But how about the kids?
In my past blogs I have not written specifically about the kids. Maybe it was because of all the other major things going on in my head and with all the practical challenges we faced, that I didn’t get around to sit down and talk about the kids. Maybe it was because the kids haven’t really been a big concern - if anything, for them it has been a fantastic journey and not nearly as bumpy of a road as it has been for us.
You could probably say that - at least in our case - traveling generally is easier for the kids as it is for us, and some of the things that we consider a challenge are just a blessing for them. One example is the fact that you are together as a family almost 24/7. This is something a kid will most probably not complain about, as opposed to us parents. It can be a challenge for anyone, except maybe when you are the type of parent who has a never ending patience and loves absolutely every bit of their children even if they are acting like the biggest brats the earth has ever seen, which I think doesn’t apply to most of us.
I remember last year, when many parents went nuts after six weeks of homeschooling due to COVID. Parents were more than happy to send the kids back to school when it was finally allowed again. I remember having similar feelings, but now that we actually spend pretty much all our time together, I feel less frustrated and annoyed than last year.
The situation is obviously completely different now, for one because we are not stuck at home while trying to work and homeschool and do all the daily stuff simultaneously. Apart from that, our lives are far from boring and we see and do loads of things that keep the kids busy. Not to mention we mostly live outside, which gives both the kids and us a lot of space to move.
We do also spend a lot of time in the car. This is a space that you could call both small and confined and the idea of spending endless hours with your kids in it would probably freak out a parent or two. The truth is that the hours in the car did freak me out at the start, mostly because of Eli, who used to start asking ‘are we there yet’ about one hour after departing. Guy on the other hand seems to be made for the job. He is never fed up with driving. In fact he sometimes goes and sits in the car even before departing, just because he likes being in it. Most of the time when driving he is quiet. He just sits and looks outside. Sometimes I wonder what he is thinking about. I think it eases his mind somehow. He thinks a lot about everything. He worries, analyzes and questions all the time, so I have the feeling that these thoughts kind of calm down when he is driving. He just says he loves being in the car. The other day we were driving when it was already dark. He told me how he loves driving at night, because of the beautiful lights everywhere. Then he said: but I really don’t mind, driving during the day is just as much fun.
There are indeed stretches of time where they will pick a fight, which is really not comfortable to say the least. Screams and shouts sound even louder in a car and the fact that you, as a driver, are trying to focus on the road doesn’t make it easier. I sometimes wonder if I can construct a wall in the middle so they won’t be able to start hitting each other.
It’s getting better, though. Even Eli will now start asking are we there yet only after a few hours.
The other day I was talking with a friend about traveling with kids and she said she could not imagine doing that with her kids because they are so loud and wild, and how she was afraid they would totally piss off the people around them. I can tell you; mine can be loud and wild and this probably pisses some people off at times. The majority of the time, though, they are just playing. Sometimes quietly, sometimes loud, and most of the people accept them happily.
I actually feel it’s very good for them to learn from a young age that they are not alone on this planet; to learn to look around them to see if there are other people, and if so, what are the wishes of these others. For me it’s an important lesson for the kids to see others and think of others, and that this sometimes means you can’t do something you would really like to do just because it will make someone else uncomfortable.
They learn how to share the space they are using. They learn that no space belongs only to them, and at the same time they can make any space their playground and their home. We are believed into thinking that we own a shitload of stuff. Cars, animals, toys and clothes. But in the end we don’t ‘own’ anything. The clothes we wear, we wear them temporarily before someone else makes use of them.
The animals we like to call our ‘own’ actually belong to nobody but themselves, and I love how the kids cuddle with every dog they meet on the road, they take care of them like they would of the dog that lives at home and that we call ‘our’ dog.
When we are at a campsite, we use facilities that don’t belong to us, and the funny thing is that my kids don’t give a shit. They literally couldn’t care less where they brush their teeth or take a shower - unless it’s a cold one, of course. Wild camping? They are the happiest of campers. We are only guests. Guests on the campsite, in the hotel and on the earth.
Of course we have ‘our’ tent with ‘our’ sleeping bags and before leaving I read about how important it is for kids to have their own space, the space they always use and feel safe and stuff but frankly, the times we haven’t used the tent and stayed in guest houses, hotels or with friends, I haven’t been able to see the difference in them.
What makes them feel safe is not the actual space they are in; it’s being together. As long as we are together, all in the same room, they are happy. They can put down their heads on different pillows every night and go to sleep quietly, without hesitation, without nightmares, without doubting or being scared. They do not have to be scared because they know they are with us, and I think that’s the main thing for kids.
And especially now that we are traveling and we don’t have jobs to go to we are always together - and that togetherness makes them feel safe even if we move around a lot and go to new and maybe scary places all the time. They learn to count on the fact that we are always there regardless of the surroundings. As a result, they don’t feel insecure or unsafe and because of that, they will sleep everywhere.
Other than sleeping well, spending endless hours in the car and just occasionally hurt each other, they are having a great time. It’s impressive to see the ease with which they settle into new places. It’s heartwarming to see how they start exploring together, how they find things, people and animals to play with without even making an effort.
As a parent it is undeniably one of the best feelings to see how they grow and develop every day. How they use the things that happen in daily life in their games; how they now know more about wildlife than a regular adult would know. How I sometimes turn my head in awe when I hear one of them babbling in English to a stranger. How they try to make sense of the world around them; how they learn about poverty just by seeing it. How their millions of questions brings them closer to understanding the world.
I am so lucky to be able to really see them. I understand their learning process because I get to see not only what they do all day but also how they slowly implement whatever they live or see on the road into their brains and make it their own, without the need of any teacher (because I certainly am not one). I see Eli’s confidence growing when he moves further away from us every time we arrive somewhere, and I see him coming back to be very close to me whenever he feels he needs it. I see Guy walking up to strangers, asking in English for things he wants or needs. I see him defending his brother fiercely whenever people call him a pretty girl. I see how each and every experience can be turned into something valuable even if it’s a shitty experience. I see how quickly they learn to adapt to new and unexpected situations - how they really want something to happen, then sometimes get disappointed because it doesn’t and then turn around and make the best of the situation as it is.
The other day I overheard the kids talking with each other when they were comparing different places they had visited. ‘Do you prefer this or that place, they were asking each other. At that moment we had been staying in the house of a friend in Johannesburg for three weeks and I was very, very eager to leave because I don’t like big cities and we didn’t really do anything special or fun or interesting. Then I heard one of the kids asking the other: do you prefer here or Jambiani? (You remember, the most beautiful beach ever) ‘Hm…that’s a difficult one,’ replies the other. ‘I really wouldn’t know because both are so nice!’
So in case there was ever any doubt about taking kids to travel: please don’t. Please don’t be afraid of taking your kids and please don’t question others if they take theirs. Like with many things, kids are only as flexible as their parents.
They are not missing out on anything; if anything, it’s the other way around.