The Sueiros had it all — great careers, a community of friends and kids enrolled in a top-notch international school in Boston.
Will was a corporate accountant, and Jessica ran a graphic design business from home. Life was “comfortable, uneventful and routine,” said Jessica Sueiro.
However, they were overscheduled and depleting their finances with expenditures of around $10,000 a month — not on “a pampered life” of fancy cars or weekend ski trips, said Sueiro, but on rent, private school tuition and an “image” that required presentable clothing and regular haircuts.
“We had the lifestyle that we dreamt of,” said Sueiro. “But once we had it, we were not convinced it was the correct path for our family.”
A ‘leap into the unknown’
The family took a “test trip summer” to Paris to see if they could survive in a foreign land, said Sueiro.
“Not only could we survive, but we thrived,” she told CNBC. “We lived on much less, and we were so happy.”
So — with two kids, aged 6 and 10 — the Sueiros sold 85% of their belongings, got international health insurance, opted for paperless bills and left Boston in 2014 to “leap into the unknown,” she said.
Since then, the family has visited more than 65 countries, with members going to all seven continents, said Sueiro.
During the first three years, the Sueiros lived in locations for nine to 12 months at a time, renting furnished homes and traveling extensively, said Sueiro. The family lived in a 21-foot RV for the next 2 1/2 years, moving constantly and visiting every country in Europe, plus Morocco.
They had just arrived in Japan when the pandemic struck. They eventually returned to France, where they have long-stay visas, and bought a 38-foot catamaran, where they have been living since August 2020.
Yacht life for $2,500 a month
The Sueiros had very little sailing experience when they bought their boat, which makes traveling via water harder than over land — at least for now, said Sueiro.
She said she believes eventually “sailing will turn into a much easier and cost-efficient way to travel,” despite boats having a “reputation of costing a fortune.”
“Our monthly budget since we became full-time travelers has always hovered around $2,500 per month,” said Sueiro, which includes medical insurance but not schooling or business expenses. “Right now … we are a bit lower than that.”
After the initial cost of purchasing and equipping the boat, the “bills have leveled out,” and the family’s largest recurring expenses are food, school, medical and boat insurance, SIM cards and periodic boat repairs, she said. The general rule, she added, is to factor in 10%-30% of the boat purchase price for yearly repairs and upgrades.
“There are a lot of assumptions about this type of lifestyle … the No. 1 by far is that one must be rich,” said Sueiro. “I cannot speak for others, but I can tell you that we work a lot … we are also very frugal.”
Jessica and her husband worked remotely for the first three years before establishing WorldTowning, a travel coaching company for long-term travelers. Their group tours are restarting this fall and are almost sold out, she said.
The hardships of a nomadic lifestyle
The Sueiros had $10,000 worth of belongings (including computers) stolen in Belgium. They’ve been verbally assaulted in Norway and stuck in a rainy ravine in Turkey — at night.
“However, our biggest ongoing hardship … is the judgment on how we live,” said Sueiro, adding that this has come from educators, potential employers, doctors and business clients.
“In addition, there have been accusations that our children are not educated properly, that we must have family money, that we are lost souls, irresponsible and much more,” she said.
The kids have attended private and public schools and been homeschooled (“or as we call it worldschooled”). Both want to attend university in the U.S. and the oldest, Avalon (age 16), is preparing by taking courses through online universities, said Sueiro.
“Will and I adopted a philosophy of ‘no one gets a vote on how we live our life,'” she said, adding that the current shift to remote work is softening attitudes toward alternative lifestyles.
Inspired by a movie
The Careys were a “regular family” living in a three-bedroom house in Adelaide, Australia — until they were inspired to sail the world after watching a documentary about Laura Dekker, the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe alone.
The couple saved for more than two years, took sailing courses and bought a 47-foot boat “sight unseen” in Grenada, an island country in the Caribbean.
“We basically jumped on board, and we did everything our own way,” said Erin, with a laugh. “We ran aground, our engine cut out … we had to get towed.”
Despite being “non-sailors,” the couple and their three young sons sailed around the Caribbean before crossing the Atlantic Ocean 18 months later, she said.
The family returned to their house in Australia at the beginning of the pandemic, but quickly realized land life wasn’t for them. The family was “always rushing” to school and sports activities, and the kids read less and stayed in the house more, said Carey.
“We weren’t spending any time as a family,” she said. “There were very few moments at home where we actually really felt alive.”
The Careys sold their home and returned to their boat in the Azores in March this year.
The pros and cons of boat life
Despite the freedom and adventure, Carey said it’s normal to get sick of the lifestyle because “it’s super hard living on a boat.”
Cramped living quarters, blocked toilets and no hot showers or cars (“we’ve got to lug our groceries everywhere”) are just the beginning. “Rolly anchorages,” a boating term for a rocking boat, prevent quality sleep.
But days aren’t rushed. The kids take courses through Acellus, an online school, for two hours each morning while Carey runs a PR agency called Roam Generation from their yacht. Then the family may go on a hike or to a museum, or the kids play or fish with other kids in the marina. They’ve started reading again, she said.
Are kids rare in the community? Not at all, said Carey.
The “cruising” community is well-connected, and families with “boat kids” seek one another out.
“Often people will change their plans and go to where the kid boats are because happy kids make this lifestyle so much better,” Carey said.
Cruising: Not just for the ultra-wealthy
To finance living full time on a boat, some people save up money to sail for a predetermined amount of time, while others sell or rent out their houses. Others run location independent businesses from their boats. Many are retired.
“We’re a family of five, and we probably spend about $4,000 a month,” she said. “There are people doing it on literally $500 a month, and then obviously there are people living on superyachts.”
Without a mortgage or a car, Carey said “living on the boat is cheaper than living in our house back home.” However, “things on boats break all the time … so you have to be prepared.”
“Your sail rips, there goes $5,000,” she said. “They say boat stands for ‘Bring Out Another Thousand.'”
Carey said that while cruising is “a lot more difficult” in the Covid era, boat sales are “through the roof.” While the coronavirus caused some to return home, it spurred many others to embark on a live-aboard lifestyle.
Carey is researching going to the Mediterranean next, then sailing back to the Caribbean around Christmas.
“I think that’s the beauty of boat life, it is so unknown,” she said. “I actually really like that I literally have no idea where we’ll be in three months.”
Carey said while boat life is hard, you “just have to be really determined and tenacious to figure out a way to make it work.”