… And 5 truths about full-time travel with toddlers!
People usually react in one of two ways when they hear that we put most of our stuff into storage, packed a couple of suitcases and took off on a world tour with toddlers in tow. They are either confused and horrified, unable to comprehend why we would do that to ourselves, or, yearning for a similar adventure. Either way, they ask 20 questions and commend us for turning our dream into a reality. Now that we’re halfway through the year-long journey, I can completely relate to both reactions, as well as everything in-between!
Despite being WAY more challenging than we anticipated (20 hr flight delay with teething baby and threenager tantrums is the trifecta), I feel so blessed to be on this journey and wouldn’t change it for the world. We know this year will fly by, so we remind ourselves daily that this is something very few families get to do and try to stay focused on making the most of every experience.
We’d been contemplating this trip for years before finally taking the plunge. Since my husband and I met we’ve always lived and worked in mega-cities. New York, LA, Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong. After fifteen years in the fast-lane, a break from the hustle and bustle was long overdue. We both agreed, following the birth of our second daughter, that some time “on the outside” was needed to decompress, recharge and reflect on some of life’s big questions.
Like many foreigners in Hong Kong, our loved ones are spread all over the world. We felt it was really important for the girls to spend some quality time and bond with the friends and family they seldom see or hadn’t even met yet! The fact they happen to live in beautiful countries such as Taiwan, Japan, Scotland, Ireland and Canada made the decision much easier! And with our eldest fast approaching school-age we decided that the window of opportunity was NOW.
The first questions that came up when we set out planning the trip were “what about work?” and “what do we do with all our stuff?”. We were fortunate in that my husband was able to move into a part-time consulting role with his company, and thankfully my business partners at BaoBae were super supportive of me working remotely for a year (thanks again Ling and Jo!). We used the packing process as a good excuse to declutter, and have sold or given away almost half of our belongings. Everything else was stuffed into cupboards and closets, leaving the apartment spick-and-span for family and friends who would be using it while we were away.
Taking the Plunge
After many husband-and-wife consultations, hours of FaceTime with family, and multiple WhatsApp group discussions we finally settled on an itinerary. We decided that after seven years of living at Hong Kong warp speed we would make a conscious effort to slow things down by spending at least a few weeks in each place we visited.
We set off in March and first spent a couple of months in Taiwan and Japan before heading to Scotland and Ireland so the girls could reconnect with their Celtic roots and my husband’s side of the family. We’re now spending a few months in North America (currently Montana with California and British Columbia coming up). After a brief stint back in Hong Kong towards the end of the year, Cambodia, Kenya and South Africa are on the cards.
The decision not to rush through the year trying to see and do as much as possible was definitely the right one. When you factor in travel-time and acclimatising, even a two-week holiday can pass in a flash. This is magnified when travelling with toddlers because everything takes at least 50% longer to do! It’s been fantastic to have plenty of time to explore, hang out with loved ones and not feel guilty about doing absolutely nothing some days.
A Family that Travels Together…
They say a family that travels together stays together. When you have two toddlers who rely on you for food, water, snuggles, diapers, etc. you have no choice except to stay together, but I can totally appreciate the sentiment behind the expression. My husband was away on business a lot when our eldest daughter was making the transition from baby to toddler so he missed many of her “firsts”. It’s been such a privilege for him to bond with the girls and be there for our youngest daughter’s first steps, first words and other big milestones.
Through shared experiences, tears and laughter the girls have definitely become much closer. It sounds clichéd but only having each other to play with a lot of the time has meant they really have become best friends. Something that surprised me, after being together for so long, is that my husband and I have also grown closer in the last few months. Of course, we’ve been on the verge of killing each other a few times but, for the most part, overcoming challenges has breathed new life into our relationship and made us much more appreciative of one another.
5 Truths to Traveling Full Time with Toddlers
From blogs to books to inspirational Instagram accounts, there are lots of resources out there for families thinking about taking time out to travel. Here are five truths about full-time travel with toddlers that I always share when people ask how we do it.
1. Don’t Forget the Survival Kit
When staying in hotels, Airbnb apartments, or friends or family homes, you never know how kid-friendly your accommodation is going to be. Our toddler survival kit includes a handful of favourite lightweight books and toys (thank God for Duplo!), baby-proofing items (like door-stoppers and locks for off-limit drawers), and water-proof sheets to protect our hosts’ mattresses from bedtime accidents!
2. Stay in School
Just because you aren’t a local doesn’t mean you can’t live like one! We’ve tried to enrol our three-nager in classes everywhere we go, so that she has a routine, a chance to socialise with kids her own age and, most importantly, gets a much-needed break from us. So far, she’s attended play school in Taipei, the village Montessori nursery in Ireland and gymnastics camp in Montana. She’s loved every moment and we are already looking into options in our next destination – Vancouver!
3. Divide and Conquer
In Hong Kong, we had help with the kids and the housework, offices to escape to and our eldest went to nursery school every morning. The past six months has been full-on, 24/7 parenting, so taking it in shifts, giving each-other space and time to work or relax has been crucial to staying sane and keeping the peace. My husband surprised me for my birthday last month by sending me from Ireland to Amsterdam to visit my girlfriend. Although I couldn’t be more grateful to travel with my three best friends, that solo trip and a few days of adult-only time was a Godsend!
4. Better Safe than Sorry!
Planes, trains and automobiles are full of germs, and travelling can be very taxing on your body. We are strict about keeping to healthy diets taking necessary vitamins and probiotics. Even still, illness can strike when you least expect it. Since leaving Hong Kong my husband and eldest daughter both came down with pneumonia which required visits to the doctor and hospital in Taiwan, Ireland and Scotland. Fortunately, before the trip we found a great family travel and health insurance (IHI from Bupa) which offers full coverage for almost everything. When you’re already wayfaring on a budget, the last thing you want is to be hit with a big unexpected hospital bill!
5. Making Memories Last
When we set off I decided to dedicate my Instagram account to documenting the trip so that friends and family could follow our movements and the girls would be able to look back on our adventures when they are older. We bit the bullet and invested in a good camera which was so worth it and I’ve been religious about taking tons of photos wherever we go!
Stay tuned for more of Rebecca’s travel journey. We’ll be featuring her family adventures as Travel Guides to each exciting location – complete with toddler tips and key family attractions.