A once-in-a-lifetime retreat to the luxurious Maldives doesn’t have to the break the bank. Neither does a first-class South African safari or a golden ticket to the world’s most insane New Year’s Eve party in Sydney, Australia. All of these dream destinations (and far too many more) can be stamped into your passport by way of just an ordinary travel budget, if you heed the advice of local world traveler Kellie McIntyre. Just don’t ask her how to inexpensively pull off a trip to Antarctica.

“My whole deal is figuring out how to go on the most amazing adventures in the world for a reasonable amount of money,” Kellie explains. “But Antarctica has me completely stumped. I just cannot figure out how to do that one affordably.”

Kellie and her husband, Dale, who live in Liberty Park, are a couple of restless globetrotters who have visited 46 countries to date, 35 of those with their two daughters, Delaney and Riley. Along the way they have documented chronicles of their extraordinary adventures at 4wornpassports.com, including the ridiculous story of the family’s detainment and deportation from China in 2013. The website also features trip ideas, budget tips and practical advice to help other families adapt their no-nonsense approach to world travel with their children.

“Traveling the globe with your kids is so much easier to do than most people realize, and there are far less expensive ways to do it than the glossy tourism brochures would have you think.” Kellie says. “Plus, it’s the greatest education your kids could ever receive.”

The thirst for international travel was rooted in the McIntyre family tree from the very beginning. Neither Kellie nor Dale grew up in families who travelled, but both were born with a wanderlust gene. “Our mutual desire to travel abroad is definitely what initially attracted us to each other,” Dale says, but is also quick to add, “[Kellie] was pretty cute too.”

Two years into what is now a 22-year marriage, the couple welcomed their first child into the world, a little girl named Delaney. But unlike most new parents who are sleep-deprived, overwhelmed and just trying to survive, Kellie and Dale were gearing up for their next trip. A newborn was not going to slow not them down. “We decided we weren’t going to let our desire to have children hold us back from traveling,” Kellie says. “It wasn’t easy traveling with her that young, but we did it.”

Baby Delaney began adding notches to her travel belt at only three months old when the family vacationed in Colorado and again at nine months old when the trio traveled to Puerto Rico. A year and a half later, the couple’s second daughter, Riley, joined the family, and eventually, venturing far from home took on a different sort of importance as they worked in trips to coincide with the slow season in real estate (Dale is a partner at ARC Realty) . “Traveling gave us a break from the chaos of our suburban family life,” Kellie writes on their website, 4wornpassports.com. “Your kids only have one childhood, and we wanted our girls to have a childhood they’d never forget.”

In early 2012, the McIntyres found themselves in Cambodia, conversing with another American family who shared their love of international travel. But Kellie and Dale quickly learned that this family was on an entirely different travel level. They weren’t just traveling over the Christmas break; they were traveling for an entire year.

“Here we were, proud of ourselves for pulling off a 19-day Thailand and Cambodia trip, but talking to them really opened our eyes to lots of things,” Dale says. “We realized that we could do that too. The only difference between them and us is that they stopped talking about it, and actually did it. And that’s when we decided to do the big trip.”

“Big trip” is honestly an understatement. In October 2013, the McIntyres shut off the water to their home, arranged for their mail to be forwarded to family members, setup a homeschooling regime for Delaney and Riley (who were both in middle school at the time), and set off on a five-month excursion where they circumnavigated the globe. Riley, now 18 years old, can rattle off all ten countries from that three-continent expedition like they are the ABCs: Iceland, England, Italy, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Bali and China.

While both girls are now thankful for their once-in-a-lifetime experiences, it definitely took some time for them to appreciate the incredible gift their parents had given them. “When my parents informed me I would be skipping most of 8th grade to travel the world, I threw the biggest tantrum,” Delaney, now 19, remembers. “I told them they were crazy, and that they had ruined my life. But of course, I ended up loving it.”

