30 Nov 2012 Is Travel With Kids “Worth it?”
“I’ve always said I didn’t want kids because I wanted to travel and adventure… but meeting you guys has blown that argument out of the water…”
I laughed over my wine glass as our backpacker guest of the evening proceeded to ask a million questions about “How we do it” with four kids, and expressed her surprise that our life didn’t “end” when we had kids.
I’d love to say that’s an isolated incident, but it isn’t.
Most people can get their minds around taking their kids on a two week beach holiday, or heading off for the childhood pilgrimage to Disney World, but that years of open ended adventure with the world as a classroom is not only possible, it’s a fantastic way to thrive as a family, opens a whole new world of possibilities for many of the folks we meet.
If you’re one of the masses who believe that twenty-somethings have the corner on the adventure travel market and your backpack has to be traded in for a diaper bag, may I suggest that you are mistaken? My friend Keri & I wrote a book about it actually, and I’d love to introduce you to about a hundred of my friends who are on the road full time with their kids, learning as they go, and loving every minute.
Okay… maybe not every minute:
- Camping in the rain kind of sucks, on all continents
- Kids puking out the window of third world busses isn’t my favourite
- Learning to use a squatty is a story that would make you laugh, but only after the fact
But you know what? There are moments in “real life” that are hard too.
It’s a trade off.
Almost five years ago we sold our house and all of our stuff and hit the road on an journey combining education and adventure, we called it the Edventure Project. The children were 5, 7, 9 & 11 when we made them homeless by choice.
- The first year, we rode our bicycles from London, UK to North Africa and back. It was a good way to spend a year.
- The next year we road tripped most of North and Central America.
- The following year we spend 6 months going deep instead of wide in the highlands of Guatemala.
- Then we loaded up 7 of our kids’ best friends and took an epic cross country road trip for a couple of months to see some of “our” country too.
- Now we’re in Southeast Asia with just our backpacks (and Hannah’s 3 instruments) working our way towards the equator.
- The kids are now 10, 12, 14 & 16 and dreaming up ever bigger adventures for us to have as a family.
We gave up a lot of things:
- Our house that we remodeled and loved
- Proximity to good friends
- A delightful community
- The comforts of home
- A six figure job
- Boxes and boxes of toys & shelves of books
- The ability to go to playgroups and lessons
But we gained a lot of other things:
- World citizenship
- Teachers from a range of lifestyles and cultures for our kids
- Language proficiency
- The ability to reach across cultural and language barriers
- Religious and cultural tolerance
- Historical and Geographical perspective
- Epic experiences
- The confidence that we can do hard things together and overcome
Is is hard to travel with four kids?
Of course it is. Anyone who tells you it’s a breeze is either lying to traveling with a full time nanny.
But parenting in general is hard, isn’t it?
The question shouldn’t be, “Is it hard?” It should be, “Is it worth it?”
It’s overwhelmingly worth it.
A short list of what my kids have learned on the road that they wouldn’t have in a classroom:
- The ability to communicate without language
- Confidence in their ability to overcome real obstacles
- Bravery in the face of real danger
- An understanding of why their course work “matters” in the real world
- The importance of dreaming big
- How to design a passion driven life (from so many fantastic teachers living them out in real life)
- That they are capable of more than they thought they were
- That their life doesn’t start at 18, but that they are living it fully now
- That their age shouldn’t hold them back
I could go on, but it would bore you.
Extended world travel isn’t for everyone.
I’m far from suggesting that it is. But if it’s your dream, you can make it happen, and you can take your kids with you.
My parents traveled far and wide with me as a child, it was the very best of my education and childhood.
We’re coming up on our fifth anniversary of full-time adventuring with our kids. We know we’ve got at least two more years ahead of us as we work our way through Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand, Central Africa and eventually South America as we wander towards “home” in Canada.
Having kids doesn’t mean your travel days are over. It just means you have to adjust your pace and change your focus a little. You’ll be surprised how different, how much bigger and more beautiful the world looks through the eyes of a child. Even the most jaded long term traveler will see the difference. If you have kids, and the road is calling you, buy that hobbit a backpack and go in search of adventure together. Afraid of the logistics? Email me, I’ll help you sort it out.
We each get one life, one childhood, one shot at “family” together for a few, fleeting, years. Do it your way.
Jennifer Miller was born under a gypsy moon and has been pulled with the tides across continents ever since. A teacher by trade and a passionate traveler she’s in her fifth year of an open-ended world tour with her four children, combining education and adventure through their Edventure Project. A freelance writer for the alternative education and travel communities she’s passionate about encouraging others to dream big dreams and find the courage to live them. Along with her friend Keri, she’s the author of Bottles to Backpacks: The Gypsy Mama’s Guide to REAL Travel With Kids. When she’s not writing, or riding a chicken bus, you might find her climbing a volcano, sipping wine under Orion’s watchful eye, or swing dancing to bad Thai karaoke.