A Little Trial… Travel Versus, Well, Travel

Last updated on May 11, 2023

Hats off to the traveling parents out there, the homeschooling, road-schooling, traveling adults with children in tow because man, it’s harder than I first imagined. My niece and I are a month into our trip and the pace of life has changed significantly for both of us. As a serial solo traveler, this past month plus was so much harder than syncing travel rhythms with another adult; instead I plan and plot out our days around school-time, downtime, fun-time, educational time…

So many “times” to figure out each day!

rice paddy laos
Rice paddies and thatched houses outside in the rural parts outside of Hongsa, Laos.

Our first month in Thailand was the trial run, and for the past ten days Ana and I have shouldered our small backpacks and we traded easy days spent in our Chiang Mai apartment for the dusty roads, slow-flowing rivers, and long travel days in Laos. T

he rusty waters of the Mekong River were our constant companion as we journeyed into the quiet center of Laos, stopping in sleepy villages and remote towns until we made it to the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang, at which point we plopped down for several days to enjoy this riverside city that offers a slice of ambling locals, quite streets, and a peek at a modern-day Laos echoing strongly with hints of the country’s hilltribe culture, post-colonial influences, and a “baw pen nyang,” or rather “no worries,” pace of life.

Mekong River, Laos
The banks of the Mekong River and surrounding hills on the slow boat down to Pak Beng.

And throughout these past ten days we navigated the even more difficult trails of actually traveling.

That first month in Thailand was a baby-step into travel; we have a small but comfortable apartment, a television (though very few English channels thankfully), and a routine with old friends, new friends, and familiar restaurants. The kiddo is happy in Chiang Mai, she quickly acclimated to the nuances of westernized Thai culture suffusing Chiang Mai and made some assumptions about Asia in general from these first glimpses.

Hongsa, Laos
Definitely not raised in the country, these cows and the pretty hills of the Sainyabuli province in Laos captivated Ana’s attention, especially when the dog ran into the fray and started herding them!

And then our visas expired and the real adventure started. I warned her, Laos is not like Thailand. It’s slower and less Westernized; the country comes across in waves of rural towns, poverty, unexpected smiles and happiness, few healthcare options, less English, and endlessly long travel days on uncomfortable transportation plodding down sometimes unpaved roads riddled with potholes and stray animals.

Tourist slow boat on the Mekong River
A long wooden slow boat, filled with old bus seats for the long trip down the Mekong River in Laos.

She has taken it all like a champ even though those first days generated dozens of thoughtful questions, plaintive complaints about the transportation, and surprisingly perceptive observations about the new things we’ve seen and done over the past ten days.

On my end, the entire process of traveling with Ana is so much more time-consuming than I once imagined. And this is not an “oh woe is me, let’s pity Shannon,” but rather an observation that kids are hard work on the road! I am still working as we travel, which forces me to be more effective each day than in the past—between my job, writing posts, photo-editing, and actually schooling Ana, it’s been a lot of work and I am endlessly glad I initially decided to use Chiang Mai as a base, it was a good call on my part.

mekong at sunrise
A hazy and cool morning on the Mekong as we board the boat in Pak Beng on our way to Luang Prabang, Laos.

Ana and I have just five more days left in Laos before we return to Chiang Mai, and boy, do we need a rest! This two-week trip into Laos was essentially a visa-run so we can stay in Thailand for several months now and it proved to me all of my long-held beliefs about slow travel are even more true with children—slowing down and spending several days (or a week) in each place is far more effective for not only learning about everything we are seeing and doing, but stopping for the week here in Luang Prabang (instead of our plan to cram everything into two days) has saved Ana’s sanity and my own!

fruit shake luang prabang laos
Ana enjoys the routine of daily street-side fruit shakes in Luang Prabang, Laos.
sunset mekong river
The sun slowly sets with a tangerine sunset over the Mekong River in Laos.

All of that said, Laos is just as special as I remember and I’ve found a bit of inspiration that was missing these past few weeks (i.e. why the blog has been so sporadically updated). I hope all of my US friends had a wonderful long weekend over Thanksgiving (Ana and I ruthlessly hunted down a slice of pumpkin pie here in Luang Prabang on Thanksgiving and enjoyed every morsel of it), I anticipate penning more Laos stories on our epic 10 hour bus ride down to Vientiane tonight :)

33 thoughts on “A Little Trial… Travel Versus, Well, Travel”

  1. Nice photos some great sceneries, i really like to see people travel the word and have new experience.
    Travel helps people to understand different cultures and languages.

