What do you give up to travel?

Playing catch in the yard My family spends more time on the road than the average North American family. I just did some simple math and during the past calendar year, which I think was fairly typical for us, we spent 66 days on the road. About half of this is accounted for by long summer trips, but the rest happens on long weekends and school holidays. A reasonably flexible employment situation for Matt (some of these trips are working vacations for him) and total flexibility for me mean that we are able to regularly pick up and leave town.

I hesitate to say that we “make sacrifices” to travel this much because we’re very fortunate and I don’t really feel like we’re giving anything up. Obviously there are costs, both financial and in terms of time. The money is easy enough to spend – both Matt and I agree to prioritizing travel over other things in our household finances (and we’re lucky to be able to afford to do this). But the time issue is a little trickier. I’ve already written about how we manage to travel when school is in session, but even when it’s not I sometimes find that leaving town means missing out on some of what is happening here.

As the boys get older and more involved in activities I think that this will come into greater relief. For example, we’ve already told Tommy that even if he makes the post-season All Star team for Little League this summer (a reasonable likelihood given that he is a pretty good player) he’ll have to say no because to do so we’d have to commit to being in town from the end of June through the second week of August and we’ve got five and a half weeks of travel planned during that time. He understands and has agreed to this without grumbling, but I know that eventually I’ll probably have to change our travel strategy to accommodate a more serious commitment to athletics and jobs and other extracurricular activities. Lately I’ve been thinking about a (as-yet very tentative) plan to travel for something like six months the next time Matt has a sabbatical in a couple of years and I wonder if I’ll feel like I can ask Tommy to sacrifice his entire Little League season so that we can visit the antipodes. To me it will be worth it, but will it be to him?

We travel a lot, yes, but we’re not a nomadic family. We have a comfortable home and friends and schools and jobs that we love, all of them location-specific. To spend as much time on the road as we do takes money, organization, and commitment. But it also means that we miss out on some of what is happening where we live, whether that’s birthday parties or team photos for baseball. For now Matt and I try to make reasonable decisions about what our children will have to sacrifice. But I’m very conscious that their priorities and mine aren’t always going to be as closely aligned as they are right now. I don’t think anyone in our family has ever been disappointed in the payoff for those decisions – our trips are pretty much always wonderful. But sometimes I wonder if Tommy won’t have his moments of regret this summer, even as he’s admiring the Alps or enjoying ice cream in Paris.

I’ve shared some of the tradeoffs my family makes to travel – now it’s your turn: What does your family give up so you can hit the road?

Reader Responses

10 fellow travelers had this to say

  1. Hi, Thanks for your post. My husband works from home and my daughter is not in school yet, so we are pretty flexible. That said, we keep putting off big trips because my husband is still starting his business and working alot. We have made sacrifices by living in a small apartment and reducing other expenses to be able to afford to travel.

  2. We’ve been able to do quite a bit of traveling as a family with my husbands’ job. It helps that we homeschool and don’t have a “typical school schedule” to hinder us but even then, there are events, co-ops and classes that we’ve skipped or not signed up for because we knew doing so would mean missing some travel adventure. :) I’m okay with it because my kids learn so much on the road that I feel the benefits outweigh the negatives but as they’ve gotten older, it has gotten harder. My son played football last year and it really cramped our style. I found my children coming to me saying things like “We never go anywhere anymore” or “We need to get out of here, I’m a free spirit and lack of travel is stifling me”. The last comment really cracked me up but I can sooo relate! Happy Travels!

  3. 1) we give up major home renovations for travel. I’m not tearing down walls, renovating my kitchen or completely rebuilding the back yard. Maintainence gets done but no major improvements.
    2) we take bigger, longer vacations every two years. It sometimes means suffering through a horrible winter like last year but for a month here and two and a half weeks there with money to splurge is worth it. We sprinkle regional long weekend trips to keep us sane.
    3) my daughter is deeply involved with ballet including two professional productions a year. With the ‘big vacations’ it’s easier to commit to these as we know in advance when we might be gone, and as they are seasonal, we can schedule a little better.
    4) private school/alternative education. Our girl is in a private Montessori which means they don’t have required school days / only get paid for butts in seats and, the curriculum is self paced so she doesn’t fall behind. We do try and create a project/report to share with the class based on our travels.

