Travelling with kids can be an interesting business.
Search #travelwithkids on that well-known research tool Instagram and you’ll be immersed in images of families travelling and travelling well. Capable children on the backpacker trails. Taking in cultural sites, behaving impeccably in museums. Siblings lined up beautifully on a beach or hanging out joyfully together in the family van.
These are never the children who have overfilled a bag with things they were told not to pack and then refused to carry it. Or worse, been carrying their own bag and then left it someplace. These are not the children who have spilled a cup of hot chocolate down the only coat they have with them or the siblings scowling at the camera while the ever optimistic parents try to get a nice ‘making memories’ shot.
And then there are the parents . Never do they seem to be the parents who look exhausted, frustrated by sibling war fare and questioning why they bothered. Where is the image of the Mum with her patience almost exhausted, wondering the earliest acceptable time to have a beer?
I’m aware that every family has the good times and the not so much. Hitting the road can be exciting, but it’s not always fun. There’s a lot of nuts and bolts stuff between the highlights. In airports and train stations, hotel check ins, queueing for this and that. Children get tired, bored, uncomfortable, obnoxious. Sometimes they just don’t grasp what a gift it is to be able to travel.
I don’t have a glossy Instagram feed of family travel perfection. I don’t even have many family shots on there,photography efforts generally involve me behind the camera while Mr THL shepherds children so that they don’t wander aimlessly through the shot pulling silly faces or wave an arm in front of the camera. Because that’s exactly what they do. I am guilty though, of just posting the highlight reel.
It’s lovely to share the experience when it all goes swimmingly, but in the interest of balance and honesty, its good to talk about when it doesn’t. Because looking at images of beautiful families travelling in perfect harmony…well, I know it can leave me feeling a bit flat. Inadequate. Like I’m doing it all wrong.
Take the feature image for this post. Looks lovely. Our last Summer in Germany, exploring Hamburg and the Baltic coast. That’s a picture of my son and I by the Holsten Gate in Lubeck. The sun is shining, backdrop is beautiful. A perfect day. Nope. That day was hard work. One child decided she didn’t fancy exploring Lubeck and made her feelings loud and clear. All. Day. Long. It was hot, well into the thirties, so we found a park thinking we’d get in the shade. We found shade, but also a very odd man who pinged my lets-move-away radar. Moved along a bit and found a knife, the handle of which was a goats foot. Random, bit demonic and slightly unnerving. Abort expedition Lubeck. A picture paints a thousand words, but it doesn’t give you the back story.
Here’s a nice picture of my three youngest children at the tri border area. One in Holland, one in Germany and one in Belgium. Look at their faces, aren’t they just thrilled? I was going for the ‘making memories’ shot but they look mutinous. I clearly made them do this. And that was second take. Following a ‘chat’ about behaviour and attitude. Fair to say this trip was a little fraught, a last-minute trip before a last minute deployment for the husband. We were preparing for six months apart on opposite sides of the world. Ten minutes later we were lost in a topiary labyrinth with everyone having a go at finding the exit. That they loved, and that they remember. The memory of time together fuelled us through time apart.
To travel with kids means making plans, investing time and money. Often it goes well but sometimes it goes a bit off plan. You have to accept that kids get sick, bored, don’t always appreciate things their parents do ( and if they do, won’t admit it), loose things, get grubby. Is it always worth it?
Resoundingly, yes. My husband’s job has enabled my children to travel a lot. I see them grow and build confidence on every trip. What works and doesn’t is a learning curve for all of us. Making them responsible for something is always a winner. Let them figure out public transport , pick their own meal off the buffet or the menu, read the map and plot the route even if it means you get a little lost. Let them deal with currency unfamiliar and use a language that isn’t their own tongue. Travel sharpens problem solving skills, logical thinking, leadership, geographical knowledge, self-awareness. Then comes confidence, resilience. Interest rather than wariness of a place or culture not their own. An open mind and endless curiosity. The payoff outweighs any difficulty.
Even when kids throw up a little resistance, don’t believe it. We visited Berlin several times while living in Germany. Explored the history, went East and West, meandered through former checkpoints. My daughter was relaxed but didn’t seem hugely interested. History more my thing than hers, she reckoned. On that, she’s probably right. Fast forward six months or so, back at home and fifteen minutes before leaving for school she owns up to not having done homework issued weeks ago- a Berlin Wall project. Disappears into her brothers Lego box and comes up with an accurate model of a section of Berlin wall. Something stays with them, even if they’d have you believe otherwise.
So no glossy Insta-feed for me but lots of memories. The good, not so good and downright comical. And for the kids, an abundance of skills and memories that are theirs to keep. I’d say that’s worth travelling for.