How to have a strong marriage and support network while traveling with kids
We all want the precious bonding opportunities that come from traveling with our kids. But what about when you’re traveling without your usual support network?
What about babysitters and dates and time alone and time for you know what and just keeping your sanity in general for months on end?
If you feel selfish or guilty for asking that question, don’t. It’s a legitimate thing, one that many parents would do well to consider more carefully before stepping out on their next adventure.
When this question came up in our private EntreFamily Facebook group, I knew it was worthy of more than just a quick answer:
I’d love to hear your thoughts on having a support network while you travel. My husband and I are seriously considering a year-long RV trip with our 2 and 4 year olds, but I get nervous about losing the little support we have here (especially babysitters!!). Would love to hear what’s worked for others. ~ Catherine
We had four kids aged eight and under (including a baby) when we went on our first Big Trip (one year around the world) and it was definitely hard to both:
a) go without our regular community, family, & friends for an extended period of time
b) have no access to babysitters for the entire year
For the record, it’s not that we didn’t want to be with our kids frequently (and I think that’s what makes us feel guilty for even asking these questions). I mean, quality time as a family was sort of the whole point of the trip.
But let’s not downplay the fact that it’s actually necessary for the health of your relationship as partners to have that time together with each other.
Not only that, but being away from your usual community – whether that’s your extended family, good friends, your church, a sports team or book club, or wherever you regularly connect with others – just gets plain old lonely, and lonely isn’t good for anyone.
*Our family during the first month of our trip, in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay.*
Being away from our tight-knit community back home was both one of the best and worst things that happened to us, to be frank.
It gave us time away to relearn who we were as individuals and as a family. We were able to explore many of our long-held ideas and values and ways of living, and let travel help us ask better questions about who we were, what mattered most, and what we wanted out of life.
The downside is that we were thrown into a state of spiritual deconstruction, questioning and rethinking much of what we’d believed most of our lives. This was one of the hardest things we’ve ever walked through (and are still walking through to a lesser degree) and yet it was also so good for us.
We also hit hard times in our marriage. Some things that had been festering for a while got big and ugly while we traveled.
I frequently tell people that whatever is already in your relationships before you travel will not get better. It will be revealed and you’ll have to deal with it fully. The stresses of travel are like bumps and jolts against a glass of water, and whoosh! The water that was already inside the glass comes sloshing out. Surprise! Now you get to clean up the mess.
We were blessed by a visit with friends while in Italy (they were passing through Europe, so we met up) and thankfully they recognized we were struggling and called us out on it. We did monthly Skype calls with them for the last 6 months of our trip, as accountability to keep working through our junk, and to give us a listening and compassionate ear when we had no one else to talk to about it.
Lastly, it was truly positive for us as a family. We bonded with our kids significantly. We learned how to function as a family unit, and how to be each other’s best friends.
We had so much stinkin’ fun together. We got to know our kids, each other, and ourselves so much better than before. We saw beautiful things emerge in each other. We formed precious memories in some very special places. We learned and grew and changed and sat in awe and wonder, together.
So as you step towards your own Big Trip or whatever your version of extended travel looks like, do so knowingly and thoughtfully. This isn’t an impossible hurdle. It just requires a little intentionality.
There are many ways to lessen the struggles and loneliness, stay connected with your support network, and keep your marriage strong while traveling with kids.
*Johanna and friend London playing together in Argentina – we met her parents Joe and Leann while we were on the road and spent a month hanging out together as families, including taking a road trip together!*
Here are some practical things we’ve done to have a strong marriage and support network while traveling with kids:
We made friends all over the place, mostly with friends of friends.
Missionaries, ex-pats, fellow nomads, military families, or even people we’d known online for years but never met in person. This was amazing. And every once in a while, there were people we felt comfortable enough with to leave our kids with briefly to get out and have a short date together. It wasn’t very often, but when it happened we really relished it.
Babysitting or not, these new-found relationships gave us more adult time and much-needed community.
We all need friends to talk and share our lives with. To grab a coffee with. To have long conversations over Argentine wine while our children run amok in a restaurant courtyard. To talk all day together while we stroll with our kids in a park in Kuala Lumpur. To listen and be a safe place as our new friends shared struggles of ministry and faith and weariness while serving in Israel. To have lunch in India and have them help you buy running shoes for your daughter because you don’t have a clue where to go. We all need community.
