Backpacking With a Kid. Story of Sandra, Valdas and Hugo

Kaspars MisinsAsia, Destinations, Interviews Comments

Backpacking with a kid - Southeast Asia

Do you know anyone backpacking with a kid? We have friends, who have been going on regular long term backpacking trips with their daughter since she was 12 years old.  And last year in Thailand we met a Latvian family who had moved to Thailand for a year, to experience living in a completely different for them country and to travel around the region. There have been few more families, whom we have met while traveling. And there are many more about whom we have only read online.

However most of them are traveling with children, who are 7, 10, 12 years old or older. But today I want to share with you a story of a family, who started their long term backpacking trip across Southeast Asia, when their son was only 3 years old.

I don’t know, what are your thoughts about it and your experience, but my feeling is, that most of people are afraid to go even on short trips with a kid. From what I see around and read online, traveling with kids has an image of being something nearly impossible, something strongly not recommended. So it doesn’t surprise me, that so many say, once you have children you can’t travel anymore.

Since I don’t agree with that, I’m always happy to read a stories about families like this one. Who are doing something most of people think is impossible. But they are doing it. And not because they want to prove something to someone, but because that’s something they want and that’s something that is interesting for them. Read on to learn more about this adventurous family!

Please, tell us a little bit about yourselves!

Seven years ago I was living in the capital of Latvia, Riga, and working in a bank. I loved to party, travel around Europe and I was active user of couchsurfing.com. Through Couchsurfing I met people from all over the world (some of them are still very close friends to me), heard unbelievable stories about fulfilling the dreams, courage and adventure. And it changed my life.

I stopped running everywhere, trying to do everything and started to listen to myself. To understand what is that that I really want to do? And then I left everything. I quit my job in the middle of financial crisis (everybody, whom I know, said to me, that I am crazy, because so many people in Latvia lost their jobs during these years) and went to Denmark to join a volunteering program.

As I was waiting for a train in Copenhagen train station, I saw him and randomly asked for directions. We both took the same train and as I was reading my printed e-mail about how to get to my destination he asked if I’m going to Faxe, a town in Denmark, to volunteer. I said yes. He smiled. “You too?!”. “Yes,” he replied. His name was Valdas and he was Lithuanian, from Klaipeda. Only later he told me that we were on the same flight.

We spent 10 months in Denmark and afterwards – 6 months in Zambia, working as development workers. Time in Denmark was the most challenging time of my life, but it was necessary in order to go and work in Zambia later. And time in Zambia at the same time turned out to be the most rewarding experience of my life. We finished our volunteering program with 2 months in United Kingdom, where we were showing presentations, videos and worked as teaching assistants for other volunteers. After that we were supposed to go to India, but the other project was cancelled and we decided to leave.

Valdas finished his studies and we agreed to go to the nearest English speaking country – as we both don`t speak each others native language. We chose London for one reason – I love multiculturalism. Mix of races, colors, religions, traditions and food. In place like London you don`t feel like outsider, you just blend in. Initially we planned to stay in London for 2 years, and then to decide where to go next. But when our family extended and we welcomed our son Hugo to the world, we postponed our plans for a while.

Until December 2015, when we decided to go backpacking around Southeast Asia with our 2.5 years old (at that time) son Hugo. In March of 2016 we arrived to Thailand. Seven months later and we have been to Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia (Sabah and mainland), Srilanka, Indonesia, Cambodia and China, in every country spending on average a month.

Backpacking with a kid in Southeast Asia

Where are you know and how do you like it there?

For the moment we are in Coron, Philippines. It is one of the most beautiful islands we have seen – with emerald green water, colorful corals, stunning ocean creatures, fresh food and very friendly people.

Do you already know, where are you going next?

For the while we will enjoy beaches of Philippines. But as with most destinations of our trip, they come unexpected. I often look through all the possible flights in search platforms like skyscanner.com, where I choose destination – everywhere and see what are the best and cheapest options. How amazing it is that you can go to places you never even thought about before.

