Do traveling kids grow up too fast?

Traveling kids have a big advantage over their “stay at home” peers, in my opinion. The world is an amazing place but especially so for young children as everything they see is fresh and exciting, filled with wonder.

Traveling with them adds a whole new level of joy and energy to any trip as you feed off their enthusiasm. As I have just discovered, it comes at a long-term cost to parents, but more on that later.

Little travelers have a big impact

I remember back about 20 years ago when Pauline and I took little Dana on her first real adventure, we were flying to Tasmania to visit her Grandma, and that not only meant she would travel to a new and exotic (for her) destination, but she would also be taking her first flight.

Little Travelers all start somewhere
Little Travelers all start somewhere

The excitement built as we arrived at the airport and she realised the plane outside the window was waiting for her. Even the queue to board could not dampen her enthusiasm, and I remember her massive smile when she was finally onboard and looking out the window. We hadn’t even taken off but she was hooked and this would set the platform for the amazing life she is now planning and living.

We had been to Tassie before Dana was born and it is one of the world’s great Wilderness locations, an absolute must for nature lovers, but traveling with a wide-eyed little traveler on her first big adventure made the experience so much more.

It is hard to describe the difference to those who have not traveled with young children as they often focus on the screaming and crying, annoying excitement and impatience they witness in other people’s kids.

Just as you can try to tell people without kids that parenthood will change their lives, the same applies to traveling with them. The experience is not only different but better somehow.

Maybe it’s because you get drawn into their view of the world and don’t have to be a grown-up for a little while, or maybe just being around such innocent and unbridled excitement is too infectious to not be drawn in and swept away.

Little travelers seem more mature

Dana is an only child and while some would suggest she is spoiled because she gets most things she wants, I disagree. While we are fortunate to be in a position where we can afford the things we want or need, I see Dana as respectful and appreciative of everything she has.

Little Travelers getting to meet locals in Mexico
Little Travelers getting to meet locals in Mexico

When I see others around her in a similar situation but demanding the latest and greatest from their parents and throwing tanties when they are denied, with the parents usually giving in to keep the peace, I feel happy that we have raised Dana to want but not demand, to work for her rewards, and to make the most of the things she has.

I also put her attitude not so much down to the parenting we have done but mainly to the experiences she has had during her travels. Once your child plays with village kids in Fiji who have nothing but some rags tied together to make a football, but still sport huge smiles and fill the air with laughter, they tend to appreciate the luxuries they have.

We do have homeless people in Australia which is always sad no matter where you are, but after witnessing beggars on the streets in Asia with mothers and children asking for anything you can spare and having your own child offer them something, you know it has altered their view of want and need.

Without a doubt, I am sure Dana is a better person than she would be if we had never traveled. Not only has she developed an unquenchable desire to experience the world, but she has also made friends from many different backgrounds from all around the world. She is willing to try new foods and always wants to learn about cultural differences.

Tween travelers are a different animal

By the time our Little Traveler had become a Tween Traveler she had half a dozen or so countries under her belt and was beginning to develop her own traveling wants and needs. This put additional pressure on me as the tour planner and chief guide in that it was no longer enough to add a few child-friendly activities to our vacation but now had to work out how to accommodate the wants and needs of a third person.

Tween travelers are a different animal
Tween travelers are a different animal

It took a few trips to iron out the planning bugs but we eventually came up with the “must-do” method. This is where we sit down as a family during the planning stage and everyone brings their own research and we each put forward our two or three “must do” activities.

These can be things like a museum, shop, place to eat or a type of food to find, a historical place, or even a person to visit. I then take the new list and work out how they best fit the itinerary. We have to do everything on the list during the trip.

In the photo you see my choice of sitting in the famous Kop watching a Liverpool football game, Pauline had to stay in a real castle (that’s her and Dana on the roof waving), and Dana decided we should visit the Haribo sweet factory in France.

What is the point of doing this? It is a fair and fun way of still getting to see adult things while keeping your young traveler invested in the trip. If they start to play up a little one day then a quick reminder that this is mum’s day and we are all going to their special thing tomorrow is usually enough to get things back on track. It worked for us.

