One BIG Reason To Travel With Kids

Boys in a traditional fishing boat in Vietnam

Back in 2001 my wife bought me a new camera. It was just after we were married and shortly before we were about to depart on a RTW trip. It was a good camera — a far better camera than I’d had before. It wasn’t high end but it looked and functioned like a serious camera.

I was really stoked to take lots of pictures, find great shots and come home with a library of great photos to show friends and family. To brag, to boast, and just generally leave people in a sense of awe for my photographic vision.

And I did all that. And that was fine. But what really surprised me was how much having the camera, and looking for shots, and peering around this corner, and that corner, and taking a 2nd look, and a 3rd look, and just always making a little more effort to discover things —how much more that allowed me to see. How much more it demanded I see.

Always hunting for a shot, stuff would pop out at me — street signs and stray dogs; men eating lunch and maids doing laundry; boats, bicycles, and bar signs. Stuff that I never would have taken note of — was suddenly right there in front of my eyes. Flashing. And pulsing. And insisting that I look, that I take note, and ultimately, that I remember.

And now — jumping ahead 9 years — it’s a similar feeling traveling with my children. Perhaps daily life with children, regardless of where you are, brings out a new or different level of detail. But especially on the road. They make you look, really look.

On our first trip with both children we went to Bali, a popular island in Indonesia. I wanted a destination a little more off the beaten track. My wife wanted a place where we could still buy diapers and visit a functioning emergency room if we needed. So Bali was a bit of a compromise. I was excited for the trip, without a doubt, but there was still a little voice in the back of my head saying, “Bali? No serious traveler goes to BALI!”

But what really blew me away, was how being there with a 3 1/2 year old, completely opened my eyes to things that would have sailed right by on my own. To him, there was so much that was different, so much that my jaded eyes scanned over, barely acknowledged, then dismissed.

The clothes. The cars. The gas stations. The way the women held their babies and the men held their cigarettes. He just picked up on everything. My mind wanted to recognize and catalog all that was similar. To take information and form a pattern. And his was alive to every little detail that didn’t agree with what he’d seen in his 42 months on earth.

And that’s why traveling with children is so special for the parents. They — the young, the naive, the unworldly — look at something that adults have encountered time and again, and they strip away everything we take for granted. They see what’s new, what’s unusual, what’s unique, what has some feature worthy of a story.

And I think that’s their contribution. We pay for the tickets, book the hotels, and carry the bags. And they stand on the side of the road and say, “Hey Papa! — They’re playing soccer with a coconut.”

19 questions and comments

  1. Matt

    Hi David – really interesting blog.

    I have a 3 year old who we have taken to Australia, Spain & Portugal. We are looking for a trip thats a bit off the beaten track with a 3 year old in tow. I was thinking about Goa, Sri-Lanka or Cuba.. Could you given me any tips?

    Reply
  2. David Post author

    Hi Matt. My first thought would be when are you going? All these destinations are at their best from December to March or April, but Goa really shuts down in the summer months while the other two still have a fair bit to offer even in the off-season.

    Next, I would say have a look at the CDC travel site, cdc.gov/travel, to look into vaccinations and malarial zones as this often plays a big role for parents. All 3 appear to be in that gray zone where anti-malarials are half-recommended and half-not.

    Then, you might want to play around with dates and destinations at kayak.com and see what you can find for flights and costs. This always plays a big role in where I end up going.

    I hope that gets you started. Let me know how it goes. Good luck.

    Reply
  3. Victoria

    We are planning a nine month RTW trip with our children, leaving November this year. They’ll be aged 8, 6, 4. I so agree with you, this is one of my big reasons for travelling with them and I can’t wait to see what they make of the world. Good to see a family having fun while they travel, lots of inspiration on your blog!

    Reply
  4. Laura

    Your website is fantastic! We are fellow Seattle-ites, packing up our house and moving with our 2 year old to Bali. Your posts on Asia have really gotten me excited for the move…keep them coming!

    Reply
  5. Elisa

    I’m traveling with my almost two year old from Croatia to Iowa next month. I remembered a previous post of yours where you said, “don’t get stressed out about the traveling”, I trying to stay positive, thinking ahead of time, games to take, snacks, in anticipation of a temper tantrum. Any other suggestions?

    Saludos,
    A Mexican mommy living in Europe

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hey Elisa. I’m big on taking it easy, making it special, but at the same time not just taking the easy way out. I think it’s a lot about your state of mind, knowing (reminding yourself) that this is going to end and making it special. Or as special as a plane ride can be. Your kids will be grown up one day and you’ll look back on these trips – even the plane ride – and hope that it was fun, that you made it memorable. Admittedly a two year old isn’t going to pick up on a lot of what’s going on, but you’re setting the tone for all future flights. Make it fun, special, exciting.

