The view from here
"As you can likely imagine, this version of traveling was nothing like that. Everything took four times as long."
“Are you the nanny?” The hostel worker looked at me incredulously. “Au pair?”
“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:
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.
By the time I got there I was feeling pretty overwhelmed. Everything moved so slowly and I was a little behind with my online work so I was feeling the pressure of that. On top of that I was trying to take in all of the sights and sounds of a new country, while growing accustomed to the chatter of the kids, not understanding signs on the road or anyone that spoke to me besides Jaime and Marie.
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.
I would usually navigate in the front seat while one parent drove and the other sat in the back with the children. Neither of whom spoke English and therefore made it even tougher for me to communicate with a 6-year-old boy and almost-4-year old girl.
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:
If nothing else, I always had good snacks to offer and snacks are often the answer to a variety of life’s problems.
As with most other things when traveling, I simply got used to it. Thrown together with a bunch of humans, you just sort of adjust and adapt to each other.
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.
When it turned out that we had to part ways a lot sooner than I thought due to ferry schedules and car rentals, etc. I was so upset. The five of us traveling together had become the new reality.
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.