Teen Travelers cause mixed emotions

While Miss Tween was finding her feet in the world and was still usually happy to go with the flow, Miss Teen was now an International Traveler with over a dozen countries stamped into her passport. She now knew what she liked and, luckily for Pauline and me, those things were very similar to what we liked.

Teen travelers and exchange students
Teen travelers and exchange students

The “must do” method had evolved into a fully-fledged consultation process mainly involving Dana and me, with Pauline the one who was happy going anywhere as long as it was away from work! Dana now had friends around the world she was regularly in touch with and was developing a plan for adulthood.

We hosted exchange students from Japan, USA, and France, and Dana was hosted in the USA and also stayed with her French “sister”, all of which increased her love of travel. We were starting to see a future where she would travel without us and that created mixed emotions.

Great pride in knowing we had raised a daughter who could see beyond the peer pressure of immediate further study after High School, who wanted to grow as a person and not just follow the crowd, and who was enthusiastic in searching for ways to live a life beyond the confines of our home town.

At the same time, we felt some trepidation about a young girl heading off on adventures alone and also sadness that this precious gift we had been given was now about to be taken away from us, for a short time at least. We also wondered about what it would be like traveling as a couple again.

Teen Travelers going it alone

When Dana graduated from High School at the end of 2015 she was ready to test the waters, as they say, and have her first try at solo travel. She was joining others on an Unleashed Travel trip in Europe but would have to get to London from Sydney alone and then meet her fellow travelers for the first time and hopefully make some friends.

Teen travelers going it alone
Teen travelers going it alone

Even though she would be halfway around the world it was a trip that not only gave her a great experience and a taste of true independence but also eased the pain for Pauline and me in that we would also be in Europe for the last part of her trip and we would meet up over there for Christmas and New Year.

It was only a couple of weeks without her. Famous last words!

OMG she can fly alone!

Other than a few moments of homesickness and late-night Facebook messaging sessions she passed the challenge with flying colours. We had let her jump out of the nest and she had successfully flown on her first attempt. Then it hit… what had we done?

The life of a young traveller
The life of a young traveller

We soon understood we had created a monster. A traveler with a single-minded desire to do whatever it would take to experience as much of the world as possible. We had created the person I wished I had the chance to be when I was younger.

She was now talking about working as a counselor at Camp USA or getting her two-year Canada working visa and doing some ski resort work, of the possibility of getting the five-year UK work visa and working her way around in pubs and restaurants with side trips to the continent.

She was serious and I had realised too late that the dreams of a little girl were now the plans of a young woman. And she would be spending more time away from us than with us, for the next few years at least.

Where had my wide-eyed wanderer gone? She was just an excited little kid finding adventure anywhere we went. Then I blinked and there was a confident, smart, and resourceful young woman standing where our Little Traveler had once been. She had grown up much too quickly for my liking.

Youth Travelers can’t be stopped!

Dana was on an eleven-week trip visiting many of her friends in the USA and taking an eight-day tour of Costa Rica. She had worked a couple of casual jobs during High School and saved as much as possible. When she came to me for help in putting this trip together she asked how long could she go for, my answer was simple… how much money do you have?

Youth travelers can't be stopped

We have paid for none of this trip (but of course we would if anything urgent came up) which makes me incredibly proud of her and also makes me positive that she has the focus and drive to succeed with her life plan.

Finding work where she could and saving was never going to be enough for her. She started getting a great reputation in the blogging world as the Wandering Donut and has already done promotional work online for Unleashed Travel and Beats Travel. And since then has become a full-time travel content creator and professional travel photographer with brands and destinations regularly approaching her with more promotional opportunities.

If you have any Little Travelers, Tween Travelers, or Teen Travelers, are a solo female traveler, or even the parent of someone in one of these groups I recommend her blog to you. She has some great articles covering many topics relating to all of them. (And she is a much better writer than I am).

A parent’s final word

Will I miss my girl now that she has started on this new stage of her life? Damn straight I will. But I would never want to hold her back for my own selfish reasons.

So many emotions go through my head when I think about it. Pride, sadness, envy, excitement, worry, and so much more. What I do have to take out of it is that we have raised an amazing young woman who will define her own path and not let the negative Nellies hold her back.

