As a fan of great museums, England, and historical stuff in general, I’m excited about a brand new museum that has just opened this week.
Located in the historic dockyard of Portsmouth on England’s picturesque south coast, the Mary Rose Museum houses the sixteenth-century hulk of the HMS Mary Rose, the pride of Henry VIII’s navy. Built in 1511, the massive warship sank off the coast of England in 1545 while fighting the French fleet. After ages under the waves, her remains were resurrected from the sea by marine archaeologists and installed in the new museum. A museum that, incidentally, is situated in the very dockyard in which the ship herself was constructed.
But it’s the collection of objects from within the ship—thousands of sixteenth-century items being called the largest trove of Tudor-era artifacts ever assembled—that are the real stars of the museum. By a stroke of fate, the silt of the sea floor created a virtually airtight tomb for the small objects within the vessel. The resulting collection of relics is so well preserved that it has been dubbed “the English Pompeii” for its quality and poignancy.
The artifacts on display within the hull include miraculously preserved musical instruments, rosaries, board games, silverware, weapons, book covers, medical equipment, furniture, coins, and even the remains of several of the Mary Rose’s sailors. Facial reconstructions of the recovered skulls put a human dimension to the 500 men who perished with the ship, as do the everyday items they used. Combs with Tudor-era lice still trapped in them are also in the exhibit, as are the remains of the ship’s dog.
Taken together they are sure to tell a story of lives lived and lost within a sixteenth-century ship’s creaking timbers.
I can wait to see this for myself.
Strangest things we’ve seen lately:
Back home, before 2011 when we hit the road to become The Nomadic Family, we used to not move without seat belts. I would allow the kids to unbuckle only when the car came to a complete stop in the driveway, and not a second earlier. Today, after hitchhiking on the back of banana pickup trucks throughout Central and South America, our motorcycle accident in Cambodia, and most recently, after sitting on the roof of a jungle expedition truck in Gopeng, Malaysia; we no longer regard transportation safety a parental concern. (God help us!) Strangest thing I’ve seen lately, is all five of us on the back of motorcycles on the curvy mountain roads surrounding Da Lat, Vietnam, with not a care in the world. I’ve spent my entire motherhood telling the kids how motorcycles were death traps, and here we are, with the Bull Riders of DaLat, on motorcycles. Strange, and liberating, indeed.
This week I have a question. It’s one that’s been rolling around in several communities I participate in, and it’s one that tends to bring about heated debate. It’s also one that is very hard to separate from one’s own experience, as a child and as a parent as well. I’m open to all answers and to lively debate, so don’t be afraid to dive on into the fray.
Without further ado, here is the question:
Is travel wasted on the very young?
Before you answer, let’s define a few terms:
So what do you think? Is travel wasted on the very young?
I’m working on a longer piece about this, that I’ll post on my blog in a few weeks, but I’ll dive in here and start the debate by throwing the short version of my position into the ring:
I do not believe travel is wasted on the very young. Just because a developing person cannot remember something does not mean that it does not have value and is not life changing for them. To suggest that we shouldn’t bother with things children cannot remember is to suggest that reading aloud to them, hugging them, playing with them, talking to them and doing little crafty projects with them is a “waste” as well, and we all know how much those activities matter over the long haul. I would argue that travel is a great benefit to the very young because it introduces much diversity to their developing brains at a point when it is easily assimilated. It’s not “wasted” it’s just very hard to measure the benefit to the developing individual.
As always, I have more to say… but this week I really want to know what you think about this, and why you think it. Tell me your stories, educate me! Let’s debate!
If you travel with kids then you’re well familiar with the gear overload that is all too easy to find yourself saddled with. Of course there’s the clothes and the toys, but by the time you add a carseat, playpen, stroller and perhaps a portable feeding chair, it’s bordering on the ridiculous. No wonder so many people just stay home with little ones. It seems like far too much trouble to move the equipment alone, never mind the additional challenges that the actual child adds to the mix.
The good news is: it doesn’t have to be that bad! Here are five tips for reducing the amount of crap you have to pack (and carry) when traveling with a little child.
1. Rent it
Did you know that in most bigger cities you can rent baby gear? Yep. Google it for your destination and you may find that you can rent a porta-crib or playpen, a feeding chair and a stroller or whatever else you need when you arrive. Almost all car rental agencies have carseats as an optional ad-on and they are delivered strapped right into the vehicle when you arrive. It couldn’t be easier. Many hotels and resorts are now getting on the bandwagon and supplying more than a baby cot for rental at their resorts in hopes of drawing more family travel business. It can pay to ask around and shop around for a destination that will make it easy on you!
