Travel is good for kids. It allows kids to see that not everyone lives just like them. It allows them to see that we’re more alike than different. Travel allows our children to stretch their horizons and learn new things. Travel is good for kids.
Except when it isn’t.
If you’ve read my blog, you’ll know that I’m a huge proponent of family travel and, especially, long term family travel. I’m a big believer that getting kids out in the world can change the world. It will promote world peace and global understanding. I truly believe that long term travel is good for kids.
But not all kids.
I am fully aware that all kids are different. They’ve got different ways of thinking and different needs – just as we adults do. Just as some adults can’t fathom the idea of leaving everything behind to travel the world, so are there kids who feel the same.
So what’s a parent to do? You’ve dreamed big and committed yourself to a Round-the-World journey. You’ve spent hours comparing hotels on discount websites and booked your RTW tickets. You’ve quit your job and rented out the house, yanked the kids from school, and set off to live your dream.
And your child hates it.
My husband and I are fortunate that our children enjoyed our travels. Our biggest fear back in 2006 when we set off for our first year-long family bike ride was that our children wouldn’t enjoy the bike touring lifestyle. We had made big changes and spent enormous amounts of money to make it happen, and if they didn’t like it? Fortunately, that didn’t happen.
Not all parents are so lucky. Some parents find themselves on the other side of the world with a child who just wants to go home. And then what? Erin Tullis and her husband are in exactly that spot right now. Here’s her description of what’s happening:
It was about 2 years ago when I first came up with the half-baked idea to take a year-long sabbatical to travel the world, spend time together as a family, and refocus our priorities. From idea to realization, it took us about 16 months to actually hit the road. My husband, myself, and our 5-year old son were all brimming with excitement and anticipation as that first plane took off. We were off on our adventure.
As the months turned and the countries changed, I began to notice behaviors in my son that were not typical. At first, I wrote them off as he was missing family and friends and made sure to get extra Skype calls in that were just for him. We also slowed our pace, giving us all more downtime, and tried to stay in each housing situation for a week minimum (in some cases we stayed a month…and once we stayed two).
There were obviously things we had hoped to see in each locale, but the sightseeing wasn’t nearly as important as our son’s happiness. We opted to let Tyler plan special days where he could choose what he wanted to do (within reason).
Things did improve temporarily until a “moving” day approached. No matter how much preparation we gave him, or how slow we went, or how much we tried to make it a game, his behavior on these days was horrendous and anger-filled. I’m talking screaming, violent fits in the middle of train stations, subways, buses, and airports. And did I mention all while my husband and I both had large backpacks strapped to our backs?
Each night, I tried to talk to my son and ask him about how he was feeling. I asked him if he wanted to go home. Each and every time, he said he wanted to keep traveling. Until one day, he said he wanted to go home.
So now, here I sit, literally on the other side of the world, with a son who just wants to be back in California. As a parent, the last thing you want to see is your child unhappy. I will admit, too, that I am ready to be done with the tantrums and the stress. I am done with my hair falling out and staying up nights reading parenting books on how to help him cope with his anger.
As much as I would love to spend time exploring the rest of our itinerary, my son needs a controlled environment surrounded by friends and family. If he is angry, he needs the space to be angry. It is a challenge to find that space in a 100 square foot hotel room. Even outdoors, there are few places we have found where he is able to wander freely without us trailing him. Just as it would be at home, as parents, we make sacrifices to ensure we do what is best for our children. Though it wasn’t at all what I had planned, right now, what is best for my child is to find a way home.
The time on the road has given me the confidence to know that we can travel anywhere in this world at any time. I no longer feel restricted or tied down. It also helps to have learned loads about traveling on the cheap!
Maybe one day, we’ll make it a whole year. But for now, it’s time to go home.
Erin is not the first parent to call off a journey because her child wasn’t enjoying it. Joel and Cindy set off on a 5-month adventure only to decide it simply didn’t work for them at this point.
We were fulfilling a life-long dream, so we thought. We traveled with our three sons now aged, 5, 3½ and 2.
