It takes a certain kind of mindset to be truly happy with less, but kids are experts at it. They tune into their environments, wherever they are, play with what’s at hand and talk to whoever is listening. They don’t need an excess of toys, they don’t need an excess of technology, they don’t need screen time or ballet lessons or overpriced art classes, and they certainly don’t need all-day-long stimulation and busy daily schedules.
When we travel with our kids, it’s all too easy for us to over-pack, cling to familiar routines and baulk at the strangeness of each new destination, but kids don’t. Mostly, they are more than happy to ditch their schedules, abandon mealtimes, and shed the excess of stuff that surrounds them at home. In an instant they downsize, unwind and simplify…in short, they become natural minimalists and that’s why they make excellent travellers. The trick is to get them travelling before they develop a firm relationship with technology and you’ll be laughing.
Here my top five reasons why kids make excellent minimalist travellers:
1. Kids don’t need stuff
Take any kid to a toy store and there’s a good chance they’ll want to leave with half a dozen dazzling ‘must-have’ new toys. That’s natural. But take a kid to a park, into a forest, to the mountains or to a beach, and chances are they’ll want to run and explore, surf, swim, collect things, throw pebbles into the water, chat and build and play.
This extends to just about every new situation, especially when travelling overseas. When a child is plonked in a new environment, all they often need is a little interpretation from us – naming and explaining – and to be led into playtime so that they can enjoy and explore the new world around them.
2. Kids don’t need schedules
I am often shocked by how much gets crammed into the daily lives of children. Not only are they expected to rise early, tackle a dozen get-ready-and-out-the-door tasks, but then they are expected to spend their day dealing with lessons, personalities, the complexities of playtime and when its all done and dusted, turn their attention to learning to dance, swim, play piano, master basketball or whatever extra-curricular activity has been added onto their already over-scheduled day. Where in all of this busyness is there time to daydream, lounge around with a few favourite toys, chat with us parents, join us while we cook or garden or do yoga or whatever it is that we consider to be downtime?
3. Kids know how to slow down
As multi-tasking parents we are so used to stuffing our days with so many errands and jobs that we forget that we are modeling this chaotic behaviour to our kids. Yes, it’s difficult to stop and turn your attention to your child when you are in the middle of cooking, returning work emails or any one of the seemingly vital tasks we muddle through all day long (believe me, my chatterbox girl and I struggle with this one).
When everything seems important, it’s sooooo hard to stop and listen. But we must, because kids remind us to get off the treadmill, stop listening to that annoying to-do list that runs through our heads all day long and stop being busy!
4. Kids don’t need constant stimulation
(At least not the organised, activity-based stimulation that’s usually fed to them.) When we don’t rely on screens and teacher-led classes and lots of organised activities, kids become that much more interested in the world around them. They might claim to be bored at first, but when they are not being told what to do and what to learn, they suddenly become free to choose what they want to do and what they want to talk about, to decide what they’d like to eat and when, and become confidently involved in the family’s travel itinerary and plans for each day.
5. Kids don’t need space
Adults need privacy, I suspect teenagers crave personal space (haven’t gotten there yet), but young kids don’t. They are portable, flexible and far more adaptable than we give them credit for. That means you can squeeze them into a Thai bungalow if you want to, feed them off your plate, rent a tiny campervan and skip a shower when you don’t have running water, feed them sandwiches for dinner and put them to bed by torchlight. When things are new there’s great potential for fun – it’s all how you sell it to them. If you think travel is fun, they will too.
……..And for all these reasons and so many, many more, we take our kids travelling. They certainly do shape the nature and course of our adventures, requiring less ambitious itineraries and more kid-friendly fun, but on the upside, they effortlessly remind us of life’s infinite potential, keep us smiling when things don’t go to plan, and endear us to locals everywhere.
The minimalist in me
On my daughter’s first off-road camping adventure around Australia (at the tender age of four weeks), I stuffed our 4WD with an excess of gear for the five-month-long journey ahead: clothes she never wore, an off-road stroller she frustratingly refused to lay down in, and a baby backpack that we lost off the roof of our camper long before our miniature trekker ever got the chance to use it. Instead, all our tiny bundle wanted was to sleep with us, be carried in a papoose and bathed in a bucket. Period.
As thorough minimalists, my partner and I were thrilled. Out went the stroller, the ridiculous stash of toys that never entertained her and instead, we explored the bush and beaches, rainforests and waterfalls with our baby strapped to my chest, singing and chatting and eventually sleeping. Ok, it wasn’t’ quite as idyllic as that sounds, but you get the point. We didn’t need stuff then and we still don’t, five years on.
Today, we travel with no more than we can fit into our backpacks or bicycle panniers, live part-time on a small catamaran and when exploring in Australia, tow a tiny camper trailer that’s little more than a weather-proof living room with just enough sleeping space for three: no toilet or shower, no television or fans, just a cosy little den that’s a breeze to tow and can be set up in under 10 minutes.
Last year our family spent five months cycling touring in Southeast Asia, our bicycles loaded up with camping gear and laptops and camera gear, with our child perched on the back. On Java’s hilly southern coastline I became acutely aware of why travelling with less truly rocks, but hills and headwinds aside, carrying less gear meant we couldn’t insulate ourselves from the communities we were travelling through, relying on them instead to rent us rooms, sell us meals, engage with our chatterbox child and show us their magnificent worlds. Did my child relish the experience? She positively bloomed! And that’s why our family continues to expose the world to our child.