Travels with a Ten Year Old
Today is Take Your Child To Work Day, so a bunch of lovely folk who travel with a wildly varying selection of spawn — from teens to infants — are putting our collective heads together to talk about the pros and cons of travelling with children of different ages.
Now, I’ve traveled with Z since he was a few months old –- though on trips of a few weeks at the longest — and we started extended travel soon after he turned nine. (There’s a farsighted blog title for ya!)
But I always thought nine would be a good age for longterm travel.
Well, there’s the coldly practical side.
A nine year old requires little by way of daily maintenance. Z has been wiping all his own orifices since time immemorial, and nappies and crying fits are a long-gone memory. (We were never big on regular bedtimes.)
He can carry his own belongings. He can walk as far as most adults, although, due to both size and temperament, a little more slowly.
Being male, and equipped with a sense of direction, he can also identify when we’ve overshot our guesthouse on a bike, navigate me around unfamiliar malls, and, erm, b*tch for Britain when I get us lost.
He can, also, at a push, kip at a bus station or a train station rather more happily than many adults.
As a single parent, travelling the tropics, it’s helpful to have a child who can look after themselves — or, if push comes to absolute shove, their parent.
I was wiped out for a couple of days by some weird tropical tax in Ubud. With a younger child, it would have been a struggle to look after them. As it was, Z was happy, and competent, to run to the shop for food and water, solo, while I took to my bed like some nineteenth century aesthete or neuralgic aunt.
An older child has more independence, too.
I’m more than happy leaving Z in the company of friends to charge around an island, or, for that matter, to finish something up at base, lock up after himself and meet me somewhere nearby in an hour or so.
So it allows a healthy amount of space for both of us. Which is important, because an older child needs that independence, too.
Z’s never been a picky eater, and he’s always had a resilient immune system, not to say a gut of steel.
But I think I’m more relaxed about him consuming street food and, for that matter, tropical ailments, now that he’s long been old enough to tell me if he is sick and cope with sickness.
So on a crudely practical level, it is a hell of a lot easier travelling with an older child than a younger child, especially when there is only one of you.
Well, Z is still little enough, though very worldly, to experience the unfettered awe and wonder of childhood. Helping release baby turtles into the ocean on Pulau Derawan, getting a cuddle from elephants in Chiang Mai, first learning to dive in Puerto Galera — there’s an unfeigned, uncynical joy there that won’t, I think, be there when adolescence hits.
Z’s conversation is generally entertaining, and often genuinely witty –- except when he gets onto one of his South Park or Family Guy riffs.
Yeah. If I had a pound for every dramatic Asian landscape I had experienced to the accompaniment of a steady burble about computer games and animated TV shows, I’d be a rich woman now…
He’s a perceptive observer, when he wants to be. He internalizes history and culture very fast, and when he’s interested in something he soaks it up like a sponge. It’s genuinely fun to talk to him about what we see and do, and I learn something from his observations too.
He has his own opinions, forms views on places he wants to go to or doesn’t want to go to, and can generally assess whether he will like somewhere or not.
Which, sometimes, has its pros and cons. He is leading a charge for us to head back to Vang Vieng in Laos, for example.
But, essentially, I genuinely enjoy his company. He’s a great travel buddy to have.
And the challenges?
Well, he’s school age.
I’ve honestly found that he’s learnt more in our world school than he would have in his London primary school. His writing’s come on in leaps and bounds, and he knows huge amounts of stuff –- not just the history, culture and science that we’ve learnt hands on, but from the books we’ve brought with us and acquired along the way.
But we’ve battled with maths. He was ahead of target in the UK when we left. And he’s still ahead of target now.
Not because I’m pushy. But because I felt we couldn’t travel the world without, err, keeping up the maths.
That means he’s now doing stuff I’ve forgotten how to do. And some stuff which I was never very good at in the first place.
Which is a pain in the butt. And a challenge. Particularly with a sardonic child.
Then, like I said, he has his own opinions.
I could quite happily explore Asia for another year. Z wants to head back to Europe, for a period in Spain followed by more travel in Europe and North Africa.
Why? Well, he wants to be close to family, both his father, his grandparents and my best friend who was his carer with me from when he was born, and his friends, in particular, his best friend, with whom he’s still in touch.
Older children, I think, know their own minds and have firm opinions that require respect and listening to. Younger children have opinions that are less choate, more malleable.
But what I really wanted to write about was the transition between age nine and ten.
Because over the course of the trip, he’s hit not only his tenth birthday — which we spent in Oz, with his father and grandfather, ice-skating, of all things — but one of those milestones of development.
There’s that moment when a baby becomes a toddler, another when a toddler becomes a little boy, another, at around six or seven, when the little boy becomes a big boy, and now, he’s, well, he’s turned ten and he’s becoming pre-adolescent.
Or tween, if you must.
What does that mean?
Practically? Well, when we started out Z was still a little boy, albeit a big little boy (if you see what I mean), and so if a room we rented only had one bed, I didn’t sweat it. Now, I’m conscious of impending adolescence, it no longer really seems appropriate to share a bed, so I ask for an extra one.
Emotionally? He’s a bit more timid to try new things than he was — though my lord he’s happier on a surfboard than I am. He’s a bit more concerned with exterior appearances, and with getting things wrong.
He’s a lot more embarrassed if I inadvertently use his baby name. He picks up on sexual elements in movies and TV shows in a way he wouldn’t have done a year ago.
And he’s more introspective, sometimes. Not less happy. But more thoughtful. A sign, I think, of the higher level of self-consciousness that will kick in further in two or three more years.
I like this thoughtfulness. It comes as a piece, I think, with the biting wit, the observational aptitude, the sensitivity. In fact, I’ve enjoyed every incarnation of my child immensely, and — call me an old-fashioned optimist — I expect to enjoy even the teen years.
Well, bits of them, anyway…
But when he said last night, “You know, I always used to wish I was bigger. And now, sometimes, I wish I was little again,” I realised that sometimes, just sometimes, I do too.
Do stop by and read some other stories from travelling families.
The Dropout Diaries Attack of the Asian Baby Snatchers
Almost Fearless The Amazing Adventures of Baby Cole
Wandermom The Highs and Lows of Travelling with a Teen and a Tween
Around the World in Easy Ways The Age of Perfection
Globetrotting Mama Take Your Child to Work
Snaps and Blabs Travelling with Children — Which One to Leave at Home?
Wandering Educators Why We Love Traveling with Our Daughter Eastside Curry: Traveling with Your Kids: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
For what it’s like to travel *as* a ten year old, do visit A Ten Year Old’s Travels, where Z gives his take on life as a travelling ten year old.