As some readers already know, my daughter and I spent six weeks this summer in Asia traveling with my sister who is living in Thailand for the time being. My husband and I had traveled slow several years ago but never with a child, and never apart. I will have a separate post coming soon about the tremendous positive aspects of the trip, but today I will cover some of the drawbacks of slow travel with a child.
What is slow travel?
Slow travel is about spending more time in one place rather than rushing through a city trying to cram everything into a few days so that you can jet-off to another destination. It’s about really diving into where you are and exploring like a local, renting a condo or home over staying in hotels. Slow travel means fully immersing yourself into the area and taking your trip day by day with very little stress over what you must see or must do. This style of traveling means you can travel longer and more affordably.
(AngloItalian Travel) – these travelers enjoy slow travel.
Our specific situation?
My little sister and her boyfriend decided to take a year and travel around Asia and Oceania while practicing yoga, working on organic farms, and also just exploring a new corner of the world. Since I am a stay-at-home mom to my daughter, Lucy, and my husband works a lot in the summer, we saw this as an opportunity for Lucy and I to spend some time traveling (not farming) alongside my sister.
Having lived in Thailand years ago, it is a location I am quite comfortable with and felt that this would be a good spot to spend most of our time together. We booked an Airbnb that was close to the beach, the markets and had plenty of comforts nearby. Even though I have been to Thailand numerous times and for long periods at a time, there were still aspects of this slow travel with a child that I may not have been completely prepared for.
Distance is Hard
Thailand is 8,743 miles away from our home. Before we set off on our journey to the other side of the world, I started to worry about the distance between us and my husband who was going to be at home working.
What if something terrible happened?
…to us or to him. If there was some type of emergency, how quickly could we really get back home or could my husband get to us? It felt like a scary amount of distance between us and that panic never fully went away until my husband had joined us for the last week and a half of our travels.
It wasn’t just being far away from my husband, but also our extended family. We live an hour away from my mother, my older sister, and her family. Lucy is used to seeing her cousins and “Nani” every week and it was hard for her to adjust to going weeks at a time without them around.
The distance can be difficult and when it got down to it, it just felt like we were very, very far away.
Time Zones Compound the Issue
Adjusting to different time zones while traveling (especially with children) brings its own kind of difficulties, but adding to not only the struggle of physical distance is the struggle of being on opposite time zones.
My morning was my husband’s evening and while certain hours of the day were easy for both of us to communicate, it was a small window. Lucy enjoyed asking her dad if it was “night-time or morning time” where he was during their Face-time calls. But often those calls were difficult to coordinate and sometimes missed if she was already sleeping or he had ducked into a meeting.
We did plenty of immersion, blending ourselves into the area around us and we really enjoyed living like a local. But there are days when your three year-old just wants to watch Moana, and who can blame her? Netflix is great, it is one of Lucy’s favorite words, but abroad it can be less than effective. A lot of content is unavailable outside the US and while I am grateful that there was content at all, it seems that children like routine and predictability, Lucy had a hard time understanding why her favorite movies that she is used to watching on Netflix had disappeared.
Even with a local sim card and fast data, it still wasn’t the same experience that we are used to in the US. It’s easy for an adult to understand why things load slowly or not at all, but it’s hard for a three year-old to understand the challenges of GSM networks and weak internet connections.
A few times Lucy had some frustrations with the language barrier and while I was extremely proud of her every time she correctly said “Hello” and “Thank you” and especially the time she said “I’m three years old” in Thai. There were a handful of times where the communication misunderstandings were difficult and I could see that she didn’t fully grasp why not everyone could understand her.
There was a large playground near our apartment and Lucy would ask almost everyday to go and play. It warmed my heart to see her playing with the other children and making friends but I noticed at first that she was getting quite frustrated so I pulled her aside to ask her what was wrong and she responded “My friend can’t hear me.” I explained to her that her friend could hear her but that her friend spoke Thai and that she spoke English, she was quick to get over her frustrations and they continued to play without any troubles because fun is fun in every language.
I was pretty selective with food for Lucy during this trip. I wanted to be extra careful in hopes of avoiding any risk of food borne illnesses.
To accommodate Lucy (who has an excellent adaptability for food when we travel) from time to time we would try to make something close to something else. For example, we might try to make Thai sausage more like a hot dog, or a chicken kabob which we referred to as a chicken taco.
There were just certain items that we couldn’t help her with and some that she had trouble getting on board with like fresh squeezed passion fruit juice and salted fish (maybe it was that they both had “eyeballs”).
We didn’t want to pass up these local favorites so we would try to find something acceptable nearby but a lot of times we would eat different things along the way and not always at the same time as each other. It wasn’t always easy for her to wait until we would find an acceptable meal that pleased both her and myself. We do our best to have her try everything but she is a toddler after all and doesn’t have quite the adventurous palette that we do. Luckily we had access peanut butter and jelly for a quick fix from home.
While my sister’s boyfriend was there with us, it still intimidating to live in another country so far away from my husband for an extended period of time. All of the worrying that he does on a daily basis for our safety was now my responsibility and I had to take a number of measures to ensure that my daughter and I were safe.
I became obsessed about locked doors. I was always surveying the area around us to see how people were acting or if anyone was watching us. I didn’t let my phone distract me while we were out. I tried to have a plan for certain what-if scenarios. I know it sounds paranoid (and maybe it was) but I wanted to be overly cautious at all times.
Every time we used Uber or stepped onto a songtaew I thought to myself how vulnerable we were and did my best to keep my guard up. One trick I picked up from my sister’s boyfriend revolved around transportation. He would open Google Maps and track our progress in relation to our destination. If the path diverged from what looked to be logical, we would pay closer attention or give instructions to the driver to resume the expected path. It also showed our driver that we were paying attention and aware of our location.
For the most part, our experience was a great one. It was a unique, one-time opportunity to share time with my daughter alone, and also with my sister. The good memories far outweighed the worry and struggles we faced. There’s no doubt challenges in the process, and I can say that I am not rushing back to do it without my husband again. For some families slow travel might be the perfect way to travel.
Have you considered slow travel either with or without a child? What challenges have you faced while slow traveling?