Traveling kids have a big advantage over their “stay at home” peers, in my opinion. The world is an amazing place but especially so for young children as everything they see is fresh and exciting, filled with wonder.
Traveling with them adds a whole new level of joy and energy to any trip as you feed off their enthusiasm. As I have just discovered, it comes at a long term cost to parents, but more on that later.
Little travelers have a big impact
I remember back about 15 years or so when Pauline and I took Dana on her first real adventure, we were flying to Tasmania to visit her Grandma and that not only meant she would travel to a new and exotic (for her) destination, but she would also be taking her first flight.
The excitement built as we arrived at the airport and she realised the plane outside the window was waiting for her. Even the queue to board could not dampen her enthusiasm, and I remember her massive smile when she was finally onboard and looking out the window. We hadn’t even taken off but she was hooked and this would set the platform for the amazing life she is now planning and living.
We had been to Tassie before Dana was born and it is one of the world’s great Wilderness locations, an absolute must for nature lovers, but traveling with a wide eyed little traveler on her first big adventure made the experience so much more.
It is hard to describe the difference to those who have not traveled with young children as they often focus on the screaming and crying, annoying excitement and impatience they witness in other people’s kids. Just as you can try to tell people without kids that parenthood will change their lives, the same applies for traveling with them. The experience is not only different, but better somehow.
Maybe it’s because you get drawn in to their view of the world and don’t have to be a grown up for a little while, or maybe just being around such innocent and unbridled excitement is too infectious to not be drawn in and swept away.
Little travelers seem more mature
Dana is an only child and while some would suggest she is spoiled because she gets most things she wants, but I disagree. While we are fortunate to be in a position where we can afford the things we want or need, I see Dana as respectful and appreciative of everything she has.
When I see others around her in a similar situation but demanding the latest and greatest from their parents and throwing tanties when they are denied, with the parents usually giving in to keep the peace, I feel happy that we have raised Dana to want but not demand, to work for her rewards, and to make the most of the things she has.
I also put her attitude not so much down to the parenting we have done but mainly to the experiences she has had during her travels. Once your child plays with village kids in Fiji who have nothing but some rags tied together to make a football, but still sport huge smiles and fill the air with laughter, they tend to appreciate the luxuries they have.
We do have homeless people in Australia which is always sad no matter where you are, but after witnessing beggars on the streets in Asia with mothers and children asking for anything you can spare and having your own child offer them something, you know it has altered their view of want and need.
Without a doubt I am sure Dana is a better person than she would be if we had never traveled. Not only has she developed an unquenchable desire to experience the world, she has also made friends from many different backgrounds from all around the world. She is willing to try new foods and always wants to learn about cultural differences.
Tween travelers are a different animal
By the time out Little Traveler had become a Tween Traveler she had half a dozen or so countries under her belt and was beginning to develop her own traveling wants and needs. This put additional pressure on me as the tour planner and chief guide in that it was no longer enough to add a few child friendly activities to our vacation but now had to work out how to accommodate the wants and needs of a third person.
It took a few trips to iron out the planning bugs but we eventually came up with the “must do” method. This is where we sit down as a family during the planning stage and everyone brings their own research and we each put forward our two or three “must do” activities.
These can be things like a museum, shop, place to eat or a type of food to find, historical place or even a person to visit. I then take the new list and work out how they best fit the itinerary. We have to do everything on the list during the trip.
In the photo you see my choice of sitting in the famous Kop watching a Liverpool football game, Pauline had to stay in a real castle (that’s her and Dana on the roof waving), and Dana decided we should visit the Haribo sweet factory in France.
What is the point of doing this? It is a fair and fun way of still getting to see the adult things while keeping your young traveler invested in the trip. If they start to play up a little one day then a quick reminder that this is mum’s day and we are all going to their special thing tomorrow is usually enough to get things back on track. It worked for us.
Teen Travelers cause mixed emotions
While Miss Tween was finding her feet in the world and was still usually happy to go with the flow, Miss Teen was now an International Traveler with over a dozen countries stamped in to her passport. She now knew what she liked and, luckily for Pauline and I, those things were very similar to what we liked.
The “must do” method had evolved in to a fully fledged consultation process mainly involving Dana and me, with Pauline the one who was happy going anywhere as long as it was away from work! Dana now had friends around the world she was regularly in touch with and was developing a plan for adulthood.