I’m not ashamed to say I have shed a tear or two writing this, it also hasn’t helped that Dana is now spending more time overseas than she is near home. But I wouldn’t try to change anything. We have so many amazing memories and now Pauline and I get to travel and also live through Dana’s new adventures as well.

Surely that’s a good thing!

We would love to hear your experiences as either the parent at any stage of this journey, or even as the traveling kid and how you see this from the other side of the story.

Dean Williamson
Dean Williamson
Dean is the main creative force behind Reasons to Visit. A road trip veteran with over 35,000 miles of driving in more than a dozen countries. He has also worked in the Australian travel and tourism industry for the past 10 years.

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  1. Hi Dean, I’ve got inspired by your post. Thanks. I’m a child too, and as I’m reading your post I feel that you missed your daughter very much at the same time you are so proud of her. Dana is so lucky that she has a parent like you. You really are a good parent. I feel your love for your daughter, even at this time. Please share us more of your stories, I hope people would be inspired too. Thanks.

  2. Such a great post!! I completely agree with you, kids that travel grow up way faster. Ever since I started traveling abroad, I was never the same, and even felt different from the people my age. After living abroad I grew up even faster.
    So nice that you guys hosted exchange students, I was one in Canada and still have contact with me homestay family 😀

    Thank you for joining #MondayEscapes

    • She is at the stage now where travel is her main goal and keeps getting disappointed by her old group of friends who say they will go with her and then always find an excuse not to. She has certainly outgrown them in many respects and, like you said, probably because of her travel experiences.

    • I’m sure you will Kate. One of the most interesting questions I was asked during a Travel Agent training session was designed to show how important the role is, but it also shows how important the experiences you have can be.
      We were asked “would you sell all of your travel memories for a million dollars?” 90% ended up saying no. I would hate to lose those memories because no amount of money would let you recreate them.

  3. One thing I wish is that I had done when I was younger is exactly what your daughter is doing now, travelling before life got too serious and I had children. It sounds like your daughter has had some amazing experiences and lots more to come by the sounds of it. #MondayEscapes

    • Things were different when I was her age Gina, but I would have loved to have had the chance to travel back then. She will do her own thing and I will support her every decision… until she makes a bad one!

  4. Oh my, I’ve welled up with tears reading this too! You have summed it all up so beautifully. I daren’t even think this far ahead, but as my eldest is nearly 10 years old, I’m sure I’ll be looking back just like you, soon enough wondering where the time has gone. I hope I will do so with just as much pride and admiration as you do. I’m off to check out your little wandering donut now! #WeekendWanderlust

    • Carol, I’m sure you will feel the same as I do when they head off without you for the first time. You have to believe that you raised them well and hope they listened to at least a little of your advice.

  5. Our daughters grew up traveling the world too. It was hard the first time they left on their own adventures, but it was more about missing them then worrying about them. They knew how to get along in the world. Now that they’ve both been out of the house for a few years we love the time we do get together. We still do the joint travel planning, but now we are traveling from different regions to meet up in some new location.

    • I know that down the track we will do the same type of meet up you mention Corinne. And I agree that it is more about missing than worrying, but independence seems to have arrived much too soon.

  6. Your story has hit my heart with a bang! My daughter also started her international travel experiences early. She traveled interstate when three weeks of age and then internationally at 8months and has not stopped since. Many international and interstate trips with us and her younger brothers, then solo doing mission work and now touring as part of her architecture studies has helped evolve her into a mature and wise young woman.
    This wonderful 19 year old young women has just, this week, announced her engagement to a slightly older young man and I wonder how this all happened. Well, it is because we have encouraged her to think for herself, experience life and understand other cultures. This creates amazing children who are mature and wise for their years and know their own minds.
    Well, I have opened my heart here, but your story truly struck a deep chord… Annette

    • Thank you for commenting Annette, this post was a lot more personal than I usually write but it is something that I needed to say and also something I thought may resonate with many others. It’s nice to know we are not alone in these feelings of our babies becoming too independent. Maybe we need a support group!

    • Lyn, I made the mistake of telling Dana about this post last night and today she calls from San Francisco feeling homesick because of what I wrote. Now I feel even worse!
      You are spot on about them being always close in our hearts.


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