Clint Bush 0:10
Hi, everyone, welcome to we will wander exploring life off the traditional path, a podcast about location independent families living and working all around the world. I’m Clint Bush,
Zélie Pollon 0:20
and I’m Zélie Pollon, and twice a month we talk to families about what it’s like to live location independent, travel full time or educate their kids on the road. The world is big and time is short. So let’s get started.
So how do world schoolers and remote travelers afford their lifestyle? Well, there are as many different answers as there are families and individuals. In today’s interview, Clint speaks with Karen Ricks who travels full time with their family while working remotely as a chef.
Karen M. Ricks 0:54
Well, my name is Karen Rick’s and I am the head chef of Our Kitchen Classroom. My husband and I have been traveling full time with our son who is nine years old. For three years now. We just celebrated our three year travel, bursary. It’s really exciting. It’s awesome. And we are currently in Tirana, the capital city of Albania in Eastern Europe.
Clint Bush 1:23
Fantastic. So one of the things that when I was speaking to Astrid, my wife about just kind of your context that really struck me was that you are a chef, which is not the normal digital nomad job. So I would love to hear more about what your background was as far as being a chef and then how you transitioned into remote work.
Karen M. Ricks 1:52
Sure, well, it’s hilarious honestly, when I look back over the work that I’ve been doing for the last couple of decades, because took me a long time to actually call myself a chef. I am actually a professional educator originally by training and study. I have been a Montessorian since I was a child myself, going to Montessori Preschool where I grew up in Southern California. And I studied education for a long time I was a teacher in a private Montessori school in the United States. Before my husband and I left the us to live and work in Japan. Back in 2007. Wow. 13 years ago, it seems crazy long time ago. Oh.
So I actually followed my husband who was really excited about teaching in Japan. He is a novelist right now, but he has this incredible fascination with martial arts and he loves to To teach and so he was recruited by the largest English Language School in Japan to go and teach and I was just going to leave my teaching job take a one year sabbatical, to go and explore a new country with him while he was teaching. It was supposed to just be for a year. And we loved it so much. We ended up staying there for 10. Wow. completely unexpected. But during that time that we were there, our son was born. And I founded our own international Montessori school. And that was where we really took the Montessori training that I had and that my husband underwent while we were running our school, and really set off on the sort of homeschooling journey that I always intended for my child, but we just put it in a downtown building and we opened it up to our local community and it was an amazing time to be able to do all the things that I was trained as a Montessori and as an educator to do In multilingual setting, so I’m teaching I’m running this Montessori School. I’m having the opportunity to teach my own child like I always wanted to.
And then this amazing opportunity to go to cooking school in Italy opened up and it was everything I had always dreamed of doing. I love cooking. I’ve been cooking since I was a young child myself. And we did loads and loads of cooking at the school with the children including making lunches on a daily basis and cooking for big pop up dinners in a local restaurant and even cooking for big international festivals within our community. And so I’d always been passionate about food and cooking and never in a million years expected something when we sold it all off Italy. So That I could go to cooking school and we have been traveling full time ever since. So what I do now and part of how we continue to stay location independent, is teaching food and teaching cooking. As we studied the local language, history culture, I also dive in and study the cuisine in the different places where we live. And I teach cooking classes, not just online, but also in person. And what’s really unique about what I do is that I work with parents, especially families, with young children that don’t normally get to participate in things like cooking classes, when they travel because those things are usually reserved for adults. And it’s such a joy for me because I have the opportunity to utilize all those skills that I have as an educator for the last 20 something years and share what I love and what I’m passionate
Clint Bush 6:00
That’s beautiful. So when you were in Italy, when you when you sold everything, you sold the business, the Montessori School and then you move to Italy to go to cooking school. What part of Italy was that that you took the cooking school.
Karen M. Ricks 6:14
I was in Sicily, which is the island at the southern tip of the little boot. That is literally, we landed in Palermo, a coastal city in the northwest part of the island. And then we took a train down into this tiny little village, no more than about a kilometer across. And it was an amazing experience. We were really embedded in this tiny little Sicilian community. We stayed for part of the time actually in a convent with a trio of old Sicilian nuns. And it was the most incredibly immersive experience just It’s wild.
Clint Bush 7:00
Yeah, your your story so far sounds like a travel movie. It’s pretty brilliant, including the details of staying in a convent in Sicily. I know, right?
