As someone who has all on sorting myself out when travelling, I am always totally in awe of the parents I see taking a long trip with their children. During my round the world trip I met many families who were travelling together, from a couple who were spending the first year of their baby’s life exploring New Zealand in a camper van to another who had spent 13 months doing a round the world trip with their two young sons. I always think that I would be absolutely terrified to be responsible for a small person: worrying that they liked the food, had somewhere to sleep each night and didn’t get sick. But funnily enough the parents I’ve spoken to told me that it actually simplifies things when you are travelling with children. As one mother put it: “All they’re worried about is where the next playground is.”
Seeing as I have absolutely no experience in this area, I asked my well-travelled friend Sara, who has taken her son Tim on some brilliant adventures, including to Namibia, South Africa and a rail journey through Europe, to answer a few questions about what it’s like to travel with a toddler. You can catch up with Sara on Twitter @saraunlimited.
1. Why did you decide to take your son travelling?
Travelling has always been part of my DNA, so when my son was born in 2008, I couldn’t wait to share the experience with him. Our first long-haul trip was to Namibia, when my son was three years old. Having spent much time in southern Africa, I have always dreamed of taking my little boy to see the wildlife and the spectacular scenery. I managed to combine our holiday with a work trip, which enabled us to have a five-week break.
2.How did your family and friends react to your decision?
My mother was bit worried about the safety aspects of travelling through Namibia and South Africa, a country with a bad reputation for muggings and carjackings. But most of our family and friends were very supportive, even my mum!
3. What are the differences between travelling alone and taking a child?
Travelling with a child requires more planning than travelling by yourself (or with adults only). We planned our route so that we didn’t have to spend too many hours in the car, and always made sure we stopped for lunch and snacks. A hungry, grumpy child isn’t a great travel companion! We also planned a lot of the activities and days out with the toddler’s needs in mind. The key is to do a lot of research beforehand and find out where playgrounds and family-friendly restaurants are.
4. What is the best thing about travelling with a child?
Seeing my son’s excitement when he came face to face with lions, cheetahs and monkeys was one of the highlights of the trip. He still talks about our trip and all the wild animals we saw! It’s very easy to make new friends when you travel with a child. Cheeky, blonde Tim was soon everyone’s mascot. When you are travelling together, you have more time to play and hang out with your little one, without the stress of school, work and preparing dinner (we did go for the ‘flashpacking’ option and only cooked three times in five weeks… a total luxury for a working mum!).
5. What is the hardest thing about travelling with a child?
I would say the hardest thing is being restricted to ‘family-friendly’ options. Luckily my son is a night owl, so we did manage to go out to restaurants fairly late in the evening. Some places were well equipped with playgrounds or sets of swings, but sometimes we had to take turns running after him while trying to enjoy our dinner. You also have to take a lot more luggage to make sure you have enough nappies, toys and change of clothes.
6. Was your trip it worth it? (An easy one I’m sure!)
Yes, absolutely. Southern Africa was a lot of child-friendly than I could ever imagine. I recommend it to anyone thinking about travelling with children.
7. What would be your advice to anyone thinking about taking their children on a trip?
Do a lot of research! Try to stay at least three or four nights in once place so you don’t have to unpack and repack every day. Ask the locals where the best family-friendly restaurants are – having a playset next to your dinner table will make your evenings out much more enjoyable. And don’t cram too many activities into your day – things usually take a bit longer when you travel with a child. And when everything else fails, there is always ice cream. Works a treat, every time.
I also spoke to Nancy Sathre-Vogel who took her two sons on an amazing three year journey, cycling 17,000 miles from Alaska to Argentina. Follow Nancy @familyonbikes or check out her website http://www.familyonbikes.org.
1. Could you give me a bit of background information about the trip you took, how old your children were.
This is a bit of trick question… My husband and I were living abroad as expats when our children were born. They spent the first 7 years of their lives living in Ethiopia, Taiwan, and Malaysia. After a mere 15 months in the USA, we took off on our bikes and spent the boys’ third grade year cycling around the USA and Mexico.
2. Why did you decide to take your family travelling?
We always traveled with our children since they were little – their first flight was from Idaho to Ethiopia at six weeks of age. They had crossed the Atlantic five times and visited seven countries before their second birthday.That said, our travels only happened during our vacations from school (we were both schoolteachers). When our sons were 8, we realized we were spending more time with other people’s kids than with our own. While we loved seeing our students learn and grow, we were missing seeing that in our own boys. We finally decided we wanted time with them now – before it was too late. We knew that our boys would grow and change and would soon be out on their own and not want to travel with Ma & Pa.We quit our jobs and took off.
3. How did your family and friends react to your decision?
Because we had lived and traveled so extensively, it wasn’t a shock to our friends and families at all.
4. What are the differences between travelling alone and taking children?
It’s HUGE! In most countries, kids are very much a part of everything, so our kids were accepted too. Because of our children, we were welcomed into places we normally would never know existed. It’s also fun to see the world through the eyes of a child – what a different perspective!
5. What is the best thing about travelling with children?
Quality, uninterrupted time together. It’s hard to get that when you’re distracted by the stuff going on at home.
6. What is the hardest thing about travelling with children?
Honestly, I can’t think of anything. Parenting, in general, is very intuitive. So is travel with kids. Just do it and all your intuition to guide you.
7. Did you do any home-schooling along the way? If so, how did you find it?
We were roadschooling – taking advantage of our experiences on the road for our sons’ education. For example, before we arrived at the Panama Canal, we researched how it was built, the ecological challenges of connecting the oceans, the physics of lifting and lowering ships, etc… Our sons wrote reports about the canal. We did that all along, taking advantage of wherever we were.
8. Was your trip it worth it? (An easy one I’m sure!)
No doubt. Ours was a fantastical adventure and one I can highly recommend to everyone.
9. What would be your advice to anyone thinking about taking their children on a trip?
Just do it. Don’t pay attention to all the articles and blog entries talking about how hard it is or how much specialized gear you need. Just take your little ones and go. You know your kid, you know you. You know more than you think you do.