Around the World With the Bumfuzzles

Pat and Ali Schulte packed up their Chicago condo and have been traveling the world for almost 10 years. Here’s how they did it:

“That was the worst night we can remember, though we do tend to have short memories; that’s why we’re still living on a boat.” So wrote Pat Schulte one morning after a particularly difficult night with his family on a boat, caught in heavy swells and awakening to an engine compartment that was mostly flooded. To make matters worse, the sailing instruments had failed as well.

Nights trying to sleep in heavy seas, car motors blown out in the back of nowhere, sailboats that delaminate and threaten to sink: The “Bumfuzzles,” Patrick and Ali Schulte, are round-the-world travelers, and these sorts of trials have been part of the journey, but they’ll tell you that the rewards of travel far outweigh the darkest of nights.

As round-the-world travelers, they’ve journeyed in almost every mode imaginable. First, there was the catamaran sailboat they bought and sailed around the world (starting without any sailing experience at all!). Then they jumped in a 1958 Volkswagen bus and puttered that VW across multiple continents (it turns out the van fits inside a shipping container). They hopped in an ancient Porsche and raced across America, and now they’re living (with their two young kids) in a sailboat on Mexico’s Baja coast.

The couple has documented these ceaseless travels for almost 10 years at Bumfuzzle.com. In addition, Pat has written two books on the subject of travel, one titled simply "Bumfuzzle," which document their epic round-the-world sailing excursion, and one titled "Live on the Margin," which challenges basic life-planning assumptions and which explains how Patrick and Ali finance their trips. It’s a how-to book for would-be Bumfuzzles.

Patrick and Ali were docked in La Paz, Mexico, and Where interviewed Pat as their travel wanderlust closes in on the decade mark and as they raise their children in this nomadic lifestyle.

A side excursion during their road trip from Alaska to the bottom of South America took Pat and Ali to Peru's Machu Picchu. (©Pat and Ali Schulte)

What inspired the original travel itch that convinced you to sell your Chicago condo and sail around the world? And were you and Ali already seasoned world travelers?

The fateful conversation came one night over too many beers at our favorite pizza joint in Chicago. The conversation revolved around the fact that we were 28, successful, and had a bunch of friends who were moving off to the suburbs to have kids. "What are we going to do with our life" was the question that night. I was a commodities trader in a market that closed each day at 1:15, giving me the entire afternoon to do nothing while waiting for Ali to get off of work. During that time I had discovered travel blogs and had read one about a guy cruising around in the Caribbean. Based on nothing more than that I asked Ali if she'd like to just chuck it all and take off for a year to go live in the islands on a boat. She said "yes," and it all began. A week later we upgraded that year in the Caribbean to four years going around the world. All of this despite the fact that neither of us had ever been on a sailboat before and our "world" travel consisted of one cruise ship visit to Puerto Rico.

You have been traveling for almost 10 years: do you still love it like you once did?

Yes, we actually do. We're the type of people who just like to keep moving, to see what's around the next bend, or over the horizon. Staying put for more than a couple of months makes us itch. For the past three years we've been in Mexico where our children were born, and for three years we've hardly stopped talking about what we're going to do next. We've traveled all over Mexico, and we love it like no other place in the world, but we still feel like there is just too much out there to see—too many experiences just waiting to be had. We have this strange love of being out of place—putting ourselves in positions that are completely foreign to everything we've ever known, to what we grew up with.

How long do you think you’ll continue to enjoy this lifestyle?

There is nothing compelling us to stop traveling yet. That could change next year, or 10 years down the line, or never. There is just no telling. But I have a feeling that where we choose to "settle down" would still be considered an adventure to most.

What’s the closest you and your wife have ever come to saying, “Ah, the heck with it, let’s sell the boat/car/van, get back to the city, rent an apartment and go back to life the way most people live it?”

We've actually never gotten close to that point. So far whenever we do reach a point where we're just like, "The heck with this!," our alternative plan is more along the lines of, "We should sell this stupid boat and go buy a Land Rover to cross Africa in." There hasn't been any of the "let's settle down" talk—it's always another adventure in the offing.

Play time aboard their liveaboard sailboat (©Pat and Ali Schulte)

It’s common to hear from parents that “Once you have kids, you won’t be able to travel, except for easy weekend trips.” What do you know that they don’t?

That's the beauty of our lifestyle—we travel in our home. The idea of packing all of the crap that comes along with kids to get on an airplane and fly to Disneyland is way more difficult in our mind than saying, "So tomorrow we'll raise the anchor and sail from Mazatlan to La Paz." The trip might take longer, and have a little more inherent danger involved, but the fact that there is no packing involved makes it so much easier. I think full-time travel with kids is really a lot easier than most people think—whether by RV or by boat. Parents tend not to realize the vast difference between the weeklong vacation travel they've become accustomed to and the total lifestyle overhaul that full-time travel is.

