Travelling with Children – Justine shares her insights from Bhutan
Last month I had the opportunity to travel to the Kingdom of Bhutan to explore options for some forthcoming trekking and motorbike adventures around this awe-inspiring country.
Always up for a challenge, I decided to take my 3-year-old daughter Indigo with me. Despite her young age, Indigo is no stranger to travel and she has adventure in her genes. However our trip to Bhutan would take us well off the beaten track and into new territory, particularly for me as a mum.
One of the reasons I felt so comfortable about taking Indigo to a destination like Bhutan was that the people are truly amazing. Crime was not an issue as there is very little of it; the country is not polluted and there are no cases of malaria to speak of. All these factors made me feel at ease. The additional bonus was that we could not have been made to feel more welcome and special in this wondrous place.
Wherever I go, I find travelling with my daughter very liberating and enlightening. Unwittingly, she has become my teacher in so many ways. I have to structure things differently for our travels. Gone are the days of endless months backpacking from beach to beach, bar to bar, occasionally glancing at our worn travel guides and whimsically choosing our next destination. Nowadays my travel plans are all about the small person and how best can we experience and travel together in a safe and happy way. It perhaps sounds limiting but in reality, our journey together is limitless.
During the course of our Bhutan adventure, there are two events in particular that stand out for me as great examples of travelling with my daughter. The first began within 24 hours of arrival when Indigo was whisked into the arms of a beautiful young woman called Thinley Moe who worked at the comfortable hotel we were staying at. Thinley Moe had the biggest smile I’ve ever seen and everything about her radiated love. They were instant friends and disappeared to play together before I knew it.
As a single mum who leans towards being over-protective, I’ve travelled a lot in many destinations where I would not have let Indigo disappear from my sight. However, being in Bhutan, I did not give it another thought (although I certainly don’t advocate allowing your child run off with a stranger). Seeing Indigo and Thinley Moe playing together put me at ease the following day when I went riding with the Bhutan Dragons Motorbike Club for a few hours. I felt confident enough to leave Indigo under the careful watch of Thinley Moe and some other equally doting ladies at the hotel. Indigo was also pleased with this arrangement as she had new and exciting friends who showered her with love and attention. When I returned, Indigo had them all wrapped around her little finger having played umpteen rounds of hide ‘n’ seek and a great game of ‘doctors and nurses’. It is incredible to think of the bond my 3-year-old made with her carers when barely an English word was exchanged.
Some people have told me that Indigo will probably not even remember our trip when she is older. This may be true, but I believe adventures in this magnificent and strange destination are formative and will forge a wonderful part of her foundation as a person – priceless!
The second experience was a farm-stay with a rural family in a remote valley far from anywhere. On our way to the valley we encountered a beautifully wise old lady who had never laid eyes on a Western child before – we are talking seriously remote and isolated Bhutan.
We stayed on a farm with a family that comprised of four generations. Their generosity and kindness spoke volumes despite no common language between us. Straightaway, the farmer’s daughter, Tsering, welcomed Indigo. She was 5-years-old and had a baby sister. For me, watching Tsering take Indigo’s hand and run off to pick flowers and roll around in the fields together was heart-warming.
When you are young, language and words don’t matter; communication comes with ease. Our youthful minds are unspoilt; we are not judgmental; we don’t care what others think of us and we are free to be ourselves. Ironically it is only decades later that we appreciate this unspoilt state of nature and many of us desperately seek to attain it again. It is observations like this that makes travelling with a young child so enlightening.
Tsering took Indigo under her wing the whole time we stayed there. She had only one toy to play with. Watching her create a slippery slide for Indigo from a large plank of wood was inspirational. Deftly, Tsering knocked a few sharp nails out of the way and then erected it at just the right angle. Satisfied with her work, she helped Indigo take to her hand-made slide. It was unforgettable. Again, no words required – just love as the overarching mechanism for communication and understanding.
Bhutan is a unique destination – still relatively untouched by tourism. I realise that taking a child on a Bhutanese adventure is not affordable and accessible for everyone. However there is a lot to be said for travelling to somewhere off the beaten track. A holiday without the luxury of a swimming pool or a kids club can be one of the most enriching of experiences for you and your children – especially if there is a new culture to throw into the mix. That said, I do like to balance my travels and indulge in the odd holiday with a swimming pool and kids club.
Bhutan is a hard destination to beat, and Indigo got to experience at just 3 years of age. When we travel, we often stumble upon places and wish we had travelled there 10 or 20 years ago. Bhutan is that exactly that sort of place – it remains almost as unspoilt as the innocence of a child. I am eternally grateful to the people of Bhutan for making travels with my 3-year-old a journey that has both inspired me and taught me so much.
Justine is the Managing Director of Inspired Adventures. She believes in living life to the full, experiencing the world and encouraging others to make a difference to people’s lives. Her belief in the power of volunteering, community work and supporting others in any form is the cornerstone of her business philosophy.