In the past three years of travel we may not have become fluent in a language or visited half the countries that we originally intended to, but we have learned more about ourselves; about each other and our relationship than we did in our ten years together before hitting the road. Family travel opens your eyes to the world, to yourself and your family.
When I look back at our original reasons for setting out on the trip most of them centred around seeing the world, working less, spending more time with the kids and being better parents. We didn't set 'improving our marriage' as a goal but that's exactly what's happened.
Long-term travel throws a lot at a relationship. Tiny rooms, challenging travel days, more situations to have a different opinion in than you could believe. Finding your way around a new city with tired kids in search of accommodation and food with all your suitcases - that's a fun challenge that can try even the most gentle natured couple. AKA not us!
Before we started travelling we had a happy marriage but we also had two young kids and the usual financial stress that comes with mortgages and being self-employed. Colin felt the financial stresses more and I wasn't managing to balance the roles of mother and wife as well as I probably should have. Not to mention my ill health added another stress!
We kept going over the same arguments again and again, never actually resolving them. It felt like someone had put the past few years of our marriage on tape and kept hitting rewind every few weeks forcing us to loop through it again, always looping back just before we worked out a resolution.
Within a few months of being on the road we'd worked our way through those problems. I'm not saying those problems aren't still there, but we've found ways to move forward and work on them rather than feel like there's this roadblock that we just can't get past.
Travelling has brought new problems and stress with it that we wouldn't have faced otherwise. But we also have more time to work through our problems and thanks to how much better we now know each other it just seems easier to resolve issues. We're more aware of our strengths and our flaws. We're more accepting of them and better at using them to compliment each other. Most of the time anyway! We still fight and disagree. We've just gotten better at resolving issues and because we know each other better we can usually talk about things before they actually become issues.
Having countless hours to spend with our children and so many new cultures and experiences to share with them, we've learned so much about our children. Seeing first hand how they see the world has changed how we see the world. I can't count the number of times my interpretation of a situation has been challenged by their childlike innocence and need to question everything rather than just accept the world.
I remember visiting a temple in Penang that had two ponds. One pond was filled with a thousand turtles, the other pond had only 1. I thought that one turtle was lucky to have so much space and clean water, viewing the other turtle pond as cruel and disgusting. Noah quickly pointed out that maybe that one turtle thought the other turtles were lucky because the other turtles had lots of friends while he was all alone.
What's to say he isn't right!
Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali was the first place we visited on our trip that really opened our eyes to how travelling with kids can make you view the world in a whole new way. Colin and I had been to Ubud in 2001 and visited Monkey Forest. We'd enjoyed our visit but we hadn't felt like it was a life defining moment, or even a top ten travel moment! We enjoyed the nearby bamboo smoothie shop more.
But when we walked into Monkey Forest in 2010 with two young children who were captivated by their first encounter with monkey's outside of a cage, and saw our children's reactions to the experience we experienced Monkey Forest in a completely different way to our last visit. Even the monkey's reacted differently to us. They were equally captivated with our children. The adults of the tribe were pushing their toddlers forward to get them closer to our children. Our children were giggling and laughing at them, asking us questions and completely mesmerised by the antics going on around them.
Until the monkey's decided the only thing they liked more bananas and children was our daughter's bright pink Dora hat and promptly spent the next 30 minutes trying to steal it off her head.
There was no way to compare our two visits to Monkey Forest. Both times we fed monkey's, we visited temples and saw a waterfall but the two experiences were totally different simply because of our children. 10, 20, 50 years from now our kids might not remember this visit to Monkey Forest but we will.
We walked away with a different experience and view point in both those examples that we wouldn't have had if it wasn't for the kids. I know those are small examples, but they're part of a larger picture.
Travelling together, spending so much time together, forces you to get on the same page when it comes to parenting. From the day the children were born we'd discussed parenting styles and attitudes towards discipline. We'd worked out approaches to time outs and when they should be applied. But when it came down to it, a lot of the time we were parenting solo. Either I was looking after the kids while Colin was at work or he had the kids while I was studying. We may have discussed parenting together but our actual decisions were made solo.
In all fairness, Colin's parenting descisions were a lot closer to what we discussed than mine were. I may have been a little guilty of going off and doing 'what I thought best' rather than what we'd talk about! Just a little!
It became a problem from almost the first week. I found it really hard to not always step in, to allow him to sort problems out his way, particularly when we were forced to address the fact that his way wasn't necessarily mine. We spent a lot of time talking during those first few weeks after the kids went to bed trying to get on the same page, or at least working out compromises and how not to tread on each others toes. It was harder than I expected. To learn to step back, to learn to not see every suggestion as an attack on your previous parenting decisions.
We will always have different opinions on parenting but after a lot of work we've found a comfortable middle ground. We're a lot more understanding and appreciative of the strengths and weaknesses of each others parenting styles than we were.
I'm grateful that we took this time out to travel with the kids while they were young because I know sooner or later this would have become an issue. As the kids grew older we would have realised that we were not really making decisions together, that we weren't on the same page at all. The fact that we were travelling with the kids while they were young and spending all this time parenting together meant that we discovered it while the problems were still small things like toddler tantrums over eating vegetables, rather than a bigger more serious issue that is harder to deal with if parents aren't backing each other up. Hopefully when the teenage years hit and we are dealing with more serious problems than overtired toddlers chucking a tantrum we'll not only be able to deal with it more productively as parents with a better outcome, but we'll weather it better as a couple.
(ps if any of these links aren't working check back again soon - we're all around the world and as much as we're trying to all get our posts up at the same time, things happen!)
BohemianTravelers.com: Travel Lessons: Can You Embrace the Unknown
The nomadic family: I Know Nothing (and 99 Other Things The Road Has Taught Me)
PearceOnEarth.com: 5 Life Lessons Learned from Traveling
TravelwithBender: So it’s been 6 Months – You won't believe what we have learnt!
Life Changing Year: Life Lessons From The Road - A Little Bit Of Planning Goes A Loooong Way!
LivingOutsideoftheBox.com: 6 Life Lessons From the Road
A King's Life: Two things I know for sure.
Flashpacker Family: Lessons from the road of life
Family on Bikes: Complaining won't change a gosh-darn thing
Family Travel Bucket List: 3 Things We've Learned While Living Outside of the USA
RambleCrunch: 15 lessons I've learned traveling the world
Grow In Grace Life: By Any Road..Lessons from the Journey
The Lovely Travel of a Nomadic Dad: The 10 Thing I Learned on the Road that I did not Want To