According to Kellie, the key to traveling long-term with your children is to take advantage of those middle school years. “Middle school is really your last chance,” Kellie explains. “Your kids are old enough to understand it, enjoy it, engage with it, remember it. High school is a whole different deal, because their grades are critical to getting into college.”

Although the McIntyres haven’t taken a multi-month long excursion since the “big trip,” they continue to tour the globe with smaller week-long trips and more. In February they returned from a seven-week itinerary that took them to India, the Maldives, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Cambodia (for the second time to visit the Killing Fields where collectively more than a million people were killed and buried – a part of history that Riley still cannot believe she didn’t learn about in school).

Though each stamp in their four worn passports represents a different adventure with its own unique story, they collectively can be tied to one truth. “We always come back home with a strengthened love for the United States,” Kellie says. “We’ve seen poverty, witnessed unfair treatment of women, and been hours away from advanced healthcare, and it just makes us feel so incredibly fortunate to live in Birmingham, Alabama. We’ve been blessed with so much.”

Each destination brings new excitement and further expands the family’s world-view, but the McIntyres do delight in the familiar comforts of home when they return from a long trip. The little luxuries held dear vary by family member. For Riley, it’s all about the food. “After this last trip, Buffalo Wild Wings was the first place I went to eat,” she says. “I quickly followed that up with Chick-fil-A, which was followed up with Moe’s Original Bar B Que. I just needed as much American food as I could get.”

For both Kellie and Dale, it’s clean laundry. “On one occasion, we sent our laundry out to be cleaned, and they came back after being washed in what we think was just dirty creek water,” Dale says. “It was gross.”

This upcoming fall will mark a new chapter in the McIntyre story. Riley, after graduating from Vestavia Hills High School in May, will join her sister at Auburn University, officially classifying Kellie and Dale as empty-nesters. “It will definitely be a new stage of life for us,” Kellie says. “Dale and I will continue to travel, but of course we will miss the girls.”

Though no big trips are currently on the books, plenty of destinations remain on the bucket list for the family. “The more you look at the map in our house with all the pins showing where we’ve been, the more you realize how many places we haven’t been,” Dale says.

As for the next trip, Dale has his sights set on Jordan and Israel to explore the birthplace of Christianity, while Kellie has Japan and Ethiopia on the brain. If the two can add these four stamps (or really any four) to their passport over the next year, Kellie, who turns the big 5-0 in August, could proudly say she’s visited 50 countries during her 50 years. “I’m not sure if that will actually happen or not,” Kellie says. “But, it would be awesome.”  

The McIntyres’ Tips for International Travel

  • Only travel with other families if you have the same travel style and if everyone gets along.
  • When traveling with your kids, take them to the far away places—like Africa, Asia and Australia—that would be difficult for them to do on their own when they get older.
  • From both a cost-saving and storage standpoint, try to keep your souvenir purchases to a minimum. (The McIntyres collect one Christmas ornament per country … and maybe a shirt every now and then).
  • If you are going to be wearing a backpack for the majority of your trip, be sure to test the weight of it beforehand. Walk around your neighborhood several times to be sure your back can handle the load.
  • Turn the water off to your house if you are going to be gone for a long period of time.
  • Be flexible with your travel dates. The off seasons (fall/winter) almost always offer cheaper hotel and airfare rates.
  • Always check for travel warnings to confirm the area you plan to visit is safe. More importantly, talk to travelers who are there and who have been there; they can give you the real world low-down.
  • Consider traveling independently as it leads to more unique and authentic experiences vs. traveling in a tour group. A tour group is only going to show the best parts of a country, but if you are really trying to learn about a place’s culture, then independent travel is the way to go.
  • Read books like memoirs and historical fiction about the places you are going.
  • Install the WhatsApp app and have anyone that you want to stay in touch with do the same. WhatsApp works no matter which SIM card or carrier you use, making it the most popular way to stay in touch internationally.