Why Having Kids Should Encourage You To Travel
My heart sank as I realized that my travel dreams were likely over. Maybe in another twenty years they would resume but for now they were doomed. After all, outside of one week long trips to westernized resorts, who actually travels with kids?
I was twenty two years old when I unexpectedly found out I was going to be a dad and all of my worries were admittedly selfish. This was one of my bigger fears. With long term trips under my belt to South East Asia, Central America, and Mexico, I was hooked to the travel lifestyle. Hooked to the exhilarating rush of stepping off of a plane into a entirely foreign world and culture. Hooked to the freedom of living out of a backpack for months at a time exploring the most beautiful and exotic parts of the world. And now it was all about to change. Or so I thought.
Fast forward ten months later and our daughter Astraea was born, a healthy whopping baby at 9 lbs 7 ounces. Nine months after that she was strapped in a front pack as we waited to board a plane for Thailand. All of my misguided preconceptions had changed.
At some point between finding out I was going to become a dad and leaving for an extended trip with our daughter to S.E. Asia I had discovered that travel doesn't have to stop when you have kids. In fact I had found out, thanks to the wonderful internet, that many families had created a lifestyle that allowed them to travel indefinitely with children. I had discovered the world of ‘long term family travel’!
There were families raising their children globally while attending international schools; there were families on long-distance overland journeys in Land Rovers; there were families sailing the world; there were even families cycling the Pan American Highway from Alaska to Argentina! Turns out there were no limits on what is possible with family travel!
But why were they doing this? Surely they were mad, reckless parents, turning their backs on their children's education for the sake of their very own selfish dreams, right?
Again I was wrong. Turns out children gain many benefits from long term travel. They are often times not only advanced in many areas of their education but they actually enjoy their real life learning experiences. These learning experiences include: Learning world history directly through visiting and exploring ruins, monuments, and museums; having hands on experiences with environmental conservation efforts and real life animal encounters; learning new languages through immersion and discovering various art forms, music, and dance in different cultures.
But even beyond education, they learn real life skills such as: self reliance, decision making, and flexibility, all while adopting an openness to to the different walks off life around the world. They also learn an emphasis on the importance of experiences over material possessions. If only we all could learn these things early in life!
So we boarded that plane for Thailand and went on to experience some of our most cherished travel memories that we have. Not only that we discovered that traveling as a family had many benefits over traveling as a couple or solo solo travel. We had much more genuine interactions with locals and were often invited to picnics or other get-togethers as raising children provides a commonality that people from all over the world can connect with. People went out of their way to ensure that we were safe and taken care of. We were often times treated to the best rooms at hotels or best seats on trains because we had a baby. At restaurants waitresses would swoop our daughter up in their arms to coo at her while giving us the opportunity to enjoy a meal together. We felt so much more immersed in the culture then we had previously experienced traveling prior to having a kid.
Our daughters first word after ‘mama’ and ‘dada’ was ‘wow’ as we were saying it everyday. She learned to walk in Thailand and celebrated her first birthday in Bali. Though she was too young to formulate memories, the trip impacted who she is now in more ways then I could’ve known at the time. Travel is not wasted on the young.
Whether you are a seasoned traveler that is now expecting and worried your travel life is going to be postponed or whether you already have children and no travel experience, I've got news for you: you can Travel! I wouldn't say it's easy, it definitely has many unique challenges. It has its stressful moments (as all travel does) but it can be done. Nor is travel only for people with small families either; we’ve met families with two, three, and four kids traveling. We even met an older couple that had traveled though out Europe with their five kids! There are many different ways of making it work for your family whether its going for a few weeks or a few years; whether its traveling with just a backpack or outfitting a vehicle for long distance road trips. If you desire to travel, don't let having children discourage you or be an excuse for why you don’t, in fact let it encourage you!
Here are some more resources should you want more inspiration.
Almost Fearless - Online Magazine covering family adventure and travel
World School Adventures - great info on unschooling, world schooling and family travel
Live Your Legend - Six kids, 13 countries, and 8 years of travel
Flashpacker Family - high end backpacking with more money and more comfort
Family On Bikes - One family's three year journey cycling from Alaska To Argentina
A2A Expedition - family overland travel in a Land Rover Defender
Vagabond Family Travel - Travel tips, roadschooling, and finance