in when she puts her face in the water fully.

So we talked to her about what she wanted to do. She is very comfortable with her swim goggles. So we attached the snorkel to the swim goggles. She does not have her nose covered while snorkeling. We have been out in the water for 30 minutes with this setup. This might not work for some kids but it has for her. We started by doing this for 5 minutes and built up from there.

Other Equipment

When we go out we have found it works best to put Verity’s floaty on Kyra while snorkeling. This extra layer of buoyancy and comfort is something she loves. We also take a camera, that Brock uses to take underwater pictures. Having this and being able to look at the pictures keeps her excited for going the next time. Another great item is a dive sock to make it easier to put on the boots. We use ScubaMax Spandex Sport Sock. They are one size fits all. Kyra used Becky’s socks and they worked great.

FIRE Travel Family - Swimming and Snorkeling with Young Kids - Kyra & Verity With Equipment - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early
Kyra & Verity with their snorkeling equipment in Cancun Mexico in March of 2022

Make It Fun!

This is so important. If you remember one thing about swimming and snorkeling with young kids, let it be “make it fun”! So how do you do this? Make it fun has been mentioned in other sections. But to recap stay positive. Focus on what is going well. Work on what is not but look for any improvements to celebrate. Also know there will be hard days. These days are critical. When kids need to be picked up talk about how much they have learned since starting. Always focus on their improvement against themselves.

As we talked about in the when to start snorkeling section, focus on developing the love of the underwater environment. Doing this pays such huge dividends. It gives you a reserve of goodwill to draw against on the hard days.

FIRE Travel Family - Juvenile Stoplight Parrotfish - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early
Juvenile Stoplight Parrotfish – Kyra knows this fish and wants to see it when snorkeling!

Make it Memorable!

“Make it memorable” is in part making it important. Parents should talk to kids about swim lessons. Talk about what they like and what they are working on. Ask about their free time (what they do at the end) and what they are going to play next time. Keep it front of mind. Talk about when you will be swimming and/or snorkeling on trips.

It is important to document things. Take pictures and videos of lessons. Do the same when on trips. We have an underwater camera and housing that we use when snorkeling with Kyra. But know that pictures and videos do not have to be from when the children were underwater. Kyra loved looking at pictures from one of Brock’s liveaboard diving trips. She wanted to know what all the animals were and learn about them. This all builds towards the ultimate goal.

FIRE Travel Family - Sharks Teeth & More - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early
Sharks Teeth, Fossilized Wood, Sting Ray Teeth & Barbs, and Shells Found In Florida in 2021

What Can Go Wrong?

Just about anything! COVID effectively kept us out of the water for nearly 2 years. It happened at a point where Kyra was rocking her Level 2 class and Verity was ready to do parent/child classes. It also took away our time in Belize. We had planned to do so many fun water-based activities in the second half of the trip. Nonetheless, Kyra is like a fish and Verity has made amazing progress on our current trip to Mexico. Let’s talk about some of the more typical issues to watch out for.

Parental Expectations and Attitude

In our opinion, this is the biggest problem for swimming and snorkeling with young kids. And the good part is that it is completely within your control. Parents have to keep their expectations in line. Do not place unrealistic expectations on your child. Easier said than done right? Do your best to remember this is not a race, competition, or something where you support only the ending. You have to celebrate the small things and keep encouraging them. If you overdo it here kids could quit completely.

Be careful not to overdo it or burn your kids out

As you read the article above you thought, man this is going to take a lot of work. But no it does not. At least not all the time. We rarely did back-to-back lessons. We liked to mix this up with other things like gymnastics, sports and time off. Kyra even picked what she wanted to do when given several choices. You have to know your child and find a good balance.

There could be weeks you need to skip. For days that it doesn’t work for some reason let it go and walk away. But do your best to end on a positive note. This can mean just spinning in the pool with your child or letting them jump in and splash you. I loved letting my kids push me so I go underwater. This is both fun and shows the kids that it was perfectly normal to go under the water.

Be careful about what parent/child lessons you pick

Brock’s cousin talked about how where they went the kids were dunked tons of times when very young. It traumatized their child and made him scared of the water. As with everything, as the parent, it is important to know your child and their limits. We also recommend researching programs or asking online groups before starting somewhere.

FIRE Travel Family - Kyra's Shells - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early
Kids love learning and collecting shells on the beach, these are from our 2021 Fall trip to the US


When it comes to swimming and snorkeling with young kids we have found a way to have the journey be as fun as the destination. Not always, but it has been a focus.

Brock had an interesting experience one day after getting out of the pool with Kyra before her lesson. Another parent pulled him aside. The parent had a kid in the same class as Kyra. She asked him, “What are you doing with your kid?” Brock was not sure what to say so didn’t answer. They quickly followed it up by saying Kyra was the only kid paying attention to the instructor. The person added their kid wasn’t, but Kyra was for the whole class. She seemed to be the only one who was “taking it seriously”.

You do not always get wins like this in life. My response was that Kyra loves the water. But as I thought about it later, it comes down to her wanting to be there. She both had the internal excitement that we had helped her grow. It was not something we could force. Since she wanted to be there she found it easy to focus. Also, she knew we would celebrate her progress. She in part wants to get her parent’s approval. But we think she wants it for herself as well and that is the most important thing.

For those who are new to us, you can learn more about us starting with our about us page. You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel or Newsletter.

Brock Waterman

Written: 3/29/2022 and 5/29/2022
Posted: 5/30/2022

How to Have Successful Life Change Conversations With Family and Friends


When had our life change conversations with those closest to us it was amazing. They were interested in “How We Retired Early.” Family members connected with the benefits of the extra time with our kids. They appreciated how hard we worked to achieve our goals. It was not taken personally…plus, we have six-pack abs, can fly, and have a magical unicorn!

As you may have guessed, sadly, the entire first paragraph is untrue. We are part of many online groups:

  • Financial Independence
  • Early Retirees
  • Worldschoolers
  • Travel Groups
  • Nomadic Families
  • People Moving Abroad

Across all these groups we have seen one concept that brings out a lot of emotion. When people are making a life change they want to know how to successfully share it with those closest to them. These posts often have hundreds of responses. People are looking for help and are not sure how to do this successfully. People worry about how people will view their decision. The forums are full of life change conversations that went wrong.

We have been through all this. To be transparent, our life change conversations have often been traumatic. This was especially true with some family members. On the upside, we received support from friends and other family members. The goal of this post is to share the learning from our experiences. We genuinely hope you can learn from our successes and failures.

Types of People During Life Change Conversations

There are two types of people who you will talk to when you tell them you are making a major life change. Our life change conversations focused on

  • retiring early
  • international travel
  • world (home) schooling

Here is the blog post about “What retirement means to us” which gives you more context about our life change.

Type 1: Supportive People

Supportive people are the best! They hear your news and ask questions with genuine interest. A supportive person can think about this from your point of view. They not only listen, but they may also give you advice. They may see things you may not have thought about.

But it is not all kittens and rainbows. They may be sad that you will be gone, or think about how it negatively impacts them. They may also be jealous or have other unfavorable feelings. But they understand their emotions are their responsibility to manage. They do not place negative emotions on you. They might not even agree with your decision or reasoning. Our most supportive family members even told us this directly. But what they will always do is accept that this is your life. They know that you get to live it how you want. In general, they will let you know that they want to support you.

Supportive people are so impactful because you need this type of person to talk to. Without them, life changes will be a rough go. Even the strongest people, most emotionally intelligent people, crave acceptance and validation. When a person is supportive and is also a family member this means even more. When you have these types of people in your life do everything you can to keep them!

FIRE Travel Family - Change Picture - How to Have Successful Life Change Conversations With Family and Friends - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Early Retirement

Type 2: Unsupportive People

Unsupportive people are more difficult. It is not typical for them to be completely unsupportive 100% of the time. But some will be. We know because we have lived this reality.

What differentiates unsupportive people are their mindsets. They may still care about you or what you want. However, they view your decision from the lens of how it makes them feel. Their questions/statements come from emotions like fear, envy, grief, and anger.

Unsupportive people may ask questions and then not listen to the answers. Often they are thinking about the next reason your life change is “wrong.” Or they may listen to find things to use against you. They may be passive-aggressive or indifferent. Some will even write you off. Many will talk behind your back, some will tell you directly. We have experienced both and uniquely unpleasant.

How do you identify unsupportive people?

This is easier than you think it will be. Read the non-verbal cues people are giving you during your life change conversations. Facial expressions, tone of voice, and so on. Even easier, in most instances, is the immediate reaction when you tell people your plans. Supportive people will say things like:

  • That is so great/cool/awesome!
  • I am so excited for you and your kids!
  • You must have really worked hard, how did you do it?
  • While I am sad personally since we won’t see you as much I am excited for you!

The unsupportive people will likely have different questions that sound like the following:

  • Won’t this be bad for your kids?
  • Why would you do this?
  • What happened that you are not telling me about?
  • Why do you think you are better than everyone else?

We are sure there will be instances where you could get both above. But in our experience, most people have fallen into one category. It is important to establish which type of person you are dealing with. This is because the life change conversations go different with each. But before we jump into that, let’s talk about what we can control.

FIRE Travel Family - House Sale Picture - Successful Life Change Conversations - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Early Retirement
House We Owned in Dubuque, IA – Selling It Was a Contentious Point During Life Change Conversations

What you can control in life

In essence, there are two types of things in life:

  1. Things you can control
  2. Things you cannot control
FIRE Travel Family - Thing You Can and Can't Control - How to Have Successful Life Change Conversations With Family and Friends - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Early Retirement
Know the difference between what you can and can’t control

You have to know that you can only control your thoughts and feelings. Sometimes that is even difficult to do! Seeking to control the thoughts and feelings of others is a path to relationship destruction. You need to understand when it is time to let go of the things that you cannot control.

What to know about life change conversations

People making life-changing decisions should do their homework. They should spend time learning about possible pitfalls. They can read blogs like this. Questions can even be asked in online support groups. Some groups even allow anonymous posts. Do this before making any strong commitments.

Anyone who knows us will not be surprised by the fact that we did a LOT of research before deciding on our life change. We made so many spreadsheets and documents! Becky and I talked about all the various options, not just the one we ended with. We broke things down and talked through different possible scenarios. For us, it had to make sense mathematically and feel right in our hearts.

Here is the thing, the people you talk to (even supportive ones) are not likely to care about any of this. They will still see this from their perspective and from how it impacts them. Remember most other people don’t care about your spreadsheets or research! Life change conversations are not the time to share your research.

If you remember one thing from this article we want it to be the following 3 tips for having successful life change conversations:

  • You cannot change people’s opinions
  • People are not required to support you (it is their choice)
  • It cannot be your goal to gain people’s support

Tip #1: You cannot change people’s opinions

From what we have seen online people are looking for magic words. The ones that will change unsupportive people into supportive people. You will probably be searching forever. The problem is there is a huge mismatch. Words and reasons are logic. But people react emotionally. Logic rarely has an impact on emotion. This isn’t limited to sharing your plans during life change conversations. But it seems to be particularly relevant here.

Think about politics. When is the last time you saw a logical conversation result in someone changing their political party? We have seen this happen zero times. It is because in most cases people let their emotions make their decisions. Then they find the logic they want to support it. The thing is they don’t know this is how it happens.

It is critical to remember that you are not trying to convert people to your lifestyle. You are not selling anything. You are simply informing and possibly educating (assuming they ask questions that require a follow-up). Change has to come from the inside. That is the only way unsupportive people change to supportive people.

Tip #2: People are not required to support you

We have been pretty focused on our own needs in this post so far. Now let’s put the shoe on the other foot. It is not other people’s responsibility to support you. Period. Think about this. Have you always fully supported every friend and family member’s action? Did they ask you to? This is probably a no in both cases. If you think they are required to support you then you are not being fair to them.

It would be nice to get support from those who are the closest to you. But it may not happen. If this is a family member and/or someone you are close to this can be especially difficult. But your need for acceptance and support is not someone else’s responsibility.

That said there is an important line here. We do feel like it is people’s responsibility to be decent. If during life change conversations people are being rude, hurtful, or otherwise toxic you need to walk away. Do not argue because it is a waste of breath. Additionally, in heated times things will be said that cannot be unsaid. To avoid this, you have to “read the room” or watch the person’s reactions. If you see things going downhill it is always best to disengage, change topics, or walk away.

FIRE Travel Family - Garage Sale Picture - Successful Life Change Conversations - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Early Retirement
We sold over $15,000 in personal belongings via Garage Sales & Facebook Listings!

Tip #3: It cannot be your goal to gain people’s support

A better goal is to simply be an information sharer. Let the people you are talking to take it how they want. You do not need to explain everything to everyone. Unsupportive people are unlikely to share your enthusiasm for your plans. Your excitement may even put them off. It can make them think your goals and dreams are an indictment of their life or lifestyle.

Our life change conversations experience tells us unsupportive people will infer a lot. They will infer things you did not say and likely do not feel. The cognitive dissonance your alternate lifestyle can create is tough for many people. Essentially, it is hard for people to understand your life change if they have no understanding of the lifestyle you are changing to. Even without understanding, it can create a lot of strong emotions. Rather than looking into themselves, it is easier to protect themselves. This often means the easiest place for their negative feelings to go is to you and your plans.

But here is the thing. Do you even need this person’s feedback and support? Most people you talk to will be living an entirely different life than you would ever want to live. Do you need feedback from someone who is living a life you do not want to live? Realizing this has been critical for us. We are an outlier in so many ways in our family and many social circles.

How We Would Have Life Change Conversations Now

We thought we were prepared to have our life change conversations. To be blunt, we were wrong. We went in with the wrong attitude and wrong expectations. We thought people would react better and were naive. If we were starting on this now we would prepare by focusing on the following.

Focus #1:Mindset

In life change conversations you cannot look for

  • confirmation
  • acceptance
  • support

This is especially true when dealing with unsupportive people. Instead, you have to keep in mind that you are only informing. If people ask questions you can also educate them. But you are not

  • Trying to get emotional support (especially in the first conversation)
  • Getting some kind of sign off or acceptance
  • Looking to get people interested in what you are doing

You have to remember how much it will be to take in for the person you are talking to. They may be shocked, confused, or any number of other emotions. You can only control one person’s expectations. That person is you. Do your best to have your expectations set correctly going into any life change conversations. Expectations and mindset go together. This is the definition of controlling what you can control.