I’ll give you an example – our visa in Cambodia was going to the end, but we had already been to neighboring Thailand and Vietnam. Traveling to Laos overland during the rainy season…that seemed too rough. So we looked for other options and found cheap flights to Hong Kong. China?! Well… Let`s go to China! And guess what – we were so impressed with nature and beauty of country side, that now we definitely want to go back to China one day.

Going to Srilanka was birthday present for Valdas, that I bought just few weeks in advance.

I always think like this – no matter where you go, find something special! It’s very touristic area or place? Ok, it will be more challenging, but it’s still possible. As there always is that other, unexplored side, going where you will experience something totally different, something you didn’t even expect. Let’s take Angkor temple complex in Cambodia as an example. With around 2 million visitors every year it’s the most most visited place in all country. And still we found some unbelievably remote, quite and stunning remains surrounded by jungle that I could not be more excited about.

Father and son - Backpacking with a kid

To go on a long-term backpacking trip with a child – whose idea was it?

It was me (Sandra), who started a conversation about it, but we both wanted to travel long term. Well, we love to travel even if it’s just around our neighborhood and just for couple of days.

Please, tell us more about your previous travel experience!

Valdas loves cycling. And he has been on some long distance cycling trips with his brother. For example, they cycled from London to France. And From France to Switzerland. He wants to continue doing it when we’ll come back to Europe.

Besides from living in Denmark, Zambia and United Kingdom, before this trip to Asia we had traveled mostly in Europe. In my opinion, one of the best possibilities to see other countries (and not only that) is by participating in international youth exchange programs. Because of one such a program I had a chance to visit ecological villages in Denmark, where people build houses from clay, covering roof with seashells and grass. Electricity there was produced by solar panels, and they reused water from showers, which was something new for me. Another time I went to Hungary, where we did a lot of different outdoor activities, like rafting. And then once I went to Macedonia, thanks to similar project.

Alone I have had trips to Italy, France, Germany, Portugal, Sweden, Finland, Poland, Estonia, Austria, Chezch Republic and Russia. Some of them were Couchsurfing camps.

All three together we have traveled to Slovenia, Croatia, backpacked in Lithuania and Latvia. As we prefer nature to big cities, during our trips in United Kingdom we have been to places like amazing Cornwall, Seven sisters, Brecon Beacons, Swansea countryside, Stonehenge, Scottish countryside, Welsh countryside, Windsor, Box hill. If someone says that Great Britain is a boring travel destination then I must say he have never actually traveled there. It has dramatic and impressive coastline, beautiful beaches, lush and wild countryside and so much more.

Actually we started to travel with Hugo when he was still in my belly. During this time we went to Ireland, Switzerland, Lithuania, United Kingdom, Morocco.

However – just 7 months ago we didn’t have any experience of traveling in Asia. It was something completely new for us. We knew that traveling in Southeast Asia is cheap, although it’s not for free. And we knew, that many beautiful places and sights are there waiting to be discovered.

Mom and son - Backpacking with a kid

How do you fund this trip? Are you working while traveling? Maybe you are volunteering?

At the very same moment when we decided to go backpacking in Asia, we started to save. Well, London is not the cheapest city to start with. But hey, if you have a dream to fulfill everything starts to seem so much easier, even long working hours, dark and rainy evenings.

Unfortunately we don`t have jobs what we could do remotely. I wish we had. And we didn`t win a lottery either, nor we have sponsors. To minimize our expenses we tried volunteering through workaway.info. But that was only for a week. So I would say that it was more for an experience. The downside of volunteering is that you need to stay in one place. And when you have visa only for 30 days, and never ending list of new places to visit, it is really challenging to stay put in one place.

What’s your budget?

