We spent two years as a nomad family traveling with a baby and a toddler, and later, two toddlers. Our youngest never knew a home base; he grew from potato to person on the road. As we commit to owning our first home, where we’ll have our third child this summer, experiences from the last two years keep surfacing in beautifully intense flashes. Two years of travel is a lot to process while it’s happening.
In 2014 we put all of our possessions in a storage container in Vancouver, Canada. We took a 4-month-old and a one-year-old to see the US and Europe. We never stayed anywhere more than a few months. We used Airbnb apartments as bases to take road trips in the surrounding countryside. Our adventure changed our life course. In 2016 we ended up buying a farm in Norway.
Our nomadic time was the good stuff — when you tap into the vein of being and stop wondering when life begins. Wisdom was gained; family bonds were forged through having no real ties except each other. Then there’s the straight up factual knowledge gained by living in, observing, and enthusiastically researching other cultures.
If anything, we can’t wait to hit the road again. Our travels will be different. We will take extended trips from the security of home base. We bought a farm, and we’re tied down to loans and the stewardship of the land through the seasons.
We learned some truths about how to travel and how to be from our time as a nomad family. We will use them on all our future journeys. We thought we’d share them below.
9 things we learned by being a nomad family
1. Don’t wait. Go when they’re young.
Travel, no matter how well researched, is a leap into the unknown. So is parenthood. Embrace these complimentary experiences before you get scared or set in your routines and find yourself with elementary school kids who have only been on summer beach vacations. You’ll culminate a spirit of bravery and curiosity you can rely on for life.
2. Travel gives parents a child-like mindset.
You experience the small things of everyday life as if for the first time. You must try to communicate when you don’t always have the words.
3. Less stuff means more life.
You cannot travel with excessive amounts of baby and toddler gear and toys. You don’t need to. When you reduce your possessions to fit in your suitcase there’s a tremendous freedom. If the small folk are antsy, go play outside, go to a new park, go for a hike, go to the cafe, go to a museum. Accumulate experiences. Exploration is education and entertainment.
4. Babies and toddlers are adaptable.
They can handle it. If anything, they’ll thrive given the freedom to experience “childhood unplugged” with their parents during a crucial development stage, wherever that may be.
5. Parent for your child, not a trend or a country.
When you travel with young kids, you find that people in a new place open up to you, and sometimes judge you, in a way that will only happen during family travel. You’ll learn as various grannies offer various tips in various countries that there are so many ways to raise a family.
Good advice or bad advice, the shining point is there is no single answer for how to raise a happy, well-adjusted kid. The on-trend parenting literature in English-speaking countries talks up Tiger moms, Nordic child-rearing, and French kids’ sleeping and eating habits, each purporting they know best.
You don’t need to pick one. Learn about your specific family through the close travel experience. Learn from the world at the same time. Find a balance that’s right for you and your kiddo.
6. The more time you spend together, the more time you want to spend together.
Parenting around a 9-5 job is the unfortunate reality. In that scenario you miss out. If you’re Canadian or Scandinavian or from any other family-oriented country, you spent a decent amount of time with your kid in the first year of life. But the amazing moments just keep happening faster and faster.
The verbalization of wonderfully simple insights, the emerging personality, the laughter that can only burble to the surface after days without needing to be in the car by 7am on the dot with a lunch packed… That’s what you’re missing. You’re probably missing that lazy glass of wine with your spouse too. Or just spending time somewhere overwhelmingly different, without daily rush hour and strip malls. But we digress.
The routine work and family life scenario can result in having kids and spending very little time with them. When you get unadulterated family time for days on end, it’s addictive. Being known and knowing those you love is the most important thing. But you know that, that’s why you had kids.
7. You will never be prepared.
Bad surprises happens whether you stay put or travel. Instead of waiting at home for junior to break his/her arm jumping on the neighbor’s trampoline, go do something interesting. Make sure you have travel insurance. We’ve been in emergency rooms in a few countries, no sweat. One caveat: be sensible. Travel in countries with advanced medical care and low risk when you travel with very young children. For example, we don’t go places where we’d need malaria pills.
8. Once you start, you can’t stop.
Adult or child. when you travel there’s an intensity of feeling, and a sometimes gentle sometimes overwhelming crush of learning that comes from immersing yourself in a new place and culture. There is nothing else like it. When you experience it with the people you love, you’re forever tied together by that feeling, in that moment, in that special place.
9. Travel is a journey. A holiday is a period of leisure.
It’s not all going to be a cool drink on a sun-dappled patio. There will be ups and downs and quiet in-betweens. You need the downs and the quiets to feel the ups. They’re all part of the learning experience.