Pushing the Limits of Moroccan Hospitality

As I mentioned in The Morocco I Love: 10 Things To Be Thankful For, I get worried every time I ask to change FreeToBeZ’s nappy in the home of a family in Morocco.

I’m always just looking for a small patch of floor that they’re happy for me to change a soggy or dirty disposable nappy upon, and am invariably asked if I wish to give my daughter a full strip wash at the same time.

This in itself isn’t a problem.

What is a problem is someone assuming that this is what one wishes to do without both parties having a mutual understanding of what is about to happen . . .

Time for tea: a typical sight of Moroccan hospitality (Commons Licence image)
Time for tea: a typical sight of Moroccan hospitality (Commons Licence image)

We were taking afternoon tea in the well-kept and textile-laden home of a Gendarmerie officer, a friend of FreeToBeB’s.

FreeToBeZ had been quickly changed out of a wet nappy in the shower room of their apartment upon our arrival (one of our reasons for stopping during a leisurely trip from Marrakech up into the Middle Atlas Mountains).

As we waited for FreeToBeB’s friend to finish his shift policing traffic outside the Gendarmerie’s buildings, we drank their tea and ate their biscuits, making small talk with the friend’s wife.

Not half an hour after changing FreeToBeZ, FreeToBeP asked to use the toilet, which I got up to direct him to. We were stopped short by a huge puddle of water on the floor, slipping us up and seeping into our hosts’ living area.

No, it wasn’t a puddle. It was a flood.

The floor must have been a good few millimetres deep in water, soaking the thick pile handmade rugs, turning the tiles into slippery death traps.

It took me but a split second to realise that the leak came from within the shower room.

And but a split second later to realise that it had spread to the bedrooms and kitchen of the beautiful apartment.

And but a split second later to realise that I was the last person to use the bathroom.

Oh ****! What happened?! What have I done?!

The horrible sensation of flight or fight began welling up in my body as I froze on the spot. I was about to wish upon the ground to open up and swallow me as my mind skipped over possible scenarios. Had I left the tap on when I washed my hands? Had there also been a plug in the sink or something?

Thankfully, just as the redness of shame was about to burn my cheeks, it took me but a split second more to recall that when the lady of the house had shown us to the shower room, I’d noticed her move the showerhead into a bucket already full of water. At the time, I’d just assumed she was moving something for her own domestic purposes, not for us. I had no interest in the shower, I was merely intent upon using the floor as a baby changing facility.

It turned out that the officer’s wife had actually turned the shower on and left the water running into the bucket so that I had an ongoing supply with which to wash FreeToBeZ with. The water pressure doesn’t seem to be very good in many Moroccan homes, thus washtime often involves standing in the shower basin with a bucket to scoop cool water from rather than luxuriating beneath the hot rain of a showerhead.

Except I hadn’t asked to wash FreeToBeZ – I’d asked to change her nappy. (The cultural differences in nappy changing etiquette – who knew?! Obviously not me.)

FreeToBeB looked at me in horror, assuming I’d been the absolute cause of the chaos.

“It wasn’t me, it was her!” I exclaimed bluntly in English, hurriedly casting the blame onto our hostess.

Whoever was at fault, it was quite an excruciating time as she insisted she didn’t need any help in mopping the mess up. Even FreeToBeB must have felt out of his depth; usually the first to rush in and lend a hand, he sat as pathetically as me as we watched her clear up the result of her gesture of help.

Thankfully, this is Morocco: I’ve regularly seen people tip buckets of water through their homes to clean up the tiled or dirt floors. Coupled with the intense heat, and their many sodden rugs were quickly lined up along the banisters and railings of the Royal Gendarmerie apartment block to dry.

FreeToBeB’s handgun-adorned friend entered his home once his traffic cop shift had finished. Wide-eyed, he asked his wife what had happened and she graciously stated that she’d left a tap on. He looked faintly amused and promptly sat down, removed his hat, poured himself a glass of tea, and took up an unrelated topic of conversation with FreeToBeB as if nothing had happened.

Overall, it was mashi moushkil all around (Moroccan Arabic for “not a problem”).

That said, we decided to beat a hasty retreat very soon afterwards.

