5 Reasons Why You should Travel as a Family Now

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Felicia at Petrosains Fear sign — Travel as a family now: An Epic EducationI occasionally get questions from people who are curious about how we travel: How can we afford it? How do the kids make friends? What do I carry with me? What about school? I love answering these, and welcome your questions if you have them — feel free to contact me, or ask away in the comments below.

One question I’ve heard a few times recently is this: Why travel as a family now? Why not wait until the kids are older? This is what I want to address today: the fear of traveling with young kids. I’ve heard this more than a few times: “We can’t take off on some crazy adventure. Our kids are too young!”

Untrue! Unless the umbilical cord is still attached, most children are not too young to travel. In fact, my argument today is that you should start as young as possible. You may genuinely feel that long-term travel with babies or toddlers is an impossibility — I know I once did. But now after being on the road it’s easy for me to say that you can travel with babies and toddlers.

Our kids were already primary school ages when we hit the road, so I cannot speak from experience, but I can tell you that I have only one regret regarding our journey: I wish we had started sooner. Like, years and years sooner.*

5 Reasons Why You should Travel with Kids

If you have kids under five, why do I say travel as a family now? Here are just a few reasons and where I come from on each:

Ankle-deep

A photo posted by Jason Jenkins (@an_epic_edu) on

#1) No schoolwork to worry about

Whether you plan to homeschool, unschool or prepare little junior for elite academies, lessons and classes shouldn’t be of any concern when they’re under five or six — and arguably much later than that. Once they get older, education — in whatever form you choose — will take up more and more of your daily or weekly routine. As we continue to hone our own homeschooling system, I spend so much of my time and attention just figuring out what I want them to learn and how they will learn it. Part of this is because my kids were already molded by the Japanese elementary school system. Getting them to take charge of their own education and manage their own time has been an important (and ongoing) challenge. With babies and toddlers, you don’t have to worry about any of this.

#2) You are still all your child needs

With little ones, you are the center of their universe. Hopefully, you’ll remain there for decades to come, but with each coming year, they’ll require more people in their orbit — people like friends, relatives and teachers. I cannot emphasize the importance of friends as they get older. It’s one of the most important things I’ve learned this year: mom and dad are not always enough. The search for playmates becomes a priority. Sometimes it works out perfectly, while other times it can feel a bit like stalking. Babies and toddlers require less time with peers than, say, a 5th-grader does. What’s more, as kids develop their own personalities and predilections, the pool of kids that they’ll instantly bond with shrinks. Jamie and Felicia make friends easily, but now they gravitate more enthusiastically to kids with similar interests. For example, my son loves soccer, so he naturally prefers kids around his age (or older) who want to practice penalty kicks and talk about the latest scoop on Lionel Messe and Christiano Ronaldo. Toddlers aren’t so picky.

#3) Adult conversations are easier

New parents tend to be more open to communing with others at the same stage of life, and it can be easier to meet traveling parents when you have only babies and toddlers to deal with. I know what you’re thinking: “Adult conversations? What conversations?! Every time I open my mouth, my baby screams, poops and pukes all over the sarong! How can I have a conversation?” This may be true, but the new parents your meet along the way can empathize better than anyone — especially those that wander the globe like you — and the sense of camaraderie during those years allows the conversation to continue. Wait another five to eight years, however, and those babies are grown up enough to join the conversation — whether you want them to or not. I love it when I see my kids successfully navigating real dialog with an adult — but when you spend all day, every day with your kids, you begin to cherish talking with other adults — especially fellow travelers. It’s easy to get caught up exchanging advice, insight and stories from the road, and the flow of this exchange is greatly hindered when your 3rd-grader interrupts with yet another knock-knock joke. Does that make me sound like a jerk? Get over it. I involve my kids in basically everything I do, but sometimes I want a grown-up time, and that’s easier when it is only impeded by diaper changes.

#4) Baby drama ain’t that bad

Colic, fevers and potty training — these are global phenomenon, and there are solutions to such problems basically anywhere you’re considering to visit. You may fear the prospect of dealing with a sick child or a poop-stained jacket in a foreign land, but it’s not as bad as you think it would be. And to be honest, those days seem infinitely easier than the minefield of arguments, insults and hyperactivity that comes with pre-teens. All kids get fevers — and recover from them — wherever they are, and unless you’re considering a trek through Liberia or Afghanistan, then the hospitals in your country of choice can likely handle your situation. They’re also probably friendlier and more accommodating than you may fear, as well. And if you’re coming from the US, it’s quite possible that the bill will be much cheaper than you’re accustomed to. We’ve dealt with sick kids, and it’s no fun at any age, whether you’re in your hometown or holed up in a hotel near the beach. But my point deals with long-term travel: if your kid is sick for a week and your holiday is ten days, that’s a serious drag. But if they’re sick for a week and you’re traveling for three months or more, those seven days of hell will be a mere speed-bump that is bookended by priceless adventures — a small blip on the radar that eventually turns into a well-worn story in your travel repertoire. And lastly…

Fi shooting at Cameron Highlands. Fear not the little ones: Why you should travel as a family now — An Epic Education#5) This is just the beginning

The sooner you start traveling, the sooner it becomes part of your child’s life. You can still travel with them in their teens or whenever, but the longer you wait to start, the more time it may take for them to adjust to their new life on the road. That’s been our experience, anyway. When we left Tokyo in September, 2013, our boy Jamie was halfway through fifth grade (Japanese schools start in the Spring), while Felicia was only five months into first grade. Eighteen months later, she acts as if we’ve lived this way her entire life, while Jamie still considers this a new routine that he’s adapting to.

Get started!

These are not the only reasons to start travel as a family now, but they’re good ones. And listen: I’m not saying that backpacking with a toddler will be easy, because there will be challenges. And I’m not saying that you can travel anywhere with your little darling. You might want to wait a while before you hike a volcano or tramp through the jungle looking for poisonous snakes. What I am saying is this. It can be done. And it’s cheaper, with young kids, too. We’ve seen it time and time again. Indeed, most of the families we’ve been in contact with along the way have had kids under five. Seeing them makes me realize how meaningful and fun it could’ve been if we had started this trip five to ten years ago…or earlier. That wasn’t to be for us, but perhaps it can be for you.

Our original plan was to take off once the kids were in high school, but I’m so glad we changed our minds. If your plan is later, then more power to you. It will still be incredible, of course. However, as we’ve met more and more traveling families, we’ve seen a trend emerge: stability and friends becomes more important to many kids as they get older. It happened to Talon at 1Dad1Kid, and to Theodora at Escape Artistes and other traveling families we’ve met along the way. It’ll probably happen with us, too, which means that our days of wandering might be numbered. Every family is different, of course, and you need to do what’s best for yours, but if your reason not to travel as a family now is simply your young children, then let me be tell you that there is no better time to start.

Have you considered long-term travel? What holds you back? Or are you traveling as a family now? What have been the biggest obstacles?

*Some might consider our 13 years in Tokyo —where the kids were born and raised — as “traveling.” Not really. Keiko and I went to 9-5 jobs, the kids went to daycare and then school. We traveled a bit around Japan, sure, but more as weekend campers.

Comments

  1. Great post, I couldn’t agree more. Also, travelling with kids presents more opportunities to interact with locals. Some of my best travel memories would not have happened had we been just a couple of adults.

    • Thank you so much for this, Jonathan. So true. Very important point, and I left it out! Families with young kids (or kids of any age) are often approached differently. You definitely get to see a different side to many locals when with children.

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