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Anything but Average

Mark Twain said, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness... Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

If that's true, the Kortman family has had quite the head start developing their worldviews.

Paul, 35, his wife Becky, 37, and their four kids — Alia (9), Josiah (7), Mathias (5), and Zander (3) — don't have a home. Well, at least not a stationary one.


The family of six, traveling through Thailand. All photos courtesy of Paul Kortman, used with permission. Check out their website, Home Along the Way.

In March 2014, the family of six traded in their house for life on the road. For the past 18 months, they've been traveling around the world, moving every three months or so. In the past year alone, they've lived on four continents. Currently, they're on their way to Ecuador in an RV.

What made this family give up a traditional life for one of travel and adventure?

Paul and Becky Kortman.

Well, Paul and Becky enjoyed traveling internationally as a couple before they had a family. "When we were teaching in Kazakhstan, we meet many 'third culture kids,'" Paul told me. (A third culture kid is a child who spends a fair amount of time living in a culture other than that of his or her parents.)

He and his wife were inspired to give their kids the same opportunities they witnessed in children who experienced life in different countries, including the ability "to help them avoid the consumerism and American-centric worldview they would have growing up in the states."

Additionally, Paul likes a challenge. "I was inspired by the location independent entrepreneur movement that I'm connected to," Paul said. "[But] none of these are family oriented; they're all 20-somethings who have no commitments. We wanted to prove that it could be done as a family."

Traveling abroad is beneficial to children and adults in many ways.

A recent Atlantic article examined new research on the link between greater creativity and travel. Columbia Business School professor Adam Galinsky has conducted many studies about the benefits of travel. "Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms," he said. "The key critical process is multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation."

The Kortman kids and Paul in South Africa.

It's not just a person's creativity that will get a boost from travel, though. Their sense of trust in others benefits as well. "We found that when people had experiences traveling to other countries it increased what's called generalized trust, or their general faith in humanity," Galinsky said. "When we engage in other cultures, we start to have experience with different people and recognize that most people treat you in similar ways. That produces an increase in trust."

There's more! The Atlantic article quoted Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Associate Professor of Education and Psychology at the University of Southern California, on the benefits that traveling abroad can have for a person's sense of self.

"What a lot of psychological research has shown now is that the ability to engage with people from different backgrounds than yourself, and the ability to get out of your own social comfort zone, is helping you to build a strong and acculturated sense of your own self," she said. "Our ability to differentiate our own beliefs and values … is tied up in the richness of the cultural experiences that we have had."

According to all of this research, the Kortman children's lifestyle should go a long way in helping them grow up as open-minded, confident, and creative individuals.

"It's most beneficial to our kids through firsthand experiences," Paul said. “They'll be watching a video on YouTube and comment, 'Hey we were there!' or 'That's not what the Philippines really looks like.'" He explained that the family experiences life beyond videos and books — "our kids know stuff because they were there."

The Kortman kids in Indonesia.

Additionally, “They have a broader view of differences," Paul continued.

And when it comes to consumerism, a life full of travel is a great way to avoid it. The Kortmans have no trouble saying "no" to unnecessary purchases. Plus? It's a much less expensive way to live, Paul said.

While being away from friends isn't always easy, and the kids miss out on some extracurricular activities like music, dance, and sports, the freedom and flexibility that the Kortmans enjoy make the trade-off worth it.

Parents raise kids in many nontraditional ways, and the Kortmans have embraced a lifestyle that exposes their kids to many different cultures.

To ensure their educational needs are met, Becky acts as their teacher, mixing principles of homeschooling, road schooling, and unschooling.

The Kortmans in Singapore.

Given that their lifestyle isn't exactly "the norm," the Kortmans are met with mixed responses. "Some people think were crazy and irresponsible…" Paul said, "… and some are inspired. Often we receive incredulous responses from people when we explain our lifestyle."

But the people who matter the most — Alia, Josiah, Mathias, and Zander — love their way of life. “When we came back to the U.S., the three oldest made us promise that we wouldn't stop traveling," Paul said.

“They were concerned we would stop this lifestyle. When we bought an RV to live in full time, the kids wanted nothing more than to move into her… They're very attached to the RV because it gives us the ability to take more stuff with us but still live the nomadic lifestyle."

The Kortmans are able to live the way they do because Paul runs a digital marketing business, which sustains their family and three full-time employees. After their first six months of traveling, they realized there wasn't a formal online place for nomad families to gather and receive support, so Paul and Becky co-founded NomadTogether, which offers support through education, tools, and a community forum.

While taking that initial leap of faith wasn't easy — "I do have to admit when it came time to purchase the first plane tickets for the six of us, I got really nervous and procrastinated a bunch," Paul told me — the Kortmans haven't regretted their choice for a minute.

I asked Paul what he wanted others to know about their lives, and he said, "You can do it too! It's less expensive, and we're leaving a smaller carbon footprint. Consumerism is addicting, and the way we found to not succumb to it was to change [our] lifestyle."

As for the future, the Kortmans aren't certain what it holds, but they have a loose plan.

They're currently looking for a "homebase" where they can spend about six months at a time. "At this point, we're headed to Mexico and Ecuador to see if either one of those would be fitting for us."

Their kids will still experience life immersed in another culture and get to travel, and they can have horses and dogs, something they'd really like right now — the best of all worlds!

"This lifestyle aids in contentedness and slows down the pace of life," Paul said.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

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Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

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Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

Here at Upworthy, we cherish our loved ones and although Valentine's is not all about gifts, if you are looking to buy a special gift for a special someone, then you came to the right place! We have curated a list of our personal favorites from our store, Upworthy Market, where you can feel good about your shopping because every dollar you spend directly supports local artisans who craft their own products. In this gift guide, you'll find all products have special thought, hand-made with love and they are all under $30 to help you stay within a budget.


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