My 11-year stood up, put both hands in the air with utter exuberance and yelled. At that point the elephant that he was standing on completely drenched him with a trunk full of water!!
OK, so some people reading this might gasp and consider me a dreadful mother for putting my child in such a precarious position – in a Nepali river, on the back of a ‘naked’ elephant, no ropes and no life jacket. But hey, the joy on his face was palpable, and he will remember that for a LONG time to come and has a wonderful memory to treasure!
Surely that is what travelling with kids is all about – treasured, shared memories.
We started travelling with our kids when the youngest was 5 years old. When I say travelling, I don’t mean just ‘going on holiday’. Certainly we did the Centerparcs thing, the Cornwall camping thing, and the French gite by the beach thing, and we will continue to do so – great fun.
But once they reach about 5 years old you figure that they can really start to engage more with what is around them, and take more in and learn from new or unusual experiences. So from that age, we started going much further afield with the kids.
Our first trip was Tanzania and grandparents came too. They saw amazing wildlife, they had to get accustomed to a place where white skin was the minority colour, they were shocked and confused by poverty, they played with Maasai children, they ‘drove’ safari vehicles in the wilderness, they tried strange food … Six years on, they still remember much of this trip.
For us as parents, we found that the experience of travelling with a family with young children was hugely rewarding, and opened doors and hearts in an way that we’ve never seen before when travelling as adults. People are more willing to talk to you (children are great ice-breakers). There is almost always an interest in the children from the local people you meet and this encourages interaction. Seeing things through the eyes of a child for a change gives a wonderful and different perspective.
Of course it is better if you are a confident and experienced traveller yourself in order to travel to ‘unusual’ places with your children. There are always risks you need to be aware of. Should you allow them eat or drink certain things? Have you realised just how hot that sun is? Are you aware that that plant gives a nasty rash if touched? However if you go with a reputable tour operator (such as Tribes) you will get advice, and the partners in your destination will be very willing to bend over backwards to ensure things go well and safely for you.
If you’re thinking about going on family holidays somewhere far afield and exotic with your kids, I’d advise finding out if there is someone in your chosen travel company who has got kids of their own and travelled with them. The advice you will get will be invaluable.
So get on that elephant with your kids and get wet! It won’t be too long before they are all grown up.