Many independent travellers fear having
a family will quash their adventurous spirit, and they forgo children
to indulge their taste for truly independent travel. Meanwhile,
their neighbours with families follow the crowd to holiday 'family
heaven' and spend the fortnight wishing they could be somewhere
more exciting. Wisdom has it that responsible parenting is parenting
without risk, that toddlers are wild enough already without taking
them into the wild, and that teenagers are best left in their bedrooms
One of the joys of touring is coming across
people who do things differently, who challenge your way of thinking
and offer fresh perspectives on how life can be. Before we had kids
we were lucky enough to meet some inspirational people who challenged
our thinking about the possibilities for adventurous and responsible
parenthood. This is a story about those who say you can and those
who say you can't and our journey to figure out just who we should
Stuart and I set off on our six month honeymoon
tour of South America knowing it would probably be our last big
journey for quite some time. From the Equator to the End of the
World, by bicycle and by ourselves. But before we reached the end
of the world we met a couple who seemed to have it all, and for
one extraordinary week we became a part of their amazing family
adventure and saw first-hand how it could be done.
I met Nadine Kuczera in a supermarket in
Puerto Montt, Chile. I was looking for food; she was looking for
crew. I made an impulse buy and agreed to spend a week with her
family sailing around icy fjords. Nadine, Bernard and their two
children, Sofia and Sylvan, were no ordinary family. They had sailed
from New Zealand to Chile's deep South on a yacht they designed
and constructed themselves. They made their life a journey; their
home a speck on the ocean; and the people they met their teachers.
During our time with the Kuczera's, I saw the possibilities for
parenting and teaching through travel, the joys of discovering the
world with children; and the way adventure develops strong family
"We travelled with our babies from the moment
they were born. Sofia thought she was Vietnamese as a baby," said
Nadine, hosting an "N" party one balmy evening. Everyone was under
Captain's orders to be something beginning with N. My husband Stuart,
dressed as a Noodle, clutched at this small encouragement:
"Do you think we can do it too?" he asked,
chewing on his vermicelli wig.
"Absolutely, the only limitation is the
parents' imagination," said Nadine, dressed in a nightie, hair in
rollers, munching one of the raw onions spilling out of her handbag.
It wasn't clear if she was in her Nutter role or not.
When we said goodbye to the Kuczera's we
knew we wanted something of the same for our own family. Our only
limitation was that we had no family. But we had the imagination.
A few weeks later, I was pregnant.
Matthew was born and my mother was delighted.
"Marvellous. No more of those ridiculous cycling trips then; Disneyland
now for you my dear, just like everyone else." My mother had always
wanted a conventional, stay at home daughter, and now to everyone's
surprise it looked like she'd got one. No more touring, no more
wild camping, no more adventure.
My fears about family life ending the adventure
years bubbled to the surface once more. Meanwhile Stuart started
hearing voices; a distant, almost inaudible whisper, the sound of
Nadine and Bernard's call to action. Stuart figured it was time
to test the water.
"Just one night of cycle camping; it'll
be fine for a three month old baby."
"You can't take a new baby on a bike. How
will he sit up? And you can't put him in that silly little tent.
He'll be up all night and scream the place down without his cot
and teddies," said my mother, always the voice of reason.
"Nonsense, he's a great sleeper," Stuart
replied, "And we'll strap his car seat into the trailer."
We cycled off with a sense of liberation,
found a quiet corner on a family-friendly campsite and warmed up
the boy's bedtime milk on the stove. It all seemed so easy. Until
the two a.m. feed. The stove roared, Matthew screamed, the gas ran
out, the campers tutted. We stuffed our panniers and pedaled home
in the pre-dawn light, to await the call from my mother to say,
"I told you so. It's Disneyland for you now."
I thought of Bernard and Nadine and the
difficulties they must have overcome with youngsters at sea. I wondered
how they would have silenced a screamer in a tent. As we cycled
along, Matthew now peacefully snoring, I renewed my vows with Stuart,
"Disneyland is not for me; setbacks will be overcome."
"Tell me you're joking," my mother said,
nervously popping extra sweeteners into her tea, "You're going to
drag my ten month old grandchild around a midge infested Scottish
island? He'll get eaten alive."
"But we are going with Gareth, Jane and
their baby," I protested.
"But they're not cycling or camping are
We supped our tea in silence.
We ascended a pass on the Isle of Arran
with a trailer full of back-up supplies and a determination to go
the full distance. Spare fuel, flasks of hot milk, and several bottles
of midge repellent made our cargo heavier but lightened our worries.
We felt prepared for anything. At last the purple heather fell away
to reveal more empty road winding through pine scented forest to
grey, icy sea. Seagulls cawed and the baby slept. Tranquility flooded
my muscles, the cool air of descent drying my sweaty T shirt. A
car sped past; our friends on the way to their hotel.
"You look whacked," they cheered, "See you
at the bottom for a picnic."
When we finally caught up, they were finishing
their lunch, irritably swatting midges. "You poor things, how sweaty
you are," said Jane, unbuttoning her shirt to breastfeed. "Are you
"Too many midges, we're off to a tea shop,"
I called as we sped past, while swarms of midges moved in to lunch
on her shoulder. Matthew waved to our besieged friends from his
midge free zone.
"Good call, we're getting better at this,"
chirped Stuart. We began to see how the doom of mum's prophecies
could be avoided through careful planning and better judgment.
We now knew it could be done with one child.
