The decision to travel with our children was not one my husband and I took lightly. We both had always wanted to travel, but I was too scared to take the leap of faith.
As parents we wanted our children to experience what the world had to offer.
Our family had also been through an extremely tough time before our trip. We had experienced death and change on a profound scale, and our marriage had only just managed to survive.
I could see that as individuals we all needed time to heal.
With this in mind, everything came together for it to be ‘the right time to travel.’ The decision to hit the road with kids in tow was the right choice. Next time I won’t wait so long.
Here are 10 things I wish another parent had told me before we left on our family adventure.
1. Leaving Home Is Your Decision
Where travel is concerned, not everyone will be supportive of your decision to remove your kids from school. Some will believe you’re making a great mistake. Others may tell you to go for it.
Either way, the decision is yours and what you and your family give and can get from the experience is up to you as well.
Keep in mind that the education your children are going to gain from world travel can support and supplement the chosen direction for their education when you come home.
Gather information to gain an understanding of the subjects your children would be studying in school for the year. If you choose, you can gear the learning gained during travel to the school curriculum – or you can just go with the flow.
We found a little of the first and a lot of the second worked best.
2. Balance Structure With Flexibility
We decided on a Round the World ticket. We knew that we were going to be away for one year, so that dictated our start and finish dates.
Using a RTW ticket, we had an itinerary for our destinations from Thailand through to the United States. That itinerary provided us with an external structure we could fill in with destinations and activities.
It was only once arrived in a country that we knew whether or not we liked it, whether we wanted to stay there for a longer or shorter time, and whether that was worth paying to change the dates that we had initially booked. Some countries take payment in local currency, others in dollars or sterling, which were more expensive.
3. Staying In Touch Is Easy Online
We left England with our children aged 11 and 13, so for them and us leaving was a big adventure. How to keep in contact with family and friends back home?
No, we didn’t take a laptop.
But we did make full use of the cheap internet services that are available all around the world. This enabled the kids to be in contact with friends from home and friends they made while traveling.
It also provided my husband and I with some ‘downtime.’ While the kids were instant messaging we took time out to relax, drink coffee and enjoy some couple time.
4. Sometimes Hotels Are Cheaper Than Hostels
With just a Lonely Planet in hand we found our way round some very interesting places to stay.
Definitely investigate the hostel scene before traveling, as not all are family-friendly and some are more expensive than a guest house or hotel. For example, in Sydney staying in the YMCA was more expensive than renting a studio apartment in the heart of the city.
The plus side is that some hostels have bikes, kayaks and snorkels you can use free of charge.
5. Trust People, But Trust Your Judgment More
While traveling, our views regarding ‘strangers’ were constantly challenged. Everybody was a stranger, but at the same time could also be a friend. Wondering who to trust was something that we dealt with on a daily basis, because our children are precious to us.
If something didn’t feel right or we thought a situation could be unsafe, we simply packed our bags and left. That was as much as we could do.
It was difficult at times, because our daughter did not always feel safe in the guesthouses where we stayed, especially at the start.
In Kota Buru in Malaysia we looked at a hotel which was built with very thin corridors, and at night they locked a metal gate over the front door. I noticed the emergency exit was also locked with a metal door.
“How do we get out if there is a fire?” I asked the desk clerk.
“I have the key,” he told me.
We had to trust that he would come and open the emergency exits and the front door if there was a fire. (That was not a level of trust I was willing to bet our lives on!)
6. Have Fun Trying New Things Together
There’s four of us: an 11 year old girl, a 13 year old boy, a 40 year old woman and a 40 year old man. How did we decide what to do?
In England we all like different things, but while traveling we took on new experiences together. As a family, we learned to dive, surf, snowboard, ride scooters, fish and tramp, experience nature and chill, sunbathe and snorkel.
We all did a little of what the others liked, compromise was the key, and deciding what activities to do while also keeping our budget in mind was a group process.
Some of our best times were spent just being together as a family, watching DVDs like we enjoy at home, and taking a breather from the everyday whirl.
7. Get To Know Each Other As Individuals
We knew this journey would be one of the most memorable times for us as parents to spend with our children, without the external influence of peers, society and our culture.
We all got to know each other as individuals a little better, rather than just as son, daughter, mother and husband.
I watched my son bang his foot and run bleeding to me, not bothering to clean himself up until I had seen the dolphins that were surfing the waves. I spent time teaching my daughter to kayak on a small island off Fiji, giggling together as we turned the boats upside down so that we could get used to falling out.
I enjoyed spending time with my husband, learning new things together. I learned to take time out and enjoy life.
8. Just Go For It!
We explored new places, new cultures, met new people, experienced strange drink and food, laughed a lot, didn’t want to be together, felt frustrated with each other and at points had no time to ourselves. We felt sad, homesick, and at times downright bored.
We also loved being together. We loved not having to get up at any particular time for any particular reason and slobbing around in bed all day to rest for another days’ adventure.
If we could give just one piece of advice to anyone else thinking of taking an extended family trip it would be this: Just go for it. What an experience to learn and grow from, whatever the outcome.
9. Coming Home Can Be The Hardest Part
The worst thing about coming home is reverse culture shock.
The best thing was sleeping in our own beds again, and for me walking down the beach and listening to the sound of the water as it laps over the shingle. I did not find that sound anywhere else we traveled.
10. The End Is Only The Beginning
The toughest thing now is setting the children back into the school system. It’s important to remember that education does not necessarily have to come through the institution of school.
Our travels have given me insight and knowledge about my ability to educate my children on an individual basis, if the schooling system does not seem to work for them. That is the greatest insight for me as a mother.
We’ve now been home for over three months. Our travels are fondly starting to fade into memories. Would we do it again? You betcha.
The best decision we ever made as a family was to take time out to savor the world with the people we love the most.
Did your parents take you traveling as a child? What do you remember about the experience? Leave a comment below!
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Janice Stringer is 41, married for 19 years with two adorable kids. By day she is a Counsellor, by night, travel writing is her trade. Janice currently is writing a book about her personal journey of travel.