  4. It’s interesting that you mention baseball and your son’s willingness to give up an All-Star season. I’ve posted in your comment section about how difficult it is to plan trips around everyone’s schedule. I’m finding it more so as my sons get older and participate in more athletics (I’m especially dreading if one of them gets really good in lacrosse since it will kill my typical Easter vacation). So far, they’ve been willing to bend (a little) when it comes to sports – but they are voicing their opinions more as they get older. And quite honestly, I can’t ignore them. While I’m not willing to completely give up travel to cater to them, a summer off traveling is simply not an option for us. They would miss their friends and my husband would never be able to get time off work. So we piecemeal our trips – stealing a few days here and a few days there as well as trying to reconcile with the grandparents that we just aren’t going to visit them this year – there’s no time!

  5. This is such an interesting topic as we will be facing these kinds of decisions fairly soon. Our son will start preschool in September but already I am planning on pulling him out for the month of October so we can go to Europe. In a year or two he will start soccer, something my husband has been dreaming about for years. I haven’t pointed out to my husband yet that the kids will miss a lot of seasons and tournaments because of travel plans I’m sure I will make. He didn’t grow up traveling a lot so I don’t think this has dawned on him. I’m actually more worried about his disappointment than the kids. But who knows, maybe one kid will be super sporty or into some other time consuming activity and the other will have no hand eye coordination (like me) and will be more than willing to hit the road for a few weeks. I bet you in 10 years Tommy will be really happy he went to Paris and explored Europe and missed that all-star team. Plus who knows, maybe he will meet some baseball loving kids on the road!

  6. Traveling with kids is in an awesome experience; I don’t think you give up anything. Children whose parents take them on the road or to other countries are giving them an opportunity of a lifetime. Travel benefits children in the long run. If need be, you can always schedule travel around your children’s activities. Work around it. Remember, kids do get ‘breaks’ from school throughout the years. Plan accordingly. Happy travels!

  7. I joke with my husband that travel comes just below housing, food, and utilities in our budget, but it’s actually quite true! We’ve always saved on non-essentials (i.e. cable tv, expensive cell phone plans, etc.) so that we have the flexibility to travel nearly whenever we want. I’m sure things will get more interesting to arrange and prioritize when our toddler gets older. It sounds like you are doing a good job of juggling everything for now!

  8. Interesting conversation! We drive older vehicles, have no cable tv or home phone, buy groceries in bulk at a significant savings and buy clothes on sale or, in the case of the girls, used.
    On our line item budget travel comes after housing and food. Our priorities are very different than many of our acquaintances, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

  9. Our biggest struggle is time. Not in the sense of school schedules (at least not yet… still have a couple of years before we deal with that), but with my husband’s vacation time. With just 3 weeks to work with, it’s hard to do all the traveling we’d like to do (and we don’t stay places as long as we’d both like to).

  10. With an 18 year old heading off to college in the fall and a 15 year old who plays ice hockey, and more recently started crew, at a high level, our travel schedule increasingly focuses on sports (think National tournaments), college (we toured 14 colleges in the last 18 months and are re-visiting 4) and visits to family (thank go they live in nice places!). Most recently, we have hit the zone where the teens now travel on their own with school and service groups – we are talking about destinations like Italy, Miami, New York, as well as sleep away camps. For the first time in 18 years, the parents and kids are taking separate April vacations! Enjoy the family trips as long as you can as they make wonderful lifetime memories. The kids will tell you when the friends and sports and school and service activities are more important – usually sometime around 7th grade!

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