Lainie and Miro: one mom, her son, and their adventures around the globe

February 22 | Guest post by Katherine Preston
Photo by Lainie.

Walking up Los Nevados hills in central Colombia, our guide had slowed down his own pace to keep up with those of us who were still acclimatizing to the altitude. With the clouds below, most of us were too focused on our breathing to talk, and even the guide's descriptions of the volcanic landscape had slowed to a halt.

Miro was not so easily deterred. At 11 years old, his backpack swung off his shoulders as he told the group about his current favourite tv show. He had downloaded Stan Lee's Superhumans series from the History Channel, and he was telling us about one blind man who visualized the world using a form of sonar. As we huffed and puffed our way up the hill, Miro explained how echolocation works, how this man was using the same techniques as dolphins and bats to navigate his world. His mum, Lainie, smiled and laughed as he closed his impromptu lesson with a litany of knock-knock jokes.

It was clear that Miro was no ordinary kid and his mum was no ordinary parent. Mother and son had left their home in LA back in 2009 in order to travel the world for eight years. They had left behind all the traditional models for parenting and education in search of a nomadic existence. They were currently staying in a hostel in Manizales, Colombia. They were my first introduction to the concept of world schooling and I was fascinated to learn more of their story.

What had sparked their decision to leave LA and make their home on the road? In 2008 Lainie Liberti had been running her small design agency Jungle 8 for eight years and she had eight employees. Eight seemed to be her magic number but, by 2008, the magic was wearing off. The Californian economy was tanking and she was exhausted. She was working long hours to keep the business afloat and she never had enough time with her son, Miro. It was a story we know all too well, but, in September 2008, mother and son made a life-changing decision.

They decided that they wanted to leave their home and take off on the adventure of a lifetime, a worldwide trip with no definitive end. They wanted to get back to spending time with each other and enjoying life. Their preparations for the trip began by selling most of their LA possessions. They were shocked by how liberating it was to simplify their lifestyle and live more frugally. Six months later they had shed most of their stuff and were ready to set off. Almost ready. They decided to do a test run, a trial trip to test the waters. They spent six weeks exploring Mexico and Belize. At the end of the trip they were hooked and returned to America to say their final goodbyes to friends and family.

When I met Lainie and Miro they had been on the road for close to two years. They had travelled through every country in Central America and were looking forward to slowly exploring South America. I thought of all the children I knew, of myself at Miro's age, and I wondered what life was like for Miro without stuff and without friends his own age. According to Lainie, he did not get to spend as much time with people his own age but he had always related easily to all ages, and he had always been mature for his age. Both mother and son tried to make friends of their own age and they often put down roots in a certain town or village for months at a time. They told me the story of how difficult it had been for Miro to give away all the Legos he had collected while he was in Guatemala, and how amazing he felt to give them to the children of San Miguel Escobar.

As we hiked up the hill, Miro told us all stories from mythology and attempted to teach the group some Spanish. His knowledge seemed to skip from subject to subject, informed by everything from museums to Google research and people he had met on the road. I asked Lainie how she kept up his schooling on the road. It turned out that Lainie let Miro lead the way. Unlike the formal curriculum that dictated the class schedule at my boarding school in England, Miro's education was based on the concept of unschooling or world schooling. The world that they were exploring had become Miro's classroom, and Lainie put her trust in the philosophy that Miro would learn what he needed to know when he was ready and willing.

After a day hiking in the hills, exhaustion had started to weigh down our legs and Miro was struggling to keep up with the group. As we climbed up the final trail, I could hear Lainie telling him jokes to keep him moving. When we finally fell into the truck to take us back to our hostel, Lainie shifted from being a giggling friend to a supportive mum as she hugged Miro and told him how proud she was of him.

Although Lainie's nomadic lifestyle, parenting approach, and educational values may not be for everyone, they do teach all of us about the beauty of letting go. The beauty of letting go of the rules we think we have, and the stuff we think we need. The beauty of allowing our instincts, and our children, to lead the way now and again.

You can read more about Lainie and Miro's adventures at Raising Miro.

