7 Valuable Lessons From Traveling Internationally With Kids
Before I became a mother, I thought traveling internationally with kids would be easy. You see, I've always been a travel-lover, even when I was a kid. And when I became a mother, there was no doubt in my mind that my travels would continue. Why stop traveling just because I have a baby? I thought to myself.
Of course, after I became a mother, I realized that traveling with kids, whether domestically or internationally, does come with some unique challenges. Paying for travel gets exponentially harder. And so does the planning and logistics. It's hard to find hotel rooms that can accommodate a family with three kids!
But despite the challenges, my husband and I still continue to travel. And as we've traveled and worldschooled with our kids, we've realized that we're not alone. Other families like to travel with their kids too! If you're still on the fence about taking a trip with your little ones, hopefully this post will give you the inspiration you need.
This post was updated on March 27, 2020.
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Meeting a family traveling internationally with kids
These days, families traveling internationally with kids is not unusual. Throughout our travels, we meet so many families who love to travel like we do. Some families travel for a short time. While other families take their kids on a gap year around the world. It's fun to hear their story, and find out why they travel with their kids. And it's also interesting to see how families travel with their kids.
Once, when we were in Sumatra, Indonesia, we met a family who was completing an overland trip from England to Australia. They had spent almost a year traveling internationally with kids. Their trip took them through Europe, over to Russia, into China, across Mongolia, and down through the rest of Asia.
When we met them, they were on the final leg of their trip before finishing in Sydney, Australia. Talking to the parents and their two daughters, I couldn't help but think what an awesome experience that would be. How amazing it would be to do that kind of journey with kids in tow. Who would have known that three years later, we would be doing a big adventure of our own!
The joys of traveling internationally with kids
Whether it's a long term journey, or a short vacation, there are a lot of benefits to traveling internationally with kids. I thought I knew it all when it came to travel, and then I started traveling with kids of my own. It opened up a whole new side of travel.
Each international trip we've completed has had its fair share of snafus and hiccups. However, in the long run, they have been mostly positive. After nine years worth of travels with my young kids, here are seven lessons I've learned from traveling internationally with kids.
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1. Travel is a blessing
Whether you come from a developing country, or one of the richest countries in the world, the ability to travel is certainly a blessing and a privilege. The biggest barrier to travel is of course the cost, and when traveling internationally with kids, the costs can sometimes double or triple. The more I travel, the more acutely aware I am of how much of a privilege it is to travel, especially as a kid.
Despite the financial barriers, our family has always put travel as a priority. As a result, by the time my daughter turned five, she had already visited seven countries outside of the United States. I hope through our travels, I am able to instill a sense of humility and appreciation of the world in my kids.
2. Travel leaves an imprint
The first trip my daughter ever took was at two months old. We did a weekend road trip from Washington, DC to Vermont in the fall to see the autumn leaves. That trip was a precursor to a three week cross-country road trip a month later from DC to Seattle.
My daughter was too young to remember the road trip. And it certainly wasn't a walk in the park to road trip with a baby. But I like to think that even a trip like that left an impression on my daughter's love for travel.
For both of our youngest kids, they were much too young to remember their first international trip. But I know that those trips helped instill a desire to travel in our kids. By traveling internationally with kids, we are sowing seeds of compassion and understanding of the world into our children.
3. You're never too young for an adventure
When we visited Indonesia in 2015, my two year old had a chance to ride boats in the ocean, pet a sea turtle, see monkeys in the forest, ride a becak through cities and villages, hike in the jungle to see orangutans, and even go tubing down a river.
During our around the world trip, we've swam with whale sharks, seen Komodo dragons and sloths in the wild, and even went zip-lining in the Costa Rican jungle! Our kids now know how to say hello and thank you in at least four languages. And they have tried dishes from various places around the world.
Sometimes we assume that little kids are too young to experience the fun of travel, but I disagree. For my kids, travel is a big adventure. It's been interesting to see both my kids take everything in and interact with the world around them.
4. Travel is the best type of education
The family that we met in Sumatra had two daughters who were ten and eight. Their parents had taken them out of school for the year to travel, but talking to their oldest daughter, it sounded like they weren't missing much. For being ten, she sounded so grown up and precocious, talking about the experiences she had on her travels.
As we've traveled around the world, I notice that with our kids too. They picked up simple phrases in the countries we visit. And they get excited when they talk about the things they see on this trip. It's one thing to read about beaches, monkeys, jungles, and airplanes, but it's a much better educational experience to see these things in person.
5. Put some trust in other people
It's interesting to visit countries that have such a love for little kids. Traveling in Mexico, Indonesia, and to a certain extent in Italy, we see how much different cultures love children.
When we were doing a jungle hike in Indonesia, our guides helped carry our daughter when she got tired of walking. And they always made sure she was safe. And when we were traveling in Paraguay, the people in the small village we were visiting were so concerned when my daughter got sick and started throwing up.
It's somewhat of a relief to realize that other people are also looking out for your kids. Traveling internationally with kids has helped me to trust people more. I am less apt to assume that they are out to take advantage of me.
6. Having patience is an understatement
For the most part, my kids are pretty well-behaved. But when they're tired or hungry or suffering through jet lag, they turn into cranky, hyper-active, fire-breathing monsters. I love my children, but there are times when they make me want to pull out my hair.
Most of the parenting advice will tell you the best way to avoid a meltdown is to maintain a routine. But when you're traveling, it's sometime hard to maintain a routine. And often, early morning or late night departures and arrivals are unavoidable.
After all these years of traveling internationally with kids, I've learned that the best thing we can do is just to go with it. Have patience, and know that this crisis is temporary. But if it helps, maybe order a stiff drink too at the end of the day!
7. Kids are resilient and adaptable
With all the unpredictability of travel, it's amazing how well my kids are able to adapt to their changing surroundings. Kids are surprisingly resilient. They take their cues from their parents, so if you are adaptable, they will be too.
These days, my daughter and son don't bat an eye when they have to ride a subway, or go through airport security, or even use a squat toilet. Both my kids have learned that this is just part and parcel to the whole experience of travel.
Passing on a legacy of traveling internationally with kids
I grew up with parents who took my sisters and me on frequent trips. Now that I'm a parent, I'm glad and grateful that I can offer the same thing to my kids. Whether we're traveling overseas or around the United States, the lessons I've learned from traveling internationally with kids has helped me to become a better traveler.
I'm looking forward to many more travel adventures with my children. Who knows, maybe one day we'll be like that family we met in Bukit Lawang, going on our own multi-country adventure.
Have you learned some lessons from traveling internationally with kids? Share them in the comments!
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