I’m here to tell you – traveling with young children is not for the faint of heart. Exploring foreign lands can be stressful even without kids. You are faced with struggling to communicate for everyday necessities. You don’t know where the bathrooms are, or if there even are bathrooms. You’re not sure what to order off of the menu. What exactly is that mystery meat being cooked on that grill? (If you’re in Ecuador, it’s likely cuy – guinea pig). You don’t know if this neighborhood is safe to venture into, or if that’s a fair price for a taxi. Throw in an un-potty-trained two year old and a hard-to-please eight year old into the mix, and then add a very tight budget and you are suddenly visiting a special place in hell.
No. Not really. Well, once in a while. But only for the random moment here and there. That’s sort of how I see parenthood though – moments of bliss and happiness, occasional moments of wanting to cry and go home. Hopefully when we look back on it all, the memories blur a bit and we are content with the overall experience as a rewarding and satisfying one.
In truth, it has been going reasonably well. Everyday we pinch ourselves as we realize that YES, we are actually on this trip that we dreamt about for years, and so far, no major catastrophes have occurred. But lest you casually decide to pack your bags and your kids for a multi-country adventure after seeing our posts, I feel compelled to warn you about some of the downsides of globe-trekking with wee ones.
First off, there is absolutely no escaping them. There is no school, or Grandma’s house, or friends next door. Sometimes, there is no TV or WiFi or whatever your entertainment of choice is. You are trapped with these small people and they require you to entertain them or at least direct them towards entertainment ALL THE TIME. And if they are my kids, they wake up at the crack of freakin’ dawn every morning.
Second – homeschooling. Or road schooling. Whatever you want to call it, it requires some time, energy, and resources. Double that if you’re not a teacher by profession and aren’t entirely sure what you are doing! It also provides a lot of guilt and anxiety, and you alternate between feeling like an awesome parent or thinking that MAYBE you made a terrible mistake taking your kid out of third grade to meander through South America.
Third – bathrooms. I won’t get too graphic here, but lets just say that finding, assessing and trying to use bathrooms seems to occupy a lot of our time as a family when we are out and about in our travels. Besides just worrying about the normal things that we all worry about with bathrooms in unfamiliar places (cleanliness, etc..), there are some special concerns with bathrooms in Ecuador.
Often, you have to pay to use the bathroom, which is just annoying. 15 cents may not be a lot of money, but when your kid is jumping around clutching their crotch and moaning that they have to go RIGHT NOW, the last thing you want to be doing is digging around in your purse trying to find the right change. Also, toilet paper is apparently worth more than gold here. 99% of the bathrooms we have been to don’t have any, and if they do, you guessed it – you gotta pay! I have taken to carrying a massive container of baby wipes in my purse (separate from the ones that are actually for the baby). And that brings me to my last bathroom problem – changing tables. Nope, haven’t seen a single one since we left the States. I have become an expert at changing diapers standing up in tiny little bathroom stalls (also once on the side of a highway at night, and another memorable time – standing in the lower cabin of a moving double-decker bus driving across Panama), which is not really a skill I ever aspired to.
Fourth – they never want to do what you want to do. Never.
Amazing museum? Beautiful collection of pre-Incan artifacts? How about that outdoor concert with that band that is sure to please everyone? Nope. They want to go back to that same park, and climb on that same old obstacle course that they have done nearly everyday for four weeks. They want to go rent those same little pedal cars from that same lady at the park that you are sure is charging you $1 extra for the “gringo tax”. If you do take them to the museum to see things that they have never had the opportunity to see in their lives, at least one or the other of them is likely to make this face –
And yet, I would do this trip all over again (so far, anyway).
I have travelled a bit in the past by myself, with friends, as a couple, and now this epic journey with my shorties. They have transformed my idea of travel. They have made me slow down and smell the flowers (sometimes literally). They have tempted perfect strangers to walk up and strike up conversations with us. They have caused the most frazzled taxi drivers to stop and crack a smile. They have allowed us to see that sometimes the most important part of a city is not the much-touted museum or the most beautiful architecture, but the family sitting and enjoying a simple day at the park.
Like we often are.
Finally, there are three things I can recommend to you if you want to take your kids on a long and distant adventure and would like to preserve some semblance of your sanity:
I can promise you that your trip won’t be perfect, but it will likely be memorable!