      My oldest son probably spent about 50 or 60 hours on a plane before he realized that he could watch movies. I’d just never really show him or feign confusion at how to make a selection or say to him, I guess it’s not working buddy – Hey what do you think the attendants are doing up there? or how high in the air do you think we are? or say something that brought him back to the moment we were in as opposed to “just trying to get through it.”

      I hope that helps a little.

      David

      Reply
      1. Elisa

        Thanks David, I like what you said, “to set the tone for all future flights” because I do anticipate many overseas flights (with grandparents living oceans apart)..

        Reply
  6. Denise Collins

    Hi David,

    great work! It’s always seemed very normal to me that we would aspire to keep up our itchy feet habit with our kids but last year we went on a trip with our 3 kids (then aged 9, 6 and 3) to South Africa, London, Paris, a week in a villa in the south of Spain, New York, Washington and then a fabulous last blast in Disneyland on our way through Los Angeles. Apart from South Africa, we weren’t going anywhere that I would call particularly challenging and certainly not off the beaten track – and yet the vast number of people i spoke to about the trip were astonished that I would even consider it with kids, let alone three of them! More came out of the woodwork after our return and said how they didn’t want to say anything before but were convinced it would be a disaster! Au contraire – apart from Paris (which we now fondly remember as the city of “time outs in famous places” ) the kids were fantastic and made me very proud.

    After much thought I have concluded this: people’s thinking about travel after kids often doesn’t change very much. The people that are nervous travellers with kids were the cautious travellers (if at all) before kids. They just have a really good ‘excuse’ now. For those people who want to go travelling with their kids, its important that they know that wanting to travel is not irresponsible or crazy (as some people would have you believe) – it’s a very reasonable thing to do (well, more than reasonable in my view), it’s living life and its raising your child to think a little bit more about the world than just what happens in their own backyards :) Thanks for a fantastic site.
    Cheers – Denise.

    Reply
  7. David Post author

    Denise, I have printed your comment off and am taking it to a local shop to have it framed and mounted, thanks.

    Reply
  8. Lorraine

    We have just booked for Bali with our 5 and 2 year old (they will be amlost 3 and 6 by July) and are excited. We have been to many places with them (Vietnam, India twice, Syria, Lebanon and many other places), but now would like something easy and I think will find that in Bali. I loved your Bali fish market story.

    I agree with you that travelling is so different with kids. It is more challenging in a way, but so much more rewarding.

    Reply
  9. Donna NZ

    Love the blog. We have always travelled and having kids did not stop us. We took our 6 month old to Italy and backpacked around for 5 weeks. We also did a few trips to Australia which is so different with children, you do things you would not normally do and notice many new things. It makes you go lower.

    Then with 2 children we travelled to Abu Dhabi to live for 6 months and then travelled through Austria, Slovenia and Croatia with a 2 year old and a 4 year old. Sounds like hard work, which it was at times, but so rewarding, better than staying home wishing you could still travel! The experiences we have had as a family make it so worth the effort. It is not too hard, just different and you just have to get your head round that and you will be fine!
    So many people thought we were ‘brave’ but for us it is just normal! Just do it…. if you want it bad enough you can make it happen. Off to Australia again this year then hope to head back to Europe to tackle Germany.

    Reply
    1. Alicia

      Where is home for you? What did you do in Australia with the kids? How long did u go for? We only have 12 days. Do u thk it is enough time. We live in New York

      Reply
  10. Jody

    HI just wanted to say how glad I am to have found your blog – I love it! We won a trip to KL Malaysia – and thought “Let’s go to Vietnam while we’re over there!”. First time for my husband and I to travel to anywhere ‘exotic’ and first time with the kids, nearly 5 and 7. Your blog has reassured me that it is possible, that all the organizing and stress is going to be worth it – and I’ve found your tips really helpful. So thanks for a great blog ;-)

    Reply
  11. Angela

    Reading your site totally helps me deal with my irrational fears that if I have kids I will stop being the adventurous globe-trotting nomad I have always been. Keep it up, us nervous would be parents out there need to see things like this among a sea of articles admonishing us how life will be metaphorically over once we reproduce.

    Reply
  12. Laura

    Hi David,

    We live in China with our soon to be 10 year old twins. We moved from Canada last Fall, and plan to be in Asia for several more years. We’ve experienced 2 weeks in Thailand, and are heading off for a 27 day summer adventure in Vietnam, to celebrate their ‘double digit’ birthday! Living abroad, travelling around with my children… it’s the best education I could have hoped for. I visit your site often, when they are stressing me out, to remind me to look for the joy and excitement through their eyes!

    Thank you.
    Laura

    Reply

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