Travel as a family can be very daunting. There are so many unknowns and concerns that it’s hard to take the leap of faith.
Traveling as a family can also be very rewarding. From tasting new foods and seeing other cultures to immersing yourself in new experiences, learning to adapt to new environments, travel has so much to offer everyone in the family.
The world became their classroom
Travel has been our greatest teacher, offering education beyond textbooks. Homeschooling shifted to worldschooling as we immersed ourselves in learning from the world. Exploring old towns, castles, and countless churches, our kids grasp the tactile experiences: the cold castle floors, intricate Italian Duomo sculptures, and centuries-worn cobblestone roads.
Knowing the smell and feel of history is priceless.
Remember, we live in an age of technology, memorizing facts isn’t nearly as important as being able to analyze and think dynamically.
The challenges of traveling as a family
Traveling as a family can definitely take you outside your comfort zone but often, it’s these moments of challenge that are the best because then everyone in the family has to work together as a team.
I wouldn’t recommend full time family travel forever like we’ve done. After all, it’s a lot of work & does take a significant amount of planning & research.
Plus, the pace we travel at and the comforts we go without would be too much stress for most families!
However, I do recommend finding a way to put your life on hold to travel as a family for six months. I promise it will be the best thing you did for your family.
The hard truths about traveling as a family
While traveling, there are many moments of bliss, but they are usually sandwiched between large doses of uncomfortableness and endurance.
Traveling as a family may not mirror our experiences, but consider our Europe trip in 2016 as an illustration. We flew to Norway, each equipped with a backpack for clothes, a sleeping bag, another backpack for rock climbing gear, a large 10-person tent, and a coffin surfboard bag filled with 3 boards and 3 wetsuits. Despite challenges like tent camping in rainy Ireland, such experiences shaped our unique journey.
After that, we rented a 22 foot campervan and drove through another dozen countries, covering well over 10,000 kilometers.
We had so many stresses in the form of putting up with the smell of the toilet cartridge which constantly needs to be dumped (by hand not with a sewer tube like you do in the states), often having to go five days without a shower (we were free camping often), and limiting the amount of food consumed at each meal in order to stay in our tight budget (plus, I could never seem to remember that grocery stores are closed on Sundays).
The values and lessons that they learned having to set up and break down our tent every day and the limited space we had for four months in that tiny 22-foot RV (that had no slide outs btw) were way more valuable than what they would’ve been taught sitting behind a desk in a classroom.
But we were a team. We created systems. Some kids were in charge of the tent, another in charge of air mattresses, and others took care of meal prep.
There was no complaining either because we were in the most pristine nature, tasting some of the most delicious food, and getting to do an epic outdoor adventure almost every day.
Traveling as a family helped my kids feel more confident.
Before travel, I had pretty shy kids. They wouldn’t talk to strangers and hated when I asked them to go to ask an adult a question.
Once we started traveling, my oldest three kids built up the confidence to walk into a grocery store or restaurant and communicate with eye contact what they needed to people who most often did not speak English.
Traveling gave my kids perspective
The area we stayed at in Bali was rough. Gabi explains it best in her blog, Should I Go To Bali, A Lesson In Taking Risks, Hardship, and Appreciation.
With our electricity always going out (which meant you couldn’t flush the toilet), massive geckos in our rooms, walking through, a field of trash to get to the beach, living on gallo pinto (eggs, rice, and beans) and having to cut your feet on sea urchins to get to surf we thought we had it hard.
But then you see what the houses the locals live in, their kids running around without clothes or shoes, how insane it is to drive there, and you realize that you are being a whiny baby.
We have first world problems and it’s good to remember that from time to time.
Traveling nurtured mindfulness
Traveling gave my kids a lot of time to reflect and be curious.
We drove a lot. We hiked a lot. There was an abundance of time for reflection over the course of our journeys. We didn’t really let our kids have electronic devices other than an old ipod touch for music. They didn’t have ipads or smart phones and tbh, we almost never had wifi and often camped in places without cell service so being disconnected was easy.
Traveling as a family really helped nurture my kids mindfulness journey.
Instead, we talked a lot, read, wrote, and drew.
The year we went to Europe, our youngest child was only 5 years old and couldn’t quite do all the big hikes I wanted to do so my husband would stay back and do arts and crafts with her in the RV while we hiked.
Being a present parent is really one of the best things you can do for your child and traveling as a family certainly helped us accomplish that.
I also love asking hard questions. While we’d hike, I’d ask my teenagers things like:
- Where would you love to travel to next?
- Why? What’s appealing about it?
- What do you value?
- What would be your dream life when you are an adult?
This helped them formulate their own ideas and sense of self outside of their peers and also let them know that I valued what they were thinking.
They also became best friends with each other and cheered each other on with each new adventure.
Gabi, our oldest daughter, explained it best in her TedX talk that
- By finishing a 12 mile hike
- Or dropping in on a wave that was well overhead and beating five other surfers in a paddle battle to get it
- Or finishing a climb when you really wanted to just leave your last piece of gear on the wall and give up
You learn the value of intrinsic motivation. We weren’t doing it for medals or to be the best. We were doing it for the personal satisfaction that finishing a physical challenge brings. The sense of accomplishment you feel when you do something hard that you weren’t sure you were capable of doing builds immense confidence that they will carry with them for the rest of their life.
