Reactions vary from funny to downright ignorant and pathetic when I tell people about my travel adventures with my kids. They either think that I am crazy (perhaps), that I somehow got gifted with three quiet, obedient robotic children (HA! Not quite) or that I am torturing my kids by dragging them along by obligation on what they think are ‘my’ travels.
I’ve meandered through the Amazon with my daughters when they were just four and six. I went on a girl surf trip with my middle daughter in Uruguay, where we both happily got our butts kicked by the ocean. I swam with both penguins and sharks with my son in Galapagos. We all did an Andes crossing on foot from Argentina to Chile. I think the hardest for me, though, was enduring a purse and shoe shopping trip with my eldest daughter in Buenos Aires. Future plans involve a culinary trip to Ethiopia, an Antarctic expedition, and climbing Aconcagua with my son. It’s going to be difficult to convince me that traveling with kids sucks. Honestly, adventuring with them has been my favorite part of raising them.
1. Travel brings out the worst in kids.
My opinion? Travel brings out the worst in parents. Travel inherently is right up most kids’ alleys. Kids are naturally spontaneous, curious, and fun. Overplanny, stressed out parents trying to control every detail ‘for the sake of the kids’ are not spontaneous, curious, nor fun. That’s where things start to go wrong.
Travel is a special time to give your kid your undivided attention. To engage them in their interests. To set the daily routine aside and just be silly together, enjoying life. Do that, and you might be surprised at how present, interesting, and fun your kids actually are to hang out with.
2. It’s a pain trying to map out all the details in advance.
Agreed. So don’t.
Get your visa details in line. Know when borders close if you cross any by land. Have your paperwork in line if only one parent is traveling (some countries want to see the other parent’s permission). Have a place to crash right when you get into town, but then see what happens from there. Ask local kids what they do for fun. Jump all over the random invite to someone’s house for dinner. Stay at the beach an extra day or two. Keep your schedule open so you can be spontaneous.
3. Kids don’t deal well with change.
It’s not rocket science. If you make something a big deal, they will think it’s a big deal. If every Monday night at your house is lasagna night, and every Tuesday is pizza, yeah, you are probably setting your kid up for a shocker when they finally figure out the rest of the world doesn’t work on that rigid schedule. And they’ll get over it.
Relaxed parents help make relaxed kids. Roll with things like it’s no big deal. Eat the weird street food and offer it to them nonchalantly, and you might be pleasantly surprised when they eat it with no drama.
Kids are super adaptable. A few days into the trip and most will make new routines and have a new sense of ‘normal’.
4. Strange illnesses and/or tragedy is inevitable.
Ever seen a bunch of snotty, coughing kids at a large daycare? There’s got to be more germs floating around those places than there is in most places on the road. Your kids might get sick abroad. And they might get sick sitting at home playing Xbox. There are doctors abroad, and depending on where you travel, they might even be free. And, just saying, at least if you get out of the US, your chances of having your kid end up in a random mass school shooting probably decrease.
5. You’ll be bogged down with a ton of gear.
The tendency is to try to take everything you think you might ever need, just in case. Do you really need hair cutting scissors? Twelve changes of underwear? Fourteen hardcover books? A massive stroller? Six stuffed animals and three special blankies?
The reality is that you can borrow or buy most everything as you go. Take two books and trade with kids you meet on the road who have finished their books. Borrow a lightweight, fold-down umbrella stroller from a friend, or better yet, throw your baby in a sling or make your toddler (gasp!) walk for once. You would be surprised at the new things you will notice at his pace.
Especially when my kids were younger, I liked to pack a big backpack as opposed to a suitcase, because it left me with two hands free.
6. Kids will have a meltdown on the road.
Yeah, maybe. But mine have been known to meltdown pretty well at home.
I’ve found it’s mostly about food and sleep. Get them solid sleep hours, don’t let them get too hungry, and I bet you will avoid 90% of meltdowns.
7. The kids can’t miss any school.
So you are worried about their education. All the more reason to get them out in the world, broadening their minds and piquing their curiosity. Most teachers will understand and will be flexible on getting them work to do before the trip so they can stay caught up. Think big picture here, though. When they are 30, is it going to really matter if they got an 82% or a 94% on that 7th-grade geography homework? Or would a memorable road trip through Mexico with their parents be a more lasting lesson in geography? I think we both know the answer to that.
8. They won’t remember the trip anyway.
I tend to disagree here. My fourteen-year-old daughter still recounts random details from our Amazon trip we took when she had just turned four — things that I hadn’t remembered until she mentioned them.
Even if your kid does not spout off fond memories, do not think that the experience did not affect them at the time. It could be something so simple as having watched you positively interact with people of a different race or culture that makes them not think twice about befriending the new foreign kid at school. A trip to Costa Rica may get them appreciating rice and beans and finally convince him to get them off the 5-times-a-week Kraft mac and cheese diet. Every trip, no matter what age it was taken at, will in some way make your kid a little more adaptable, a little more aware of the world around them.