This is one of my favourite posts on family life and travel. It was originally published in October 2013 but the advice and points are still poignant today and so I am republishing it as I head off on my next trip.
How do you balance travel with family life?
There were so many things I did wrong during my first year of motherhood. As a freelancer, one of the perks (and blessings) is flexibility. Full flexibility to set how you want your working days to look, which days you’d like to take off, how frequently you’d like to travel…you get my drift.
That was also my downfall. I didn’t know when to rest and just say “No!”
I didn’t take enough emotional and physical care of myself, and I was constantly exhausted and stressed. This couldn’t be the way, I told myself. There had to be an easier way to balance life as a working travel writer and photographer with life as a mother and wife. It wasn’t until I physically collapsed in Italy did I really start to pay closer attention to this.
I needed to pace myself and fully accept my life was different now. That the things I did so effortlessly in the past just couldn’t be done now or needed to be approached a different way.
So my one regret over the last year is that I didn’t take enough maternity time off. That I didn’t just steal away into my cocoon of motherly bliss and stay there for at least six months. Then I would have fully understood my natural limitations with my new role, and would have been able – as a freelancer – to be a whole lot choosier.
I am that now. Choosier, that is. Because whenever I pick up my toddler from daycare and she races full speed towards me screaming “Maaammmaaa!”, those are the simple moments I remember the most…
Finding balance as a travel writer who also has a family means different things to different people – and quite frankly – is a sensitive question to ask. When it comes to how people take care of their families while they’re constantly on the road, there’s an innate tendency to get defensive. As if lifestyles were being questioned, or were somehow being judged for not giving all their time to their families.
This is a question I know a lot of travel bloggers who move to this next stage secretly have. They’ve been on the road for months, maybe years, as nomads. Then a baby enters the picture.
How do they find their new “balance”?
How I find my balance today
I’m grateful for an amazing spouse who, thankfully, has a semi-flexible job. He gets upwards of five days off at a stretch for every five days of work. So I can get a ton of work travels in during those stretches. If I need an extra flanking day or two for traveling, he can readily switch and get me those.
He does this because he loves me and understands how important this is to me. Because I’ve found what it was I was meant to be doing – which is a privilege in itself. When he works and I have to travel, I take my now 20-month old toddler with me. She’s a super easy traveler (having amassed roughly a dozen stamps herself).
I’ve been choosing projects that make more sense in terms of time commitment and finances. I’ve been planning travels well out in advance, and I’ve been focusing more on stronger partnerships than just one off projects. I’m still far from my ultimate balance, but we’re in a comfortable place and I’m so grateful for that.
How others find their own balance
I reached out to a few friends as well as other active family travel bloggers to get some insight into how they define “balance” and how they’re executing their own definitions of balance in their lives…
Hopefully you find some inspiration in their words and begin to find your own balance. Thank you all for generously sharing your personal lives.
Julie Schwietert Collazo – Collazo Projects
Even before we had children, I rarely had the opportunity to travel with Francisco- at least not outside the US-because of his immigration status, so I always wanted to be mindful of balancing away time with home time. It helped enormously that he was (and remains) a partner who never– not once!– expressed jealousy or even wistfulness as he was home taking care of Mariel and I was off having incredible travel experiences. He has always felt that if I thought a trip was good for my career or for me personally, then I should take it. I can’t emphasize enough how much having a partner who supports your growth, even when it means sacrifices for them, makes this kind of career possible.
That being said, there also comes a time when you have to pay that back. Not because your partner obligates you to do so, but because your own conscience and sense of fairness says that you have to provide that same kind of support that you have been given. It’s a gift. And modeling that for your children can only help them, too.
Now that we have two kids, one of which is in school, I feel like I need to spend more time at home. I’ve taken on more domestic assignments, including a state guidebook. Often, these allow my family to travel with me, which is great for all of us. I’m also able to continue landing assignments for foreign destinations I know well because I’ve traveled extensively, have lived abroad, and have a robust publication history. I don’t love travel any less, but I have to be much more selective about where and how often I’m traveling at this particular point in my family life and in my career.
Shelly Rivoli – Travels with Baby
It was a good day when I finally realized not everybody in the family has to do EVERYTHING when we travel somewhere for “mom’s work.” I managed to hit 12 – 13 hot beaches in Maui earlier this year for photos, descriptions, my research, and sagely left them behind for all but 3 for a change!
Also, because it is often so intense while we travel – like the simple “Great American Family Road Trip” we took this summer (the second of two!) when we slept in 7 different hotels/resorts in a total of 10 nights, I have decided that when we are at home now, we are “intensely at home”! Friends are welcome to come visit US. It’s okay to wear the pajamas all day on weekends if we don’t have to change for some other reason! It’s as good for the kids as it is for me.
Probably like your household, mom works a lot whether at home or away, so I am reinstating the “make yourself at home” policy when we’re home!
Amie O’Shaughnessy – Ciao Bambino!
As kids get older, school and sports commitments grow so a better balance between family life and travel naturally occurs. That said, we travel for any and all holidays and sometimes our son starts to feel like he is missing out on activities at home. The key for us is prioritizing family meals in our house versus out, community activities, and friend get-togethers during the periods we are in town. The casualty is oodles of downtime – we don’t have that – but our engaging life is worth it!