We gave each other permission to get out of the house.
Even if we couldn’t go out together, Ryan and I could send the other spouse out for an afternoon with a new friend, or to go sit in a coffee shop alone for a few hours, or just go for a walk on the beach. Those times were critical to our mental and emotional health as we traveled in new cultures with four small kids and lived in very tight physical spaces. We needed an outlet and going out by ourselves often provided that.
*Camel riding in Morocco with Grandma (Ryan’s mom)*
We flew in reinforcements.
We put out an open invitation to our friends and family that anyone could meet up with us during our travels. Only one person actually took us up on it, but man, was it awesome. Ryan’s mom flew to Europe to be with us for about three weeks. It was so good for the kids to have Grandma time and us to have another adult around, but it changed up our dynamic in a good way and we had a blast showing her around Spain and France, and even taking her briefly to Morocco and Portugal. We made sure to take several good date nights during this period of time, including one really special evening in Paris, which was as stereotypically magical as you’d expect.
We had in-house dates.
If we couldn’t get out, then we’d bring the date night to us after the kiddos went to bed. Did you know that you can actually get gelato delivery in Argentina?? Heaven help us.
We found as many opportunities to connect during our every day activities as possible.
If we were eating ice cream at the beach and the kids were occupied scrambling up a pile of rocks, we’d find a place to sit and have a nice conversation while we watched them. We’d do the same at parks, sitting on a bench sipping on a coffee, tea or liquado while they ran and played.
We tried to find local churches and communities in as many locations as possible.
That way we could, at least briefly, connect and engage with others. Not only was this just good for our souls, but it allowed us to make many friends, get to know some truly incredible people, and better understand their lives in a different culture.
We did the usual Skype calls and texting and Facebook updates.
It seems like a small thing, but it isn’t. I tried to post a Facebook update once every day or two during our year long trip, and having that connection back home to the people we loved was invaluable. I could tell them when we were having a hard time, ask them to pray, or just share a few funny comments back and forth across the miles, and feel like maybe, just maybe, we weren’t so very far away.
*Our kids together with the Oxenreider kids, building their own “Teribithia” village during our month-long stay in Cadenet, France.*
Lessons we’ve learned and what we intentionally do these days to stay connected and supported while we’re traveling:
- Plan our travel around meeting up with friends – We can’t always make this happen, but when we can? It’s such a gift. Traveling or meeting up with another family goes a long way towards our emotional and relational health. About two years ago, we met up with our friends Tsh and Kyle and their kids, and spent over six weeks enjoying Europe together. This spring, we have plans to meet up at a conference with other worldschooling families, plus two weeks together in Costa Rica with a family mastermind group we’re a part of, to help break up our time on the road in Central America (which we anticipate will be three months – more on this to come!).
- Plan for longer stays in one place – The more we travel, the more staying put in one place matters to us. Last time we went to Europe we spent one month living in a small town in France. This time, we’re planning 3-4 weeks in a little lakeside village in Guatemala, and possibly another couple weeks in a Nicaraguan town. This gives us time to get into a routine, to meet both locals and ex-pats, to feel rested and settled, and gives us a far richer cultural experience. For us, it’s a must-do.
- As word gets out about our travels, we find ourselves being connected with other traveling families and we’ve realized there’s more of a network out there than we thought! I love this Worldschoolers group on Facebook, plus there’s the conference I mentioned above, the upcoming Family Adventure Summit put on by friends I met this summer, our very own private Facebook group for fellow EntreFamilies, and numerous families I met when I spoke at the World Domination Summit this past summer.
- Make sure we’re healthy and ready, before we go. We can never be 100% anything, but just being aware of the potential issues and hardships and trying to prepare ourselves beforehand makes a gigantic difference. So before embarking on your next adventure, consider planning extra time for your kids to be with friends and family before you leave. Do a few marital counseling sessions. Go away on a personal retreat (both of you) before leaving. Make actual plans to stay connected with friends and family while you’re gone, or to meet up with others on your travels. Put extra effort into being as physically healthy as possible before starting out. All of this goes such a long way towards a smoother journey.