Focus #2: Attitude

You may be very excited about your decision and its implications. Alternatively, you could even be nervous or scared. Either way, in life change conversations, you need to check your emotions at the door. You have to be able to listen actively to what the other person is saying. If you want this to go well you have to be empathetic to the people involved. You have to see and hear what is being said. It is easy to be excited and not do a good job in answering questions from a supportive person.

FIRE Travel Family - Garage Sale - Sports Cards - Successful Life Change Conversations - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Early Retirement
On the First Day of our First Garage Sale, Brock Sold The Sports Card Collection of His Youth – It Was the First of Many Emotional Moments on Our Journey

Focus #3: Plan/Script

You need to be prepared and ready to communicate the most important points. You do not need a PowerPoint or speech. Neither would likely go well. For those with a background in entrepreneurship, think about an Elevator Pitch. Essentially, what are the 2 or 3 most important concepts? What would you communicate if you only had two minutes? In reality, this could be a few minutes more. But you should not talk for more than 5 minutes. Especially in a first conversation think concepts, not details.

Focus #4: Handling Questions

After your Elevator Pitch, you need to stop. This is when you let the other person take the conversation in the direction they need. Do your best to keep the “inform and educate” mindset.

  • Try not to take any questions personally
  • Keep answers concise
  • Speak from what you know and avoid speculation

It is important to recognize the questions that have merit. They could be the same ones you have thought about. In some cases, you may even agree with the issues people bring up. This is something you can acknowledge. Nothing can shut down a negative question quicker than agreement. It can even be helpful to thank them for their concern. People on the other side of the conversation want to be heard, just like you do.

Most people who have achieved FIRE are detail-oriented and analytic people. 99% of what people brought up was not new to us. But you can also share that you have researched it and feel prepared for it. Many times issues that seem large to outsiders are ones that you know are a small part of the larger picture of your decision. If you are like us and people question you it can make you feel untrusted. But you have to remember the people asking questions likely are not meaning for it to be this way. You have to work to control what you can control, in this case, your mindset.

Focus #5: Deciding When to Stop With Unsupportive People

At a certain point, you have to stop worrying about what people think. What is critical is understanding where this point is for you. For some people, it is right away. These people might not even have life change conversations. They might announce it first on Facebook. For others, it is a very long path. Neither is right nor wrong. But everyone needs to set a stopping point. Our advice is to know yours before entering life change conversations.

What Was Our Elevator Pitch?

You may be wondering what our elevator pitch was. Over time this has changed a bit but essentially it boils down to this:

  • Life is short and there are no health guarantees for anyone
  • Meaningful time with our kids and each other is what we value the most
  • We have saved enough to make our dreams happen
  • We travel the world more cheaply and live with less stress than we can in the US

There is a lot more that can be filled in from there. But this is enough to start with and adding more only dilutes and confuses the topic for most people.

Do unsupportive people ever become supportive people?

It can happen and has happened to us. There is one person who is very important to us and our kids who made this happen. So there can be hope for unsupportive people after early life change conversations. That said, it is pretty rare and takes someone who truly cares about you. If you think someone is unsupportive but wants to be supportive it will take a lot of time and patience. But it can be worth it if you value that person’s support. But remember the switch has to start inside of them, you cannot bring it about.

What is more likely is that people will moderate from fervent opposition to something less passionately opposed. Part of this is time and success in your dreams. As you go about your business and live your plan the chances are that others will see that it was not that crazy. When Brock quit his job at 24 and went traveling for 14 months people’s views changed over time. As he went on his 2nd and 3rd trips abroad it was normalized. Some people who were originally skeptics came around when they saw how things were going. People usually like to be part of an “interesting story”, even if they had little to do with it.

FIRE Travel Family - Brock Leaving on First Trip in 2004 - Successful Life Change Conversations - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Early Retirement
Brock on his first international trip (for 14 months) starting in 2004; part of his mid 20’s retirement

For Friends and Family Reading This Post

For those supportive people in the family and friends, we appreciate you SO MUCH! We are not naming names, but you know who you are. You have been thanked in person and in other blog posts. You have been critical to this working for us and we love you! We did not even realize how amazing you were during our early life change conversations, but we do now. You are awesome!

For the unsupportive family and friends. We specifically did not name names positive or negative in this article. This article is not meant to call anyone out. It is to help others as they go through their life change conversations and the difficult conversations that could follow. As we mentioned in the blog post we could have done a better job communicating with you. We know now that we should have had our life change conversations differently. Our expectations were also likely wrong as we thought everyone would be excited and happy for us and our dreams. This was not the case. We also know many of you are still unsupportive. While we are disappointed by this, that is your right. We are doing our best to practice what we preach and accept it.

In Closing

Good luck to anyone looking to have these life change conversations! We could not have written this blog post 6 months ago (or even 3 months ago). It took us time to get to this level of perspective. As you go through this give yourself the time and space you need emotionally. Please consider and protect your mental health.

We hope that we have helped you get in the right mindset for this. For others who are reading this and have been through this feel free to comment on this post to add what has helped you. Also, share this with others who could use the support. We appreciate your support!

For those who are new to us, you can learn more about us starting with our about us page. You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel or Newsletter.

Brock Waterman

Written: 3/27/2022 through 5/25/2022
Posted: 5/25/2022

Top 10 Tips for Flying with Young Kids


What do we know about flying with young kids? We have lived experiences flying with infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergarteners. We have been on six international flights to places as far away as Hawaii, Sri Lanka, and South Africa. But our trip never starts at the airport. Where we live in the midwest is a long way away from Chicago O’Hare International Airport. We always have to do some combination of driving and buses. This typically adds somewhere around 3 to 4 hours before we even get to the airport!

We have done a lot right and have also learned from our mistakes along the way. Below are the top 10 ways that you can improve flying with young kids. But first our flight history and some background about how we fly.

Our Flight History

As of May 2022, our previous trips include:

  • 2017: Hawaii with Kyra (while 11 months old)
    • We also had flights between islands when here
  • 2018: Sri Lanka with Kyra (at 22 months old)
  • 2019: South Africa and Lesotho with Kyra (at 2 years old)
    • Becky was also 5 months pregnant on this trip
  • 2020: Belize with Kyra (at 3 years old) and Verity (at 9 months)
  • 2022: Mexico 2022 with Kyra (at 5 years old) and Verity (at 2 years old)
    • Did this trip twice
    • In June 2022 we return from Mexico to Chicago with Spirit Airlines

We have flown with

  • Alaska Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Qatar Air
  • KLM
  • American Airlines
  • United Airlines

All trips have been for at least a month except Belize which was cut short around 3 weeks due to COVID-19. We have flown home for emergency reasons like a global pandemic (Belize, 2020) and a death in the family (Mexico, 2022). Both times we were flying in less than 24 hours from when we booked the unexpected return flights. Both also involved a nighttime long-distance bus trip. Yep, we have had some experiences!


Flying with small kids for us has always been in the most basic economy seats. We have never flown business or first class (not even before kids). We have never been upgraded on our trips. Usually, flights have been full or mostly full. Becky and I have even been on separate flights (she was with both kids).

We know our kids and ourselves, this is critically important. We know that Kyra and Verity can sleep anywhere including on planes. This means both naps and overnight sleep. Becky can also sleep some on planes but it is not the most restful. Brock is not able to sleep on planes in most cases.

When the kids were under 2 they flew as lap kids. This means they sat on our laps. They had a separate seat belt that simply hooked into one of our seat belts. When kids fly as lap children they are free domestically. Internationally, lap children cost 10% of the adult ticket. Starting at age 2, you must buy a full-price seat. When you are dealing with kids over age 1 think about if they can truly be a lap child for the whole flight. You may decide to buy them a seat even though it is not required. We didn’t for Kyra when we went to Sri Lanka, but it goes back to knowing your child. We have never taken a car seat on a plane and don’t recommend it. With that out of the way, let’s jump into the first tip for flying with young kids…

FIRE Travel Family - Kyra, Verity & Brock in Cocpit Flying to Mexico - Flying with Young Kids - Children - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Early Retirement
Kyra, Verity, and Brock in the cockpit for a flight to Cancun, Mexico in March of 2022

Tip #1: Don’t be the problem

Kids Pickup on Your Emotions

Flying with young kids can be fun. This is especially true if you frame this as a fun experience. But it is hard 100% of the time you make it hard. Anyone who has kids knows that they pick up on their parent’s emotions. If you are not excited to fly, your kids will not be excited to fly. If you are stressed on the plane, your kids will be stressed on the plane. Complain and well you get the point.

You are always modeling behaviors for your children. We find this to be the truest when we show negative behaviors. Kids will pick up on and likely emulate what you do. Model the positive behaviors you want from your kid. And know if you model bad behavior or show stress you have no one to blame but yourself when your children do the same.

Start With Yourself

So are we saying you have to be perfect? No. But, the most important first step you can take as an individual and as a parent is to sort yourself out. Start with yourself. This might seem like a basic point, but if you get it wrong almost everything else will not matter.

Think about any additional triggers or stress points you are likely to have. Plan out a response or adapt a plan ahead of time so you can stay cool. If you have problems flying get the psychological help you need before you go with your kids. You need to be calm if you want kids to be calm. If you have motion sickness issues make sure you have the right medications. For those who are likely to get dehydrated, make sure you have the fluids you need. If you tend to get hangry make sure you have snacks. Take care of your own needs (for food and drinks). Make your mind and body a priority from the start.

Set and Manage Expectations

Think of this as a learning experience for your kids. Nothing something to be dreaded, or the bad part of the trip. Our kids loved airports, planes, and the whole experience because we model that for them. Our kids still know the same boundaries apply on the plan as off. But it is vital to give mental freedom to your kids so they can enjoy the experience. Let them ask questions and explore (mentally if not physically). Even if they are buckled in you can look at seat buckles and talk about how planes work.

However, don’t expect things to go perfectly, especially for long trips. Celebrate the parts of the trip that go well and use positive reinforcement. Realize things will go wrong. When that happens, do your best to stay calm and look for ways to break a cycle of negativity before it spirals. You may have to ride out a meltdown even if you do everything right. It happens. But does this 15 minutes of bad outweigh the other 5 hours of positivity before it? It should not in our view.

Focus on Your Team

Stay positive and calm with those outside of your family as well. This includes other travelers, flight crew, TSA, and anyone else you encounter. A smile and politeness will get you so much further than negativity and anger. Again, think about the example you are setting for your children. Think about what you are teaching your kids when traveling together. That said, do not worry about what other people on the plane think. You do not owe them anything other than being decent. Focus on yourself and your kids.

Tip #2: Pick the right flights

We do our best to pick the flight that will work well for us as a family. Like we said above we buy the cheapest types of flights (basic economy). But that doesn’t mean we always buy the absolute cheapest flight. We look at important points like:

  • Number of connections and time at connections
  • Leaving and arrival times
  • Airline company

What we love is when it all comes together for the connections, times, and airline company. Even if it costs a bit more we might book this. The longer the flight the more consideration that should be given to the points below. However, we are not likely to pay significantly more to get this perfect. We are simply looking for the best combination possible at the right price when flying with small kids.


We are willing to pay a little more for non-stop flights. When that is not possible or when it is too expensive, we do one-stop flights. We have never done a 2 or more stop flight with kids and we would never want to. If there was no other way, we would try to break up the flights with an overnight hotel.

When we have to do connections we like about 3 hours in between flights. This gives us about 30 minutes to get off the plane. Another 30 minutes to get to the next gate. Around 30 minutes for snacks and drinks. Usually, planes start boarding 30 to 40 minutes before they leave. The extra hour is for the flight being behind which happens a lot. The least we will book is 2 hours. Any less is not enough for a family flying with young kids to make a connection. Between flights, we want no more than 4 hours. This is because we don’t like sitting around airports for a long time. We like to keep the total trip time as short as possible when flying with small kids.

Leaving and arrival times

When possible we like to pick flights that make sense from a time perspective. If we can arrive in a new country after a long flight in the afternoon or early evening that is the best. It gives us some time to find our hotel, settle in, and then go to sleep. Length of flight also impacts this. For shorter duration flights we like to have them in the middle of the day, but we have more flexibility. For longer duration flights the arrival time is one of the most important points. We hate arriving in the early morning (from 2 am to 7 am). This is because then we have to force the kids to wake up to exit the plane. Then they have to stay up all day. After a short night of sleeping on a long plane ride, this is likely to be a rough day.

Jet Lag

Set the schedule you want from the first day. Arriving at the wrong time can really mess up your sleep schedule. It also can cause huge jet lag. Adults and older kids should never sleep after arrival until it is nighttime. For naps, keep them from turning into sleep, especially on the first day there. We would do 1-hour tops for kids over 1 year old.

With babies, you need to have a plan. The quicker you can force the adjustment the better. Otherwise, they may sleep all day and be up all night. Not great for having a relaxing vacation. On a positive note, we always found our kids adjusted quicker than we did. I think this goes to our no sleep until nighttime in the new location rule. The one exception was when Kyra came back from Hawaii it took us a while to get her adjusted back to the Central Time Zone.

Airline company

Some airline companies are better than others. Especially for longer trips, it can be worth a little extra for a better airline. This ranking from Skytrax is one I reference when picking. But to be clear I have not looked deeply into their methodology. My mention here is not an endorsement or some type of referral link. These ranking are in general and not specific to flying with small kids.

As an example, we did pay slightly more to fly with Qatar Airlines on our long-haul trip to Sri Lanka. At that time they were the #2 Skytrax ranked airline in the world. Flying with them was a better experience than flying with the typical US-based carriers would have been. Specifically, they put us in rows with more space on 3 out of the 4 flights. And even for the exception, the people moved so we could have more space. Qatar also offered a bassinet for Kyra to sleep in for the first flight overnight. This was one they installed into the wall giving us more space.

Also, these airlines typically have better food and friendlier staff. Even small things can make a flight more fun. For instance, I got free beer on the Alaskan Airlines flights when going to Hawaii.

FIRE Travel Family - Kyra & Pilot on our trip to Hawaii - Flying with Young Kids -  Children - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Early Retirement
Kyra and the pilot in the cockpit on her first trip to Hawaii in 2017

Tip #3: Prepare your kids

Kids have great imaginations. But how do they know what flying is or will mean? We read to them about flying and the process. These were age-appropriate short books. But they helped the kids focus their imaginations on what the process would be like.

Make sure to talk about how it will go and what happens. Don’t get too technical. We focused on elements the kids would like. For instance, they love escalators so we talked about getting to go on them. We talked about how we would check the big bags and then not see them again. This could have otherwise been a shock to them. Not being able to take water through security checkpoints was another topic. We talked about how we would board a plane early since we had small kids.

