Lonely Planet Writer

Travels with my son: entrusting your life to your child

Overlooking Cradle Mountain. Photograph by Ed Atkin (used with permission)

Last year, we published Jane Atkin’s blog post about a trip with her mum - and the unexpected benefits of travelling with a parent. Her dad felt a little jealous. Here’s his take on the benefits of travelling with a child.

It was with more than a little trepidation that in early 2008 I agreed to the suggestion of my one of my sons that we embark on a six-day hike on the Overland Track in Tasmania.

For a start, there was my own life-long deficit in physical aptitude. I had never been good at ball games or other athletic pursuits, nor much inclined to outdoor activities in general. Then there was his impetuousness and lack of organisational skills, encapsulated by his family nickname: ‘Bloody Ed’. Despite these reservations, my confidence grew when I saw Ed’s systematic packing for six days and five nights on the track (no allowance to carry even one can of beer!)

On day one of the trek (heading to Waterfall Hut), we made an easy start, uphill but on well-made pathway. I was disconcerted to realise that I was alone with my son, not in an organised group as anticipated.

And it wasn't long before I realised my first mistake. I had forgotten my high-tech, collapsible walking-stick when unpacking from the car, now some hours and kilometres behind. My expertly fitted trekking boots began to pinch and chafe my feet into blisters. The first lesson of the trip was that walking equipment is only useful if you remember to bring it with you, and that breaking equipment in is an important part of preparing for a trek.

Luckily the second day brought a distinctly more positive lesson, that I could trust my son’s resourcefulness. He attended to my blisters and decided on swapping boots, his narrower feet being a better fit for my new boots. The journey ahead was demanding, but thankfully not so arduous as the evening before. By the time we reached camp, I was beginning to feel I might just make it through to day six alive.

My self-confidence grew to the point where I could trek alone, while Ed made diversions to scale forbidding peaks. By day five, we had established a comfortable trekking balance, each with an appreciation of our own - and of the other’s - strengths and limitations. And with our packs now several kilos lighter, it was plain sailing from there.

A moment of solitude at one of the many water holes and inland lakes along the track. Photo by Ed Atkin (used with permission)

The final day naturally carried a strong sense of arrival. We had made it! After boarding a ferry across Lake St Clair, we celebrated with a well-earned Cascade lager to quench our thirst. As luck would have it, the cafe at Lake St Clair had suffered a blackout, so the beers weren't as frosty as we would have liked, but they still went down a treat.

It was pretty good, at the age of 61, to be able to claim that I had learned something new. I concluded, unsurprisingly, that trekking was unlikely to become an abiding passion of my older age. But it was hugely good for my self-confidence to be tested well beyond my comfort zone. Most importantly, it gave me insights into my then 24-year-old son’s adult capacity for organisation and self discipline. We had experienced and proven a relationship of mutual confidence between adults.

And what did my son learn? Ed says, 'I learned that people can achieve a lot and exceed their expectations when they remove themselves from a comfortable environment and allow themselves to be challenged. After a period of ill-health, the reason behind the trek was to show Dad what he was still capable of doing, so it was with an extreme sense of satisfaction that we completed this challenge.'

Tell us about the highs and lows of travelling with family in the comments!