Today’s interview is from Anne-Sophie, a negotiator and travel journalist. She travels with her two daughters Alexandra is 24 and Catarina is 11. The blog, Sophie’s World, is partly about travelling with children, and partly about searching for the world’s curious and often unsung places – or quirky and unusual things to see and do in the more familiar corners. On the blog, the kids share their take on things as well.
What was your travel style like before you had children?
Language schools in the summers, staying with local families in e.g. Austria. Then I studied abroad, in the USA, and did lots of road trips and short breaks with friends there. Occasionally, we’d sleep on the beach or even in the car – that had a touch of danger to it, was even illegal some places; exciting.
What ages were your children when you started travelling with them?
Alex was just 11 weeks old when she was first on a plane. We went to visit friends in Germany, so not particularly adventurous. A few years later, she and I began travelling in earnest, first for the Middle East, then for South East Asia and the Indian Ocean.
Cat was born in China and her first flight was on her first birthday, going from Fuzhou to Beijing and then on to her new home in Norway.
Why did you decide that exposing your children to travel was important?
I think it’s important my children are aware of the different realities – good and bad – children face around the world. And while reading about children in Egypt or Indonesia is interesting and educational, interacting with them is much better. When she was 4, Alex played football with local boys in the Seychelles. In Bali, she and the local children set out bowls of flowers to appease spirits.
What is your travel style now that you travel with children?
Oddly, I’ve backpacked more after I had children. Alex has been quite laid-back about it, and didn’t mind shared bathrooms in hostels. Cat is a bit more picky, more of a luxury creature, that one.
It has been important to have the children participate in the planning and decision making – even when they were very young. If I decide to drag them halfway across the world, it’s only fair they have a say. For many years, it was only Alex and me – and we usually found ways to compromise. If I wanted to spend a morning seeing a temple, I might have to settle for spending the afternoon at the hotel swimming pool, even if it rained.
Now that we’re three, one would think it’s a little more complicated, but even though the girls are 13 years apart, they’re surprisingly in unison. I’m not too keen on cruise ships, and get especially antsy during entire days at sea. But the girls both love it. Last summer they went on a cruise in the Baltics without me, since I’m such a bore on board.
What has been the most difficult thing about travelling with children?
With children along, you attract a lot of local interest. In Asia especially, local tourists loved to include Alex in their family photos. And they love giving children gifts. In Thailand, even ladies of the night would lift her up, set her on the bar, and buy her soft drinks. That’s just fun. But sometimes, I’ve had to protect them against too much well-meaning interest. Getting your cheek pinched for the twentieth time in one day can be painful.
But other than that – and having to endure a few too many meals at horrid fast food joints – travelling with my children hasn’t been difficult at all. Quite the contrary.
What has been the most rewarding part of travelling with children?
The opportunity to meet and get to know local people in a very different way. With children, you’re immediately included.
What is your favourite travel memory of travelling as a family?
I think that might be riding camels for days through the desert of Gujarat in India, sleeping in villages along the way. On Christmas Eve, we slept next to newborn lambs. It was wonderful.
According to your child, what is their favourite part about travel?
Cat, 11: Seeing different animals
According to your child, what was their favourite place you have travelled as a family?
Cat: Mexico, because I got to swim with dolphins.
According to your child, where in the world do they most want to travel to next?
Cat: Anywhere where I can ride horses.
What tips would you offer parents when it comes to travel with children?
Don’t plan too much, take it as it goes. And remember what the kids want is just as important as what you want.
Are there certain destination or holiday types you would recommend for parents travelling with children?
I’d stay away from typical party destinations. Other than that, go where you’ve always wanted to go.
And finally – what are you upcoming travel plans?
When I was 11, mum took my brother and me to New Orleans. That was my first trip abroad. Back then, it was a long and complicated journey, involving 4 planes and 5 airports. But it was a fascinating city seen through a child’s eye. I haven’t been back since. Now that Cat is 11, I thought it would be fun to go back, so we’re going later this month (Feb 2013). Will I recognize the city? Will it be very different? Will Cat see it as I saw it? Looking forward to it.