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They quit their jobs and sold everything to drive around the world with two young children

<i>Reinhard Dirscherl/The Image Bank RF/Getty Images</i><br/>Matt Prior says seagrass conservation is one of the many issues they will shine the spotlight on during their five-year journey.
Reinhard Dirscherl/The Image Bank RF/Getty Images
Matt Prior says seagrass conservation is one of the many issues they will shine the spotlight on during their five-year journey.

By Kate Springer, CNN

(CNN) — It’s something many couples dream about. But few actually do it.

Matt and Leah Prior have quit their jobs, sold everything and on July 15 set off on a round-the-world overland journey with their two children: Jack, 3, and Charlotte, 1.

Travel has always been part of the Prior family’s DNA.

The couple met in Laos in 2011. At the time, Matt was raising money for the British Red Cross while driving a London black cab around the world, while Leah was on a year-long globe-trotting adventure after teaching in South Korea for a few years.

They instantly connected and maintained a long-distance relationship for a year after his road trip ended before moving to Hong Kong to start a life together.

During that same trip, Matt ran into the Zapp family, who traveled the world for 22 years in a 1928 Graham-Paige classic car and welcomed four children during the journey.

“Leah and I talked about the Zapp’s adventure soon after we met, and from then on, the seed was planted – maybe one day we could do something similar,” Matt Prior tells CNN Travel.

And now, that dream has become a reality. Taking off from London, the family is traveling in an INEOS Grenadier 4×4 with a Patriot Camper X3 off-road trailer, which has a pop-up tent. They will travel through over 100 countries over the next five years, stopping at national parks and protected areas to support social and environmental initiatives.

After the UK, they’ll cross Europe and the Middle East before moving on to Central Asia, China and the Himalayas, Southeast Asia, Asia-Pacific, Africa and the Americas.

During the project, dubbed “Project Wild Earth,” they will also share stories on their website and social media accounts about inspiring rangers, support organizations, government officials and entrepreneurs they work or come in contact with.

“We have a unique window of opportunity before our kids start school, so if we are going to do something a bit wild as a family, now’s the time to do it,” says Matt.

“We hope to contribute to the protection and preservation of our planet’s biodiversity – and if we can deliver on this, I will feel like we have played our little part in leaving the world better than when we first entered it and helping to adjust the course away from the one we’re currently on.”

The road to Project Wild Earth

After reuniting in Hong Kong, the Priors lived in the busy city for just over a decade.

Leah, an American, worked as a primary school teacher and helped establish a Sudbury school in Hong Kong that empowers children to direct their own education.

Meanwhile, Matt, who is British, held many roles: a commercial pilot, co-founder of AdventureX specialized adventure travel company, and the director of The Explorers Club in Hong Kong, to name a few.

When political turmoil rocked the city in 2019, the couple started reassessing their plans.

Ready for a change, they hoped to move to Indonesia to live on an organic farm and start a family.

The Covid-19 pandemic forced them to press pause. The Priors found themselves stuck in Hong Kong, which had some of the strictest pandemic restrictions in the world due to its “zero-Covid” approach.

Matt worked as a pilot throughout the pandemic, delivering supplies worldwide under challenging conditions.

“There were endless tests, forms, tracking and tracing… I had to quarantine in hotel rooms for weeks on end,” he recalls. “Sometimes with armed guards and no ability to even open your window.”

Meanwhile, Leah was pregnant with Jack. At the time, Hong Kong public hospitals had banned partners from labor wards, meaning Matt couldn’t be there while she endured an emergency C-section to give birth to their son.

“Jack was a bright light during a dark period,” says Matt. “We moved out to Sai Kung [in the eastern part of Hong Kong’s New Territories] to be in nature, which helped a lot and allowed us to live a simple life away from the city.”

When Leah became pregnant with their daughter in 2022, the city had yet to relax its policies, so she moved to the US temporarily. Matt continued working in Hong Kong but was able to join her for the birth this time.

“When these things unfolded in Hong Kong, we had to reconsider everything. Everything was on the table and open to discussion,” he says. “We were essentially looking at a new start, a new location and potentially new occupations. This was a family decision this time, not just what we might want to do individually.”

While weighing their options, they remembered the Zapps’ inspiring adventure and devised Project Wild Earth.

