It's not only children that benefit from travelling with family – here are the key life skills you'll pick up as a parent
It’s really easy to talk about the importance of travel for children – the values it builds in them, the resources they bank from the experiences, the extra depth of their understanding of themselves, the world, and their place in it – but it’s easier to overlook what parents gain.
There are definitive life-skills learned from travelling with children, which put us at an enormous advantage in everyday life. Here are three of the most profound...
This is the basic leadership of social influence to get the help and support of others to accomplish something.
This is the active, empowered, stance of leading; with an impressive social intelligence, a passion for change, the ability to focus on what really deserves attention and, above all, a vision that motivates and inspires.
This is leadership that understands that, bottom-line, success comes through deep and sustained commitment.
It is that unswerving commitment that keeps your family going, particularly through the times when things go wrong – as they surely do in the highly unpredictable practice of travelling.
If you find yourself half way between France and Spain, with one child sitting on the ground crying because he feels he can’t carry on, and another child walking off for the border frustrated by everything, you grow transformational leadership skills.
When you travel with children you are focused on helping every member of the family succeed; and you have to inspire your children to change expectations, and help them find the passion and motivation for what you are doing. All this in challenging circumstances, where you can’t rely on ordinary resources.
With that effort everyone begins to see real evidence that they can affect the things around them. You grow a sense of wellbeing in those around you, a feeling that they can determine their own course and then navigate it.
Above all, you nurture a feeling that if everything were to fall apart, the people you are leading could find a way to put things back together again.
Travelling with children will give you this skill – and not only are you a transformational leader, but you are also transformed by leading.
On the road you are leading your family between watering holes, and you can, of course, use a guidebook. This will tell you where the water can be found, but it will not tell you if it is drinkable that day.
For that you need an ability to tune into information that is not always obvious, to assimilate subtle cues, and trust your better judgment. In other words you need a strong intuition.
A well-developed intuition allows you to elegantly move through difficult choices with greater certainty and focus. That expanded vision allows you to think of, and successfully implement, plans that are valuable in multiple directions.
Intuition is the natural intelligence; it is not a supernatural skill gifted to some but not to others. Everyone has the ability to use their intuition to serve them in powerful ways.
Because your world is not dulled by habit, travel builds intuition exponentially.
Being a parent day-to-day can be honed to a routine, but when travelling with children, everything is uncertain; and the higher the risk, the higher the pressure. That is where natural intuition is at its best.
Learning to trust yourself is as important as your family learning to trust you.
Just one example of intuition helping us was while we were walking 500 miles across Spain. Somewhere before Moratinos there was a fountain, there was nothing outwardly different about it and not drinking from it made the next seven miles very hard. But there was something indefinably wrong, so we didn’t fill our bottles, or even splash our faces.
Eight people that we know of were sick, and three were hospitalized, after drinking from that fountain that morning. There was just something about the heavy aridness, the fetidness of the air, which told us the water table was too low or that the fountain was stagnant. Instinct made us keep walking.
Travelling with children will give you that faith in your ability to honour stillness at some moments and at others to ride the passion and exuberance of impulse, fully engaged with this strange and shimmering world.
This isn’t the arrogant kind confidence: travelling with children means you can stand in your own truth. A genuine confidence based in honesty
Whatever ethical code you hold yourself to, when you are responsible for a family, for children, it’s important to raise the bar even higher. If you say one thing but do another, your actions will speak louder than your words. If you lie to your children, you are both losing their trust and modelling dishonest behaviour.
Your family and your children are a reflection of yourself, and if you are honest and ethical your children will follow suit. Confidence will naturally follow. The more you do what you set yourself to do, the more your actions match your words.
Three days into that 33-day walk across Spain, I had to admit to my two sons that the woman who got them on the journey was fallible. Carrying a backpack that was too heavy, and carrying my son’s bag part of the way down the Pyrenees, had grown crippling blisters and put too much stress on my hips. I couldn’t walk and that was a threat to our chances of getting to the end. It was perhaps the hardest thing for me to do, but I had to accept my weakness in front of my own sons.
That honesty set an example that allowed everyone to feel invested in the accomplishments of us all. It allowed my sons to grow from just followers to equals, and eventually leaders. Traits I have seen develop in them both in the time since. The level headed, positive, determination and resilience to challenges otherwise known as confidence.
The honesty of giving up being perfect and getting on with the far more interesting job of being myself, and finding that was OK, grew an inner unshakable confidence.
Of course, by completing the 500 miles walking across a country, and everything that happened on the way, turned saying we would do it into a reality. That builds confidence; I became the woman my sons believed I was.
Travelling with children will do as much for you as it does for them. Having an idea is commonplace; to make it real takes consistent, persistent effort toward making that idea happen. These experiences ultimately integrate themselves inside, an integration of an inner value with things in the world around you
Melanie Gow is a writer, speaker and photographic artist who believes life is a brief shot at something incredible. Her book, Walking With Angels, is the inspirational story of walking the Camino de Santiago with her sons, aged 12 and 16, and is available on Amazon. For more details about Melanie and her book, visit her website, myofficetoday.co.uk.
Main image: Father and son contemplating Malta (Shutterstock)