Give the kids a chance to ask questions. Be patient because you may have to answer the same questions over and over! But we have found doing this allows us to see potential issues and explain things. Sometimes the smallest issue could be something that they fixate on. Typically it is always something you can workaround. But you can only be proactive if you know about it.

Tip #4: Build flexibility into your schedule

It is so important not to have to rush on the day of the flight. A little planning goes a long way when you are flying with small kids. Make sure you are at the airport at least 3 hours ahead of time for international flights. Be there 2 hours ahead for domestic flights. Is it likely that this will be more time than you need? Probably. But it might not be and with kids, it is better not to rush. Plus especially in large airports gates can take a long time to walk to. For us, whenever we need our kids to move the fastest is when they seem to move the slowest.

Our whole thing is to have this be a learning experience. We like it if they can stop at points and ask questions. They like being able to help push the bags. They like being able to help fill the waters (we look for refill stations after security). And as any parent knows the more help you get the slower you go. Don’t put yourself in a spot where you have to rush. Because doing this robs them of the opportunity to get the most out of the experience. Plus if you are rushed and stressed out before you even get on the flight, good luck having a nice flight.

Another consideration that can take longer for families traveling is seat assignment. We do not pay extra to pick our seats. However, once you have done the initial check-in you can usually go to the counter to get this done. But doing so can add another 15 to 45 minutes to the process. Just make sure to take care of this when checking in.

Tip #5: Learn about security checkpoints and stay calm

Understand the TSA basics

We see a lot of people being really worried about going through security. This is especially true when flying with small kids. People wonder what can I bring (link to TSA site for “What Can I Bring”)? Will they search my bags? Will security personnel physically search my children? In truth, this is just about always an easier process than people imagine. Our feeling is that too much mental energy can easily be wasted here. One quick point though for those wondering. You can bring breastmilk and baby formula through security, although they may swab each container. For more questions about flying with young kids here is a special TSA link.

Have a system

We have a system for going through security. We get all the bags to the point where they can be put on the belt. Then Brock goes through the scanner. Then the kids. While they are doing that Becky makes sure to get everything on the belt. Once she is sure the bags are through, she goes through the scanner. Meanwhile, Brock has the kids on the other side and gets the bags as they come off. This has worked so well for us.

When there are questions Becky usually gets them since she is the last one through. She also knows the answer since she packs our bags. We usually realize we will have a bag gone through by security so we put items likely to be inspected in the same bag. Things that could cause inspection are wet wipes, applesauce pouches, breastmilk, and so on.

Consider TSA Precheck

So despite our system’s success, we did something new in 2020 before our Belize flights. We became part of the TSA Precheck system. It takes 3 steps and it costs $85 for 5 years per person ($170 for a couple). Here is the summary from their website:

  1. Apply Online – Submit an online application in 5 minutes & schedule an appointment at any of 380+ enrollment centers.
  2. Enroll in-person – 10-min in-person appointment that includes fingerprinting for a background check.
  3. Travel with Ease – Add your Known Traveler Number to your airline reservation to enjoy faster, more seamless screening.

Being TSA Prechecked allows you to enter a different security line. According to the TSA Precheck site, 94% of people who do this are through security in less than 5 minutes. You do not have to remove any of the following from your bags: small liquids, laptops, belts, shoes, or light jackets. Kids under 12 go through with their parents, and this does not cost extra. Overall this has been a good decision for us given how much we are flying with small kids.

FIRE Travel Family - Kyra & Verity Playing with Rocks while waiting - Flying with Young Kids - Children - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Early Retirement
Kyra and Verity playing with rocks waiting for a bus – give kids the room to make their own fun

Tip #6: Plan for altitude changes

YouTube Video for Tip #6: Plan for Altitude Changes for Flying with Young Kids

How Pressure Changes

When you fly the pressure on your body changes. At sea level, you are at 1 Atmosphere of pressure. When you fly the pressure decreases on your body (like you are at altitude). The cabin in planes is pressurized to help your body adjust. But with this pressure change comes the need for your ears to equalize to handle this. Your inner ear and outer ear must stay in balance. The middle ear and Eustachian tube is where this happens. Long story short, your ears need to adjust or “pop” to accomplish this. For many adults, this might happen automatically. Some move their jaw or chew bubble gum. It can also work to take in a breath, close your mouth, and “blow out” while holding your nose shut. But young kids often can’t do this as easily. Kids have more narrow Eustachian tubes. They could also be clogged with mucus due to an ear infection or cold. They could also be blocked by enlarged or swollen adenoids. Looking online I saw articles that placed the percentage of kids who experience pain between 25 and 55 percent. For most kids, this is more prevalent during landing.

But relax. As you will learn below no expensive medicines or fancy technology is needed to help kids on flights. Even something as simple as making sure kids are awake for take-off and landing makes it less likely that they will have issues. This is because people swallow less when sleeping. Even swallowing can help people’s ears adjust.

Helping Babies and Infants

Parents need to think about how to have kids equalize. Some have ears that simply adjust and no help is needed. If your infant is crying right after takeoff or during the descent they most likely need their ears to equalize. For us, though we didn’t want to leave this to chance.

For infants who are still breastfeeding this is a great way to help them equalize. When we were ready for take-off she would put the kids on. By the time they were done, we had usually reached cruising altitude. This could also be repeated when landing. For non-breastfeeding parents, you could still make a bottle for the kid to drink during takeoff and landing. Another option is a bottle or sippy cup with water or juice. Something so they are making the sucking motion to help the ears adjust.

Helping Toddlers, Preschoolers, and Other Kids

For kids past breastfeeding age, we use other options. As mentioned above sippy cups or bottles can work. However, our main go-to is a pack of gummies (fruit snacks, gummy worms, or whatever) during ascent and descent. This chewing motion is enough to help the ears adjust most times. It has been 100% effective for us.

Kyra loves that she gets an “extra sweet” on flights. It goes so far that when people ask her why she likes flying this will sometimes be the first reason she gives. Verity has adopted Kyra’s excitement for this. The most difficult part at this point is making them wait until we are in the air to get their gummies!

For other young and older kids, the following could all work as options:

  • Eating gummies (works for all ages)
  • Chewing gum
  • Wiggling jaw
  • Yawning
  • Sucking hard on anything (sucker, straw, or other)
  • Close mouth and hold nose while “blowing out” pressure from nose

Tip #7: Make it comfortable

YouTube Video for Tip #7: Make it Comfortable for Flying with Young Kids

Consider Food and Drink Options

No one is comfortable when they are hungry or thirsty. This is especially true for kids. Make sure to have what you need for drinks and food. More than that think about the logistics of how you access this. It might be a smaller bag that you can take out and put by your feet. All the food or drinks in the world only helps if it is accessible. After you get food and drinks on the flight don’t be afraid to ask for more later on. We usually walk to the back to do this. Our kids love to walk down the aisle and get more snacks.

Consider Emotional Comfort

You want to be emotionally comfortable as well. We make sure to bring stuffed animals and blankets on the trip. Usually, each kid has one of each or at most 3 total. These also need to be accessible for when kids want them. We usually get them out as soon as we board the plane. We like to board the plane early so we can have our carry-on items close to us. This also gives us time to get the kid’s items out. Doing so helps make sure they are comfortable for take-off. Each airline has its system for when parents flying with young kids can board.

Consider Physical Comfort

From a physical standpoint think about how your child handles heat and cold. Also, think about what clothes will allow them to be the most comfortable. As an example, a normally cold infant or toddler who is a lap child could be very warm due to being on a lap for a whole flight. The time of day of the flight also affects clothing choice. For long daytime flights being able to change diapers is important. For overnight flights, pajamas could be great though. Have extra clothes that allow you to change as needed depending on the temperature of the plane.

You also want to be sensitive to noise issues. You may want to have things packed to control noise. But be careful about not having earbuds or earplugs in kids’ ears during ascent or descent when flying with small kids. Ears need to be able to adjust to pressure changes.

Make sure to think through when you will have the child use the potty. We typically stop at a bathroom just after getting through security. Just before we board the plane we take the kids to the bathroom. If we think the kids will be going to sleep on the flight we take them just before we start this process. When the plane is ready for descent it is another good opportunity to use the facilities. As a parent make sure you also go before you need to when the kids may be falling asleep. Otherwise, you could be between waking the kids up and being really uncomfortable!

Lap Children

For lap children, they will have a seat belt on for the flight that is attached to the parent. Think about which parent the kid wants to be attached to. For us, this was always Becky, aka Mom. Part of this is because then she can breastfeed them for take-off and landing. As mentioned above this helps their ears to equalize. Then think about what you can do to make them comfortable. Make sure you can support them while awake and asleep.

Tip #8: Have entertainment

Typically, we don’t think it is our job to keep our kids entertained. But on flights, we do take some extra responsibility. Especially for very young children on long flights. This is a place where it is critical to know your kids. For very little kids basic new items they have not seen can entertain them for hours. For instance, Kyra spent hours playing with her lap seat belt on the way to Hawaii. Cups, magazines, and so many other items around you could entertain infants.

Bonding time as entertainment

When we think of entertainment we think of it from the kid’s perspective. For instance, Brock has spent hours on flights checking the kid’s toes for “yuckies”. This simply means he looks between the toes for specs of dirt or fuzz. The great thing here is that this requires no special items, and can be done anywhere and any time. It can, and has, been done repeatedly for our kids when young on flights.

Plus it has a calming effect on the kids. It is physical contact, but not of the hugging or snuggling variety, which is easy to overdue on long flights. The kids also have this thing where they check each other’s hair for “bugs” like monkeys do. Again no special items are required. A back rub, leg bounce, pat, or another form of physical contact could also work to pass the time. It also helps to strengthen your bond.

We like to have a variety of things to do. But this can be hard with limited space on these basic economy flights. We take physical books and our Kindle. We take some toys and some games, but not ones that have small parts or easy to lose items. Water Wows are a great option. They only take water and the pages dry so you can redo them. Buying some small, cheap used items that the kids have never seen works well. This is especially true for babies.

Technology as entertainment

Now to get controversial. Our 6-year-old has a phone! So does our 2-year-old! I can see the mad comments forming now….but let me explain. These are just small tablets. They are old phones that we no longer use. They are not set up with data, text, or phone service. We have them locked down so they cannot search or use social media. We control what can be installed. An important note here. What we learned is that you have to install and open apps while on WiFi, not just install them. Also, some do not work offline, so it is best to test this before the trip. Live and learn!

For long trips, these phones help when the kids want time to themself. You can also take advantage of in-flight options (for example games, tv, or other things). Although we find that limiting screen time is critical. Much more than an hour is too much, especially for the littlest kids. We like to pull the phones out after we have exhausted just about everything else. Think of technology as a small part of the trip. It should not be the main entertainment when flying with small kids.

Apps We Use*

  • ABC Mouse – paid app after free trial
    • Must be online for main app; can download other offline ABC apps with paid subscription (like ABC Mouse Mathematics, ABC Mouse Music Videos, and more)
  • Khan Academy Kids (Free)
    • Available offline; has some extra features when online
  • PBS Kids Games (Free)
    • Available offline
  • PBS Kids Videos (Free)
    • Video is available online and only in the US
  • Kidloland (Free for one part of app)
    • Available offline
  • Starfall ABCs (Free)
    • Available offline
  • Lego Duplo Connected Train (Free)
    • Available offline
  • Fish School (Free)
    • Available offline
  • Kids Balloon Pop (Free)
    • Available offline
  • Duolingo (Kyra uses for learning Spanish
    • Only available online

Other Apps*

Other apps we have seen recommended, but we do not use.

  • FabuLingua (Paid)
    • Setup for kids; we use Duolingo instead
  • Reading Eggs & Mathseeds (Paid)
    • Looked similar to ABC Mouse – decided we don’t need both
  • Hopscotch Coding for Kids (Free) – iPhone

*We use Android phones. All app information current as of 5/23/2022; subject to change

Tip #9: Make it special

Before Boarding

We do anything we can to make flying with small kids special. And we don’t limit ourselves to what we can do on the flights. We like to start with the commute to the airport. If we happen to stay overnight before our flight, we get a hotel with a pool.

At the airport, we look for things the kids like, for instance, escalators or conveyors belts. Sometimes people are giving out items like coloring books or crayons. We get these when they are an option. When we get to the gate we usually spend time looking at the airplane we will go on. The kids love seeing the plane and how big it is.

FIRE Travel Family - Kyra & VerityLooking at the Airplane - Flying with Young KIds - Children - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Early Retirement
Kyra and Verity Checking out the plane before a trip to Mexico in 2022 and Verity has a snack

On the plane

We always see if we can meet captains (and we usually get to). Airlines used to give out pilot wings which were awesome. But on our 2022 flights, we have been told this is no longer a thing. On the flights to Sri Lanka, Qatar gave out stuffed elephants and coloring books. On the way to South Africa, KLM gave out a card memory game. Never be afraid to ask if an airline has something like this. But for the ones above they provided this without asking.

We like to have tricks up our sleeves. For instance, on the flight to Hawaii, we brought a toy that Kyra has not played with before. On the way to Sri Lanka, we had the apps discussed above on Becky’s phone for Kyra.

Tip #10: Make it a team effort

When it comes to flying with small kids make it a team effort. We talk about being a team frequently. When we accomplish something we talk about how well the team did first. We also like to praise individually when it is due. Everyone, even very young kids, likes to be part of something bigger. They want to be involved. They want to feel like they helped. Do what you can to make this happen. I remember Kyra at just under 1 year old pushing a large suitcase through the airport. It took so much longer, but we were under no real deadline. So why take that away from her?

When the youngest is struggling sometimes the best help comes from older siblings. You just need to ask. Kyra can get Verity calmed down or do things that we sometimes cannot. The more involved each kid is the more responsibility for a good result they take. Think about what is age-appropriate, but look for ways to make it a true team effort.

Make sure your kids know that parents see each other as a team as well. Becky and I will even fist bump or tell each other good job as much as possible. We talk about how we are working together. We support each other when the kids are being rough on one of us.


When it comes to flying with young kids you have to always take a learning mentality. If you do what we talked about above you have the best chance at success!

For those who are new to us, you can learn more about us starting with our about us page. You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel!

Brock & Becky Waterman

Written: 5/11/2022
Posted: 5/12/2022
Updated: 5/26/2022

How to Retire Early


“How to retire early,” or more specifically “How did we retire early?” is the question we get asked the most. People ask this and seem to be looking for a quick simple answer. They want it to be an event, investment, or some single item that we did. For instance, we invested in bitcoin early or something. But that wasn’t us! If you were looking for an easy answer we have to disappoint you.

