This family gave up their home, job and school for a nomadic life | Condé Nast Traveller IndiaMay 28, 2021
In 2019, the Iyer family gave up all worldly pleasures. They sold off their Pune house, car, appliances and furniture to live a nomadic life. Santosh Iyer let go of his lucrative job as an IT professional. Their kids, Hridhaan and Khwahish, gave up school. The family now lives out of four suitcases, and travels all over India, staying for no more than two months in one place.
How could they afford this life? Homeschooling and remote working.
The world of homeschooling
The decision was fraught with fear for the mother, Aanchal Iyer, who had several apprehensions. “But this seemed like the only way forward. My 11-year-old son was reprimanded for getting six out 10 questions right in a test. We didn’t want to put our kids through the rat race we went through. Because the truth is today, whatever I am doing, I didn’t study in school, and whatever I studied in school, I don’t remember,” says Aanchal, who is a freelance digital marketer.
The mother visited several schools to see if things worked differently. “90% is a requirement for every school. And that’s not the only way of life. So, I stopped looking and started homeschooling.”
Her six-year-old daughter also followed in her brother’s footsteps. “She was once scolded because she wrote ‘A’ when she was asked to draw a slanting line. We decided to homeschool her as well. She is in the 2nd standard, but is on the 4th standard syllabus.”
Hridhaan, who earlier fell off to sleep on the first page of his book, is now a voracious reader. “Every chapter has become a story for him. He reads three-four of them at a time. There’s no hurry to understand or to mug up anything, and this liberates him,” she says.
Hridhaan has a set timetable. He studies three subjects a day until noon. Math remains a constant every single day. “He does it all on his own, except Math, which I teach him. He asks me if he doesn’t understand anything or looks up the Internet and uses apps like Khan Academy and Epic Books to understand certain subjects. If he has studied a chapter on Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, he will watch a YouTube video on him after.”
When it comes to science, the father conducts experiments at home to make them understand better. At night, the entire family sits together and reads for at least an hour. Before they retire for the day, they watch a documentary. “When a teacher or parent teaches a child everything, they use a particular method. The child starts to believe that is the only way to understand, but that is not true,” says Aanchal.
Homeschooling from farmhouses and other locales
While the homeschooling was going well, the parents felt something was missing. “They were learning, but from home. The best way really to teach children is to expose them to different cultures and people from different walks of life. We realised travelling was the only way to do this.”
They started off by testing the waters. “Our first trip ever was a trekking trip to Pavana Dam in 2017 and it was freezing cold. But the way the kids adapted to the situation, and living with basic amenities and food—all with a smile on their face—was commendable.”
The family eventually fell in love with the nomad life and not having one place to call home. So, they let go of everything that anchored them and reduced their house into just four bags. Since then, they have lived in Rajkot, Palampur, Dalhousie, Kasauli, Ooty, Jaipur and Udaipur.
How do they pick a place? The kids decide, says the mother. “They prepare a PPT presentation with why they should go there, the hindrances they may face and the best places to eat and see. They give us two options and that’s how we pick. Our next stop is Uttarakhand,” says Aanchal, who is sheltering at her family home in Prayagraj, waiting for COVID to settle down before they move.
The parents also choose homes that add to their learning experiences. “In Ooty, we lived in a farmhouse. Hridhaan would wake up and help pluck vegetables. My daughter would observe the poultry farm. We have also lived with families as paying guests. It gives my kids exposure because they live with people from different cultures and age groups,” says the mother.
Travel is learning
Travel has played a deep role in bringing out the curiosity of the kids. “When we visited Dharamshala, my son was intrigued by the monks and their way of living. He went back home and researched all about them. The scriptures they read, the things they’ve given up. He also told us he wants to visit Bhutan next. He says things I don’t expect an 11-year-old to even think about,” says Aanchal. “When I am angry, he says, ‘Mom, are you overworked? Please turn off your laptop and relax’.”
Living away from home has also taught them to be adaptable, empathetic and to co-exist. “They will sleep on the floor if they have to. They enjoy the rain and endure the heat. We walk almost 8-9km a day. They carry Parle-G biscuits to feed the underprivileged on their way. In some villages, we didn’t find things like ketchup. They have learnt to live without that too. My daughter who got scared at the sight of an ant has lived in a farmhouse with spiders and chickens. They don’t demand toys because it’s hard to carry all that around.”
Travel has also helped them overcome their fears and inhibitions. “In Shimla, we were living on a hill that was about a kilometre away from the main road. Hridaan cried, slipped and fell, but he eventually overcame his fears.”
Moreover, exploring new places gives them experiences a textbook never could. In Jaipur, Hridhaan spent the day with local artisans, learning pottery. On a visit to Himachal Pradesh, the family stayed in Yol, one of India’s largest cantonment areas. “They learnt what discipline is from army men. They would wake up every morning to watch them run and exercise. They developed a deep respect for them during this trip.”
Instagram vs reality
While the experience is extremely rewarding, the nomadic life comes with its own set of challenges. The biggest one is finding a home. “Landlords are not okay with renting out their home for two months to a family that has no base. Living out of a suitcase has its pros and cons too. You need certain things like an air cooler or heater and utensils, and the initial investment at each place is a little on the higher side. The only way to sustain this lifestyle is to cut down your expenses.”
The family also has faced resistance from their own. “Our parents were convinced that we were ruining our children’s life. Just when they accepted homeschooling, we sold off everything. This really shocked them. And they weren’t wrong, but we weren’t either for wanting this life.” It’s not just their family, but their neighbours as well. “Parents often ask their kids to keep away from our children. They assume children who are homeschooled don’t study. My son has his own school name now. It’s called Knowledge Academy,” she laughs. “Homeschooling is a very big responsibility, though. It’s a full-time job.”
The children are also uprooted just when they’ve made friends, says the mother. But she is quick to add that they wouldn’t live life any other way. “The kids feel suffocated in the city now.”
For the family, the tradeoff feels small. The mother says, “My children have become decision-makers. They’ve learnt to question and use their logic and thoughts and be vocal. They are happy with the basics. They are not worried about whether their father has a car or how much money is in the bank account. There was no point when we felt financially comfortable living this life. But life’s struggles go on whether I’m home or travelling. So, I might as well travel. The focus is on happiness now. This thought process makes life so much more enjoyable.”