Upon leaving, they enthused that we should visit them for tea again when we were due to pass back through a few days later (really?!).

Suffice to say, as much as FreeToBeB mentioned on our return trip that he’d like to stop for tea at his friend’s, I could only cringe in embarrassment and say “No, please – let’s not!”.

What have been your most embarrassing moments whilst travelling with children? What cultural faux pas has left you with your own cause to cringe? Feel free to share your own stories in the comments below and assure me I’m not the only one who makes a fool of their family.

The Cockroach

cockroach close up Wikimedia Commons image

The cockroach. What an intriguing creature; hardy, strong, fast survivalists. Wikipedia has this to say about them.

I’m researching them as I’m inspired to write a horror movie script with cockroaches as the big scare (is someone going to tell me that it’s already been done?).

We may not have embarked on any road trips during this visit to Morocco but, hey, who needs a road trip when all manner of fauna will visit you in your own accommodation? It’s a veritable biology lesson here.

At least we’re in the city where this seems limited to cockroaches and mice – I suppose I could be up in the mountains writing about scorpions and snakes and wild boars. I find both scorpions and snakes extremely fascinating, but don’t much fancy being visited by a wild one as I sleep  – the latter recently paid FreeToBeB a visit at his mountain workplace as he tried to rest, which he caught and promptly posed with:

Snake, Atlas Mountains

I’m losing count of the number of cockroaches I’ve spotted during our first five days in Marrakech. The number I’ve personally delivered a death blow to now requires nearly all my fingers to count upon.

My first ‘victim’ escaped. I’d decided to use the all-round answer to everything that is neat tea tree oil – great for controlling fleas and lice, getting rid of mould and warts, cleaning wounds, drying out spots, general domestic cleaning needs and various other things that require nasties to be killed.

As I allowed the tea tree oil to rain down upon the cockroach, it did indeed have some sort of reaction. It flexed its body in a strange manner and I envisioned it keeling over onto its back. I momentarily glanced away and when my gaze returned, it was nowhere to be seen. It had fled to safety.

I then recalled hearing that, if any creature could survive a nuclear war, it would probably be a cockroach. Suddenly, my tea tree oil didn’t seem quite as toxic as I’d hoped and my expectation of its efficacy seemed naïve. Judging by its effect on skin tags, I feel sure if somebody poured a vat of tea tree oil onto me I’d shrivel up and die. But then I’m merely a human, not a cockroach.

Having caught sight of another one in the living room from the corner of my eye, FreeToBeZ is in on the action, promptly announcing that she will fetch her shoe as a weapon. She learns quickly this girl! Although when she announced the same thing upon spotting a mouse, I realised I’d have to make some distinctions.

I really don’t like killing things, but as long as these creatures have no qualms in wriggling their creepy-crawly bodies over me while I lie in bed at night, then they’re going to be treated harshly.

I swiftly and firmly smacked the offending bug with my daughter’s sandal twice. It lay on its back, first twitching a leg, then twitching an antennae, then lying still, playing dead.

dead cockroach public domain image

Oh, I’m onto them by now and it didn’t fool me that easily. Within a matter of seconds, it had somehow managed to flip itself over and tried to scuttle off on its merry way, thus enticing me to give it another sharp whack with the innocent-looking, toddler-sized, bright pink plastic sandal. This time its insides ruptured and it half lay in its own goo and yet, honestly, almost immediately its legs were thrashing wildly again in a bid to get away and continue living (yes, I suppose it could just be death throes, but who knows with these things!).

Oh my god. Please just die! Just die, damn you!

Being aware of myself – animal lover and pacifist – administering a prolonged, violent death to this creature, combined with its seeming immortality, was drawing pathetic little whines of despair from me.

I had a vision of numerous ‘dead’ cockroaches being left on their backs on the tiled floor having been spotted and beaten. Whilst casually sat reading a book or watching TV, the creepy horror film music begins as, suddenly and simultaneously, the cretins rise from the dead in a bid to begin their freakish cockroach zombie apocalypse. Ugh. Just the thought makes me involuntarily shake. The thing is, it’s not too much of a stretch of the imagination.

