Captain fantastic (in real life)
Nomad families like those of Captain Fantastic or Little Miss Sunshine are not just fiction, but a reality for many: today we are going to interview an Italian family, composed of seven members who, for years, have lived a practically nomadic lifestyle.
1. Hello Virginie, Massimo, Tommaso, Alice, Asia, Mattia and Sofia! Tell us a bit about you!
We are Virginie, a Belgian mother and Venetian father, Massimo from Sava in Apulia and we have 5 children Tommaso 16 years, Alice 15 and Asia 13, born in Trieste, Mattia 11, born in Grosseto, and Sofia 7, born in Salvador de Bahia in Brazil.
2. How did the Seven On The Road project start?
Until 2009, we were a rather traditional family, we were quite well integrated into the system. We already had many doubts about it but we were caught in the gears of “normality”. We had studied. We were both graduates. Massimo was a civil servant and a future lawyer. I was a geologist even if at the birth of Tommaso, I had decided to become a mother; we got married. We bought a house with a mortgage… After a very difficult period, I lost both my parents in a few months. In June 2008 we decided to take a month trip to Brazil to visit a friend of Massimo and get some air…
At the time, our first 3 children were 5, 4 and 2 years and Mattia was 7 months old. It was love at first sight! Back in Italy, it was the beginning of the economic crisis, we managed to sell our house within 3 months, a sign for us. Massimo gave up the much sought-after state work and we left with what we could pack. From then on, we made a long journey that led us to be what we are today. After almost 8 years of living in Brazil, we proposed to the boys to take a year-long trip to Europe, we wanted to let them know Italy better and go to Portugal. Having a very limited budget, we decided to buy an old camper, we have reduced our things to a minimum and the story of Seven on the road has begun.
3. Where did the trip take you?
Almost three years since we returned to Europe, the children have asked us to try to stop, we have traveled around Italy for long and wide, doing volunteering in exchange for food and accommodation. We have also paid for food using time from the time bank because we are a family of 7 and sometimes we need to be more comfortable and have more room. We lived a few months in Civitella San Paolo in the province of Rome and in Pettinengo in the province of Biella. We went to pick olives in Morocco with Workaway. At this moment, after 6 months spent in camper vans between France, Spain and Portugal, we decided to stop for a period in France. Our children are growing and seem to want to take root.
4. Could you tell us about one of your best memories?
There are so many! Our shop in Brazil, the Paraíso dos Gulosos, with our jams and our liqueurs. Also in Brazil, twenty days spent in a tent without electricity or running water in São Thomé das Letras, a very tough but unforgettable experience for all of us. Our first meeting with our camper bought at a distance through Max’s brother while we were still just planning our return to Europe; our return to Trieste after many years, a city in which we met, in love and where our first 3 children were born, they did not remember it and loved it as much as we did; Mattia who sees the snow for the first time; hand on ancient wheat with people who have become dear friends; go to Paris with our daughters, it was one of their dreams … then wake up in a different place every day, in the mountains, by the sea, in the city.
5. What is the true meaning of travel for you?
For us to travel means to really get to know places and people. It means understanding the habits of the populations, it means to exchange, to love, to question oneself.
6. What do you usually put in your luggage?
We travel as a group of 7, so we had to learn to travel with little. In reality, we have learned to live with little always, even from settlements, we have reduced our things a lot. In the camper, each of us has a small locker where we keep everything! What is never lacking are the books because our children do not go to school, our mother-made pasta that is over 100 years old, our seedlings, our seeds to exchange and give Max’s tools and gear to be independent whenever a motorhome problem arises.
7. What do you think of traditional tourism?
It’s a matter of taste but we avoid the very popular tourist destinations. Not dependent on holidays and weekends, we also avoid traveling during busy periods. If for traditional tourism you only mean a more comfortable tourism, we have nothing against it. Different is the discourse if instead, you mean those trips that do not respect the places and their inhabitants, mass tourism, we do not share it.
8. How do you keep the family for long-term travel?
We can only talk about our experience. From Brazil, we get a small place to rent, it is not much and not enough, but it is a base. Then we do odd jobs, we trade, recycle, self-produce, buy second-hand, volunteer in exchange for food and lodging.
We have chosen to live with little, to have few things: it will seem impossible but very free! We decided to dedicate our time to live and not to accumulate things … when you free the shopping, the supermarket, the thousand commitments that are filled the lives of children and choose, with your head, the things that make you happy, you stop running because you realize that you need a lot less money.
9. How do your children learn?
With our children we practice free learning, in English it is called unschooling. It means that we leave them free to learn what interests them most. We do not have timetables and we do not follow programs. The only rule is that they have to read at least an hour a day, they choose their own book. We have so many books in Portuguese, Italian and French, the 3 languages we speak at home. We always try to have a good internet connection. We turn on light bulbs in their heads and we are always available when they have questions. Their curiosity does the rest. We look at documentaries, we study geography and history starting from the interests that are born on the journey … When they have questions, the greatest ones can even document themselves, but they talk about it. But when they do not succeed or we can not answer, we study with them.
10. And the negative sides of the trip with the family?
We have chosen to live full-time with our children already when we have all chosen together to live without school. We do not think there are any downsides to travelling with the family. We love living and travelling with our children. We savour every moment because we know it will not be forever. We are close-knit, we respect each other, so we can live well even in a small space like our camper. Perhaps the only drawback is that the cost of whatever we want to do is multiplied by 7: if we want to eat ice cream, it is expensive, if we want to visit a museum, it’s expensive, if we want to take the metro or the bus, it’s expensive … But almost always we manage to do the same things, we eat only one scoop of ice cream, we ask for some family discount, and we walk many places.
11. Would you recommend this experience to other families?
Traveling as we do it is not for everyone, we must love to live 24 hours with our partner and their children. We often give up comfort, we are tight and we do not always have our own spaces. But it is an incredible experience that I would recommend to anyone not afraid of leaving their comfort zone. It is worth trying, then it is said that you can not go back to your normal life after you finished the trip. We have not returned and we do not want to go back to our life as before but it is our choice.
12. What do you think of the slow journey?
The trips for us are just slow, backpacking, walking, with our camper dell’82 that is often a snail, the streets … in 3 years we have never taken the highway.
It is being able to decide to stay in a place where we feel good. It is being able to stay a few more days with people we want to stay.
13. A message you would like to leave to readers
Our message is this: dare, think with your head, try, go out of the box in which they have boxed you, do not follow who says “we have always done so”, enjoy the moments, love life, have no regrets, be enthusiastic, do not be afraid to live, and above all, dedicate your time to the people you love!