Regrets about long-term family travel?

I was browsing the Lonely Planet forum the other day and stumbled upon an interesting question:  “Do you have any regrets about taking an extended family vacation?”  The poster was considering heading out with her family for a year or more and was wondering if any of us would make a different decision now that we know what we know.  Do we have regrets about long-term travel? I think that’s a great question to ask.

Overall, I would say my answer to that question is a resounding, “No!”  However, I will never say that extended family travel is all rainbows, gumdrops, and puppy dog tails.  Yes, there are many, many advantages of our lifestyle, but there are some downsides to it as well.  It’s up to each individual family to decide if the pros outweigh the cons for them.

The fantastic parts of family travel have been written about extensively:

    • See the world and learn to be global citizens   As wonderful as books are, they are no substitute for actually meeting and getting to know the world’s peoples.
    • Spend time together as a family   Once you’re on the road and your life is stripped of all the demands of living at home, you’ll have a lot more time to be together and to truly listen to your children.
    • Learn more effectively   Your brain is more stimulated due to being in new environments and facing new challenges, so is in “learn mode” all the time.

with stone sheep in British Columbia

But there are downsides to a lifestyle like ours that most people gloss over:

  • Learning curve burnout   There are times when we’re simply tired of learning and don’t want to learn any more.  When we arrived into La Paz, Bolivia we had been in such a steep learning curve we simply didn’t want to do anything.  We spent five weeks there and never even made it to Tiahuanaco, the famous ruins from some ancient lost civilization, just outside the city.
  • Where’s home?   Even though our sons have traveled since they were only six weeks old, it has always been important for them to have a “home”.  For them, Boise is “home” and we make an effort to remain connected there.  We are all perfectly comfortable traveling around – as long as we know we can go home at any time.
  • Leaving friends    It’s hard to put the time and energy into making new friends when you know you’ll leave again soon.  Kids are all different in this regard, but we’ve found it’s gotten to be more of an issue in the past year or so.  We aren’t sure if it is age-related or location-related or both or something altogether different.
  • Travel fatigue   More and more, we find ourselves staying in a village an extra day or two (or three or four) simply because we won’t want to deal with the hassle of packing up and then finding another place to stay.  This isn’t a problem when traveling long-term as we are – we certainly have the time to stay.  But if you are on a tight timeline, it could become a major issue

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.

with sea lions at Galapagos

As John grew up in New England, his family spent their summer holidays at Grandma’s cottage on the Long Island Sound every year.  Their life at the cottage was nothing short of magical – John and his sisters’ eyes light up at the very mention of Leete’s Island and nobody could mistake their enthusiasm for the area.  Each summer they returned to their favorite place in the whole wide world and caught crabs, went clamming, jumped off rocks, and swam to their heart’s content.  It was a fabulous experience for the entire family.

My family, however, did things differently.  Every summer my parents loaded us five kids into the family station wagon and took off for parts unknown.  One summer we ended up in Minnesota visiting grandparents and cousins, another summer we camped in the mountains of Idaho.  When I was nine, we headed south and did the Disney World and Knott’s Berry Farm thing.  I loved the idea of exploring different parts of my country every year and couldn’t wait to head out in the station wagon once summer came.

And yet, there is a part of me that wishes I had the experiences John had – the comfortable routine of going to the same place every summer and the learning that comes from doing the same things differently as you grow older.  John feels the same way about my experiences – although he loved going to the cottage every year, in some ways he wishes he could have traveled around the country and seen more variety.

Our parents made choices.  My parents opted for diversity; John’s parents chose familiar magic.  There is no right and wrong, only different.

Nazca Lines

Will our children regret our decision to travel someday?  In some ways – absolutely.  Our boys haven’t had the chance to play on soccer teams and be part of the swim team.  They haven’t had the opportunity to sit behind a desk all day and daydream about going out and exploring the world.  Recess on the playground… camping with the Boy Scouts… church on Sunday…   There are a lot of things our sons are missing out on.

But if we had chosen a life in Boise rather than our life on two wheels, they would have missed out on a lot of things too.  They wouldn’t have climbed Mayan pyramids and explored Incan ruins.  They would never have snorkeled with sea lions and scuba dived with turtles.  Watching bison on the side of the road… camping under the Southern Cross… visiting the Gold Museum… chancing upon carnival… seeing volcanoes glowing red in the black of night… meeting people from every walk of life…  Davy and Daryl have done and learned a lot during their travels.

Do I have regrets about long-term travel? Do I regret my decision to travel with my children?  No.  Looking at the whole picture, there is no doubt we made the right decision for us and our children.

climbing pyramid at Palenque

Regrets about long-term travel? Not when we’re climbing a pyramid at Palenque.

Here’s another article about some of the down sides of long term travel: 12 reasons why you should never travel long term

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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15 Responses to Regrets about long-term family travel?

  1. Heather October 7, 2010 at 2:46 pm #

    I really, really love this post. It encompasses so much more than biking and traveling with your family. It’s really for any of us who have chosen a lifestyle that is outside of the mainstream. Thank you. 🙂

  2. soultravelers3 October 7, 2010 at 3:53 pm #

    Good post! Yes, it is true that every life choice has pros and cons to it and is also true that each family that does extended travel will have a different experience because we are all unique.