The Bumfuzzle family proves that you can still travel (even indefinitely) with kids in tow. (©Pat and Ali Schulte)

How do you finance a trip like this? Are there any tips that you’ve learned about money management which you can share with fellow travelers?

Ali and I lived pretty simple lives. We had a tiny condo in Chicago, walked to work, and really didn't have any extravagant tastes. Ali was able to pay all of our monthly bills on her secretary’s salary alone while I worked for myself as a commodities trader. Fortunately, I did well in the markets, and at 29 we were able to take off with the goal of spending four years sailing around the world before going back to Chicago and resuming "normal" life.

About two years into our travels we thought, "Who wants to go back to work?" Since then we've traveled extensively, but always below our means. After sailing we sold the boat and what little belongings we had left of our previous life, moved into a VW bus and spent two years living and traveling along the world's roads. We had our kids in Mexico where we could afford to do it without insurance, then bought another much less expensive boat to raise our family. For the past three years we've lived on our boat in Mexico.

My number-one tip on money management is to track every dime that you spend. We carry a small notebook and tally it all up every month. It's an eye-opener for anyone that does it. Most people have no idea what happens to their money—where it all goes.

Recently I co-authored a book called 'Live on the Margin' that deals with the question of, "How do we do it?" From lifestyle, to the psychology of leaving it all behind, to money management, to actual trading strategies, it's all in there. We're really proud of the book; the reviews have been great; and based on the feedback we've received I think it really does answer a lot of questions that people have about long-term travel.

One of our guiding principles is that long-term travel doesn't have to be for life. Retirement doesn't have to be a one-time thing. You can retire at 30, go back to work at 34, retire again at 39, back to work at 45, etc. The whole work-40-years-to-retire-at-65 idea was sold to us by a government that depends on us to follow the rules. But what if you don't? Sure, you might not die with five million dollars in the bank—you may in fact die penniless—but at least you lived an amazing life filled with incredible experiences and died knowing that you did everything that you ever wanted to do.

Camping in Mexico (©Pat and Ali Schulte)

How has travel changed you?

How hasn't travel changed us? We are more compassionate, more intelligent, more "worldly" than we ever would have been had we stayed put in our tidy little life back in Chicago. We now value experiences over things, and we are working to instill that same mentality in our children through living simply and happily aboard a small boat. I feel like there should be a long drawn-out answer to this question, but really what it comes down to is that by traveling we've seen how little some people have and how happy they are able to live with that—we are no longer chasing the Joneses—nobody else's perception of us dictates how we choose to live our lives.

This being a travel publication, I have to ask: Out of all the ports, harbors and islands you’ve sailed into around the world, what are the ones that stand out the most in your memories?

Our overall favorite "section" of the world that we've traveled was when we sailed through Oman, Yemen, Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt. Those few months were fantastic for a number of reasons. Number one was that we were so "out there," off the beaten path. Everywhere we went, every town we walked through, we were welcomed because we were simply so unusual a sight. The interactions we had were so organic and unusual during this period.

There are, of course, many, many more. Sailing into Sydney Harbor aboard your own boat after traveling halfway around the world is an amazing experience. Visiting Sri Lanka a year after the tsunami was eye-opening. The Greek Isles are the stuff of dreams. And the Galapagos Islands are still every bit as incredible as they were when Darwin visited.

Pat and Ali (and their '58 VW) at the Mano del Desierto sculpture in Chile (©Pat and Ali Schulte)

And, for all the roads you drove in the 1958 VW, what place in what country did it take you that you most long to return to?

I have a strong desire to get back to Peru, into the Andes, but for some reason I really want to return to the Atacama Desert in Chile. We camped in Mars-like landscapes without another person in sight. And if we'd had four-wheel drive we might have just disappeared forever.

Really I would love to just travel all over South America again. We loved every bit of it. It's so vast, and for the most part, open. Hours can pass without seeing another vehicle. You can drive right off into the middle of a salt flat or cruise along a desert track and simply pull over and make your camp for just as long as you'd like. Every inch of it just feels wild. It's breathtaking in so many different respects—mountain, desert, beach, whatever, it's all there.

In fact just writing this down has me searching the web for our next vehicle. It will probably need to be a little bigger than our '58 VW as we've got a couple extra heads along this time, but I'll find it.

Follow Pat and Ali’s continuing adventures at Bumfuzzle.com.