December marks four months of travel for us. Time has flown by and I’m struggling to comprehend the fact that we will resume ‘normal’ life – whatever that is – in London within two months. I’ve been thinking about how family travel has drastically improved our quality of life and now seems like a good opportunity for me to take stock of some of the things that we’ve learnt so far…the good, the bad and the ugly!
Before we embarked on this journey, I spent a lot of time contemplating what family travel would be like. But these thoughts were mainly dominated by worries and practicalities – how will we all manage to sleep when sharing all sharing a hotel room? Will we find enough food to satisfy my fussy three year old? What if we all get sick? Not exactly inspiring and uplifting stuff.
On top of all the planning, packing and getting the house ready for tenants – as well as parenting a toddler and a newborn – I simply did not have enough brain power left over to consider the sorts of positive things that we might get out of family travel and how we could develop as individuals.
As each week goes by, we’ve grown much closer as a family and this trip has been more enjoyable and fulfilling than I could have ever imagined. Feelings of joy and delight have far outweighed tears and tantrums. But we’ve had our fair share of interesting moments too. So here are some thoughts about our travels so far.
1. We can stand way more of each other’s company than I thought possible. Don’t get me wrong – I love my family to bits. But with work, childcare and social commitments all gone, we have never before spent so much time together. I thought I’d crave more time to myself. But I don’t and I will sorely miss spending all our time together when we return home from our family travel.
2. The kids are both thriving, and so are we. My eldest daughter has really grown in confidence and will happily converse with grown ups and approach other children to play. Previously she could come across as reserved or quite shy. My youngest is eating everything in sight, growing like a weed and full of giggles. She is a very happy baby. But it’s not just them. My husband and I feel healthier, happier and fitter than we have in ages.
3. Zoe and Abi don’t seem to mind sleeping in a new location every few nights. I thought that this would really disturb their quality of sleep (and ours!!). But as long as we keep a fairly regular routine and set bedtime and as long as we are all together, they are content and have been sleeping as well as they would at home.
4. We quickly learnt that trying to pack too much into our itinerary was a bad idea. As a result we have visited far fewer places than anticipated, but I have no regrets about our itinerary. Packing up and unpacking, settling into a new home, and travelling days can be a bit stressful so we have tried to minimise moving around too much. Plus we’ve really enjoyed getting to know the places we’ve stayed in better as a result of staying longer.
5. The heat is totally fine and the children have not really been bothered by it – something that I was worried about. In fact, it’s been really nice and we’ve grown used to it. Most of the places we have stayed in have had AC in the bedrooms. Painfully early starts mean that we beat the heat and get a lot done in the mornings. During the hottest part of the day, we take it easy in the shade. Plus, it’s a good excuse to be near a pool or the sea (preferably both).
6. We’ve not needed to book or plan months in advance. Pretty much everywhere we’ve been, we have only booked travel and accomodation a few days in advance and everything has worked out just fine. We’ve even benefitted from last-minute discounts This has allowed us the freedom to stay longer in places we’ve liked and skip on from places that we haven’t enjoyed so much.
7. We are doing pretty well at sticking to our budget, and money has not been much of a concern. If we splurge on accommodation, we just compensate in other areas – usually eating out or activities. The key for us has been to make a habit of recording our expenses on a daily basis so we always know where we stand.
8. We’ve learnt that it’s perfectly okay to do nothing but spend time together. It took us a few weeks to get there. This has been especially important in keeping the little ones happy and has meant we can give them lots of love and attention. Simple, happy days planning the next meal, a nice walk and some time in the water – bliss! If we need a bit of time to ourselves, Tim might head out and take some photos and I might (emphasising the might!) head out for a run. Often we take a child each and go on a little mission. The kids love the one-on-one time as much as we do.
9. People have been incredibly kind and generous wherever we have travelled. Particularly thoughout southeast Asia, the care and respect shown for families and children has been a total delight. Our children have been given lovely gifts, little tasty morsels of food and have been cooed at and cuddled wherever we’ve gone.
10. We have no regrets at all about taking this trip and I am so grateful that we are lucky enough to be able to do this. It has been incredible for so many reasons, and given the chance I would do it all over again. The money we have spent could have paid for a new kitchen or car, but the countless happy moments and experiences we have shared will stay with us forever.
11. Travelling can be lonely at times. We miss our friends, our family, our cats and our home. Zoe has missed her friends and it has not always been possible to find other children for her to play with.
12. Big cities with young children can be tricky. Some have been family-friendly, like Kuala Lumpur. But others, like Hanoi, proved stressful with little kids – mainly because of the hectic traffic and lack of pavements. We have learnt to try and minimise time in big cities, and head to more rural areas or smaller towns and villages.
13. Not surprisingly, Zoe and Abi don’t really dig sightseeing or long walks as much as we do. When we do go out for a long day, we take both of the carriers, lots of snacks and try to play plenty of games along the way to make it fun for everyone.
14. Some of our accommodation has not been up to scratch, which can make for a miserable experience. In particular we have found some of the photography on Airbnb accomodation to be misleading. One place in Penang we stayed in had no windows and felt like a bunker. We checked out after one day.
15. 24/7 parenting without a break for several months can be hard work. In particular, we miss our support network of friends and family. My parents came to visit for two weeks while we were in Vietnam and that was brilliant. Now that we are in New Zealand, we have my wonderful family to help out.
16. Time is slipping by very quickly and I’m already feeling anxious about returning home in February, in the middle of winter. I’m starting back at work almost immediately and the kids will go into daycare. We’ve become very accusomed to a slower, more gentle way of life and a return to the hectic city lifestyle is slightly hanging over us.
17. Rats. One of our Airbnb apartments was infested with rodents. One even climbed up the side of Abi’s cot. Ew. We couldn’t have got out fast enough.
18. I was struck down by food poisoning, and completely wiped out for several days. Fortunately I was the only one to get sick and otherwise we have all stayed very healthy.
19. There has been a lack of nappy changing facilities and I’ve had to change my daughter in some pretty grim locations. I’m glad I invested in a decent portable changing mat before we left!
20. My eldest daughter has developed a slight phobia of public toilets, particularly in some parts of SE Asia. She has a very sensitive gag reflex and has refused to use clean toilets if they are just a tiny bit smelly. This has resulted in a few accidents, but we’ve got better at managing it and scoping out spotless toilets.
Family travel have already changed our lives for the better. And with several weeks yet to go, I’m sure we will learn a lot more.
What about you? Have you been surprised at the things you have discovered on your travels? I’d love to hear about it. Let me know in the comments below!