Traveling with our children for the past seven years has been more of a catalyst for learning than we ever imagined, and our expectations were quite high to begin with. We value learning together in new and unfamiliar territory, expanding our comfort zones, and exploring the wonders to be savored in foreign lands.
The reality we identified with at the time we started our journey has been rocked to the core. There’s no turning back now. But the good news is, we wouldn’t want to. Actually, we can’t bear the thought of not having chosen this path because we feel like we have gained the world.
The challenges are worth their rewards. The exposure we’ve had during this time to so many new and interesting people, places, cultures, and ideas has expanded our bubble of reality. We see our lives as an ever-changing and growing process that we’ve come to appreciate the beauty of.
We’ve had the good fortune to meet many other families in-person who are taking their own similar journeys. Every family has different strengths, relationship dynamics, decision-making processes, conflict-resolution methods, desires, resources, etc., which all play significant roles in creating an individual family culture.
Here are 12 tips we’ve found helpful in our family travel lifestyle.
1. Pack Light
We find that the fewer luggage items we are loaded down with, especially with young children in-tow, the happier we are. In fact, we try to stick to carry-on only. It also reduces stress at our arrival destination because we can skip the baggage claim. There’s nothing we want more than to quickly check into our rooms after the discomfort of planes and airports. We’ve also found many airports have special express lines for families with young children, which come in handy during long wait times at immigration.
We don’t travel with many toys. The girls each have a least one familiar and well-loved stuffed animal to bring along in our travels, and we make good use of tablets and computers. Beyond that, we have several travel-size toys such as My Little Ponies and Littlest Pet Shop. As our children have learned to enjoy reading, books have also helped pass the time. There is a lot of sitting and waiting that comes along with traveling, and it’s great to have something fun to do. Our eldest daughter Emily, also travels with her guitar and newly acquired violin.
The decision that made the biggest difference to smoothing our travel experience with young children was breastfeeding. Our youngest daughter, Aysia, was born in Costa Rica and she always had her milk ready and waiting for her anytime she wanted it. There was nothing to prepare in advance. It’s perfectly warm, free, delicious, and it greatly benefited her developing immune system. Baby-wearing has also been a great way to go for us. It’s hands-free, breast milk is easily accessible, the baby stays more secure and protected, and enjoys plenty of close time with mama.
3. Hire Household Help
We’ve appreciated living in places where we can afford basic household help. It’s made such a difference in our quality of life, allowing us more freedom in how we spend our time, especially with young children. It also helps out the local families of the places we stay, teaches us about the culture, customs, and language, and of course, we’ve made many new friends in the process.
4. Focus On Appreciation Vs. Expectations
The realities we encounter in our travels are often different than we’re used to. For example, showers that are designed to get the whole bathroom wet, including the toilet, or beans in the pillows instead of feathers, or traffic police who will lie to get a bribe from tourists. As much as we may prefer things to be different sometimes, we find that complaining only makes things worse. A focus based on expectations and perceived lack obscures much of the good that exists. As we’ve supported our children to see and appreciate the good, it has gone a long way toward helping them develop positive attitudes.
5. Seek Out Limiting Beliefs
Traveling is an opportune way to see the different beliefs that are out there in the world. When we’re at home in our familiar bubble of reality, our limiting beliefs can blend just like camouflage into the common background of our community and our lives. Since discovering some of our own limiting beliefs, our lives have changed in many positive ways. A big part of this has to do with the way we are raising our children.
It’s really the small things that make the biggest difference for our family, such as tone of voice, a fun approach, smiles, hugs, patience, gentleness, respect, taking responsibility for ourselves, being willing to help out when needed, and lots of loving, positive attention and recognition. It’s about taking the time to tune into ourselves and each other in order to connect at those deeper levels. We are learning to trust and value the unique contributions of each family member, and to live in our strengths from a place of greater self-love and awareness.
6. Accept Relationship Changes
At times, our journey has contributed to relationship changes with one or more close family members and friends. We’re all drawn to people who we feel can offer us the acceptance, respect, support, and love that we desire. As people grow and change it’s only natural that some relationships may end. If it becomes your unfortunate reality that you lose one or more dear relationships through this process, allow yourself adequate time to grieve. Then allow yourself to move on and appreciate more fully the people who are there for you now. They are amazing, too. Young children are especially sensitive to melancholy moods, so we find it’s important to be mindful of their feelings during this process.