We hosted exchange students from Japan, USA and France and Dana was hosted in the USA and also stayed with her French “sister”, all of which increased her love of travel. We were starting to see a future where she would travel without us and that created mixed emotions.
Great pride in knowing we had raised a daughter who could see beyond the peer pressure of immediate further study after High School, who wanted to grow as a person and not just follow the crowd, and who was enthusiastic in searching for ways to live a life beyond the confines of our home town.
At the same time we felt some trepidation about a young girl heading off on adventures alone and also sadness that this precious gift we had been given was now about to be taken away from us, for a short time at least. We also wondered about what it would be like traveling as a couple again.
Teen Travelers going it alone
When Dana graduated from High School at the end of 2015 she was ready to test the waters, as they say, and have her first try at solo travel. She was joining others on an Unleashed Travel trip in Europe but would have to get to London from Sydney alone and then meet her fellow travelers for the first time and hopefully make some friends.
Even though she would be half way around the world it was a trip that not only gave her a great experience and a taste of true independence but also eased the pain for Pauline and me in that we would also be in Europe for the last part of her trip and we would meet up over there for Christmas and New Year.
It was only a couple of weeks without her. Famous last words!
OMG she can fly alone!
Other than a few moments of homesickness and late night Facebook messaging sessions she passed the challenge with flying colours. We had let her jump out of the nest and she had successfully flown on her first attempt. Then it hit… what had we done?
We soon understood we had created a monster. A traveler with single minded desire to do whatever it would take to experience as much of the world as possible. We had created the person I wished that I had the chance to be when I was younger.
She was now talking about working as a counselor at Camp USA, or getting her two year Canada working visa and doing some ski resort work, of the possibility of getting the five year UK work visa and working her way around in pubs and restaurants with side trips to the continent.
She was serious and I had realised too late that the dreams of a little girl were now the plans of a young woman. And she would be spending more time away from us than with us, for the next few years at least.
Where had my wide eyed wanderer gone? She was just an excited little kid finding adventure anywhere we went. Then I blinked and there was a confident, smart and resourceful young women standing where by Little Traveler had once been. She had grown up much to quickly for my liking.
Youth Travelers can’t be stopped!
Dana is currently on an 11 week trip visiting many of her friends in the USA and taking an eight day tour of Costa Rica. She worked a couple of casual jobs during High School and saved as much as possible. When she came to me for help in putting this trip together she asked how long could she go for, my answer was simple… how much money do you have?
We have paid for none of this trip (but of course we would if anything urgent came up) which makes me incredibly proud of her and also makes me positive that she has the focus and drive to succeed with her life plan.
Finding work where she could and saving was never going to be enough for her. She is getting a great reputation in the blogging world as the Wandering Donut and has already done promotional work online for Unleashed Travel and Beats Travel. I have no doubt that sponsors will be approaching her with more promotional opportunities.
If you have any Little Travelers, Tween Travelers or Teen Travelers, are a solo female traveler or the parent of someone in these groups I recommend her blog to you. She has some great articles covering many topics relating to all of them. (And she is a much better writer than I am).
A parent’s final word
Will I miss my girl now that she has started on this new stage of her life? Damn straight I will. But I would never want to hold her back for my own selfish reasons.
So many emotions go through my head when I think about it. Pride, sadness, envy, excitement, worry, and so much more. What I do have to take out of it is that we have raised an amazing young woman who will define her own path and not let the negative Nellies hold her back.
I’m not ashamed to say I have shed a tear or two writing this, it also hasn’t helped that Dana is only one week into her eleven week trip and months away from our next meeting. But I wouldn’t try to change anything. We have so many amazing memories and now Pauline and I get to travel and also live through Dana’s new adventures as well.
Surely that’s a good thing!
Michael Zullo says
Good article, Dean. We forwarded it to all of our friends who travel with their kids so they can also enjoy reading your article.
DEAN WILLIAMSON says
Thank you Michael. I really appreciate that. My girl has been away for 2 months now and her mum and I miss her a lot. But I also feel great pride that she has shown the maturity and respect toward others (and money) that has enabled her to take this huge leap alone.
What a wonderful article. I wondered about that as I watched Rick Steve’s (the travel guide book guy) son grow up and start venturing out as a young adult. This is a great perspective.
My little travelers are just 10 and 12 now but have lots and lots of experience traveling and more to come. I blog about traveling with the kids and making it educational. I will be try to be strong when they start packing their suitcases for solo trips!