Informing friends and family members about plans to quit your jobs, sell all your stuff, and travel the world is usually met with quite a bit of skepticism. Eventually, most come around and accept your decision, albeit with questions and hesitation. One overarching comment we received when telling our loved ones about our RTW plans was that it was good that we were “getting it out of our system before starting a family.”
We agreed, and that was a major reason for deciding to go at the time we did. We knew what everyone else did. Once we had children, traveling long term wouldn’t be possible.
With me having turned 30 and Megan nearing that age, we expected to be the old ones on the road and in the hostels amongst the college kids. Then a funny thing happened. We noticed people older than us. We would come across people in their mid-late 30’s, 40’s, 50’s even. And who is that traipsing around behind these people? Is that? Wait, it couldn’t be. Are those their kids? Families…in a hostel…in South America? I thought once you have children, your travel days are over until the kids are off to college?
How naive we were. Here we were, bucking the trend and doing something that society deems to be irresponsible and reckless. But we didn’t care what society thought. We were doing this for us, to see the world and better our lives. How was it possible for us to be so closed-minded about the possibility of family travel? Suddenly our thoughts changed. Of course you can travel as a family! And it doesn’t have to just be week-long jaunts to Disney World. It is possible to take an extended, RTW trip even if you have kids. Your life doesn’t have to end when children enter the picture!
While we are yet to start our own family, rest assured, when we do, travel will still be a huge part of our lives. While many may think traveling the world to developing countries with a child is impossible, there are countless families out there who have done it, are doing it now, and are planning to do it in the future.
For those people out there who think that long term family travel is impossible, it’s time to be inspired by some amazing families who are doing just that. Following are several myths ready to be debunked, straight from those who have done it or are doing it right now. In fact, when you are finished reading this, you may start to question why you haven’t yanked the kids out of school to travel the world already.
Your child’s education won’t suffer if you take him/her out of school
People from many western countries, particularly the United States, like to think that their county offers the very best in education, despite what the numbers tell us. Yank your kids out of school for a year, and they’re surely to suffer the consequences by never being able to get into a good college or further their education. As you can tell from the quotes below, nothing could be further from the truth. Traveling the world provides children of all ages an education that simply can’t be matched.
“No book, TV show, movie, or story could have taught us what we would learn in the months of travel through Central and South America, Southern Africa, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. A textbook would never give you the experience of watching the sunrise atop a Mayan pyramid set deep in a jungle or teach you how to make coconut curry while overlooking the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. There is absolutely no substitute for travel and having those experiences firsthand. As my mom and dad like to say, “Travel is the ultimate education,” and my brothers and I are living proof that this statement is true.” – from Morgan at Cooney World Adventure.
“The language learning happens so fast! We´re in Costa Rica for three months now and Luísa’s been attending a bilingual kindergarten (Spanish and English) for two months. Her English and Spanish are so developed already….Having her learn another language (or two other languages) was what pushed me to take this extended trip now, while she was still three. I knew this was about the best age for her to learn, so that’s why we are here.” – from Marilia at Tripping Mom
“He is a sponge and remembers so many tiny details, even from our previous holidays. It’s been amazing to have the time to appreciate how effortlessly he soaks up new knowledge regardless of whether it’s how to add and subtract, geography, obscure facts about dinosaurs with hugely complicated names that only children and palaeontologists can pronounce, or the workings of a Buddhist temple. Watching your child accept children of all cultures and backgrounds, without preconceived ideas or prejudice is something every adult should take the chance to see and learn from.” – from Tracy at Our Travel Lifestyle
“The young Bedouin kids she met there seemed to really like the fact that she was dressed traditionally and it’s a fun way for a child to immerse in Jordan’s culture as well as a perfect hand-made souvenir to keep forever” – from Jeanne at Soul Travelers 3
Your kids can live without a room full of toys
Many of us have become brainwashed into thinking that children need every single toy on the planet. Video games and cell phones have become common for kids in grade school, and filling multiple rooms and basements of houses with toys is not unusual. When taking off to travel the world, taking the opportunity to pare down and get rid of a lot of useless crap is very empowering. Getting out on the road and realizing that the vast majority of our stuff just ties us down and is unnecessary is a powerful thing, and it’s a great teaching moment for your children. Making them realize that life is not all about material possessions, and that one can live on much less, is a life lesson that parents and children alike will take with them forever.
