The tight little traveling unit that is Theodora Sutcliffe and her son Z has been roaming the planet for the better part of the 2 and a half years, seeing sights and generally enriching both their lives as they go. Since their departure back in 2010 Theodora has taken this unique opportunity to contemplate parenthood while still realizing her dreams of travel, giving her her readers lessons she’s learned about her son, international travel, even elephants that can paint, collected into a highly entertaining and informative “family” travel blog.
Over the course of this time period, said blog, Travels With a Nine Year Old, has amassed a generous supply of family travel how-tos that you should read if you’re trying to muster the courage to take your own child(ren) with you on a trip around the world.
The best way to see how possible this task actually is to undertake, if in fact you had doubts, is to look at the fact that Theodora and Z are still doing it.
I got a chance to ask Theodora a few questions recently about how she feels about her little traveling unit and the family travel experience in general:
How has your style of travel changed since you’ve been doing it with a young boy?
I’ve travelled with Z since he was a baby, so it’s hard to think back to the Time Before Kids. I’d say as a parent one takes fewer risks, and you have to travel slower, and be more cautious about, for example, climatic extremes: I went through the Sahara on the back of a lorry when I was young, and I’m not sure he’d appreciate that. Although we did ride a motorbike across Indonesia, plus he’s trekked for eight or nine days to meet hunter-gathering nomads, so he’s really fairly hardy.
We spend more time in museums, especially science museums, than I would as a free agent, and we both tend to look out adventure things like quadbiking, zipwiring, xorbing that I probably wouldn’t if I didn’t have a child in tow. But that all adds to the experience.
What’s been the most difficult part about traveling with your son?
Z’s an easygoing, adaptable character and always has been, so I don’t find travel with him difficult. The hardest part for me is balancing work, which I do from the road, Z’s education, which we also do on the road, and travel and travel planning itself. We do indie travel, quite often off the beaten track, so there’s a real juggling match involved.
What’s been the best part of it?
The quality time with my son, without a doubt, and watching him experience the world, grow in confidence, understanding and knowledge, and find his independence.
What’s one amazing moment you can remember that may not have happened had your boy not been there?
Gosh! There are so many moments. Making snowmen in Tibet? Holding dinosaur bones in Laos? Watching him play with a new friend on a remote Indonesian island? Watching him learn to use a machete from experts? Climbing inside 4600-year-old pyramids in Egypt? Diving an undersea volcano with him was pretty special too, but his first trip underwater was just incredible: we played underwater Frisbee.
The same week I received Theodora’s answers I also received an email from Neil from the travel blog Wandering Minds who, along with his wife Ashley and their 11-month-old boy Max, also regularly takes traveling hiatuses.
He handily delivered some of the most sensible advice about traveling with an infant I’ve received since starting the Take Your Kids Traveling series. It is as follows:
You may be taking your child away from their recognizable surroundings at a time when they crave familiarity and reassurance, but don’t fret about this because you can provide them with both. Plus travel provides a unique opportunity to encourage adaptability – what a great trait for them to develop! Just make sure you’ve equipped yourself with a few recognizable items from home: a favorite book, a well-loved toy or three and perhaps some photographs of family members.
As soon as you get in the room, forget unpacking and instead check the wardrobe for spare blankets or whip the duvet off your bed and use it to make a play space for them on the floor. Lay out all their familiar items and perhaps an item of clothing which smells of you and then get down and play alongside them! Show your child that you are relaxed in your new space and that it is a fun place to be.
We also found it helpful to use a few association techniques, pairing some of the items with particular actions. For example, we have a soft toy that only comes out at night. When this nocturnal plushie makes an appearance it signals to Max that not only is it time for bed, but the area in which ‘Bedtime Bear’ appears is his sleeping area too. This seems to work pretty well.
The advice is appreciated, Neil. Best of luck to you an all the traveling parents out there.
If you’re reading this and you have a family, why not take the plunge and start a TripPlanner session. See how much a big trip will be, grab life by the minivan keys and make it happen for you and your family!