I first started solo travel back in 2001 when I moved from Australia to London and toured around Europe. I travelled where I wanted to and how I wanted to. It was a grand old time.
Then in 2002 I got married and for the next 5 years Josh and I spent any opportunity we had abroad as a couple. Things began to change… for instance Josh loved to relax and do nothing, while I wanted to discover and explore every inch of our destination. But we were able to find a happy medium and experience memorable moments like a romantic kiss on top of the Eifel Tower and floating in the Dead Sea.
In 2008 to my pure joy I gave birth to a beautiful girl, and in 2010, a gorgeous boy. It wasn’t long until Josh and I were packing our bags again to get back out on the open road. But there was a definite change in the way we travelled.
A big change.
And while I adore travelling with my family and would have it no other way, there are challenges that solo or even couples don’t face when travelling.
1. Why Is Everything So Expensive?
I found a cheap flight from Malaysia to New York for AUD$479. Bargain! But then I had to multiply it by 4. Suddenly I’m looking at nearly AUD$2000 to get 4 people on the same flight. Sure we might have two adults working, but there’s still two that aren’t.
My sister wanted to visit Disney World and I said, “It’s so expensive.” She looked up the prices and commented, “It’s only $350.” “Yes,” I said, “for you. For us it’s $1400.”
Oftentimes hotels don’t have family rooms, so the alternative is two separate rooms. Then there is food, clothes, shoes, etc. Thankfully in a car they don’t cost any extra money.
Why It Doesn’t Matter: When you make the choice to have kids you understand this is a lifelong decision you are making and you’re expecting big changes. You don’t think “Oh, $479 is cheap”, you immediately think in multiples of 3, 4 or more, whatever your family has grown into, and you make it work.
2. There Is So Much Stuff
It’s no surprise that we have a lot more stuff than a solo traveller. Prior to nomadic travel we owned a 4-bedroom house full of stuff that needed to be condensed into 4 suitcases as we took our life on the road.
Backpacks were not going to work with all the baby wipes, nappies, toys and books needing to be carried. So we (sensibly) chose suitcases. It was a rocky first year with the substantial amount of luggage we had, but we’ve gotten better since then.
Still, we have a lot of stuff to carry, since the kids aren’t carrying much of their own stuff just yet.
Why It Doesn’t Matter: In the last year we managed to downsize our bags to the point that we can easily carry them ourselves without any help. We may have more belongings than solo adventurers, but it’s a small fraction of a typical stationary family.
3. What Do You Mean We Have To Think About School?
Luckily we left when our kids were 2 and 3-years-old so school was never a factor.
Fast forward 3 years later and our kids are now 5 and 6 and we have to start thinking about what sort of education to give them.
Stop travelling and put them in school? Home school? Unschool? World school? There are so many different options, but of course this is something you never need to consider when travelling solo.
Why It Doesn’t Matter: One thing we’ve realised in our travels is how much our children learn. Everyday offers a new discovery and in our effort to educate our children through our daily experiences we are learning more ourselves.
4. 24/7 Never Alone
A challenge even for the most pleasant of us. Josh and I use to work together before we started full-time travel, however it was only 3 days per week. And on those 3 days my children were in daycare.
Now that we travel together we are with each other every single day. A blessing I will always cherish, but at times the lack of space can be frustrating. Like when you’re in the shower, or going to the bathroom or trying to sleep :)
Why It Doesn’t Matter: Our kids are living under our roof for a relatively short time and we are eager to milk every moment of every day. We will never have these moments again and we are such a close family because of that.
5. Mum? Mum? Mum!
On the plane I am writing this article, and it took much longer than planned because my daughter was hungry and my son was thirsty. Inline with being surrounded by little people 24/7 comes the regular demands of a dependent always wanting/needing something.
Having children is a true selfishness-killer. That flight from London to Sri Lanka with no kids was heaven. I had a whole row to myself to stretch out and sleep. I could watch movies uninterrupted, get up when I wanted and eat my meal while it was still hot.
Why It Doesn’t Matter: I love being a mum. I love being needed and loved by someone so small. And let’s face it, the flight went much longer when I was alone verses all the things I needed to do with the family on board.
6. There Are Things You Just Can’t Do
When travelling with kids there are certain destinations I don’t feel comfortable travelling to that I may have been happy to visit as a solo, carefree individual.
The first time I visited the Grand Canyon it was just Josh and I and it was the most amazing experience. The second time we took our 2 and 3-year-old and I thought I would die of a heart attack. I was so scared my children were going to fall over the edge.
I have become much more cautious about where to visit and even which activities to do since travelling as a family. I’m no longer risking just my life when I hang my legs over a beautiful yet precarious chasm, but the mother and wife of my family.