Maybe even more surprisingly, we did not have the retire early (FIRE) as our ultimate goal until COVID-19 happened. It had been a thought, but not the focus. It wasn’t even until after we told people that we were retiring, that we even learned about the FIRE movement. We were instead always working more on the Financial Independence (FIRE) part of this. The time in 2020 during the COVID lockdown gave us a glimpse of retiring early.

For us, the lockdown time was eye-opening. We spent it together learning and exploring. We hiked and spent so much time outside, while many others felt housebound. The time with the kids and each other was amazing. Obviously, it was tough in many other aspects and for many people. We are not trying in any way to minimize this. But this time gave us an extended look at what an early retirement could be. So given this, we started doing the math. What we learned is that we could sell everything and travel the world. Amazingly, we could do this for roughly half of what we would need to live in the United States!

FIRE Travel Family - How to Retire Early - Dubuque - Retirement Party Picture - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early
Our family at our retirement part in Sept 2021 at the house we used to own

How to Retire Early List

This is what worked for us as we figured out “How to retire early”:

  • For all decisions, we always consider the financial impact
    • It was always a consideration, never the sole determining factor
  • Knew our shared vision and used this to guide our daily spending decisions
  • Spent time to get the big decisions right (house, cars, wedding, and so on)
  • Worked hard and smart
  • Knew our value and were not afraid to push for what we should be paid
  • Delayed gratification especially when it came to material items
    • Most of our material items were bought used/second hand
  • Spent money on important things (healthy food, time gainers, family vacations)
  • Figured things out to save/make money (for example selling our house without a realtor)
  • We don’t pay interest (except on our mortgage)
  • We let our money work for us to make more money

Sounds like a lot of work right? It was, but we also lived while we did it. As we mentioned above, we spent money on what we deemed important. One of those was time as a family. We took one-month family trips every year since we had kids. Although, 2020 was cut short due to COVID. Kyra by the time she was 3 had been on 4 one-month family trips (Hawaii, Sri Lanka, South Africa/Lesotho, and Belize).

When we needed things we always had the money to buy them. For instance, Brock has always spent a lot on computers that he uses daily for work. Becky spent money on important items that clients needed to be comfortable during massages. Examples include premium lotions, sheets, warmers, and pregnancy pillows. The kids have always had the foods that were best for their health and wellness.

The Framework – How to Retire Early

Most people are probably thinking at this point, “How do you know when to spend money and when not to?” A framework is critical when you are thinking about how to retire early. Importantly it helped us to create a shared vision. We used this vision to help us determine our course of action for matters large and small. This shared vision was used for all decisions, not just financial ones.

For us, the following worked well as we worked toward financial independence:

  1. Learn about how we view money individually and as a couple
  2. Understand our dreams and communicate as a couple to create a shared vision
  3. Utilize this shared vision to make all decisions (large and small)
  4. Communicate about everything financial and revisit steps 1 through 3 frequently

Step 1: Understand Relationships with Money

I have read my share of financial independence articles at this point. I see so much focus on investments and post-retirement plans. Do you know what I never see much about? I don’t see individuals and/or couples learning about how they view money. Thinking about what influences them. Considering what they learned and what they should be learning. Investigating their systems for making financial decisions.

When you add another person, this is amplified. In this article from Marketwatch think about the following:

  • Nearly half of Americans (48%) say they argue with their partner in a survey
  • Most of those fights are about spending habits, with 60% saying that one person spends too much or the other is too cheap
  • In another survey, 41% of divorced Gen Xers and 29% of Boomers say they ended their marriage due to disagreements about money

Wow, it is critically important to get on the same financial page in a relationship! The problem is that people usually only talk about this when they are arguing. For us, we spent time learning about ourselves and each other. We talked about our thought patterns. Together, we tried to see potential problems ahead and talk about how we would handle them. We tried to understand each other’s triggers.

Despite all this work, to this day we have issues when it comes to money. But when you understand each other and are pulling towards the same vision it makes it easier to navigate rough patches and hard decisions.

FIRE Travel Family - Hiking in Bellevue, IA - How to Retire Early - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Early Retirement
Hiking in Bellevue, IA in July of 2021 – being outdoors and active is important for us as a family

Step 2: Understand your dreams and create a shared vision

The most important thing to keep you on the path to financial independence is a shared vision of what you are working for. If you need, re-read that sentence, it could be the most important one in this blog post. The shared vision is the “why” you are trying to reach financial independence and/or understand how to retire early.

Financial independence is almost impossible without a truly shared vision. You have to know and believe what you are working towards. The reason is that in the hard times it is too tempting to take the easy way out. This first decision then snowballs. Quickly people see financial independence as something they cannot attain. You have to know what you are working for, and it cannot simply be a number in an account.

Digging deeper it is important to understand your shared vision because you need to live it while you are on the path to financial independence. We truly believe that if we had only focused on the future we would have never been successful in the present or past. The vision must be truly shared. It cannot be one person’s desire, this will not work.

That said the shared vision is fluid and can change over time. But in the end, you need something that is understandable and motivates everyone equally. We found that this is the topic we would revisit every 1 to 3 months. Staying on the same page is vital as life events happen and you change as people/couples. We often discussed this while on walks with the kids around town or on drives to family events.

Step 3: Use shared vision to make all decisions

Creating a shared vision does no good if you do not use it. It is like having a plan that is made and then stored somewhere to never be seen again. The thing is the shared vision should be so simple that it can be recited by each person in the family. You can go on to detail more information as you want. But the core must be easy to understand and remember. Our shared vision put simply was:

  • To be fully financially independent and travel
  • Have quality time together and with our kids
  • Don’t wait until the typical retirement age to live free and fulfill dreams

So many people we know have put off dreams. Many have never been able to fulfill those dreams. Health and so many other things can go wrong. With your shared vision in place can move on to how you spend money. With whatever you create you need to have a template you can use for making financial decisions.

Where to spend no money

For us, we knew that for most material items we would strive to spend nothing. These were things that for us had no value. For us, this includes things like

  • tattoos/piercings
  • harmful habits (smoking/vaping)
  • expensive adult toys (Jet skis/ATVs/boats)
  • and so many other items

In these instances, we eliminate spending when it does not match our goals. For example, Becky cut Brock’s hair to save money. We only had the money for the equipment upfront (which was actually a gift). The thing here is that if something is not making your life better, you should try to eliminate it (not reduce it). For each person or couple, these decisions will be different. The important thing is to not let yourself be marketed into these expenses. You do not have to keep up with the Joneses. Life should not be a spending competition.

Where to spend less

When you are trying to understand “how to retire early”, you need to think about where to spend less. These are typically the things you need, but which do not bring meaning to your life. A prime example is clothes. You need clothes, but there is no extra value in a new pair of pants versus a used one. Many times we bought from garage sales or thrift stores to save money instead of buying new. Examples included clothes for the family, kid’s toys, books, family Christmas and Birthday gifts, and more. That said there can be exceptions. For instance, we have paid more for better shoes for Brock because of feet issues he was dealing with.

We always try to be strategic about what we needed for the upcoming year and when it came to birthdays and Christmas. People in the family were encouraged to give items we would have otherwise bought new. We didn’t want clothes or toys that we could get for pennies on the dollar used. Some people in the family do what they want, which is ok. That said, some people might not like this but, we returned many new items that we either didn’t like, the kid’s did not like, or that we could get much cheaper used. We then put that money into the kid’s accounts or used it for something they needed instead.

Where to spend more

But we also had areas where we did our best to economize but decided to spend what was needed because it was important to our shared vision. While the main focus here is on how to retire early, you also need to be in the present as you work toward these long-term goals. Examples include:

  • Family travel
  • Healthy food and supplements
  • Body maintenance (massage, chiropractic, and physical therapy)
  • Items for our work (already mentioned above)
  • Activities and education for the kids
  • Places where we could buy time (house cleaning help/lawn mowing)

This is such an important thing to understand. If you approach financial independence like a starvation diet, you will likely fail and crash hard. In our opinion, when you are trying to figure out “how to retire early” you must make it a path you can sustain. Having areas you spend is important to live in the present and not fixate on a future that might not happen. We feel like fixation on your FIRE number and deprivation to attain it is not healthy or likely to be successful.

FIRE Travel Family - Becky, Verity & Kyra Touching Iguana in Belize - How to Retire Early - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Early Retirement
Verity & Kyra meeting iguanas during our 2020 trip to Belize

Making Large Financial Decisions

For large financial decisions, we spent time making sure we got these right. As an example, when we were getting married, it was widely talked about that the average wedding was costing people $26,000. Becky and I talked about what was more important. Was it to have a huge single-day expensive wedding or to be able to buy a house. We decided before we started planning the wedding that it was to have a house.

As we set up our wedding and reception we understood our goal was to have an amazing day but to do so economically. We offset costs in many ways including trades when possible. For instance, Brock developed a website for the catering company to offset most of the food costs for the reception. In the end, it took a lot of time, but we made money at our wedding. How many people can say that!

For buying cars and a house we did so much research. We looked at different options and created spreadsheets to understand these options. It took time to learn about markets. We didn’t buy “as much house as we could afford.” It was a conscious decision to save our money to buy a house we could live in for years and not a starter home. We set what was important. Emotions or what other people did were not enough to push us into bad decisions.

An interesting side note about how we have tried to improve. The detailed approach for large decisions is important. However, we also tend to overanalyze small financial decisions. The time we were spending was not worth the small amounts we could potentially save. For instance, it makes no sense to spend an hour trying to save $5 on a $50 purchase. Especially when in that same hour Becky or I could work to make at least $60 per hour. We recognized this years ago and have been working to let our vision dictate these small decisions. But truthfully we are a work in progress in this area.

Communicate about everything and revisit steps 1 to 3 often

Most people can set goals and accomplish them in the short term with relative ease. What is tough in life is being consistent over the long term. This is especially true when you are looking at how to retire early. When the vision you have set will take years to happen it can be tough to stay focused. It is also easy to have items become contentious if you are doing this as a couple or family. Communication is critical to this being successful. What we find is that the earlier we communicate about potential issues the better off we are. It is hard to communicate successfully in the heat of the moment.

Additionally, you have to revisit all three steps often. As new spending decisions or income options come up you have to go back to the basics. Think about how your relationship with money is affecting your feelings. And think about how the issue relates to your vision. For instance, a promotion at work that offers little extra compensation and much more responsibility may not be worth it. That is especially true if your goal is more time with the family and less stress in your life.

One important communication tool was to implement a weekly family meeting (usually paired with waffles!). It had a set agenda but also allowed for questions to be asked. Our first point was to discuss two large picture items. One we went through one point from the Habits of Healthy Families book at each meeting (7 total). Secondly, we went through one of the bullet points from our family mission statement each week (8 total). Doing this with each other and the kids helped keep our mission right in front of us. This is important because it is easy to get distracted. So many things are competing for attention as adults/parents. How to retire early has to be a priority.

FIRE Travel Family - Kyra & Brock Releasing 3 Day Old Sea Turtles in Sri Lanka - How to Retire Early - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Early Retirement
Brock & Kyra releasing 3-day old sea turtles in Sri Lanka in 2018


In reality, this blog post is just scratching the surface of “How to retire early”. As time passes our goal is to revisit this and get more in-depth about the topics mentioned here (and some that we didn’t even talk about). But this should help you get an idea. That said we did try to give some specifics where we thought it would help make items more clear. It is important to realize we did most of the above as we went. What we wrote is how we did this thinking back on it. For us, we just figured it out and always did so together.

For those who are new to us, you can learn more about us starting with our about us page. You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel!

Brock & Becky Waterman

Written: 5/10/2022
Posted: 5/10/2022

What is the Junior Ranger Program?


Traveling in the United States and want a way to engage your children in nature, wildlife, and/or historical experiences? We found a great way to do this when traveling from September to December 2021. Our oldest child, Kyra (age 5 during this trip) loved the various Junior Ranger programs offered at places like

  • National Parks
  • Battlefields
  • National Wildlife Refuges
  • National Monuments
  • Some State Parks
  • and more…

As it says on the National Park website, “Junior Rangers are typically between the ages of 5 to 13, although people of all ages can participate.” This program was a good way to world school (home school while traveling) in disguise. The learn while doing aspect is perfect for kids who are tired of doing other “book learning.” The “unschooling” element is also a huge positive. Essentially, the child has more say in which direction the learning goes based on their interest.

We did not pay any money for any of the materials or rewards via this program. To our knowledge, this is completely free! Obviously, you need to pay for park entry fees, but we had the American the Beautiful National Park Pass, which cost $80 for our family.

Brock interviews Kyra about the Junior Ranger program while traveling in 2021

How does the Junior Ranger Program work?

We will be speaking mostly about the in-person experience. Online Junior Ranger programs are also an option. You can learn more about it via the links at the end of this post.

When we would enter the park we would always stop at the visitor center and ask about their Junior Ranger program. We did this along with getting any maps, paying fees, and using restrooms, so it was not an extra stop typically. Park personnel then explain how their program works. Each location was unique, but in general, it worked in one of the following ways:

  1. Given a one-size-fits-all booklet to complete regardless of your kid’s age
  2. Given options that you can complete for different levels and asked what you prefer
  3. Asked for the age of the child and then given a document for that age range

Once the child has completed this then they return it to the same location. At that point, they can ask questions and get any needed help. Then several things can happen:

  1. Ranger may interact with them and talk about how they are to help in their new role
  2. Go through a swearing-in ceremony as a Junior Ranger
  3. Get pin, badge, patch, certificate, and/or other materials

What is completing a Junior Ranger activity book like?

Every set of activities is different. Some activity books are only five pages and some are twenty pages. Usually, for the small booklets, you complete the whole thing. Whereas, for the larger booklets, you pick and choose which activities you want to do. Parks tailor activities to their location. For example, a natural park will have more nature questions and activities. Alternatively, a battlefield will have more history questions and activities. Booklets may contain activities like:

  • scavenger hunts
  • unscramble the letters
  • questions to answer
  • coloring pages
  • talk to a ranger
  • join a ranger-led program
  • and more…

Activities fall into 2 categories. First, activities that happen anywhere. Secondly, others require being in the park and sometimes at specific locations. These locations can include visitor centers, at specific park sites, and anywhere in the park. Rangers are always happy to help if you have questions about anything.

Swearing in new Junior Rangers

Volunteer staff at a park do NOT swear in Junior Rangers. Therefore, a ranger needs to be available. For us, we were in the non-peak season, so it was not a problem. But we could see this being an issue for busier and peak seasons at some parks.

