Traveling with a child...
It is now almost one year ago, since we started telling friends and family about our travel plans. And we were met with a mix of different opinions and reactions. By far the most of which were very positive. Then there were the more nervous ones, concerned about Anton, but still to the positive side. And finally the more rejecting ones. Those who shook their heads and said: “You cannot take a small child with you and travel a whole year!”
And taking him out of his usual surroundings, away from his friends and everyday life, were our biggest concern. How would he react to the constant changes around him, that would inevitably be a big part of traveling so much? We had no way of knowing this beforehand, so it WAS a bit of a gamble. Albeit with a calculated risk! At any given time we can draw a line and jump back on the plane. Back home to Europe. It is not any worse than that!
As a danish/german family, with the nearest family members more than 400 kilometers away, Anton has been used to the traveling since he was just 6 weeks old. Either by train or by airplane. And he loves it! So far we have never had any problems when we have been on the road. Early on, we learned that as long as we as parents remained calm and did not stress about anything, Anton would also remain calm. Children very quickly sense stress and anxiety. And in the rare occasion when it does happen that we do in fact have some concerns or stress during our travels, we try to divide our tasks, so that one of us can go and deal with whatever must be dealt with, and the other one takes care of Anton. Lately he has grown old enough to sense when something is up in spite of our efforts to tone any situation down. But he remains calm, and wait for the situation to pass and his parents to be mentally present again!
If it all becomes too much, we have made a rule saying that we all have the right to call for a “time out”. In those situations we will find a calm and nice place to relax and recharge the batteries. More about this later...
Start out slowly!
By now, we have been away for about 2 months. We started out with a warm and exotic destination in Thailand. A place where lots of families with children come every year. This was an important part of the plan, in order to start slowly. We stayed in the same hotel for 3 weeks. The reason for this was that we had no way of knowing how Anton would react to the change from home, to the life as a young traveller and the constant changes that comes with it. So the slow start was important to ease into a life as nomads.
Upon arrival at the hotel in Phuket, Thailand, Anton kicked off his shoes, found his toys, and he was home! This is his way, when he feels good and safe. It is not like this every time, but this as certainly a good start. One of his first questions will always be: “Where do I sleep?” And everywhere possible we make sure that he has got his own bed. This is by far the most convenient thing for us all. And Anton is really proud to have his own place, where he can relax, sleep and even read a book if that’s what he wants.
Our journey around the World consists of many different types of accommodation. In Thailand it was very cheap to stay in a hotel, so this was an obvious solution there and then. It is also the easiest solution. The rest of the journey will be a splendid mix of campervans, hostels, hotels, rented flats or houses and visits to family and friends. The biggest challenge is obviously the campervan. It does not provide much space or privacy, and we all sleep pretty close to each other. But this is by far made up for by the fact that we have a “steady home” that travels with us, even though we are in different places. Anton always knows where he sleeps at night, with which pillow etc. On the grey and depressing days, where we feel that we deserve a bit of indulgence, we check into a motel or hotel in order to sleep in big beds with soft linen and a flat-screen television set on the wall.
We asked quite a few experienced travelers about how to deal with a child on a long journey. I had no idea that this was more or less “common practice”. But as it often is when you start studying any new area, you realize that more people than you would think are actually doing this. Some are traveling with kids for many years at a time. We even heard of people who have never done anything else than constantly being on the road. We will never do that, but it made me somewhat calm to know that it is quite normal, and that these children are actually not “messed up” in their heads. At least not any more than they could be of so many other things in their usual surroundings!
Find your pace!
Needless to say, there are some precautions that you will need to take as a parent, in order to make your child feel good and safe, thus making the travel all the more pleasant for the adults. One of the most frequent advises we heard was: “Travel in a slow pace!” You cannot expect to see one whole country (or maybe even more) in just a week. Before we had Anton we would travel somewhat faster and differently. Normally we would also have a limit to how long we could stay away, before it would be time to go back to that working-desk in the office. This time it is different. This time we have plenty of time and we MUST take it easy!Sometimes Anton will actually pick out the places we go. If we pass by a place that looks interesting to him, he will ask that we turn around in order to have a closer look. And if there are playgrounds and other children we stick around for a while. Sometimes for days. Places that are completely designed and targeted at families with children were not in our initial itinerary. They are often located far away from the places that we would like to see. But they have proven to make the journey SO much better and more relaxed for all of us! And our whole journey has been laid out with enough flexibility to be spontaneous and pay attention to Antons wishes. It is worth A LOT! In this way we are able to recharge batteries and afterwards take a long stretch on rainy highways, staying on less attractive camp sites for a while.