We haven`t yet put all the expenses together as besides from everyday costs there are plane tickets, insurance, vaccinations and visa fees, that we count separately. We plan to do it when we finish our trip. But we have set up our daily expenses limit – 50 USD per day.

It is important to mention Brexit, which happened while we were already traveling. As all our savings are in pounds, we lost some money because of that –  as the value of pound dropped significantly.

In my opinion, it is important to set up some daily limit. As it makes things so much easier. Knowing how much you are spending daily you always know for how many more days, weeks or months you can travel. Simply by looking at your bank account balance and doing quick calculations.

Plus we have a separate account, where we keep money for flight tickets back to Europe, emergency money and extra money in savings what we don`t touch. So we don’t end up broke once we are back from this backpacking trip.

As we now see from our experience, our 50 USD daily budget is adequate. Actually, only in China we ended up spending more than planned. Twice as much, to be exact. For the rest of the time we were spending less than 50 USD a day. Well, but China wasn’t in our initial travel plan. We decided to go there only later, and we don’t regret it. Because, as I already mentioned, we loved nature in China and now we definitely want to return to China.

In Asia - Backpacking with a kid

For how long do you plan to continue traveling like this?

This is the hard one. Not because we don`t know but because we know when it will end. I would love to continue the same way forever, although I’m not sure about schooling and I don’t really feel like homeschooling type of mom.

But my and Hugo`s passports are expiring in January 2017. And to get any visa your passport should be valid for at least 6 more months. We would probably made new passports before starting our backpacking trip, but then we also didn’t know how Hugo will handle constant traveling and if we will be able to do it for as long as we wanted.

At the same time, we also want to show to our parents their grandson. As he is growing so fast and they miss him like crazy. But going back doesn’t mean that we will stop traveling. We hope to find new possibilities, amazing experiences and interesting adventures. Actually we have so many ideas, how and what we could do in the future, that we don`t know where to start.

Plus, we use 3 languages daily – Latvian, Lithuanian and English. As now Hugo also has speech development, we want him to hear more our native languages, to have a proper language base. At this moment I am the only one Latvian speaking person, that he hears and repeats. So, as my sister is joking, he speaks Latvian with an accent because he have never heard a proper conversations, only my monologue.

And there is no better way to teach him that than to bring him to Latvia and Lithuania. So he can learn both of these languages. With English it’s quite different. Because he hears us speaking English daily, and there are other people speaking English as well. So he learns it without it teaching.

Backpacking with a kid in Asia

How is it to travel with a child?

I would reframe it as “How is it to raise a child?”. There is no one answer. There is a small personality who is discovering the world, no matter how far you bring him. We are his small bubble, his safety nest. He feels brave when we are around. He feels more adventurous with us.

But backpacking with a child is the same rising a child – we have everyday routine – like brushing teeth, dressing, learning new things, playing, testing parents patience, running around, not listening to anyone. Being abroad doesn’t mean that we are on a holiday mood every day and every minute. We have our up and down days, and we have challenging days.

But the most important is that we are all together, that he doesn’t see us only in the evenings – tired and hungry. And then when holidays come you say – I want to have a rest from my child. That’s not our situation. We are all together every day. We play, we walk, we hike, we swim, we make sand castles, we cook, we drive. While he is small we are everything to him. And while we have this possibility to do so we just take it.

If you think that we spend our days next to the swimming pool, you are wrong. We are driving scooters, visiting canyons, caves, doing island hopping, hiking in the mountains and volcanoes, snorkeling and spending a time in the jungle time after time. We travel like “standard backpackers”, with an exception, that we aren’t drinking and partying.

Vietnam - Backpacking with a kid

How is your son Hugo doing? Have there been any problems?

He is excited to use all kinds of transportation, especially the trains. Every morning he is asking us: “Will ride a bike?”; or “Will go by boat? I want big boat.”; or “We will sleep in train? In bed?”; or “We will go by plane?”.

