Travelling with kids is a lot of things…. it can be challenging, intense at times, tiring, and trying…but its not impossible and nor will it kill you (can’t promise your sanity will remain intact though). It will broaden your understanding of what is possible and you will look back and be amazed at the places you’ve been to, and the experiences/emotions you’ve shared as a family – nothing like 24/7 living to really get to know one another. Sometimes our imagined fear is much worse than the reality itself.
If you enjoy or like to travel for an extended period than you can either chose to keep on travelling and do it with your kids or you can wait til your kids have grown up and left home. Current statistics put kids flying the coop at early 20s or later and so your faced with the other potentially disastrous situation with leaving the kids at home to look after the house (parties alert) while you travel….
I remember as a 20 year old, making grand travel plans with my boyfriend at the time, who simply turned around and said – these are your dreams not mine…. which is true for your kids as well – it’s important to remember whose dreams they are. However, sharing your loves and interests with your kids is a wonderful thing and giving your kids the opportunity to see you; mess up, get lost, work things out, try a new language, communicate beyond language, make friends, discover new places etc is all part of life’s learning curve…. We want to travel as a family so we can share these experiences together… BUT we also know that are kids are on this ride with us… and it may not always suit them. It ‘s not a one size fits all approach, but about finding how to travel that suits your family at the time.
I don’t know what the future holds. What I do know is that my partner and I have both lost our mums at a young age, and that this time, right now, is as good a time as any … At a time when our peers are making career choices, investing in business, renovating, re-locating to a second or bigger home, we are not… its sometimes a scary feeling that in some ways our “progress” in the ‘real’ world has stopped… we are not making money but we are spending it fast…. However this is our family’s story not anyone else’s…. and so we all chose our own stories to write.
Travelling with kids takes on a different meaning. I have travelled previously as a single person and as a couple with my husband. Travelling at that time was about going somewhere on a whim, changing countries as often as you change underpants – catching planes, overnight trains without a moment’s thought, walking everywhere, eating poorly/living cheaply, leaving the doldrums of routine and responsibilities behind, getting through your book wish list and writing journals while lazing on a beach, cafe, park, lake/mountain side/whatever (ALL DAY), getting lost and not caring, going to places with exotic sounding illnesses and hoping you didn’t come home with anything other than a funny tummy, experiencing the culture, and working/volunteering for travel. Essentially an exercise in real self indulgence and complete escapism.
Well let me tell you that there is no escaping from your responsibilities as a parent when travelling with kids. In some ways its a little easier (because there’s two of you, so its shared), but a lot harder in other ways because there is just the two of you the entire time… through sickness, jetlag, moments of insanity. You thought negotiating with a friend/partner traveller was hard in the past (remember the silly arguments of deciding where to eat, where to go, sleep, etc) well now you have 2 other little travellers whose needs often take priority and there is little room for negotiating!!
Yes travelling is different, but hey, my kids have adjusted pretty well to this whole travel thing, so now its our turn to re-adjust our travels from a single person to a family unit… its not so hard..
Travelling as a single person vs travelling as a family
I’ve had very different experiences of cities/countries I’ve been to as a single person and then re-visited as a family – some have been better experiences, others, well they’ve just been different.
As a single person, I travelled and saw mostly cities in South America. This time as a family, we have spent more time in the countryside (which is amazing by the way) than the cities.
My experience of London as a 20 something year old, was mainly about work, nightlife and living frugaly in an 8 person share house. I spent the last two weeks before flying home doing some last minute half hearted sightseeing. Sure, I enjoyed having a walk (as a means to getting somewhere) through some of the popular parks but its a completely different experience when your hanging out with kids in some of the most beautiful parks in London.. It becomes a lifestyle and a necessity when apartment living. I’ve never been a keen fan of taxodormy, but kids love being able to see wild animals at close range without fear. So this time around, I’ve loved visiting the museums, the parks, and have met lots of other international families along the way. Sure I’ve missed out on lots too – special tours, audio commentary’s, interesting exhibits like the crown jewels at the tower of London. But I’d like to think, my kids have saved me a lot of time. As I’ve walked past the enormous queue’s at a lot of these attractions, I just think… I’m glad its not me….
Travelling with kids can be really fun especially seeing things from a kids perspective.. You get to enjoy being a kid again too. Next time, you factor in legoland, a trip to disneyland, a puppet/kids show etc, just check whether this ones for the kids or secretly for you too…
Kids are more likely to be “out there” and this will get you all sorts of experiences you couldn’t get even if you paid for it….No matter how interesting you think you are, kids are just much more fascinating without having to try too hard… and people are more interested in you as a traveller because you are travelling as a family…
On a ferry crossing in Chile we had two local musicians hand their drum over to my son to join in their impromptu performance, we’ve had a busker improvise a song for our son just for him, a female quartet came over to serenade us when my son – the only one – got up to dance to their music… So you get to enjoy a myriad of unique experiences which will be part of your family’s travel stories and you don’t have to do a thing….your kids will do it for you…naturally…
My kids are littlies, yet they are still learning lots during our travels overseas… My son knows what country/city we are in (although he did shout out excitedly that he had the American flag, when he was handed a free British flag..opps!), what oceans we have crossed, what local animals look like (in real life not just from books), what Spanish/French/etc sounds like. My sons might not be able to articulate everything they see and learn but the interaction they have with the country and the people, have been absorbed by them and will make up the glomerate of experiences that is their world and form their behaviours…. In Chile my eldest son built volcanoes out of sand, in Argentina his favourite word was “vamos”, in London he played all sorts of games/stories that involve animals from the woods, knights/towers, in France he learnt about donkeys and built castles out of rocks and it goes on and on…
I can’t tell you whether its best travelling with little ones or older kids… each will have their own pros and cons…. From our perspective, all ages are great and it doesn’t matter when you go. Each time it will be a different experience and perspective based on your kids life stage/personality at the time.. My one year old, can still go to a museum and have a valuable experience, seeing the animals, being able to touch and feel specimens etc…The next time he goes, he will experience it differently again and something new will catch his eye or he will see the same objects again but perceived through his 18 month old brain.
If you see travel as stressful, difficult or a nuisance, than odds are, you wont enjoy it with children… travelling with children wont make adjusting to a new language, culture, finding your way around and dealing with challenges any easier.
We came to the conclusion that even without trying too hard my kids are getting something wonderful from “just being” wherever it is they are. Learning about the big wide world can happen by bringing the world to our kids, allowing them to explore while still in the safety and comfort of a parents arms. To learn that the world is really on their front doorstep, to really care about the world by seeing all the wonderful things on offer, and to learn that it doesn’t have to be a scary, dangerous or fearful place, and in fact that there are children like them all over the world that aren’t so different after all..
So our kids have found new friends in playgrounds to play with even when they don’t speak the same language, experienced the diversity of an international city like London, visited some of the local or best museums in the world – imagine going to see the dinosaur bones that were dug up in that precise region (Argentina/saurus) and discovered that Chile doesn’t mean spicy or even cold – its an actual country!
If you really want to have an adventure, jump in the deep end and go for it.. and don’t forget the kids!