This was a question that many friends and coworkers asked me when I told them what I was planning for my 3 month sabbatical last year. We were about to embark on a multi-country, “around the world” trip with a toddler in tow. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy with a 3 year old but I was willing to risk it for the sake of having these once in a lifetime experiences. But was she going to remember the places we would visit or the people we would meet?
Traveling with young children requires you to slow down and prepare for the unexpected. Children love routines and traveling takes them out of their comfort zone. A different bed, place, and time zone throws off their sleep routines. It takes longer for children to adjust to a different time zone. I tell families to expect it to take up to a week for their child to start sleeping well again. Unfamiliar foods can also be difficult for young children to eat. Overtired and hungry is a formula for toddler meltdowns. We sure had our fair share of these tantrums towards the beginning of our travels.
What always surprises me about kids though is their RESILIENCE. Children deserve more credit than what they are given. When one of our flights in the Phillippines was delayed for 3 hours, we had to sit in a 90 degree room with no air-conditioning in a tiny airport. My 3 year old daughter just had fun visiting the tiny gift shop 20 times and looking at the pictures and videos we had taken on our ipad. Then, when we were told that our flight was cancelled because of “lack of sunlight” and that we would have to spend the night in a nearby hotel, she again was happy just with the thought of going swimming again. As long as children are fed and rested, they can handle more than you could imagine.
What I realized through my travels is that my daughter relished just BEING with us and having our FULL attention. When we are home, we are constantly distracted by work and house chores. Technology also takes our attention away from the people we love most. When we are away from home, we play games, explore new playgrounds, hold hands, and just simply talk to each other more. I also saw my husband develop a stronger connection with my daughter that has continued to last, even 6 months after our return. She no longer demands that I be the one to put her to bed every night or that I be the one to help give her a bath.
Taking a child on an international trip has its pros and cons. We were not able to stay out past 9 pm or do any adventurous activities. However, my daughter did get a chance to pet an Australian koala, float (while we snorkeled) in the water on the Great Barrier Reef, ride on a donkey up a volcano in the Phillippines, sit on a bamboo raft going down the Li River in Guilin, and see clownfishes swimming in sea anemones. She was also able to give food to homeless Filipino street children, see a tarsier, the world’s smallest monkey, and taste the sweetest mangoes and lychees we’ve ever had. She missed 3 months of school and we spent a lot of our savings. But she was able to learn and experience things she could never learn in a classroom or at home. And our connection as a family has deepened as a result. This is what I find most valuable about traveling with children .