Sure your children will experience new sights and sounds when you travel as a family. But they'll cherish the extra time they get to spend with you most
When we look back on our childhood, our time with our parents, I wonder how many of us remember something we were given by them as much as some time we spent doing something with them?
Admittedly, I do remember being handed a fancy new camera to use at six years old. But, I remember it because I was doing something with my dad; we were hunkered down, shaded by sacking, staring through a piece of glass at a hoopoe’s day-old hatchlings.
I remember the week he spent digging the ditch, and the hours spent sewing the potato sacks together to cover it; the care he took not to disturb the nest while painstakingly constructing a basic glass viewing panel, to give us a window into the underground nesting habits of this quirky bird.
I remember the smell of the nest, the dust coming off the hessian as the wind lifted it and beat it back down again, and I remember the camera felt big and awkward. I remember my dad’s warm hands trying to help mine to cradle the camera, as he explained aperture and shutter speed in that low light. I remember the endless small, black-and-white photographs, which he hung up to dry after developing them in our bathroom.
I had no idea how extraordinary those photographs were in their time, and the world has never really seen them since, but I remember the fascination we shared together more than 40 years later.
But, most of all I remember sitting in that dirty, rough, ditch, with dad, his face silhouetted against the harsh, African midday light that leaked through the sacking; I remember the low mumble of his voice explaining what we were seeing; I remember him pointing out how blind and naked the chicks were; I remember him turning and smiling because he was sharing this with his daughter, me. My dad’s face glowed, and his eyes shone, and all I knew was that I was sharing this wonder with him.
Time to build a connection, and opportunities to spend any with our children, free of expectations, are often patchy and unconnected. However, travel is the perfect occasion to put aside our daily pressures, let go, and freefall into aimless hours in each other’s company.
My father and I had only travelled to the bottom of our garden to watch the hoopoe family, but in time together we wandered across vast galaxies of shared experience on that day. It goes without saying that travel doesn’t have to be abroad; we didn’t leave the borders of our country until I was 12.
However, what I remember is doing things together. If my parents and I drove into the countryside around us regularly, or if we took off every weekend, or if that’s just what I remember I don’t know. But that’s the point, I only remember the trips, and the time shared.
So many of my early childhood memories are from up on my father’s shoulders as we watched buffalo in the forest on the slopes of Mount Elgon; or from the back of the car that got stuck in a flooded river on the way to a campsite; or my mum bathing me in a plastic tub by the camp fire: or me sitting between them both in the evening, and watching vervet monkeys climb out of acacia trees above us to scavenge anything we left out.
I have still got that camera, if you take that first Pentax Asahi and think of it as a an ongoing, unfolding collective that continues to embody the qualities of that time shared with my father – that was the legacy.
Many of us may not have the advantage of having Africa as their back garden like my parents, but my sons and I still talk of so many days out to all sorts of places; from local parks to theme parks down the road, to the Grand Canyon National Park.
All those experiences are still available to me in my head, accessible not only through memory, not only through remembering, but by calling into presence the qualities that were present in those moments.
The travel we have done together has given us some amazing sights, but more importantly, when we’re back home remembering them, I find that they have become lasting insights.
The more we travel with our kids the more time we’re spending together to truly connect; to strengthen our relationship and create that bond where our children feel seen, heard, and valued; when we will both feel sustained. In searching the experiences for the meaning for myself as a parent, I find I have learned so much about my children.
While walking for 33 days over the Pyrenees and across Spain for 800km with my sons, when they were 16 and 12 years old, we spent a lot of time hanging out. We enjoyed what was there and unleashed the silly side that plays for no other reason than because it can. It was as if a river of joy meandered through the days, carrying deposits of alluvial fun along with it.
The happiness came from engaging in the unconventional with a passion for the adventure; the pleasure sometimes came from the games we played together, and the conversations about ideas, feelings and worries as we walked along, that brought us closer.
Two years later what we experienced resonates in our daily lives, they still dare to find the special in the ordinary. Just this week, my eldest son, Ben, turned to me and said he could not imagine being happier than he is right now.
“If we had more things, more stuff, it would not make much difference; it would not make the conversations we had about the movies we watched, or the ideas we discussed, or the time we spent together any better. Money did not buy those things.”
In a world that measures worth in what we produce and what we consume it is a radical act of independence to value time shared with people you love. At the end of the day, our children will not remember the iPad we bought them as much as the time we give them – travel with your kids, it’s a meaningful life we are trying to build here.
Have you ever heard anyone say; “I wish I’d spent less time with the people who tether me to this earth, my kids”?
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 daughter sitting on bridge (Shutterstock.com)