How to travel mindfully with children

Our children are a beautiful reminder to travel with fresh, focused perspective.

“In so many ways, children ares our greatest teachers when it comes to the art of mindfulness.” – Elise Catchlove

Life changes completely once you have a baby. It’s the oldest saying in the book, but the gravity of the sentiment didn’t hit home until our first family holiday to Fiji with our then 10-month-old.  What it entailed was a seemingly endless pile of luggage; a midflight meltdown complete with a spectacular baby kick that saw me wear my red wine through the arrivals hall; an itinerary that consisted of far less of the Amazing Race-style landmark-hopping (okay, and boozy nights out) than my husband and I were used to. The itinerary was light and focused mainly around the resort pool; activities were scheduled between baby’s naps. In short, it was the antithesis of the holidays of our pre-parenting days. We were forced to slow down. And it was beautifully transformative.

I’m not the only one who continues to reap the rewards of travelling with little ones. “I was an avid backpacker for many years. I struggled with making plans and therefore I rarely did. When I became a business owner and also a mother, I was forced into planning more – and slowing down,” says yoga teacher, founder of Santosha Society, and mum-of-one, Kori Hahn. A lighter itinerary means you can take your time to really soak up the atmosphere of your surroundings, making for a more enriching experience that rests your body and your mind.

See travel through your child’s eyes

It has been empirically proven that slowing down is beneficial for brain health, as it allows us to explore our world more mindfully, says psychotherapist Julie Sweet. “When people slow down and engage in both hemispheres, they tap into their creative and also the logic sides of their minds. Looking through the lens of a child can be enriching, refreshing and grounding. It can stabilise adults and cause them to feel anchored.”

Children are naturally curious, which means they are more mindful, as they are present in every moment to learn all they can about the world. As meditation and mindfulness teacher Elise Catchlove explains, taking the time to see and experience places the way our children do – paying attention to finer and at times more obscure details – can be a great way to practise being more mindful and self-aware, and make for a relaxed travel experience.

“In so many ways, children are our greatest teachers when it comes to the art of mindfulness. I observe my two-year-old constantly, noticing how he is present in every single moment and fascinated by the smallest and most mundane things. He never looks ahead and simply pivots his attention moment to moment depending on what has charmed him – a fallen leaf will stop him in his tracks.”

Adds Kori, “It is one of the greatest gifts of motherhood; to see my son’s inspired enthusiasm when learning about the world we live in. If there is anything that is new for Kona, then he asks about it – and I often notice all these little things as if it’s my first time seeing them, too.”

Be spontaneous

It’s often said that life with children means you sacrifice spontaneity, but it’s truer to say that spontaneity simply manifests in different ways, and most likely with your child at the helm. On our most recent trip to Bali, for instance, a morning walk around the local village with our newly running 14-month-old saw us swept up in an unforgettable cultural experience. Eager to go her own way, my daughter wriggled out of my grip and shot off down a narrow alley towards a family praying at their temple. Upon seeing our little one, the family warmly invited us to share in their ritual, including us in a moving and authentic experience that left me feeling grateful for my daughter’s rebellious streak (don’t tell her I said that).

“There is definitely an element of spontaneity when travelling with Kona,” Kori agrees. “Older kids need activities. So, we are always on the lookout for things to do to keep him entertained. This means we’re constantly exploring, and constantly seeking the most out of each moment.”

4 tips for travelling mindfully with children

  1. Let your child lead (within reason) and try to not have an agenda – leave the guidebooks behind.
  2. Family picnics are a great way to sample local foods from markets and soak up the atmosphere of your surroundings.
  3. Play to your child’s energy by walking wherever possible and getting close to nature at every opportunity.
  4. At the end of each day, discuss three things that you were grateful to see and experience.

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