We hoped for a 5-month adventure in southeast Asia. During that time we would have Joel’s daughter join us to travel during the Australian school holidays. In addition, Joel would return to Australia to visit Georgia during the midterm break. This meant that I was alone with the boys for a week at a time. Without the support of friends and family during this time I found it very difficult indeed.
The children got homesick and started asking for their sister and friends. Georgia came and joined us in Vietnam and we all spent a great ten days exploring but when Joel and Georgia left, the boys really struggled knowing it would be ten weeks before they saw their sister again.
Other factors that impacted on our situation are but not limited to :
We struggled in small hotel rooms. Our boys are early risers and we were ever mindful of neighboring guests. We opted for apartments when available and this did improve things dramatically.
Eating out was challenging. Eating out two or three times per day got exhausting at times.
The heat of SEA affected the kids. They perpetually seemed tired and fatigued.
The change in their diet no doubt impacted on their energy levels.
We went too fast, too early. Travelling to three countries in the first month was crazy!
We tried everything to make things easier for the children. We slowed the travel down and stayed put for several weeks in a nice apartment for them to recoup but things did not really improve. Their behavior was getting worse by the day.
Not listening, struggling at bedtime, eating minimal amounts of food. Constantly asking to go home.
We decide to go home to (a) re-establish a routine for them as that is what they were used to in Australia and they seemed to be lost without it, (b) mum and dad needed some support, (c) we thought that the five-year-old needed to be back in the structure of school.
So what now? For us it is an issue of timing.
Our children are very young. We have decided to spend the next year or so allowing them to learn the social skills of eating out in public and to mature a little so they better adapt to change. This time will allow the children to get over those difficult two-year-old, and worse still three-year-old stages.
This time should also see the parents ‘recovered’ and feeling stronger to cope with any issues that should arise.
On our return to Australia we purchased a campervan so as of next week we start our short travels around our local area and we are in the midst of planning a central Australia tour for early next year, all being well.
We think that six weeks of travel to one country at a time will work for us while the children are young so we hope to continue travel but not in the way that we first planned, nor is it the most cost efficient way to travel but it’s the compromise we make while our children are young.
Sometimes, people change their plans before they even start. Melissa Banigan had big things planned for herself and her daughter, but then… well, the universe stepped up and changed things.
In the end, Melissa came to the conclusion that everything comes at a price. Although the travel was good, it would have meant sacrificing other things. There was no right or wrong, just plenty of shades of gray.
In the end, there is no right and wrong – just different.
For every choice we make in life, we opt out of something else. Sometimes those decisions are easy; sometimes they are anything but. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of those choices. In the end, we have to make a decision. We have to choose for one and against another. That’s just the way it is.
We could have chosen to stay in Idaho and the boys would have played on soccer teams and swam on swim teams. They would have eaten lunch in the school cafeteria and ridden the bus to school and raced outside to play tether ball at recess. They would have had sleepovers and played video games with friends. They would have been part of chess club and boy scouts. Those things aren’t bad.
Or we could take off and travel the world and allow the boys to climb on Mayan pyramids and Incan temples. They could swim with sea lions and scuba with turtles. Fly over the Nazca Lines, see the mysterious Ica Stones and conehead skulls, see ships rise and fall in the Panama Canal. They could see real life penguins and guanacos and rheas and armadillos and foxes and bison and musk ox and big horn sheep and reindeer and iguanas in their natural habitats. They could stay with indigenous families in the Bolivian highlands and with migrant workers in Mexico. They could go sand surfing and real surfing. They could eat lomo saltado and carne asado and drink mate. Those things were wonderful, but they came at a price.
A price that, for some kids, might be too great.
EVERYTHING comes at a price. Whenever we choose TO DO something, we choose NOT TO DO something else. The trick is to choose wisely and spend our time doing the things that will most benefit us and our children. In the end we feel that, overall, our choice was the right one for Davy and Daryl. They have amazing life experiences that will benefit them tremendously throughout life, but are still just normal kids.