“For M, having her own camera (any old digital will do), to take shots, make videos, is priceless. To me, gadgets that foster creativity are better than games and such that are just for killing time. Low tech “Tablet”: colored pencils and a notepad. Dollar store, enough said. If you can’t afford to buy souvenirs, then don’t! Teach your kids that the experience in itself is a gift, and you don’t need to get a “We came all the way to Thailand and all I got was this lousy T-shirt” shirt, to prove that you went there. Your memories, photos, and videos can be sufficient. Buy postcards instead of the more bulky, pricey gifts.” - from J. Bubba at Got Passport
Other cultures are not as scary and dangerous as you might think
No matter if you’re setting off to travel as a 22 year-old straight out of university, a married couple, or a family with children, you will hear this same concern time and time again from loved ones, and it’s usually from those who have never left the country. The media and government likes to inform us that the world is a very scary place , and if we leave our comfort zones, something terrible is surely to happen. For anyone who travels regularly, nothing could be further from the truth. As long as you are smart and use common sense (just like at home), the chances of something bad happening are slim. And the education your entire family can receive from extended travel will open their eyes and change their perceptions forever.
“I think each of us needs to have a healthy fear of the unknown – it keeps us safe. But I also believe we can’t allow that fear to paralyze us into inaction. Why should I (or anyone else) think we are more likely to run into problems in Portland or Bakersfield or Mazatlan?” – from John and Nancy at Travel with Bikes
“We’re looking forward to uncomplicating our lives, stealing back a year and showing our kids how the rest of the world lives. Hopefully we’ll all come back with bigger minds and smaller egos.” – from Paul and Amanda at 6 Out of Oz
” I’m going academic on you here. Yes, things will be different from home, so use that as a teaching moment with your kids. Role modeling is essential, and teaching kids that there’s more than one way to do things, is priceless in our book.” - from J. Bubba at Got Passport
“We want our daughters to grow up to be travelers, to be open to change, to act on their curiosity, and to make their dreams a reality.” – from Dee at Travel and Travails.
“We returned more thankful. More tolerant and respectful of differences. More aware of the things that bring people together and drive them apart. More appreciative of other cultures and other ways to live your life.” - from Craig at The Wide, Wide World
Your kids might be as eager to explore as you are
Many think it’s selfish to take kids on a whirlwind tour of the world. Detractors state that parents are clearly the ones who want to do this, and no child in his or her right mind would ever want to do something similar, particularly if they are school-aged. While taking a child out of school and away from his or her peers is something that many kids would hate, you would be surprised at how many children would be excited and ecstatic about this proposition. Obviously dynamics are different in each family, but unless you actually broach the subject with your child, you’ll never know what his or her thoughts might be.
“One night we got Chinese take-out. Over dinner I asked Caroline how she felt about the idea of the trip now. She would be heading into high school, and it would probably impact her more than anyone else. She said, ‘Dad, I’ve thought a lot about this. And the way I feel right now, I’m scared to go. But I also know I’ll be really disappointed if we don’t go.'” - from Craig at The Wide, Wide World
“The trip I took with my family was the best time of my life; we followed our dreams of travel and I encourage everyone to do the same! In fact, the dream is still alive and kicking inside of us. My twin brother and I are leaving in September for a three month expedition to Costa Rica and perhaps will visit a few adjacent countries as well.” – from Morgan at Cooney World Adventure
“Cam, our very reluctant traveler, has started talking about ‘doing a trip like this with some of my buddies when I’m older’ and ‘when I’m telling my kids stories about this trip, I’ll tell them about …‘” - from Michelle at Wander Mom
You’ll never know if it’s right for yourfamily until you try
No one knows your family better than you, but sometimes we sell ourselves and our loved ones short. “That would never work for us,” we say. But what better way to bond with your family than by living your dreams together? The memories that families build when they travel are ones that last a lifetime, and the traits and skills people learn when traveling in foreign lands for long periods of time are those that you just can’t get anywhere else.
“Living your dreams with children is a rewarding, exhilarating experience, and will build unforgettable memories for both you and your child.” - from John and Nancy at Travel with Bikes
“Things that used to drive us to madness now just make us laugh. Not all the time, mind you, but enough to know that perhaps we’re a little more buoyant that we used to be. More buoyant, more brave, more resilient. More together, more happy, more healthy. More accepting of ourselves, of each other, and of the world.” - from Bob and Brenna at From Here to Uncertainty
How can you not be inspired by the above quotes? After perusing so many family travel sites, I was amazed at the sheer number of families from all over the world who have thrown caution to the wind and taken off on epic adventures. For those who have been inspired to do the same, here are some tips and more inspiration for traveling with children, from babies to toddlers to teenagers.
