How Will Your Kids Handle Full-Time Travel? Five Biggest Challenges
So you think you want to pack it all up, leave it all behind and travel? Awesome!
Getting there as the adult is half the battle. It’s no small feat to decide to take this plunge. We talked about this for more than five years before we finally jumped off.
Many questions swirl as you consider doing this, but if you are a parent, the biggest ones usually center around the kids (after you figure out how to afford it of course! Check out our guest posts on how many families figure that out here).
How will the kids handle leaving all their comforts and doing something so drastic? What will be difficult and what might surprise you?
While I’m no expert on your kiddos, I do have five of my own that have now traveled full-time for over 14 months. I’m going to give you the low-down on my thoughts and what I’ve observed in my kiddos.
First, the challenges.
If you are like me, you want to anticipate what will be hard. Sometimes I think I’m a pessimist and other times I think I’m a realist. Whatever you want to call it, I like knowing the challenges before I go into something so I can mentally prepare as best as possible.
1. Leaving Friends. No matter the age of your kiddo, if they are pre-K or older, this will probably be their BIGGEST challenge. Even my 6-year-old still fondly talks of his old friends back at preschool. Maintaining a friendship long-distance is hard for adults. I’d say it’s pretty much impossible for kids (at least the younger ones). We’ve sent postcards, emails, phone calls and texts, but it’s really challenging. You get into new time zones and your dinner time may be while they are sleeping. Their after-homework time might be when you have to run errands at the start of the day.
My suggestion? The best method I’ve found if phone calls or Facetime is proving too challenging? Marco Polo. It’s like a video text message, so it can be done when the time is right for you.
How are my kids handling this challenge? My boys are young enough to not really care much. They mention cousins or old friends occasionally, but rarely. They are each other’s best friends. Lucy, our oldest at 11, has had the hardest time with this. She is at a point where she would be making friends and building those bonds right now. This worries us, often. We try to talk with her A LOT about it and gauge how she is feeling. We tell her (and we mean it) that if it gets too much for her, we will stop. So far, she doesn’t want to stop. That doesn’t mean it is easy for her, but she learns how to re-focus back on her siblings and us to find those connections for now.
2. Adjusting to Homeschool. This is going to be a challenge for the adult who is now a teacher as well, but it’s a big adjustment for the kids. They aren’t exactly sure what constitutes as “school time” anymore because it is constantly changing. The environment is changing, the time of day is changing and usually the amount of hours varies day-by-day. Even after 14 solid months of homeschool (see my post here about our rough schedule and why we work year-round), my kids still seem genuinely surprised when I say it’s time for school! They still whine and argue about the tasks, they still push back and it still drive me bonkers. I cry at least once every 60 days over homeschool and want to throw in the towel. Maintaining the momentum of school is HUGE drainer.
My suggestion? We have planning meetings on Sunday nights and I discuss the days we will do school. We have “half” and “full” school days and we talk about when school will happen that week. It goes a LONG way for them to know roughly when, even if it’s totally different from the week before.
How are my kids handling this challenge? I wish I could say it was easy for me now- it’s not! However, it is a lot smoother than when we started. They know they will fall behind if they don’t keep up on their school and this does motivate them to keep it going. They fudge to me about their school on a fairly regular basis, so I have to keep checking and having the same conversation over and over. However, they have all learned to love the travel like us and they know it will be back to school if we have to end.
3. Missing Stuff and Space. Even if you aren’t crazy enough to have five kids, like us, your kiddos are going to be used to their surroundings. Even a baby is used to smells and sounds of your environment. Big kids have this too. My kids each have a few “comfort items”, which do help, but they all miss more. They talk of the toys we have back in storage (I couldn’t part with my favorites, even though I SHOULD HAVE). They all miss their little safe space, but it a bunk bed, a closet hiding spot, a bookshelf. Our environment changes weekly to monthly and so does their bedrooms. They never have a space that is truly their own. This also wears on mom and dad :)
My suggestions? First, unpack as soon as you arrive. Even if we are only staying a week, we unpack it all. It will add touches of familiarity to your stay. You can also determine where the “special items” go for your kiddo. If, like in our family, you have a sibling that like to snoop and break valuables, keep special stuff in mom and dad’s room. These items are even more important as you add such instability into your child’s like through constant travel. No dresser? We have this situation a lot and have learned to use our rolling luggage as as makeshift dresser on the floor.
How are my kids handling this challenge? It depends on the day (and the kid). They still constantly want to buy stuff, even though they know it will be saying goodbye in a few days or weeks. Grant (age 8) cries over stuffed animals nearly daily. He wants about 153 stuffed animals and would have his entire room stuffed with them if i would let him. It’s really hard for him to not be able to have more than he does. The kids all daydream of the day they will have a permanent bed, toys and save spaces for their treasures. However, they’ve learned to be more flexible and less attached to thing overall. I like that lesson.
4. TOO Much Together Time. I’m going to save the bulk of this for another post, but sibling time can go to far. One of the great benefits of having five kids is they can rotate in their associations to other siblings. If you have just two or three kiddos, they are going to fight! Mine fight some, but surprisingly not as much as they did before we left. Being together 24/7 is a MAJOR adjustment for everyone. It’s hard to feel like you aren’t smothering each other.
My suggestions? Schedule individual time. We take each child on a date once a month, just like we did before we left on our world adventures. We also take 1-2 on every errand. We even assign siblings to play with each other sometimes! The older ones have to take turns with the youngest, keeping her busy. This give them a legit break from politics between older siblings. We value alone-time and protect that when needed. If we send a child for some alone time in a room or outside, we make sure to enforce that with the other kids. Usually 15-20 minutes is all they need to reset and be ready to play nice again. Not that different from mom, although my reset time usually includes some dark chocolate as well :)
How are my kids handling this challenge? Honestly, better than I could have ever dreamed. This is one area i can say full-time travel have greatly improved our lives. They are literally BEST FRIENDS. They love each other so much and play, play, play together. I hope these strong bonds will continue long into their futures.
5.Uncertainty. Depending on your situation, you may have an end date in mind before you leave, or you may have no end date (like us). Both are hard. It’s hard to fully embrace and settle into full-time travel with a deadline looming (I would think). It’s also hard to have no end-date as it prevents any real planning. My kids want to plan their future a lot and I have nothing to tell them! The amount of variation and lack of schedule and uncertainly about the future can be hard for some kids. They may react through more tantrums or becoming irrationally attached to something ( a bed, item, person, etc). Kids are extremely resilient, but they still appreciate knowing their future to some degree.
My suggestions? We keep our kids in the loop to what we are thinking and planning. If we are planning out the next quarter, we let them know what we are considering. We ask them what they would prefer. We ask where they would settle if they had to choose today. Give them some say in your planning and daydreaming- it will empower them.
How are my kids handling this challenge? Lucy (age 11) is having the hardest time with this. She has some of her own dreams, like building a tree house and decorating her future room. These dreams weigh her down emotionally when she doesn’t know when or where it will be. I feel her; we all have that to some degree. We try to keep good dialogue going with her on her desires and if it’s getting too hard. Grant (age 8) daydreams a lot too about our future house, but it doesn’t seem to wear on him. He loves the exploration still of going to live in new places all the time. The younger ones aren’t really bothered by it at all.
The flip side of these challenges are great benefits and a life we all truly love. We are closer as a family, my kids are so much more flexible and we, as adults, are truly happy. I hope these challenges don’t scare you off, but empower you to see that you can do this too!