Related: Why Challenge is Important in Life
Traveling as a family can show your kids what a beautiful gorgeous planet we live on
Sure you could sit in a classroom and watch a Discovery Channel movie in HD and think you know nature but it will never compare to experiencing it first hand.
- To paddle out into the icy oceans of Ireland and Scotland.
- To compare rock formations around the globe while searching for your next handhold.
- To stand in the middle of the Dolomites while a thunderstorm rolls in above you.
- To hike past Eiger mountain and look down on the tiny village of Grimsel while listening to avalanches crash down from the glaciers across the river bed.
- To sleep under the clearest of nights full of stars under a castle ruin.
From the fjords in Norway, to the alpine plains of Denali, to the sun setting over the islands of Croatia, kids who have traveled can tell you we live on one gorgeous planet.
Related Blog: Seeing is Believing (Gabi’s experience watching the Great American Eclipse of 2017)
Our kids learned that the world is full of kind people.
We are taught to beware of strangers but when you travel you have to do so with a sharp mind and an open heart because at some point you will need the help of a stranger. The crazy thing is, the more you ask for help, the more you realize just how kind and giving most of the world is.
Related: How to Let Karma Into Your Life
Traveling made my kids food snobs lol!
Everywhere we’ve traveled abroad—Europe, Costa Rica, New Zealand, and Bali—there are cows and sheep all around you, but if you live in the States, you rarely see cows. Maybe in a feed lot but rarely in an actual meadow.
We have seen a lot of cows in our travels. All cows are not the same. Nicaraguan cows are the skinniest cows you will ever see. Scottish cows are the stalkiest and most muscular. Swiss cows are tall and elegant looking. Irish and English cows are stout and beefy.
The point is that while we travel, we are always close to the food we are eating. It’s rarely being shipped hundreds or thousands of miles.
I love that my kids have grown to appreciate and ask for locally grown food and we all miss seeing cows and sheep surrounding towns.
By shopping at local farmer’s markets when you travel, especially the ones in smaller villages, you can teach your kids more about how much love goes into making high quality food.
Traveling with kids is a good lesson in budgeting
We had a budget of €150 a day for all our food, gas, and camping expense. The kids were very involved in how we spent that. If we free camped that meant no showers or electricity but then we could go out to eat. If we ate mostly vegetables for our meals we had more money for splurges like gelato.
Giving our kids a travel budget or letting them have a say helped them keep a positive attitude and feel important.
We tried to include our kids in as much of the travel planning as possible.
The kids would have to research things like:
- The best hikes and climbs to do,
- Top attractions in the cities we visit,
- Which campground to stay at,
- When the next swell will hit our next surfing destination,
- And keeping an eye on the forecast in hopes of avoiding the rain that seems to constantly be chasing us regardless where we are in Europe.
My now 18 year old planned over half our trip to Europe when she was only 15. I’m sure that played a huge part in how she became a professional travel blogger at 18.
Parenting tip: Research is one of my 3 Rs that I recommend teaching when homeschooling.
Traveling as a family helps you slow down & be present to life.
When every day is the same routine, we often let weeks and month go by unnoticed. But when you are waking up to something new every day, your days start to stack up differently and all of a sudden you realize the value of making each day special. When every day is the same routine, we often let weeks and month go by unnoticed. But when you are waking up to something new every day, your days start to stack up differently and all of a sudden you realize the value of making each day special.
I hear my kids constantly saying, “That feels so long ago.”
Hiking to the edge of Molden and staring down on the turquoise still waters of the Songfjord leaves quite an impression on your mind and soul, but when the memory starts getting mixed in with a hundred other awe-inspiring moments they may start to blend together.
Adventure takes time and shouldn’t be saved for special occasions. You can make every day feel like an adventure by blocking out time in your day to experience new sights, sounds, and activities (and this doesn’t have to be expensive either).
Could traveling as a family make your kids entitled?
So with all these lessons and experiences, you may be thinking, “You’ve shown them the whole world. What do they have to look forward to now?”
True, I’ve shown them the world, now what do they have to look forward to?
Well, we skipped Rome, we didn’t get to do a Via Ferrata in the Dolomites, we didn’t climb Ceuse or Verdon Gorge, we missed all of Austria and most of Spain, we didn’t spend nearly enough time in the the Alps (& that’s just Western Europe).
In the USA, we have barely touched the east coast. Plus we’ve never been to Africa or Australia or most of Asia. You get the point.
I really just hope travel inspires my kids to:
- Seek out their dreams and search for their own meaning of life.
- Look at the good in the world
- To get into nature most days
- Take the road less traveled (even if it means they may be uncomfortable some days)
- Defy the norm and live their own version of happiness.
Thinking about traveling with kids? Ask us questions in the comments below! We’d be happy to answer them.