The ranger you get has a huge impact on the overall experience. You can tell that some rangers really enjoy this and think of it as a key part of educating the next generation. When you get the right ranger it is a great experience. For others, they do not swear in the kids or interact. In those instances, they may simply hand you the materials.

We also found the swearing-in time to be a good opportunity to have our kids (or ourselves) ask questions about what we saw in the park. Sometimes it was learning more about history. Other times we wanted help with animal identification. We found this as another way to engage the kids. Sometimes they would ask really good questions. Other times they were things we could answer. But either way, this helped us engage Kyra and understand what she was learning.

FIRE Travel Family - 2022-03-14 - Junior Ranger Program Badges, Pins & Patches for Kyra - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early
Kyra’s Junior Ranger Pins, Patches & Badges from our 2021 US Trip

How is the booklet best completed?

As soon as you receive the booklet take some time to look through it. Then make a plan to complete the activities. We always liked to involve Kyra, especially when there were options she could choose. Doing this early helped us determine how we would progress through the activities. Additionally, since Kyra was 5 she was not able to complete this on her own. Sometimes there are expectations of attending live events. Other times you have to do certain activities. We found that doing the must-do items first worked well. Sometimes this didn’t work, for instance not being able to attend a ranger program. Then we sought alternatives (like watching an online recording).

Older kids can be more self-directed. But even with them, there would likely be a value to making a plan and seeing what elements they would like involvement in. Becky did most of these booklets with Kyra and I know she learned a lot. For certain activities, we completed them as a family. Having the extra eyes helped (like looking through museums for certain information). Our youngest Verity (age 2 during this trip) also participated in some instances. However, she was mostly too young to get much value.

State Park Junior Ranger programs

For state parks, at least in Florida, this is done differently. The Junior Ranger program is a statewide program. You have to complete a Junior Ranger packet and then 12 additional activities at different state parks and get a statewide badge and pins. You have to complete 3 activities in each of 4 categories and the activities are on general worksheets. Once you have these worksheets you have to figure out the best plan for where to complete each at a park.

To be blunt, it is a bit confusing, and from what we saw most rangers are not familiar with how the program is meant to work. For the first 5 stamps in the log, we didn’t even do an activity (and never got the sheets). We just had people stamping them at parks. It wasn’t until the sixth state park that a ranger who knew about the program printed the sheets for us and explained how it was meant to work. After this we found ourselves explaining what we needed to other rangers and park staff.

The needed sheets we had to complete were front and back and fairly quick, so this was easier than for most national park programs. On the upside, our kids loved all the animal stickers that they hand out at Florida State parks (if you ask for them specifically). The animal stickers are separate from the Junior Ranger program.

We were only in a few state parks in Georiga so Kyra was able to get one pin from there. Check each state when you arrive to see what they have for a Junior Ranger program for their state parks.

Did the kids enjoy the program?

Kyra loved it! After the first program at Cuyahoga National Park in Ohio, she asked when we would go to each new place. She was disappointed when we went to attractions without the program. All kids are different, but she is a naturally curious child, which works well. Some booklets and activities are more engaging than others. We liked the more interactive ones, like looking for items on hikes. For instance, nuts, leaves, or animal scat/footprints were good ones for us.

Another element that we really liked was the swearing-in ceremony. When done right this legitimizes the work done by the child. Additionally, it gives them ownership in taking care of the animals, trails, and park in general. Kyra is a kid who looked out for animals and picked up garbage before anyway. But after becoming a junior ranger she took this to another level.

The tangible reward of badges, pins, and/or patches also is a great part of the program. Both Kyra and Verity liked these. Another side benefit for us was that we used the badges earned to dress up for Halloween while on the trip. Kyra has always said she is going to be a veterinarian. But now park ranger could be in the mix as well.

Lastly, these programs “forced” some interactions we would have otherwise not had. During the Antietam National Battlefield driving tour, we spoke to a ranger since this was a required activity. Kyra asked questions at her level which helped her to understand “war” better (a difficult concept for a 5-year-old). For Brock & Becky, they were then able to ask questions from all the audio driving tours and plaques they had read to that point. The ranger was a historian and was able to give everything so much more context. We spent at least 30 minutes talking to him. It was a highlight of our time on the battlefield.

FIRE Travel Family - 2022-03-14 - Halloween as Junior Ranger for Kyra & Verity - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early
Kyra & Verity Trick or Treating as Park Rangers in October 2021 using their junior ranger badges

What are the drawbacks of the Junior Ranger program?

One drawback is that it is easy for a 5-year old to become fixated on earning the badge above all else. This needs to stay an element of the overall visit. It cannot become the overriding purpose of the visit.

Another issue is that there is a lot to do in some booklets. Especially for the ones not tailored for age. The interactive activities are easier to integrate into your time. The more “busy work” items are not as easy to integrate. All this extra work can detract from your child’s engagement at the park.

Lastly, this all takes time and puts you on a schedule. Sometimes you just want to relax and yet you need to get these booklets done. So it is important to understand the extra time needed ahead and be prepared to take the time needed. If this doesn’t happen it can be stressful for parents and children alike. Also, you have to be back at the visitor center before the park closes if you are leaving for the next day.

General Tips

  • Make a plan with your child and help get them to start on the journey and with the difficult parts of the program
  • Give the kids the time they need to accomplish activities
  • If possible, involve the whole family
  • Have fun while doing this, but take the program seriously
    • Talk to the kid about their responsibility for the environment it is good to promote personal responsibility in our view
  • Have your camera ready and set to do a video for the swearing-in
  • Spend time to look over reward materials
    • Ask the kids how they feel about them and what they learned
  • Watch the clock if you are only going to be at a park for one day since you need a ranger there and you can’t do that once the station closes
    • Sometimes you are able to mail the packet to the park at a later date
  • If you know you can’t get the activities done, the rangers we spoke to were willing to give us the “rewards” and let us swear in our kids later
    • We prefer not to do this option but it was useful a few times due to time or locational logistics

Junior Ranger Key Links

For those who are new to us, you can learn more about us starting with our about us page. You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel!

Brock Waterman

Written: 3/13/2022
Posted: 3/14/2022

Where does a nomadic FIRE travel family live when they “come home”?

While we have been quiet online a lot has been going on since we got back home about 25 days ago. This isn’t going to be a recap email though. Instead, we will give you insight into how and where we live when we come back home. But first…

Health update for Brock

As we talked about in the last post Brock had emergency surgery for an acute appendicitis (plus another procedure) on December 21, 2021, at 2 am. The good news is that he is making a lot of progress. He is getting better each day. He still has some pain from the procedure sites and is not back to “normal”…or at least as normal as he gets 🙂 Friday, January 7, 2022, was the follow-up appointment. The surgeon said everything looks good and is improving at the expected rate. With that covered we can get back to the main topic. As our family, friends, and readers know we are houseless (we sold it in 2021). So where we live when we come back home is a complicated topic given our now generally nomadic lifestyle.


The main answer is that we don’t live in one place. Instead, we have stayed at 4 different houses since being back. We have stayed at 3 houses for multiple nights. At all houses, Brock has used his 8-inch foam twin bed. He is not a fan of inflatable beds. Using his twin bed has helped to make each location comfortable for all four of us to sleep at. We also take the tote of bedding items for the twin bed. To answer the question you may be thinking…yes, every time we go to a new location we load and unload the bed and bedding tote!

The other part of being houseless is where you store your stuff. We were able to sell the majority of our large items. Hence we do not have a storage unit. But even with all the selling we still have too many possessions. At this time we have our stuff at four different locations (1) Waunakee, WI; (2) Boscobel, WI; (3) Sherrill, IA; and (4) Dubuque, IA.

Our primary location

Our primary location is near Madison, WI in Waunakee, WI. We live with Brock’s cousin Matt, his wife Rachelle, and their son Marek. There are also 3 other cool adult guests staying at this house. The room setup is that we are located downstairs. We have a large room that does not have a window (which has been nice for sleeping in some mornings)! There is also a bathroom/shower right next to this room, which is also used by the other house guests. Our queen bed is permanently at this location. We have the ability to use the kitchen and living room which are on the main floor. There are no bedrooms on the main floor, so everyone other than us sleeps upstairs. This works well in case our kids are being loud when we put them to bed. We have about 33% of our possessions at this location.

We have loved being here and find ourselves spending so much time chilling and talking to Matt, Rachelle, and everyone else! The house has the energy of a hostel, which has been great (especially for Brock and Becky). Our kids have had a lot of fun playing with Marek. They have also loved having interactions with Rachelle (for example reading books together) and Matt (he is an expert fort builder). Lastly, being near a city the size of Madison is great for being able to shop for the items you want/need.

FIRE Travel Family - 2021-12-27 - Playing in the Snow with Marek, Waunakee (WI) - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Where We Live When We Come Back Home
Becky, Kyra & Verity Playing in the Snow with Marek, Waunakee (WI) on December 27, 2021

Family location closer to roots

The place we have been the second most is at Brock’s parents in Boscobel, WI. In this location, there is no set sleeping room. Here we use a blow-up queen bed by the couch in the living room. Brock’s bed also goes in the living room (or some nights downstairs). Most nights we have been there Kyra has slept with NaNa (Brock’s mom Sheri). We also use all the shared rooms like the kitchen, bathrooms, and so on. We bring what we need with us each time.

At this location, we have many items stored, most of which are outside. We have about 33% of our items here. Most of our items here are stored outside in a truck shed. However, some items like our kid’s toys are stored in the basement.

Being here has allowed us to see family, celebrate Christmas, and help with business items. This is where we stayed after Brock’s surgery until he was ready to travel. Kyra has also stayed overnight for several nights with Sheri on her own. The kids love being here, it is the place they ask to go to the most. They are always excited to see Brock’s family and the outside cats who live here.

This is also where we have the bulk of our mail delivered. We use this as our mailing address. A point of emphasis when we decided to retire early and become nomadic was becoming as digital as possible. Sadly some items still require sending snail mail. Thad, Brock’s brother helps us by handling the mail that comes in. As a first step, he throws out the junk. For the important items, he scans them in when we are on the road so we can see them. We are grateful for his help and support!

Family location closer to where we used to live

We have also spent several nights at Becky’s grandma Janann’s house in Sherrill, IA. We have done this to make family events and doctor appointments in and around Dubuque, IA. It was also where we spent our first night back. In this location, we have two small bedrooms we use. Again we share all common areas. This location is not ideal for Brock’s allergies so we can typically only stay one night at the most. An upside of being here has allowed Janann to have time during the day with the kids. Janann is the Grandma who is always cooking and has numerous yummy sweets ready to go. Also, Janann is such a fun person, which makes for a lot of laughs.

At this house, we have about 25% of our possessions in the basement. These are mostly items from our kitchen and kids’ clothes. We also do have some hanging items in the closets. We also have a few items we are still trying to sell here.

This is our residency address since it is the only one in Iowa. For now, we do not want to change residency (mostly for medical provider reasons). We appreciate Janann being willing to have mail we can’t send to Boscobel at her house. Becky’s mom Sharon has sent us images of the mail as needed which has been great and we appreciate her support.

FIRE Travel Family - 2021-12-17 - Puzzles with Janann, Sherrill (IA) - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Where We Live When We Come Back Home
Kyra Putting Together Puzzles with Janann in Sherrill (IA) on December 17, 2021

Other locations; plus weather

But wait there is more! We stayed with a friend (Nicole) one night in Dubuque, IA. This allowed us to spend time with a great friend and for the kids to have a sleepover with friends. Lastly, we spent a night overnight in the hospital when Brock had his surgery. Although Kyra and Verity were with Brock’s mom in Boscobel overnight.

Lastly, we stored the last several items with a friend (Rick) in Dubuque, IA in an upstairs room. These are items that we would like to sell. Many of these items were left from Becky’s last business closing. The timing of this being so close to when we left made it hard to get the items sold. My hockey equipment is also here for the time being.

We know that being in Wisconsin/Iowa in the winter means you have to be willing to be flexible to stay safe. Based on weather conditions, we have had to change plans but so far it has only directly impacted one day’s appointments and plans. We could also see a point where we need to stay in a hotel due to either weather or wanting to be somewhere outside of the normal area.

Why not one place?

After reading to this point it would be reasonable to ask “This all sounds like a lot of work, wouldn’t it be easier to have one place?” The easiest answer is yes, but we are not sure it would be better. Plus, there are practical realities that make that hard unless we want to spend a lot for a place we will only use a few weeks a year. Part of why we were able to retire early is that we got rid of all the payments that go with maintaining housing.

Despite our best efforts we simply have too much stuff. At this point, it is not feasible to expect any one person/place to allow us to store it all. Our plan is to continue to downsize and we have even worked on this since being home. We think that being on the road will help to make more clear what we can get rid of after a few trips. In part, though we kept more in case we decided we wanted to reverse course. Additionally, our kids like seeing different people and being in different places. This flexibility has made it easier to see friends and family which we have done frequently since being home. We also suspect that all the people we stay with probably need breaks despite loving us and our kids. Additionally, if any place wasn’t available for some reason we have other options.

FIRE Travel Family - 2021-12-18 - Petting & Feeding Cats at NaNa's, Boscobel (WI) - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Where We Live When We Come Back Home
Kyra & Verity Petting & Feeding Cats at NaNa’s in Boscobel (WI) on December 18, 2021

In summary

In regards to, where we live when we come back home we know all or part of our options could change at any point. Nothing is permanent in life. For us, this working situation is what we needed as we changed from a family in a house to a nomadic travel family. We want to thank all the people who have hosted us, helped us to store our items, and helped with our mail! We are lucky that people have stepped up to help us.

Having this has allowed us to pursue our FIRE Travel Family lifestyle. It has also allowed us to come back home and spend time with the people we care about. In the end, retiring early (and life really) is about spending time with those you love and doing what you love. As we shared in the “what retirement means to us” post, we love having this life and time flexibility.

Where are we going next?

As of Wednesday, January 12, 2022, we have not made any official plans or booked any flights. For now, we are just spending time with friends and family and getting things done, like preparing for taxes for our and other family businesses. When we have official plans we will let everyone know.

Brock & Becky Waterman

Written: 1/10/2022

Posted: 1/12/2022

We’ll Be Home for Christmas…and Surgeries; Plus Future Travel Plans

Coming Home for Christmas

We started our first post-retirement trip on September 24, 2021, with the knowledge that we didn’t have a set end date. The plan was to travel for as long as we wanted and come back whenever it made sense to do so. We were traveling by van in the United States. This lack of need for a return flight gave us the flexibility we do not have when traveling internationally. A few weeks ago we decided that we wanted to come back home for Christmas. We planned to come back in the week leading up to Christmas. However, last Wednesday, December 15 we decided that we had seen what we wanted and that it was time to head home for Christmas.

