This weeks interview is from Jennifer Miller of the two blogs; Edventure Project and UncommonChildhood. Jennifer blogs about her travels with her husband and four children and how they combine education and adventure with long term travel as a family. You can also follow them on twitter and on facebook as well.
What was your travel style like before you had children?
I’ve traveled since before I was born and my travel style has evolved, as I have. Travel has always just been part of life, not something I’ve partitioned off into a category, so my “style” of travel just naturally flowed out of my “style” of life. With or without kids, I have always made it my purpose to live as fully in a moment as I can. To appreciate my surroundings, the little things, and the people I find myself with. This is equally true if I’m helping my mother pull weeds in her garden or if I’m riding elephants with my kids in the jungles of Thailand, or walking the streets of Narita, Japan, at sunset completely alone. Having children certainly changes life, and the logistics, but it doesn’t have to change one’s style. In fact, I’d say the key to happiness through the evolution of life, and family, is in finding your style and in having the confidence to raise your kids in that style instead of feeling as if your whole life has to shift and change or be set aside because of the arrival of children.
What ages were your children when you started travelling with them?
We’ve traveled with our kids since they were newborns. I’m Canadian, my husband is American. Even when we owned a house and were rooted, we traveled a lot, as a bi-national family. Our youngest had his feet in three oceans before his 7th month.
We started traveling full time when our kids were 5, 7, 9 & 11. That year we rode our bicycles from London, UK to Tunisia, in North Africa and back. Since then we’ve road tripped North and Central America quite thoroughly, gone deep instead of wide in the highlands of Guatemala for six months, this year we’re exploring Southeast Asia with backpacks. The kids are now ages, 10, 12, 14 & 16.
Why did you decide that exposing your children to travel was important?
My parents took me out of third grade and eighth grade to travel and it was the best thing that they ever did for me. Having grown up with nomadic roots, the value of long term travel was something that was taken for granted in our family. We always knew that we’d travel with our kids. Our “Why” centers around providing a well rounded and liberal education for them, and giving them the opportunity to live and learn and grow in the world, instead of inside the walls of a classroom.
Our goal is to raise kids who are confident world citizens and who can move between cultural boundaries and across language barriers freely. There is more than one way to accomplish that, but long term travel seemed, to us, to be the best and easiest.
What is your travel style now that you travel with children? How did it change from before you were a parent?
As I mentioned before, our travel style has evolved with the phases of life, and it continues to as we’re now parenting teens instead of toddlers. We’ve always valued slow travel, with a concerted effort to learn and go deep instead of just wide in our journeys. We’d rather really live and learn in a place than just tick it off of the list and rack up a huge number of countries visited. Because the purpose of our travels in this phase of life is the education of our kids, we actively look for people to teach them, places to discover new things and outside the box approaches to life to expose our kids to.
Because we travel full time and have been at it for nearly five years, we’ve learned to balance forward motion with rooting down in one spot for a while. We often rent local houses in small towns to work, rest and explore from. When we are moving forward, it’s with our backpacks and little more. We travel as light as we can for six people.
What has been the most difficult thing about travelling with children?
The logistics. With six people, there are a lot of balls to keep spinning: laundry, schooling, meals, adequate sleep, work schedules (four of us work online in some capacity), and then the general travel rodeo of buses, taxis, and forward motion times six. Everything that would be challenging about a big family at home, is equally challenging on the road, only without household conveniences like dishwashers and washing machines, and often in my second or third language (if I’m lucky!) The more people you travel with, regardless of whether they are children, the more logistically difficult it becomes!
What has been the most rewarding part of travelling with children?
One of the beautiful things about kids is that they are seeing everything for the first time, and we, as their parents, are privileged to walk through the world with them and look through their eyes for a few precious years. I love that. I’ve loved watching our kids be absolutely “wowed” by what we, as adults are jaded by. And I’ve loved that as they’ve turned into teens, with their outside the box childhood, there is little that phases them. They are equally comfortable laying on a pile of banana boxes and gas canisters in an open boat on the ocean headed for a remote island as they are on the train in Boston. They aren’t any more uncomfortable in an Asian market surrounded by pigs heads, dragon fruit, and barefoot hawkers than they are in Target in the USA.
Watching my kids become truly at home in the world, no matter where they find themselves, is one of the very best parts.
What is your favourite travel memory of travelling as a family?
Five years in, that’s a tough one… to pick just one. Riding camels at Christams and attending the Festival du Sahara at Douz, in Tunisia, is one. Riding elephants in Thailand for Ezra’s 10th birthday is another. Our gondola afternoon in Venice was idyllic. Watching smoking volcanos every morning, over my tea, from our garden in San Marcos, Guatemala made for a winter I’ll never forget. Camping in the rain on a logging road in Nova Scotia, listening to wolves in the darkness, being completely miserable together. It wasn’t a “best” moment but it’s become a favourite story. Ez waking up screaming in his hammock because the howler monkeys scared him, screaming at each other in the dark jungle around us, at Tikal, that was unforgettable. I can’t pick one, and the longer I think the more come to mind! ?
