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I was browsing the Lonely Planet forum the other day and stumbled upon an interesting question:  “Do you have any regrets about taking an extended family vacation?”  The poster was considering heading out with her family for a year or more and was wondering if any of us would make a different decision now that we know what we know.  Do we have regrets about long-term travel? I think that’s a great question to ask.

Overall, I would say my answer to that question is a resounding, “No!”  However, I will never say that extended family travel is all rainbows, gumdrops, and puppy dog tails.  Yes, there are many, many advantages of our lifestyle, but there are some downsides to it as well.  It’s up to each individual family to decide if the pros outweigh the cons for them.

The fantastic parts of family travel have been written about extensively:

    • See the world and learn to be global citizens   As wonderful as books are, they are no substitute for actually meeting and getting to know the world’s peoples.
    • Spend time together as a family   Once you’re on the road and your life is stripped of all the demands of living at home, you’ll have a lot more time to be together and to truly listen to your children.
    • Learn more effectively   Your brain is more stimulated due to being in new environments and facing new challenges, so is in “learn mode” all the time.

But there are downsides to a lifestyle like ours that most people gloss over:

  • Learning curve burnout   There are times when we’re simply tired of learning and don’t want to learn any more.  When we arrived into La Paz, Bolivia we had been in such a steep learning curve we simply didn’t want to do anything.  We spent five weeks there and never even made it to Tiahuanaco, the famous ruins from some ancient lost civilization, just outside the city.
  • Where’s home?   Even though our sons have traveled since they were only six weeks old, it has always been important for them to have a “home”.  For them, Boise is “home” and we make an effort to remain connected there.  We are all perfectly comfortable traveling around – as long as we know we can go home at any time.
  • Leaving friends    It’s hard to put the time and energy into making new friends when you know you’ll leave again soon.  Kids are all different in this regard, but we’ve found it’s gotten to be more of an issue in the past year or so.  We aren’t sure if it is age-related or location-related or both or something altogether different.
  • Travel fatigue   More and more, we find ourselves staying in a village an extra day or two (or three or four) simply because we won’t want to deal with the hassle of packing up and then finding another place to stay.  This isn’t a problem when traveling long-term as we are – we certainly have the time to stay.  But if you are on a tight timeline, it could become a major issue

For every choice we make in life, we opt out of something else. Sometimes those decisions are easy; sometimes they are anything but.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each of those choices.  In the end, we have to make a decision. We have to choose for one and against another. That’s just the way it is.

As John grew up in New England, his family spent their summer holidays at Grandma’s cottage on the Long Island Sound every year.  Their life at the cottage was nothing short of magical – John and his sisters’ eyes light up at the very mention of Leete’s Island and nobody could mistake their enthusiasm for the area.  Each summer they returned to their favorite place in the whole wide world and caught crabs, went clamming, jumped off rocks, and swam to their heart’s content.  It was a fabulous experience for the entire family.

My family, however, did things differently.  Every summer my parents loaded us five kids into the family station wagon and took off for parts unknown.  One summer we ended up in Minnesota visiting grandparents and cousins, another summer we camped in the mountains of Idaho.  When I was nine, we headed south and did the Disney World and Knott’s Berry Farm thing.  I loved the idea of exploring different parts of my country every year and couldn’t wait to head out in the station wagon once summer came.

And yet, there is a part of me that wishes I had the experiences John had – the comfortable routine of going to the same place every summer and the learning that comes from doing the same things differently as you grow older.  John feels the same way about my experiences – although he loved going to the cottage every year, in some ways he wishes he could have traveled around the country and seen more variety.

Our parents made choices.  My parents opted for diversity; John’s parents chose familiar magic.  There is no right and wrong, only different.

Will our children regret our decision to travel someday?  In some ways – absolutely.  Our boys haven’t had the chance to play on soccer teams and be part of the swim team.  They haven’t had the opportunity to sit behind a desk all day and daydream about going out and exploring the world.  Recess on the playground… camping with the Boy Scouts… church on Sunday…   There are a lot of things our sons are missing out on.

But if we had chosen a life in Boise rather than our life on two wheels, they would have missed out on a lot of things too.  They wouldn’t have climbed Mayan pyramids and explored Incan ruins.  They would never have snorkeled with sea lions and scuba dived with turtles.  Watching bison on the side of the road… camping under the Southern Cross… visiting the Gold Museum… chancing upon carnival… seeing volcanoes glowing red in the black of night… meeting people from every walk of life…  Davy and Daryl have done and learned a lot during their travels.

Do I have regrets about long-term travel? Do I regret my decision to travel with my children?  No.  Looking at the whole picture, there is no doubt we made the right decision for us and our children.

Regrets about long-term travel? Not when we’re climbing a pyramid at Palenque.

Here’s another article about some of the down sides of long term travel: 12 reasons why you should never travel long term

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