Lots of people are worried about travelling with their kids. People who freely and happily travelled before are suddenly paralysed by fears of running out of nappies or disruption to routines. I’m not belittling the fears – we have all had them! But what happens when the travel you are talking about is expat travel? When the destination is somewhere you are going to live rather than visit for a week or two? When international travel is necessary just to get home?
It is an inevitable part of the expat world that all your relationships are transient. People come and people go. Friendships are formed in the most unlikely of circumstances (think aquafit classes, aeroplanes, playgrounds and even the toilets of your local soft play area) and quickly (meaning you will happily exchange numbers with total strangers). When it is time to move on, for you or for them, talk quickly moves to chatting about the new location. What are the things we are worried about?
This has to be the biggest issue for all of us. Maybe you are going somewhere with a highly developed medical system. Even if you are, if it isn’t the same as yours, it will take some navigating.
If you are going somewhere else, there are a million other questions. Are there good doctors and hospitals? What will our health insurance cover? Are there diseases or medication that we need to think about such malaria or dengue fever? What if there is something serious that need treating like a critical illness or injury? I’m not sure I would have thought twice about these things when it was just Mr Wanderlust and I moved around. Now that there are kids involved I’m much more anxious about it!
Distance from home
There are two factors to consider here.
Firstly is just the sheer distance from home. Is there a direct flight home? How long will it take? Can you get home in 24 hours if you need to? Its the sort of questions noone really wants to ask before they are needed but its an issue that needs to be addressed.
Second of all, long haul travel with kids (especially little ones) can be stressful. It is tiring and jet-lag makes tempers short. Transfers just add to the logistics (and the risks of bags being lost in transit). If you can get home on a direct flight that can make things just that little bit easier!
There are SO many questions to ask once your kids get to school age: Are there good schools? Can we get in? What are the enrolment periods? What are the fees (and are we responsible for saying them)? What curriculum do they follow? When are the term dates / academic year? These are all things that would be so much simpler if you were considering them at home!
In addition to worrying about our own friendships, we worry about how our kids will do socially. In such formative years, will they struggle to make new friends? Will their best friend move on before them? All these things can affect them both in real time and as they develop. I don’t know a single expat parent who isn’t worried about this experience ruining their kids’ chances of forming meaningful relationships after they realise how temporary our lives are.
Culture and language
Culture shock is real people and it is hard for the best of us. We all worry how our kids will deal with it. What if they can’t communicate where we are going?
And connected to that is…
It is a slow realisation but suddenly you realise that home for your kids isn’t home for you. When we go “home” now it is a holiday for the kids. They don’t know it as home any more. I always knew that living away would mean our kids losing part of the culture Mr Wanderlust and I grew up taking for granted. How do you handle it when you move somewhere where you can’t immediately integrate with the local population? How do you explain to a kid born in one country, with parents from different places where they are from? What do you say to them when they love living where they live but miss all the other places you have loved too? I love the phrase geographical schizophrenia to describe this condition!
There are other (slightly more superficial) things to consider:
- Weather – moving to the Middle East? Your kids will spend entire summer holidays inside or you will separate the family from the working parent(s) for weeks or months at a time. Moving to New Foundland with four young kids? Prepare to spend an hour getting ready in the winter mornings just to leave the house!
- Activities – what is there to do for kids? Are you an outdoor family going somewhere where fishing trips aren’t really possible?
- Housing – where will you live? Are you going to be exchanging a big house for a small apartment where you are all on top of each other? Or a short commute for a long one meaning the working parent(s) may see a lot less of the kids?
The other side
Of course there are other sides to all these considerations. Culture shock and a new language also mean they are learning more about a new country and learning a new way to communicate. Ever evolving friendship groups could also mean you are always friendly to newcomers and outsiders and that their ability to make friends in any situation is much higher than, say, someone who has only ever been friends with the same people. Living in multiple places exposes them to experiences we could never offer them by staying at home.
Here is my take on it all. Most of what happens when you travel (whether on holiday or to live) is about your attitude. Considering these aspects when you are deciding to travel is hugely important but you can’t be overwhelmed by them when you are in country.
Nowhere is perfect, not even home. Making the best of a place and enjoying where we are? That could be a valuable lesson for our kids. Being the people that our kids call home instead of a place? With the memories of those incredible and different experiences that we are giving them? Invaluable!