Natalie in front of an artifact at Sitio Barriles one of the most famous archaeological sites in Panama.

A Family Backpacks Across Central America

Janet LoSole took the road less travelled and went on a two-year-long backpacking trip with her husband Lloyd and daughters—Jocelyn and Natalie—across Central America. She recounts this bold journey in her book Adventure by Chicken Bus: An Unschooling Odyssey through Central America

Janet LoSole, Canada-based Author, Adventure by Chicken Bus: An Unschooling Odyssey through Central America

Janet LoSole and Lloyd are teachers based in Ontario, Canada, and homeschool their daughters. The tenet of homeschooling lies in learning hands-on rather than going by bookish knowledge. As both are avid travellers, they took a calculated risk of embarking on this long trip to give a slice of real life to their daughters Jocelyn and Natalie. While they have backpacked across Europe and worked as teachers in South Korea (during their honeymoon), this was the first trip with their children.

They hoped to find teaching jobs in Costa Rica to have a smooth stay. However, it doesn’t begin as planned and there were no jobs in the offing. Despite the challenges, the brave couple sold off their belongings, rented out their home, and took the flight to Costa Rica. To understand their reasons for hitting the road, it’s best to read the epilogue first—Janet endorses community-based travel, supports local businesses and favours public transportation called chicken buses. Lloyd is an avid environmentalist and believes in sustainable living.

The 226-page book opens with a map, which shows the reader where all the family travelled. The journey isn’t a piece of cake—there are ups and downs, pros and cons but Janet has focused on the greatness of human life. Lloyd and she make a balanced pair. Everything is listed out, discussed and then executed. From crossing perilous bridges to safe places to stay in, it’s all well-oiled teamwork. They go canoeing amid the mangroves, swim underwater in safe coves, go through borders in chicken buses. They save endangered sea turtles on a sleepy island in Costa Rice, do some organic farming and make friends in remote places. In Panama, they brave the river to reach an isolated monkey sanctuary. They explore the Mayan temples in Tikal, Gautemala. The book is a learning for all of us who sit and speculate but never venture out.

Janet LoSole delves on the ‘hows and whys’ and lessons learned in an email chat:

Jocelyn and Natalie in front of the Pyramids at Tikal National Park, Guatemala
Jocelyn and Natalie in front of the pyramids at
Tikal National Park, Guatemala

As a Canadian citizen, why did you choose a backpacking trip with your family across Central America?
Costa Rica is a safe and secure country with an adequate infrastructure. This weighed into our decision. There continues to be a high demand for ESL teachers there. Europe was off-limits to us as Canadians in terms of employment. Costa Rica is closer to home, which was important since some of our family members were growing older and we had never travelled to that part of the world before.

Hands-on schooling could have been done in a smaller time frame too. Was it necessary to make it a long trip?
My husband and I are travel junkies as well! When we travel, we immerse ourselves in the language and culture. To do that well, it takes time. And we wanted a break from our lives. A looooong break. It mattered a great deal to us to have the girls exposed to a way of life that might be deemed difficult. Lloyd felt we were only paying lip service to environmentalism while driving two cars around. We intended to rely on public transit whenever we could. I wanted the girls to understand how others lived and to respect the privilege into which they were born.

Travelling requires confidence. We hoped to instill conviction in their abilities to travel while they were young. Lloyd and I also wanted to prove to other families that you can travel with children, and to encourage them to reject the expectation that one must work without ceasing until retirement.

What’s the most fascinating thing about Central American culture?
I love so much about their culture but the one aspect that stands out is their connection to family and the way they accept children wherever they go. They are warm and loving to all children. I never saw any cross parents.

As teachers, both you and your husband know the ways to educate your children. But does homeschooling prepare children for the adult and professional world?
Yes, perhaps more so! Homeschooled kids are very self-directed. This is a benefit in the post-secondary field, where kids have to choose what they want to study. They have been encouraged to explore interests from a young age. They are accustomed to interacting with all ages, making them adaptable to the working world. They typically possess life skills like meal preparation, how to stay healthy and budgeting.

At Volcán Poás, central Costa Rica (Jocelyn on the left, Natalie on the right)
Jocelyn (left) and Natalie at Volcán Poás, central Costa Rica

How much do Jocelyn and Natalie recall from the trip?
I believe both of them have been affected by the trip. I can see from their perspectives that their world view is geared towards social justice. Both can speak a level of Spanish. They don’t have a lot of opportunity to practice but it is still there.

If someone wants to replicate your journey, what would be your advice?
I wrote about that! https://worldschoolerexchange.com/five-tips-for-successful-long-term-family-travel/

Please share some interesting countries and cultures that you have experienced on your backpacking trips earlier.
I’ve been backpacking since I was a teen. I was fortunate to spend a summer in France when I was young, and I have really not stopped travelling ever since. Our honeymoon took place in Korea so we could teach ESL there. We backpacked through Australia about 25 years ago and after 90 days I had to fly to New Zealand to renew my tourist visa. I toured the museum in Auckland and the Maori community kicked off the tour with a Maori warrior dance.  I was mesmerized!

Would you be taking the trip to Quebec?
We spent many, many summers in Quebec. We have such affection for Quebec. We travel there often as it is not far from our home province.

(Photographs courtesy: Janet LoSole)

Are you inspired to go on an adventurous trip with your family? Do share your thoughts with us.

17 thoughts on “A Family Backpacks Across Central America

  1. Very good post. You have penned down a family backpack experience across Central America. Highly inspirational and nicely written. Keep up the good work.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I might just have to check out this book. I have two very young daughters (aged 4 and 1 right now) and I am hoping to do something similar to this in a few years time, somewhere in South or Latin America or maybe Asia. I love reading other travelers accounts when they have done this sort of thing with their families and is giving me the push to do this.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is such great inspiration proving that you can still travel and adventure with kids in tow. I love that it has also expanded the world view of the kids already at such a young age. That is so important and something everyone should strive for. Achieving greater empathy and understanding.

    Like

  4. This is so inspiring! I traveled with my sister a lot growing up, but nothing like this. Just think of all the stories those girls are going to have growing up, not even to mention the fabulous memories! I will definitely be looking into reading this book, thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This was certainly a bold decision and haven’t come across many couples who have done so. I certainly agree that traveling opens our mind out to experiences that otherwise are difficult to get. Loved the interview and I completely agree that breaks from our day to day job to keep our mind and health refreshed.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is an incredible and inspiring story. I hope to teach the children I have in the future these same lessons, and give them experiences that will affect them positively while growing up. Will definitely have to check out your book!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. A two-year-long backpacking trip is my dream! I’m impressed by the story of Janet, her husband Lloyd, and her daughters. It’s not easy to travel through Central America, so it’s a very inspirational and motivating story. Amazingly, they show their kids the world in such way.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I always admired couples with children like this. It’s something that never crossed my mind and I don’t think I want to do it. It’s not easy to leave your comfort zone. To visit a village in Asia, Africa, or South America for a day or two during traveling are fine, but for a long two years, I don’t think I can do it.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It is so important to travel as a family along with kids, it gives so much of exposure. It is so amazing the way you have written your journey across Central America with your kids. I have friends who have so much of difficulty traveling with their kids and they usually stay home and not travel at all. I will definitely send this post to them.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This is amazing and so inspirational. I think when I have kids I want them to follow in these footsteps and develop a worldview by taking them on my adventures, whether that’s roaming around the globe or in our campervan. I think travel is the best teacher and this story clearly shows that. Thanks a lot!

    Liked by 1 person

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