Updated: Sep 29, 2020
We all know how stressful and overwhelming traveling with children can be. Imagine doing it all… summer… long… most of which is done by one parent (me) because the other one doesn't have a remote job and has to pay the bills.
It can be stressful, exhausting, filled with ups and downs and missing dad/hubby, friends, and all the “normal” that fills our lives nine months out of the year. It is also the most rewarding, fulfilling and exciting decision we have ever made.
The Travel Bug Hit Early and Hit Hard
We always knew travel would be a priority for our family. My parents instilled a passion for travel, food, culture and language from a young age. Even as recent immigrants with lower-income, they always prioritized travel (whether they could only afford a couple road trips for the year, or saved up enough for a trip to Europe). By the way, budget travel was never budget travel for me because it was just the way we traveled – I didn’t know anything different.
Marino (my husband, for those who didn’t know), is Argentine-born and the first in his whole family to have traveled outside Argentina, let alone outside the South American continent. After getting his first job with vacation accrual, he booked it for six weeks to Brasil, and never stopped traveling since.
I have to acknowledge the tremendous privilege we have had to travel so much. And I also really want to recognize our intention, effort and prioritization in our budget for travel. From road trips in the U.S., to backpacking through the jungle in Chiapas, Mexico, to visiting family in Escobar, Buenos Aires, Argentina, to exploring Grand Bahama, The Bahamas by car, we got to do a lot as a child-free couple.
When Dante was born in 2012, I was fortunate to work as a human rights litigation attorney and travel for work. We took full advantage of Dante travelling free until age 2 and piggy-backed on my work trips for a total of 7 trips by plane, countless road trips and weekends away, driving distance from Los Angeles.
As a small aside, our love of foreign living led us to take an opportunity to live in Trinidad and Tobago for just under two years and Leila was born there in 2016.
We moved back to the U.S. in 2017 to be closer to my parents, whose health was failing. Long story short, with Marino rebuilding his career here, Dante starting elementary, and reintegrating into a routine back home, the next year only saw one international trip to Argentina so that Leila could meet her Baba Belinda.
Still, the bug never goes away and there is so much to see and discover here in the U.S. So, we still got as much travel in over the next two years as we could with plenty of day and weekend trips, as well as a couple gifted cruises and two trips to Hawaii!
Language is a Must in Our Family
We speak four different languages in our home: English, Russian (my family), Spanish/Castellano (Marino’s), and Italian (Alessandra’s). Each of us prioritized speaking with Dante in our birth language and it paid off – for a while.
By age 3, Dante was not only fluent in all three non-English languages, but he also knew whom to speak which language to. Ale’s family would come visit and he’d speak in Italian. When Papa Mingo got home, or Argentines came a-visiting, he would welcome them in Spanish. Mama (me) was the most confusing because he knew I speak all three. Still, over time, he figured out that when we were alone, it was Russian and then, both of us would switch to Italian or Spanish depending on which family member we were with.
However, little did we know how (generally speaking) monolingual Trinidad and Tobago is. After a good year of living there, and Dante developing friendships there, he began choosing English over all other languages and even told us, "talk like my friends," or to “speak his language,” to which I always replied, “these are all your languages!”
We persisted and yet, English began to solidify as his dominant language. Who knew that with this shift, it would be even harder for Leila to choose her non-English languages – but, little sister see what big brother do, and so it went with choosing English as her dominant language.
A Painful Summer of Attempted Immersion Summer Camp
Enter Veronica’s huge triggers around losing our family’s culture, language, frustration with their gravitation to monolingualism and… the panic set in. As a parent committed to progressive, developmental education, a lot of language programs are not my cup of tea. No letter tracing, rote memorization, coloring in the lines, or screen-based learning work for me. Nor do star charts, grades, or other external motivators that risk replacing internal motivation.
So, I explored everything – getting a group of like-minded mamas together for Russian-immersion playdates (not enough bites in similar age groups), semi-private Russian lessons with a teacher versed in developmental, progressive education, play-based Spanish programs that have concurrent programs for 18-month- and 5-year-olds.
AND, I had to find programs that would allow my children to do only 1 or 2 days per week so I could at least get two languages in there AND be able to afford them AND still get them both out to the beach and parks and all that fun stuff kids SHOULD do during the summer (since I couldn’t guarantee as much outside time as I wanted for them in the programs I was finding).
What ended up happening was: 1) not enrolling Leila for summer because of the expense given my lack of satisfaction of programs for her, 2) not finding a satisfactory Russian program for Dante, 3) finding a decent Spanish program for Dante but only once-a-week because of the expense, and 4) enrolling him in a once-a-week beach camp to get that energy out the day after his Spanish immersion because that space was smaller than what his energy levels required - endless, literally endless energy.
End result: we spent an exorbitant amount of money for 2 days of summer camp for 1 child ONLY. How much you ask?
I breathed through that summer and promised myself we would never do that again. And imagine, in a couple of years, I’d be looking at having to pay for two children! Two!
I began to process just how much travel and how truly immersive of an experience summer travel abroad could be. Marino and I discussed it and decided that, despite the children having to be apart from him for 7 weeks out of the year, despite him having to save up every single vacation day for that piece of summer travel he could be a part of, despite having to tighten our belt straps to afford accommodation for the whole summer, it would be so much more worth it than “half” immersing them in programs here, with little opportunity for authentic practice and connection.
Thus the journey began: rotating summers starting with summer of 2019 in Italy, where we would stay with Alessandra’s family as our home-base, summer of 2020 in Russia, and summer of 2021 in a Spanish-speaking country in South America.
Summer of 2019 in Italy came off successfully and Dante’s and Leila’s Italian took off explosively, besides the fact that they now have experienced authentic Italian living, have built friendships across borders and met members of their Italian family they had only seen through screens.
I am so grateful that we made that decision in time to experience at least what one summer abroad could be like. Now, COVID-19 has sadly thrown a wrench in this plan and there will be more on that later.
I look forward to sharing so much of that experience with all of you and hopefully supporting others to do the same when we come out of this craziness that is our current normal. Summer of 2019 not only confirmed that it was the right decision for our family right now, but has also shifted our long-term life plans - global nomadism (more on this later).
I'd love to hear your thoughts, questions, experiences with this type of traveling in the comments below or on the Facebook post!