Leaving Florida

FIRE Travel Family - 2021-12-15 - Hippo at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, Florida (FL) - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early
Lou the Hippo at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, Florida on December 15, 2021

Our last Florida tourist stop was at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Then we shopped at a couple of thrift stores and started the drive north. On the way, we decided to drive later since the kids were doing well in the car. Additionally, we wanted to get north of Atlanta at night. We didn’t have to deal with city traffic in the morning time. On Thursday, December 16 our plan was to do a couple of tourist stops and drive some more. Our plan at that time was to finish the drive on Friday.

The Land Between the Lakes

Our first planned stop was The Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky. Given the recent tornadoes, the park visitor center had been closed until that morning. It sounds like we were the first visitors to the Elk and Bison prairie as well. They were not sure if the entry machine was working or not. The visitor center gave us a crisp $5 bill to put in since the machine is very picky. Plus the credit card part was not working due to the storm. Luckily the cash option did work so we could go and see the animals!

For the most part, we had amazing weather for our drive home. The exception to this was the last 30 minutes driving to the Elk and Bison Prairie, while we were there, and the 30 minutes after we left. During that time we experienced heavy rain and wind. On the upside, the Elk and Bison didn’t care so we got to see them and with most of the herd right by the road. Also luckily Verity woke up from her nap in time to see most of the big herds by the road. Despite the weather, it was an amazing stop that both us and the kids loved!

FIRE Travel Family - 2021-12-16 - Bison at The Land Between the Lakes, Kentucky (KY) - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early
Bison at The Land Between the Lakes – Elk and Bison Prairie in Kentucky on December 16, 2021

Our Last Stop at the Arch

Back on the road, our second planned, and last stop of the trip, was the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. By this point, it was about 8:15 pm. We had thought we would just do a drive-by viewing for this. However, the parking lot was free access at this point in the night (normally $8). Plus Kyra was so excited when she saw it on the drive there that we knew we had to walk up to it. What ended up being really cool was that at this time we were the only people at the arch. Kyra loved that it was shaped like a rainbow. She also saw a rat on the walk up the stairs which she thinks is cool because she loves animals so much. The Arch was a very cool and fun last stop, so Brock was happy that Becky talked him into going!

FIRE Travel Family - 2021-12-16 - The Gateway Arch - St. Louis (MO) - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early
Selfie of Becky, Verity, Brock & Kyra on our way home at The Gateway Arch in St. Louis Missouri on December 16, 2021

Do We Drive Back?

At this point, we had a decision to make. It was about 5 hours to get home. Earlier in the day, we had scheduled Kyra’s 1st COVID vaccine shot for the next day. The latest appointment we could get was 2:40 pm. So we knew we wanted to get within 3 hours of Dubuque, IA. What we decided was that if we could get the kids to fall asleep in the car we would drive through the night. And if not we would stop at a hotel. The kids both got to sleep around 9:30 and 10 pm. So we decided to drive all the way back to Becky’s Grandma Janann’s house.

We arrived at the house just before 2 am on Friday, December 17. Interestingly, the kids both woke up in the last 30 minutes of the drive. We were able to get what we needed out of the car and then all get to sleep. It was a short night of sleep for Becky and Brock. But it was also nice not to have a 3rd day of driving, since that could have been difficult for the kids.

It’s Reunion Time!

Friday was a busy reunion day. We all had a great time hanging out with Janann in the morning and early afternoon. The kids put puzzles together with Janann, put up the Christmas tree, played with toys, and relaxed. After Kyra’s COVID shot (which she did great getting), we met with Tom, Lisa, Collin, and Ellyn at the mall in the play area. It was so amazing to see them again! Brock especially loved the huge hug he got from Collin as soon as he got out of the car! The kids played together like in old times, it was so relaxing. We also got dinner at HuHot which was great since it had been over 2 years since we had eaten there.

After that, we had another reunion. This time with our friend and former daycare provider Nicole and her two kids Blake and Charlie. Blake and Kyra are such good friends, they have known each other since they were one. They had both made crafts for each other which was fun to see. Nicole commented about how much more Verity is talking from when she last saw her. We stayed at Nicole’s house overnight, which was great. In the morning, we had a great breakfast and cinnamon rolls.

FIRE Travel Family - 2021-12-18 - Reunion with Friends - Lisa, Collin, Ellyn (Plus Tom) - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Home for Christmas
Reunion Time with Lisa, Tom (Not pictured), Collin, and Ellyn at HuHot in Dubuque, Iowa on December 18, 2021

Saturday included another shot and more reunions. This time it was Becky’s COVID booster shot and groceries at the Asbury HyVee. Then we went on to Brock’s parents, Bill and Sheri, in Boscobel, WI. The kids were so excited to see NaNa, PaPa, and the kitties (although they are all grown cats now). The kids also loved seeing Thad, John & Shelby. It was great to see John playing with the kids in the living room.

Christmas Traditions

We did a Christmas tradition, decorating Christmas cookies, which was a lot of fun! Kyra also really enjoyed putting a puzzle together with NaNa and PaPa. The kids were able to go out to the garage to spend time with two of the cats which made them happy. They love feeding, playing with, and petting the cats. Our plan was to stay 2 nights and then leave to go to Matt & Rachelle Waterman’s house. This is where we are living when we are “back home” or in this case home for Christmas.

FIRE Travel Family - 2021-12-19 - Reunion with Family - Christmas Cookies with Bill & Sheri - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Home for Christmas
Christmas Cookie Time with Bill & Sheri in Boscobel, Wisconsin on December 19, 2021

Brock Needs Surgery

The Pain Starts

Sunday night Brock started getting pain in his abdomen. While he was mostly able to sleep through the night he did wake up several times. By Monday morning the pain had increased a lot. Brock tried walking, using a heating pad and other measures. He wasn’t sure if it was some bad food or some other stomach ailment. Alas, by 4:30 pm the pain, exhaustion, nausea, and chills/sweats were terrible. So we called the clinic’s 24-hour nurse line for advice. They strongly encouraged going to acute care right away.

So Becky and Brock quickly got ready and headed to Dubuque, IA (about 1 hour away). At the time we assumed we would be back that night. So we grabbed some of what we needed but could have been more prepared. On the drive down we talked about this being the first time in nearly 3 months that we did not have kids. Shout out of thanks to Sheri and Bill for watching the kids overnight. It would turn out to be an eventful “date night”…

Getting to Acute Care

By 6:20 pm we were at Acute Care in Dubuque, IA. Sometime around 6:45 pm, we got to see the Doctor, and after doing an exam he told us he thought Brock had appendicitis. During the exam, Brock was in so much pain that he had involuntary tears while getting up from the exam table. Thankfully, the doctor got him a pain shot that helped to take the edge of the pain in about 20 minutes. He also had Brock take an anti-nausea medication so they could do the CT scan. After getting a urine sample and doing a blood draw Brock was off to get the CT scan. At this point, he was in a wheelchair. He was too weak to walk across from Medical Associates Acute Care to the Mercy One hospital.

The first step was to drink a large cup of liquid prep from 7:45 to 8:30 pm. Then we were told his scan would start at 8:45 pm. On most days this liquid would have been unpleasant, but Brock actually welcomed it. For the whole day, the only food he had been able to keep down was one Saltine cracker at around 2 pm. Also, he had been so nauseous that he hadn’t drunk much either. With the pain pill now taking some effect, Brock also started to get some appetite back. But obviously, he couldn’t eat so at least the drink was something. Anyway, 8:45 pm came and went. Eventually, we were told that 3 other people had come in through the ER and were now ahead of us. Finally, around 10 pm Brock got his CT scan.

The Diagnosis

After another hour’s wait, we got a call from the doctor. The news was that the CT scan confirmed that Brock had appendicitis. He stated that Brock would be having surgery either that night or in the morning. It would depend on the on-call surgeon’s availability and opinion. We were told that they would be having the surgeon visit us in the CT waiting room. We had been in that room since 7:45 pm on our own (it closes at 8 pm technically). But by midnight we still hadn’t seen the surgeon.

Meeting the Surgeon…eventually

Shortly after midnight we were moved to the ER and told again the surgeon would be in soon. So to give a little background by this point we were getting quite antsy. This is in part because Brock’s father Bill had his appendix rupture earlier in his life. It required 7 days of hospitalization and was a story that Brock thought of as soon as he heard appendicitis.

Around 1 am on Tuesday, December 21 we finally saw the surgeon. He said the appendix was very inflamed and recommended surgery as soon as they could be ready. Our other option was to take medicines to reduce the size of the appendix. This option was thought to work 80% of the time. However, it only treats this instance. Surgery is still often required for people in the future. The main downside of the surgery was a complication because of Brock’s pre-existing conditions. If his colon was inflamed as well as the appendix then they would abort the surgery and not remove the appendix. The surgeon felt like the CT scan showed no colon inflammation. However, he would only know for sure during surgery.

Surgery it is

We opted for surgery and were hopeful that he would be able to have it done successfully. We also talked with the surgeon about another problem Brock was having. It was a procedure normally be done at an office visit that is very painful. At first, the surgeon didn’t want to do this since it would give Brock two very painful things to recover from. But we talked about why we thought it made sense. The surgeon agreed to handle that while Brock was under anesthesia as well.

Now things finally started to move fast and by 2 am Brock was being operated on. Just before 3 am Brock was in the recovery room (and really wanting food). The doctor talked to Becky and shared that they were able to successfully do both procedures. Brock no longer had an appendix! By 4 pm he was in the hospital room with Becky and was finally able to get some food and drink (applesauce and sprite). Shortly after that, he was asleep again.

Leaving the Hospital

By 9 am Brock had been out of bed several times, displayed bowel functions, and walked without assistance. Thus he has hit all requirements to be released to go home. For some reason, the surgeon didn’t stop by during his morning rounds. The RN said that we could either wait to see the surgeon at noon or go home now. We chose to go home now, once we got the pain killer prescription. We wanted to go as soon as possible, so we could get home to the kids and rest more fully outside the hospital. However, that wasn’t how the day was going to go.

By 12:30 we still were no closer to leaving the hospital so we started calling around. We found out that the surgeon was off-site until 1 pm. Despite our best efforts to push along the process, we didn’t leave the hospital until 2:30 pm, which was disappointing. But at least we had the pain meds and Becky had run errands during the wait time.

Getting Back Home

The car ride back was ok, since Brock got a pain pill not too long before leaving. Once back it was great to see the kids. Brock’s nephew John had not felt well, so he didn’t attend school. Instead, he came out and helped Sheri with the Kyra and Verity, which was great. He helped with all the diapers and everything else. Sheri said he was a huge help and the kids loved spending the day with him.

Brock laid down when getting back, then had dinner, and then took a nap. After the nap, he was able to get a shower which helped him to feel a little fresher. On the upside, he was able to put Verity down for her nap which he was happy about. All the items that he had been given did a number on his stomach. Brock was up until around 11 pm before he felt well enough to go to bed for the night. But overall he had a good night of sleep despite having a lot of pain to manage.

First Day Back

The first full day back was December 22. Brock has been in and out of bed. He is generally managing the pain but does have sometimes that he has to breathe through it. He has to be very careful how he moves and can’t lift much of anything. The pain meds are also giving him some hallucinations when he tries to rest. Therefore he stopped taking the pain meds in the afternoon. He just went to Aleve and Tylenol instead. But this morning (12/23) we are hoping to get a new pain med for him to try.

The pain is the worst at the site of where the incisions are (so on his left side), not where they took the appendix out. He also has a lot of pain from his second procedure. This is likely to linger longer than the appendix surgery pain. He has a follow-up with the surgeon on January 3, 2022, and has several restrictions on him until that time. Overall, he is happy to be on this side of the operation and back home.

Family Support, and Health Update

Brock is happy to have such a loving and supporting wife. She did a great job feeding me in the first few hours where it was hard to move. Becky was awesome during the whole process despite her not getting much rest. Another cool thing that happened was that Kyra made 2 amazing cards for Brock. She spent a lot of time writing and designing these cards and Brock loved them!

FIRE Travel Family - 2021-12-23 - Kyra Get Well Cards for Brock - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Home for Christmas
Kyra Made 2 Cards for Brock to help him feel better after his surgery, pictures from December 23, 2021

Future Travel Plans

The question we get from everyone is when and where is next! We plan to enjoy the holidays and Becky and Brock’s birthdays (both next week). Then at some point, we will figure it out from there. Now we also must allow time for Brock to recover and we are also waiting for Kyra’s 2nd COVID shot.

We don’t have any dates or places to go picked out. That said we do have a new Lonely Planet travel guide ordered so we can do some research on one possibility. We will be going somewhere at some point. But we have some things we need to do that we were not able to finish before we left on the last trip. We still have a few items we are going to try to sell. Additionally, we need to take some time to fully invest the money we have from the sale of our house and other items.

We also have a lot of video and blog content from the trip that we would like to edit and post online. Make sure to subscribe to our YouTube Channel! But most importantly we want to:

  • Spend time with the people back at home that we care about
  • Spend time together as a family
  • World schooling Kyra
  • Teaching Verity the basics (she can already count to 13, and knows some colors now)

We are looking forward to relaxing at home for now. When we feel like it, we will hit the road again. It could be sooner or later. As we shared in the “what retirement means to us” post, we love having this life and time flexibility.

Brock & Becky Waterman

Written: 12/22/2021; Updated 1/17/2022

Posted: 12/23/2021

What does early retirement mean to us?


The “FIRE” part of FIRE Travel Family stands for “Financial Independence, Retire Early”.  In this post, we will answer what it means to be an early retiree. Or at least what it means to us…at this point. As with everything in life, what retirement means to us can (and likely will) change over time. Life is dynamic and we plan to stay flexible so we can live our best life. Additionally, our kids are small now. Who knows what will change over time for both them and us as our family ages. With that said let’s cover a bit of background about our situation…

What is early retirement?

We officially retired early on Labor Day, 2021. We closed our businesses, sold our house and cars (and most of our possessions), had a retirement party, and started traveling.  Many people have asked us, “What do you mean you are retired?”  Often accompanied with another remark about being so young.  Thanks for the compliment!  People often also say “How do you think you can retire early?” The power of math is what helped us know we could retire.  It is not some intangible feeling.  It is not a date on a calendar or an age we had to turn. In our view, it is knowing our assets, expenses, lifestyle, and goals. It is knowing what we must spend money on, what we want to spend money on, and where we can cut corners.

