Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Traveling with Tots: The World is My Playground

I remember the first time I really went abroad. I was 16, a junior in high school, and I went to Mexico City and the small village of Angangueo, Mexico. When I heard about the trip at school through my Spanish class, I immediately wanted to go. My parents were so supportive - and shocked. Truth was, I was a really bad eater, and they couldn't believe I wanted to go somewhere where I would find the food absolutely terrifying. But I went. I ate some food. I spoke some Spanish. I couldn't get enough.

Fast forward to 2012. Living in Germany, husband in a corporate job, a 2.5 year old at home. We decided to take 4 months off of work to travel to SE Asia. We are lucky to have supportive and like-minded friends and family. People were very excited for us. But still, you heard it. You heard people who, well, doubted you. Who thought you were crazy. Such a pity that Simon won't remember anything. Why not wait until he's a bit older? Because the time is NOW!

We did it. We're back. We were on the road for something like 15 weeks of pure bliss and pure togetherness. And we are all better off for it.

So let me tell you why traveling with a toddler was awesome, important, and totally worth it for our family.

Quality Family Time
Like most young families, we are always struggling with the work/life balance battle. While I am at home with Simon, Martin works long hours and isn't always home to see Simon before bed. Weekends are then a clusterf#*k of spending time together, trying to get some time to ourselves, finding time for each other, and catching up on sleep and errands. And as every one knows, kids grow up in a flash before your eyes. Traveling together as a family, that's quality time.

Spending every day with my son and my husband was a great gift. Also, take away the cooking, cleaning, and errands and time together was all all we had. That has its own challenges of course, but they were welcome challenges.

Makes them Smarter
OK. So maybe there aren't any scientific studies that say that traveling with young children actually makes them smarter, but I am going to go ahead and argue that it does. Extrapolating from the mounds of research available on early childhood education, it's hard to believe that travel with young kids could be anything but good.

Research on early childhood education clearly indicates that years 0-3 are incredibly formative. These years lay the foundation for your child's education, and what better classroom than the world?!? At this age, kids are like sponges - soaking it all in. While they may not remember it as an older child might, they no doubt still experience it. That counts for a lot.

When we travel, we see and hear and experience people and cultures that are different from us. For young children, this can actually make them more intelligent. (See - I told you so!) Children who distinguish racial differences from an early age are abetter able to recognize subtle differences between color, shape, and size. This, in turn, leads to higher performance on intelligence tests!

Play Time
I recently read an article in The Guardian that suggests we need to leave our children alone. Modern parenting is making our kids miserable, and many kids today are effectively living "under house arrest." This is  a reference to the modern über-parenting, which results in over-scheduled kids whose well-meaning parents push them to do-do-do in fear that they will fall behind in the rat race that seems to now begin at conception. 

Society instils a fear of the future that can be appeased only by sacrificing present play and idleness, and children feel the effects in stress and depression.

Children are socialised into awareness and respect for the will and autonomy of others, so that, when necessary as they grow, they will learn to hold their own will in check in order to maintain good relations.

Traveling is an opportunity to exit this ridiculous rat race, forever or for a brief moment. Even though we were on the road and frequently moving, Simon had an enormous amount of independence and opportunities to play. At such an impressionable age, when so much rapid development is still happening, it was a great chance to foster his independent spirit and expose him to new things. Who can argue with the world as your playground?

If it changes you....it changes them
We may have only been on the road for 4 months, but it changed us. It changed me and it changed Martin and it changed Simon. They may not all be tangible changes, but it impacted us all greatly. 

It gave me more confidence as a mother. When we set out on our trip, I was not sure how it was going to go with a 2.5 year old, but I was willing to find out. Turns out, it can go really, really well. Simon surpassed all of my expectations. He embraced new experiences, new foods, new people, and new languages. He showed flexibility and patience that, had it not been tested, I would not have known was there. I also learned flexibility and patience - a constant lesson in motherhood, no doubt. But one worth learning over and over. I learned so much about him, and in turn about me. 
Pad thai....YUM!
It's not to say that traveling, whether for a short or extended time, isn't challenging with small kids. It is. And it has its limits. Like the time we went on a hilly 4 hour hike and I carried our 16 kg (36 lb) guy on my back the entire time. I paid for it dearly with heat exhaustion and was sick for 4 days. Lesson learned. There are some things you have to give up.

