"As you can likely imagine, this version of traveling was nothing like that. Everything took four times as long."
“No, I’m the… friend.”
To be fair, it was sort of a weird situation. A family of four - husband, wife and two kids traveling together through Chile… And then me - 33-year-old Canadian girl.
Most people we met reacted in a similar way and to start, even I still had trouble wrapping my mind around it.
When my Swedish friend Marie first suggested that I travel with them I had many mixed emotions:
- Excited that instead of just catching up with them in Santiago and then flying down south to Patagonia on my own I would be able to make the trip overland and see more of the country.
- Nervous about spending several hours in a car with kids.
- Thrilled that I would get to travel again with a friend whom I had met thirteen years prior in Australia and formed a solid bond.
- Worried that the trip would be too far off from the experiences I’ve come associate with and love about traveling - freedom, adventure, etc.
- Ecstatic that I could share some of the burdens of travel with friends and have two Spanish speakers to help get us around.
I hesitated to commit at first, but ultimately decided that I would give it a go. Not least because Marie is the type of person who you can be totally honest with - if it wasn’t working out for some reason, we could do what we needed to to fix it and there would be no hard feelings. We would just make it better.
So in a whirlwind, I arrived in Chile - pretty mentally exhausted after near continuous travel in the weeks prior. They picked me up with the rented car from the Santiago airport and we eventually made our way north to Vina del Mar.
I was starting to freak out.
My trips in the last few years have been designed to see as much as possible in a short amount of time - given the limits on annual leave while working full time. They were all about efficiency - packing up quickly, getting on the road early, not wasting a single minute from wheels up to touch down.
As you can likely imagine, this version of traveling was nothing like that. Everything took four times as long.
- Comforts you might skip out on yourself to make good time (like a proper meal or some stretching time) would not cut it with the kids - Make time to eat well and play or suffer the consequences.
- When packing up in the morning, there was the chance that the kids clothes would not be fitting or the car seat would annoy them, so there was always something that added an additional half an hour to an otherwise 5-minute process.
- Those who know me best also know I love the sweet sound of silence so it was an adjustment to travel with some sort of constant sound - iPad game binging and bonging, loud music and singing, kids either laughing, crying or yelling at each other.
Sometimes I would try to speak Spanish to them - their Chilean-born dad has been speaking his mother tongue to them since birth and I was told they understood it but they reply back in Swedish, their mother tongue.
But since my Spanish is not great at all and I was essentially practising, whatever I tried to say wouldn’t really land and they’d just sort of look at me blankly. Their parents would translate for them when they asked - usually when they thought I said something funny or interesting, otherwise they just kept on living their lives.
In the same way though, they never really questioned why I was there. I just was and they were cool with it.
We soon found out that I have a lot in common with the kids:
- Similar eating habits - they like lots of candy, ice cream and hot dogs with nothing but ketchup on them.
- Love adventure, animals, excitement and swingsets.
- Driving in the car puts us to sleep.
If nothing else, I always had good snacks to offer and snacks are often the answer to a variety of life’s problems.
And I figured out my place in it. I felt really honoured to be included in such an intimate family situation. So much love was shared between them. So much willful compromise between parents and parental duties.
Because I don’t have kids of my own but am of the age where I could be or “should be” (according to some) having them, people often try to sell it to you... while simultaneously complaining about it.
It was really nice to be able to observe authentic family dynamics at play in a raw situation and get some very personal insight on what the whole having kids thing is all about without any pressure added to the mix.
I surprised myself by how quickly I got used to it after the initial shock.
- We worked out a plan of attack to ensure I’d be able to get work done as we made our way down south.
- You learn pretty quickly that a bit of noise is a small price to pay for happy, smiling kids.
- You do what you can to ensure things run as smoothly as possible and just accept when they don’t. Again - not unlike traveling under normal circumstances.
It was amazing having a native Chilean to help with communication to get around and I think we got to see more of the cultural side of Chile as a result. And with the kids being there, you got a sense of how the society treats people and interacts with one another across all ages. I saw a lot of warmth and emotion - a bit less reserved than what I’m used to.
What a great feeling when the kids wanted to give me a hug goodnight. Or help me set up my tent. Or when they gave an English response to my Spanish question. Or holding their tiny little hand when crossing the street.
Of course I also wanted to know what it would be like to travel with kids if I had some of my own someday. I won’t pretend to have all the answers but I can say that I learned a lot from that experience and am grateful that life sometimes provides you with opportunities you need (that you may not know you need) at just the right time.
Always take those opportunities.
Author - Meghan Advent
Meg is one of the co-creators of Travelher and lives and breathes travel. She recently left her full time office role to put more energy into her own projects and is currently travelling through Chile while working remotely.