2. Choose Wisely
If you intend to travel with your little one then a few, well chosen, items are well worth investing in to make the travel easier. Carseat and stroller combos, slings instead of strollers, they even have luggage the doubles as a ride on toy for the toddler set. Where was THAT when I was traveling with a tiny tribe? Of course you can “make do” with just about anything you have in a pinch, but if you plan to make travel a regular part of child life, it’s worth investing in the items that will simplify the process. For our family, this meant a sling instead of strollers, a baby backpack that would carry through toddlerhood and doubled as a high-chair and a diaper bag, and travel clothes for the parents that were wipeable and nearly bulletproof… or at least baby proof!
3. Less is More
Seriously. Even with kids. If you pack three or four outfits for your toddler it will be more than enough. Kids clothes are very easy to hand wash in a hotel sink and hang to dry and most children would rather re-wear their favourites anyway. Pack less in terms of clothing and diapers and paraphernalia and you’ll have more room for the things that really matter with kids: like the blankie that is a comfort item.
4. You can buy it
There is no need to pack jars and jars of baby food, formula, diapers, wipes, disposable bibs, soaps, lotions, or anything else. Anywhere in the world that you’re visiting where people have children (which is everywhere) these items will be available. Unless you’re tied to a specific brand because of an allergy, there’s no need to bring much from home. Bring what you’ll need for the first 24 hours and then plan to hit a store when you’ve settled in.
The take home message: Simplify your packing list. Make use of what’s already there from friends or rentals. Wash, rinse, repeat. Purchase a few key items that will make the whole process go more smoothly. Go with what’s locally available.
Cost/day (for a family of five):
Strangest thing we’ve seen lately:
Before his wish to die, but well after 40 degree fever and horrifying nightmares, the kindly villagers performed ritual healing ceremonies on my husband Kobi. They picked two of this leaf, four of that one, this root, that berry and cooked them over a banana-leaf-sealed open-fired vat. Then, with ritual prayer chanting, candles, and incense burning, he was stuffed under a dozen thick blankets to breath the steam, drank a cup o it, and bathed in the waters. Their love and earnest determination to cure him were touching. Two days later, he was hospitalized.
I did not have a “normal” childhood.
I was born to parents who lived in an 11×22 ft. log cabin on the back side of a lake with no road, electricity or running water. My first meat, through a baby food grinder was black bear. My earliest memories are of trapping turtles with my Dad and hunting mushrooms with my Mom.
We skipped school to fish with our dad. My mom taught me to sew, and can everything we could grow. We built two log houses from scratch before I turned 14. I peeled most of the logs for the second one with a draw knife and my bare hands. My brother laid a good portion of the sub-floor of the first with a ball pean hammer and a stick on a chalk line: “Put one nail at either end of that stick,” my Dad told him. And so he did. He was four, almost.
They hauled me (and my brother) out of school two separate years and rolled us around the continent in the back of a van. We climbed pyramids, hunted our own food with spear-guns in the mar Caribe, and frittered away long afternoons in the great big world with few toys, but giant imaginations. This is what happens when you have nomads for parents and a van that your dad names “Vagabunda.” They are the coolest people I know.
You know what’s funny? I was in university before I realized how “weird” all of that was. Of course I knew not everyone did those things, but when you’re a kid, life just is what it is. I didn’t realize that most families don’t eat three meals a day together, that most dads don’t read the entire Mark Twain anthology, or Josephus to their kids to while away long nights when tropical bugs are seeping through the screens. I didn’t know that it was in the least abnormal to have your backpacking parents throw you in a bag and go on a walkabout, towing the glass bottomed sailboat you helped your Dad build in the unfinished upstairs of your house (you know, instead of finishing the house!)
People ask me with fair regularity whether or not I worry about how our kids will turn out, having had such an “unconventional” childhood. Of course I worry about how my kids will turn out! Every mother does! But I don’t worry about the effect of a nomadic childhood on their longterm success or happiness. My brother and I don’t always agree, but we do agree, whole-heartedly, that the best thing our parents did for us was yank us out of school to travel. The outside-the-box childhood that my parents so nonchalantly delivered to my open hands has made all of the difference to me.
If you’re considering taking off for an extended walkabout with your kids and you’re worried about the social and longterm implications for them, may I encourage you to take the plunge? Having been that child, I am confident that they’ll thank you later, even for the things they hate and that go badly. The tough things make us into tough people and the perspective and perseverance that develop as a result are priceless gifts that are hard to develop any other way. I’m so glad that my parents were more concerned with living passion driven lives and fulfilling their dreams, fully including their children, and for our express benefit, than they were with giving me a “normal childhood.”