On the negative side, we have had several “Who do you think you are?” and other questions where people think we are somehow dismissive of their life or work ethic. For us, this reflects more about the person with that opinion than anything in our lives.  This should be able to go unsaid, but our early retirement is not a judgment of anyone else or their lifestyle.  We also know some people truly love their jobs or companies they own, which is great! We are doing what works for us and understand this is not something that everyone can or would even want to do. Our choice to retire early is our own and we are genuinely excited about it.

FIRE Travel Family - Florida - Kyra Feeding Lorikeet at Jacksonsville Zoo - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Early Retirement
Kyra Feeding Lorikeet at Jacksonville Zoo on November 9, 2021

What early retirement does and does not mean to us

For us, retirement is a relatively simple concept.  It means time and choice over possessions and displays of wealth.  We do not have to do a job that we do not want to do.  If we choose to never work again we should have enough money to live on for the rest of our lives.  Early retirement means the freedom to do what we want.  It means we get to choose how we live every day.  Early retirement for us means that we are able to world school (home school while traveling) our kids.  It means we are nomadic when we want to be.  It gives us the freedom to live basically wherever we want.  Of course, this is within limits. We still have stuff we have to do just like everyone else.

What retirement doesn’t mean for us is that we are crazy rich.  We don’t plan to own a house, expensive cars, expensive hobby items, or other depreciating assets. We are not buying a yacht or private plane anytime soon (but we are open to gifts!).  And to be straightforward we really have to monitor and control our spending.  If we make poor financial decisions or outspend our budgets math starts to work against us and we are forced to work again. 

How can this work?

Part of how we are able to retire is the concept of financial arbitrage.  Put simply this means the money you have in US dollars goes further in countries with less valuable currencies.  Countries in Central and South America, Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia provide some of the best places to stretch our dollars.  We know that we can travel for cheaper in many developing countries full-time than we could have lived in the United States!  And most of the time we can have a nicer standard of living while traveling. 

Since we are traveling in the United States right now we knew we had to work hard to keep expenses down.  This meant we are traveling in our van and tent camping.  We also make most of our own meals and we are avoiding the most expensive tourist attractions (for example – no Disney World while in Florida). And we have observed that our kids often enjoy the free or cheap things in life more anyways at their current young ages. 

Retirement doesn’t mean that we will never work again. Instead, it means we don’t have to ever work again.  This is a simple but incredibly important and powerful difference.  It is likely that we will take on projects in the future to make money.  However, we will only do things we want to do and which engage and fulfill us.  We get to say no automatically to everything else.  And if we don’t like something we start we always have the power to walk away. 

FIRE Travel Family - Florida - Verity & Kyra's First Gopher Tortoise at Right Whale Festival - Financial Independence - Retire Early - Early Retirement
Verity & Kyra’s First Gopher Tortoise at Right Whale Festival On Amelia Island on November 7, 2021

What are the downsides?

Interestingly, early retirement also means more work in some ways.  For us, we now must be even more planned out for how we handle investing, income, and taxes.  We have to be even more aware of changes in how our medical insurance will be handled as US Citizens.  Additionally, we have to think through how sometimes large expenses will impact our retirement savings and plan accordingly.  We have to make sure that we are able to schedule the needed appointments when we are back in a short time frame for our family. 

As an example, when we left for this trip we should have gotten the flu shots for our kids while we were still in Iowa.  But we didn’t and that meant that only Becky and Brock were able to get the shots while on the road using insurance.  We also may do certain medical procedures while on the road now.  As it stands right now Becky and Brock do not have dental insurance.  So we will likely do cleanings and dental work in countries where it is both cheap and still have high standards. 

We just have certain items that now require a little more thought and creativity to make sure we are staying on budget and still prioritizing the well-being of our family.  If we were citizens of just about any developed country other than the United States this wouldn’t even be something we had to deal with.  But it is what it is.


In summary, financial freedom is life freedom.  We get to design our lives how we want. We will do what is fun, for as long as it remains to be fun.  For instance, if we are traveling and don’t like something we will make changes.  This could be how we are structuring our day, what we are doing, or even what location we are in.  Financial freedom is family freedom.  We get to be involved in everything our kids are doing now. 

Already the time with the kids has been amazing.  Seeing Kyra start to read and learn math has been a real pleasure.  Being around and seeing how Verity’s vocabulary is expanding rapidly has been incredible. Financial freedom is choice freedom.  We now get to start every choice with an open path ahead of us.  Some people might see this as a scary thing.  For us, it means we get to do the things we have always wanted.  Then when we want to do the next thing, we get to start over and plan it out again. 

After a few months of being retired, we can both say that we love it.  Although, sometimes it still doesn’t feel like we are retired.  It just feels like a long family trip so far.  But we are starting to adjust to the freedom we now have to live life the way we desire. As we travel and spend time together in early retirement we will learn, adapt, and grow. Early retirement gives us this time and freedom.

You can always learn more by subscribing to our YouTube channel!

Brock Waterman

Written: 12/1/2021 (and before)
Posted: 12/1/2021
Edited on 12/6/2021 (fixed grammar mistake); 1/17/2022 (for SEO)

Multi-night tent camping with small children: lessons learned

camping with small children
Becky, Kyra, and Verity as we tear down from our first camping experience in Ohio on 9/28/2021


The article below is one I was looking for before our first camping experience with kids and could not find. So I told myself after a few camping stays I would write this article about camping with small children. From Saturday, September 25 to Tuesday, September 28, 2021, the FIRE Travel Family had our first camping experience. We stayed 3 nights at the Streetsboro / Cleveland SE KOA near Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio. From Friday, October 1, 2021, to Sunday, October 3 we also stayed two nights at the Houghton / Letchworth KOA near Letchworth State Park in New York.

While camping at these locations we spent most of the day hiking in the nearby parks. We essentially used these locations for sleeping and showering. At the time Kyra was 5 years old and Verity was 2 years old. We mostly did a great job preparing, but we learned some valuable lessons. We also appreciate those who gave us advice as we prepared for this trip.

Lessons learned from camping with small children

  • The coldest we want the overnight temperature is 45 degrees (although 55 or above is preferred)
  • It works well to line sleeping bags with blankets, especially for the kids
  • Don’t take a blender
    • Fruit doesn’t stay frozen in the cooler, this was a waste of space that could have been better used
  • High quality sleeping bags are more important than a lot of blankets
  • Having a campsite in view of a playground is great so kids can play while adults setup and cook food
  • Buy an RV adapter plug (30 amp male to 15 amp female) for the typical campsite RV plug in to the normal power plug in (we were also able to borrow this at our first site with a $10 deposit)
  • Dish washing pans can be used for holding/cleaning dirty dishes and to set sandals or shoes in a tent inside overnight so they don’t get cold or disappear
  • Keep a Ziploc bag of ice in the cooler to use for drinks during the day if you are a person who likes to have cold drinks during the day
  • If the forecast calls for rain the day you are leaving do your best to pack and prep the night before
  • Campgrounds may have cool events for kids or adults, check their schedules and ask for details when you arrive
  • When packing up from a rainy day think about having the kids with food and activities in the dry car
  • When packing up on a rainy day pack a change and towel in a bag. Then use it, along with a warm shower, once everything is in the car so you don’t start the day dirty, wet and cold
  • Assuming camping sites have picnic tables you may not need camping chairs or a camping table.

Thoughts confirmed from camping with small children

  • High-quality sleeping bags are critically important for cold nights
  • Having a large tent with room dividers makes the experience more enjoyable
  • Focus on making sure you get a good night’s sleep; it makes everything easier
  • It is worth the extra money to get a lighted tent
    • Headlights are also a good investment, although phone flashlights can also be used
  • It is best to have a 50 foot outside extension cord and a large surge protector if you have multiple devices you want to plug in
  • Have a bucket or something else for overnight pee breaks so you don’t have to leave the tent
  • Bring a picnic table cloth to put down for cooking and eating
  • Make sure to get to your campsite early enough to be completely setup and settled in before it gets dark
  • Rain sucks, especially while packing up, that said it is completely managable with some preparation and thought
FIRE Travel Family - Ohio - Verity on Campground Slide - Financial Independence - Retire Early - camping with small children
Verity on the campground slide having fun on 9/26/2021 in Ohio

Background Information

Let’s start with some background. Becky and I have done overnight tent camping on multiple trips in both the United States and abroad while traveling/hiking. We used a two-person 3-season REI tent and typically had thin air mats and high-quality sleeping bags. All these items had to be ones that we could carry in our backpacks while hiking multi-day trails. With this setup, we have camped in areas that had the water freeze overnight and we still did not get cold.

While abroad we did rustic camping along trails, meaning there were no water, electricity, or bathroom facilities. We also camped in the US while traveling in a vehicle so we could access a few more items and had some items like water and electricity. That said it had been over 7 years since either Brock or Becky had camped. Neither Kyra nor Verity had ever slept outside or in a tent before this. It was their first camping experience. Kyra is a seasoned traveler. However, Verity has only been on one trip which was cut short after only two and a half weeks due to COVID in Belize in 2020.

We reached FIRE (financial independence retire early) at an average couple age of 37, in 2021. We always thought our first post-retirement trip would be an international trip. Much of this was because our travel budget was created with developing countries and their lower costs in mind. Geo arbitrage (which means we use the US dollar and its strong relative value to most foreign currencies) was a core part of our budgeting. However, COVID did not work with us in this regard. With about 2 months to go before we left, we finally decided it would be a US trip for many reasons.


To keep costs low we had two options (because staying at hotels exclusively was too expensive). The option nearly everyone told us to pick was to buy an RV. This would allow us to be comfortable and have all the stuff with us we wanted. The downsides to this were many for us. First, it was a huge outlay of capital and higher insurance, maintenance, gas, and other costs. It also meant less mobility and more to be responsible for. It also generally went against the minimalism tenant we have embraced. We believe that stuff = stress. On the upside, it would have been easier. But hey, why do what is easy? That isn’t how we roll!

So we choose Door #2 or the path less traveled. This meant we would take our minivan and tent camp for stays of 2 or more nights (weather permitting). So we were going to be doing a lot of camping with small children. When we couldn’t tent camp or were just passing through we would look for a low-end motel or hotel. Our goal here would be to pay less than $80 per night when we had hotels. Our hope was to tent camp for way more nights than we spent in hotels/motels. The hope was to bring the average per night costs more down around $50 to $60 across the whole trip. Our ultimate goal is to travel on less than $100 per day total in the United States.

The questions we faced

So we had a plan but were faced with many questions like:

  • What type of tent to get? (How big, what seasonality, what weight)
  • Would we get a good night sleep?
  • How would we cook food? (it was way too expensive to eat out all the time)
  • What was important to take and what could be left home?
  • How much could we fit into one minivan and what would need to be left home?
  • Would the kids handle this?
  • How would all of Kyra’s homeschooling/worldschooling fit into all this?

Also in the back of Brock’s mind was one truly horrible tent experience. It was when Brock was hiking to Machu Picchu in 2006 on the Salkantay Inca Trail. At this point, he had no overnight trekking experience or gear. So he was completely dependent on the provider to give good tents and sleeping bags…this did not happen. Brock has never been so cold in his life. At one point overnight he emptied everything from his bag on top of himself, it didn’t help. Brock slept for only a few minutes and was so happy when they came to him at 4 am with a hot beverage.

Since then he has always made sure to have a good tent and sleeping bag, plus good other equipment. This story points to what should be an obvious point. The main use of the tent is for overnight shelter. If you don’t have a good night’s sleep in a tent you will not want to do it over and over again.

What We Valued

With all that in mind, our focus became how do we make sure we are having a good night’s sleep every time out. To be successful camping with small children we focused on 3 main points:

  • Comfort
  • Warmth
  • Space
FIRE Travel Family - New York - Kyra and Verity Trick or Treating - Financial Independence - Retire Early
Kyra and Verity Trick or Treating as Park Rangers at our campground in New York on 10/2/2021


Becky and the kids

Becky and the kids can sleep anywhere (and yes they all 3 sleep together when we travel). Air mattress, double bed, basically they make anything work. So this part was easy, we got a cheap queen air mattress. We did make a point of having the pump be battery operated in case we stayed at a campsite without an electrical hookup. Specifically, we planned for all aspects of camping to be on battery when possible in case electrical hook-ups were not easy to come by. We choose not to buy a power cell for charging items.


For sleeping, Brock had some special requests/needs. While young he could do the inflatable 1-inch thick mats just fine. With age, waistline expansion, and back pain, he has concluded that no air mattress was going to make him feel comfortable. Most made him feel horrible and sleep poorly to boot. So we had to get creative here. What we were able to figure out is that we could fit a twin mattress in the minivan. When it comes to traveling people have one or two luxuries they can afford. Somewhere they use space that others might not. For this trip this was Brock’s luxury, having an actual mattress for tent camping.

Two days before we left on the trip, Brock did an epic extreme mattress shopping experience before ultimately buying an 8-inch foam mattress for the trip for $300 plus tax. We had figured we could have gotten the 10-inch, but it was another few hundred and the 8-inch seemed like it would be a good night’s sleep. Brock tested it out the night we bought it and was very happy with the choice. In truth, he actually liked it even better than the king bed we had sold a few weeks back. He even found himself sleeping on his back more (typically he is a side sleeper).

How this has went

After 5 nights we can say we hit the comfort area perfectly. Becky and the kids have enjoyed sleeping on the air mattress. Brock prefers sleeping on his twin foam mattress to any of the hotel beds he has slept on. We all took the box springs and frames out from under the bed before the trip. Therefore, sleeping low to the ground was not an adjustment and has not been a problem.

To protect the twin mattress we put both a thin liner on the bottom of it. We also put the plastic it came in under the bed to have a layer between the tent and the bed to keep the mattress from getting wet.

We also brought two camping chairs and one camping table. All pack down to a small size. None of them have been out of the minivan yet because the first two camping sites have had picnic tables. If this continues these could be items we would not have needed to bring. This could also be different if you want to sit around at campgrounds during the day. But we view them as mostly just lodging for the trip.

FIRE Travel Family - New York - Becky Taking Tent Down in the Rain - Financial Independence - Retire Early - camping with small children
Becky working to tear down the tent after a rainy night on 10/3/2021 in New York


In regards to warmth, we were primarily concerned with the kids and Becky. They all tend to be colder in most environments. Kyra struggles the most with the cold of anyone in the family. Whereas Brock is not likely to get cold. We made sure we had some thicker sleepers/jammies for both kids and a comfortable, thicker sweatshirt for Becky. We also packed stocking caps and gloves for colder nights.