When it finally seemed to accept the presence of the Grim Reaper, I decided it was time for bed. I thanked the universe that I hadn’t been woken at night during this trip to the sensation of them scuttling over my naked body, as had happened last year after a particularly testing week that had me crying “Oh my god, I hate this country!” The cockroaches had been the straw that had broken the camel’s back last summer.

No sooner had I offered my appreciation for this small mercy did I notice a suspicious movement on the side of the mattress. Grabbing a glass and saucer to catch it against the soft surface, the cockroach tried to hide first under the bedsheet and then between the mattress and the wall. Losing the ability to capture it easily, I moved the mattress slightly to keep check on where it went and spotted more big brown bugs moving in the gap, within inches of our pillows.

I gave up hope. I gave up my bid to begin bedtime and decided to pathetically wait for FreeToBeB to return from seeing a friend and get him to deal with the little monsters. We’d been walking past the posh hotels in Gueliz earlier in the evening, where FreeToBeB had joked about how much it would cost to be cockroach-free and instead blessed with a swimming pool. Suddenly, £100 per night for a room didn’t seem like such a terrible option.

My saviour returned within the half hour and promptly began cleaning out the bedroom. He assured me that nothing kills cockroaches. Except maybe bleach.

“Wow!” FreeToBeB exclaimed as he tried to kill one but it refused to submit to death, “If I hit a person like that they’d die! But not this thing!”

As we discussed the survival capabilities of such an apparently humble creature, I continued to spot them. Behind the bedroom door. In the living room. Scuttling down the hallway. On the rug of our host’s room. Even FreeToBeB, wide-eyed, couldn’t believe the frequency with which I was reporting on their appearances. “Perhaps all the cockroaches in Marrakech are in this apartment.” he said. Yeah. Thanks for that.

Up flashed a memory of the scene in Arachnophobia where the spiders burst out and flow from the walls and crevices of their host house – except my mind’s eye replaced the spiders with cockroaches.

FreeToBeB then had a jump-out-of-one’s-skin moment when FreeToBeZ pointed out the critter just about to crawl over his arm as he sat watching TV. Then FreeToBeZ had a scare as FreeToBeB discovered yet another one in the hallway; as it attempted to escape capture it sped straight for FreeToBeZ. She let out a distressed squeal as she scrabbled to get up from the floor and run away, and then dissolved into traumatised tears.

So, this is the thing our family memories are made of.

Thankfully, the night passed without further incidence. Yet in the morning, as FreeToBeZ cuddled up to me and fed in her sleep, she suddenly let out a piercing scream and cried in the manner of one with night terrors.

“What’s the matter, baby?!”

“’Son me! ‘Son me!”

I desperately looked round for the creepy-crawly perpetrator I expected to find: nothing.

“What do you think is on you?”

“Gerri’off! Gerri’off! ‘Nail! ‘Nail!”

“There’s a snail on you?”

“Yeah!”

“No, darling, there’s no snail on you. You’ve had a bad dream.”

Yes, definitely horror movie material if they cause that sort of dream.

But don’t worry, little one. Just a few more days and we’ll be back in our damp Dorset flat, where the only uninvited night time guests are the slightly less scary slugs and woodlice that come out from their hidey-holes by cover of darkness to explore our basement bedroom.

Yes, just slugs and woodlice in our bedroom back home. No problem. It’s amazing what a bit of travelling can do to change your perspective.

cockroach clipart, public domain image

Food For Thought: Reflections During Ramadan in Morocco

Jemaa El Fna square, Marrakech, Eid El Fitr 2014
Jemaa El Fna square, Marrakech, Eid El Fitr 2014

I tend to have a ‘feast or famine’ experience when in Morocco, and I was pleased that my arrival this time quite literally coincided with a feast.

I arrived during the evening at the end of a day of Ramadan, just in time for ftur (breakfast). I also cleverly timed my visit to coincide with the Eid festivities, the celebrations at the end of a month of fasting (Eid El Fitr being due to take place in Morocco as of Tuesday 29th July, two days after my arrival).

Having not eaten since lunchtime at Luton Airport and it nearing 10pm, both FreeToBeZ and I were impressed with the spread of food that FreeToBeB laid out as a starter whilst he cooked the main meal. I could have taken my fill just with this first course: grapes, fresh figs, prickly pears (the fruit of a cactus that is abundant here), mixed nuts, fried fish, bread and sweet pastries.

