Slow Travel – The Best Way to Travel with Children

I’ve often said that slow travel is the way to go. In this post, Molly McHugh from South America Living tells us why.

Molly and her sonNot only is staying put for extended times in one location the most affordable way to travel – solo or as a family – it is the most enjoyable. More than the proverbial time to ‘stop and smell the roses’ it is a time for family time… relaxing family time as opposed to always on the go hectic family time, which is probably what you are trying to get away from in the first place by venturing abroad.

First World country luxuries (lovely home, decent car, expendable family income) are usually a result of an individual’s First World-level sacrifices (spending 4-plus years in University, working 50 hours plus per week). Maintaining a middle-class or higher lifestyle is usually at the expense of having quality family time with your children i.e. regular ‘non-rushed’ meals together, down time outside of school activities, sports, other commitments where there is no agenda to fulfill except to enjoy each other’s company.

Need a break from all of that? Want to reassess your priorities and actually get to spend time with your children, and enjoy that time together to the fullest instead of stressing about all the work that needs to be done (school, business) and all the money that needs to be made to pay the bills? Move abroad. Rent out the house and take a year sabbatical on the road of life, leaving behind the dead-end of First World entrapments.

And what is the best way to move abroad or travel for an extended time as a family? Slowly. Find a starting point (country, city) and land with the intention of moving to other areas as your family desires, not in accordance to some pre-travel ‘we have to see everything to make this all worth it’ itinerary.

Everyone wants to hit a few highlights (Machu Picchu in Peru, The Eiffel Tower in Paris, Khao San Road in Bangkok) but try not to get all worked-up over every one that is within twenty miles from wherever you are located.  Often times the best highlights when on the road are the ones your family will discover on their own, outside of a guidebook or ‘Top 10 Attractions’ list you read online.

As an example, when we (my son and I and four-legged buddy) started a cross-country journey from Mexico to Argentina (2007) we spent a month in San Miguel de Allende to take a break and relax a bit. “No more buses!” was the general idea, at least for a short while. We found a lovely small hostel and rented a room at low-cost, connected with other families visiting the town and my son did a ‘circus’ gymnastics course for fun. But what turned out to be the highlight of our stay? My son becoming enthralled with a local ironsmith at the market whom he befriended.

Next thing I knew I was buying material for him to try his hand at making keychains and other simple items during his daily lessons with the lovely artisan. Was that planned? Of course not. I had no idea they even existed or that my son had an interest in the trade but that is what happens when you travel slowly and experience an area beyond the tourist zone or tourist mode of staying a night or two and then moving on… you get to actually ‘experience’ the area. Live it. Learn about it, meet locals, get immersed in activities other than those marketed to tourists and promoted by guidebooks.

You get to enjoy daily routines (not constant new challenges, which can be stressful) and family time together, without the mortgage payment hanging over your head or three hours of homework the kids have to finish. A time to enjoy life. What could be better?

 Molly McHugh is the publisher of South America Living and has lived and traveled abroad with her son for over nine years.  To learn more read:  About South America Living

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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9 Responses to Slow Travel – The Best Way to Travel with Children

  1. A King's Life - Digital Nomad Family July 25, 2012 at 6:41 am #

    We do a really slow travel lifestyle where we move every 6 months – 1 year. Being in a place for that long allows us to peel back the layers of it and get a deeper sense of what it is about. We feel and live its vibe. It’s nice.

    We have a 4 & 2 year old and have traveled in Central America and we are currently doing our first stint in Asia, living in Bali and using it as a base to explore the rest of Asia from.

    We like moving this slowly for a variety of reasons, but mainly it’s easier. When you’re constantly on the move, there is a lot of internet research that most families do. We save ourselves that time. We have such a relaxed lifestyle and work pace it makes for a more present family.

    It works for us, for now.

    • Molly August 6, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

      @A King’s Life – Digital Nomad Family, That’s exactly what we did, minus stints moving from one area to another, and to fulfill my desire for more travel (I actually do quite well hopping around and love it, just isn’t best for my son!). We are back in the states for awhile but I can’t be greatful enough for what we have lived and experienced abroad, and the friends we’ve had along the way. Special times.

  2. Bethaney - Flashpacker Family July 28, 2012 at 4:14 am #

    Yup. Slow Travel is the way to go. We just put out almost two-year old through two months of solid travel. We travelled from Bangkok to Singapore. Most of the time we were in places for five or more days but occasionally we moves every two days. The reaction was NOT good. He couldn’t handle the pace. We realised how slow we need to travel to function properly as parents and meet all of his needs. Slow travel is DEFINITELY the way to go!

    • Molly August 6, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

      @Bethaney – Flashpacker Family, I tip my hat to you Bethaney (and hubby)! Don’t think in all honesty I would have even considered moving abroad when my son was that young, we didn’t do our first stint until he was almost four, which is a whole different ballgame than 2 years 🙂

      My guess is a big part is his picking up your stress – as moving around, having to watch over him carefully at that age (like any parent does even in the comfort of their home) is challenging, and I think our bodies show our emotions to our kids, even though we may not feel stressed-out or whatever… they pick up on it. Plus he’s telling you what he needs which is brilliant, my son dictated a lot of what I did as a parent – and most folks who know us think it turned out pretty well… at least for now. Don’t get me started on the teen years. 🙂

  3. Living Outside of the Box August 6, 2012 at 9:57 am #

    We’ve always been pretty fast travelers…and we’re looking forward to slowing things down in the next few months. I love your insight and the experience you shared about the metal worker in San Miguel. Very cool! Thanks for the post!

    • Molly August 11, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

      @Living Outside of the Box,

      Hi Alisa & Jared, love your site, sorry such a late reply! And I’m a ‘fast traveler’ at heart, but as a family and for long-term travel moving around at a slower pace is what worked best for us. Hope your new adventures go well, Molly

  4. Kali October 9, 2012 at 4:03 pm #

    I never would have thought of traveling slowly. My husband is a cruiser so he likes to get on a boat and spend a few hours at each location. My concern is, during these travels does your son have any schooling? I would have loved to travel like that as a child. I would just be afraid these does of who to trust. It does take a strong woman to do this. Congrats!

    • Nancy October 9, 2012 at 5:01 pm #

      @Kali, We utilized our journey for our sons’ education. We did carry math books because that couldn’t be integrated so easily into the journey, but everything else we did revolved around journey itself.


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