Karen M. Ricks 7:14
I couldn’t make this up if I tried.
Clint Bush 7:17
So how long you total them? Were you in Italy for the school.
Karen M. Ricks 7:22
So we spent three months during that first stint in Italy. And we were actually blessed to return to the country a little bit later in a different region. And so Italy will forever have a piece of my heart, the different types of cooking that happen in different parts of the country, the landscape, some of the best food we have literally ever had in our entire lives. It was It’s amazing.
Clint Bush 7:49
That’s amazing. And we only spent a month there and absolutely fell in love with it. There’s a mechanical back doesn’t Yeah, yeah, there’s a there’s a magic in the charmer, but especially if you’re passionate about it. Food because they are extremely passionate about food. Yeah. It’s a Yeah. Yeah. So one of the things I wanted to talk about was you were talking about how you like to teach classes locally, especially a little kids, one of our favorite things to do is take cooking classes with our kids in the various that we’ve been in. So we’ve taken classes in Indonesia, and in Mexico and Italy. And it, it’s absolutely one of the coolest things we get to do. So when you’re in a location, for example, you’re in Albania right now. Are you working with local people? Are you cooking? Are you teaching just general cooking, what is the local classes that you’re trying to teach there?
Karen M. Ricks 8:44
So you know, like any traveling food lover, I always seek out new experiences, cooking classes, the sorts of things that will give me an insight into the local food scene. culinary traditions in every new place. We live. And for whatever blessing reason, I am just attracted to or people are attracted to me that have the most incredible food stories and things to share. So, for example, when we landed here in Albania just over a year ago, and just around the corner from us, in our old apartment, was a brand new shop that was opening that was entirely focused on bringing sustainable and organic Albanian products to the local community. So I made friends with the owners and they have been teaching me so much about Albanian cuisine, and have even introduced me to some of the local producers. So it’s been an incredible resource for learning a lot about not only the food but about the culture and the language and my experience. I’ve always been, like you I’ve cooked since I was a small kid. And I’ve always been very, very fascinated with
Clint Bush 10:07
just the connection of food and culture and history specifically, and I’m blown away and Europe specifically to has has a really interesting history there with food. So you were in Italy and then how did you decide to go to Albania? or How did Albania enter your radar?
Karen M. Ricks 10:28
Honestly, we came to Albania out of sheer curiosity when transitioning from our brick and mortar school in Japan, to our travels in Italy and beyond. I had a lot of parents that I had been working with in Japan specifically, but also just friends and family in other parts of the world who were really curious about what it was we were doing and what I was learning at cooking school. So I was relatively new on social media at the time and sharing a few pictures. And things. But I knew that I wanted to take the teaching that we had been doing in our school on to a broader platform. And that’s really how our kitchen classroom began. And so in that process, I was working with a business consultant, who just happened to be living and working with her family in Albania. So she had mentioned that it was a wonderful place for food lovers and travelers and digital nomads, and especially parents with young children because she was here with her two children. So we were in Italy, literally just looking at the map going, where do we want to go next? And as we looked at the map, we saw Oh, hey, there’s Albania. It’s just on the other side of the Adriatic here. And it was literally an hour and a half flight, and we landed here and we fell in love so quickly, that it just it felt like home. almost right away.
Clint Bush 11:56
How long have you been in Albania now?
Karen M. Ricks 11:59
So We’ve actually been here for a little over a year and a half, but not consistently. We stayed here for about a year. And then we spent the summer traveling in other areas of the Balkans exploring Greece and North Macedonia. And we just still felt that pole to come back to Tanana. And so we looked, and here we are back again.
Clint Bush 12:24
That’s great. So you were you were saying for Albania, the business consultant that piqued your interest. She mentioned that it’s great for digital nomads and great food scene and because food is so central to who you are and what you do. Tell me I don’t know anything about Albanian cuisine. Just what does it consist of is similar to other European things are?
