Reflecting on backpacking with kids – would we do it again?!

CIMG3652My word, time has flow and I can’t believe I haven’t posted for over two months!  That’s insane as it feels like only a few weeks have gone by.  And ironically, rather than having nothing to blog about, I’ve got loads but I’ve put my energy into doing them which has detracted from writing about them, for example, we’re preparing for Christmas a bit differently this year which I’m loving but definitely takes more time, trying to convince my kids’ school to support the kids start a social enterprise and taking part in Dinovember (you can see the photos on Twitter @EllaRove).  I hope to write about all this soon but wanted to finish up my little series about backpacking with the kids first.

Personally, and with a few months of hindsight now, I think this was one of the best holidays I’ve ever been on.  It was a gamble but what we learned about ourselves and each other was something I don’t think we would have got on a normal beach holiday.  I’ve been wracking my brain to think of anything that was less than positive.  Am I being selective in my memories? Other than a woman in Paris trying to scam us into giving her money (which lasted all of 20 seconds as Steven quickly clocked what was going on and politely and quickly moved us on), I can’t think of anything.

Why did it work?  The key was the amount of prep work we put in beforehand and this is made infinitely easier these days by the number of helpful blog posts out there (e.g. step by step instructions about how to get from the terminal in Charles de Gaulle airport into central Paris by train – total bonus for control freaks like me :)) and Google Earth so could find landmarks ahead of time making navigating around where we were staying much easier.  Deciding beforehand what we definitely wanted to do and what would be “nice to do” also helped us focus and not put too much pressure on us. Overall, we wanted to give the kids a sense of what it means to be a traveller (which for us was about spending our short time experiencing living in Paris) rather than being a tourist (packing in as much as possible into your time there).

I asked Steven and the kids what they remember and what they learned from our holiday.  Steven’s reflections were remarkable similar to mine: that he (we) could be overprotective and hold on to the kids a little too tight at times but that because we were away from everyday pressures such as work and housework, we enjoyed our time together much more and, ironically, didn’t feel we needed a break from the kids as much as we might do when at home and work and home and school pressures can feel overwhelming.  It helped him learn to let go a bit more and see that the kids are capable of so much more than we sometimes realise.  Mischa learned that she’s good at trying things she was maybe a bit scared of to begin with – sleeping in a tent, going on a boat – and that what she enjoyed most was spending time with her family.  Even Jude.  Jude, being the youngest, found this question harder to answer.  Whenever we ask the kids where they want to go next, they say back to France, but when I delved a bit deeper with Jude, he can’t remember a lot of what we did and saw.  However, I think he remembers how he felt there and that’s why he’s keen to go back.

So, did we met the criteria we set for ourselves before our backpacking holiday?  Pretty much:

  • Flying from Edinburgh Airport  – TICK
  • Should include at least two foreign countries – one of which being France as Mischa had just started learning French – TICK (and she used some of her French too 🙂 )
  • The trip should feel as close to a backpacking holiday as possible so we decided no hotels but also, to reduce the stress factor somewhat, no hostels – TICK (Airbnb apartment and camping)
  • The kids wanted a swimming pool at some point and a chance to meet other kids. – BIG TICK
  • The main part of the trip to come in at around half of what we would pay if we were to go back to Tenerife during the first week of the summer holidays (which would have cost us £3,000 – WHAAAT?!!) –  the main part of our trip (flights, train and accommodation) came in at approx. £1,600.  We then had local transportation and food on top of that so it was probably closer to £2k.  I might be rationalising here but given that the holiday was 10 days rather than a week and the quality of the experience we got, it was worth every penny and more.

I would wholeheartedly encourage anyone to try something similar to this.  To go off the organised holiday route a bit – when it makes sense and it doesn’t scare you so much you’d never do it (for some of the other holidays I want to take the kids on, I’ll definitely be signing us up for an organised tour).  But amazing things can happen when we try to be even a little bit braver and not let ourselves be scared by thoughts of what might happen.  The week running up to the holiday, I was swinging between feelings of total excitement to those of dread and thinking “why the hell are we doing this to ourselves??!!”  But I am so glad I didn’t listen to that last voice.  This next year, money is going to be tight because we want to do some stuff to our house so we won’t be doing any backpacking around Europe for a while, alas.  But Steven and I have decided to take what we learned and try to do something different in the UK next year.  Can’t wait to see what we decide on.  For me, the value of a holiday is as much the anticipation and deciding what to do as a family, as it is the experience itself.

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Surviving (and even enjoying) an overnight train trip to Venice with the kids (Part 3 of how to backpack with kids)

Surviving (and even enjoying) an overnight train trip to Venice with the kids (Part 3 of how to backpack with kids)

This is part 3 of my series on our mini-backpacking adventure with the kids (you can also read my post on why we did this and our time in Paris).

Possibly the biggest challenge (and the one I was most excited and dreading in equal parts) was our journey to Venice.  I wanted the kids to go to sleep in one country and wake up in another.  The romantic side of me was thinking Harry Potter meets Orient Express (without the Dementors or murder hopefully) but my pragmatic side knew it was going to be hard work, especially when I couldn’t find ANYONE who had reviewed the trip by Thello positively.

We arrived at the station far too early but this was one train we absolutely couldn’t miss.  So after a horrible dinner of half cooked pizza at what must be Paris’ answer to Greggs (but nowhere near as good), we settled down for the hour or so wait in the departure hall at Gare de Lyon.  We talked to the kids about the importance of looking out of each other in the station and they enjoyed being guardians of the baggage.

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Finally, we got on-board only to find we had been allocated a 6-berth couchette.  This led to panic attacks and wobbles about if we’d be sharing with strangers (by me) and  Continue reading

How to have a mini backpacking adventure with two young kids: It’s all about the planning, folks

For a while now I have been slightly annoyed by how easy my kids expect things to come to them. Now that might seem a little harsh. Surely we want life to be easy for our kids. Well, yes and no. I don’t want my kids to suffer unnecessarily but I want them to develop perseverance and grit.  Not too much is known about how to develop grit but I had a sense that we better start doing something about it early.

It was about then that my hubby and I started thinking of booking a summer holiday. Up to this point we had taken the kids on a couple of holidays within the UK, a trip to Florida with the extended family and a very easy all-inclusive trip to Tenerife which the kids had adored. We had also enjoyed it and it was what we needed at the time, a lovely no-hassle week away, but I was keen that the kids didn’t see package holidays as the only option. Before having kids, Steven and I had done a bit of travelling but it’s something I really wish we had done more of. That’s one of the reasons “go places” is on our family manifesto as I really hope the kids will do a lot of travelling in their lives. Travelling brings experiences you just can’t manufacture: seeing how different places and people make different choices in how to live their lives, developing self-sufficiency, perseverance, and experience in handling misunderstandings and when things, inevitably, go wrong. The kids are only 7 and 5 but we decided this was a good time for them to start experiencing some of these things and experiment with a mini-backpacking Continue reading