As parents it is also important that the “internal communication” works flawlessly and that we are “in sync”. We are together 24 hours a day over many, many months. It is not always roses and honey. Sometimes you really just want some piece a quiet and lean back with a good book. But there are quite a few practical things to attend to, before you can relax. And oftentimes one of us, or maybe both of us, have had many hours behind the wheel in the rental car or campervan and the “goodwill-account” may be a little thin. In those situations it is all about not letting any frustrations or weariness go out on Anton, who might also be tired after a long day on the road. Experience tells us that this will only make things worse. All you can do is count to ten (or more), take a deep breath, and focus on the matters at hand: Dinner and getting ready for bed as soon as possible!
Another good advise that came from many people, and which is very important, is to keep some steady routines. Just like if we were at home. One example would be a good and solid breakfast, before we can even begin to talk about any kind of sweets. Anton likes his Wine gum bears, and he will often try to trick his tired parents in the morning, to have just a few bears before breakfast. In general a good and healthy eating routine is important. This is not a traditional vacation! And then we have all the routines regarding what happens when. Timing! Anton goes to bed every night between 1900-1930. Unless we are some place where this is not possible. To begin with, he was not really pleased with this rule and we had quite a few fights about this until we were finally in sync. Now there is very little arguing. Teeth are brushed and pajamas taken on and it’s time for bed. We notice that the longer we have now had these steady times, the easier Anton is to handle. It’s pretty basic for most parents, but not always easy to maintain while traveling.
Stop up and listen to your child along the way!
During other times of the day we can certainly still have our small conflicts. We immediately feel it, if we are not paying enough attention to Antons needs and wishes in our planning. And yes, there have been some days where it has not been all that fun to be on the road with mum and dad. Anton is a very light and easy child, so when he finally starts to protest loudly, and act like the classic, screaming nightmare that most parents know, we stop for a minute and ask ourselves if we should be doing something differently. There are situations where we cannot take his needs and wishes much into consideration, but I guess that is also a part of growing up? As I recall it, I did not always have it my way when I was a child...
Anton also has the responsibility for his own “luggage”. This is a small 3-liter rucksack in the shape and colors of a crocodile. In this he carries his cars, crayons and pens. His mother has kindly offered him to carry his books. The Teddy Bears are living in whatever rucksack has the most space available at any given day. So when mum and dad carry their load through the airport terminals, he will take his own rucksack and follow. He think it is cool to have the responsibility for his own things. We can even see that he grows a few inches taller when we tell him what to do. We have, however, learned that we must keep an eye on his belongings in spite of all his assurances that he DOES have FULL control. As any other three-year-old he often gets distracted and MIGHT forget a car or Teddy Bear some place. And as all parents know, this is a situation worth avoiding!
Some benefits for the parents!
A very positive side of traveling with a kid is that you very quickly get in touch with locals everywhere you go. Children are always a hit! Oftentimes we have met new friends through Anton. We meet other families, travelers etc. Anton does not have the same reservations as we do and he will often stop and stare at what is happening around him. When he finds someone that he would like to play with, he walks over and waits until he is invited to play along. When he finds really good play mates we try to stay as long as possible on that particular location. This is the only time where I would say that is a bit sad for Anton that we travel so much. Friendships do not last. On the other hand, most of these friendships hardly ever develop to more than casual acquaintances at the playground and Anton has so far not seemed sad or lonely at any time. Also here, a previous concern has proven to be pointless.
Many books about traveling with kids have been written. I can only recommend that you read as many of these as possible before you embark on your travels. But really, all children react individually to the changes, so I guess the most important thing is to use common sense at any given time. Put your children before yourself! It makes EVERYTHING easier!
In general I have to say, that we have now confirmed that traveling with a small child is absolutely possible. Much of our motivation to travel this way has by now been achieved. We spend ALL the time we need in the mornings, just waking up slowly, wedging on the bed watching cartoons or reading. We have no hurry eating breakfast and move on. We spend a great deal of time just being together with full quality! This is what it’s all about! And even though Anton may not remember much of this journey in some years, I am certain that he will keep some vague recollection of times on the road, when he had plenty of great moments with parents that were present at all levels!