Tsh Oxenreider didn’t set out to become a family travel expert. But when your family travels as often as hers does, both nationally and internationally, she can share more than a few tips. Her recently released book, Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World, recounts her and her family’s experience living in Turkey and trying to acclimate to the fast-paced Western lifestyle we’re accustomed to in the United States.
As TravelingMoms, we know the benefit travel has for ourselves and for our families. Oxenreider is an advocate for traveling together because she’s seen firsthand how much it’s helped and strengthened her family.
“Any sort of positive shared experience strengthens a family bond, but there’s something magical about travel that acts as a superglue,” she says. “The sheer quantity of time together during travel means a tighter relationship, because young kids need lots of hours with their parents. But when you’re collectively thrust out of your comfort zone, your family unit becomes the truest thing you know in that moment. Sometimes you cling to it like your life depended on it. And in the end, you’ll have shared stories for the rest of your life that’ll reunite your family with each telling. There’s not much better glue out there.”
The book jumps from her time in Turkey living as an expat with her husband and young children and how they tried to re-create some of the experiences they enjoyed in Turkey back in their home country. She spends time creating lists of things she craved in Turkey, from shopping at the farmers market for fresh produce, having fresh milk delivered at her doorstop almost daily by her building manager to spending the entire day enjoying tea and talking with friends at one another’s homes.
The frenetic lifestyle is common to most of us. It’s expected and rewarded. Of course what this means is that we extend expectation to our children. Oxenreider isn’t buying it and doesn’t want to pass along those expectations to her children. Realizing she can’t re-create the experiences she craved in Turkey back home, she learns to give and take, deciding to homeschool at one point then making the decision to send her kids to a more traditional school. Come Fall 2014, she and her clan of five total will be embarking on an Around the World travel adventure with her kids.
Around the World? For a Year? With Three Young Kids? Are you Crazy?
As I read her book, I admired her courage to travel with young children. As TravelingMoms ourselves, we understand the value travel brings to our children and families and our communities. Oxenreider feels the best gift we can give our children is a passport because it gives our kids access to the world.
“There’s something magical about break in routine,” she writes in her book. “Hours in the car, isolated, can be a breeding ground for meaningful, memorable conversations.”
But let’s not kid ourselves (pun intended). Traveling can be stressful and tiring and unpredictable. Delays happen. All.The.Time. Christine Tibbetts, Blended TravelingMom, recommends knowing your airline’s twitter handle for help in handling flight delays and cancellations when she was a recent victim of flight after flight cancellations due to Polar Vortex. Standby TravelingMom recently shared some great apps used by travel bloggers that I know I’ve found handy (in fact, I just used airbnb to book a stay in Los Angeles next month!).
So, is this hassle all worth it? Oh heavens yes. My advice and Oxenreider’s is this: the pros definitely outweigh the cons. Just prepare as much as you can to deal with what comes your way.
“I think a lot of people’s fears of traveling with small children lie in the unknown,” she shares with me. “When you’ve never taken a long-haul flight with kids, it sounds horrific, and much of a parent’s focus is on other people—what will the people sitting next to us be like, will we be “that” family in the airport. Some of that is grounded, I’ll give you that. But I think our concerns are exaggerated in our minds; people don’t notice us as much as we think they do, and if they really are bothered, well, we’ll never see them again.”
She offers plenty of practical advise about flying with kids in the book, too.
“Kids are unpredictable, and they need us, so if you go in to travel with kids with the assumption that it’ll be just like traveling with adults, you’ll be frustrated,” she adds. “But when you go in knowing you’ll need to make some accommodations in housing, food, transportation and time, it’ll probably be a lot better than you initially think.”
While most of her book covers her international travel experiences, she does hit local spots and highly recommends road trips. “You don’t have to travel far to find that bond,” she says in her book. “Even visiting a nearby town, new to your clan, means both the kids and grownups are the students; the surroundings serve as a teacher. Together you can learn. And, if you’re willing, let your children be your models: watch them visit a new place when they’re well-fed and rested; then emulate their attitude.”
I’ll admit that I live in a fast-paced world. I often find myself rushing my kids from one place to another. One of the very best family experiences we had was when we were in Toronto and stumbled upon High Park. It was a massive park where my family and I explored, hiked, played at the playground, ate some ice cream and just took it all in. We weren’t expected anywhere. We weren’t in a hurry. We let the kids guide our hikes and they loved it. We talk about that trip often.
Notes from a Blue Bike is part travel memoir, part travel advice and part general life advice. It’s not hard reading and it can be read quickly but to really let her message soak in and get the most out of her wisdom, read it over several sittings and see what resonates with you.
Who knows, her book might inspire you to take a year off of life and go on an around-the-world travel adventure with your family.