Meet The Dropouts: Chris And Jill’s Mob


Meet Chris, a thirty-something rat race dropout who’s traveling around Asia with his wife and their five kids.

These dropout parents are amazing for more than just traveling with a horde of children. Chris and Jill’s eldest, Sparky, is profoundly disabled with cerebral palsy. Sparky spends most of her time in her wheelchair, which is really a modified bicycle trailer, and she needs to be fed pureed food through a feeding tube that goes straight into her stomach.

Sparky, Tintin and Meanabadeena, who are all nine years old, are three surviving quadruplets. The “mob” is rounded out with two more boys: Snowy, who’s five; and Baby Boy who’s now 14 months.*

I met Chris and Jill, who trained as a social worker, in Chiang Mai and was just gobsmacked at how easy they made things look. Their kids got along well together, the parents were calm and funny and Sparky was so patient, with a wicked twinkle in her eye.

Because Chris and Jill make things seem so effortless, some of their offhand comments would take me by surprise, giving me a glimpse of the enormity of the challenge they face as parents of a profoundly disabled child. It was just little things, like Jill saying over lunch that she needed to stay strong so she could always lift Sparky, and Chris saying in this interview that now was a good time for them to travel because Sparky was pain-free.

Chris and Jill and their mob have been on the road for six months now. This month they head off to China and right at the moment they’re not sure how long they’re traveling for.

They travel light, although they do have to pack a few extra things for Sparky. Every day, Sparky’s food (the same stuff the rest of the family eats) is zapped into mush in a rechargeable blender and put into containers in a small insulated bag. Four times a day, the mush is injected into her stomach, along with some water. The mush injector-syringes are washed up every night – no need for sterilising – and Sparky hasn’t gotten sicker than anyone else in the family since they’ve been traveling.

But Chris tells his story better than me. Here it is in his own words.

In 100 words or less – what’s your story?

I grew up in Perth and learned much at my fancy school but little of the ‘real world’. I got a good job after my first degree (a Bachelor of Science majoring in metallurgy) and it was all going to plan.

I first dropped out at 25; left my high-paying mining job with my backpack for 12 months. I learned more of the ‘real world’ met my lovely wife Jill and become a high school teacher (after doing a Diploma of Education), which I enjoyed until we had quadruplets. Having quads may sound like fun but it wasn’t all beer and skittles.

I dropped out again following a redundancy in 2008, and we spent nine months driving around Australia. Fantastic!

We now have five children and our eldest has profound cerebral palsy and gets about in our home-grown travel wheelchair.

How did you become a high school teacher?

During my first drop out I visited a community of alternative livers (hippies) in eastern Canada. I was embarrassed to tell them I was a metallurgist, so I only told a couple of girls. One of them, a girl called Nancy, told me that I’d be a good teacher – so on return to Australia I enrolled in Graduate Diploma of Education (Secondary School Science). I completed this Dip Ed while flying in and out of West Australian gold mines.

(Editor’s note: Chris also told me he did his MBA just after the quads were born. And no, he doesn’t actually seem crazy when you meet him.)

Where are you now?

I am sitting back on the porch of our homestay in Bali overlooking a terraced rice field. Sparky is lying on the couch with me, and I’m listening to all the birds singing in their  cages, hanging along the eaves. Baby Boy is playing hockey with a stick and some granite stones on the slippery tiles. He’s had enough of his only toy!

Where are you going next?

Beijing. The choice was India or China. We chose China because India is too hot this time of year. Jill is desperate to introduce us to India, where she travelled as a teenager. But this will have to wait ’til the cooler season.

How did you decide to drop out? And what did your dropping out entail?

While we’re practiced dropouts and we’d been scheming our next dropout for a year or so, it was Jill’s persuasive ways that motivated this big dropout.

This dropout entailed me leaving a perfectly good high paying mining job (again) and heaps of planning. We needed a kick-ass travel wheelchair and an effective way to feed Sparky blenderised food on the road. It took two months from deciding to leave to boarding the plane and we were exhausted.

Have you got an option to drop back in, and is it likely that you will actually drop back in at some point?

The door is open for me to return to a comfortable mining job. I will only return if we agree it is in the family’s best interests. At this stage, I’m pleased (and a little surprised) to say it is in our family’s best interests to continue traveling.

How are you funding your travels?

Savings and a fledgling e-business.

Do you have a monthly budget? What is it and are you sticking to it?

Our target budget was $100/day during our time in SE Asia and we’re not too far over at about $125/day all inclusive. We have some therapy and medical expenses above and beyond the norm.

How long are you planning to travel and what will you do once you’ve run out of money?

While we left Australia expecting to travel for one year, we’re open to considering further travel if we continue to all get a lot out of it. I’m working on starting a remote technical writing business, which may become important to sustain longer travel. I’m not afraid to return to Perth several years from now with no equity, but if I can sustain our travels by writing a few hours a week – great!

What was the biggest challenge you faced after you reached the decision that you wanted to take your family traveling? Or was the biggest challenge actually deciding that you wanted to do it?

This may sound strange but my biggest personal challenge was leaving the comfort and security of work. I was partly defined by my work and the prospect of erasing this part of my identity (again) comes with a little anxiety.

Once I’d given notice and we’d booked flights, the logistics were easy with the exception of Sparky’s wheelchair.

Were the kids/parents/family on board from the start?

Everyone is supportive. Our kids love traveling and the idea of road-schooling. Our parents are travelers and appreciate the value of traveling. Jill’s Mum has come to visit twice already!

How did you and Jill meet? (Give me the five Ws and the H!)

