Todays interview is brought to you by Alisa from Living Outside of the Box. She blogs about travel as a family of five. Find her at her website or on her facebook page.
What was your travel style like before you had children?
Pre-kids, my husband and I usually traveled by car, and did a lot of camping and hiking. We spent our summers in Alaska—on the border of Canada’s Yukon Territory—and therefore had a lot of fun on some pretty wild road trips through fairly uninhabited wilderness! Spending the night in our vehicle wasn’t too uncommon, and most days included a large amount of time behind the wheel and/or hiking!
What ages were your children when you started travelling with them?
Our first child was born in Washington State, and we packed up and hit the road when she was 4 weeks old! We trekked up to Alaska, where we spent the next 4 summers with her (and added one more child to the mix 2 ½ years later). Each Spring and Fall was spent on the road for a month each, visiting the family we hadn’t seen for half of the year. Our kids have always been on the road on an extended road trip at least once every 6 months. Winters were spent in various locales, including a quick stint in Mexico. There, we fell in love with Latin America and decided we would rather be there than in Alaska. We made the jump to an expat life…but after living Mexico for about 2 years (and taking extensive road trips throughout the massive country, and hitting up Guatemala and Belize), we decided we couldn’t stay put. This past summer we hit the road full-time, traveling with our children who are now 7 ½, 5, and 2.
Why did you decide that exposing your children to travel was important?
I guess the traveling lifestyle originally happened out of a love for change and adventure. Changing our love and passion for traveling because of children simply seemed like a silly thing to do. Children are so flexible and adventuresome, too…and we realized children live up to the expectations of their parents. Children can be good travelers. People warned us, “Oh, you can do that now…but not when you have children!” Telling us we can’t do something may as well be a direct challenge for us to make it happen. As our children have grown older, we’ve become even more resolute in our desire to travel as a family.
It’s [travel] made us realize how valuable this hands-on education is for our children, not to mention the quality, uninterrupted time together is great for forging strong relationships!
What is your travel style now that you travel with children? How did it change from before you were a parent?
We’ve had to slow down quite a bit. In the early years of having kids our travel style was still changed very little from our pre-kid days. It was rare for us to stay in a hotel for more than a night, and we did long driving hours on big road trips (12-14 hour days). Our kids had always grown up with it—so they didn’t challenge it. They dealt with it—sometimes angelically, and sometimes not. As they’ve grown, and our family has grown, we’ve realized that it’s time to slow down and takes thing at a more reasonable pace. We try to spend more time in each location, and give the kids a chance to really connect or settle into a place. We’ve also cut back on our driving ours significantly. While 12 hours used to be quite normal, we’ve cut that down to 3-5 hours per day, on driving days (with bigger breaks in-between driving days)!
What has been the most difficult thing about travelling with children?
Our oldest is now 7 ½, and her pre-teen attitude (yes, it starts that early!) can be a little tricky to handle sometimes. Complaining about our chosen activities is a common occurrence, and then our 5 year old kicks in with an attitude that she can’t walk. It trickles down…so that when the kids aren’t happy, it’s hard to keep the family happy. And without babysitting to send them away to during the day (aka: school), we’re the only ones available to help make that change within them. So, while good days can be absolutely awesome, bad days can be disheartening and discouraging. But that’s the commitment you make with parenting—you take the good with the bad, and roll with it! Overall, parenting happens whether you’re at “home” in a “stable” environment, or on the road in an ever-changing environment. Our kids attitudes aren’t all that different from what we experienced pre-travel…but there’s no easy escape from the difficult days when you’re always together, all the time! It’s hard-core parenting at its best!
What has been the most rewarding part of travelling with children?
Referring to the above…hard-core parenting may be the most “difficult” thing, but it is also the most rewarding! Our kids aren’t living lives that we’re not a part of. We know their personalities, their likes and dislikes, and through an all-intensive parenting training session (aka: LIFE) we are slowly becoming better parents and growing closer as a family! It has also been extremely rewarding to see their eyes opened to the world. Young children soak up SO much, SO fast, and we’re always shocked at the observations and mental connections they make. It is worldschooling at its best, and we get to be a part of it! Now we can reflect on our past experiences as a family and those common experiences and resulting education more closely intertwine our memories and love together. Our children are learning that there is a big world out there…one that is heaping with things to discover! Their minds are opening to the great possibilities of knowledge and love of learning!
