Travelling with a toddler can be extremely exhausting and a times makes you think perhaps you should have gotten all of your travelling out of the way prior to having kids! But then you take one look at your child’s life and you instantly think how cool it is.
Recently a friendly twitter follower hashtag-ed a comment with #jealousofjack and it made me think about what this experience is doing for him. As a kid, I was fortunate enough to go on some pretty memorable domestic holidays with my parents, had the opportunity to experience travelling solo when I went on exchange as a green 15-year-old and then again later in my uni years. I have always raved about how travel was so beneficial in my life when I was so impressionable and have always hoped that my children would have the travel bug too.
But Jack’s adventure is far different from my own as a kid and I can already see how awesome it is for him and how it is shaping him as a person. Before we even set off everyone was focusing on our how we were going to cope traveling with a toddler, but no one really put much thought into how he was going to enjoy it or react to the challenges of living on the road. The general comment was ‘he is too young to remember’.
To give you some incentive to stop listening to the critics and take your children on an adventure of a lifetime, I have put together the top 7 reasons why toddlers, or for that matter kids of any age, should travel.
1. Experiencing different cultures
Arriving in Ho Chi Minh City was a culture shock for not only us but Jack too. But we all quickly adjusted and Jack was about to experience the different cultural aspects from eating on plastic stools down little dirty laneways to having cows walk about in the streets. He learnt about religious cultures on visits to temples and meeting Monks in the streets of Thailand. One of the most in-depth experiences he had was our time spent volunteering at a school for the local village kids in Cambodia.
2. Learn different languages
So far we have travelled through nine different countries and in each one English is not the first language. Unfortunately, and for me regrettably, both Chris and I don’t know a second language. So we have had to pick up words here and there on the way to get by and speak with the locals as you do. In some countries, such as Switzerland, you can get away with speaking English everywhere, but in others such as rural France it’s a challenge.
In each country Jack has learnt to say hello, goodbye and thank you. It may not sound much but as an 18-month old when we set off, I am pretty impressed with his enthusiasm and memory. He has experienced being in child care in Chiang Mai where no one spoke anything more than ‘hello’ and now he is spending two days a week in home care with a local French lady who again speaks no English. Proudly Jack will recite all his known French in own sentence when someone says bonjour. He will recite ‘Bonjour, ça va, merci, au revoir, wie’ all in one mouthful!
Although I know he will most likely lose the languages as we continue to travel, it is a start and will give him an understanding of languages in the future.
3. Meet people from all backgrounds
We have been fortunate enough to meet some pretty great people along the way and Jack has made plenty of friends, particularly in South East Asia. He has spent time playing with kids from all sorts of backgrounds from those living on the streets from much poorer families to fellow travellers and those from a higher class.
Kids don’t have any prejudice and are happy to play with each other regardless of their social status or their physical appearance. Jack is making friends with people from all over the world of whom many I hope stay in touch. Perhaps when he is on his own backpacking adventure later in life he will bump into them again.
4. Try out various foods
Jack has always had a good appetite and was at an age when we set off that he would try pretty much anything. In South East Asia he was sampling hot pots, soups, street food delights, red bean paste, shellfish, Asian fruits etc. Believe me there were plenty of ‘yuck’, ‘too hot’ or ‘I don’t like’s’ along the way, but he had the opportunity to taste different flavours that he may or may not of in Melbourne in my kitchen.
In Abu Dhabi he enjoyed Moroccan cous cous, mixed grills and yummy ice cream treats. In Switzerland and the Czech Republic he enjoyed hearty man food of meat and potato dumplings, whilst in France he has found a love for the finer things in cheeses and real foie gras. Expensive taste, right?
If you are travelling with kids my advice is let them eat what you are eating. Obviously be mindful when you are travelling through Asian countries of the street food to ensure it is well cooked, but don’t hold back!
5. Adjust to having very little possessions
Throughout his short life, Jack has been pretty fortunate when it comes to having cool toys to play with and plenty of entertainment at his fingertips. His first birthday, as with most middle class Western kids, was filled with way too many gifts, enough for me to put most away and bring them out throughout the year. Needless to say, Jack hasn’t been without.
When we set off on the adventure Jack had a little backpack with some toys to keep him entertained on the plane and that was about it. Along the way we have acquired a few cheap and cheerful toys and books from op shops, markets and $2 stores, while discarding a few neglected ones. Still though, they all must fit in his backpack and what doesn’t has to go.
It has given him an opportunity to increase his imagination, make toys out of everyday objects and put less emphasis on the need for things. He also gets super excited when he has the chance to play with other kid’s toys and improve his sharing skills! For me this also means I can get my creativity on and make things out of cardboard, sticks, toilet rolls and household ingredients.
6. Become more resilient
Jack has had to adjust to a lot of situations whilst travelling that he wouldn’t have otherwise had to. His comfortable routine at home has been totally disrupted by jumping on trains at all hours of the morning and night to showering in cold water above a bucket. He has had to sleep on a train, in his travel tent, with us in bed or on the front of a pushbike. He has been put into challenging situations he wouldn’t otherwise have experienced if we hadn’t gone on this adventure. Simply put, he has had to become more resilient and flexible along the way.
7. More time with us as a family
In Melbourne Jack started at day-care at six months, I went back to work a couple of days a week when he was three months, and we both worked our full-time jobs and had our own business. We never felt we spent enough quality time together with him or as a family and this was one of our incentives to go travelling in the first place.
Like it or not, Jack has plenty of time with us now on the road. In fact we have pretty much been together with him 24/7 for the last eight months!
Jack may not remember the trip, but we are sure this experience during his formative years will positively shape him as a person and have an effect on how he views the world as he grows up. Who knows, perhaps he will be a free spirit wanting to jet set off and explore the world on his own terms!