What I learned from travelling with a 4-year old
Well I’ve been back from my travels for a few weeks now but it feels like much more. Bear Cub started school last week so we’ve been focused on that and the sense of ‘all-change’ has helped in returning to routine and normality. It’s a different routine so that helps a little.
I’ve lost count of people who have asked me whether I had a good time, what was my favourite place and whether I was glad to be back. Only a few, my closest friends who knew my reasons for going, asked me if I got out of the trip what I wanted to – did I feel changed by the experience and what was I going to do with what I’ve gained?
Obviously, travelling gives you a lot of time to think. Once you are free from the pressures of your every day life you somehow realize you are never as trapped as whatever situation you’ve come from has led you to believe. By the very fact that you are away means you did it – you escaped. I congratulate myself for having gone. For having done it, whether I achieved my goals or not.
I’m pleased to report however, that I feel I did achieve most of my goals: I wanted an adventure – check. I wanted to challenge myself, scare myself even – check. I wanted to get away from my life – check. I wanted to change within; my perspective on my past, my present and my future – check. I wanted to feel alive – check. I wanted to gain new enthusiasm, focus and energy for the future – check. I wanted to fall out of love (well I did say most of my goals)!
The trip did not change my life or massively change me but it did change my perspective. And after all, how we think is the first step to changing how we act, who we are and who we will be. As I suspected, the key was to step out of my life and to have an adventure. It didn’t really matter where I went or for how long, as long as it was away and although I could have travelled for longer and further away – it was enough! If there is one thing I would want to say to encourage any one out there thinking ‘I’d love to do something like that’ is to just do it! It may sound overly simple but I mean it. To whatever your means are – do it! Create that adventure and that space for yourself so you can be centered, and hear, and find out who you are again, and find out where you want to go next. If that for you means getting a friend to have your child for a night so you can book a SuperSaver train fare to Brighton for 2 days and walk on the beach and listen to music and write and breathe in the sea air, stay in a cheap hotel and eat fish and chips with the wind in your hair – if that is all you can do then I really believe it will be enough. If you go with an open heart, expectant and wanting of change I believe it will happen simply because you’ve created the space to realize things you already know. To give airplay to dreams you’ve pushed down under the daily grind, buried beneath your disappointments, responsibilities and pressures.
A word on the cost of my trip. I had to completely re-plan my trip after money issues meant I could not do my original idea of a road trip across the West Coast of the U.S. I’m a single-mum in a debt-scheme due to my divorce and working only part-time in a fairly poorly paid job. Yet I managed to do an amazing trip on a mega budget. Here’s how I funded it: My house is meant to be remortgaged so I ‘borrowed’ some money from my son’s savings account (money put in there from the divorce) I feel really bad about this but I intend to replace it before the end of the year and I also hope that my son gained an experience he’ll remember for his whole life. The other half of my trip was entirely funded through gifts from my friends. I have the most awesome, amazing friend in the world. I did not ask anyone for any money yet I was overwhelmed by how much support I had for my trip and how much my friends were behind me and championing me and willing me to do this adventure. One friend even thanked me for going on my trip and therefore challenging and inspiring her and gave me a monetary gift as a response! I wanted to mention this to show how much people will be on your side when you speak out your dream. You may think people will want to put you in your place or pull you down or think you’re crazy but the truth is you’ll find people mainly want others to succeed. Your own dreams will in turn inspire others in theirs and they will want to get on board and support you in any way they can. I was truly humbled and amazed as I saw this truth unravel before me. I absolutely could not have done my trip without the help and support – both practical, monetary and otherwise – of my friends. I want to be totally transparent about that.
One of the things that was most interesting about being away was the fact that every single day I truly felt like I was living. Actually living in the moment. In my life here in London I often feel like I am always rushing or otherwise waiting. Rushing the days by looking forward to something to look forward to or waiting for something exciting to happen or just busy on the treadmill of life. This mindset can make you feel like you’ve ‘wasted’ a day when you don’t get what you had planned done or even if you’re just relaxing. Alternatively you feel like your days are rushed and full but with nothing that really and truly matters to you.
When I was travelling I never felt like this. Each day that stretched out before me was not even thought about in a way and I certainly didn’t think about the day after that. I just lived each day and loved it. I have never felt more ‘in the moment’ and present in my life before and it was a wonderful and freeing feeling. I suspect it is a key to lasting and everyday happiness. How we spend the majority of our time, who we are with, what we do and what we look at needs to be what we want our life to look like and be like. It is hugely important and key to our happiness and fulfillment.
So in that sense, it was life changing. I just need to work out how to keep that mindset and not lose it now that I’m back home. Time for change I think.
On a parenting note, these are the things I learned from backpacking and travelling with a four-year old:
- Essential equipment includes; baby wipes, a big bag of Lego The Usbourne Little Children’s travel activity book, Leap Pad 2
- If you are outside, preferably near a beach or a mountain or a forest or fields, your child will be happy and have inexhaustible (free) activities.
- To cope with later hours in European countries let your child have a nap in the day in the car or on the train and it makes for a much more pleasant evening
- Language is not a barrier for children – they will find a way to communicate and play and it is good for them.
- Cities can be difficult and boring for little children with a lack of parks for kid-company and many museums and attractions that are boring for them. Seek out local playgrounds and kid-aimed attractions like science museums and aquariums to balance out the ‘adult’ sight-seeing.
- 6 weeks is a long time to spend on your own with your child and can get pretty intense – try to find ways to have some time apart i.e. a kids play centre/area where they can go off on their own but still be safe.
- Kids can definitely cope with local cuisine and it’s good for them to try new foods.
- Children are a great ice-breaking for making conversation with strangers and meeting new friends!
- When you travel you will see your child grow up before your eyes!
- Travelling is great for children and gives them a sense of boldness and adventure.