Travelling with kids – the questions everybody asks

When you’re setting off for an adventure with very young children, it turns out that there are four questions that everybody asks about backpacking with kids! It’s very predictable that these questions will come up in every conversation, especially from other parents who also have itchy feet, and remember the nightmare flight with a  toddle who wouldn’t sleep/lie down/stop crying!

How much did you pack for a year away?

…which seems to mean “I need a big suitcase for a weekend – what size lorry do you need for a family?”

Well, we certainly haven’t got as much with us as we normally do for a two week holiday. If you’ve never backpacked, then it’s difficult to understand that the longer you’re away the less you may need. Essentially we’re carrying what you need to wear for a week, and aim to wash our clothes on a regular basis.

For me (a man!) that means two pairs of trousers (one pair zips off to create shorts too) and a pair of shorts. Three shirts, plus three t-shirts, plus a lightweight fleece and a rain jacket. One pair of flip-flops and a pair of shoes, and socks & underwear. And er, that’s it.

Most of the space in my rucksack is taken up with the ‘other’ things we need – computer, 3 cameras, video tapes, first aid kit, guide books, reading books, PacSafes (locking security bags for the expensive stuff), mosquito killers etc etc

So here it is: everything we need, laid out for all to see…


and this is what it looks like packed up…


What about the children’s education?

We were very aware as we planned our trip that we needed to very careful of what we did for Charlotte’s education. The last thing we wanted to do was take Charlotte out of school for a year and disadvantage her when she came back.

Because we’ve effectively moved out of the UK for a year, then we don’t have to fulfill any legal obligations about providing education (amazing what you can learn about the subject on internet, from sites like TigerChild and Education Otherwise). Our biggest concern is to make sure that for the year that Charlotte is away, she keeps pace with the Year 3 work (8 year olds) that everybody from her class will be doing – that way when she comes back to join Year 4 she’ll be able to keep up. We’re also interested in doing some work with the school to help keep her involved with her class while she’s away. There are lots of possibilities – the curriculum is stuffed full of things in different subjects which require some form of comparison to other places (Geography about holiday destinations and climates; our village compared to other villages). Unfortunately this hasn’t happened, as the school has been distracted by lots of other things this year. However, we are doing an email project with a Newton School in Chester, which is helping Charlotte’s learning, as well as their three Year 3 classes.

Some head teachers that I spoke to when we were planning to go were really enthusiastic, but I expected Charlotte’s own head teacher to be more cautious – after all she’ll leave for a year, and then come back and be part of the class. In advance of our meeting with her, we got well informed about the Year 3 curriculum.

Since we started looking for home education resources, we’ve come across loads of information. One of the really useful sites is the Government’s own site which contains the Schemes of Work used in primary schools. Although they aren’t compulsory for teachers to use, it has become more common for teachers to base their whole plan of work around these in primary schools – at the very least they are extremely widely used for literacy and numeracy.

Although it might be a bit to direct for a teacher to be told what to do when, it’s really useful for us when we’re thinking about what we have to cover for Charlotte. All of the subjects are covered on the DfES Standards Website . The most detailed plans are for literacy and numeracy, but there are also less detailed plans available for every subject.

FijilessonWhen we met the head teacher, we talked about the whole curriculum, and especially literacy and numeracy – from the school’s point of view the major issue is to make sure that she learns the numeracy principles as we’re going, so that she keeps up. Literacy is less of a worry – with her diary and the range of reading material that we’re going to have available, coupled with no TV for a year – we think (and the school agrees) that things will develop well in that area without making it a hard slog. Numeracy will require some planning and preparation, and some formal “lesson time” put aside on a very regular basis. As we are taking a Tablet PC, and I work for a company producing a wide range of numeracy software designed for primary school children, then we’ll have a head start.

The school were overwhelmingly positive about the whole idea!

Where will you be staying?

tipi1A tipi at HI SaltspringIn Canada and New Zealand, we stayed in hostels – both those that belong to Hostelling International (in UK terms ‘Youth Hostels’) and privately run ones that are aimed at backpackers. But hostels today aren’t what they used to be in days of my youth – you don’t have to do ‘chores’ any more, they don’t lock you out in the rain all day, and they have pretty neat facilities – for example, in Downtown Hostel in Vancouver, they have wireless Internet access in the cafe! One of the most exciting hostels we found was one that had a tipi as a room! New Zealand’s hostels are amongst some of the best in the world – some of them are like 3-star hotels, while the farm stays provide a warm and friendly atmosphere totally unlike hostels of old. There is also an official star-rating scheme for NZ hostels, as well as an independent rating scheme, which backpackers create through their own feedback.

In America we ended up in motels, because hostels are few and far between, and more expensive than motels for a family. That was a bit disappointing for us, because it meant we didn’t meet as many people – either fellow travellers or locals – because motels are very insular.

BaysidebureIn Fiji, we stayed in small grass huts next to the beach, curiously they’re called “resorts”, but they are very basic – limited running water, little or no electricity.

When we reached Australia, we rented a campervan for two months (about £27 a day), and when Sarah’s parents joined us we rented cabins on campsites. These are mostly huts that were used in the Olympic Village, now distributed all around the country, and available at around £40 for 6 of us.

In Asia we stayed in Guest Houses or small hotels. Typically, for an air-conditioned room we’d be paying between £5 and £15 a night, depending on the country, the location and the quality of the room.

How much will it cost?

The big question – and we don’t really know the answer yet.

However, when we were deciding on this trip, we had a choice between buying a new car for Sarah, or going round the world (okay, Sarah did want a nice convertible…). We know about the tickets – they cost us just over £4,000 for the family (that’s about £1,200 for the adults, and 75% of that for the children).

People often asked us when we used to take long-haul holidays how we could afford them too – I guess for us the answer is that we’ve always prioritised spending on travel, and this year is no exception.

North America has definitely cost us more than we had expected or planned, mainly because of food – living in motels means that we’ve had to eat out for most meals. We’ve also had to hire cars for 6 weeks so far – with the four of us its much more economical than public transport.

Australia and New Zealand were cheaper – probably closer to our budget.

Asia is much cheaper – we haven’t worked it out, but it is probably less than £300 a week. One of the biggest costs is getting around, as large distances are involved, and there are four of us travelling.