I’ve met a lot of people on the road.
Budget backpackers, students studying abroad, honeymooners, 50-year-old hippies, and the list goes on. But one of my favorite travelers are parents.
I’ve always wanted to know how parents travel long-term and use travel as an educational tool.
So when I had the opportunity to interview a traveling single mom and her son, L (for short), – I jumped all over it.
Learn how this mom decided to travel the world, where they’ve been, the challenges they’ve faced and how educational travel has changed her son…
Interview on Educational Travel
How did you decide to travel the world with your son?
As a recently separated, single Mum, I was working long hours in a highly stressful executive job.
My son, L, sums it up perfectly…
“So one time, we were both unhappy in our bedrooms. I came to Mum and said, ‘Mum I want to go live in Fiji.’ We started to talk about where we wanted to travel. The list started to grow of places we wanted to visit in the world.We talked about what we wanted to do, and before we knew it, we were selling nearly everything and listing our house for sale, in preparation for a new life. So that’s how it all started.”
How long have you been traveling and where have you been?
We have been traveling just over one year now.
We started with a week in Sydney with a good friend. Then we house-sat in Fiji, and traveled to two islands, for a total of two months. Next was Hawaii – where I learnt to drive on the “other side” of the road. We explored two islands there.
Next was mainland USA, where we hired two cars – one to do the west coast – to Grand Canyon. Then we flew to New York and drove through Pennsylvania and up to Niagara Falls, and then around the Great lakes to Wisconsin.
We had a great white Christmas with a friend I had not seen for 30 years – in the snow! A first for my son…
Next we flew to Panama, Colombia, & Ecuador – where we celebrated L’s birthday with an Amazon trip. We bused through Peru, and Bolivia – this was eventful as my son ended up in hospital for two days with poisoning from the salt flats.
We went onto Brazil to house-sit, but we ended up finishing early and exploring again. After that was Paraguay to see the Jesuit ruins, and now back to Bolivia.
How do you educate your son when he’s not in a traditional school system?
We have been fortunate to discover “un-schooling” – where we use the environment around us as a classroom.
We make musical instruments from driftwood we collect on the beach, study the country we are in, draw flags, use currency conversion for math, study termites if they are in the room or an iguana if it is outside the window.
He also keeps a journal and loves some online programmes.
In Ecuador, we were fortunate enough to find a used book store which had some English teaching and reading books. These were focusing on South American history and stories, and so we were able to incorporate these in our learning time. Of course, he has also learned some Spanish and Portuguese too.
I also invented the Ten Point system for each day. For example, his journal is worth two points. If he is doing a bug study, he will Google it and write about it – two points. If he draws it, this is another two points. If we visit dinosaur bones, that is another two points etc. We try to get to ten points each day. This doesn’t always happen.
I also make sure he has “holidays”. I try to make these when we are on the move in rapid succession. This is a journal free time, but I often find he wants to draw and make things, and is learning with travel anyway.
Are there any websites you’d recommend to other parents/children to help with travel-schooling?
How is educational travel a tool for learning and development?
Travel is a living classroom.
When we visit ruins, museums, art galleries, or cities, he sees the people, culture, places, and feels the weather. I am constantly amazed at how much he remembers and learns.
I was amazed one day when out of the blue he asked me “How is the Aussie dollar doing compared to the American dollar at the moment?” I realized he was absorbing far more than I was noticing.
He is great with directions, and he helps me map out of travel plans – so this is a great educational tool.
What is the most common misconception about educational travel and why?
I think because he is not sitting in a classroom, people think he isn’t learning. Although he may not be at the same level with traditional education, he would surpass many in other areas.
Not a day goes by where people aren’t asking me “how he does school.”
What was the greatest lesson you learned traveling with your son?
I have learnt to slow down and listen to him.
He sees things I don’t see, and now we have time to talk. The time we share now is precious, and I am so pleased I have the energy and time to share the journey with him.
How did your son decide his goal is to “help the old and poor?”
As we were packing up, he wanted to take his old toys to give away to the poor kids in Fiji. Then we talked about him helping others, so our trip had more meaning than just “seeing the world”.
