Away We Go! (and the kids come too)
Kendrick was 14 months when he left the U.S. Tigger was nine.
Rose and Anthony took their sons, Emile and Filou, out of school in Canada when they were 10 and 8 respectively. Lisa and her husband moved to Indonesia from France when their daughters were two and four.
They are all part of the ever-growing number of families who pick up, pack up and move across the world…with their kids.
Not an easy task, one might imagine. But every one of them says the same thing: Do it.
“Life is an accumulation of memories,” said Rose Swagemakers who travelled with her family for a year until settling in Bangkok. “As a family we created many memories that will forever be some of the key highlight moments of our lives.
“Being on the road with the boys meant having the time, space and energy to be really there for them when they want to talk about things. Such as standing still to observe a bug on the street for half an hour (whoever does that during our normal/rat race existence anymore?), or observing them try a yoga class, or getting super excited about helping out at an Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand, climbing the Eiffel Tower or making small kids laugh (and making a roof for their house) in a rural village in Cambodia. They now have such knowledge, confidence and joy about what they experienced and it is all setting them up for a life with more gratitude, knowledge and compassion/understanding.”
For Noel Lindquist, travelling with Kendrick meant taking a chance and moving from the U.S., first to the Dominican Republic then to Morocco with her infant son. Having lived abroad intermittently for the past 22 years, Noel was no stranger to new experiences – but this was the first time she’d been responsible for anyone except herself.
“I didn’t know if it was going to work or how he would adjust or if I could handle it, but I knew I had to find out,” she said. “I had a window of opportunity and I took it. And I thought, ‘Why not now? He’s young. He’s mobile. He flies free and he’s not in school.’
“So I took a chance and thankfully I did because he’s amazingly adventurous, fearless, and open to everything and everyone. He’s taken to this lifestyle quite naturally and seems to love it as much as I do and it’s been instrumental in forming him as a little person. What I didn’t anticipate is that traveling with a child opens doors to you that weren’t there before. I had no idea that people would be so friendly, helpful, loving and kind.”
Talon Windwalker and his adopted son, Tigger, have been a travel team since 2011 and have already visited 38 countries together.
“It changed my pace quite a bit,” said Talon. “I had to slow down my normal rate of movement, and I had to build time in to relax. This was actually good because it meant I took more time to discover things and to see an area more deeply. It is also interesting seeing a place, its people and culture through the eyes of a child.
“My greatest joys have been watching my son grow and mature, hearing his viewpoint on matters, and seeing him come into his own. I was able to assist on his open water scuba course, he was with me when I did my 100th dive and I watched as he worked with the handyman at our house-sit on an oasis in Morocco while he learned how to make mud bricks. In Cuba, we were invited into a woman’s home because she couldn’t bear to watch him sitting on the curb trying to eat the breakfast we had just bought.
“We’ve literally had doors open that wouldn’t have otherwise because I was traveling with a child.”
Canadian native, Lisa Stadnyk-Webb had her both her children while living with her husband in France and earlier this year, the couple discovered they were moving to Indonesia.
“Living in these locations has given our family the geographical opportunity to explore far more of the world than we ever could had we chosen to live in Canada,” said Lisa.
“Our kids are extremely well travelled but they’ve never known a Canadian winter. They can pick out landmarks like Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, Giant Buddah, and Merlion in Singapore, but they have to get to know their extended family via Skype between our summer visits. They are culturally aware of global customs and traditions far beyond their years, but they’ve never experienced the North American Halloween that my husband and I loved so much as kids. They’re familiar with culinary tastes from around the globe, but I want them to be able to have Sunday dinner at my parent’s house more than just on summer holidays.”
All four families agree travel has enriched their lives and broadened the horizons of their children.
“Kendrick is seeing other cultures, hearing other languages, learning different ways of living, and having experiences we wouldn’t have otherwise,” said Noel. “He’s 23 months old and has more than five stamps in his passport. He’s been in planes, trains, boats, taxis and cars and all of this movement is invoking a certain flexibility and adaptability in him, which I think kids have naturally anyway.
“If you raise your child to be fearful of the world, then you will have a fearful child. If you raise your child to embrace the world, then you will have a child who says yes to the world.”
“Tigger is incredibly adaptable,” said Talon. “We arrive in a new place, and he’s instantly making himself at home. He doesn’t see himself as American but as being part of a larger global community. He’s seen that despite all of our differences, we all have a lot in common and that for the most part people are kind.”
