8 Underappreciated Benefits of Traveling With Small Children
Floating down the Kinabatangan in search of wildlife.
Before our trip, many people questioned the sanity of traveling with small children. Our son and daughter were 4 and 6 at the time, and many people were concerned that they wouldn’t remember much of the experience.
I started to agree with them until my wife shared a wonderful comment by a mother of three who had traveled with even younger children:
“We don’t question the validity of reading to our children when they are small, and they probably won’t remember that either”
I think you get the point.
There are definitely disadvantages to traveling with small children (in this case I will use under the age of 12 as my reference point). I will discuss these in a later post. Today I am going to focus on the positives.
8 Underappreciated Benefits of Long-Term Travel with Small Children
1. Small children often get into attractions for free or at a reduced price
This doesn’t end at just attractions, this includes metro fares (free), museums (free or reduced price), city buses (free or reduced price), hotel’s, amusement parks, bathrooms, hotel breakfast etc. etc. You get the point. My favorite word in the English language (FREE) is something you get to hear all the time while traveling with little children and it is music to my ears.
2. It’s easier to have sex
There I said it! Another question we have been asked by a couple understandably concerned pre-parent couples contemplating future travel with kids was “how do you, you know, do it?” I love it when people have the guts to ask me this question. And the answer is the title of a 1995 Sandra Bullock Movie: While You Were Sleeping If you are a parent of small children, then you know most kids can sleep through a fire alarm, an earthquake or both at the same time. Which is why, if all goes well 🙂 then we have that covered. I am proud to say that even though we spent the entire year in tiny rooms the size of some people’s walk-in closets, we were still able to get down and dirty from time to time without emotionally traumatizing our children… We let the travel do that.
3. They can share a bed (or closet)
If this doesn’t seem like a big deal to you then you haven’t traveled through South East Asia with kids. In Asia, a standard budget family room will consist of one double and one single bed in a small room. If you were to ask for a roll away bed it will certainly almost always double the price of the accommodation. Because our kids are small they get excited about “a camp out in the hotel closet” or “we will put the chairs together and make a sleeping fort”. Try this one with your teenagers. Needless to say, this tactic saved us a TON OF MONEY on accommodations and is a huge advantage to traveling with small children.
4. They see “the little” things
I could reword this and say “they see the important things”. Part of this is because of physics – kids are low to the ground so they see things that my knees would never pick up. Like really cool bugs, seashells, and even money (my daughter found $50 on the ground in Singapore last week that I walked right over). Also, they are not yet jaded by the world, they bring with them a sense of excitement and optimism, they are culturally clueless which means they judge everyone by a single standard based on kindness and if they have any good treats for them. They find cool bugs, other cool kids and make the most mundane things into a new and exciting adventure.
5. You have an excuse to go to Aquariums, Zoos, Science Centers, Parks and kids movies
Some people may put this into the disadvantage column, but not me. After a year of traveling with kids, I am now an expert on Zoos, Aquariums, Science Centers and Kid Zania’s from around the world. You would figure that if you have seen one Sea Life Aquarium then you have seen them all. Shockingly, this is not the case. Feeding hippos in Bangkok Zoo, walking through a navigable human body at Singapore Science Center or playing with elephants in Chiang Mai is so much fun, and it is fun BECAUSE you have kids. I see a lot of awkward couples and single travelers trying to find their place among these kid-filled places of high-octane and high-tech learning until they give up and go see a temple. Don’t get me wrong, temples are great, and they may offer more of a “cultural experience”. But I can name all the types of puffer fish that live in the South China Sea. So there! Also, parks offer their own cultural rewards and striking up conversations with a hadith wearing Muslim mother of 3 in Malaysia helps you realize that we parents/people are all in the same boat. And that is better than any temple.
6. You get to use “the family line” in Airports
When we arrived in Thailand we walked into customs looked at the 1.5-hour line ahead of us and started to cry. Just then a very nice airport attendant took our family by the hand walked us past 1,000’s of hungry, tired and travel weary singles and brought us through the family line. We were out in 10 minutes! This has happened at bus terminals and various other such establishments. I think they do it for the sanity of the other travelers, but I don’t really care what the reasons are, it is always awesome.
7. Homeschool vs. No School
If your children are preschool age this can be the perfect time to travel. For example, prior to leaving for our trip we were paying close to $500 per month for very limited part-time preschool for our son. While traveling we can chalk this off as one less expense. At age 4/5 we can practice writing letters and numbers easily on the road. Once kids are school age, you will have to make roadschooling/homeschooling a priority which (although being a chance to educate on the road) can be difficult if you are traveling and trying to create a study routine. For this reason, I think kids the age of 4/5 are at the perfect age for a family gap year.
8. People treat you like celebrities
Everywhere I go, I seem to comment on the friendliness of the people. I have stared shocked at backpackers who tell of horror stories about locals treating them poorly. Not once in a year have I had that experience. People open doors for our family, help our children at every possible opportunity (even when they are acting like they escaped from a mental facility, which is quite often), smile at our family, take pictures with our family, feed our family, let our children have seats on the metro, help us get sim cards, give us free tickets, tons of treats and once in Penang we were walked to the very front of a 2 hour line to go up the famous, yet highly overrated, funicular bypassing everyone is disbelief. Even when my dad, age 72, who traveled with us through Vietnam didn’t receive this kind of priority treatment. It seems that everyone who sees a couple little white kids tramping about Asia can’t help but smile and offer a helping hand. It is one of the highlights of this journey, and one of the number one reasons you should travel the world with small children.