In May, I pulled my kids out of school for a month and took them to Malaysia, where I was born. It’s just about halfway around the world. The time difference between Malaysia and Canada is 12 hours – literally the difference between night and day. Making the trip happen took tons of planning, a pile of money, and a lot of time. It was not easy, and is not accurately described as a holiday. But it was an amazing trip. I would do it again in a heartbeat, and I will do it again.
We travelled to five Malaysian states. We went to the suburbs, the downtown, the market, the mall, the gardens, the beach. We stayed at guesthouses, cabins, and relatives’ homes. We flew, drove, bussed, and walked. We ate and drank and watched and learned and fought and gave and loved. Like I said, it was amazing.
People who travel with children have unique reasons for doing it but many underlying motivations are the same. We are generally quite committed to these motivations because travelling with kids, as opposed to vacationing with them, is not particularly easy. It’s worth it though. Here are my top five reasons.
1. To Connect With Family
My primary reason to travel with our kids was to visit and connect with family. Although I left Malaysia when I was a child, I have lots and lots of family there (my mother had 10 siblings and my father had 7 – I’ve lost count of my first cousins and haven’t even met a few of them). I’ve gone to Malaysia every few years for extended periods, and pursued a human right law internship in Penang. I have real connections there, and I really want my kids to know their extended family.
2. To Foster Global Awareness
Even though mine is a fairly typical immigrant story, it still sometimes takes my breath away how different my children’s lives are from from my mother’s childhood. For the most part, this is a good thing – even though my mother speaks only of fond memories of her youth, she could credibly say this radical rise in standard of living is precisely why she relentlessly worked so hard all her life.
But my gratitude for all of it spills into a desire that my kids not take our largesse for granted, or at least less so. I don’t want them to assume that everyone enjoys such living standards, or even that they are the norm, because of course they aren’t. And I blather on about it, and we sometimes read books about other ways of life, but the truth is that realities outside their own remain pretty theoretical.
Taking a trip to a place where you can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch a different way of being altogether is a good antidote to viewing life from a single lens. Even as parts of Malaysia take on more western practices, our kids were exposed to lifestyles and values that differ from their own – the night markets were a good example of this. Travelling invited them to notice the differences and similarities among divergent cultures. We’ve started what we hope will be a lifelong engagement with the world beyond ourselves.
3. For the Adventure!
One of the best reasons to travel overseas is for the thrill of trying new things, and testing your own limits. Horizons seem at once broader, more interesting, and more attainable.
That’s my baby up there!
One of the many adventures for our kids arose out of a stay on a tropical island off Malaysia’s east coast. They watched my husband and I as we pursued one of our passions, scuba diving. And then eagerly agreed when we offered to sign them up for Bubblemakers, a youth scuba diving program. Our sons did an underwater dive with an instructor, and stayed down for almost an hour. Not deep, perhaps 6-10 feet, but not only did they see life in the coral reefs in a completely different way, but they had the otherworldly experience of breathing underwater. It’s not something we would have pursued but for the travel, and the kids knew that.
4. For Resilience
Travelling with kids is not uncomplicated, especially when they are young and span different stages (ours ranged from 4 to 9 years old). We were usually sleeping in one room, including all the days when we were hopelessly jetlagged, but not in the same way. Our first night there, after 26 hours of travel, my husband and I managed to stay awake until 10:00pm, only to have the children, who had fallen asleep earlier, wake up at 1:30am.
There was also that mountainous drive when first one and then another of my kids threw up all over my mother (and her purse). But not at the same time.
Or when my son couldn’t eat much of anything because he wanted to eat vegan food.
In short, some parts of the trip were terrible. That’s part of travelling, much like any life challenge. But we did it, we pulled through it, with varying degrees of grace and sometimes none at all, but somehow we got on the other side of it. The kids were there, right in it, and they know they’re okay.
5. To Love Home
One of the timeless beauties of experiencing another way of life is to recognize the contrast to your own. My husband and I loved being away and we could easily have stayed much longer. Our youngest was fine too, but the older two missed their lives in Canada. When our month was done and the taxi dropped us off, our middle son declared on our front porch: “I love this place!” Our oldest beelined upstairs and dove into his bed where he swam around with his stuffies for ages.
I breathed in this affirmation of our lives in Canada deeply; we were home. But I was also so happy, so relieved to have begun our connection to another place, one that also holds a piece of my kids even if they don’t entirely know it yet. By taking this first trip, we have a foothold into future trips that will bring more exploration, more adventure, more revelation. It’s a start.