Last summer, we took our three children (aged 6, 3 and 3) on a family road trip. Over two weeks, we racked up nearly 2,000 miles, visited four European countries, and spent an awful lot of time in our trusty VW Sharan.
We planned the trip so that we could spend quality time together, expecting to make some great memories. What we didn’t expect was to learn a lot about ourselves, our children, and our family. Here are just a few of the things we learned.
1. We can live with a lot less stuff
Over-packing is my cross to bear. Whether it’s a night away or a two-week holiday, I pack between two to three times the amount of clothes we actually need. This time, I was determined to only pack the bare minimum. We set off with just our two 11-year-old Target duffle bags, plus a rucksack of entertainment for each of the kids.
Still, I think we each wore about half of the clothes I’d packed. It was hot and sunny all but one of the days and we had access to washing machines at each of our Airbnb homes, which really helped. But more than once, when packing up for yet another location change, I wished I had been more strict with myself!
When we got home, I looked around our stuffed-full house and felt overwhelmed. The simplicity of living with only a car-full of belongings felt freeing. We were not burdened with years of accrued belongings. This feeling has really stuck with me and I hope that in time, we will live a simpler life and be happy with less, just like we were on the road.
2. Our kids are more adaptable than we thought
Confession time: before our trip, I felt anxious about staying in a new home every couple of days. I wondered how our children would cope. I wondered how I would cope. Everyone says that kids thrive on routine and structure, so what would happen when we removed it?
I needn’t have worried. Our children seriously impressed us with their enthusiasm for each new place we stopped. They couldn’t wait to explore each of our Airbnbs, finding ‘their’ bedrooms, and taking delight in unfamiliar surroundings. They were excited, adventurous, and fearless. And above all, they were inspiring.
3. We all get on better without everyday distractions
Before our trip, my husband and I were growing incredibly frustrated with our boys fighting daily. They don’t often fight physically, apart from the odd shove or kick, but their bickering and disagreements were becoming unbearable. We really worried about how this would impact our trip, especially as they are used to spending time apart while at school and daycare.
Again, we needn’t have worried. Apparently, the close quarters of a car and new shared experiences are a magic formula resulting in sibling cohesion. On our long car journeys, we observed our eldest being kind, helpful, and diplomatic. His younger brother sought out his company in more constructive ways: jumping on a trampoline, kicking footballs, and watching their tablets together.
Of course, there were still spats between all three of our kids, but it was a joy watching them grow closer during our trip. And even better, their camaraderie has continued since we returned home.
4. Our kids learn whether they are formally taught or not
When we left, our eldest son had just finished Year 1 and our twins were preparing for preschool. I thought our road trip would be a much-needed break from learning. However, the children showed me otherwise. We did no formal teaching during our holiday – we never do at home, other than the odd bit of homework and school reading. But their learning didn’t stop, and it was all completely self-directed.
They soaked up languages, asking which language is spoken in each of the countries we visited. They translated common words and delighted in trying out their new skills on the locals. Our eldest loved followed our route on Google Maps using his tablet and avidly searched for place names he recognised.
We watched as they spotted letters and numbers on motorway road signs, counted foreign currency and noted route distances. They were interested in the food, buildings, history, and culture of each place we stayed. It was simply incredible watching how much they taught themselves and each other during our trip.
5. We need to show our children more of the world
My husband and I came back from our trip with a huge amount of wanderlust. We are inspired to travel more with our family, to make memories together. We want to explore different cultures as a family, and travel as much as time and money allow! More than anything, we want our children to feel that the world is open to them, and for them to be open to the world.
PS. If you’re inspired by Ellie to go travelling with kids, you’ll love Sara Wheeler’s Motherload blog about taking her kids around the world