According to your child, what is their favourite part about travel?
Ezra 10 years: My favourite part of travel is meeting new people and getting to see new things. I like bus and airplane rides. I like to do art as I travel, I like to paint the things I see, like my grandpa taught me.
Elisha 12 years: I love getting to meet new people like our friends the Sztupovszkys or the family that invited us to Chieow Laan lake. I also like getting to have adventures like sleeping in raft houses or being on boats that break down or snorkelling.
Gabriel 14 years: I love the beaches. My favourite ones so far have been in Belize and Thailand. I love the water, snorkelling, surfing, kite surfing, sailing, SCUBA diving.
Hannah 16 years: There are a lot of things I like about travel, food, meeting new people, but especially the music. Wherever we go there is different music and I love to find interesting musicians to learn from. I travel with my instruments (guitar, mandolin and violin) and I love to listen and play wherever we go.
According to your child, what was their favourite place you have travelled as a family?
Ezra 10 years: My favourite place was Tunisia because we got to go to the camel festival. We got to see camels and foxes chasing rabbits, camel races and horse races, Berber tents and we got to ride on one of the race horses and camels. I liked eating the donuts and the Berber bread.
Elisha 12 years: My favourite places are Guatemala and Belize. They are beautiful, they just hit me in a spot that I like. In Guatemala my favourite place was San Marcos, in Belize, it’s Tobacco Caye.
Gabriel: 14 years: My favourite places are Belize and Canada. Belize because I got to SCUBA dive there. Canada because it’s where my grandparent live and they have a fantastic island and I have boats there.
Hannah 16 years: Italy was great, mostly because there was cheese! A lot of countries we have been to they have a lot of great foods but they don’t have good cheese, sadly! I’m a bit of a cheese-o-phile.
According to your child, where in the world do they most want to travel to next?
Ezra 10 years: I would like to go to Mongolia because I’ve heard from people who really liked it. I would like to see the Taj Mahal in India. I would like to see the tall building in Dubai and I’d like to climb Mount Everest.
Elisha 12 years: Definitely Singapore, that’s going to be cool. Borneo as well, we’ll be there for Christmas. I’m looking forward to seeing the Orangutans.
Gabriel 14 years: The Seven Seas. I really want to get a boat and sail around the world. I’m working on getting my various sailing certifications to be a crew member and I’m saving money for a boat with my friend.
Hannah 16 years: The moon! Just kidding. Probably South America and Antarctica. I’ll be going to South America in the spring on my own. I’m excited about that.
What tips would you offer parents when it comes to travel with children?
Go. Just go. There are things that are hard on the road with kids, this is true. But then, there are things at home that are hard too. Travel with kids is a fantastic way to broaden their worlds, increase their flexibility and add to their educations. Don’t miss that short window of opportunity that is childhood. It passes faster than we could have ever imagined!
Are there certain destination or holiday types you would recommend for parents travelling with children?
Kids are so flexible. I really dislike the whole marketing of “family friendly” in travel. So often these “family friendly” experiences dumb down or water down things so much for children that it’s a waste of time in pretty packaging. Instead of selling your kids short by expecting that they won’t enjoy the “real deal,” trust in their ability to reach up and take them along with you to the things that fascinate you. Children have a natural curiosity. They love nothing more than to be included in the lives and interests of their parents. Of course you might have to adjust your expectations or your standards a bit and save that Everest base camp trip for when your kid is ten instead of two, but there’s no reason that you can’t go just about anywhere you like with your kids. After all, people everywhere, in every location have babies and raise children, your kids will be in good company! We’ve yet to find a place our kids didn’t dig in and enjoy. I hesitate to “recommend” any one destination, follow your passions and take your kids with you.
What are you upcoming travel plans?
Our journey is ongoing. We’ve been in Southeast Asia for the past seven months. We’re taking off for Singapore this weekend and then on to Borneo: Malaysia and Brunei for a month or two. We hope to work our way south through the islands of Indonesia by boat toward New Guinea and Papua New Guinea and eventually New Zealand by this spring. Our general plan is to spend much of 2013 in New Zealand and Australia and then end the year in sub-Saharan Africa somewhere. 2014 will find us in South America and headed north toward “home” in Canada.
Hannah will be taking a solo journey to Peru for a couple of months in late spring, 2013 to intern and work with an educational camp for unschooled teens. She’s excited about getting to be on the planning and execution end of that project for the benefit of other young people.