Have you thought that 2019 was the year you would try and travel more? I’ve done a few longish trips with my kids now that they’re older, but it always feels so intimidating. Will they behave? Will they have fun? Is it worth it? I’m so excited for you to meet Andrea Khan. Her love of travel inspired her to start a travel website all about traveling with kids called “The Family Backpack.” She’s got some great advice and a beautiful home to boot. Welcome, Andrea!!

Hello! We are a family of 5 — My husband, myself and our 3 kids, ages 11, 8 and 5. I have nicknamed our home “casa de chaos” as that’s what it feels like 80% of the time. I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin and Asim, the hubs, is originally from Pakistan. Coincidentally, I traveled to Pakistan in 2001 a year before I met Asim. When we met for the first time, after learning that he was from Pakistan, I told him that I had actually been there and he didn’t believe me! It took about 30 minutes of explaining in-depth details about my trip until he finally believed me. We have been together ever since. 

From the beginning of our relationship, we have made travel a priority. Our honeymoon was to South Africa and Zambia and we continued around the world from there. Our oldest, Tariq just hit 11 countries a month after he turned 11. 

Tariq is a wise old soul who loves history and collecting a piece of artwork from each country we travel to. On the contrary, he loves sports and is an avid soccer and basketball player. My middle kiddo is Haris. The life of the party whose nickname was cheeky monkey from about 9 months old onward. He is obsessed with fishing. Not sure where that comes from as neither Asim nor I fish and neither do our parents. However, we try to encourage and support it as much as we can. Zahra shares a middle name with me and wants to be a ballerina and a cowgirl when she grows up. You will often find her running around outside and neighing like a horse. 

The first trip I took outside the United States was to France in high school and I was instantly hooked on travel. While in college I lived in the South of France for a year and traveled all over Europe. Travel has become a part of who I am. Combining this love of travel and my background in Marketing, in May of 2017 I launched The Family Backpack, a website that curates the best of the family travel blogs to make it easier for parents to research and plan family vacations. In addition to running The Family Backpack, I am the Director of Marketing for ShoreTrips, the world’s best shore excursions company. Travel is a passion and I hope to inspire families to head out on an adventure even with young kids. 

Three years ago, Asim decided to quit his successful career in private equity to launch his own company. Last November joining forces with his brother, he launched Zyn, a healthy beverage infused with curcumin (the source of turmeric’s anti-inflammatory health benefits). He was inspired to create Zyn after a recent trip to Pakistan when his dad experienced diabetic nerve pain in his foot. His aunt created a paste of turmeric and olive oil to put on his dad’s foot. Within an hour the pain was gone. Asim then remembered all the times his family had used that paste for pain over the years and he was inspired to create a product that helped others and combined a natural spice that his culture has been using for hundreds of years. 

Shorewood, Wisconsin aka the #freshcoast is where we call home. It’s the first suburb north of downtown Milwaukee. We LOVE the walkability. The kids are 7 blocks from school and walk most days. We can stroll to a coffee shop, a wine bar, a grocery store and one of our favorite restaurants, Cloud Red, among other places. The biggest temptation is the amazing boulangerie we pass on the walk to school which emits the best smells of freshly baked bread. I relive my college study abroad in France by walking home with a baguette under my arm from time to time.

When we first moved into our house over 12 years ago we were the youngest people. However, the block has changed over the years and we have an amazing group of similar-aged neighbors and friends that have kids around our kids’ ages and are just fun people to hang out with. Block parties, progressive dinners and lots of kids biking around our big block are a common occurrence. 

The only downside is the outrageous property taxes. Our house is just under 3,000 square feet and we pay over $14,000 annually in property taxes. Yes, the schools are amazing and we even have weekly compost pick up but it’s shocking when we hear what our friends pay in other cities across the country.

