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What Do You Do When Your Child Doesn’t Want to Travel?

Petra Shepard with Tzotzil Maya girl
Petra Shepard with Tzotzil Maya girl
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“Come on, Petra, lets go on an adventure,” I tried to encourage my two year old daughter to leave our Chiapas apartment.

“I don’t want to go on an adventure,” she responded, “I want to play.”

Up to here, our traveling lifestyle has so far proved effective enough to stomp the travel bug out of my daughter from the start. At two years old she can now tell me exactly what it is she wants and does not want to do in two languages. I must admit that it is an incredible shift when that little bundle of DNA, saliva, puke, and crap grows adapt enough to make a bid for her own autonomy. Language, evidently, is key in this development. Perhaps it is not good for a traveling father who rather liked just stuffing his baby in a sack and taking it wherever he chose without opposition that his daughter ended up being extremely adept at language acquisition.

If Petra does not get what she wants in English she switches to Spanish. She realized quick that her parents have a tendency for rewarding her for using this tongue.

But what do you do when your kid says, “I don’t want to go,” and, if that doesn’t work, wails “No quiero ir,” when you have bus tickets in your hand and are making for the door? What do you do when your traveling kid — who has pretty much been on the road since she was six weeks old, shows signs of wanting to be a sedentary home body?

I have no idea, but I do know that cultivating self-determination and decision making skills in this kid is clearly not needed.

Petra Shepard

“I don’t want to go on the bus,” Petra spoke one day in Colombia when we were preparing to leave the Juan Curi waterfalls. “The bus is f’cking stupid,” she continued.

My wife and I shot each other mutually accusatory looks. Did you teach her that word? — No, did you? 

“I don’t want to go on the bus,” Petra repeated “The bus is f’cking stupid, I’m leaving you.”

She then took off away from the side of the road and attempted to take refuge in a restaurant.

This probably won’t be the last time my wife and I are on the receiving end of these sentiments.

Petra Shepard hiking

So what do you do when you’re the patriarch of a traveling family whose little one has yet to cultivate a love for the open road?

I suppose you weigh the good with the bad, look at the big picture, and decide to either change paths or keep trucking on.

When I seriously question whether or not Petra enjoys travel I know I have little fear for the continuation of our current lifestyle. It is not travel in general that my daughter seems to despise, but bus rides in particular. Whether she is here or there seems to have no real significance for Petra yet, it is what happens between destinations that she hates.

Perhaps the fact that she pukes on buses has something to do with this.

Petra, the traveling baby, the traveling toddler, gets severely motion sick. A bus ride soon becomes a puke fest. The entire family more often than not will arrive at our destination covered in vomit.

We’ve tried many solutions, but our resolute kid just vomits through them all.

(Read more at Motion Sickness in Children when Traveling.)

In point, it is more the physical act of traveling that my daughter seems to dislike, rather than the lifestyle in general.

Petra and Chaya in Chiapas

It often takes my family one week in a location to adjust — a couple days of which is often just getting over the trauma of the puke fest we needed to go through when in transit. This is normal, it takes time for all travelers on a tight budget to find their “beat” about a place. Arrival in a new destination is probably the most stressful part of a lifestyle traveler’s profession, as you need to scour an unfamiliar town for cheap and good accommodation, food, recreation. A lot of decisions need to be made during this time, a lot of tactical debates, a lot of weighing of various options. The first week in a new town is pretty much the worse part of family travel, and it shows in my daughter.

For the first week in a new town, Petra is often cranky, she cries a lot more than normal, and often tends to be overtly disagreeable. But after the first week is up, once we’ve settled into a base and have our food, water, shelter, and entertainment strategies in place, it is smooth sailing up until the next leaving time — and then the cycle starts all over again.

Petra and Chaya Shepard

It is my impression that there is not a 100% perfect lifestyle, that there is not an ultimate way to raise a child, that there are good things and bad things about any way of life. Our way of life, as travelers, is pretty good. Not only just for myself and my wife but for our daughter as well. What little kid has her parents with her, teaching her, playing with her nearly 24/7? What child grows up into a relatively low stress environment where almost each and ever day is family play day? What little kid has friends all over the world, can speak multiple languages, has seen all kinds of different animals, landscapes, people? Petra is doing alright, she makes friends at every stop, she sings, plays, and seems to be making good on her childhood.

I believe that as Petra gets older, the more relevance and benefit the traveling life will have for her. The world is a book, some wise man once said, and those who don’t travel only read a single page of it. As Petra grows and learns on the road the more pages of this book she will be able to read.

My daughter has never known another way of life; the planet, not a city or country, is her natural habitat.

The plan is to have four or five places to move between in circuits around the world. It will probably take us another two or three years before this route of migration is in place.

Petra and Chaya Shepard

I had a friend in Japan who grew up from a young age on the road. She told me stories of how she bounced around Southeast Asia with her photographer father, often living in tents. “I remember being bitten by a lot of bugs,” she stated without even a glimmer of nostalgia. It seemed to me that she did not really enjoy her itinerant childhood, but the fact that she continued traveling in adulthood told all: the traveling life — even if not always peachy — definitely grabs you by the cayons.

As I write this, my daughter is playing with her toys. She has half a dozen Play Mobil guys and she is putting them in and taking them out of an old yogurt container. She is calling the container a bus, she is reenacting her travel experiences. “Now we are going on bus. It’s a big bus. It’s time to get on, Aidric (Craig’s son). Big nina, it’s your turn. There’s my friend, get back on the bus.”

She is growing up into this world well.

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Filed under: Family, Mexico

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3053 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Cincinnati, Ohio, USAMap