Emma is the blogger behind Mamalina.co (@mamalinauk on Instagram) - a site where she vlogs and blogs about slow parenting, a more simplistic way of life, and talks about her adventures in travelling with her husband and young family. I love the back to basics approach she has to parenting, and her blogging chimed with a lot of the changes that we are going through as a family (and her second is almost exactly the same age), so I caught up with her to find out more about why travel is so important in their family set up, and how they make it work.
Tell us about your family & work situation and how travel fits in?
I'm married to Sam (my childhood husband - we met when were 16 although didn't get together then), and we have two kids, Jack who is 2 1/2 and Sonny who is 4 months old.
We had kids a little bit earlier than our friends and had always loved travelling. It was really important that we didn't suddenly become these old fogeys with kids, who suddenly went on package holidays and lost their spark for life. We wanted to continue doing what we and our peers had been doing. For me I knew that if we lost that passion for travelling, it would bum me out and I'd start to associate that with having kids.
That point of view carries over into other aspects of our lives too. We've tried not to change the key things that we love in life and travelling is probably the main component of that. I was 29 when we had Jack (I'm 31 now), and we took him off to South Africa as a baby. We didn't want to stop having adventures.
I'm on maternity leave now and going through that whole thing of what I'm going to do for work. Sam works as a lawyer for a tech start-up. I worked for Google before, in branding for YouTube, working with agencies. I'd been there for 4 or 5 years. Everything changes when you have 2 kids.
I started vlogging first on YouTube because of my job and working in that space. At the time there weren't many mummy bloggers, and I thought I could start talking about being pregnant, and use my knowledge from work. My blog followed about 9 months ago and that's what I focus more time on. It's growing really nicely, and I'm getting more excited about it, doing it more and more and that's where my main hub is for my content.
What are the biggest trips that you've been on as a family?
The main trips we've done are South Africa, Costa Rica and the US. We've also done loads of other smaller ones like staying on a canal boat, camping, a bunch of different festivals and lots of wedding abroad. South African and Costa Rica we did back packing, which worked out really well. America was slightly different - we weren't travelling large distances, so we stayed in some cute B & B's.
We've always stayed in mixture of hostels and air bnb. In Costa Rica we did one night in a fancy, all inclusive place as we'd stayed in rough hostels for the nights before. Interestingly we really didn't like the all inclusive swanky one. I'm quite glad we did it to work out that we really hated it! We always mix it up with the accommodation.
What were you hoping to gain from these trips?
I know how much I gain from travelling and I think it's the same for kids. The confidence, the experience, and the broadened horizons - all of that is just as relevant, if not more important for little ones. As well as giving you head space, it's also the physical freedom it allows. Our son Jack is such an explorer and he is fearless. That has its negatives as well, but he'll explore, and walk and never look back.
I'll only be able to tell when I see what my second kid is like, but I can't help but think that's because we've done a lot of travelling, given him a lot of freedom to explore, and let other people interact with him when we're away. I think that's so important for him. He's really independent and adaptable. Nothing phases him. He's used to traipsing through an airport at 4 am clutching his milk bottle.
What were friends / families reactions when you announced you were going on what some people might class as adventurous travel? (particularly with your first?)
Interestingly we didn't run it by anyone before, because I know if we'd said something to our parents, they would have said that it was really stupid. They're not naysayers, but I think they would have advised against it. We didn't really say anything to anyone, it was only when we were sending the odd picture home that people realised we were going to some of those places.
You have to be careful, because if you do choose to do slightly more daring travel with your kids, god forbid something should happen, you would feel awful. It feels like there is more responsibility. Now that we have two, I'm even more aware of that. I don't want it stop anything that we're doing, but you have to be aware of what other people might think as well.
How do you make it work alongside your jobs?
We do things like save all our holiday up. My dream is that Sam (who is a lawyer) is able to work freelance so that we can be wherever we like. We are hopefully going to do a trip next year where Sam can base himself in an office abroad and we can add our holiday to that, potentially in Denver.
Why is travel so important to you?
It's only after doing it a few times that I've realised it's so important. I feel like, as a family and as a couple, you learn so much about each other. For me, I question what the point is of a holiday really? You go and get recharged, you lie on the beach and you read a bit of a book (although that's not really possible with kids now anyway). You come back and you're just back in the office.