“You can drop Emile who is ten in a subway station in Japan or Paris, and he will find his way,” said Rose. “Both boys have benefitted in socialization, and they learn through experiences, not books.
“On a regular basis, they recall a visit, an experience or something they learned. They know more about overcoming fears, seeing how other people live and work, and have learned about culture/history/religion (we visited 12 Unesco World Heritage Sites), to adaptability (sleeping in a different bed every three nights), to eating food from the world (they eat anything), to gaining confidence and learning about world issues from anything such as water scarcity to animal abuse issues. The list is limitless.”
While most of the experiences are positive, travelling with kids also has its challenges.
“One of the areas Tigger does maybe miss out on is developing local friendships,” said Talon. “However, he does make friends and because of technology they can remain in contact, play online games together, etc. Since his generation is used to these types of digital relationships, it’s just normal for him…
“Some of the hardest moments have been leaving favorite areas and local friends. Even though you can stay connected, it isn’t the same (for me) as sitting down and having coffee in person”.
The challenges here are the same they would be anywhere,” said Noel. “”As a mum, you worry about them running into traffic or having some sort of medical emergency. Of course I have additional layers that domestic mums might not have. Living in North Africa, I’m more mindful about him eating street food, getting into bad water and petting street animals. In certain circumstances, I’m more vigilant about him than I would be in the US. When it comes to traffic, I’m all eyes and ears because cars do not yield to pedestrians here and they drive quite fast.
“There are tough days with a toddler no matter where you live. Days when he’s fussy, tired or teething and I’m exhausted from lack of sleep and have to calm him, navigate a city I don’t know that well and try to communicate my needs in Spanish hoping someone around me understands. Add a teething toddler to the mix and it can be really frustrating.”
According to Noel, there are several things worth keeping in mind when travelling with kids. Her first is “Buy the ticket, take the ride! The sooner, the better, but be prepared and be smart.” These are the others.
• Research your destination in terms of family-friendliness prior to getting there. Join any Facebook groups that are family or parenting related so you can start building a network and learn from others who are already there especially if you are moving abroad.
• Invest in a kick ass travel stroller. I swear by my UPPAbaby which has been a hammock on the beach, a shopping cart at stores and markets, a crib in a pinch, a stroller, and a chill out area when my son has needed a break.
• Less is more. In the west we have a glut of items for children, most of which are unnecessary. Bring a few items of quality clothing, good shoes, a few toys (which also included the best fort building kit), medicines and vitamins, and a few books in your native language. Everything else you can buy where you are going and if you are traveling outside the US, EU or Australia, it will most likely be cheaper.
• Have your child’s medical needs met before you leave (i.e., vaccinations if you are vaccinating, be caught up on appointments with your pediatrician when you go to site, etc.). Pack a child-friendly first aid kit that includes bandaids, antibiotic ointment, antiseptic, hydrocortisone, scissors, nail clippers, a NoseFrida, a digital or oral thermometer, paracetamol, antidiarrheal, etc. If you are traveling to Africa, India or Asia, pack some probiotics in powder form for your child whose stomach is not as strong or accustom to microbes as yours is. When it comes to baby’s health, be preventative and proactive in approach.
• Beware of the naysayers. There are many out there, many of whom might be in your own family or circle of friends. They think you are crazy to attempt taking your child(ren) abroad, are generally fearful about what can happen “out there”, and will try to talk you out of it. Stick to your guns and go anyway. What you are about to embark on is an experience of a lifetime.
• If you are going for an extended period of time or moving abroad, make sure your loved ones back home are set up on Skype, Viber, WhatsApp or FaceTime so you can communicate while you are away. It’s important to stay connected to your loved ones and live video chat is the way to go.
• If you go when your child is under the age of one and you are moving abroad, do not forget to take your baby book and document the milestones as you go. You will want to remember what happened where.
• Document your journey! Photos, videos, a travel blog, a book, whatever works for you. No matter the age of your child(ren), you are making memories you will have for life. Preserve them.
• Last, but certainly not least, make sure your will and end-of-life documents are in order before you go in case something awful should happen. Scan copies of these documents along with copies of your passports, visas, ID cards, et al. and email them to yourself or save them on your computer so you always have access to them. This is essential in all cases and even more so if you are moving abroad.