We sold our 3rd Ward condo at the height of the market while on our honeymoon (thank gosh for fax machines back in the day), and then raced to buy a home as soon as we got back. There was a house that we had a made a low ball offer on a couple months before our honeymoon and it got rejected. The couple was rather rude and said if we can’t afford their house we shouldn’t be making offers. Our proactive agent reached out to the owners who still hadn’t sold their house while we were away and they were suddenly interested in our previous offer.

So the Saturday after we got back from our honeymoon, we spent the entire day looking at houses one last time. The house that we had made the offer on before was going to be the last house we looked at that day as we thought it was going to be the winner. Before we went through it again our agent had lined up another house on the same block but further down and around the corner. We walked in and Asim looked at me and said “This is it.  This is our house.” I felt the same way and that is the house we now live in. I still get goosebumps when I think about that moment.

Three years ago we decided to make the house a better fit for our bigger family and lifestyle. Since our house is only a couple blocks from Lake Michigan and homes in our area have skyrocketed over the past few years, we figured it was a safe decision to invest more money into our current house instead of buying a new one. We moved out and completed a remodel that expanded our basement, gave us a designated mudroom, a bigger kitchen and added another bedroom and bathroom.

I have always viewed religion as a private and personal choice but given the bad rap Muslims have gotten the last few years I am very open about our faith in hopes of helping people see a different perspective. I converted to Islam when I was pregnant with our oldest. After traveling to Pakistan in 2001 and reading a ton on the religion I was very intrigued and that only blossomed after I met Asim.

I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic grade school but always had a lot of questions.  Islam seems to complete those questions for me. Islam is a very simple and logical religion for me. It’s a faith of giving back to your community which I love. What’s so interesting is that jihad doesn’t mean “kill all the infidels” like some people interpret but instead “to conquer one’s own faith.”

Religion is a journey and it can be a struggle to have faith at times.

Raising the kids Muslim has definitely been challenging in recent times. When the Muslim Ban went into place Tariq — my oldest — was really upset and thought we needed to move out of the country. However, we talk to the kids about trying to focus on being good Muslims and letting people see that. Hatred isn’t something we can control but hopefully, we can help change the conversation about Muslims after people get to know us. 

Christmas is a common question from people but we’ve always made it very black and white. Every year we go to my parent’s house and help them celebrate Christmas. The kids get a few presents and Santa usually brings a little something but it’s very stress-free and we also make a point to combine the traditions I grew up with such as baking and decorating Christmas cookies and listening to John Denver and the Muppets Christmas. 

A couple years ago I was planning a trip to Spain and Portugal for our family and spent hours researching where to stay, what to do once we got there, and how to handle jet lag with kids. I would find a great blog post on one of those topics but then it wouldn’t cover the other topics I needed, so back to Google and Pinterest searches I went. I figured there had to be an easier and less time-consuming way to read advice from other parents that have traveled with their kids. My light bulb went off and I decided to create a highly organized website that does just that. 

It is scary to travel with kids and part of it, at least for me, is I always feel like people on an airplane are judging us as parents on how the kids act. But then I think: should we wait until the kids are 18 before we take them on an airplane? No way!

I used to travel a ton for business before I had kids, and I have sat next to drunk people, been hit on by married men, had grandmas pull out 50 photos and tell me details about every one of them — and none of those people apologized to me. So why should I apologize for traveling with my kids who [now after years of travel] are really well behaved on planes? 

For parents that have really young kids, no they won’t remember when you took them to Santa Cruz or Puerto Rico, but you will remember that they were there. They will look back on photos and see themselves in that photo and know you took them along. It will begin to help shape the person they are as they grow up, giving them a sense of the wider world and a different perspective. 

I LOVE seeing the world from my kids’ view and sharing new experiences that will forever bond us. I love witnessing my boys get along, and join together in the excitement of a new adventure, instead of fighting (they still fight on vacation but it’s dramatically less). I love how all three kids see the world in such a different way and aren’t easily intimidated by new situations. 