Jessica Bowers – Suitcases and Sippy Cups
There are two keys to success in balancing for our family. At home, we try to keep a low key routine and an easily managed house. The kids are only encouraged to enroll in one extra-curricular activity and the parents limit the volunteer/hobby activities that take us out of the house. When we are home, we work diligently to not be on the run constantly. The other key to success is our extended family. We are blessed beyond words to have four doting grandparents who are ready and willing to step in and keep the family running when either of the parents needs to travel for work.
Heidi Wagnor – Wagoners Abroad
We are a family of four living in Spain as a home base and travel from there. We have the “typical” life with school and sports, but we travel at least once a month and did a six week European road trip over the summer.
We balance life by trying to keep some routines whether we travel or not. We like to have a bedtime routine, no matter what time it is 9pm or 1am. The kids get 30 min of reading time to wind down. We try to make sure that each day we have some family time, usually dinner, to talk about the day (even if we spent the day together). These small routines help glue the family together.
Mara Gorman – The Mother of all Trips
I’ve found as my children got older that balancing our at-home and our traveling life has grown more challenging. My older son plays baseball and he doesn’t want to miss any part of his season which runs from March to June at the earliest (and possibly to August if he makes the post-season all-star team). I find that the best thing I can do is to be flexible and communicate constantly with my children and husband about what their priorities are. I also plan shorter trips than I did when my children were younger.
Tawanna Browne Smith – Mom’s Guide to Travel
I think balance is a self-defined term. What may look like balance for me might be chaos for someone else. Personally, it’s a continuous juggling act of doing and achieving, peppered with the occasional feelings of mom-guilt. Balance for me looks like taking a family trip for every 2-3 individual trips I do and fitting my family into some aspect of what I do. It also means ensuring that my husband and kids’ essential needs are met so that my conscience feels good.
Keryn Means – Walking on Travels
The key to a family/travel life balance is to know when the kids should come with you and when they should stay at home. Ninety percent of my travel I do with my kids; they are almost always on the road with me. That other 10 percent is for my own sanity. You can’t always get the story you need with kids in tow. Prioritizing your time, letting your kids know when you are working while on the road and when it is time to play is also necessary. Just because you are exploring somewhere new doesn’t mean you can’t have some sort of structure to your family/work life.
Bret Love – Green Global Travel
Balancing family life with constant travel is a huge challenge– even more so as a divorced parent with 50/50 custody. Last year we felt like we traveled so much (over 90 days) that we worked frantically every time we got back to try to make up for missing work, missing family, missing home… and as a result we felt like something was missing from our lives. This year we’re traveling less, taking shorter trips and generally making balance the priority, and I think we feel more fulfilled and connected as a family as a result.
Carol Cain – Girl Gone Travel
For the average person who travels occasionally, even traveling with family tends to halt the routines at home and in everyday life that affect the balance to effectively function as a family. So, for example, my teen recently missed a series of tests in school to travel with us. This required conversations, letters, management of schedules.
When on the road with the kids, we have bills, deadlines, appointments, and other average life things to balance and manage because we are traveling and not at our home base. Even when traveling with kids most of us have to balance a lot of things that make family life work at home so that there is a sense of stability, routine (which I need to be in place for the times I am not there with them) and confidence that things will be ok when we return.
So, yes, there’s even more to it when you travel solo and the average travel blogger does (as does that average business traveler).
Sandra Foyt – Albany Kid
Now that my children are teenagers, with their own busy lives, it is family travel that brings us balance. At the beginning of the school year, we held a family meeting to set aside one weekend per month that we’ve committed to spending together. And to ensure that these are free of work/life pressures, we’re using these for short getaways close to home. With a little creativity, travel nurtures our family life.
Farrah Ritter – The Three Under
We’re a family of 5 (US expats in the Netherlands) and my boys are (twins 3) and oldest 4. I feel that our family of 5 with fairly young children has been able to achieve a great balance by pacing ourselves and keeping in mind that our kids are little. Our expectations are most always realistic and we try to remember that although we might want to ‘see/do more’ it may not be possible. Keeping expectations low is key for us, and we usually end up surprised.
Kirstie Pelling – The Family Adventure Project
Balancing family life and travel is a juggling act where I often feel I’ve dropped the balls; just not always sure which country they are bouncing around in!
Our children are at school, so every time we want to take them out there are hurdles to climb; not helped by new government rules to punish parents who do this. But interestingly I think school provides some balance. It stops us from being permanently itinerant and gives the kids a friendship set and independent interests.
Family travel creates strong bonds and helps nurture childrens’ engagement with a global society, and our journeys together have given us some our best memories and experiences. But travel writing has changed. Whereas we used to enjoy the world with our children and write a few blog posts along the way, blogging has become a business and the children have been gradually squeezed out.
“This is just like a giant press trip!” our son complained in moment of frustration over the summer.
And I got what he meant.
How could I really hang out with the kids in the Old City of Dubrovnik when I was videoing, instagraming, facebooking, tweeting and Pinteresting it? So while there has always been a balance, maybe it’s tipped. I’m coming to the conclusion that our family needs a holiday where phones and laptops are left behind.
And who knows. Maybe we just need to travel to the bottom of the garden.
Adrienne Veglia Mazeau – Wandering Working Mom
It’s all about balance and recognizing your limitations, whether it’s time, exhaustion or just knowing when your kids and you need a break. My husband and I both work outside the home full time in careers that aren’t related to travel so we are not constantly traveling.
At times of the year when life is particularly busy, we look to our local bucket list of places to visit to fulfill the travel bug (even if just for a long day trip), break out of routine but still have time to the family life issues addressed.
Are you a frequent traveler who also has a family? How do you define your own balance? Please share with us below.