As I was packing suitcases for a long awaited family holiday I chatted with my seven-year-old daughter about the excitement of heading overseas ‘but what if I miss my friends, miss Grandma, miss my school?’ she asked. I glossed over the question because in my planning for the trip I hadn’t thought about preparing the children for what it might feel like to be away from home. It hadn’t featured amongst my own excitement. I told her that she’d have fun, that we would only be gone a month and that there really is nothing better than spending time together as a family but it got me thinking about how I might do things differently next time.
Travelling with kids is an exhausting and exhilarating experience. The potential for good times and homesickness seem to be an integral part of the journey. You get to see a new world - through your own eyes - but also through the eyes of your small people that come along for the ride. As an adult you find that with every new experience you have travelling makes you keen to replicate another the next day, while kids tend to grow tired and just need to play with dolls, read a book or stare at the TV – even if it is in another language.
Memory making is hard work when multiple suitcases are involved.
Caz Makepeace a travel blogger and mum specialises in sharing her travelling with children expertise. "I think one of the most important things to do is spend as much time as you can talking about the trip with your children before you go’ she explains.
After years of juggling parenting and travel she has realised that planning ahead in the planting of those potential memories that will be made is key ‘we are going on our big road trip around Australia this September for at least a year and we are talking about it now with the girls every day. We put such a big focus on being excited about it and sharing all the positives of the adventure and how much fun we'll have together as a family. I browse through brochures and websites with my daughter looking at things we are going to do and asking for her input on what she would like to experience. I think the more they feel like they own the experience too, the better they can cope’.
Planting the seed that life is not the same in every corner of the universe allows children to immerse themselves in new cultures, new ways of thinking and new perspectives on the world around them. On our trip our children were drawn to the monuments that stood before them but also to children in new playgrounds and through the fences of schoolyards that we happened to wander past. Watching them observe the ways that kids interacted and the similarities and differences they discussed with us were some of the most pleasurable parts of travelling with our kids but the homesickness crept in at times too.
For our trip my daughter spent some time each week sending an email to her class teacher who would read it out during news time. The connection she felt in hearing what was happening at home, answering the questions about weather and food and souvenirs was the key to her managing those pangs of home sickness. Caz suggests that pre-empting the possible problems allows for a smoother travel journey, "Talking to your kids and saying I know you might miss your friends or nan and pop when we are gone. This is normal, but we are taking this trip so we can spend time together as a family doing fun things, which is really important. " Then when they do have those moments of homesickness, empathise with them and let them phone family, or write a postcard, or choose what they want to do for that day to help them re-focus on the joy of travel."
As we all battle the post holiday blues now that school has returned for another term we all have to resign ourselves to life getting back to normal - responding to work emails, washing, homework - I cuddled my kids and said ‘geez I miss our holiday’ their response? ‘But its just as good being here at home mum’.
Perhaps being reminded that memory making happens just as strongly in our lounge rooms as it does across the other side of the world is a good message to hold on to.
What’s your experience of travelling with kids?
Sarah Wayland is a Sydney Based Counsellor and a mum of two. You can follow her at @thatspaceinbtwn