What is your favourite travel memory of travelling as a family?
It’s hard to pick one, when the memories just keep coming and coming. It’s the little bits that build up to make one general, great memory! For example, what comes to mind is the time we stayed in a bare-threads hotel on the beach in Manzanillo, Mexico, and as we swam in the ocean little schools of fish jumped around our heads…practically into our mouth! It was so simple…but it’s something we still giggle about as a family. And there are the times we climbed pyramid after pyramid in the Yucatan. Sometimes our kids absolutely refused to walk, and other times they were little explorers, uncovering hidden treasures. Super-magical moments also cross my mind, like witnessing trees full of butterflies come to life at the monarch butterfly reserve high in the mountains in Mexico, and releasing lanterns as a family in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I think it is the memories as a whole that make my favorite memory…a life of discovery for our children…and many laughs along the way!
According to your child, what is their favourite part about travel?
My 7 ½ year old daughter says her favorite part is seeing new things, eating new things, and discovering new things. In general, you can say she just loves learning and doing new things!
According to your child, what was their favourite place you have travelled as a family?
Our kids are like any other…they love a theme park. They were absolutely in heaven when we discovered the highest quality waterpark that we have seen anywhere in Guatemala, of all places!
Also, our 7 ½ year old loved walking through a tight river gorge in Austria. It was a small pathway cut into the side of a rock, over some fast-moving water that through a deep canyon. Now, compare that to her 5 year old sister who refused to walk that path and screamed most of the time (because a local dared to tell her not to lean on the rail)…and you can see that every child is totally different!
According to your child, where in the world do they most want to travel to next?
Last month she was saying she wanted to visit Bali, because she wants to spend her birthday with friends that live there. Well…can you believe that girl gets her wish? I realize how ridiculous that is! So, we’re headed there before her birthday in the Spring!
She also wants to visit China and New York City (because she wants to see the Statue of Liberty). The wild thing is…traveling to these places is so attainable for her! It’s not a matter of wishful thinking…but a question of when she will get to see these other parts of the world!
What tips would you offer parents when it comes to travel with children?
This sounds funny…but you must lower your expectations from traveling without children. I know this seems to contradict what I said about setting high expectations for your children to live up to. But let’s be honest…traveling with kids does require a slower pace, and you must leave time for the unexpected (potty breaks, mealtimes at inconvenient places or times, and spending more time at public playgrounds, etc). Don’t consider this an inconvenience…rather that it’s part of the journey. Try to involve your kids with the plans to help fuel their excitement, but also be careful about what you promise—because kids aren’t as easy to get over plans that fall through (and due to the inevitable delays that happen when traveling with a family…some broken plans will occur)! Leave down days in the schedule to refuel. Remember, each child has different needs. Our oldest is an extrovert and feels the need to be active and be around others to have a really great time. Other second is an introvert, and can happily play by herself for hours on end. Finding the balance between kid’s (and parent’s) personalities can be difficult…and it’s hard to perfectly please everyone on the same day!
Are there certain destination or holiday types you would recommend for parents travelling with children?
Most kids love to explore the outdoors, so we love to recommend outdoor adventures. Beach days, camping, or hikes to waterfalls (a waterfall is a great incentive for kids to complete the hike)! Kids need their space, and adults need their space from kids. Shop wisely for hotels…and realize that getting a hotel with 2 rooms will be just as exciting to your kids as it is to you! When traveling with very young kids, don’t be put-off by the amount of physical effort it takes to put a kid in a backpack and hit the streets or trails. Even before a child learns to speak, they are observing and learning—and having the guts to travel early will help nurture children who travel well!
And finally – what are you upcoming travel plans?
This Fall we spent 3 months traveling in Europe throughout Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, and a bit of France. Then, we made our big leap to Asia for the first time! We’ve already spent a month in Thailand, and we’re not taking a short Christmas/New Year’s break in Vietnam before returning to Thailand for 3 more months. In the Spring we are headed to Bali for several months, then back to the US for a month visit. After that, we are throwing around a lot of ideas…perhaps RVing through Canada? 6 months in Costa Rica? Only time will tell! One thing is for sure—more great family memories are in store!