FreeToBeZ began devouring the fish, which I also found quite tempting – I usually avoid fish in Morocco, it being something that I’ve known to disagree even with native FreeToBeB, but it’s been one of my pregnancy cravings. Despite my precautionary perusal, I promptly managed to get a small bone stuck in my throat whilst 2-year-old FreeToBeZ continued to carefully stuff her bread with huge chunks of fish and greedily consume it without problem.

Just in time for a 10pm breakfast
Just in time for a 10pm breakfast

Added to the selection for the main course were a bowl of deliciously spiced mixed olives and a dish of chicken and olives cooked in a copiously seasoned tomato and onion sauce.

Moroccan food

It’s a good job a vegan diet is something I just tend to practice from my own home for health purposes and that I can allow myself to be flexible when visiting other people and places. Not that the ethics of food choice aren’t important to me – they most certainly are – but travelling has made me very aware that our ethical choices in Britain are not always practical in other countries.

These choices may also not carry the same moral weight in countries where observing particular etiquette during rituals of eating and drinking apparently say a lot about the sort of person you are – I tend to find it more morally objectionable to be rude to my living host by turning my nose up at their food than to eat part of an animal that has already been killed and cooked. That’s material for a whole other blog post though (and I’ve got lots of pointers on how to retain a healthy vegetarian diet in Morocco).

Following our well-fed arrival, our first full day turned out to lean more towards the ‘famine’ experience, at least until later in the afternoon.

It was the final day of Ramadan and FreeToBeB slept most of it away, informing me that none of the local shops or restaurants in the suburb we were staying in would be open for food. FreeToBeZ and I contented ourselves with a small breakfast of bread and jam, topped off with orange juice – simple but satisfying thanks to the bread and juice being locally sourced and made just the day before.

From late morning onwards, FreeToBeZ had her fill of breastmilk whilst I eventually took stock of the contents of the fridge at around 3:30pm. FreeToBeB had still showed no signs of stirring, yet I was beginning to go slightly stir crazy. I’m not sure if it was hunger or boredom that led me to the kitchen; there’s a certain ennui I always have to come to terms with in Morocco (something I dwelt on a lot during this visit and managed to find the positives in).

In the fridge I discovered the previous evening’s leftover olives, figs and stale pastries and decided they would do as a late lunch, which we ate as we watched a American children’s film on MBC3, a Moroccan kids’ channel. The Standard Arabic subtitles seemed to bear little resemblance to the Moroccan Arabic words I would have used to translate the dialogue into English and, not for the first time, I caught myself up in thoughts of how useful it would be to study Modern Standard Arabic alongside the local language.

I was pleasantly surprised when our host returned from work at around 4pm to announce that he was cooking for himself, inviting FreeToBeZ and I to share.

Ah, yes. FreeToBeB had expressed his disapproval the previous day that he’d spent the day cleaning the apartment for our arrival whilst observing Ramadan, yet our host awoke late and immediately disregarded the fast by finding something to eat and drink.

I’m more inclined to discover what makes people tick than to immediately cast judgement upon them. As we shared the dish of chicken, liver and onions in a pepper sauce (OK, I drew the line at the liver – if there’s one thing I consistently refuse to eat, it’s internal organs), I asked my host if he was fed up of Ramadan or didn’t partake in it at all.

I know God and I don’t need a religion to tell me what to do. It’s hot in Marrakech and if people are thirsty they should drink, said my host.

I agreed with him. I’m not uneducated in the ways of fasting and the spiritual significance behind it – I’ve practiced it in the past in order to put myself into a particular state of mind for rituals I’ve been part of when I was very active in the pagan community. Indeed, Wikipedia’s article on Ramadan notes that its origins lie in the pre-Islamic pagan culture of Arabia. Fasting is undoubtedly a sign of submission and tolerance and restraint and patience, especially for a whole lunar month during the hottest, longest days of the year.

Yet my host’s reply was something I’d tried to explain to FreeToBeB when he’d been struggling with the fast. I’d told him he should just eat and drink if his body was screaming for it; that no loving God would be punishing a good person for doing something necessary for health and survival. FreeToBeB had responded by telling me to respect his religion – yet my advice had not stemmed from thoughts of respecting or disrespecting any religion, but all about respecting a person’s individual autonomy and physical needs.