We wanted to do more than just “see the world”.
We wanted to help people, even if it is only in a small way. To make them feel valued and important, and to bless them. We get a great thrill out of helping the underprivileged.
What challenges have you faced traveling with your son?
We had our credit card skimmed of $11,000 in one week – that was a challenge. It took three months to get the funds back.
In Fiji, no matter how hard I tried, he managed to get head-lice from the kids five times. Then he got infected wounds.
I refuse to let him go alone into men’s toilets, and they don’t like that he goes in the ladies in South America. It is really difficult if we have luggage and he needs to go to the bathroom. Usually we have to use the handicapped toilet if there is one. It is even more difficult if I have to go, as I won’t leave him alone with the bags. So we have to drag it all into the bathroom.
I think the lack of “me” time is the hardest. Sometimes I would like another adult to talk over decisions on where we go next, budgeting, etc. Also, I would love an occasional dinner out or to go dancing.
What advice or tips can you give women considering traveling with their children?
- You can do it. You just need to be prepared.
- Travel slow, so the child or children don’t get too tired. We will take a few days out after a hectic few days.
- Pack lots of snacks, and always take double the amount of food and water you need – as transport is often delayed or breaks down.
- Bring technology to occupy your child/children on planes/airports/buses etc.
- Spend time at places where there are adults and children.
We also have times when it is “his day”, then the next day is “my day”. This often works well if we go out and I am having time talking with other adults. He will happily sit and play his electronic games, while I have a drink and a chat.
How has traveling with your son changed you (and him)?
I’m finally getting less stressed. I was quite a stresser. I am also learning possessions don’t buy happiness. So I get bored with clothes etc, or seasons change, and we have to give our things away.
For my son, I think he has matured so much. He loves to select clothes so I dress like a local, not a tourist. I find this quite interesting in what he observes. I notice he has no problem in going up to a waiter, and placing a simple order in Spanish now.
He now draws maps and helps to plan our trips. He meets other children and language is no barrier to play.
How much do you spend a day traveling?
My budget is $60 a day. This does not include the original international fares, or travel insurance.
I am surprised now at how I can haggle hotel and hostel prices, eat out at nice restaurants, and travel within this amount. This also includes new suitcases, clothes, transport, and toiletries. It is important to plan a yearly budget amount. We knew we would be higher for USA, so the budget reflected that.
We did go slightly over our first year budget, but we have learnt a lot since we started, so this year should be better.
Is it difficult to find foods that your son will eat?
At first I tried to have him eat similar foods to what I used to cook in Australia. I soon learnt this was too expensive.
I have learnt that healthy food is important, and also a cheaper alternative. We eat local food, but not often off the street – mores at the cafes the locals would eat at. We try to eat out at a nice place at least once a week.
I visit the local markets and stock up on fruit and vegetables. I try to stay at hostels, as they have kitchens where I can cook. I am however surprised at the foods my son does NOT want to try that I think are basic. But he will then go and ask to try Llama and purple potatoes!
What do you do when things go wrong?
This has happened several times. We sat down before this trip and talked about what happens if either of us is unhappy. We agreed we would respect that person and move on.
We have had faced quite a few adversities, but I have to say the best thing is to slow down, pray, resolve the problem or refocus, and then start to travel again. This has always resulted in the next place being a better place, and the problems are soon forgotten.
Any other thoughts or advice for our women readers?
If you want to travel and see the world, there really is no reason why you can’t. I hear all the reasons why people can’t, but really, you can find a way.
I met a lady who hired halls and planned dance parties and raised $20,000 to travel South America. You just need to believe in yourself, and your dream.
Live your dream.
If you want to travel, you can do it. I put up motivational quotes around the house. I told very few people at the start, as I didn’t want their negative comments. When I did tell others, I did get a lot of people telling me all the obstacles. But by then the wheels were in motion. It took me 18 months to pack up and sell up. But every day I worked towards my goal.
For more info, please visit www.exploramumourworldtrip.blogspot.com.