On the flip side, I had great conversations with moms from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia (among others) about parenting, raising children, the role of dads. It was fantastic. I would not have had that conversation 5 years ago. At the Angkor temple of Ta Prohm, we played hide and seek and got really dirty. It is one of my most cherished memories.
Hide-and-seek at Ta Prohm
What will they remember?
I don't know, and to be honest it's not that important because I will always remember. We shared an amazing experience together as a family. Now that we are back home, my son loves to look at pictures from the trip and surprises me with what he remembers. And as long as we share our memories together as a family, there is no way that any of us will forget.

Admittedly, I was not a toddler when I had my first taste of international travel. And maybe it's not comparable. We followed our dreams, we acted on what was good for us now, good for our family. We did something that made us happy. And we are all very, very happy!

Thinking about traveling with your young kids? Do it now! And then do it again later. Or just don't stop. The options are endless. The world is your playground.

Life has no limit, if you're not afraid to get in it. ~ Mason Jennings

Want to know what other traveling families think it does for their kids? Check it out!

Bohemian Travelers: Is Traveling With Young Kids Worth It?

Nancy from Family on Bikes: Why Travel is Good For Kids Even If They Don't Remember It

Catherine et les fées: Travel Memories...

Alisa from Living Outside of the Box: But Will our Kids Remember 

Melissa from Break Out of Bushwick: Never Too Young: Why Travel Isn't Wasted on Kids

Bethaney from Flashpacker Family: Is Traveling With Young Children Worth It?

Jenn Miller from Edventure Project: Why Travel Isn't Wasted On the Very Young  

Heather Costaras from Living Differently: The Gift Of Travel

Kalli from Portable Professionals: Why I don't care if our child remembers our travels

Kirsty from Barts go Adventuring: Will Kids Remember Travel? Is It Worth It? 

Anne from The Journey is the Reward

Sharon from Where's Sharon: Why Travel When Your Kids Are Too Young
Annie from Practical Adventurology: Why You Should Travel With Kids Even if They Won't Remember It
Lainie from Raising Miro on the Road of Life (and Aimee from Suitcases and Strollers): Doubt That Travel has Value


  1. Love it, Kris! I especially love how you said "While they may not remember it as an older child might, they no doubt still experience it. That counts for a lot." Yes...the EXPERIENCE versus the MEMORY is the most important aspect!! Great post!

  2. I think one of the big benefits of travelling with young children is that they have constant access to their parents. I always feel more engaged with my child on the road when I'm disconnected from the hassle of daily life - washing dishes, doing laundry, cooking meals. We've got a lot more time together as a family when we're travelling... and that's a good thing!

    1. agreed! i already miss that family time so much. and the absence of distractions.

  3. I agree with Flashpacker Family... constant access to parents is a biggie! Instead of your kids being raised by preschools and care givers, you are there to support every new attempt at life, learning and development and your relationship is strengthened along the way. That is such a gift to give a young person... and his parents! Good for you for getting out there!

  4. I agree that traveling with your baby can give you more confidence and your baby more confidence. I wasn't expecting that to come out of traveling with a baby but it has.

  5. So happy for you that you had a wonderful family experience. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Couldn't agree more with your post :)

    Quality family time has been the best part of travelling with our baby and toddler, and I have got frustrated since getting home how impossible it seems to achieve much of this.

    I reckon it probably makes them smarter too ;)

  7. I like what Bethaney said about constant contact and contact with younger children. You're always there with them which you could do from anywhere really, but when you are travelling somehow it all seems so much more special because you are outside of normal routines...Away from may of the stresses of day to day life. Or 9 to 5 life..

  8. I totally relate to what you say, especially this: We followed our dreams, we acted on what was good for us now, good for our family. We did something that made us happy. And we are all very, very happy!

    And your son is just so adorable!!

  9. thanks for this post, I am going to have a baby in a few months and love to travel, and I was worried.. until I read this.

    1. so many inspirational traveling families out there! enjoy your new baby and keep traveling!

  10. As usual a great reflective article that brought tears to my eyes. Any way to re-post think on Facebook so I can send it around my mommy group?

    1. Of course you can repost the link! Sorry I just read this comment. http://simonsays2010.blogspot.nl/2013/05/traveling-with-tots-world-is-my.html

  11. I think it's great to let little ones experience different places, even if it is risky. I agree with you that it enriches them in some ways, and I'm sure they'll thank you for it when they're older!