Family Travel Expectations vs. Reality

Us at the Polish Aviation Museum – this is a WW2 Nazi war plane

August 26th marked the one month milestone for this family adventure we are on.  On this day, I also happened to read an Instagram post poking fun at traveling families, or at least those who idealize it.  Below a dreamy image of a happy smiling family in an exotic location it said something like: “We sold everything (except our house and car and everything in our house and car) to travel the world (for two days at a time on the weekends).  What a magical family experience!”

Pretty hilarious, actually.

This family travel thing isn’t for everyone and we all know social media can have a nasty habit of making people feel pretty underwhelmed with their own existence.  Are we guilty of this?  Our reasons for putting our experiences out there are simply to share and keep in touch. Entertain? – sure. Stimulate some reflection and re-evaluation? – great as long as it leads to improvement and not just dissatisfaction.

But family travel is not “magical” – sorry.  Anyone who says it is is either delusional or they have something to sell you.  What it is is a great learning experience and an opportunity to spend A LOT of time together. It is stressful at times. And it is very different from the life we left, which is what we felt we needed.  Not everyone does.

We want to keep it real.   Really.  I think we have done that so far with anti-magical posts like this and this.  In keeping with the sentiment of honesty – with you and ourselves – on our one month anniversary of traveling, I asked the kids the following question:

“Is this family travel thing what you expected?”

Before we get to their answers, here is a list of expectations vs. realities according to the ultimate authority on such matters – us 🙂

Expectation:  We won’t regret selling our house and most of our stuff to do this.
Reality:  We don’t.

Expectation:  Traveling light (carry-on only) might be difficult, but it will be worth it.
Reality:  Traveling light is easier than traveling fully loaded!  It was harder to choose what to bring, but now that we’re out here, we feel like we have more than enough.  Unpacking and packing up again is a breeze.  Running a half mile to catch a train is feasible (we tested this).  Cobble stone streets – no issues with little suitcase wheels for us!

Expectation:  We can travel on about $250CDN per day.
Reality:  Not in Europe anyway.  We are moving locations fairly frequently (approx weekly) which adds to accommodation and transportation costs.  We are also getting out and doing quite a bit (free stuff when possible) which makes prepping our own meals less feasible, hence we are eating out more.  I’d have to run the numbers, but I think we’re about $400/day.  Continuing like this for the entire trip is not sustainable for us, but for now it’s a reasonable trade-off for the stage we’re at.

Expectation:  Rather than plan months in advance, we will plan as we go.
Reality:  We’re glad we didn’t try to plan much before we left, but now that we know our traveling selves a little better we have discovered that not knowing where we are going to sleep in three nights is a little too much uncertainty for us.  Perhaps planning 2-3 weeks at a time will be the sweet spot.  We’ll let you know.

Expectation:  At least a few of the kids will get homesick.
Reality:  Nope, not yet.

Expectation:  We will have to put in a lot of effort to make sure the kids are learning.
Reality: Nope.  They actively seek out all kinds of skills and knowledge from history to engineering to language to math.  We “teach” when we have something important to say and the timing is right.  Eli, our youngest at seven years old, definitely requires more attention.

Expectation:  Two tablets to share between four boys should be enough.
Reality:  Wrong.  Tablets are incredible learning and communication tools.  We bought two more so each kid has his own and we use them all the time.  Duo Lingo is amazingly fun and effective at teaching languages.  Khan Academy is currently our go-to resource for academic pursuits.  Newsela for reading retention.  Not to mention they use the camera and drawing apps to exercise their creativity and email/Hangouts to keep in touch with friends and family.  We got entry-level tablets for about $100 each so we don’t have to worry much about damage.  And for those who know us – no games other than ones that resemble Mensa puzzles 🙂

Expectation:  All this together time might increase conflict.
Reality:  Overall, conflict has actually decreased.  The difference is that bad moods are less easily hidden.  This can be difficult but I think it’s actually a good thing.  As I have alluded to in another post, we are forced to own our emotions, sympathize, and accommodate when appropriate.

OK, back to the original question, “Is this family travel thing what you expected?”  Here is what the kids had to say:

Eli:  

“I didn’t expect:  As yummy food; going to restaurants; having my own tablet; going to playgrounds so often; going to water parks; this much food; really nice airbnb’s; air conditioning; going on trams; going on trains; going on buses. 