Traveling with babies and toddlers
Traveling with a baby or toddler may seem a bit crazy and extremely daunting, but there are plenty of people out there doing it right now. While your child may not have any vivid memories of their travels as babies, they will get used to the travel lifestyle. Parents can also learn from this experience, as different cultures have different customs when it comes to younger children, and it certainly takes some getting used to.
“I recently added up his total travel since birth: 4 continents, 8 countries, over 30,000 miles and 21 flights. That sounds impressive and worldly, but the reality is more tame. It’s less international jetsetter and more naps and snuggles with mom…However, I have noticed little things. He’s become a better traveler. He can sit on my lap in a car for 12 hours. He’s calm and accepting when it’s a travel day, in a way that he isn’t usually (he’s impatient if he has to wait more than 10 seconds for me to get my shoes on and follow him out the door). It’s like he knows about these intermittent disturbances in the routines and accepts them. It’s the way it’s always been for him since we left the US when he was four months old.” - from Christine at Almost Fearless
“In Vietnam, the biggest baby snatchers are waitresses. They crowd around discussing the cuteness of the baby, the length of her eyelashes. If they spot her dimples, they nearly start screaming. They hoist her up and carry her about the restaurant as if she’s a religious relic…Those are the positives of living and traveling in Asia with a baby. There’s a whole new world of interaction. It’s not terribly deep or meaningful, and it really does make me feel like I’m just a manager of a rock star.” - from Barbara at The Dropout Diaries
“She has developed an immense sense of home as wherever her family is, rather than it being a place. She’s had more time to be shaped by her parents than most children her age (we hope this is a good thing). We’ve been there to see her learn to hop and jump, read her first words, learn how to draw recognizable objects and people, and interpret the world in her own unique way.” - from Tracy at Our Travel Lifestyle
Learning from your children and traveling differently
Your kids aren’t the only ones who will be getting an education during a long-term family trip. Giving your family the chance to spend so much time together increases those learning opportunities. Yes, your children will learn a ton throughout a trip of this magnitude, but parents can learn just as much. Traveling as a family forces both adults and kids to travel in a completely different way. Museums and famous sites get boring to kids after a while, while going to only kid-friendly destinations and restaurants can get old for mom and dad, so changing it up is a necessity. Many parents are surprised at how much they enjoy this new style of travel, while their children are exposed to many new and interesting things that they aren’t during the course of a normal vacation.
“Her view of the world and her openness in exploring it has led us to stop and pay attention, to focus on where we are, and who we’re among. Her curiosity about people, places, and things has brought the world home to our family. Having an entrée into the local kid culture (having our own child) was a blast – we made new friends at playgrounds and children’s museums, saw fantastic theater productions of children’s plays, and explored a variety of libraries (and activities there). This way of traveling was an eye-opener for us, since we didn’t focus on art, museums, and gourmet restaurants (my favorite things!). Instead, we learned what it was like for families with children in different areas.” - from Jessie at Wandering Educators
“Our family dynamic has shifted; thankfully, for the better. We spend a lot of time together, and bloody battles are mostly kept to a minimum these days. We have so many lessons to learn from each other.” – from Bob and Brenna at From Here to Uncertainty
“Our daughter always asks for sushi, Middle Eastern, Chinese, Thai, or anything with noodles. This early exposure to cuisines is critical to a child’s developing palate. And, the attention of the adoring waitstaff is a good thing. She’s learned to ask for help, understand people from different cultures, and have a sense of safety and love.” – from Jessie at Wandering Educators
There are many families out there who view travel together as a giant hassle. Visions of screaming kids in the back of the car and “Are we there yet?” questions dance in the heads of parents. Snarky looks from airline passengers and voices of doubt from loved ones prevent many families from ever hitting the road for a vacation, much less something long-term. Ingraining a sense of travel and adventure in your child from the get-go could help the entire family dynamic. Many families would be surprised at just how well they could adjust to life on the road. And the bonding and learning possibilities are endless. Just check out those who have already done it, and a world of possibility may open up that you never knew existed.
For more information and inspiration, check out the following articles on family travel:
- Why It’s Not Selfish for Parents to Travel with Young Children
- Hosteling With Kids: Benefits and Tips
- How to Develop Character in Your Children (and Yourself) Through Travel
- 6 Ways that Traveling with Kids Can Actually Improve Your Travel Experience
- 7 Steps to Planning (and Surviving) Multigenerational Travel
Have you traveled long-term with your family before? Have you ever thought about it? What’s holding you back? Comment below to share your story.