Photo: Lars Plougmann
1. “Should I travel with kids at all?”
Yes. Of course. Kids love seeing neat stuff, and if travel is a thing you love, you should introduce them to it. There are people who sell all their belongings and travel constantly, with kids, so that lifestyle is not forever closed to you. It might take some adaptation, and probably a lot of flexibility, but it is one hundred percent possible. Remember: kids are just small people with poor impulse control; just as there are adults who love to travel and find it fulfilling, magical, and deeply enjoyable…it makes sense that there are children who feel the same way.
2. “Where should we go?”
Well…where do you want to go? I do think there are some limitations on where you can take children — but these are mostly based on the age and temperament of your child, and how careful you want to be. For example, I wouldn’t take a shy or easily-overstimulated child to India: SO MANY PEOPLE and lots of things happening and bright colours and holy crap, they will probably just melt down.
3. “Isn’t [place] dangerous for kids because of [thing]?”
Healthwise, if someplace is dangerous for you, it’s dangerous for a kid: obviously, do not take your child to the middle of Sierra Leone in the Ebola crisis. Malaria is probably the most serious and life-threatening thing your child could encounter, so if you are going to a place where malaria is rampant, you MUST take basic precautions: put your child on malarial prophylaxis (by weight), make them sleep under mosquito nets or in air conditioning, and put bug repellant on them. Children who travel in the long term should be considered to have the same risk of infection or illness as the residents of the area they’re traveling in. Make sure all vaccinations (including travel shots) are up-to-date. Diarrhea can be extremely dangerous for small children and babies; breastfeeding can prevent babies from ingesting tainted water used to make formula, but bring rehydration solution as part of your first aid kit.
There are a lot of places in the world where vehicle laws are not very strict; keep this in mind if your child is young enough to need a car seat. Many places don’t have seatbelts, or rely mostly on motorcycles for transport. Kids are also more likely to dig in dirt or sand, which means they are more likely to get worms or other parasitic infections. It’s probably worth carrying a dose of anti-flagellants with you, too.
Generally, though, so long as you’re keeping a pretty good eye on them, kids will be just as fine as you are in anyplace you go.
4. “Is this something I’m really going to enjoy or do I just wish I was going to enjoy it?”
As someone who has traveled A LOT for fun, I have gotten less enamored of the actual process of traveling over the years. I am kind of past the days when it was romantic or interesting to spend thirty hours in a cramped, overheated bus, dangerously climbing one-way roads in steep mountains. I’m not saying I expect things to be cushy, but I have just come to recognise that, say, coach airplane travel actually has the potential to be a huge pain in the ass if everything doesn’t go well. And with kids, things can quite frequently not go well. If you’re wanting to go on a trip just for the heck of it, consider whether it is something you will actually enjoy doing now that you have to wrangle tiny chaos producers, or if you might prefer to wait until they’re a bit older.
5. “I have a baby or toddler; should I bring a stroller?”
Short answer: probably not. It’s a hassle to drag around unless the kid is actually in it, a lot of buildings and sidewalks (especially in developing countries or long-established places with lots of cobblestones) are not accommodating, and it takes up a ton of space. Letting them walk is often not an option either, though: kids walk veeeeery slooooowly (and fall down a lot), so if you want to get where you’re going in the next hundred years, you probably want to skip it.
If you can and your child is willing, I highly recommend wearing them — that way they’re up off the ground and controlled, so you know they’re not toddling through raw sewage or running their hands across the stroller wheels (which have just rolled through raw sewage), and you still have your hands free to carry bags or open doors. I find back carries to be most effective for older kids: you just put them on like a backpack. Infants and smaller children can go on the front, but switch it up as soon as they’re old enough to hit you in the face or grab your glasses.
6. “What about school?”
If you’re going to be traveling for years, and you plan for them to attend school again when you settle down, you need to make sure your child won’t fall too far behind their peers. This means keeping track of school curricula wherever you plan to live and making sure they can keep up. If you just want to homeschool or unschool, go nuts: make up your own curriculum, get inspiration from wherever you are, and if you stay somewhere for a few months or a year, make sure you get a library card. Local schools might also allow enrollment for an academic year or a semester, depending. It’s worth pointing out that many children thrive in non-North American school systems — if your child hated school in Nebraska, they may love it in Finland.
7. “Should I keep to a schedule?”
I have a toddler, and I can tell you, she loves a routine. I think most kids love routine to a certain extent; it helps them feel safe and like there are predictable boundaries even when everything might actually be kind of chaotic. It’s worth considering how you can keep some regular routine touchstones in place for your kid: always do the same bedtime activities, no matter where you are, for example. Always have lunch at the same time. If it were my kid, I’d say always keep the same bedtime, because if she goes to bed even a smidge later, she’s totally unmanageable…but your mileage may vary. Don’t treat traveling like a “special occasion”, though, and let all rules go out the window; if traveling is your life, this is how you live, and living needs to have some guidelines and rules. If you want to teach your children to be good global citizens, this includes learning manners, respect, and how to figure out when they’re tired, sleepy, or angry, and what to do about it.
8. “How do I deal with parenting advice from cultures that aren’t my own?”
This is an interesting question, because you’ve chosen to bring your life and your child and your parenting into someone else’s country and culture. It’s not really anybody’s business how you choose to parent…but on the other hand, if you’ve put yourself in a place where everyone else does things differently, you should expect some commentary. Try not to get upset if people tell you what to do. Also try not to be upset if your respectful discussion or explanation of your parenting techniques falls on deaf ears. Unless someone is physically taking your child away and parenting them in a way you don’t want, you’ll probably be best off just smiling, nodding, and ignoring.