Karen M. Ricks 12:46
Well, one of the things that first attracted me was the fact that it is so closely linked with Italian. In fact, being so close, we can easily get lots of imported it’s Italian products. So Albania is the first country where my family and I have landed, that we didn’t know anything about the local history, language culture like nothing. And really terrible about that. So we started studying right away. But going to the market for the first time and seeing products that were labeled in Italian was a real relief because at least that was something that we was familiar, you know, that we could manage. But Albanian cuisine really has a lot of influences, not only from Italy, but also from Greece on its southern border, and Turkey, just off to the east of Greece. And because of the history of invasion and occupation, throughout the region. Albanian cuisine is really sort of a mix of all three of those. And there are other Middle Eastern influences too, obviously, but it’s really, really focused on a lot of the local and seasonal produce. And there are so many things that I had no idea or grown here locally that are just absolutely incredible. I know I said that we had the most delicious food while we were in Italy, and I will still stand by that. But Albanian food is really amazing, too.
Clint Bush 14:22
And so how has your son I mean, he being nine we have, we have a nine year old daughter and a six year old son, and how has your son adapted to the traveling? I mean, granted, you’ve been in one location more or less for a year and a half. But how do you think he’s benefiting? Or how do you think he’s enjoying the being abroad?
Karen M. Ricks 14:44
Well, the first and most important thing for me, is how we’re all really able to relate together as a family. And Albania really is a family friendly place. It’s incredibly welcoming for children. It’s so safe. We have wonderful, kind and generous neighbors, local business owners, people who are so happy to help us in every way as we are just kind of getting settled here in the community as a family. And my son is an absolute champ when it comes to traveling. We moved around a lot quicker in the first couple of years trying to, you know, visit more places. And settling down here in Albania, I think has given him a real sense of, I don’t know, stability, comfort, he’s really kind of relaxed into his role as a traveler as a global citizen. More than anything else, though. There are just so many fun things that we get to do together here as a family that he really enjoys. He’s very physical, and so he had a chance to work on Things like acrobatics and gymnastics training with a coach who was the member of the National circus here in Albania last fall. So that was a lot of fun. And there’s a brand new trampoline park that’s opened up here in town since we it was actually over the summer. Yeah, so it’s just been open a few months. But we have a chance to go there regularly. There’s an ice skating rink, and they’re beautiful parks. We can go for a bike ride around the lake, it’s really just a cool place to hang out and enjoy lots of family friendly activities, and he absolutely loves that.
Clint Bush 16:39
Wow. And as far as addition kind of family friendly. One of the things that I often hear from families who haven’t really traveled much or they they’re starting to they’re things that they’re worried about immediately our language, the ability to talk with someone and then the other thing is just cost of living. I mean, that’s always one of the things that comes up almost every company And then I have where Well, where do you feel especially you are in Italy and I have a sense for Italy to just kind of, of course you are. You are the very southern name, which I think is pretty slightly different lifestyle than the northern end, which is where we were. But how do you find Albania as far as a the language either learning local language, is it English friendly, and then be just kind of a cost of living in general there?
Karen M. Ricks 17:26
Well, as I said, Albania is the first place we ever landed where we didn’t speak a single word of the local language when we arrived. And it was absolutely incredible to be able to try to work with people to communicate. Albanians are incredibly multilingual for the most part, especially the younger generation. So loads and loads of people do speak English, especially working in the hospitality industries. So for people who are traveling, especially for shorter periods of time than we are, it is really easy. I think to to kind of get around, especially in a big city like Tirana, which is the capital, without any Albanian. What’s interesting though, is the Albanian language is unlike any other language that we’ve studied. So while there are some words that have some familiar sounding roots, like in Greek or Italian, there are others that are just completely different altogether. And so, it’s been a challenge to really learn and to communicate in Albanian. But as I said, Albanians are also very multilingual and studying other languages too. So my Italian also continued to improve here because for every Albanian that I encountered that didn’t speak English, there was at least some other commonality of language with whether it was Italian or a little bit of Spanish. I don’t really speak much Greek or French or German, but I have heard a lot of people studying those languages as well. So I would say in terms of the language and people working to communicate with you, it is very encouraging very friendly. People are very outgoing and incredibly helpful, too. I mean, I could have been like, just in line at the grocery store something one day and I had a question. And while the cashier might not have spoken English, somebody in line invariably did, they’re like, Oh, I can help and it just stepped up to help translate. So people are super helpful and friendly here.
Clint Bush 19:30
Yeah, that’s great. I love when, when that experience happens,
Karen M. Ricks 19:34
yeah, I do too.