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
Our family of seven is camping in Mexico beneath a full moon and enjoying a tranquil evening after crossing the border into this ‘dangerous’ country. Just the day before, we were warned that we were ‘risking our children’s lives’ by taking them to such a lawless place.’ Completely alone in a farmer’s field, we watched the sun peacefully set and then rise again the next morning on our first full day in Mexico.
Nancy has done the impossible.
And I don’t mean cycling from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina over three years with twin boys who broke the Guinness World record for youngest persons to cycle the continents. That’s entirely doable, as is clearly evident by their success. The impossible is encapsulating the scope of that epic adventure into a 350 page book and transporting the reader along every inch of the Pan American Highway.
Changing Gears: A Family Odyssey to the End of the World will take you on the adventure of a lifetime and make you fall in love with this family and their adventurous spirit. I can’t do it justice. I can’t sum it up in a way that wouldn’t fall far short of the sweeping landscapes Nancy paints, the hair raising close calls, the big hearted generosity of strangers, the quiet family moments in tents, and on hillsides where the real work of raising kids and crafting an education takes place.
Far from being just another “travel book” this is a dream you can hold in your hands
This book is a lesson in the value of doing hard things, keeping on when the odds are stacked against you and every fiber of your being cries out to just quit, to lay down, to give up, maybe even to have a nervous breakdown, or die. It is a page turning experience that will motivate you to push hard, and then push harder, because at the very end of your world, is the victory. Why do we trade so many things for the ultimate victory? The Vogel’s didn’t, and Nancy is painfully honest about the ups and the downs, the good and the bad, and the mixed bag of emotions that go with eventually getting the thing you want most in the world. I can’t pick a favourite part. I will tell you that I had tears in my eyes before I was through the prologue and a lump in my throat on the very last page. As someone who lives on the fringe of adventure travel with a family I appreciate her honesty; she hasn’t white washed a thing.
I’m pretty sure my kids don’t appreciate the life that they have.
They say they do. They recognize that their life is not normal. But really, I don’t think they get it.
They have no frame of reference for what it means to sit in a classroom for eight hours a day, every day, for instance. How can they appreciate the freedom of their educational experience without that?
None of them can ever remember a time when their experience included any less than two countries, or three languages, at a minimum. That American culture is what defines “normal” doesn’t even occur to them. They like it here. They like that everyone speaks English, that the bathrooms don’t cost a quarter to use, that we can use washing machines instead of hand washing in buckets and that their best friends are within driving distance, but they like other places too.
We got an old book about Tunisia off of a free shelf yesterday. Elisha flipped through the pages, pointing out the places we visited and the town we lived in. “This makes me homesick, Mama,” he sighed.
Technically, our kids are American, THIS is their home… but when you’re homeless by choice and the world is your classroom citizenships get blurry and it turns out that the globe shrinks quite a bit and we end up homesick for somewhere almost all of the time.
My kids definitely don’t appreciate the life that they have. I’m not sure ANY kid appreciates the life that he has, not really. It isn’t until much later that we develop the perspective on what was, vs. what could have been, vs. what is possible that any of us appreciate our life or our choices for what they are. Perhaps that lack of appreciation is really my kids’ best feature. A complete lack of perspective allows them to just grow up, take it all in, not be overly impressed by any of it, and assimilate it all into whoever they are in the end. It’s fun to watch.
“A school day is about five hours, and that doesn’t even include homework time,” a letter I recently received asked. “How can I make sure my children will learn just as much (and hopefully more) while roadschooling? I like to believe education is not as efficient at school as it can be at home (or the road) since there’s only one teacher with twenty or more children, and at school is less likely to be child-led. Nevertheless, it seems like you still need a lot of time per week where education is the main goal.”
You’d be surprised. When your life revolves around education, you end up spending very little time on it.
I know that sounds weird. What I’m trying to say is that as you travel, you’ll be doing this stuff anyway. You’ll go to national parks and explore the visitor centers and listen to ranger talks. That’s all “school.” You’ll take hikes around battlefields and talk about the wars that happened there as you walk. That’s “school” too.
Every time you visit a cheese factory or a zoo, when you play in tidal pools along the coast or race up sand dunes, it’s “school.” Take advantage of every opportunity to get out and play, and your kids will be in school all the time.
In the evenings, after a long day of playing tourist, you’ll need some down time – that’s when your kids will reach for books to relax with. There’s your reading for the day. Before they go to bed, have them spend a few minutes writing a journal entry.
You don’t have to stress about it – you really don’t.
Nancy Sathre-Vogel is a 21-year classroom veteran who make the decision to leave the classroom for a life on the road. Together with her husband and twin sons, she spent a total of four years traveling the Americas on bicycle roadschooling her children, including a journey from Alaska to Argentina. For more information about educating your child on the road, visit her site at www.familyonbikes.org.