Similarly there are many activities that don’t allow children. When they were much younger I had to ride roller coasters alone, while Josh stayed on the ground with the kids. As they get older this is becoming less of a challenge, and I might even have a thrill-seeker daughter happy to join me now.
Why It Doesn’t Matter: For every one thing you can’t do there are dozens that you can. When Josh and I visited Disneyland as a couple I thought it was ok. When we took the kids the whole park became so much more magical. Plus we have the perfect excuse to see every animated film released at the cinema.
7. A Night Out On The Town
On a recent visit to Rome with my sister we waked around the streets all night. We helped two guys out with a photo in front of the Colosseum who then invited us to dinner. We ate late, had some drinks and wandered home in the early hours.
As a family this is just not something we can do. With our nomadic lifestyle we try to provide our kids with as much routine as we can, which usually means a set bed time. It’s not often we take the kids out at night. They get tired, grumpy and also make the next day pretty miserable too.
That means we often miss out on the nightlife of an area or even just the electric atmosphere of sundown in a bustling city.
Why It Doesn’t Matter: We spend our days with energetic, free-range kids. We love staying in at night and catching our breath too, reflecting on the day’s events and getting some work done.
8. Heading Out The Door Is A Mission
During my recent solo trip to Sri Lanka I had many events and tours to attend. One morning I got up, dressed and looked around. I glanced at the clock, sighed heavily and sat down on the bed. I was ready too early. There was no one else to dress and shower, no one to feed breakfast or ask to pick up their toys and brush their teeth. Just me.
Heading out the front door with kids can be a mission. You most likely have seen that comedian (see below) describing the joy of a single person leaving the house verses a family. It’s a mission.
Why It Doesn’t Matter: At 5 and 6-years-old we are use to it now and know how long it takes to get ready. And the good news is it’s getting better as they get older and manage to dress themselves. Plus we travel regularly for a living so time is on our side. We don’t have to commute to work, pick up the kids from school, etc. Most of our day is set to the tempo we create ourselves.
9. Eating Out Means Finding A Playground or Fast Food
Imagine sitting at your favourite café, sipping a coffee, people watching and enjoying the streaming sun coming down. Then you hear a whine about how boring it is and can we go home yet.
How Josh and I use to love eating at restaurants and enjoying fine dining. Don’t get me wrong, with kids we still do, but our life is so much easier if the restaurant has a playground or colouring pencils.
I took Josh out to a romantic 5-course meal at Eureka 89 in Melbourne. We sat and chatted across several hours before taking a quiet walk around the observation deck watching the sparkling city lights. With kids? Impossible.
Why It Doesn’t Matter: I love eating with my kids. I love watching them try new food or giggle at one of their dad’s lame jokes. As much as they sometimes make meals miserable, they also make them fun.
There they are. My 9 challenges I face as a nomadic family traveller and why, in the bigger picture, they don’t even matter. Challenges are all about perspective. Keeping my eyes on the long view makes short-term hurdles easier to overcome. And every day with my kids is a blessing.
What are some of the challenges you have found travelling with kids verses when you did it solo or as a couple? Or do you identify with each of these?
Reader Comments..."I respond to every comment by direct private email. I look forward to your feedback" - Josh Bender
So true! There are a lot of challenges with travel and younger kids in particular, but the memories are all worth it. All the hard times are worth it. My 3.5 yr old sells strangers in Sydney about how she used to live in New York and where else she's been and they are speechless. :) Raising a world traveller is amazing.
I completely understand! We tried to travel around the world with 4 kids and honestly hated it so much we came home early.
I love traveling with kids. I am going to travel solo this summer and it will be different.
I love your perspective and your zest for life. I agree that there are many challenges to traveling with family....gosh, just having kids adds challenges to life no matter what style you have. Its 'success' is all in our perspective and mind set. We are slow long-term travelers with 7dc (of 9) and just did a border-run with only 3 of them....seemed so much easier and way cheaper than having all of them with us, but then I missed the ones who were with us. I'm constantly learning to embrace what I have, not always looking for it to be something else.
Great article - so many people see only the downsides of traveling with kids and bemoan all the things you can't do rather than embracing the positives and other different enjoyment you can get out of it. Although we do tend to book babysitters so we can still go out at night :)
I love this so much! While haven't done long term travel, we do still travel os for holidays. We have 4 under 12 and people think we're crazy! Yes the cost is so much more, things take longer to get done, we have much more luggage, when we see a great price we automatically multiply it by 6, but it doesn't matter! It's ok! I would never complain about any of it because we choose to travel with our children!
Great to read this one, as I'm about to head overseas for the first time with my partner and four-year-old. I can relate to so much of this, although not with two kids! You guys are troopers! I must say I'm a tad worried about the packing thing, as I can already see us taking way too much.
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