Travel with children? Sure! But for nine months, over nine countries? Yes, it’s possible. Nah Wee Kee and his wife Sandy left their jobs, and did just that last year.
Avid globetrotters, Nah Wee Kee and his wife Sandy backpacked around the world before they had children. The couple has visited over 30 countries together and even took a year off in 2004 to travel 16 countries together. When their children were born, Wee Kee and Sandy did not stop roaming the globe; they simply brought the young ones along. The result? Amazing memories and wonderful photographs such as the one above, taken at the Alcazar of the Christian Monarchs in Cordoba, Spain.
The parents travel with their children three or four times annually, during the school holidays, and have visited Turkey, Greece, Australia, Thailand, Laos, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan together. Last year, they took their longest trip to date, spending nine-and-a-half months in the USA, Mexico, Guatemala, Cuba, China, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Spain, and Morocco – in that order.
Learning on the Road
The girls – now seven and five years old – attended three different schools during this time. The main aim of this trip was to give them a different environment in which to learn, as well as to experience a variety of cultures. The girls went to school in Guatemala for a month, summer camp in the US for a month, and another school in China for three months.
“We spent the most time in China because brushing up on Mandarin was one of two objectives we set for this trip. The other was to learn Spanish,” Wee Kee shares. “Of course we could have sent them to language classes here, but we feel the most conducive environment to learn is where they immerse in the language. They can see that language is not just something you take tests for, but that in places around the world, it’s the only language that people speak.
“Education is also more than just languages and subjects,” he elaborates. “They could see what other children and families do in different countries, try different types of food and do different things.”
It can be tough at times, but I think they are better for the experience. Kids are very adaptable.
Sandy adds: “Since we did not follow a package tour, we had plenty of opportunities to experience how the locals live and, take local transport, and eat local delicacies. My girls often recall how they miss staying in the home-stay in Guatemala, making tortillas in Mexico, eating garden snails in Morocco, and taking the tuk-tuk in Laos.”
Funding the 9.5-month-long Trip
The marketing manager and his teacher wife, both 43, left their jobs before their big family trip of 2017. They also rented out their apartment to cover part of their mortgage. Their holiday fund came from their savings while they were working, as well as returns from investments. They also use cards for rebates and websites that give some form of cashback for bookings.
“I’m a pretty frugal guy but my wife will tell you that when it comes to holidays, I don’t usually set a budget,” Wee Kee shares. “We go with what’s acceptable, nothing fancy, and spend what we need to spend. Usually, that will involve two-to-three-star hotels or homestays, small eateries, and local buses/trains. These serve us fine because they maximise the local experiences.”
Planning a Child-Friendly Itinerary
Travel with children can be a logistics challenge. Wee Kee and Sandy put a lot of thought into each trip, so as to ensure that there are activities for both kids and adults to enjoy. Their destinations are usually cities with parks, playgrounds, zoos and/or activities for the kids, some water, nature and shopping for the family, as well as museums and historic sites for Dad.
While the couple loves walking while on holiday, they try not to do too much with the kids. Bus rides longer than three or four hours are also a no-no. “It was rather challenging before they were potty trained, and before they outgrew their naps,” says Sandy.
“Our trips are usually require us to move to a new location every two to three days. So besides age, the children’s characters also play a big part on how well they adapt. My younger girl didn’t nap well on the stroller and preferred a proper lie-down-in-bed but our tight schedule did not allow us to go back and forth to the guesthouse for her to do that. So for me, that was a struggle, until she outgrew nap-time when she turned four-and-a-half years old.”
She would also take longer to warm up in a school setting and found it harder to make friends in school, unlike her jie jie (big sister),” Sandy adds. “We’ve learnt to request separate classes for them, and, if possible, for their classes to be further apart so that mei mei can learn to be more independent, and also to allow space for jie jie to be herself instead of having to watching over mei mei.”
Real-life Learning Journeys for the Kids
So what have the girls learnt from these trips? Wee Kee says it’s “the willingness to ask questions”. “They visit new places, see things done differently, and ask us why they are so. Through that they gain some context and understanding of people and places, but most importantly learn to have more curious minds. Singapore is a unique place. In many places, things work differently from home,” he explains.
Both Wee Kee and Sandy recommend travelling with your children as much as you can. Trips give children context to the world and a better understanding of the world around them, the parents believe. “Rather than to pile up on enrichment classes for your kids, channel time and money bringing them to some less-visited places,” says Wee Kee. “Get them (and yourselves) out of their comfort zones a little, and see more of what the real world is like. Spend some quality time with them, explaining what you know of the world. It’s a much more worthy way to impart knowledge, parent to child.
His final piece of advice if you’re planning to travel with children? “Travel free and easy whenever possible… it’s ironic to visit new places with a bus-load of Singaporeans talking about home and eating familiar foods!”
Header image: Source