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They sold everything to become a digital nomad family. Here’s what happened next

Courtney and Justin Orgias and their children Xavier and Whitley left the US in June 2022 and have been living a digital nomad lifestyle ever since.
Demian Bretta
Courtney and Justin Orgias and their children Xavier and Whitley left the US in June 2022 and have been living a digital nomad lifestyle ever since.

By Tamara Hardingham-Gill, CNN

(CNN) — They’d always made traveling a priority, and after settling down and having their first child, Courtney and Justin Orgias were keen to keep exploring the world as much as they could.

While the couple, who both work in the tech industry, loved the idea of being able to log on remotely from exotic destinations, it wasn’t until the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 that they realized that a digital nomad lifestyle was a real prospect for their family.

“Our jobs went fully remote,” explains Justin, originally from Toronto, Canada. “And I think it made us realize that we don’t have to settle on life in Atlanta.

“It opened up the possibility of us working from the beach in Mexico. So we tried it for a couple of weeks and we really loved it.”

‘Leap of faith’

They traveled back and forth from Mexico to the US for a while, and quickly found that it suited them.

Once borders reopened and life pretty much returned to normal, Courtney and Justin, who were expecting their second child by this point, were itching to get back out there.

They began looking more closely into becoming full-time digital nomads, resolving to give it a try in a few years.

But as time went on and their son Xavier approached school age, the couple conceded that there would always be a reason to put it off.

Courtney and Justin explain that they were also becoming more and more concerned by the political climate in the US at the time, particularly with regards to the issue of gun violence, which was the leading cause of death for kids and teens in 2020.

“I think [it was] the realization of, we’re going to have a second child, Xavier’s going to have to go to school here, and elections are coming,” says Courtney, who is originally from Jacksonville, Florida. “It just turned into this sort of spiral.

“And it was like, ‘Let’s just take a leap of faith and figure this out.’”

The couple, who’ve been together for six years, made the decision to leave the US in late 2021.

Over the next eight months, they sold their home and most of their possessions while putting plans in place to live nomadically for the foreseeable future.

According to Courtney and Justin, some of their friends and family were shocked by their decision and couldn’t understand why they would up and leave the country with two young children.

“They were not fully understanding,” Justin admits. “But I think over time, people understood.”

On the move

The Orgias ended up leaving on Juneteenth, a federal holiday in the US that commemorates the end of slavery, just 10 weeks after their daughter Whitley was born.

“Our departure on Juneteenth wasn’t planned out in advance, but it is serendipitous in my opinion,” notes Courtney.

They headed straight back to Mexico, where they based themselves for several months, spending time in Guadalajara, Sayulita, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico City, Tulum and Playa del Carmen.

Courtney and Justin say that they chose Mexico as a “starting point” due to its proximity to the US and the fact that it has so many cities with great infrastructure.

“Mexico is also just so large and diverse,” adds Courtney. “We want to explore it as thoroughly as possible.”

The family of four also traveled to Spain and Morocco before moving on to Colombia, where they visited Medellín and Bogota, and then traveling to Brazil.

“We do slow traveling,” explains Justin. “So six months in each new place. We spend less [time] if we figure this city isn’t somewhere we want to spend more than a couple of weeks.

“But we try to plan for six months.”

While traveling with two small children comes with its difficulties, they say that it’s actually been easier than they expected.

“I really thought it would be more difficult,” admits Courtney. “But we’ve been doing it since they were so little. And we travel so frequently, that they just sort of have it down pat.

“It’s like heading to the airport is like heading to the grocery store for them [now]. They know what’s going to happen.

“We have all of our processes in place. So it’s sort of become second nature.”

Milestone moments

Despite being pros at traveling, Courtney and Justin admit that their children aren’t averse to the occasional meltdown.

“Toddlers be toddlering,” add Courtney, before noting that there are certain “niche problems” that come with being on the move so much, endless lost toys being among them.

“I think the nice thing is that we’ve all really cultivated a lot of adaptability and flexibility through this lifestyle, and that goes for the children as well.”

Courtney and Justin do a lot of research into their chosen destinations in order to ensure that they’ll be able to live and work comfortably as a family. However, they’ve found some places more challenging than others.

