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Michigan natives prepare for a year traveling the world

Krystle Wagner • Aug 1, 2018 at 2:00 PM

After a decade in California’s corporate world, Michigan natives Kelly and Ben Lutz will embark on a yearlong international journey with their 1-year-old daughter, Liesel.

With longer commutes and a desire to spend more time with their daughter, Ben and Kelly decided to leave their jobs, sell their home, and spend time seeing the world and bonding their family. The family of three will leave Aug. 13 to travel to Europe and Southeast Asia, among other yet-to-be-determined destinations.

Kelly, a Grand Haven native, was employed as an accounting director. Ben, who grew up in Flushing, worked as a senior manager in finance. The couple worked for the same San Francisco-area company.

Ben said he wasn’t overly passionate about his career and wanted to do something different.

Ben and Kelly said their priorities changed when Liesel was born in November 2016. Kelly said their lifestyle — given long commutes after moving to the suburbs, short evenings with Liesel and high cost-of-living in the Bay Area — wasn’t sustainable. The couple also eventually wanted to move closer to their families in the Midwest.

After vacations, Ben said they had “vacation blues” and discussed ways they could live in those places. Although those conversations usually died when they returned to work, they were revived after visiting Hawaii last October.

Since Liesel isn’t in school yet and they ultimately wanted to move closer to family, Ben said they decided to take a “gap year” between careers and states. Ben said they decided to take the opportunity to travel, bond with Liesel and do it while they are still young — they’re both 36.

“Why wait? Let’s take time now,” he said.

The Lutz family left California on June 1 and spent four weeks at Lake Tahoe. After that, they traveled to Michigan, where they’ve spent time rotating their visits between their families.

In the past few weeks, Kelly said she’s already learned about packing and purging items they won’t be needing on their adventure.

First, the Lutzes plan to spend six weeks in Europe, including time with family who live in southern Europe. They also plan to visit the French and German border region. Ben noted that Switzerland isn’t far away and they might visit Austria. They also plan to spend a week in Spain and a week in Croatia.

The Lutzes will travel to Bali in October for a friend’s wedding. Their destinations after that are currently unplanned. Ben and Kelly said they plan to continue researching opportunities and find inspiration from families also traveling the world.

The couple would like to end their travels in Hawaii because it’s the place where it all started for them.

Ben and Kelly have also researched vaccinations for Liesel and plans for their own health care.

Each year, Ben and Kelly used work bonuses as their annual travel budget. With an entire year of travel ahead, they plan to stretch that budget. Ben said they also looked at their savings and sale of their house, and determined an amount they felt comfortable spending.

If their finances don’t allow them to travel for an entire year, Ben and Kelly said they could do remote work or consulting to help fund the trip. The worst-case scenario, they said, is that they could change their plans and end their journey early.

Ben and Kelly said their families are mostly supportive of their decision, but surprised they would leave their jobs.

“We explained our rationale,” Ben said. “Our whole goal was to live with less and experience more. Shed all the things you don’t need and take the time you get back and spend it doing what you really love to do.”

Ben said they don’t mind living in a smaller home, having less material belongings and being more frugal. He said it’s a “mind shift.”

One of the most surprising aspects has been the community of traveling families on social media, Kelly said. Other families traveling the world have provided helpful input into their experiences and recommendations. Ben and Kelly plan to meet up with some of those families during their travels.

The Lutz family is also active on social media — posting pictures, adventure videos and blog posts about their experiences. “TheFUNemployed Family” has accounts on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, and a website at thefunemployedfamily.com.

When the family returns to the United States, Ben and Kelly will consider the next step in their careers, as well as where they will live. The couple also plans to move closer to family, in either Michigan or Chicago.

Kelly and Ben said they look forward to watching Liesel’s reactions to new places and experiences, and exploring new places and foods as a family, as they travel the world. Ben said he hopes their daughter gains a love for travel, different cultures and to accept everyone. Kelly said she hopes it also provides clarity as to their next step and their careers.

Ben said they hope to encourage people to think outside the box, step out of their comfort zone and to think differently.

“Make the most of every day,” he said.

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