Sara Banks is a successful entrepreneur and travel enthusiast based in Dublin, Ireland, originally from the Great Lakes in the USA. In 2008 she founded a designer luggage business that has thrived, and which she continues to run today.
Six months ago, Sara set off to travel the world and take her business on the road with her husband and four small boys, aged nine, seven, five and two.
In this interview, she talks about the inspiration behind the adventure, homeschooling, parenting on the road, and the challenges of running a successful business while travelling.
What is the story behind your business, SteamLine Luggage?
I started SteamLine in 2008 out of the need for more stylish luggage in the world. This was before there were so many amazing luggage brands out there, so there was a real gap in the market.
I was determined to bring elegance back to travel by making your largest-seen travel accessory as beautiful as the destination itself.
What has motivated you to take your business and family on a travel adventure?
This has been a pipe dream of my husband and I forever. It was something we talked about in our early courting days, travelling around India on an Enfield motorbike.
We were supposed to go before the pandemic. And the pandemic doubled down our ambition to do this. Like many, it gave us a real priority check.
There are so many reasons why we wanted to take the leap and travel, but then our youngest was born and Covid hit. As soon as we saw that it was safe enough to go, we went.
The pandemic interestingly gave us a real perspective shift to get moving. It gave us both some practice at running fully remote teams and homeschooling, so it didn’t seem as much of a stretch anymore to take the leap.
Also, our boys are getting bigger and we wanted to do this before they became too immersed in friendships, sports groups and school. This had started to happen already, so we were pulling them out of fully-formed friendships and routines, but both my husband and I felt that the life experiences gained from something like this would warrant the sacrifice.
What were the biggest challenges in preparing for the adventure?
Packing up our house after 12 years! Like I said, we had some practice running our businesses remotely during the pandemic. So, working arrangements were logistically easier than actually packing our house, putting it into storage and whittling down all our belongings into two large suitcases and carry-ons!
My husband was super organised about this trip. He made lists and Excel spreadsheets, and tackled everything that needed to be done methodically.
How are you managing to stay on top of running your business while on the move with your family?
With help! It has by far been our biggest challenge, and perhaps why we stayed for a whole six months in Mauritius before moving on to Bali. As a digital nomad, wife, mother of four smallies, and now a teacher as well, it is not easy.
There are just not enough hours in the day to do each thing meaningfully. In Mauritius, we have hired a minder and our youngest goes to a little play school for the morning, so only one of us homeschools and then works. It’s a lot of tag-teaming and high-fiving at the door.
How are you approaching the challenge of parenthood on the road?
That is the easy part. It is wonderful getting to spend more concentrated time with the kids and as a family. Seeing them adapt so easily to new surroundings, food, friends, groups and adventure is a genuine honour. The kids are unbelievably resilient, understanding and brave.
What has been your experience so far with homeschooling?
It presents its challenges. But it has been a really rewarding, wonderful experience. In the beginning it was a little clumsy. Thankfully, my mother-in-law brought her 40 years of experience as a primary school teacher to us early on in our trip and helped get our routine organised.
Firstly, we were doing these beautiful lessons on the beach, but our routine was a little ad hoc, so it was an absolute wonder to see how she arranged the kids. Routine and structure was the key.
I would come back in the morning and the living room would be like a library with the four boys each at their station of books or activities. It was a marvel! We learned simple hacks, like having all their own books in a folder, or listing out the tasks for each of them every day so that they could tick off their own list of to-dos and have responsibility for their own work.
We want the kids to form easy connections that make impressions, whether they are passing moments or the seeds of something more.
It showed me that they found great satisfaction in this responsibility. Also, she was able to tend to each of their questions and even help Benji one-on-one in learning to read. It really took a pro to show me how it was done.
Having a two-year-old in the mix presents a challenge, so getting him into a play school was a real success. Both my husband and I are working more than we had anticipated, so it is really only one of us as a teacher at a time.
What do you hope your children will take from your family travel experiences?
Really, our intention is to help these boys learn early on what it is like to be new in a place, and to learn early how important it is to bridge the cultural gap with people that may not look like you or speak your language.
Although we can live differently and be different, there are always similarities to be found in each other.
For my SteamLine business, my motto has always been to “slow down, look up”, meaning to go slowly, take in your surroundings, get out of your comfort zone, be openly curious and look up.
We want to instil that in the kids this year. We want to teach them how to bridge cultural barriers by getting to know locals in becoming part of the woodwork for a while, and to take time to experience the locals’ lives in the small ways we can.
We want the kids to form easy connections that make impressions, whether they are passing moments or the seeds of something more. I truly believe that the heart of goodwill comes from a curiosity and an appreciation for that which is foreign to ourselves – that we assume the best, conquer discomfort, set an example through our behaviour, and take our lessons home.
Where has your journey taken you so far, and what have been the standout memories?
So far we have been to Greece, and although we were only supposed to be in Mauritius for a month, we liked it so much we have settled for a few!
Now we are going to Bali and might travel around West Polynesia for a while. Then we would love to go to South America at some stage after this! It sounds like more than a year is in this for us.
Have there been any travel lifestyle adjustments you have personally found challenging?
Yes, my lack of routine and finding time for myself is a challenge. It is my own fault! With five men in my house, I am not great at carving time out for myself. When I used to find headspace in going to my favourite local yoga class or a quick run around the neighbourhood, I am finding those new routines harder to build.
It feels strange to go against the grain of what everyone else around you is doing. But truly the rewards are beyond what you can imagine.
Our lives are FULL! I am finding that now as a digital nomad, keeping the business going remotely, being the kids’ teacher, a mother and a wife – it all leaves little time for myself.
My husband is also working much more than he planned, so it is just very busy. Possibly why when we arrived in Mauritius, we decided to stay a little bit longer.
Do you have any plans beyond your journey? What is your next big life goal?
Oh, my husband and I are always brewing our next dream. Watch this space!
What advice would you give to parents considering a family travel adventure like yours?
The hardest part is leaving. It feels strange to go against the grain of what everyone else around you is doing. But truly the rewards are beyond what you can imagine. Really you just need to make your lists, and go. Life at home is always there when you want to go back.
Did you find inspiration in Sara’s story? Read more tales of travel, sabbaticals, career breaks and workations in our interview series.
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