    Unlike you, we have a single female child who is very extroverted, so maintaining friendships are a VERY important part of our world travel. We have found that it has actually enhanced her long term friendships as she still has friends at home ( planning a PJ party with old friends here as we speak since we are visiting that home base now in Ca), best friends in Barcelona ( Spanish & Catalon speaking) and best friends in southern Spain ( English & Spanish speakers).

    Since we stay longer times in “bases” where we return over and over, and attend schools 5 winter months ( repeatedly over several years in the same place) for very deep language immersion, our child doesn’t miss the extra curriculum things, long term friendships, etc.

    We like the combo of mixing new places and old places, routine and adventures, luxury and primitive, homes and many types of travel transportation & lodging, etc.

    Absolutely no regrets here, but the opposite, we are all so grateful that we made this decision which allows us so much time together and such a rich life. Our child loves it so much, she is already planning her own RTW tour which she is in her 20’s after she graduates Univ! 😉

  3. Eva Gill October 7, 2010 at 3:58 pm #

    Very well said, Nancy. This is a great post.

    There is great beauty in the exploration and time together, and a lot of frustration and isolation.

    Also, an extended journey through a bunch of different languages is even more isolating, especially for the kids not reaching out to other children. (We’ve been through 6 languages in 6 months.)

    I laughed about the learning curve comments. It’s so true. Not just the “Not another dead person’s castle, Mom,” but the “Where do we take our recycling?” learning curve stuff.


  4. Richard Díaz-Cataldo October 7, 2010 at 5:18 pm #

    I absolutely agree with you, Nancy. We’re humans, and humans are always longing for that which they don’t have. The point is to take decisions in a very open-minded and conscious way and making the most out of them, be it to travel or go visit grandma every specific time in the year.

    ¡Un gran abrazo!

  5. Bob October 7, 2010 at 6:54 pm #

    Great Post! And BTW, my wife and I often ride our tandem down Leete’s Island Rd. Possibly our favorite ride.

  6. Catherine October 7, 2010 at 9:02 pm #

    Great post!!!

  7. Yvette October 7, 2010 at 10:33 pm #

    Love this post.

    Thinking about my summertime adventures now from when I was a kid and I guess we did a bit of both- visiting relatives in the same town in Hungary every year, but usually exploring another country in Europe a few weeks before or after as well. I had to spend a good chunk of time during my rtw revisiting those countries, because while it’s great to see stuff when you’re a kid there’s a lot you don’t quite grasp either! (Sort of like I got a lot out of being the only 4-year-old in pre-school who could go on and on about Pompeii, but it was great to go back in my 20s and be able to drink the wine and read the Latin inscriptions sort of thing.)

    Also to be fair to soultravelers3, I always thought your model of travel as interesting because it’s not necessarily unique in lots of ways. Or at least when you stop to think about it- my parents do a “winter base” as well as most of their friends for several months, it’s just Florida doesn’t sound half as exotic as Spain. 😉

    Hey I always figured life is all about striking the right balance for YOU. Still working on mine, but at 24 I’d be more concerned if I thought I had it all worked out already!

  8. DC October 7, 2010 at 11:44 pm #

    Great write up here 🙂 My mother used to pile us in the van every summer and head off in SOME direction and see what we could see in our time off. I would not give that up for nothing. As an adult I have moved about every 3-5 years, military life as well as schools and such. Not every place was a good move but it was an experience worth living threw :p

  9. nancy October 8, 2010 at 10:06 am #

    I think the idea is that we make decisions based on everything we know at the time – that’s all we have. And we somehow have to make those decisions in such a way that we won’t regret them later!

    Bob – enjoy Leete’s Island road for me!

  10. Dee67p October 9, 2010 at 10:39 am #

    It is painful to move away from family and friends time and time again. BUT, when the opportunity presents itself to teach your children first hand of ancients as well as ANY civilization, why not? Will it scar our children for life? Maybe, maybe not in the way the grandparents think… Yes, it’s dangerous, but these children can be killed or maimed in their neighborhood schoolyard. Damn the jetlag and roadwearied bodies, get out and see the world with these people. They won’t want to listen to you/us for very much longer anyway.

  11. Little Aussie Travellers October 30, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

    WOW, so glad I found your post. I’ve always wanted to travel Australia, I LOVE this country, but we became stuck in the daily grind of trying to raise a family of 3 children and owning our own businesses. The closest we have been to living on the road is a 3 week camping trip through the desert and central Australia when our kids were younger. We’ve decided that we only have one life and we’re planning our exit strategy to live on the road discovering the awesomeness our country has to offer.
    We already homeschool, but I’ve been asking myself over and over if I would regret this decision (as a parent). Reading your post has affirmed that while yes my kiddos will miss some things, that there really is so much they will experience and appreciate, I really feel we’re on the right track.
    Thanks for your openess and I look forward to discovering your blog!
    Ree 🙂

    • Nancy October 30, 2011 at 6:10 pm #

      @Little Aussie Travellers,
      You are DEFINITELY on the right track! I will never say that long-term travel is the best thing for every family, but if it even sounds like something you might enjoy, then it most definitely is. Keep working on your exit strategy and you’ll get there!

  12. Ivy August 20, 2018 at 2:39 am #

    Thanks you for sharing this great post with us. Long term family travel is a great opportunity for a family to increase bond


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