  2. I just don’t know how to say this without sounding trite, but I am in AWE of you Shannon. Because I am fairly certain I could not do what you are doing. It’s not a small thing. Thank you for sharing it with us and for doing it in the first place.

    • Thank you Kirsten, I appreciate your words, there are ups and downs to this but it’s been an amazing experience for both Ana and me so far. Hope you are doing well and thanks for the support :)

  3. My husband eventually wants to invest in a Catamaran and sail to destination to destination . . . raising our kids (we don’t have any yet) on the boat and in various countries – it seems so scary to me! But it is nice to see that so many people actually are able to raise their kids in a nomadic lifestyle and I’m sure you gave your niece an experience that no one will ever be able to take away from her :)

    • One of the benefits that you’ll have in the Catamaran is that you will take your home with you as you travel–having that as a base will undoubtedly make the travel not only doable, but easier in some ways than overland travel on buses and trains for weeks and months on end. There are so many parents on the road with even multiple kids and making it work, it’s such an inspiration. Also, online schooling has been incredible and is something that will likely be even better by the time your future kids are traveling :) Happy planning!

  4. That is so great that you are travelling with your neice!! I love how you and the other bloggers that travel with children show the world that it is possible to still have a life after kids. I hope that if I have kids I will still have the energy to keep travelling

    • Thank you Jade! It does take energy, but I think you guys will surely work out a rhythm later if travel is important to you…and I know it would be a whole lot easier if we weren’t schooling online while we go! Thanks for the support :)

  5. I hope Ana knows how lucky she is to have such an amazing aunt.  I know it’s been tough but I’m glad to hear that she’s enjoying all the experiences in this new part of the world.  (I wonder, too, if it wouldn’t be as difficult in a place like Japan which has so many more conveniences — unlike Laos where transportation is long, tiring, and difficult.)

    • The transportation thing is big for her, so I think that yes, more developed travel would take away that big complaint for sure. I’m working on now figuring out ways to craft our SEA experiences with a bit fewer of the huge long-haul transport days to see if that helps her see past the tiring travel days more easily :)  Thanks for the support Akila!

    • Thanks Jenny — it was one of the more spectacular sunsets I’ve seen in a while…the whole boat ride was gorgeous, but that was such a pretty way to end the day on the Mekong :)

  6. beautiful pictures really, I am glad you two had great time and everything went smooth and she enjoyed the trip as she should have!

  7. Its nice to know that work and traveling can be managed to easily, nice recommendations. I also loved those pictures you have shared here. Nice one.

  8. Its good to hear that its doable.  I’ve sacrificed my time in order to build my business instead of traveling because for me it was the right decision.  But as I get older and closer to having children I’ve been feeling like i’m running out of time to travel.  Basically, its just nice to hear that it is doable, even if it is much more work.  

    • It is doable, and I think if you have a partner with you and are doing it as a family, it’s even more doable because you are sharing the load of planning and enjoying. I have met many traveling families and they prove even to me (I hope to travel with my own kids one day) that it’s  very possible :)

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  10. Although I know you said this is all a lot more work than you expected, it seems like you’re handling it well and finding ways to fit everything into the day. My hat off to you! Dan and I find it difficult it enough when it’s just the two of us – can’t imagine incorporating home schooling and other related tasks on top of that! Must be really fun to travel with Ana and see the world through her eyes and learn through the questions she asks. 

    Safe travels to Vientiane and back home to Chiang Mai!

  11. Sounds like you’re definitely “the cool aunt”! When I was about her age I had the opportunity to spend summers in Africa and Israel with my cousin. Unfortunately my parents weren’t as open-minded about traveling without them as Ana’s seem to be and I missed out on that time. It’s great that you’re able to share this experience with her.

    • That is such a shame that you weren’t able to travel back then, Africa is still on my bucket list and I can’t imagine how these types of travel experiences shape us when we’re that young. Like you, I did not travel as a child, but I am so glad my brother has allowed me to bring my niece! :)

  12. I’m so glad to hear that you and Ana are doing well! I know I’ve said it before, but you’re so amazing for sharing the world with her, Shannon. If only all kids had aunts as awesome as you! Luang Prabang sounds like a great place to set up shop for a few days ~ hope you’re well rested for the long ride home!

  13. You are such an awesome person for taking on this amazingly rewarding challenge!  You are changing a life — isn’t that incredible?  LOVE these pics!

  14. On our way to SE Asia for the first time in a couple of weeks. Thanks for the reminder to take it slow, and as it comes. Lovely photos, btw.


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