7. Create Home
Foreign lands can feel unfamiliar and a little overwhelming sometimes, and we occasionally feel a bit imbalanced and ungrounded. Our relationship to ourselves and our family have become “home” to us. We’ve recognized how important it is to take time for each other and ourselves, whether it’s through developing centering practices and activities to increase personal presence and inner connection, or enjoying time-out together as a family or a couple. Additionally, we’ve enjoyed regular one-on-one dates with each of our daughters.
We also have a few routines that are beneficial for creating this feeling of home, such as reserving special family time in the evenings to connect when we’ve been doing our own things during the day. We travel with family photo books we’ve created to remember the people and places we’ve visited along the way. We also enjoy all our meals together as a family.
8. Try New Things
Travel is a catalyst for experiencing new-to-us things in their natural element. From simply eating an exotic piece of fruit, to something as life-changing as attending breath-work sessions in Ubud, we would be missing out on a lot in our travels if we didn’t seek out the new. It certainly keeps life more exciting for all of us.
We love to check out what’s on offer from local establishments, teachers, classes, workshops, markets, and festivals. For example, Emily volunteered at an animal rescue center while we were living in Costa Rica, and she loved it. Also, Emily and Marie participated in a couple of open-mic nights in Ubud, even writing some of their own songs. What made the experience so special for them was how warm and supportive the audience was, despite the imperfections in their performances. It was heart-warming to be among such beautiful people, and it’s something we’ll always remember fondly. Another meaningful memory is when our entire family took harp lessons from an exceptional teacher in Nelson, New Zealand during our three-month stay.
9. Follow an interest-led education
I work together with Brandon to help facilitate the education of our three girls. We help organize any activities they want to pursue, and set them up with teachers, children, groups and classes they show special interest in.
Many times our children have a specific idea about how they would like to learn something and it ends up working exceptionally well, but we never would have thought of it for them. We’ve learned to give them lots of freedom and space to explore and dive into what excites them. We’re continually inspired by what they achieve.
We also enjoy listening to audio books, interviews, language learning programs, and podcasts during long car drives. Occasionally, we’ll read books and watch documentaries together. We keep things flexible, remembering that one of our goals is to help preserve a love of learning.
10. Accept Kindnesses
As our family has accepted kindness from others, we’ve had some special experiences. For example, a man gifted us fresh peaches and an unopened liter bottle of water as we were huddled together on the sidewalk deciding how to get to the metro on a sizzling hot day in Paris. We barely had time to thank him before he disappeared back into a nearby building. We drank up all that water in no time, and would have definitely been ill prepared otherwise.
There was also the Korean man at an airport in Vietnam who took off his shoe and repeatedly tossed it into the rafters toward Marie’s toy snake, which had become stuck up there after she threw it a bit too high. He attracted quite a bit of attention from onlookers and a lot of gratitude from us, as he successfully dislodged the toy, causing it to fall back down to the floor.
Experiences like these help us want to go out and do something super thoughtful for a group of unsuspecting strangers, too! Traveling with our young children has supplied an abundance of opportunities to receive kindness from others.
Smiles have helped open doors for our family. For example, people have been more inclined to want to get to know our family through Marie’s beaming smiles and sociable personality. Even the very intimidating-looking rows of armed guards in Cusco, Peru melted into smiles when they saw our little girls trooping on by them.
A sweet smile and polite decline usually goes a long way when too many people are hounding the girls for photos. Once, when the girls were on the verge of tears because of too much picture-taking-attention at the Grand Palace in Thailand, Emily made it a fun game by taking a picture of everyone who tried to take her picture. That garnered quite a few smiles and laughs of its own.
12. Carry Essential Oils
Brandon’s Mom introduced us to essential oils at the beginning of our marriage in 2002, and we’ve been using them ever since. Besides being small and portable, they provide powerful wellness support. We use them for things as simple as emotional balance, relaxation, focus, and motion sickness, to larger things like bug bites/stings, immunity, wound healing, muscle aches/tension, respiratory health, hormone balancing, digestion, massage, stomachache, headaches, and minor infections.
I have my own online store if you want to order some for yourself. You can also get them at wholesale prices if you click “Join” in the top menu bar. Some of my favorites are Lavender, On Guard blend, Peppermint, Melaleuca, White Fir, Grapefruit, Frankincense, Lemongrass, Deep Blue blend, InTune blend, Geranium, and DigestZen blend.
Traveling with our children these past seven years has propelled us into the fast lane of expanding our life experiences, enjoyment, and learning. Our understanding has deepened and we’ve been forever changed.
Have any tips for traveling with kids on a long-term basis? Share your thoughts below.