Why travelling the world with kids could be the best decision you ever made

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Selling your house, taking a leave from work, and travelling the world with an eight-year-old and 10-year-old is nuts. I know, because I’m the one in this family who’s been saying it the most since we hatched this crazy plan a few months ago. Tossing away everything that’s comfortable in exchange for stressful flights, border checks, unknown locales and no home to come back to is madness.

But it may also be the best decision we ever made.

I’ve been reading through the blogs and Facebook forums of other round-the-world family travellers and most of them agree that while months of travelling with your kids are stressful, they can also be fantastic. In fact, the refrain I hear most often is: it’ll be the best year you have as a family and a decision you’ll never regret.  

Two of the mothers I spoke to had done similar trips with their kids — though both longer and more ambitious than the six-month journey we were planning: lawyer-turned-travel writer Heather Greenwood Davis and her husband took their two sons through 29 countries in 12 months; while journalist Lisa Marr sailed for 11 months to the Bahamas and back with three children aboard.

Here’s what they said made travelling with kids so much more rewarding than just travelling on their own:

You’ll make friends more easily

One of the great things about travelling with kids — whether it’s to your local park or halfway around the world — is they often act as mini-ambassadors, breaking down walls between strangers, making it easier to strike up conversations you might not have otherwise had.

“Making yourself vulnerable and open (to talking to new people) is the biggest thing you can bring with you (when you travel),” says Greenwood Davis.

When Greenwood Davis was in Seville, Spain, for example, her husband saw a dad taking a photo of his family in front of a bullfighting ring. Though the family spoke only French, Davis used hand signals to ask if they’d like him to take a photo of them together. They accepted and soon the families were chatting in broken French-English, with the adults and kids getting along so wellthatthey ended up spending the day together.

The Davises stayed in touch with that family and later visited them in their home in Paris, building a friendship that might not have been forged but for the common bond of parenthood.  

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Children bring their own perspective

One of the unexpected things Greenwood Davis discovered on her trip was that her kids saw the world in a more open way than she did, without the biases she didn’t even realize she had. 

She recalls that in Peru, they spent time in a small village helping to build clay ovens, followed by an impromptu soccer game with the local kids. Afterwards, Greenwood Davis remembers asking her sons, ‘Did you notice that the kids were in tattered clothes and that they didn’t haveabrick house like you have?’ They replied that the only thing they noticed was that the other kids didn’t have to wear shoes, and why did they have to wear shoes when it would have been so much easier to play without them? Her kids weren’t concerned with what the kids lacked; they saw only soccer opponents and happy kids.

It was a fresh perspective that Greenwood Davis says forced her to rethink what she thought her childrenshould absorb from each experience.

“I learned not to impose on them my ideas of what they should take away from there,” she says.

It builds their confidence

Nothing makes kids develop confidence faster than pushing them out of their comfort zones, and travel does just that to kids almost every day, say both Greenwood Davis and Marr.

Whether it’s trying to understand a different language, finding your way around new towns, or trying something completely foreign such asriding a camel, or spearfishing a lionfish, family travel opens kids’ eyes to new experiences and ways of life.

Greenwood Davis says she noticed her sonsimproved at forming new friendships with other kids the longer they travelled. By the time it was time to return to their old school in Canada, she says her kids had developed more confidence and stronger senses of self.

“That’s stuck with them — this idea that their neighbourhood is tiny but they have access to this larger neighbourhood. Things happening in their schoolyard are just not that big because their world is bigger now,” she says.

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The window of opportunity will close

There will come a time in the not-so-distant future when our children simply will not want to spend time with us. The time to travel with them is when they are young — still fascinated by new experiences, still open to learning new things, and happy to spend an evening in our company.

That window of opportunity will close. Marr says her 16-year-old fought hard against the idea of sailing for a year with this family, deciding he would join them for only a few weeks, but would then go home on his own and live with his grandparents.

In the end, it was a decision he regretted, since his new living arrangements were harder to adjust to than he expected. He also missed out on the sense of accomplishment that his younger brother and sister had while helping with the sailboat and seeing a new part of the world.

“He didn’t like being told he had to go on this trip. But he looks back on it now and says. ‘That really was the trip of a lifetime and I appreciate being part of it.’ I had known he would say that at some point, but what could I do? He was a typical rebellious 16-year-old.”

So we”re setting out on this adventure now, while we can, while our kids are willing, while we have the opportunity to do, hoping it”s everything that so many say it will be.

Check back on CTVNews.ca, where I’ll be sharing my experiences weekly on Dream Big Wednesdays.

6 months away