For instance, they say they found Medellín, a Colombian city popular with digital nomads, “hard to navigate with kids,” and ended up cutting their stay there short.

In the 18 months or so since they left the US, the Orgias have experienced various different milestones as a family, including watching Whitley take her first steps in Rio de Janeiro and riding through the Atlas Mountains in Marrakech at Christmas.

“Anytime we get to just experience something for the first time or something very special,” says Courtney.

“And I get to see it through the kids’ eyes, I think those are always going to be the highlights for me.”

Courtney and Justin have been chronicling their adventures via Instagram and YouTube and say that they’ve had a lot of support from other parents who admire what they’re doing.

“So many parents, especially Black parents, from the US, say, ‘I wish I could do this, and I want to travel with my kids more. But I’m scared to even get on a plane with my kids.’”

While they understand why others might be apprehensive, the couple stress that although they’ve sometimes felt uncomfortable when visiting “areas where there’s not a whole lot of diversity,” they’ve never felt unsafe.

“I think there are certain areas, especially when considering that the kids might need childcare, that we have chosen not to go to,” adds Courtney.

“Just because we have some concerns, or maybe we’ve heard some things about the diversity or other people’s experiences there. But ultimately, we don’t let that stop us from seeing for ourselves.”

She explains that she feels it’s important to “get feet on ground” and visit places independently rather than just going by what others have said.

“If we’d just listened to what other people had to say about safety, we would have never gone to Brazil or Mexico,” Courtney adds. “You’d never go anywhere if you just listened to what’s floating around.”

They occasionally receive negative comments from those who feel that Xavier, four, and Whitley, one, are too young to truly appreciate seeing the world.

But Courtney and Justin are incredibly grateful to be in the position to expose them to different places and cultures at such an early stage.

Courtney goes on to describe how their son’s confidence has grown since they left the US.

“Xavier holds his own in conversations with adults,” she says. “How our kids like to walk into rooms with a sense of almost surety. They just feel like they belong places, because they go places.

“And I think that, particularly as Black children, that’s something really important.

“We want them to know, understand and believe that there’s no place in this world where they do not belong and where they cannot go.

“There’s no room that they don’t belong in and there’s no table they cannot sit at.”

Strong bond

Although they’ve considered homeschooling, the Orgias feel that international schools may be more suitable for their family, suggesting that they’ll likely take this route once their children are older “so moving around is still an option.”

They’ve returned to the US a few times since setting off, spending time with loved ones in Atlanta and Florida, and recently visited Portugal.

Reflecting on their time away, the couple feel that they’ve all grown much closer as a family.

“We’ve learned to rely on each other in many ways, but also it’s an adventure,” says Justin. “It’s an experience.”

While the digital nomad lifestyle works for their family, the couple acknowledge that travel can be stressful, especially if you’re not used to it, and things don’t always go smoothly.

Recalling a situation that saw them temporarily stuck in Cancun with “no accommodation, no luggage and no flight,” Courtney feels setbacks like these have made them more resilient.

“Those moments, as insanely stressful as they are, they wind up putting you in a position where after it’s all over, you’re like, ‘Wow. This is amazing. We work so well as a team.’

“And we have so many little special moments with the children that I hope will be their core memories that we’re able to build.

“Because we’ve chosen an alternative lifestyle where they’re not just off all day in daycare and they just get the worst of us and we get the worst of them in the evening.”

Currently back in Mexico, they plan to spend the end of year holidays in Canada, before either heading back to Colombia, or traveling to Senegal and going on to explore more of Africa. Courtney and Justin are also very keen to visit Asia in the future.

“Neither of us have ever been [to Asia,]” explains Courtney. “So we’re trying to do some timezone figuring and really test the limits of our flexibility to see how we can make that possible.”

The couple, who say they remain disheartened by the current political climate in the US, explain that they try to share honest accounts of their experiences regularly as they feel that it’s important for families like their own to see that this type of lifestyle can be achievable.

“It’s [their social media content] really to show people, and specifically black American families, that they have other options,” adds Courtney.

They hope that their story will inspire others to take the plunge, pointing out that the digital nomad lifestyle doesn’t necessarily need to be all or nothing.

“If you don’t like it, you can always come back,” says Justin. “Even if you want to start off taking baby steps.

“You don’t have to sell your house and all your possessions like we did.”

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