I did expect: having cozy beds; fun; getting along more.”

Ben:

“I didn’t expect as many free attractions that are picture-worthy, especially in Ireland where there were things like the dark hedges and the Giant’s Causeway (other than paying for parking). Another thing I didn’t expect is our parents let us have dessert way more than in Canada (which is super awesome). For some reason I’m liking every country I go to so if you ever want to ask me what my favourite country is, I will probably say all of them. If you thought we would be a perfect family it’s not a very good way to explain our family because we are sometimes a bit grumpy. Anyway you can say we are a pretty good family.”

Jake:

“I did not expect this trip to be so relaxed.  What I mean by that is I thought that we could have travel days all the time.  But now, since I’ve experienced real travel days, I’m glad they’re not all the time.

Another thing I didn’t expect is that we’re eating out a lot more than I thought we would.  It’s not a bad thing or anthing because who doesn’t like eating out?  It’s just that I didn’t expect it.

Something else I didn’t expect is how fast the trip is flying by.  I knew it would feel fast but not this fast.  It feels like one week has gone by, but it’s actually been a month!  I sometimes wonder what a year will feel like.  Maybe it will feel like a month has gone by, but who knows?”

Owen:

“This trip is not really what I expected it to be. I think I thought that each country would be just like our videos, fast paced and everything happy. Now I know that our trip is so much more. We walk and learn and do things that don’t get put in our videos. We make our own food, not just eat out. Not everything is fun and new, some days we stay at home and entertain ourselves.  I thought we would be going from tourist attraction to tourist attraction.  But there is a lot of in between time.  In conclusion, I think we are definitely doing the things that we do in our videos, but we also do a lot behind the scenes.”

Of course, all this will change and evolve over time but this is a snapshot of our headspace right now.  As human beings we prefer simple narratives over complex ones. “Family travel is a wonderful, magical experience,” sounds a lot better than, “Family travel is a huge decision with lots of logistical hurdles; raises troublesome financial considerations; involves tons of uncertainty; can strain and strengthen relationships at the same time; will challenge your perceptions about a lot of things; and is often fun and full of interesting experiences.”

Sorry, but “keepin’ it real” won’t fit into a nice, cute, Disney-themed package.  But to me, that’s kind of the point of all this.

8 Comments

    1. I suppose it depends on what “point” you value most. There’s always the temptation to think that other peoples’ values are or should be the same as our own. But if one’s value system prioritizes leisure and pleasure over learning and challenge, Disney Land is a very logical choice! So I guess the point beyond the point is to make decisions that are congruent with our particular set of values.

  1. For those of us planning our own messy family adventure, we greatly appreciate keeping it real! I think those who seriously explore this life are already comfortable living in the grey of life (the complex, not simple black and white). But we can get unrealistic expectations. Thanks for sharing all of it, especially the kids perspective. They are clearly growing up wise and thoughtful critical thinkers and empathetic humans. What more could you want?
    Where to next?

    1. Thanks for your comments, Dan and Angie. “Messy Family Adventure” – what a great tag line! This family travel thing is really just like parenting. None of us really know what we’re doing. It’s a matter of how well you communicate with your partner while flying by the seat of your pants! And I’m starting to think we have less (direct) control over how the kids turn out than we’d like to admit!

  2. Hi Matt and family! Just wanted to let you know I am really enjoying following your travels via your blogs and videos. I am looking forward to your next postings. All this may even motivate me to plan my next trip before too long. Enjoy your travels!

    1. Hi Ross! Thanks for commenting and we are glad you are following us! For those who are looking for some great info on how to invest for early financial independence, Ross self-published a great ebook, “Destination Early Financial Independence”. It is the method I use with our savings. Perhaps a guest post sometime, Ross??

  3. Great blog Matt and family. I love the keeping it real because let’s be honest, that’s real life. It sounds like everyone is doing well, learning, exploring and having a wonderful experience. You can’t ask for more than that!

    1. Everyone is good, Nana! Yup, real life sure is full of ups and downs. Just wait for the next blog post – probably tomorrow ; /

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