  

If you are thinking of traveling more, here is my best advice: 1) Get a credit card where you can earn miles and charge everything on it that is over $100. Pay it off monthly. Use those miles to cover airfare for a fantastic trip somewhere, which will cut your costs way down. 2) Consider visiting those dear friends of yours that just took a job overseas and now live in Japan or Europe or South America. 3) House rentals like Airbnb or VRBO are another great way to save money and have more space with kids when traveling. 

If you’re nervous to take the plunge, start with a short trip first. Drive to a fun new spot, or to Grandma’s house that is only 3 hours away. Then progress to a plane ride that is only one short flight. Travel further from there. You will never regret it. 

I am definitely a family machine — I am great at logistics and organizing our lives, from meal planning to ensuring the kids have haircuts scheduled. But it sure is exhausting. And I hate when you have to start planning summer camps in January!

The thing that comes easiest to me is reading to my kids. I have been doing so since they were newborns. It’s part of our bedtime routine. Ironically, the summer before Haris started second grade he was diagnosed with dyslexia. It was shocking, as it didn’t matter that I had been reading to him all those years. The reading did help with his comprehension skills (which are off the chart), but dyslexia is dyslexia and reading did not come easily to him.

I had really followed my mom gut on this one when I was volunteering in his classroom back in kindergarten and saw how he was struggling with simple vowel sounds. By first grade, I requested he have an assessment by his school as I could tell he was struggling and didn’t even want to go to school. Happily, I can report that now, after intensive and ongoing tutoring, and an IEP at school, he is now reading at grade level. It melts my heart to see him reading a chapter book on his own.

I wish someone had told me (and I had listened earlier) to not strive for perfection all the time. I spent years striving for perfection — particularly in all aspects of entertaining. I am now realizing that it’s okay to throw a dinner party and buy half the food from the grocery store and serve it on paper plates — and your friends won’t judge you. They’re just as excited as you are to get and be together. Your kids don’t care if their birthday party has someone doing face paint and balloon animals — they would be just as happy to go to the park with a few friends, eat cake, open some presents, and call it a day. 

From the house, I hope my kids remember the map in our eat-in kitchen area. I purchased it years ago from Ikea and when we did the remodel I knew it would fit perfectly there. It is a nightly topic of conversation — from geography questions to where are we traveling to next.

As for parenting, I hope my kids remember the love, all the game nights (we are quite competitive), and the amazing meals I cooked for them. I hope they totally forget any of the yelling that may have occurred — especially the phrase “go to bed now.” (Clearly, we’re not perfect parents.)

    

I love watching them play by themselves. Zahra playing with her dollhouse, and acting out characters and scenarios, is so entertaining. Haris at night, when he is supposed to be sleeping, can be heard playing on the floor with Legos. And Tariq, having a basketball tournament with himself in the driveway, complete with commentary in a British accent.

It’s so loud, but I think I will miss that someday. Not for about 5 years after they leave, but someday.

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Thank you Andrea! You really do make traveling seem so approachable, manageable and worthwhile.

I love the perspective that fussy kids are no more of a bother on a plane than so many other things that can be frustrating about tight quarters. In fact, most kids are way less intrusive than some of the adults I’ve flown with. And looking at it that way really takes some of the pressure off. So let’s all get out of our houses this year!

I also really appreciate Andrea’s perspective on converting to Islam. It’s so easy sometimes to see people of other nationalities or races or religions as “other” but I think Andrea is such a great reminder that we’re all actually a lot alike. At the end of the day we’re all just parents trying to do the best we can with our families and ourselves. We might be Christian or Atheist or Muslim or Jewish, but really we love our kids, love our communities, and want to live happy, safe lives.

What about you? What are your best travel tips? What travel adventures have you had with your kids? Do you find traveling with kids exciting or exhausting?

SOURCES

Dining room table

Kitchen Map is discontinued, but here’s a similar one on Etsy.

Soccer player bedding

Tile in the Master Shower

 


Photo credit to Laura Couture Photography. You can follow Andrea on Instagram or get the links to all her other social media on The Family Backpack. Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram too.

Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at features@designmom.com