From previous trips, we had three high-quality camping bags. We decided that Brock would use the older one when needed. Becky and the kids would zip the other two together to sleep in. Becky sleeps in the middle and the kids fit beside her. This worked well and mostly kept the kids close to her overnight. We have two kids who move in bed a ton. Kyra often is completely out of the bed overnight. Verity also moves around a lot, although she is less likely to fall completely out of the bed.

Our experiences

On our first night of camping with small children we put our preparations to the test with overnight lows of around 48 to 50 degrees. While sleeping bags do a great job with warmth overall, they are initially cold to the touch. After some experimentation, Becky lined the bottom of the sleeping bag with one blanket and put another on the top. When she did that Kyra was much more comfortable and warm. What we found on the cold nights is that the kids stayed close and slept very well with this setup.

We used all the blankets we had brought, around six in total (plus the kid’s small ones). Neither Becky nor Brock used their Under Armour base layer 1 clothing. Kyra used her stocking cap on the fourth night (got down to the high 40’s). No one has used gloves yet. While this has all worked well we have decided that we would prefer to only camp when the overnight temperature was over 45 degrees. This could vary for others and it is important to note that our tent is more a summer tent than a 3 or 4-season tent. We went with this tent because we also could see using it in very hot places and wanted one that allowed for air movement. If people had a more sealed-up tent they could likely stay in even colder temps, if they wanted.


The Tent

It is truly weird how tent capacity is measured. It is how many average-sized adults could sleep in sleeping bags in a tent packed like sardines. While this makes sense for 1 or 2-person tents this is not something families or large groups are likely to do. So for instance you are just about never going to see 10 people sleeping in a 10-person tent.

We knew right away we wanted a tent that allowed us to have two sleeping areas as well as a common area. We looked at small tents (6-person tents) and huge (up to 16-person tents). What we pretty quickly realized is that we wanted a tent that was around “10 to 12 people”. We preferred one that would be able to have 2 queen mattresses on each end and a common area of about the same size in the middle. A future post can go fully into all the research we did but we ended up buying a CORE 12 Person Lighted Instant Cabin Tent which is 18’ x 10’. This tent was also nice because it had room dividers so we were able to get the 3-room setup we were looking for.

We also knew that we wanted the space to be physically comfortable and part of this included having it be well lighted for the kids. While this cost around $70 extra by the end of the first night before lights were out we knew it had been well worth the money. This could have been done in other ways. However, having the lights built right in and with several settings (including night light mode) was so easy to use.

Other Comfort Items

So other comfort items include that we brought a 50 foot outside extension cord so that we could have electricity to charge phones and other devices at night. We brought a bucket for overnight pee breaks so that we didn’t have to walk all the way to the bathroom (only Brock has used this). We also put down a blanket in the common area to make the space more appealing to walk or sit on. It also protects the feet if there is debris under the tent. Doing this also made walking around warmer on colder nights. We choose not to buy some special awning or rain shelter for outside the tent.

FIRE Travel Family - Ohio - Tent Setup First Time - Financial Independence - Retire Early - camping with small children
Our CORE tent all set up at our first family camping experience on 9/25/2021 in Ohio

Food and Drink

An important warning

Another important thing to understand is food and drink. An important warning to cover, NEVER store food or drink in your tent. No snacks, drinks, fruit, anything. We even take the extra snacks out of our day hiking bag each night. The reason is that this can bring in animals. We had friends who stored bananas in their tent and had a raccoon join them in the middle of a stormy night much to their dismay. Not only is this potentially dangerous, but it also can destroy your tent.

Know yourself and plan accordingly

With that out of the way let’s talk about how we view this. If you are slightly overwhelmed with this being your first camping experience and having kids then make the food prep easy by going out for food or having pizza delivered. Do not feel like you have to tackle everything at once. In general, this is good advice when traveling with kids, learn in increments. We take the view that this is all a learning experience and we want to get better each time. This attitude has served us very well.


For us, we have a two-burner stove that uses propane that we use to cook on trips. Our personal preference is not to leave the campground once we have it set up at night. Additionally, buying groceries and cooking is much more economical than eating out. It is easy to blow your budget on restaurant meals. This also allows us to cook healthier meals than we can typically buy while traveling.

So there are many benefits, but a drawback is that it does take some effort. The worst time is always the first time you cook because you have to locate each item you need. A smart item Becky decided to bring for this trip was a picnic table cloth. It has come in handy while using picnic tables provided at the tent sites.

We have also used the divide and conquer method here. Brock has taken the kids to the playground or elsewhere, while Becky cooks. It is much more difficult to cook a meal with the kids sitting around waiting or even when they are trying to be helpful. If playgrounds are not an option, a walk, going to look for animals, getting ice, or just about anything else could also get the same result. We also always have a lot of ready-to-eat snacks with us to keep the kids from getting too hungry while waiting for meals or while on hikes.


In regards to drinks on this trip, we borrowed a 5-gallon water holder with a spout you can use to fill drinks (Thanks Thad!). This has been great because it means we can get water whenever we want throughout the day. This helps us all to stay better hydrated. Additionally, we keep a Ziploc bag of ice separate in the cooler. This bag is used for drinks which was a great new trick we started on this trip to have cold drinks on hot days. We also wrap our Nalgene bottles with hand towels to keep the ice in them longer when on hikes. We brought a blender because we make fruit/vegetable shakes at home each day. Having used it only once, we can say it was probably our biggest packing mistake.

Homeschooling / Worldschooling

Camping has not affected how we are worldschooling (homeschooling while traveling the world). The tougher challenge is finding the time to get the work done and have focus with Kyra. We find that we like to do her workbooks in the morning while we are making breakfast or packing to go. She has done her workbooks while sitting on the bed, on a picnic table, or in the car. The biggest thing is making sure she has enough focus to be able to keep moving forward.

The truly cool part about worldschooling Kyra is that the world is her mental playground. We let each hour bring the lesson to us as we experience the world. Sometimes it is animals or plants. Other times it is how things are made or done. Often it is concepts like gravity. The variance she is getting is amazing. Also letting her bring the questions helps her to feel like part of the process. I will go more into this in another post, but the important point for this post is that where you stay shouldn’t affect how you homeschool. However, it can enhance the list of things you can teach your child. Also being at campsites has been great for our kids to socialize and play with other children.

How it went

Overall our experiences camping with small children were great. Despite the colder temperature on the first night, the kids slept like rocks. It probably helps that they were exhausted from a long day of hiking and activities. The second and third nights were much warmer and Brock didn’t even use his sleeping bag on nights two and three. Becky slept as well as you can between two kids and Brock slept well. At our second stay, the first night was in the high 40’s overnight again, and the second night was warmer. The second night of that stay it started raining at 4:30 am, which did wake up both Becky and Brock (but not the kids).

After staying in some hotels, Brock prefers sleeping in a tent. This is likely due to the quality of his twin foam mattress in the tent and the lack of hotel smells. Becky likes the tent camping better assuming the bathrooms are close (they were not at our second stay). The kids are both excitedly anticipating our next camping experience. At our second stay, we hit their Halloween weekend, despite it being the first weekend of October. So we were able to take part in their trick or treating and candy hunt in the dark. Becky and the kids also did a bingo night at this campground.

FIRE Travel Family - Ohio - Kids on Jump Pad - Financial Independence - Retire Early
Verity & Kyra having fun on the Jump Pad in Ohio on 9/28/2021

Next Steps

Every family, adult, and kid will have important items. Before you go camping with small children it is best to have a conversation to make sure all the big issues are covered. That said we made sure to focus on the most important items and not worry about preparing for every contingency. We felt like the best thing to do was have the essentials and then adjust whatever was needed based on our actual needs. We were also greatly limited by space given that we were on a cross-country trip in the minivan. In a way, this required more focus and likely helped us to make better decisions.

Once you get comfortable with the basics up your game. Think about having a night where you look at the stars, play games, or do other activities. Both us and our kids love tent camping together. We highly recommend doing this as it is truly a different experience than being in a hotel or hotel on wheels (RV). With a little planning and a willingness to learn and improve we think any family could find this to be a great option!

Written By: Brock Waterman & Becky Waterman

Written: 9/27/2021 and 10/4/2021 (mostly)
Posted: 10/5/2021; 1/17/2022 (updated for SEO)

*For FIRE Travel Family videos see our YouTube Channel!

Holy Toledo Batman! – 2021 Trip Leaving

We are on the road and it feels so good 🙂 I am writing this 2021 trip leaving email while sitting in the van near Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio. We set up our tent for the first night of camping. First, let’s do a quick update and give out some thank you shoutouts.

A lot of people to thank

Since the last update on Sept 14, 2021, we have been busy completing the move from our house, selling our 2017 Chevy Traverse, and seeing how much stuff one family can fit into a minivan. Spoiler…it is both too much and still not everything we wanted.

There are so many people we want to thank. I am sure we are missing some people (our apologies) but here is a brief list of the ones that come to mind:

  • Matt & Rachelle Waterman for giving us a room in their amazing house in Waunakee, WI from which we can base ourselves and be when we are “back home.”
  • Thad Waterman for items too numerous to mention and helping with our mail and things to be done while we are gone, plus getting his passport for any emergency situations
  • Bill & Sheri Waterman for helping us to store items, use the truck and trailer for the move, and with other items
  • Janann Ambrosy and Rick Kenny for helping to store our stuff
  • Lisa & Tom Hast for all the general support and advice
  • Nicole and Pat Richey for general help during the house sale and lending us an air mattress when we sold our King Bed before the move
FIRE Travel Family - Dubuque - Becky Packing Trailer Picture - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early - 2021 Trip Leaving
Becky Waterman packing Bill and Sheri’s truck and trailer for our move on September 20, 2021

Readying for 2021 Trip Leaving

Since the last update we did the following:

  1. September 15, 2021 – officially sold the Traverse to; this was the last big item we had to sell before we left
    • We were also selling smaller items up to a couple days before we moved
  2. September 16 to 18, 2021 – we moved items to Janann’s and Rick’s to prep for the big move
  3. Sept 19 – we got the truck and trailer from Brock’s mom and dad and took a load to their house; also dropped off the kids for their last stay with Na Na & Pa Pa
  4. Sept 20, 2021 we packed all of our items (somehow – Becky did amazing) into the trailer, truck bed, and minivan and drove to Waunakee. With Matt and Rachelle’s help we unloaded what was staying at their house and put everything else in the trailer.
  5. Sept 21, 2021 we took the truck and trailer back to Boscobel and got everything put away at Bill and Sheri’s house. We also got the kids and came back to Waunakee.
  6. Sept 22, we got the needed items for camping including an epic search for what twin mattress Brock will use while camping
  7. September 23, 2021 we spent the day finishing paperwork, test packing the van, and preparing in other ways

2021 Trip Leaving

Now onto the good stuff, the travel! We officially hit the road on Friday, September 24 at around 11:30 am. It took several attempts and a lot of items left behind, but we finally got everything into the van. We were so excited to finally be on the trip. It was the culmination of over a year’s worth of planning, selling, and many tough decisions/conversations. We felt like a huge weight was lifted off our shoulders.

FIRE Travel Family - Waunakee - Ready to Leave Trip Picture - Brock, Becky, Kyra, Verity - Financial Independence - Retire Early - 2021 Trip Leaving
Becky, Brock, Verity & Kyra Waterman to hit the road on September 24, 2021, with a full minivan

We had previously decided that we would be going East on this trip, at least originally. Past that not much else was planned. We love the outdoors and hiking so we knew our first destination would be Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio. However, that was around 9 to 10 hours of driving away. On the first day, we drove to Toledo, which put us about 2 hours from the park. Our first attempt at frugal hotel nights was a fail…

We didn’t have a set location for the first night because we did not know how far we would get or even wanted to drive. Chicago traffic was not amazing and caused us some lost time (around 30 to 45 minutes). However, once we were about 30 miles into Indiana the traffic improved.

Needing a Hotel

We started looking for a hotel about two-thirds the way across Indiana. We were on highway 80, which is a toll road. There were surprisingly few options available for us and most were fairly high-priced. While still in Indiana, we concluded that the best option was probably to go to Toledo, which is pretty far into Ohio. Normally this would not have been a problem. But with the time change and extra time in Chicago it was getting dark as we started into Ohio.

We did other online searches, but the best options were clearly in Toledo, so we decided to push through. We were lucky because the kids were so well-behaved. One thing that helped was we have saved the cool surprise of the TV being in the minivan for this trip. We showed it to them around 6 pm on this day. So they were enjoying having a TV in the vehicle even as night fell. This helped to keep the are we there yet questions to a minimum.

Our First Hotel Doesn’t Work

When we finally got to Toledo at around 8 pm we went to the Motel 6. This looked like a decent option. Just to be safe we did not book online ahead of time so that we could view the room before paying. This was a smart choice because the room we were shown was bad. It had what I can best describe as the combination of smoke and mold I have smelled. On the upside, the front desk person was nice enough to let Kyra use the employee bathroom so we appreciated that…

At this point, we were back to square one and we needed food because everyone was hungry. This is where it helps to split tasks. While I had been in looking at the room with Kyra, Becky had stayed in the car and was looking for food options online. She found a place to get food very close to where we were. So we decided the next step was to get food. While we waited for food I did a new search. I found a Country Inn & Suites that had a special. It included Breakfast for about $25 more than the Motel 6, so we booked it happily. Having stayed at these before I was not worried about the room quality. At this point in the night, this seemed like a smart trade-off. We booked it via to get the rewards for it.

Arriving at the Hotel

When we arrived at this hotel it was great because we got right in, had an amazing room, and got free oatmeal creme pies to wash down the amazing meal, Becky had found for us. The kids were starving and excited to eat. While we ate we video-called parents at home and got set up for the first night in the hotel. Kyra was very excited to announce to everyone that her mom would be so happy. This was because Becky didn’t have to make breakfast the next day since it was included in the hotel price. It is funny what our kids get excited about 🙂

After eating the kids got to do some things they loved. This was great because they needed the attention after the long day:

  • Help get ice from the machine
  • Ride the luggage cart pretending it was a choo choo train
  • Do physical therapy by Brock on his yoga mat, while laughing the whole time

It was a great end to a productive day. And the upside was that we would start the next day only 2 hours from Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Brock Waterman

Written: 9/25/2021 (mostly)
Posted: 9/28/2021, 1/22/2022 (updated for SEO)
*For FIRE Travel Family videos see our YouTube Channel!