Have children, will travel
PHOTOGRAPHY Simon Murphy
WORDS Charlotte Hogarth-Jones
From a quiet life in Utah to living out of a suitcase, meet the intrepid family-of-four who have made a living out of exploring the world
As Jessica, 30, Garrett, 29, and their children Dorothy, 4, and Manilla, 2, race past the tennis courts towards The Gleneagles Falconry School, they could be any normal family on holiday.
Except they’re not. Their teeth are whiter, their skin is more tanned, their outfits are beautifully composed – and there’s not a porridge smudge in sight. This is The Bucket List Family, and over 430,000 followers will join them on Instagram and 33,000 on YouTube as they enjoy a trip across Scotland. A social media sensation, they have no permanent address and spend every week in a new destination, from the Bahamas to Japan, Tahiti to Australia.
“It started off as a joke,” says Jessica, recalling the family’s plan after tech entrepreneur Garrett sold the company he’d founded with college friends to Snapchat for $54 million back in 2014. “We kept saying, ‘Let’s just sell everything and go travelling,’ but Manilla was only one at the time. In the end we decided we’d go – for five months. We put as much up for sale as we could and just took off.”
And so the family set off on their great adventure, leaving the money they’d made from the acquisition sitting safely in the bank. “We’re quite frugal people so that’s all in savings and investments,” Jessica explains. “Now we work with hotels, brands, companies and airlines, so our journey has basically turned into Garrett’s second business.”
And what a business it is. Though both Garrett and Jessica still work upwards of 40 hours a week editing videos, uploading blog and social media posts and contacting brands and companies, the job clearly has some magnificent perks – from days spent swimming with humpback whales in Tonga to enjoying a leisurely lunch under a giant mango tree in St Kitts. “It’s a fantastic lifestyle,” nods Jess, “and we feel so blessed. But it’s not a vacation.”
Wherever they travel to, Jess and Garrett teach their children to say hello, please and thank you in the native language. Best of all, says Jessica, the children are spending their formative years mixing with people of all different creeds and colours. “We’re from Provo in Utah, where 90 per cent of the people are white and the same religion,” she says, “so it’s a joy to see Dorothy playing with all these different children. She really does love and respect everybody.”
It’s not all plain sailing though – both parents recall with horror a certain trip where the children howled their way through an otherwise peaceful bamboo forest in Kyoto – and there’s the inevitable adult frustration of not being able to experience everything outside your hotel that you might want to. Having two children under the age of five, it seems, slows things down considerably.
There’s a sense, though, that the family are extremely well adjusted to their ever-changing lifestyle. “Every night we’ll tell the kids a story to get them excited about the journey ahead,” says Jess. “So we’ll talk about things like having tea in London or eating noodles in Japan. Manilla knows that when we go on an aeroplane, we go ‘night-night’, so they’re both pretty good at sleeping through flights.” And when all else fails? “Raisins. Or string cheese. Anything that takes a really long time to eat.”
However much they travel, safety is always a concern, and the family delay their social media posts and keep their next destination secret, so they can never be tracked. But what sounds like the ultimate fantasy lifestyle isn’t without its downsides. “Dorothy wants friends so badly,” Jessica sighs. “It’s the one thing I wish I could give her. For now, I’ll sit down for an hour or so and play princesses, but when she begins school next fall, we’ll start settling down.”
And so, while Jessica and Garrett agree that they could never stop travelling completely, there’s a sense that there’s only so much longer the family can continue living their peripatetic lifestyle. With so many destinations to cover, what made them so eager to head for Gleneagles?
“It’s been my favourite place since… forever,” says Garrett, whose mother was a travel journalist. “I’m always talking about it. We had this family tradition when I was a child that everyone could pick an international trip when they turned 12, and for some reason I chose Scotland. I remember when we arrived, we showed up at this quaint old train station, picked up a white phone and someone came to pick us up. As soon as we got here it felt like home, and as a kid, all the activities were so exciting – where else can you do shooting, horseback riding, pitch ’n’ putt and falconry?”
Now, here he is, back at the school of falconry with his own family. “Some of the business success I’ve had doesn’t make me feel successful,” he says, “but being able to offer experiences I enjoyed in the past to my own children is very rewarding. I remember going to a baseball game with the CEO of a major tech company. He’d been my idol, but as we talked I thought, ‘I don’t want to grow up and be like you.’ I know it’s a huge privilege to see my children grow up, but I think our culture has tricked people into thinking that only seeing your family at the weekend is normal. It isn’t.”
“The most important thing I’ve learned,” says Jessica, “is that all that really matters is your family. There was a day in the Caribbean when our flights were cancelled, Manilla had fallen and had a bloody nose and both kids were screaming. I remember looking at Garrett and thinking, ‘Should we just go home? Where even is home?’ But then I looked at all the craziness in front of me and I realised, ‘This is it.’ Being with those you love – nothing beats that.”
Follow @thebucketlistfamily on Instagram for more of the family’s adventures