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Meet the Family Who Quit Everything to Travel by Boat—Twice

By Andrew Parks

Feb 13, 2017

From the March/April 2017 issue

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Photo by Zoonar Gmbh/Alamy

Magazine-editor-turned-mariner Amy Paulsen squeezed her family of four into a sailboat and let the winds guide their adventures. What they found in Barcelona, however, was a reason to stay put.

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“My husband and I are big fans of quitting our jobs; we ditched ‘real life’ twice to live on a boat. The first time, when my daughters were 11 and 7, we sailed from the Chesapeake Bay to the Bahamas. We hopped from island to island for 11 months, homeschooling our kids along the way. Five years later, we sold our townhouse in New York and had a boat custom-built and shipped to Mallorca. We had no idea how long we would be abroad, but we stayed in Spain for five years, living on the boat for a year and a half in a Barcelona marina.

We got used to functioning in a small space. You turn around and you’re facing the stove, and then you turn 90 degrees and you’re facing the refrigerator. Our daughters shared a bedroom the size of a closet. There was one bathroom. And you can’t take a shower every day, because you need to conserve water. We had clothes, schoolbooks, computers, a dog. It was mayhem.

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But it’s not as though we were roughing it. People think you’d buy 10 cases of Vienna sausage and ramen noodles, but we cooked amazing meals. Every morning, my husband made eggs with kale and goat cheese and fresh grilled bread or some other delicious breakfast. We had a coffee grinder onboard and nice cheeses in the fridge. Some evenings, I’d put a candle inside a lantern, and we would sit inside this wood-paneled, womblike space, drinking wine while the boat gently rocked. And waking up with the sunrise right outside your window never gets old.

If a fellow boater gets into trouble and you are nearby, you help out, no questions asked. That’s not something you find everywhere.

The boat’s lack of privacy became an issue when our girls reached adolescence. They didn’t have a place to be alone or to hang out with friends. Eventually we rented a small apartment in Barcelona, but we still spent our summers sailing around the Mediterranean.

Barcelona has a great sailing community. The marina was our de facto neighborhood. One of the big joys of boating is the camaraderie you find. We made friends with Canadian, British, German, and Scottish boaters. There is an unwritten code that anyone who has spent serious time on a boat is familiar with: If a fellow boater gets into trouble and you are nearby, you help out, no questions asked. That’s not something you find everywhere.

We had to make a conscious effort to not hang out with just expats. We would go to the same cafés and restaurants and befriend the people who ran them. Gradually, our community expanded to include Catalan people. And once I got certified as an English language teacher and started giving private lessons, I made even more friends. That was a wonderful way to infiltrate the local community.” —as told to Andrew Parks

>>Next: Why Raising Your Kids Abroad Is the Best Thing You Can Do for Them

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