Yes, we are on the move quite often, so we really use a lot of different modes of transportation. I sometimes forget that he is only 3 years old, and still we manage to go on 7 or 8 hour rides without big dramas. When he is tired or wants to have a nap on the road, we use ergo bag to carry him. Sometimes it is much safer than holding him in hands.

As all children he gets sick time after time. For that reason we have travel insurance, which allows us to go to good clinics and have English speaking doctors almost everywhere. For example few days before our trip started we all got sick in Latvia. Hugo had cough and it didn’t stop. In Vietnam it got worse and we went to hospital for check up and ended up using antibiotics. As for any flu like symptoms there is a possibility that you have some tropical disease, so it is important to do a blood check ups as well. Just for peace of mind.

People in Southeast Asia love children. At least foreign children. (As there is a big issue with child slavery, child abuse and sexual exploitation in this region.). And I mean it. Hugo always has a huge attention. Even from other children. They wonder why he has blue eyes and if his blond hair is real. Yes, I have had people asking me, if he is wearing a wig.

People there generally are very friendly, but traveling with a child lets you experience it from yet another angle. Adults are sharing their food, giving presents, asking to hold Hugo and making a lot of photos and videos. Of course it has its down side, too. It is easy to cross politeness and friendliness border with breaking your privacy. He chooses to be friends only with the people he likes. So we don’t allow people to touch him, pinch or take somewhere, if he doesn’t want it.

There always have been a lot local children living in guesthouses, so he almost always have some playmate. When we arrive to some new places, he always looks around to find out if there are some other children. For example, if we go to the beach and he sees some couple years older boys, he goes to them and says “Let`s play!” And they make sand roads and dig the holes.

Once you start traveling with a kid you see that there are other people with small children climbing the mountains, doing island hopping, hiking in the jungle. Everything is in your head and your perception what society thinks you can do once you have child. We have met a lot of couples who were traveling long term, at the same time thinking, that it’s something that will not be possible later, when they will have children.

They met us and said that we have changed their opinion about having a family and traveling.

Hugo playing on the beach - Backpacking with a kid

Anything else you would love to add to encourage others thinking of doing something similar?

You don’t need to travel long or far, or cheap, or expensive. There is no one way how to do it. The best way is to do what fits best for you. We all learn while doing and I can assure you that there are endless possibilities how to travel. Starting from house sitting to joining “Doctor Without Borders”.

For me traveling is an inspiration. Backpacking with a kid is not for everybody, but it fits us – we like to see the other side of all these perfect holiday destinations, to bond with locals, to eat like locals and see how fortunate we are that we can travel.

And I want to encourage more people to travel. In China at first we laughed about old people who came out of the buses and followed red flag hold by a guide screaming in loudspeaker. But when I saw how they hike in the Yellow mountains – with stiff legs, tired but excited, I though:” Hey! But most of retired people manage only to go to the shop and back, and they watch never ending soap operas every day.”

If now you think, oh yes, rich Western pensioners travel cause they have earned fortune, but we have so small pensions in our country, you are wrong. What I saw were people from countryside, with their plastic bags with food, and maybe they were saving for this trip for years. But the sparkle in their eyes said, how lucky they are to be there.

Travel open minded and be responsible! Going to Thailand only to drink endless baskets of heavy alcohol, vomiting in the streets and going out with underage prostitutes, standing on corals and making pictures with drugged tigers is not the way to fill up your photo album.

Respect is not always understanding, it is accepting that there are differences and not one right way of living.

Motorbiking in Southeast Asia - Backpacking with a kid

Follow their journey on their blog Pasaules Bērni and Facebook page!

Author: Kaspars Misins

Kaspars is a long term traveler and travel blogger from Latvia. He loves going on long walks, reading non fiction books and spending time outdoors. Together with his girlfriend Una they are traveling – volunteering – working abroad since 2013. On WeAreFromLatvia.com they share their experience and things learned along the way.

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