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The Eat, Pray, Love effect: Going way beyond the family vacation

Extended travel – going way beyond the family vacation – is part of a post 9/11, post Eat Pray Love effect. Families sell the house, pull the kids from school and go – looking for more togetherness, an escape from stress, and, a global education.

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People are pulling up the roots of their stationary – often suburban – existence and hitting the road for long periods. Some want to give their children an experiential education, with the world as their classroom. Others want to disconnect from career stress, social media, a consumerist culture, and societal pressures to grow closer as a family. This isn’t a sabbatical; it’s often a life change. And some families aren’t even sure when or if they will return to their old lives.

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A surge in this kind of travel happened in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, inspired by a desire among families to get closer, observes Kimberly Goza, a founder of the website Families On The Road, which helps peripatetic Americans connect and share advice. The Internet has accelerated the trend, she suggests, making it easier to stay connected to friends, family, and co-workers. “It’s just easier now than it used to be,” says Ms. Goza, whose family has lived on the road for 19 years, supporting the lifestyle by performing professionally as “The Activated Storytellers.”

Perhaps the biggest spark in long-term family travel has been the enormous bestseller “Eat, Pray, Love,” by Elizabeth Gilbert. Published in 2006 – and followed by a gauzily romantic film – it tells the story of how Ms. Gilbert, 34 and newly divorced, healed emotionally and spiritually by traveling to Italy, India, and Indonesia.

The book is a clear marker for Tara Russell, a certified life and career coach in San Francisco: There was “before EPL” and “after EPL,” she says. Before the book, it was harder to explain to clients the value of taking a career break and traveling. “Now they get it.”

Ms. Russell, whose Three Month Visa Coaching and Consulting specializes in long-term travel, saw a spike in her business after the book came out. Counterintuitively, she says, the recession “really ripped the veil off the whole notion of job security. I thought it would have a negative effect on this kind of travel, but it actually empowered people to look at their layoff as an opportunity.” Some families, she adds, see travel as a way to get time together: “One of my clients said if she didn’t message her kids on Facebook, they would never come to dinner. This family realized the only way to knit themselves back together was to hit the road.”

Next: “We stopped looking at what we had to lose – like careers, house, friends – and began looking at what we could gain.”

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