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The Inion family, the People's Choice Travelers of the Year for 2014, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (Photograph by Jillian Mitchell)

Meet the People’s Choice Travelers of the Year

Numbers add up—just ask the “Inion Eleven.” Backed by a bounty of votes, this fearless family of global nomads takes the top spot in our People’s Choice contest.

Over weeks of frenzied voting, ballots piled up for each of Traveler magazine’s latest class of Travelers of the Year. In the end, the Inion Family—parents Stacey-Jean and Brent, along with their nine kids, five of whom have special needs—demonstrated that there’s strength in numbers and nobility in humility.

“We are grateful for the honor your readers have extended to us. Our children are elated,” says Stacey-Jean from Colima, Mexico. “We are standing on some broad, strong shoulders—friends that have stood with our family through the decades and others who have become dear friends through our travels. Whether you prayed for us, cheered us along, repaired our ’91 Winnebago, or supported us during our baby’s heart repair in Mexico, you formed our 2014 Travel Team—and we’re thankful.”

The Inion family has been traveling since 2007, overcoming everyday obstacles in Asia and Latin America. Having grown up in close-knit Amish and Old Order Mennonite communities, Brent and Stacey-Jean have long been familiar with family dynamics. But whatever hardship their own growing family has faced while on the road has only increased their desire to engage with the world. “Travel is for everyone,” says Stacey-Jean. “You will find the world to be safer, friendlier, more delicious, and breathtakingly more awe-inspiring than you ever imagined.”

I tracked down the amazing (and indefatigable) Inions to ask a few more questions.

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The Inions set out from their home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, on a family road trip in their RV in 2007, and just kept going. (Photograph by Jillian Mitchell)

George W. Stone: What’s the most important thing you can tell readers?

Brent: In a word, today is the day to travel. Sell, store, or give away the stuff that accumulates and robs people of our most precious commodity—time.

GWS: Why do you say that?

Brent: Travel, as all of life, is not all white sand and palm trees. As a family with children, we  hear the clock ticking most loudly. For our children both with and without special needs, today is the day to invest in their lives. We have just a little time to teach them how wide and wild and intricately designed the world is. Today is the day to show them the colors, tastes, and textures of different cultures.

GWS: How do you encourage timid travelers to start exploring?

Brent: Start exploring your own backyard. We began traveling by taking “staycations.” You will be amazed how much there is to discover in your surrounding neighborhoods. Play tourist in your community. From there, it will be a natural leap. Hop aboard a train, buy a bus ticket, pile into an RV, book a flight, or start pedaling—get going.

GWS: We’d love to hear from the kids. How has travel changed their lives?

Stacey-Jean: Our energetic four-year-old, Jeremiah, takes cultural change in stride. He states that he enjoys seeing “toys, trains, and boats” from different countries.

Our six-year-old, Hadassah, is enjoying acquiring more Spanish each day. “I can talk to more people, making new friends as we go,” she says. She has a special fascination with the undersea world and has been enjoying snorkeling.

Our 12-year-old, Hannah, has celebrated her birthday in six spots around the globe. In this last year, she has added traditional weaving and native basketry to her life skills. She shared that travel has given her “perspective,” [allowing her to understand] that “my way is not always the right way.” When we asked her if if she would like to travel or or take a break she was emphatic: “I want to travel. I enjoy seeing things for myself. An author can only give his side of the story. When I visit places for myself, I leave with a greater understanding.”

Josiah, who has just turned 15, has had the opportunity to learn much in our seven years of travel. This year he learned how to hand-carve a table from a Mexican carpenter. He has a tremendous appreciation of world history. He carries memories from the Banaue Rice Terraces in the Philippines and Mayan ruins in Mexico and Belize. Over our travels, Josiah has also developed a love of nature: “I love watching creatures native to the area, like tropical birds building nests,” he says. “[This] has given me a great appreciation for the world around me.”

For our children with special needs (who cannot voice their responses), we watch their eyes beam in new surroundings as they experience love around the globe. They laugh in the salty sea, bask in the sunshine, and challenge their palates with local spices, sauces, and fruits. They teach us more than we teach them. Our children thrive with travel therapy.

GWS: As a parent, how do you measure the impact of travel on your children?

Stacey-Jean: Growing up cross-culturally has made the children more sensitive to others. Several of them echoed Josiah’s words, adding that they have developed a greater cultural understanding. [For instance, one of them told me that] “being polite can be different in each culture. It’s important not to impose my perspective of politeness on others. Instead, I learn what is appropriate in a person’s culture where we visit.”

GWS: What does the future hold for the “Inion Eleven”?

Stacey-Jean and Brent: Our baby has one last cardiologist visit in December. Then we look forward to moving on to Guatemala. We can’t wait to climb to the top of the large temples of Tikal, taking in the panoramic view above the trees and spotting black monkeys. We are looking forward to swimming in the waters of Lake Atitlan. There are a few children’s homes we have been invited to visit. We have read that Guatemala has thousands of street children. We look forward to meeting and making a difference with some of them.

We plan to get close up with the amazing migration of scarlet macaws and hike Machu Picchu in Peru. We want to learn from locals, feel the soft fur of alpacas, observe traditional natural dyeing and weaving techniques. We want to find the rare blue cotton that grows nowhere else in the world. We’re dreaming of playing in Bolivia’s salt flats and drinking a mate in Argentina. The children are most excited about seeing penguins and blue-footed boobies in the Galápagos. We want to see whales in Chile and sloths in Costa Rica.

After that, we may ship our RV over for an overland tour of Africa into Asia and then meander into Europe. Visiting Israel and following the footsteps of Jesus is high on our dream list. There is so much to do and see as we keep trekking, from Pennsylvania to Argentina. We hope readers will follow along with us on our blog, Travel Deep and Wide.

George W. Stone is an editor at large at National Geographic Traveler magazine.

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