Cliff Hsia explains how traveling with your kids can be a wonderfully enriching experience for the whole family, if you have the courage to try.
“You’re taking your family?!” My colleague was in disbelief that almost four weeks in Nicaragua with two daughters (three years old and six months old) would be possible.
“That’s the whole point of it.” I answered.
“Is it safe there?”
“Yeah. It’s actually one of the safest countries in Central and South America.”
“I couldn’t do that. But that sounds interesting.”
And thus started the stroller pushing, carry-on baggage only travels of our family. We would be in Nicaragua for nearly four weeks. No cell phone coverage, no Spanish, and no local contacts.
Both the kids were asleep. “My butt hurts,” I declare to my wife in front of me.
My wife looks back and responds, “I need to get off this horse.”
We had been riding on horseback for two hours straight with a local guide on the outskirts of San Juan del Sur, a sleepy beach town with an approximate population of twenty thousand people.
With Emily asleep, sitting upright in front of me on our white horse, I cupped her head into my left arm so that she wouldn’t get whiplash from the last twenty minutes of our horseback ride. Chloe, our youngest daughter, had been out cold even before we made it to the top of the mountain, where we could see the coastline of Costa Rica to the left and the beaches of Nicaragua to the right.
We needed to get off these horses. Finally back to the guide’s modest rural house, we gratefully gave him two $20 bills and got our kids into the backseat of the car that was there to pick us up to go back into town. We were exhausted and the kids were in a deep horseback riding slumber.
“That was awesome. That was the highlight of our trip so far,” I whispered to my wife from the front passenger seat, as the car sped through the narrow unpaved roads.
“Yeah, just wish my butt didn’t feel so raw and legs so sore,” she replied with a grin. “Now don’t talk to me. I’m going to sleep.”
I stared out the window and watched the sunset with its orange and yellow hues glow over the trees. I knew that I wanted more of this.
All your dreams can come true if you have the courage to pursue them. — Walt Disney
We cannot afford it.
We cannot take the kids out of school.
We cannot take that much time off.
We don’t want to put our family in dangerous environments.
We’ll do it when the kids are older.
These are some of the common excuses people tell themselves or their partners when thinking about traveling with their kids. Taking kids along with you for extended travel doesn’t need to be just a dream. It can be a fantastic reality only if you have the courage to make it happen.
Most families settle for road trips on three day weekends to stand in long lines at Disneyland, only to come back from the trip exhausted and wondering why they even went in the first place. We will not go to a new place unless we can stay there for at least a week. We’ve done this in cities and countries all over the world. One week in Cabo, two weeks in Lima, four weeks in Nicaragua, and five weeks in Buenos Aires. We’ve done it. And our kids are growing up to be better citizens of the world because we continue to do it.
So where does the courage to travel with kids come from? We found it just by going.
Exiting the airport at Managua, Nicaragua around 11pm local time with two small girls in tow, my wife and I were tired, nervous, and scared. The outside of the airport was pitch black and the only thing we could really see was the barbed wire gate surrounding the small parking lot in front of the pick-up area. The area resembled the parking lot of a prison.
I had heeded advice to stay overnight at the Best Western directly across from the airport before heading to our first destination, Granada, a colonial town approximately an hour away by car. Drivers stopping in the middle of the road, robbing you and leaving you high and dry was certainly a possibility that some travelers on travel sites had forewarned about. So we checked into the hotel, only to find a chicken bone under one of the beds.
“The next day will be better,” I told my wife.
And the next day was better, as was the entire trip. We had breakfast served to us everyday at our B&B inns with gallo pinto and huevos, drank delicious Nicaraguan coffee, watched some of the most amazing sunsets in San Juan del Sur, and lived within thirty seconds walking distance of the Pacific Ocean.
If we hadn’t gone, we wouldn’t have known how friendly the people were there. We wouldn’t have met the other Asian family traveling with their two small sons. We wouldn’t have went horseback riding with our kids.
You’ll only know until you go. So stop the excuses, start planning your trip, then get going. And don’t ever look back.
Originally appeared on LiveFamilyTravel.com; Images courtesy of the author