Clint Bush 19:36
Let’s have a couple more questions that I kind of wanted to dive into. I guess one of them was more of a religious question as far as, as far as working online, teaching classes and stuff. What challenges have you found with teaching stuff online? And are you doing live videos and things like that, and we’re working on mine just as far as schedule or as connection issues? What are Some of the challenges I come across when trying to run a business that’s partially online.
Karen M. Ricks 20:06
Well, one of the biggest challenges, as I’m sure you know, it’s just coordinating schedules across multiple time zones. It’s invariably, you know, whether it’s a change from daylight savings time back, we’re just figuring out the timezone that you’re in and what the time difference is for somebody else. connecting with people around the world is just a challenge at times to coordinate everybody’s schedules and get everybody on the same page. But one of the things that I really enjoy especially and it works out well for my family is the fact that a lot of my clients are based in the United States or in North American time zones in general. And so it makes it really easy for me as a night owl, to connect with people who are in the United States. Maybe on the East Coast, for example. They can be six hours behind us. But I’m able to work with them and helping them prepare dinner for example, even though it’s midnight for me here, that’s just one of the joys that we have and being flexible and location independent. So I can hang out and have fun doing my midnight baking thing. And I’m still able to connect with clients and record videos for some of the lessons that I teach and stuff like that. So that’s a lot of fun.
Clint Bush 21:31
That’s great. Is there any advice you would have for families that maybe have had kind of more of a traditional path like you originally had, or looking to become location independent? Or maybe they just did in their, their thinking of travel? Is there anything that you’d wish someone had kind of told you when you first started traveling? That might be helpful.
Karen M. Ricks 21:54
You know, the best advice I can always give people, just something that I have to continually remind myself too, is to start before you’re ready. I talked to parents all the time, who are following our adventures on social media and they see, you know, that we’ve picked up and moved to a new country, for example, and thinking, Oh, okay, I have to research this. And I have to save X amount of dollars. And I have to make sure that I know this and that and 10 million other things before I can take the first step and kind of like having children in the first place. There is no one specific benchmark that you can say, Okay, now I’m really ready. Because you’re never going to be 100% ready for all the curveballs that family life throws at you. And the same is true when your family life is travel. But you never really know all the things that you don’t know until you dive in headfirst and so I just tell people just go, you will learn so many more valuable lessons when you’re already in the middle of it. Taking off on the adventure that I mean, that is. That is the adventure. That’s where the real learning happens.
Clint Bush 23:07
That’s great. And so I mean, so true. It’s like getting married having kids. There’s no way to be 100% ready for any of that? It really
Karen M. Ricks 23:15
isn’t. There never is. So just go like the best time to start was last year, you know, last week, last month yesterday.
Clint Bush 23:23
Yeah, just do it out. Absolutely. Absolutely. And is there anything else that you want to say that we didn’t get a chance to ask about or you really want to express that we didn’t cover?
Karen M. Ricks 23:34
Well, I think one of the really interesting things for us as a family that I want to encourage other parents to is to really take a look at just how the life that you really want to lead is something that you can take on the road with you. You know, my family and I had a really interesting experience running our school in Japan because we had the opportunity spend a lot of time working together before we took our act on the road as it were. But what we’ve learned as we have been full time travelers now for the last three years, is that we were really spending that time practicing how we were going to do this full time nomadic travel world schooling thing before we ever left Japan to start traveling. And so with my son as my sous chef, and like I was talking about the midnight baking, or you know, just spending time together, doing all the fun activities that we do. We have really embraced our location independence, because we’ve structured our businesses, our kind of working life, around the sort of life that we really want to lead as a family. And that’s what makes this adventure such a joyous one because we do get to do it together.
Clint Bush 25:00
That is a great thought. Absolutely. That is pretty much it. I got a couple Bonus questions we like to throw in there sometimes. Okay. And one is, is there a specific thing that you can’t travel without? I always love asking this of families because everyone’s answer seems to be fairly different. So I’m just curious, is there something that you your family has found invaluable while you travel around?
Karen M. Ricks 25:29
Oh, my goodness. Well, this is gonna sound really strange because, as digital nomads we rely a lot on technology. But in all honesty, the best thing I carry around with me now when I’m out wandering in a new place, is a pencil and paper. I’m really old school. I don’t have a cell phone. And so the different parts of the brain working together to help remember things, whether it’s a new shop that I’ve discovered a new vocabulary word that I want to make sure I remember writing things down with a pencil and paper is one of the most helpful ways for continuous daily learning and recall. So I can’t live without a pencil and paper. That’s a great answer. Great.
