Our trip was an amazing experience for our family, and our kids grew in ways that I couldn’t have anticipated. We appreciated the time to have fun with the kids, explore new things and bond with them in different ways. Their childhood is fleeting and I’m keenly aware that they are about halfway through their years with us (assuming they don’t become boomerang kids who come back to the family nest after college).
The journey together was our opportunity to hold them closely before they drift towards independence and mature into tweens, teens and adults
The Mostly Good
Our kids have turned into great travelers and have gained some important life skills. They can keep track of their things, pack their bags, carry their own stuff, keep busy on long trips, learn about other cultures, make conversation with local people, navigate foreign streets, do currency conversions, observe different ways of life, go to the bakery or store on their own, try new foods, buy subway tickets etc. All great things and I’m proud of all they accomplished.
A.J. surprised us with the depth of his empathy for people less fortunate, and he often worried about the poor, the old and the handicapped
A.J. is a natural born traveler and risk-taker who thrives in chaotic, busy environments, loves sightseeing and makes friends across cultures. He loves bike tours and walking around cities, but dislikes museums or cultural outings. He is very creative about inventing little games to keep himself busy and he developed a patience for traveling beyond his years. He actually stopped saying things like “I’m bored” and “how much longer” and “can we go home”. He can sleep anywhere, is disturbed by nothing and can drift off within 30 seconds of hitting the pillow. We’d love to travel with him more as long as it didn’t involve home-schooling. I can see him backpacking in Asia or South America one day, seeking out the tasty waves and adventurous activities. Or, maybe, doing some charity work with the poor.
Charlie cared deeply about all the street animals and would say a good luck prayer to all of them (we often saw dozens or hundreds a day so this was a constant mantra)
Charlie is nearly the opposite of her brother. She is a sensitive soul who is easily overwhelmed by busy environments, and was occasionally driven to tears in certain cities (Kathmandu, Istanbul etc) by the noise, pollution and crowds. She doesn’t particularly enjoy sightseeing, and often had to be talked into joining us (she would later admit to enjoying most of our outings). We’ve realized that she values having quiet time alone – to read, mostly. Unlike her brother, she is very easy to home-school as she is self-motivated and driven to complete her work. She happily blogged about her experiences and she’s a natural writer. She was more open to the cultural experiences and was better able to pick up on the historical aspects of the places we went. She wants to travel again, but realizes she best suited to first world destinations. I look forward to seeing more of Europe with her in the future.
I’ve spoken to other families who have traveled long-term and many of them report that their kids were on good behavior and really bonded together. They were surprised at how well their children got along. This wasn’t the case for our two children during large parts of the trip.
Things started off well enough, and January and February were a honeymoon period. Everyone was excited for our epic adventure and enjoyed our many new experiences. There were also a few opportunities to for the kids to visit with or make new friends in those first couple months. In New Zealand, in March, I fondly remember the kids playing “model and film-maker” for hours at a campsite in Christchurch. But shortly after that, patience among the siblings wore thin and anything would set them off.
Someone creeping over the invisible line in the car or taking the last cookie became a reason to scratch, hit or yell
But by April, when we were in Nepal and Kazakhstan (two of the least comfortable countries), their relationship was fraying. I was losing patience and wondering whether we’d made a mistake in forcing all this together time upon them. The kids bickered terribly and physically fought frequently.
On a couple of occasions, we even had to have a family ‘intervention’ because we couldn’t stomach another argument over some trivial point. On one such occurrence, in Budapest, we threatened to cut the trip short and come home. This was a ‘wake-up call’ to the kids that we would not tolerate their dynamic and promises were made (and largely kept) to try harder.
Things did get better after that, helped by the relative comfort in the back half of our trip, friends visiting us in Turkey in June, homework ending and going on our guided safari in July. Our trip ended on a high note of cooperation and cohesiveness. They starting calling each other BSFs for Best Sibling Forever. But it was a long, bumpy road to get to that point.
Sibling dynamics vary greatly from family to family, obviously, so our experiences may be unique to our family. But, darn, there were moments when I wish we could have sent them off to summer camp and continued the trip without them!
A.J. absolutely hated having his parents as teachers. He disliked downtime in our hotel or apartment, and would often pitch a fit over doing his school work. This was a great frustration for all of us and would often derail an otherwise pleasant day. We took their school work quite seriously and felt that A.J. needed to do a certain amount of reading, writing and math work to progress to the next grade (as did his teacher back home). Getting through the mountain of work was a daily battle and, although it was a necessary evil, homeschooling A.J. was the worst part of the trip for me. Once summer came and the homework cloud lifted, things improved dramatically for our family.
What They Learned
The biggest thing about the trip that they can take away is something very obvious. The world is a big, diverse place. It’s full of amazing things, kind people, beautiful sites, deep history, widespread poverty, crowded cities, tall mountains, sandy beaches, stray dogs, wide-open spaces, friendly kids, street cats and so much more. The center of their universe used to be the comfortable suburbs of the San Francisco Bay Area, but now they know there is much more out there.
They can see beyond their immediate horizons to the far corners of the earth. They have become more worldly people, interested and concerned about global happenings. They appreciate the comforts and opportunities that they have, especially after seeing many people who don’t have basic necessities, let alone luxuries. Charlie and A.J. overcame many challenges while on the trip. Sometimes they faced these difficulties with tears or frustration, but increasingly it was with grace, patience, creativity, cooperation and resilience. Hopefully they have been forever changed by our travels.