I know the pagan doctrine of “And it harm none, do as thou will” is still a driving force for me, despite my lack of identification with any one spiritual path these days. As long as what you’re doing isn’t harming yourself or anyone else, go ahead and do it. Obviously, this could still be read very subjectively – if you believe that what you’re doing (e.g. breaking off a religious fast) may reduce your chances of making it to Paradise in the afterlife, then you would certainly see it as harmful to yourself. Yet, from my point of view, my respect for a loved one and their need to eat and drink will come above my respect for a belief system that I don’t even subscribe to and that I therefore see as having arbitrary rules.

That’s not to say I believe people shouldn’t practice Ramadan. In reflection, there was certainly some way I could have acknowledged FreeToBeB’s struggles whilst supporting him to find the positives in the experience of fasting rather than denying his desire to observe it. Even as I asked him why it was so important to him personally rather than important to his religion that he observed the fast, I recognised my own individualist culture and upbringing in what I asked – for in regards to the spiritual pursuit of selflessness and the solidarity of religious community, am I totally missing the point?

Yet I do strongly believe in people practicing such things as religious fasting through their own understanding of it and a genuine yearning for spiritual union with the divine. Not doing something just because everyone else is doing it, yet may have never even stopped to question the reasoning behind it. Not doing something just because you’re worried about others’ disapproval if you don’t conform. Not doing something just because that’s what your family have always done and because that’s what religious leaders say ‘should’ be done.

I see little substance in things that aren’t practiced from the heart – and if you have a good heart, the thing that I call ‘God’ (Allah, Yahweh, Para Brahman, the divine, the source, universal energy – whatever name you wish to give it) knows this irrespective of whether or not you abide by a specific religious teaching and what is often merely another fallible human’s interpretation of a religious story. Yes, there are certain religious teachings that run through all belief systems that I genuinely do believe are part of the make-up of someone who is tuned into ‘God’, and they are wholesome attitudes to adopt and practice – yet these attributes, such as “loving one’s neighbour”, are things that any decent human being would seek to practice, whether they have a religion and/or a belief in God or not.

I remembered talking to my host and his brother during a previous visit to Morocco and being intrigued to discover that not everyone in what is classed as a 99% Muslim country takes the religion they’ve grown up with at face value – and that some even decide to openly reject it. By ‘openly’, I’ve observed that they seem to have no qualms stating their case to friends – how publicly open they would be is another matter, especially with laws against proselytising. Tourists are generally advised that topics such as religion and politics are ‘sensitive’ issues in Morocco. However, it is thought to be one of the most – if not the most – liberal Islamic countries and I’ve always found a way to talk about my own Sufi-inspired beliefs using Islamic terminology.

Religious freedom, to me, is about being free to deviate and interpret things in your own way whilst allowing others to also make up their own minds. Thus I respect all those Muslims who wholeheartedly take on Ramadan and make the most of the month to connect with the divine, give charity and reflect upon their human limitations. Just as I respect all those atheists who have concluded that there is no divine being to call on or report to, yet whose hearts are imbued with much more goodness and pureness than those who practice hateful follies in the name of ‘God’.

I’d actually spent a fortnight observing the final half of Ramadan during a previous visit in 2011, when I felt the hshuma (shame) of eating when everybody else was fasting. Of my own volition, I felt a need to “When in Morocco, do as the Moroccans do”. Unfortunately, being but an amateur in the ways of Ramadan and failing to get out of bed for the last meal before dawn, I probably ended up eating even less than the locals.

And so much for the pride of martyrdom: I definitely spent more time selfishly thinking about my own evening meal than meditating upon my usual luxuries and praying for those who have no other choice than to regularly go without.

I do, however, remember Eid El Fitr fondly and am glad to have spent a second Eid in a Muslim country.

Happy Eid, Eid Said
Happy Eid

I thoroughly appreciate being in Morocco during such a special time for the people here. Judging by some of the celebratory interludes on the children’s TV channel, being in Morocco for Eid is akin to being in the UK for Christmas.

