A couple of weeks ago Raffles asked, “Mama, do you know what my favourite thing in the world is?” I naturally assumed that the answer involved a guitar playing Ninja Turtle with a super-sized serve of dumplings.
But I was wrong. If I’d only phoned a friend I would have discovered the answer was, and I quote, “Travelling to new places and seeing how other people live!”
After much fist pumping, “hell-yeahing” and egotistical parental self-congratulation, this perfect moment of random Rafflesness underlined for me just how awesome all our travel has been, and is, for my kids.
I’ve mentioned before how, as the editor of a magazine dedicated to travelling with kids, I’m often (and somewhat inappropriately, given said job) asked why on earth would I want to travel with young children… According to the naysayers, most of whom have never tried it, travel with young kids is expensive, challenging and as my kids are not likely to remember it, completely pointless.
Besides the fact that I am a great believer in living in the moment – and travel moments are more often than not full of crazy fun, adventure and quality family time that makes my kids, my husband and myself stupidly happy – there’s so much to be said for what a gift exposing young children to other places, faces and things is.
The world is larger than our own backyard. I see it as my children’s classroom and the people we meet on our travels their teachers.
It can’t be denied that travel broadens the mind and when that mind is as spongy and absorbent as that of a kid it offers an unbeatable opportunity for us, as parents, to stuff it full of colour, culture and a world full of ideas and ideals. And while children as young as mine may not remember the details of each experience with photographic clarity, everything that they’re exposed to is being filed away in their growing brains and teaching them valuable life lessons.
At five-years of age, Raffles is an enthusiastic traveller who, though dizzyingly manic at home, constantly surprises with his calmness and co-operation on the longest haul flight and even during those endlessly dull waits in airport transit lounges. He knows that waiting at the other side is either a new adventure or home and travel has taught him patience. Little Sugarpuff, with thirteen countries under her teeny tiny belt, is following in her big brothers itchy footsteps in the eager traveller arena but admittedly, at just two, patience and co-operation (or anything resembling them) for her are lessons still to be learned. Soon, one hopes.
The way we travel has certainly had to change since becoming parents which has proved somewhat of an education for us too. Along the way Mr Eats World and I have learned that travelling en famille means the days of chucking a handful of essentials into a backpack and hitting the road have been replaced with stealth-like planning and packing skills that defy physics because children need so much STUFF! And yep, it costs more. And no, we’re not loaded. We just sacrifice certain material things in our everyday life to afford the adventures. In turn, this has taught our children valuable lessons in need versus want and they’re becoming less materialistic little folk because of it. Which is kind of handy… given that we live in a shoe box. A really small shoe box.
We’ve also learned that travelling with our kids means compromises need to be made because, let’s face it, boutique hotels, endless museums and art galleries are not the way to a small child’s heart, and endless whining isn’t the way to ours. Occasionally something on someone’s wish list has to give (usually mine) and we may have to sacrifice a visit to a gallery or a cool bar for a play on some swings or yet another round of ice-cream. But you know, we’ve found that usually other unexpected treats await because to find that new playground or ice-cream shop requires more exploring.
Sure, cocktail hour has become story-time and yeah, we need to stop a lot as the kids tire easily. Not to mention a whole wide world of public amenities out there that we’ve discovered through our son and his hummingbird-sized bladder. Seriously, that kid could end a drought!
But in return our kids have made us look at the world through unjaded eyes. And I gotta tell you, it is beautiful.
Strangers with only the commonality of parenthood invite us into their homes. And this has provided lessons in kindness and generosity of spirit to us all. We’ve come up against almost impossible language barriers which have taught my children skills in communicating in other ways. Raffles interpretative dance skills are internationally renowned and Sugarpuff is fluent in semaphore, or at something kind of similar that involves a bunch of random pointing and wild gesticulation.
We’ve witnessed bizarre rituals and have exposed our kids to dozens of different belief structures and religions which has offered them valuable lessons in tolerance and acceptance.
We’ve seen poverty, poor health and the after effects of natural and man-made disasters and this has taught my children empathy.
We’ve seen wilds sights and been told unbelievable tales and fables which has fostered my children’s already crazy cool imaginations.
We’ve been lost, hungry and had to overcome the odd unexpected challenge on our travels but these experiences have taught my children courage. Through his exposure to local foods and flavours across the globe Raffles has certainly learned to be fearless with food.
In fact, through our frequent travels and our everyday exposure to the cultures, cuisines, stories and ideas of others, my children have already developed a healthy attitude to, and gratitude for what they have and are learning to be globally aware humans with respect for all people, places and ideals.
For me this is a dream come true as a parent because what I want is to grow good people. And it leaves me with a serious question for those people who query my travel arrangements.
Why on earth wouldn’t I?