But the arrival of our second undermined my confidence. I was doubtful
about Stuart's suggestion of a one month, four kingdoms tour of
"We'll be fine," said Stuart, "Bernard and
Nadine were not a one-off. There are lots of families out there
adventuring with multiple toddlers."
"Don't be so ridiculous," said my mother
when she heard. "People with children go to Disneyland."
"Do they?" challenged Stuart, firing up
Three hours later, my mother sat in silence,
stunned by Stuart's guided tour of web sites of adventurous families.
A global cast of parents and grandparents who refuse to put adventure
on the back burner until their kids grow up. Families biking around
the world for charity, sailing the globe in search of their roots,
learning about our fragile environment, seeing the world through
children's eyes. From every continent, in every different family
combination, we found people on boats, bikes and hikes, demonstrating
that adventure doesn't have to die when a new life is created. As
one South African couple put it on their web-site, "This is your
one and only chance to explore the world with your children as they
"See, the only limitation is the parents'
imagination," said Stuart in a rendition of Nadine and Bernard's
song, accompanied by this new chorus of families.
My mother's voice refused to join the chorus.
"Interesting, but unnecessary. There's plenty of time to see the
world when they grow up. Why can't you be like everyone else?"
"What and sit at home like couch potatoes,
watching TV and eating junk? Sorry Mum, I'm getting back on my bike."
Our five hundred mile, four kingdom tour
taught us what cycle toddling was really about. No more whistling
through villages and grinding up high passes to meet obsessive daily
mileage targets. Instead we struck up a rhythm of two hour trundles,
interspersed with play, swimming and picnics. In the mornings, a
single ray of light was enough to spring Cameron from his slumber
and launch the day. Bounce, bounce and moments later there were
two of them tearing through the tent. "Wakey, wakey, we're on our
holidays." Our starts were earlier, our days longer and everything
more unpredictable than ever before.
"Mikey gone" yelled Matthew.
"Gone where?" asked Stuart, alarmed at the
thought of losing the only toy we let him bring.
"On road. I dopped him!" he wailed. We turned
around and retraced our path.
"Is lost for ever." Matthew sobbed, mourning
his one eyed green friend from Monsters Inc.
"No.wait, there it is" cried Stuart as he
rounded a bend, hurrying towards six inches of plastic monster abandoned
on the road. Then, around the bend skidded an immaculate white BMW,
Britney Spears pumping. We moved nervously into the hedge.
"Whoops I did it again" screeched Britney
as the wheels crunched over Mikey, scattering monster body parts.
"Oh no, there's Mikey's eye," Stuart said
quietly, lifting a hapless green eyelid from the top of the buggy,
wondering whether Matthew witnessed the accident.
"And his hand," exclaimed Matthew joyously.
"And a leg. Daddy, look there's one of Mikey's legs, in the hedge."
We salvaged the eye, eye lid, two
legs and an arm and ceremoniously hid the shattered torso in the
Mikey's apparent death gave us a glimpse
into Matthew's world, where this tragic accident transformed Mikey
from one toy into five, which were more flexible and fun to play
with. The limb collection toured the four kingdoms with us, a lesson
to us in how to adapt to life on the road.
Our extended tour was a resounding success.
Life was simple, uncluttered, and filled with unexpected joys. And
everybody loved it.
"Mum," I began awkwardly a few weeks ago.
"We're going travelling again." "Is it Florida or Paris dear?" she
"Neither. it's New Zealand, six months cycling
end to end. It's going to be amazing mum. Two islands, two bikes,
two trailers, two toddlers and two thousand miles."
"Two thousand nappies more like."
My mother wasn't the only one to raise objections.
While friends and family were impressed by our bravery, they were
horrified at what it would entail. "No nursery, no babysitters,
no bath time, no peace, no escape, no TV. A 24/7 babywatch in unknown
and hazardous environments? Rather you than me." And that was before
we mentioned the real practicalities; pulling 50 kg of trailer,
toddler and baggage. And of course the obligatory nappies.
"There's no ozone layer you know," my mother
informed us, "And it's not exactly flat. And how will you protect
yourself against the Orcs? Look, is there nothing I can say to put
"No, mum," I replied with conviction, "Nothing
"Well, we'll see about that. There's plenty
The challenge of dealing with my mother's
phone-in of potential disasters is as great as anything we may have
to face on the road. Meanwhile we rush to toilet train both children
to avoid the nappy carrying Armageddon she predicted. Amidst the
voices of doubt and disapproval, I still sometimes wonder if we
are mad; but know we aren't mad alone. We have now made contact
with many of the families we showed my mother on the web. And we
can feel our own voice getting stronger and more confident with
their encouragement, advice and support.
Our family adventures began with the inspiration
offered by Bernard and Nadine, now back in New Zealand. They're
busy figuring out how to overcome their latest setback; teenage
children who don't want to travel. We're looking forward to a reunion
"N" party with them, on their home territory. My mother says we
will all be Nutters. We hope to compare notes on the challenges
and joys of adventurous parenting, and get a few tips for the forthcoming
And now we know there are so many families
out there adventuring, we're already developing ideas for a future
trip, a world tour, to meet some of these families, talk with them
about their experiences and spread the word about the possibilities
for independent family adventure. As Bernard and Nadine said, "The
only limit is the parents' imagination." We intend to let ours run
Want to know more about the realities of adventuring with children?
Take a look our picture feature on gearing up for cycle toddling.
© 2004 Stuart Wickes
& Kirstie Pelling All rights reserved