By Alyce Collins
THIS BRITISH family are backpacking with their TODDLER as they refuse to settle down and despite negative criticism they insist their son is healthier than if he was in childcare.
Former PhD student Emma Stirk (26) from Leeds, UK, has put her scientific career on hold to become an ‘around the world mum’ as she backpacks across the globe with her toddler in tow.
After putting her career on hold, Emma wants to show people that travelling with a baby is possible and that it isn’t just for adults, as children too can be engrossed by other cultures.
Emma, along with her fiancé Kieran, has travelled to 45 countries while they have taken their son Roscoe (20 months) to 12 countries since he was born as they say that settling down with a house and career isn’t quite for them.
The family has received criticism for their choice to go backpacking with Roscoe, having been told that it isn’t fair on him and that he won’t be able to remember it so there’s little point and that he is susceptible to illness abroad.
“I’ve always loved travelling and exploring the world. I was obsessed with maps as a kid and my atlas was my favourite book,” said Emma.
“Ever since Kieran and I were teenagers we used university holidays to travel and I have such fond memories of our first few backpacking trips around Europe.
“For me, the more I travel, the more I want to keep travelling. The more I see, the more I want to discover and the more I realise that there’s still so much I don’t know.
“I often look round and see other young couples and families buying their first homes and happily progressing in their chosen careers. Something about that just doesn’t sit comfortably with us.
“We have no idea where we want to bring up our children, but there’s a whole world to choose from and so far, we’ve barely touched the surface.
“We both worked very hard to obtain degrees and I am eternally grateful for the privileged opportunities we’ve had so far.
“We were never going to be the kind to take a graduate job, move to a big city and focus solely on becoming successful.
“I also dislike the stance that you need to be settled down, in terms of career and home, before even considering children. We like to focus on experiences over materialistic stuff.
“We enjoy exploring new cultures, environments and foods. We want to learn new things and continue to open our minds. Most of all, we want to expose our children to a range of perspectives and bring them up with a loving respect for nature and a sense of compassion for all people on the planet.
“Our current trip has been visiting Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore and Sri Lanka. We’ve done roughly 50,000 air miles so far and we’ve done a lot of interrailing round Europe.
“The most difficult part is long haul flights – especially when he was trying to crawl everywhere and touch everything. We try to minimise difficulties by flying at night, so he might sleep, and we try to bag a row for ourselves on the plane.
“We’ve had lots of comments about whether he will remember it or not, or that we’re doing it for us and not him and that it isn’t fair on him.
“We didn’t want to stop travelling once Roscoe was born and we wanted his childhood to reflect our love of exploring.
“Our response when people tell us that he could get ill is that we have been sensible and avoided malaria-ridden areas and have given Roscoe all the necessary vaccinations. We found that Roscoe actually picked up a lot more illness from going to childcare back at home than while we’ve been abroad.”
While wanting to visit as much of the world as possible, Emma remains environmentally aware and aims to do as much travelling without having to fly, after seeing first-hand some of the environmental damage that has already been caused in certain countries.
Emma spoke about how she hopes to sustain a low-waste lifestyle while travelling, after witnessing the devastation caused by plastic pollution.
“Although minimising plastic waste is harder when travelling, we’re trying to be as plastic free as possible,” said Emma.
“We use reusable metal straws, reusable water bottles, reusable cloth nappies and bamboo toothbrushes.
“Travelling the world has exposed us to the damage caused by the world’s obsession with single-use plastic.”
Emma and Kieran have learned a lot from their trips around the world and don’t plan on stopping traveling any time soon. Although they are looking to return to the UK for Christmas, they hope to be back overseas next year.
Kieran, a software developer, can carry out much of his work from wherever they are in the world. The couple are frugal with their money whilst living in the UK, managing to save £7,000 for their current trip of three months around Asia.
“You can still live the backpacker lifestyle with a young child as your carry-on. We nearly always travel on a low budget and some places in South East Asia can cost less than 10 pounds a night,” said Emma.
“We believe that travel is always possible as long as it’s a priority. Flights and transport are the main big cost, taking up at least £2,000. On average we stick to under £20 for accommodation, and spend under £30 per day.
“We’ve learned not to stress about the small things because it’s so important to be patient with each other. Travelling with a baby can throw you into some pretty stressful situations.
“We actually find it much easier looking after a toddler whilst on the move than whilst at home because when we’re travelling Roscoe has constant stimulation. He learns and develops so much when he’s exposed to different environments.
“Travelling with a baby requires more luggage and organisation but it’s one of the best things we’ve done. It also helps break down language barriers and opens conversations with so many people which wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
“We’ve had to adopt a slower pace of exploration which took a bit of getting used to, but it means we spend longer appreciating the environment.
“Roscoe is certainly taking more notice of the environments he’s in. He loves meeting new people despite language barriers.
“I don’t think there’s ever a perfect time or age to travel with children and we’re fully aware that Roscoe is unlikely to remember the adventures so far. But he started to roll over in Montenegro, learned to walk in Italy and ran in Bali. We have it all on camera.
“It’s never too young to build their open-mindedness and encourage them to appreciate life from different perspectives. Roscoe is at his happiest when we’re all together exploring somewhere new.”