  1. I have to admit I'm insanely jealous. Unfortunately due to finances, I'm not sure this would ever be a reality for me were I to become a parent – it's something I'd love to do!! I think it would be such an amazing way to educate and bond with your child.

    2 agree
  2. I to would like to know about the financing aspect. Would love to do this, let's be honest sounds amazing. But costs. How would it work?

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  3. Samantha & Eryn, you can do it! Believe me!!!

    The finances are a common question and people ask us about it quite often. Our story is simple, we planned for 1 year of travel, left with enough savings for period of time. As we were on the road, we decided to make our travels indefinite. So, in order to keep our dream going, we had to figure out how to make it work.

    Now I do a little freelance work design, consulting, brand strategy, work I can do from anywhere in the world. But in all honestly, I work only the minimal amount, and treat my freelance as a supplement to the earnings we make from advertising and sponsorships from our web site & podcast.

    My son and I live on a combined $500 – $1000 a month and we do that by living like visiting locals, volunteering, couchsurfing and traveling overland.

    Here's a link to an article I wrote about living frugally in Central America a year ago and even though we now find ourselves in South America, the concepts are the same: http://www.raisingmiro.com/2011/03/21/living_frugal_central_america/

    If anyone has specific questions for me, I invite you to send me a note through our website. I am always willing to answer people's questions.

    Love & light!!
    Lainie + Miro

    5 agree
  4. This woman is my hero! There are days when day to day life seems so monotonous, when owning a home is more stress than it is worth, when my full-time job working with international students makes the wanderlust almost painful. I would love to raise Ashton in a different country every year.

  5. That sounds like an exciting and wonderful way to live. Scary perhaps at times, but always a learning experience. Good on them!

  6. sounds fascinating!

    Might be prying, but have you found it hard to find places to live on the longer term in some areas? In my experience, finding a place to live in Colombia is quite complex with lots of paperwork and references to fill that most foreigners don't have. Is this something that you take into account when you decide to settle in a place for longer stretches of time, or do you choose a place and then try to make it work?

    • Jules,
      We have been mostly renting rooms. We use everything from Craigslist to asking the couchsurfing community in that area to sitting in a cafe and asking the wait staff if they know of a room for rent. We also have an air mattress with us, so my son and just need 1 bed supplied. Renting a room in a shared apartment gives us more flexibility and freedom. + we're not traveling with kitchen stuff or furniture, so it's the best fit. Surprisingly, everything always works out.

  7. What an interesting story. I'm curious — how do you (or do you) keep in touch with family and friends back in LA, or the other places you've called home?

    1 agrees
  8. I LOVE this. My husband and I thought about giving it all up and going abroad with the kids for a year, but in reality he can't take that time from his job, it's to good, too stable in this economy. I also wonder the nitty gritty of making this happen. The kids and I will be doing a two-month cross country road trip this summer, so I'm just happy for that.
    T

  9. Ok, seeing Lainie's replies. Very interesting. I love this for the two of you:-)!!

  10. This is similar to what my hubby and I are planning with our son. We decided, however, that we would not "travel indefinitly" until he was eight years old (financial reasons). It is so refreshing to see other parents who realize that kids need to explore as much as we do :)

  11. This sounds like something my dad and I would have loved to do when I was a kid. Traveling indefinitely never worked out, but we took a lot of shorter trips.

    During the school year, I went to public school like everyone else, and my dad worked. The summer though? The summer was all about traveling and unschooling. I like to think it was a nice middle ground between this lifestyle and the typical suburban american lifestyle.

    I guess my point is, I love this article, and for those of you who would love to do it, but don't think you can, why not try it for a few months at a time?

    2 agree
  12. Just curious to know how you deal with getting/being sick & the possibility of medical emergencies. Do you have an international health plan? And did you know Spanish before leaving, or are you two picking it up as you travel?

    P.S.: Before having my son, I volunteered in Nicaragua. I want to bring my son there & reading this article makes it more of a possibility. Thanks for sharing!

  13. One of my favourite podcasts – always interesting. Thanks for bringing us along on your adventure, Laini. I wish you and Miro many more years of happy globe trotting and learning together.

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