Clint Bush 26:16
I do have an extension off of that question, though. That is is more of personal interest to me is do you travel with a chef’s knife or a few knives
Karen M. Ricks 26:26
with you? You know what I actually don’t. And the biggest reason is, you know, all the safety regulations and things with flying. Yep. It makes it really difficult to travel with certain things. You know what I do travel with? That has been a challenge. Sometimes it’s my escapes. There was a time when it was really easy though. Those were my carry on. And obviously, you know, everything changed with 911 and all the enhanced security now going through air ports and even some border crossings. And so it’s really important that the things that we do carry and we traveled pretty light as a family now, it’s one check bag and one carry on per person. So, knives are something that I can buy in each new location and my husband is great at sharpening. So no, I don’t travel with knives, but
Clint Bush 27:27
I am tempted to I agree about buying the knives thing. I am tempted to buy a sharpening stone though, because that seems like it’d be fairly easy to travel with something that
Karen M. Ricks 27:37
is much easier to travel with. And it was especially helpful because, you know, sometimes we land in a new place and we might be in short term accommodations before we find something more long term, like working with a real estate agent to find the apartment that we’re in now for a year. But not all places have sharp knives. In fact, you We have landed in a few places that we might as well have used spoons that have sharp knife.
So I’m so thankful that my husband is so great and loves to sharpen my knives. Fantastic.
Clint Bush 28:13
Yeah, I learned it as a Boy Scout in the States. It’s one of my favorite things to do to
Karen M. Ricks 28:20
win. He loves it, he finds it really relaxing, and I can do it. But why would I do that? He enjoys it so much.
Clint Bush 28:28
Absolutely. Absolutely. And then the last bonus question is just Is there anything that you would like to plug that we can include in our show notes, whether it’s your business or something that you’d like for us to mention?
Karen M. Ricks 28:40
Oh, sure. As I said, My business is our kitchen classroom. And we’ve got some really exciting stuff coming up over the next couple of months, including a virtual world schooling summit, where I teach more about just how integral food and cooking is to our world schooling experience and myself. Son and I have both written books and we’re working on even more. Those are available on our website at our kitchen classroom calm. And we will have open registration again for our next online cooking workshop, the ultimate cooking with children, which is based on my first book, and it’s a great introduction to all the different ways that we really make welcoming children into the kitchen. So much fun and just a really family friendly learning experience.
Clint Bush 29:33
Although it’s fantastic, thank you so much for spending your your time chatting with me.
Karen M. Ricks 29:40
Now, thank you for reaching out I love seeing so many people who want to share this, you know, nomadic kind of location independent lifestyle and the fact that we don’t see as many families doing it makes what you’re doing so important but especially for families of color because I know when even just when my husband and I left the states, we didn’t see anybody who looks like us even we didn’t know anybody even coming from the States who was doing what we were doing just to pick up and teach in another country. But now traveling full time with a multiracial, multilingual child and working online and just trying to live our lives as a normal family and you know, not as broke backpackers begging for comes from the side of the road or whatever. No, seriously, no, there are some people who fear for us and what we’re doing because that’s all they know. Yeah, of people who are traveling or working online. So it’s like, you know, no, we’re not all broke backpackers. You know, we are actually living and thriving as a normal family just doing something a little less conventional.
Clint Bush 30:54
I absolutely agree. I think just the family angle and then the people of color, the The representation that like, is thankfully entering this market, or at least being exposed more is so we have to work to expose it. So that’s why I’m so glad that you’re doing very cool. Well, that’s something that my wife and I are both very passionate about. So I appreciate that. Well, thank you so much, Karen.
Zélie Pollon 31:24
Well, that’s the show. Thank you all so much for listening. If you like the show, please leave a review on Apple podcasts. It really helps others find us and let us know what you think.
Clint Bush 31:34
You can find links in episode notes at we will wander calm. Also, if you want to leave feedback or ask us a question. Go to our website. We will wander calm and click on ask the questions. Looking forward to hearing from you. For we will wander I’m Clint Bush,
Zélie Pollon 31:48
and I’m sailing Poland reminding you to get lost
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