However, in much the same way as the ‘true meaning’ of Christmas is oftentimes lost beneath piles of presents and frantic food shops, I’m left wondering how much spiritual reflection permeates the day to day lives of the people here during Ramadan? How much is just a waiting game for the festivities of Eid and the cheerful resumption of normal eating habits? Being spiritual yet non-religious, am I truly able to take a more objective viewpoint whilst genuinely appreciating others’ beliefs in ‘something greater’, or will any tradition I observe be severely clouded by my own cultural conditioning?

If this post had a point, I suppose I’ve found it. It’s difficult to write about Morocco without writing about its food, yet cuisine was never intended to be a main topic of this blog (as much as I love food and cooking). There are already many resources out there with instructions on how to cook the perfect tagine or how to make authentic Moroccan mint tea.

Tagine, vegetable tagine, Moroccan cooking
A delicious tagine cooked during our stay, courtesy of FreeToBeB

Yet the colourful cultural issues surrounding food are a fascination I can reflect upon as I discover this big wide world, learning at my children’s sides as I encourage them to be open-minded, curious, sensitive global citizens themselves.

I question and discuss not to judge but to discover. Together with my children I can look and learn and say:

What is happening here? Why are people doing this and what do they believe? Why do they believe it? What can we learn from them? Do we already share any of these beliefs? What do we believe?

What do you, my child, believe?

 

Thank you for reading this post. What do you think about any of the issues I’ve discussed above? Feel free to leave your feedback below, I’d be glad to hear other points of view – or just others’ experiences of enduring or enjoying Ramadan and Eid.

 

The Quiet Zone: Tranquil Travel with a High Spirited Child

High Spirits (public domain image)
High Spirits (public domain image)

Oh, how we were glared at when we entered the Quiet Zone carriage on that evening train home from Legoland Windsor.

The harried mother had arrived with her two young children, noisy at the transition from waiting to boarding, said mother harried due to the realisation that their reserved seats were in the dreaded area that could just as easily be named the designated ‘Child-Free Zone’.

The old guy at the table adjacent to ours put his head upon his hands and muttered some complaint about our arrival. The lady with him, who I presume was his wife, basically told him to stop being such a miserable git. I silently willed my children to do as they usually (touch wood) do when we make a journey: once settled into their seats, transform into angelic, thoughtful beings who are actually placated by the excitement of our trips.

I’m often amazed by FreeToBeP’s complete change in character when we travel – he forgets to annoy his sister, adopts a slightly dreamy look and becomes absorbed by the travelling. Or resigned to it? Either way, if only we could both learn how to adopt this somewhat meditative state in our home lives.

Six year old FreeToBeP could be described as being on the upper end of the ‘boisterous boy’ scale. A day doesn’t go by where I don’t hear myself frantically asking him to “Calm down and just listen!” when I’ve asked him to stop doing something for the umpteenth time and it appears that, despite his actions being obviously questionable to the adult eye, he has lost any capacity for either hearing or self-control (and, yes, I do realise that my own reactions are a big part of the picture!).

FreeToBeZ, having recently turned 2 years old, is naturally highly spirited by virtue of her being a toddler.

Yet travelling often seems to put children into a different state of being – for leaving familiar territory can quieten the restless mind. It’s true for all of us to some extent.

The mundane everyday realities become somehow more exotic, especially to those who are still relatively new to the big wide world. Perhaps the sandwiches are out of a self-chosen packet from a shop shelf instead of mum’s (boring and familiar) homemade cheese and pickle.

Even the opportunity to sit on the loo seat of a clattering train or as the plane hits some turbulence tinges even our most base needs with an element of adventure.

And, wow, the unknown quality that hangs in the air as you see the look on mum’s face when she realises you’ve just pooed your pants at 30,000ft, minutes away from the compulsory seatbelt-wearing descent whilst all the loos are occupied. Such priceless moments which are just impossible to recreate in the comfort of your own home.

Some children are thirsty to explore the world and seem to become different people when they travel. ‘Demanding’ and ‘wilful’ children are often trying to tell us (through challenging behaviour rather than words) that they’re feeling bored or isolated or under-stimulated. In all of these instances, travelling helps to address these underlying needs.

