5 Tips for Travelling With Children
Eurgh. Have you ever looked at your child crying and just thought, “Wow I suck at this.” Yesterday was one of those days where I just felt like a really bad Mum, and it sucked big time. Esmae, our eldest (6 years old) was upset about the fact that we are moving out of our rental house, which we love and has been home for the past 3 years.
We have talked about going on a service-focused round the world trip with the kids since before Esmae was born. We always knew we were going to do it and have spent the last six years building up to something like this. Last year we went through the interview process for an international mission agency, and the prospect of moving overseas to serve was in the air. As such, long term family travel has been part of our regular conversation and the kids were well aware that it wouldn’t be too long before we hopped across the ocean to start our journey.
However, when you are six, or four, or two, the reality of long term travel or a round the world trip isn’t really perceptible. Holidays, sure, and our kids have been on far more than most. By the end of this year our eldest will have travelled from London to Wales, Spain, Turkey, Greece, The Cotswolds, Bulgaria, Dorset, the Isle of Wight, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and possibly India. She’s six, for goodness sake. But shorter trips can’t really prepare a six year old for the prospect of moving out of a house she loves, away from her friends and over to foreign countries where the food tastes different and everything smells different and looks different, and ‘home’ isn’t really there to go back to. It’s a huge, huge thing, and I think the reality is just starting to sink in.
Fortunately there are a few things that have helped settle her: two families who we are good friends with are going on a family round the world trip themselves, so I was able to explain that if we stayed in London things wouldn’t really be the same anyway. We’ve promised her that if it’s at all possible we will meet up with her friends whilst on the road, and of course will be able to Skype and FaceTime regularly. We’ll also maintain friendships by writing postcards and, thanks to my brother and sister-in-law who will be looking after our pet tortoise, will be getting regular WhatsApp pics from our beloved pet. Nana (my Mum) will be renting out her house to come travelling with us, but it will always be there to come back to as an interim base if we decide to return to London. So there are a few things to keep connection here that will hopefully help her home-loving spirit.
There are also some things that we are planning on doing to help cultivate a sense of security and stability whilst on the road. Here are five things that we do whenever we travel to help the kids feel happy and balanced:
1. Take it slow: When we go away on shorter trips we prioritise peace and relaxation over ‘seeing everything’; if we try and cram too much in then it ends up with everyone stressed and that’s just pointless. It’s not worth getting that photo next to the ancient statue or temple if it’s a forced smile on the kids’ faces! We have a very slow pace of life at home- no school runs, no rushing out to a million clubs- so we emulate this wherever we go.
2. Keep family dynamics as normal as possible: Just going somewhere new with all the different sensory experiences is enough to stress kids out. Often travel means a change in family dynamic, as there may be two parents present when there is usually one and this take some getting used to. If you are going on a long term trip, don’t take on new work or commitments right before you go; your kids will need you to help them process the experience. The girls’ Nana, my Mum, will be travelling with us but Patrick and I will be making sure that we don’t slip into off-duty mode; the kids will need us to be 100% there for them so we can pull together as a unit.
3. Take and seek out familiar items: No sane parent would go on a family holiday without their kid’s favourite teddy/bunny/moth-eaten rag. iPads or Kindles are also a great shout for familiarity, as the apps are available worldwide so are able to be brought wherever you are! Just watching a favourite Youtube channel or playing a loved game are good ways to help kids feel at home wherever they are. Esmae loves art so we will be packing a tray of watercolours into our packs. One thing that we find with our kids is the need for food familiarity; this can be really tricky in some countries but we always try to pack some snacks that travel well so that for the first few days we can ease into the new cuisine with some of their usual food.
4. Create a routine: I don’t mean impose a routine; we are very conscious of our children’s autonomy and don’t feel like ordering them to eat or go to bed at a particular time is very helpful to them. What we like to do is find an activity that we can do each day, whether it is a trip to a nearby park, beach or pool, and create a gentle routine around that. In Greece we woke up, watched a little TV, had breakfast, headed to the huge pool and played there until lunch. After lunch we headed back to our room so the kids could get some shade and rest in the afternoon heat. Then there was time for a little swim in our villa pool and then out for dinner (or room service if they were tired- hey, it was included in the price!) Then it was card games, a little iPad and bed. I think this is similar to most families holiday routine; we will be travelling in a different way on our family round the world trip so will have to find other ways to create routine.
5. Let the kids plan activities: I have a friend who blanches at the idea of going on a motorhome holiday because he was dragged around France in one every Summer. If your kids love animals, look up all of the animal-related attractions and activities in the area before you go and let them choose what they’d like to do. Heck, why not let them choose or have a say in the entire holiday (within a budget, of course!) We all know that kids have a natural sense of fun and, after all, how bad can a paint-balling week in Sussex really be? 😉
What tips and advice would you give parents taking their kids abroad? How does it differ for you between holidays and long term travel? Let us know in the comments, we always love hearing from you!
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Travel journalists, home educating our lovely brood of 3 girls. Planning a year-long RTW trip late Summer 2017.