When we go travelling we learn a huge amount about each other, because of the situations we're putting ourselves in, which can be anything from really stressful, to super exciting, to ridiculously beautiful. That variety and challenge that you have stretches you and you learn a lot. It's made my relationship with my husband super strong, way stronger than it would have been if we'd done conventional holidaying and hopefully it's the same with our kids as well.
What's the best experience you've had with your family while travelling?
That's really hard. I think it's the normal everyday mundane things that I love. In the States, we'd pull up in a gas station and you all jump out for a break, and you end up meeting another family. They'd be a hill billy American family, who are Trump supporters, and they're travelling around the States, but have never left America. You'd just sit there and their kids would be playing with yours, and you bond because you're both parents, yet you come from completely different worlds.
There are so many interactions like that with people. People and nature are the coolest things about travelling. I can't really single out an event.
And the worst? The biggest challenges about travelling with kids?
We've had a couple of scenarios, but the one that comes to mind is when we landed in Costa Rica. You have to think about when the sun sets. We landed at 3, and thought it was fine to get to our place, not realising that the sun sets really early, at 6 or something. We found ourselves driving in the pitch dark on these really dodgy rocky roads, with no food or drink, our sat nav was bust, and our phones had run out of battery. It was a bit of a nightmare.
It was a bit stupid really, as we had a tiny baby and had to stop off in these tiny towns some of which had some dodgy people! We finally got to our air bnb, which was amazing, and we could have some food as we hadn't had any for hours. It was all a bit sketchy and silly basically.
How do you keep it all together when faced with those kinds of scenarios?
In those particularly stressful moments, you have to know what your strengths are as a couple. For example, I know that Sam is the one that is good at driving, so if he's doing all the driving and we're on these horrible sketchy roads, it's my job to be in the back with the baby and stop the baby from screaming, as that's what I can do.
When we travel, we have a couple of ground rules as a couple to help when those moments arise, or to prevent them from arising. Silly things, like we try not to say anything negative, which can be hard, but also surprisingly easy when you get it into your head. It's easy when you're travelling to be like "oh we don't have enough petrol", or "the kids are going to get snappy", and 'but, but, but' - it's draining. We try and reframe it and be positive. You feed off each other's energy all the time in those close situations.
Anything you regret about having taken the non-traditional route?
I don't think so. We've absolutely loved it and each trip has actually been even better, because you learn so much, and you learn your limits. I personally just couldn't go on a conventional holiday now, I would find it flat.
Your best tips for others wanting to travel with children? Things you'd wish you'd known and learnt the hard way?
I've got lots of little pieces of advice, like always checking when the sun sets, don't rely on phone signals, always invest in proper maps as technology can fail you.
I can't stop thinking about another bad memory. We climbed up Lions Head in South Africa at sunrise. We took a different route that a friend's boyfriend took us on. It was insanely dodgy. We were hanging off the edge of this mountain, and it was totally unsuitable to have a kid on your back, and I was just shitting myself. We got to the top and Jack was going crazy, and we were stuck up this mountain, and I was like 'this is too much'. I think if we were doing it now we'd cope with it better, as you learn along the way.
My advice would be just try it when it comes to travelling! I guess it's not for everyone though.
Are there certain personality traits you think you need to have?
I think if you have a very routine based approach to parenting, you'd find it really hard. Before we went to South Africa, people were saying to us, "That's a great place to go because there is no time difference" and we hadn't even realised, because it's not something we have in terms of a strict time regime. So maybe if you're fixed to that you'd struggle - although you'd find a new regime.
Are you tempted to take the option of a much longer stint of travelling?
Absolutely, but it's not possible at the moment with my husbands job. We're also keen on getting a van and doing some travelling around like that, as we really like the road tripping aspect of it as well.
Future travelling plans?
There are so many places we want to go. Sam really wants to go to Japan, but I think it's really expensive and I worry that might be prohibitive once you're there. Also, you can't drive there, and for me I really love having a car and going where you want. The difference in culture would be amazing though.
I'd like to go to the far east, somewhere like Cambodia, so that may be on the cards for next year. We're at the age now though where all of our friends are getting married abroad, and we're using so much holiday for that, so we might try and tag something onto to the end of one of those trips. I'd love to go to Portland and Oregon and places round there as well.