One of the great things about living abroad is that you are constantly meeting new and different people who have a similar adventurous outlook to you. Let’s face it… you have to be just a little adventurous to pack up your family and travel halfway around the world to work—right!?
My mantra for many years of travelling now is to collect experiences not things. Sure we pick up a souvenir here and there, and in our family we have to get the obligatory magnet for a fridge for each destination we add to our list of cities or countries that we have visited. I think of it a bit like my Girl Scouts Badge collection of travel experiences.
I can’t say travelling with my kids is always fun… some of those experiences include dealing with tantrums in museums and having to trade off an amazing restaurant lunch for a trip to the park… because you just know how that lunch will go down if you don’t (insert eye roll emoji!).
But I will say we have just returned from a fairly long trip where I was able to get some extended leave, and my kids reflections of that holiday made my heart sing.
Every time we visit a new place I ask my kids to consider what was their highlight and what was one thing that they wished was different. For the longest time the highlight was things like ‘that chocolate milkshake we had’ or ‘watching the movies on the plane’. I would wring my hands and wonder why we were busting our energy on dragging them around to places. I would despair that we are paying good money to fly to places or pay money to enter sites that would make the hit list. My husband even wondered if life wouldn’t be better if we just left them at home.
But slowly I have come to notice two things. Firstly, the things they reflect on are usually the times we as adults have slowed right down and just hung out with them whilst travelling. In a neighbourhood park, in the pool, at the beach or beside a river, or played uno over dinner. They are times when we have been fully present with the kids. Times when we haven’t chased a to do list for our destination.
This has made my experience more real too. Pushing swings with another local mum, whilst we try and communicate in our different languages and have only a few shared words about our two kids who are both loving flying through the air. This lack of a common language doesn’t stop my kids they laugh their heads off anyway. Sharing tissues with a friendly dad who has noticed that my son’s ice-cream is all over his t-shirt (again!) and sharing anecdotes about the messiest kid moment we have had. I wouldn’t have had those connections without my kids chasing these slow down moments.
Secondly the things that increasingly make up their highlights are the not the visits to the tourist sites. Although they definitely remember those. The highlights are the times they connect with people and have shared experiences like ‘visiting my friend Suresh at his house and making jokes’ or ‘jumping off the jetty into the water at Vera’s house’ or ‘fishing by ourselves (that is without adults) at Devang’s place’.
I’m so proud that my kids are collecting moments not things, and that their insistence (begging, nagging!?) on slowing down and hanging out means that I am more present and connected. That stuff is far more important than ticking tourist boxes and taking selfies of every site. It’s what stays in your memories long after the digital pics fade in your brain.