For Astrid Vinje and Clint Bush, a vacation to Costa Rica was as much a chance for redemption as it was a family getaway.
The couple, who wed in 2009, spent their honeymoon in the Pacific beachside town of Quepos.
On their last day, as they waited to catch the bus to the airport for their flight home, Vinje and Bush had one of their backpacks stolen – the one that contained, among other things, Bush’s phone, camera and travel journal.
Though they still had their passports and wallets, the theft – and the symbolism of the bus breaking down en route to the airport – marred their otherwise happy honeymoon.
Ten years later, they decided to return to Costa Rica with two of their three children and turn a sad memory into a happy one.
But in the decade that had passed, it wasn’t just their family that changed.
No longer a quiet beach community, Quepos is now a popular destination for mostly American tourists, with trendy cafes serving sushi and Wi-Fi hotspots everywhere.
Manuel Antonio National Park, which the then-newlyweds explored on their first trip, is now so popular that visitors are capped at 600 people per day (700 on Saturdays), with travelers lining up at dawn to score entry passes into the park the way they might queue up for tickets to a Beyoncé concert.
Taking the family on the road
For many families in the US, travel is a once-a-year luxury. But Bush and Vinje were eager to try something different.
The Seattle-based couple watched as long commutes swallowed up their together time and their kids spent more time at daycare than at the dinner table. Soon, an idea started to percolate – could they take their lives on the road, making the world into their office and classroom?
After attending a family travel conference in British Columbia, the couple spoke to other families who traveled full-time and realized they really could make their dream work.
Their ambitious goal? To spend three years living full-time on the road with their two younger children (Bush has an older son from a previous relationship) – Mira (now 8) and Julian (now 5) – while the little ones were still relatively portable.
The family’s journey began as they traversed the United States, then headed to Mexico and crept southward to Costa Rica, where CNN Travel connected with the family in Quepos.
Quepos, in Puntarenas province, is on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, about 165 kilometers (103 miles) from the country’s capital of San Jose.
Its most popular attraction, Manuel Antonio National Park, is a three-square-mile protected area known as a home to many species of animals, notably sloths who live up in the tall trees, plus more than 100 varieties of birds.
Its rainforest climate means the vegetation is lush and that the afternoons can be humid – which is a good incentive to visit the four beaches within the park.
Logistics were a major issue for such a long stretch of travel. Bush makes websites for companies and brands, which he’s able to do remotely, and Vinje runs their family’s blog, The Wandering Daughter, while also taking on freelance writing assignments.
“There was a dad’s night out [at the family travel conference] where we went to a brewery,” Bush explains. “I ended up talking to a couple guys who spent a lot of time in Mexico, and we honestly asked them logistics things. Like, ‘What do you do for work? How are you living? What are you doing for school?’”
From those new friends, he got advice about stretching finances (longer stays in less expensive countries like Mexico, traveling during the off-season, opting for apartments over hotels in order to cook at home and save on food costs).
It also helped that the family had some pretty heavy travel experience already under their collective belts. Vinje did a stint in Togo in the Peace Corps. Her family’s roots are in Indonesia and Bush’s in the Philippines, so the kids had already started long visits to relatives in Asia while in diapers.
Making nonstop travel work
One of the biggest misconceptions about nonstop travel, Vinje and Bush say, is that it’s a 24/7 vacation.
Their philosophy is to embrace “slow travel,” where they spend a lot of time in one place and adopt a schedule for work and school to keep life on the road as functional as possible, rather than racing from place to place and crossing items off a list.
“I work in the middle of the week and she does homeschooling with the kids,” Bush explains of the routine he and his wife set up.
“And then I give her Mondays and Fridays [so] she’s able to work and I do the kids’ schooling. Our schedule ironically is very similar as what it was in the States where we work throughout the week, and then the weekends are usually our time to go out and explore more.”
In Mexico, time was split up with one month each in the towns of San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Puerto Escondido and La Paz.
When plotting out their itinerary, each family member got to pick three countries they really wanted to visit. Mira was eager to visit China, while Bush chose Mexico and Vinje selected Norway.
Toddler Julian’s picks were “New York City, Africa and the beach.” (As he’s gotten older and learned more about geography, he’s specified his African country of choice as Madagascar.)
In addition to exploring the world, traveling has also been a lesson in paring down life to its most essential elements.
The family has limited their travel to warm-weather spots so that they don’t need to pack coats – Europe will have to happen during the summer or spring in order to work – and mostly do schoolwork on laptops and tablets instead of in heavy textbooks.
One exception was made for Mira’s “Harry Potter” books, which the family reads together and then leaves for another family when finished.
Living every moment
For the Bush-Vinjes, travel isn’t just about showing their kids new places. These early childhood years, before the fast pace of high school, sports and extracurriculars, is time for them to connect as a family.
“I really am thankful we have this time for them to sort of bond with each other, ‘cause once they get to be teenagers they’ll probably wanna do their own thing,” says Vinje. “I think that having these experiences now will solidify their sibling bond.”
For Bush, family connection was a major reason to hit the road and make some memories.
His father and sister both died in a car accident when he was young, and the feelings of loss still reverberate now. “I learned to live every moment,” he says of the experience.
As the family and their guide hiked through Manuel Antonio, the kids happily pointed out animals they saw along the way, including monkeys, iguanas and both two- and three-toed sloths.
The week before, Vinje had shown Mira and Julian a nature documentary so that they could learn the names of different animals. As the tour guide added additional information – did you know that sloths only come down from the treetops once a week? – both children hung on every word, with Julian repeating some of the facts back to him.
That night, Mira and Julian cozied up on the hotel bed together, watching a YouTube video.
Vinje smiled at the sight of it. “For the most part, they really do look out for each other.”
Her husband nodded in agreement. “They’re each others’ best friends at this point.”
Mission accomplished: The foursome had wonderful new memories to end the day with, and Vinje and Bush got the do-over they wanted.