Jill and I met at a Scripture Union family beach mission at Augusta, Western Australia. Jill was the cook and I was a hungry volunteer.

We first held hands on the last day of 1999.

Why? She was pretty, bright, compassionate and eloquent.

How? Jill told me to stop hanging around the kitchen. The following discussion revealed that she thought I was nice and didn’t want to be distracted. We were engaged within four months and married in nine.

Tell me a bit more about Sparky.

Sparky is beautiful, sensitive, clever and has a quirky sense of humour. She has profound cerebral palsy which means she uses a wheelchair, talks with us using an alternative communication device and eats through a PEG directly into her stomach.

She enjoys the adventure of travel; the sights, sounds, smells and tastes. Her favourite thing about travel is meeting new people. Language is less of a barrier for Sparky than the rest of us, and she is frequently the focus of attention as we stroll through a market or into a fishing village. Some people start massaging her arms, others pray for her and some even bring back gifts of food or ancient writings.

Sparky’s enjoyment of travel is not without challenges. We require regular power to recharge Sparky’s cordless blender that we use to prepare her meals and Sparky gets hot in Southeast Asia so we typically choose rooms with air-conditioning.

Any advice for other parents considering extended world travel with their kids?

Read family travel blogs. Their stories are real and a rich source of practical ideas and inspiration. Don’t fret about missing school, you’ll be amazed by the great learning you and your kids do when travelling. I think road-schooling is fun and there’s plenty of advice in family travel blogs.

And what would you tell parents of disabled kids who would like to travel?

Extended travel with a child with a profound physical disability is hard work, but you know that. Extended world travel is not for everyone, but if it is for you, do it soon. Our beautiful daughter Sparky is currently pain free and weighs 20kg; great ingredients for travel. It is likely that Sparky’s health, comfort and weight will change in time, making extended travel impossible. So we do it now. Again, if travel is for you, start planning and go well.

*Chris and Jill use pseudonyms for their kids. Just in case you were wondering.

Follow Chris and Jill’s travels on their blog www.goinganyway.net or on their Facebook page.

And if you’re in a liking type of mood, you can like The Dropout Diaries on Facebook too!

7 years ago

By: Barbara

A career girl who dropped out, traveled, found love, and never got around to going home again. Now wrangling a cross-cultural relationship and two third culture kids.

21 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing this beautiful family! I work at a non-profit company that arranges travel for people with disabilities–so I can definitely appreciate how difficult travel must be for their family, but also how beneficial. They are truly inspiring! I’ll be sharing this post with all of the people in our organization. 🙂
    Kaleena’s Kaleidoscope recently posted..Santa Barbara Solstice and Why I Want a Parade for my Birthday

    • Barbara says:

      Thanks Kaleena. I hope Chris and Jill’s story does help some families see that maybe travel is possible, even with a disabled child or adult.

  2. Very inspirational guy! Kudos to you Chris for raising your kids in such a touching way. Great story.
    Will – TraveLinkSites recently posted..Monetising a Travel Blog: Matt of Land Lopers

  3. Fantastic story and so inspiring. Well done to the whole family.
    Natalie – Turkish Travel recently posted..Patriotic Turks, Their Flag, and the EU

  4. Laurel says:

    Wow! What an inspirational story. We’re looking at starting a family and the idea of traveling with 1 kid seems daunting, let alone 5 and one with cerebral palsy. I’m seriously inspired by Chris and Jill.
    Laurel recently posted..Bayreuth: The City of Culture, Palaces and Beer

    • Barbara says:

      I think the best plan is to start with one kid and take it from there, Laurel. Chris and Jill decided to start with quads, which is just downright crazy!

      (Total tongue-in-cheek comment there, if that wasn’t immediately obvious.)

  5. Zara @ Backpack ME says:

    WOW!! I always thought that traveling with kids must be complicated but this takes it to a whole new level! Very impressive!

  6. What a gift Jill and Chris are giving their family. Really inspiring!
    Caanan @ No Vacation Required recently posted..Hometown Pride

  7. Jill says:

    Hi Barbara, thanks for this cool interview and all your kind words about our family. One of the best things is meeting other traveling families and their cute kids like yours!!!
    Jill recently posted..Phong Nha Caves – the other part of the story

  8. I have been following their blog for a while – SUCH an inspiring family! Thanks for interviewing them! 🙂
    Heather Costaras recently posted..A visit to Braamfontein Cemetery

  9. This mob is really really awesome. We were happy enough to spend a few days with them in Bali and loved their ease. Their troop is filled with brightness and creativity.

    Thanks Chris and Jill for your companionship over the 2 meals we shared together. Lovely to meet you.
    A King’s Life recently posted..The Wandering & Wondering of Creative Newbies

  10. Christy says:

    What an inspiring story! I love the photo with all the shoes. 🙂
    Christy recently posted..A Taste of Summer – Celebrating a Movement Beyond Farm to Fork

  11. What an amazing family! Just shows that people can do anything if they want it enough.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..Foto of the Week from … The Top of a Mountain: Condors Playing

  12. Suzy says:

    What an inspiring story! My parents would travel with all of us (five kids as well) and I can’t thank them enough for being so brave. I think it is important to travel as a family and while you are growing up.
    Suzy recently posted..Wine Tasting Back in Time in Mallorca

    • Barbara says:

      I just can’t understand the logistics of keeping track of five kids. I have trouble keeping ONE out of trouble.

      But I treasure my memories of traveling with my parents. We did one overseas trip and lots of travel around Australia and it was great.

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