“Our idea to do an overland journey as a family resurfaced once again. This time it was our preferred option, all things considered, and the one that our hearts and guts were pulled towards,” says Matt. “It’s probably not the most sensible decision career or finance-wise, but it felt right.”

‘Protecting nature would be our north star’

When deciding how to dedicate their time on the road, they kept returning to their interests and values.

“It became clear that protecting nature would be our north star, which naturally led us to conservation,” says Matt.

They started researching global environmental projects and speaking to many people in the sector about how their family could make a difference.

As their project started taking shape, the couple began building a global network of partners and compiling a database of over 250 projects worldwide.

The initiatives traverse a wide range of efforts, from Tompkins Conservation’s rewilding project in Patagonia to the Allen Coral Atlas, which maps coral reefs and monitors threats. Then there are projects that return land to indigenous tribes, innovate nature-based tourism, significantly reduce fishing bycatch, restore rainforests via agroforestry, and harness technology to improve wildlife monitoring and conservation.

During their journey, they plan to volunteer time and skills and help spread the word about each project’s work. 

“We are looking for projects that are not only inspirational but can also serve as a potential blueprint for others to use and start their own projects. We believe in referring to nature as much as possible in terms of finding a solution,” says Matt.

“I also love the cutting-edge use of technology as long as its deployment has a tangible effect on the ground.”

Projects focusing on agroforestry, permaculture and regenerative agriculture in our food systems have also piqued the Priors’ interest, as have grassroots initiatives.

“Regardless of what resources you have available, grassroots projects show that there is still a way to organize and take action, which is what this is all about,” he says.

“We want to demonstrate that we can create a better world by shifting from doom and gloom to one of creativity, inspiration and action.”

Stories from the road

Inspired by advice from The Jane Goodall Institute and Roots and Shoots youth service organization, Matt and Leah plan to raise awareness about conservation efforts through storytelling.

Both organizations were founded by renowned primatologist and conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall.

“She’s a huge inspiration to us and the main reason we have zeroed in on storytelling, based on her belief that this is what really gets people to change from within,” says Matt.

“We hope over time, as we share more and more stories and examples of what is going on around the world, that it will inspire people to take action in many forms.”

They hope it may lead some to reassess their consumption habits and prompt others toward a career change, partnerships, documentaries, starting their own projects or volunteering with conservation organizations.

“When people ask us what they can do to help, we often recommend the Key Conservation app, which helps conservationists raise funds and support for their campaigns in real-time,” says Matt.

“We hope people think about nature and biodiversity a little more and appreciate what we have here on our planet.”

As they will be driving most of the journey, the Priors plan to offset their carbon footprint through monthly membership program Mossy Earth, which supports rewilding and biodiversity projects.

The family has calculated an initial emissions estimate based on UK averages – 12.7 tonnes of CO2e per adult and 6.35 per child – but will track their mileage, water and waste usage carefully on the road for a more precise figure.

“This is something the kids can get involved in. I have no doubt they will enjoy it and keep us accountable, which is great,” says Matt.

All in the family

Before taking off, Matt and Leah embarked on several long-distance test runs with Jack and Charlotte in the UK and the US.

These long drives and camping adventures helped the couple better understand how to plan their travel schedules, break up long drives and entertain the kids without using screens.

By including their children in the journey and conservation work, the Priors hope to expose Jack and Charlotte to as much diversity, innovative ideas and natural beauty as possible.

“From our perspective, it’s very important that the kids are involved from day one. They’re the future,” says Matt.

“The life skills they’ll pick up, as well as overcoming challenges that affect us all, and just interacting with people from all places, ages and backgrounds, will be priceless.”

They’re excited for the kids to participate in many projects and learn about different ecosystems, wildlife, restoration, regenerative farming practices and conservation in general.

Matt hopes Jack will enjoy using the SeagrassSpotter app to help document seagrass in coastal communities – data Project Seagrass then uses to better predict where it can be restored.

“We’re going into this eyes wide open,” he says. “We know this is not going to be a walk in the park, but at the same time, kids are adaptable, and nature is an amazing playground, which can be inspiring, entertaining and educational.”

To be able to spend this precious time together with our children is very special, he adds.

“We hope that nature and supporting others will become part of our kids’ DNA going forwards. But where this journey ultimately takes them will be up to them.”

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