“What’s the right age to take kids on extended family travel?”
“What age is too young to travel to developing countries?”
These are probably the most common questions most parents grapple with as they dream of a nomadic lifestyle, or at the very least, a few months’ trip away with the family. With more than one child, you also have to find the right time for all the children involved. I don't know if there is a perfect age, but this is what we found.
Our youngest was just 3.5yrs old when we left for our 12-month trip. Physically she was very able and could probably out-walk her older sister, so we wouldn’t have to worry about whether to take a stroller or not. She’d been toilet trained since she was 2yrs old, so no need for diapers either. And without the need for regular daily naps meant that we had more freedom in our day.
|Arriving at our first destination, 26 January 2011|
Child development experts say that 4-yr olds are at a stage where they are trying to make sense of their world, and at the same time are like sponges for picking up new skills.
But still a part of us worried that she would be too young to ‘get as much’ out of such a trip and that she wouldn’t have much memory of it. It was a borderline call, and based on the age of her older sister, it was going to have to do.
And although we had not intended on homeschooling, we did ‘unschool’ our kids on the road. We were happy to discuss a bit more deeply any topic or situation that arose. For example, when faced with the high incidence of street children in India, we discussed what it would be like for those people to live like that, and how it’s not a matter of choice. So when our kids found that they an extra dress that they no longer wanted to carry, they donated it to one of these kids on the street.
|Maddy's yellow dress has a new owner.|
Now at home, when my 4.5yr old discovers the many articles of clothing which no longer fit her, she matter-of-factly says that we should give it to ‘a poor person’.
Another topic that came up a lot while we were away was religion. Generally we don’t talk about it much ‘at home’.
Then just tonight, out of the blue as we were driving home after a short trip to pick up dad from the train station, our 4.5yr old states, “Australia is a good country, but when you die, it’s not so good as other countries where you can get born again.”
Yes, our 4.5yr old was somehow thinking about reincarnation. Clearly the discussions based on what we saw and experienced during our time in India, Sri Lanka and Bali, where they were predominately of the Hindu religion, had a strong effect. (We did have another brief conversation about how reincarnation really works—that we don’t chose what we are born again into, nor are we born again as the same person!)
|Hindu devotees at a Temple|
So now after being home for just over 3 months, it’s encouraging to see that our experiences are still impacting her. Rather than being overwhelming, travel has clearly given her a more rounded perspective on her place in this world. Clearly, she’s gotten more than we’d ever imagined from this trip.