Also, whilst travelling with minimal possessions and without the daily distractions of our home and working lives, we can become more attentive parents, able to enjoy the beauty and bustle of the great, wide world with our children beside us instead of allowing the little stressors of day-to-day life to become the focus of our days together.

I have no doubt that my children become more relaxed in the knowledge that, on a journey, I have become a captive audience to all their needs and verbalised thoughts – much more genuinely ‘with’ them than if I’m preoccupied by cooking or tidying or the obsessive-compulsive checking of communication devices.

Travelling puts everything into perspective.

When I see my son carrying his own cabin bag between connections or passing through the airport security scanners on his own, it occurs to me just how young and vulnerable he still is. Practicing the empathy and compassion I always hope to practice with my offspring suddenly becomes easier when we’re ‘out there’. My role as protector and provider comes to the fore as we leave behind the security of home sweet home.

I do believe that the earlier you start with family travel the better. My children have always known long car journeys due to our 4-5 hour treks to visit my immediate family at least 4 times a year. I expect that this – along with my natural inclination to practice a flexible lifestyle based on each new day rather than adhere to strict schedules and routines – has helped my children become the adaptable and obliging little travellers that they are.

However, most children’s natural curiosity and malleable nature means that even without having travelled extensively during their early years, older children – however ‘spirited’ – may benefit from the out-of-the-ordinariness and new experiences that travel offers.

Whilst I know many families who feel that the lifestyle I share with my children would not be appropriate for their own children (some of whom have diagnoses for various behavioural issues and learning difficulties, and who need carefully preparing for any changes in routine), there are different degrees of family travel that can allow any family to experiment and note how their children respond. You needn’t jump in the deep end and plan a backpacking trip in another continent; just a family day trip on the train to a town you haven’t visited before can help you gauge how your children react to the concept of travel.

I’m certainly not saying that my own children’s generally calm response is how all children respond to travel. Your child may well be the opposite, and turn from generally obliging and thoughtful to over-excitable and disorganised. This over-exhilaration is perhaps what is expected of children when they travel – but can you blame them? Whilst, as adults, we can usually control our excitement internally, the joy and expectation of ‘holiday time’ is expressed physically by many young children.

We can either live in dread that we’ll have difficult journeys to our destination or reframe our outlook and deal with it creatively (see 10 Mind-Altering Family Travel Tips for more ideas on keeping family travel full of sweetness and light).

All the sights and sounds of travel provide parents with ample opportunity to channel high energy appropriately – all the waiting and sitting gives us lots of time to engage our children in conversation about new and unusual experiences. Shared observations and conversations aid our loving connection to our children which in turn serves as the basis for a strong, respectful relationship (i.e. ensuring it’s more likely that they’ll listen to us when it’s really important that they do).

I also tend to think that the more we look to the spirit of adventure, the more new things there are for everyone – ergo, the more distractions and novelties there are to limit or prevent tantrums of boredom and under-stimulation.

The last leg of the journey to a Mid-Atlas hamlet: travel needn't be a trial and can actually be a treat. There was no chance of FreeToBeP being a bored passenger here.
The last leg of the journey to a Mid-Atlas hamlet: travel needn’t be a trial and can actually be a treat. There was no chance of FreeToBeP being a bored passenger here.

Travelling also gives children the opportunity to take on little responsibilities that they may not usually have, thus keeping restless feet and hands occupied. FreeToBeP often takes care of his passport when we queue for passport control. I was initially wary of this, but in trusting him with the responsibility, I have learnt that he takes it very seriously: the bored child wanting to swing on the barriers becomes a child so focused on using his hands to hold onto his very own important documentation with all his might that nothing else matters.

So, if you’re a parent with a desire to travel yet hear a little voice telling you about all the things that could go wrong with your lively 4 year old, I would encourage you to put aside the worries and give your dreams a chance.

I always say that it’s better to try and fail than to never try and never know.

Yes, things could go wrong. They could also go very, very right.

 



Have you noticed a difference in your children’s temperament (for better or worse) when you travel? Do you concur with any of the above observations? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please feel free to leave a comment below if you wish to share your experiences.

Next week: Paltry Packing: 10 Tips for Travelling Lightly