Travel: teaching us about ourselves



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.

Travel has been fantastic couples therapy

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.

The beautiful thing about this lifestyle is it gives you time to work on your relationship and travel provides additional perspectives to see the problems from.

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.

It's been an eye opening adventure that we are very thankful to have had the opportunity to experience. And it's certainly been a lot more fun than sitting on a couch paying a therapist!


Travelling with our children is changing how we see the world

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.

Our kids are showing us the world every bit as much as we're showing it to them.


Travel is teaching us to become a better parenting-team.

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!

Then we hit the road and suddenly we had a partner involved almost 24/7 in almost every parenting decision.

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.


This post is part of a family travel bloggers round up for November on Life lessons from the road. It's a great way of discovering family travel blogs you might not have come across before.

(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!) Travel Lessons: Can You Embrace the Unknown  

The nomadic family: I Know Nothing (and 99 Other Things The Road Has Taught Me) 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! 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


Next Post: 6 Tips for Camping With Kids Previous Post: Learning through lollies! Fun science activities you can do while travelling

About the Author


Tracy Burns

Tracy always talked about traveling a lot more than she ever traveled. Married to an avid traveler that thankfully changed. After almost two years exploring South East Asia and Australia, enjoying the most amazing food, temples, beaches, and more importantly every sweet food treat she can find, Tracy is keen to explore further afield. Tracy juggles homeschooling, playtime, blogging and learning more about photography while they travel. Some days she juggles them better than others!


Comments (17):

  1. Beautiful post! I can certainly relate as I think all couples can, travel does test it all but at the same time it pushes you to resolve rather then bury it away.

    I love the point about the monkeys with the kids. They open our eyes to the small wonders in life. As adults we skim past it a lot! I owe my children so much as they teach me while we travel the world:)

  2. I feel like we have learned so much along these same lines, Tracy. Travel has been the best couples therapy for us too, and our kids are continually showing us new ways to see the world. Spending so much time together has made us a better parenting team too, for sure. It's great to be reminded that progress is indeed being made! Thank you. :)

  3. Travel does have a way of forcing you to deal with things you could otherwise ignore...and learning how to work more together as a couple with your children.
    Great lessons learned!

  4. What a beautiful account of how experiencing things with children changes it altogether? "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." YES-YES-YES! My kids question the most interesting things, and coming up with an answer makes me step back and look deeper at something. Also, there are other things that my kids don't question, when a typical adult would...yet another opportunity to reflect on their innocence, and how we should already try to be more like that.

    I also agree that traveling with children's gives you new opportunities to experience things. Activities that would be ho-hum without kids, can be absolutely spectacular when you watch their eyes light up and their minds go to work! Also, we've found kids help open us up to so many social opportunities that we would not have otherwise experienced--as it "softens" us in the eyes of other people, perhaps!

  5. Fantastic post! We just spent a month in the USA and found similar "discussions" happening about how we communicate with our children and what we tolerate is so different. It will make for some interesting debates when we go next year, I am sure.
    Wonderful way to have some therapy though, in the real world dealing with real life!
    Looking forward to seeing where your travels lead you next.

  6. It's amazing what travel does to the family unit! Being together so much and working together toward a common goal really does pull the family together.

  7. Isn't it amazing how travel all teaches us the same things? And I too absolutely love having 2 full time parents!

  8. Gee I love monkeys!! I think it's a sickness!

    We have had to address the whole parenting thing while on the road even though ours were 11, 15 and 17. It's very hard to adjust as at home I was the one on hand 24 hours a day. Gert was only home 1 or 2 nights a week and is not as easy going as I am. Once we were travelling we've had to adjust to him being overbearing and me not really worrying as long as everyone is safe and happy. I'm sure this will be great experience once we head home and back to me home and him away. Should be interesting to see if we remember all we have learned!!

  9. What a wonderful post capturing how travel has taught you more about yourselves. I agree that traveling has enriched my marriage, too. When we moved away from my long-time support system of friends and family, I really had to rely on my husband to fill in for all the people who are now missing. It's turned out to be a great way to force us to focus on each other. And getting kids' interpretations of what's going on is always fun.

  10. Great post Tracy! Glad you stayed up until 2am to push the button on it. :)

  11. I love this post, Tracy. It rings true for my family as well.

    To be a successful traveling family, you really do have to function as a team. There's no way around it. Being together 24/7 means everyone is forced to resolve differences and find common ground. I can't claim my family runs like a well-oiled machine ALL of the time, but we've definitely grown into a tight little unit.

    And you're dead on about how experiences with kids are often way more meaningful than those without them. I felt that way when we brought our daughter to Thailand for the first time. My memories are much more vivid than those of earlier visits without her.

    Are you guys heading to Latin America any time soon?

  12. Sorry I haven't taken the time to reply to everyone's comments. 2 days until we leave the place we've been staying for the past 6 mths. Busy busy busy! Thank you to everyone for your lovely, thoughtful comments though! I will try to reply to everyone.

    @Renee - Yes to Latin America just not sure when. It will either be mid 2013 or at the very start of 2014. We'd like it to be halfway through next year but there are a few places in Asia we haven't seen yet and if we stayed there until the end of the year we could do Christmas with family in Australia and then come over, missing the wet season in Central America. Not sure yet!

    @Bethaney - thanks. My husband didn't appreciate the 'tap tap tapping' of laptop keys at 2am waking him up!

    @Michelle - I'm glad travel has enriched your marriage too. As much as I miss family and friends back home, it can be really nice to be away and just focus on your relationship and family, to put your family and your own values first.

    @Tracey - I could see you as an Asian equivalent of a crazy cat lady in 40 years time. That old lady down on the corner in Penang that all the kids are scared off, just with a house full of monkey's instead of cats. I'll be interested to see how you and the family adjust to 'normal' life after your travels.

  13. This is so true, in the past year we have had experiences and obstacles to overcome that I would have never dreamed of. Working through them on the road has taught us a lot about each other and in the end made our relationship that much stronger - great article!

  14. I think you are on to something there. I have not read to many articles on how travels can help a relationship. It's true that the stresses and responsibilities of life at home can cause discord. Yet when you get out of your environment and head into unknown places, it can really bring out the best in a couple. Many times my husband and I have the most enjoyable times together when we are away from home. For me, I think, I see all of the work that has to be done in owning a home and can't totally detach and let things go. When you are away together as a family it seems almost simpler and you can engage in the moments and experiences in a fresh and exciting way.
    And as for traveling with kids, when ever my husband and I have the rare opportunity to be off by ourselves,we always say "oh the kids would love this" and "lets come back here with the kids". So once you have children and are used to having them with you all the time ( homeschooling and world traveling together) , you become such a team and will always have those times together to cherish.
    Thanks for sharing!

  15. Really enjoyed this post and couldn't agree with you more about travelling with kids. Travel with our 2 year old daughter is just awesome, barriers are immediately broken and we get to talk much more with local people. We've only done short term travel, but are aiming for long term travel in 2 years time so your posts are very helpful and insightful. Many thanks for sharing! We're in Hong Kong so do get in touch if you end up here. From a VERY newbie blogger and travel addict!

  16. I love these types of posts! And thank you for sharing links to similar posts....I am going to check them all out :)

  17. Beautiful post, I love your words and your moments. Indeed they say it's better to travel with your children in their young ages, but they never say anything about our situation as parents. I really want to suggest my husband to travel with our daughter as soon as possible. And your words "10, 20, 50 years from now our kids might not remember this visit to Monkey Forest but we will" nearly burst me into tears. How quickly they grow up, huh?


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