Almost everyone has someone who has told them “Get your traveling in now because you won’t be able to once you have kids.” or “You can’t build a life on the road, especially with kids.” It seems there tons of reasons why it’s impractical if not impossible to make traveling the default setting whether you have a home base or not. The reasons change depending on the ages of your children (and sometimes on the ages of your parents), but the message is always the same that somehow you are doing a disservice to your family if you choose a traveling lifestyle.
One of the most common roadblocks people throw up is that children are too young to appreciate travel. After all, they won’t remember it once they get older, so travel is wasted on the very young. The truth is that travel enhances developmental milestones. It offers them a huge opportunity to experience things through their senses that being in one place could never afford them. Even babies can appreciate the smells and noises in an open-air market or the sensation of flying on a plane or rocking in a boat. Toddlers get to see other kids doing things in ways that are very different from what they might see in preschool or even in their own homes. Kids watch and learn from the adults around them. A four-year-old might forget a trip to a museum but might have an inexplicable love for Italian art that seems to come from nowhere.
Travel helps kids become more flexible. They learn that there are different foods and different ways of eating food (with hands, with chopsticks, using bread to scoop it up). Children see that there are different ways of shopping and playing. They learn that you can have friends for a day, a week, a month, or a lifetime and all of them teach us about ourselves and the world around us. Even when there are long horrible days during which nothing goes right, they learn that they can find joy in that and that their parent(s) can, too.
“What about school?” People are never more worried that your children won’t get a proper education than when you take them on the road. There are lots of ways for kids to learn. Some people slow travel and put their children in a local school. Some people use on-line school. Some people unschool. Some people use a combination of methods. All of these work because we are hard-wired to learn. Children learn from everything they see and do and the more they get to experience, the more opportunities they have to learn.
Sometimes our families are concerned because they won’t get to see us as often as they want. It’s true that when you travel you don’t spend as much time with your family as you might if you weren’t traveling. The keyword in that sentence is “might”. Some people live in the same place for 40 years, miles away from their families, and only see them once in a while. Ultimately, the decision to travel is personal just like the decision to settle down. You can take your family’s opinions into account, but the decision is yours.
Traveling outside your home country is dangerous. “What if something happens?” Our friends and families love us and want us and our children to be safe. In truth, bad things can happen in our home countries and on the road. “But it’s more dangerous to be in an unfamiliar place.” The truth is that depending on where you live, other countries might be safer than in your home country. If you travel enough, you will get sick on the road. The important thing is to know how to get help. Luggage gets lost, things get stolen and lost, plans go awry, pandemics happen. A little advance preparation will go a long way in creating a safe environment for you and your family. While no one can have a plan for every possible emergency, thinking about what might happen without letting it overwhelm you will let you travel without worrying all the time about the what-ifs.
“Traveling is expensive! How will you ever afford it?” While each family’s circumstances are different, there are many ways to travel that can actually end up being less expensive than staying at home. When we are home we have bills related to living in a house, seeing friends, entertaining ourselves and our children. On the road, we have the same sorts of expenses, but we actually have more control over them because there are fewer “have tos”. At home, we have to pay rent or a mortgage, and it is a fixed cost every month. On the road, we can change where we are to suit our budgets. Wherever we stay, it is common for our utilities to be built into the housing cost, not a separate expense. On the road, we get to decide if a country is in our budget or not. We are paying for experiences instead of things, and, as it turns out, experiences tend to be less expensive if we are thoughtful about them.
“Do you really want to spend 24 hours a day/7 days a week with your family?” “How will you and your partner ever get alone time?” Spending time with your family is one of the great gifts of traveling. You learn things about each other (and yourself) that you would never learn if you didn’t travel. Full disclosure: Not all of them will be good things, but they will be opportunities to learn and grow together and individually. And yes, you will get time alone and with your partner. Children sleep, they go off with friends, they explore, they play outside. Your partner will find things to do without you, and you will find things to do without your partner. Best of all, you will all have new experiences that you come together and share, whether you experienced them together or not.
If you find yourself thinking about taking off and spending time (or a lifetime) traveling, it is not nearly as hard as people would have you think. Children are portable and amazingly resilient on the road. No matter what people say is wrong with traveling as a family, the perks are undeniable.
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