Guest Post: Free-Range On Vacation (It Can Be Easier!)

Hi Readers — This essay comes to us from a reader who sounds like she had an enviable vacation (at least I’m envying it) and a revelation, to boot! Her name is Amanda Lee and her blog is

Free-Range in Thailand by Amanda Lee

The crackdown starts as soon as we step back on North American soil: “Mind their fingers!” (On clearing the baggage check). “Where are her shoes?” (In my carry-on.) “They could get hurt!” (The kids are walking the wrong way on a completely empty moving sidewalk.)

We are returning to Canada from the tiny island of Koh Ngai in southern Thailand. There, the rule book was tossed into the serene sea lapping the shore. For one week my children ran with abandon: Free-Range in Thailand.

My two-year-old daughter potted around naked and barefoot. My five-year-old son hunted for crabs in the early morning rocks, while I lounged in our hut. He proudly displayed a bucketful of crustaceans to anyone who would look.

With a backdrop of mountain jungle, Koh Ngai consists of two kilometres of calm beach and resorts. As the days slipped by, I discovered a curious thing: the more freedom my children had to simply be and play, the fewer tantrums they threw.

Without micromanagement, my children’s natural exuberance came out like the tropical sun. Okay, so my son got so far stuck up a palm tree, he looked like a kitten that needed to be lifted to safety. My husband climbed up and airlifted him down. Later they managed to catch a sea urchin in a bucket. How, I’ll never know.

Not sure I want to.

Free-Range also meant free to make friends without playdates! The rules of tag are universal, so the language barrier didn’t matter. My son played Foosball with a United Nations of kids. Freja, a four-year-old from Denmark, spent days with my daughter and any other children they could round up, making sand castles, drawing, or washing the ornate elephant statues. Her parents and I compared notes.

“In Denmark you’d be considered a bad parent in you were too over protective,” they said.

Demark. Thailand. And even Australia, where I grew up: They all believed in letting kids get dirty and run around barefoot. It’s too bad it takes a holiday to give a Canadian kid a taste of childhood.

15 Responses

  1. Of course, even as a kid I never like running around barefoot – I am so glad my parents didn’t make me do that. And I really hope my kids never climb too high in trees, because I would never be able to get them out safely, since I’ve never climbed a tree in my life.
    I liked reading about stuff like that. 🙂

  2. This works on vacations inside the US, too. Or at least it has for me.

    This may be a function of “camping culture.” We don’t stay in tents, but several times we’ve stayed in cabins in state parks, and the kids just wander off into the woods. Usually in small groups. They were supposed to be back for lunch or dinner, and they knew when, and they’d come back breathing heavy and sweating, obviously having fun.

    Beaches have been similar: the kids wander off up and down the beach, and maybe on the boardwalk, though some stores on the boardwalk have big “NO UNACCOMPANIED MINORS” or “NO MORE THAN THREE CHILDREN UNDER 18” signs, since we all know small children are criminals.

    Once you’ve walked through the wilds of the Ozark Mountains and not been eaten by a bear, it’s easier to convince your parents you can walk the three blocks to the park. (Where the main thing that will eat you is mosquitoes.) And easier for your parents to believe it.


  3. This essay makes me sad in a nostolgic, yearnful kind of way.

  4. Aren’t we all less prone to tantrums when there are fewer restrictions put on us? I know I am. And I know my kiddos are too.

    On Friday evenings several families gather at a n’hood playground. The parents sit way far away in the trees drinking a beer (or two, yes at a public park!) and the kids play in a pack totally unwitnessed except by each other. They play together in a pack and don’t dare bring the parents into their mix. It is pure magic. For everyone. Parents and kids alike.

    One week not long ago we had a new family join in. The daughter had a problem with one of the kids and rather than deal with it with the kids, she came over and got her parents involved. Suddenly we were all involved and the free-range bubble was burst and the parents were unhappy and so were all the kids who were used to enjoying their time together and legislating their own issues. We have to let the kids be. Teach them to work things out. Teach them to come up with their own play. Teach them too that in the boredom sometimes comes the great ideas.

  5. I too find that the more freedom (or as I see it, responsibility) they have, the better behaved they are.

    You can achieve that in North America, not just on holiday. It takes work and a hard shell for the comments you get, but it can be done.

  6. That’s it! Let’s all move to Thailand!

    Even in Brooklyn we ran around barefoot when we were kids. Did we get cuts? Yep! A little Mercurochrome and we were back at play. Now we need super-special orthopedic sneakers before we send our little precious snowflakes out into the world.

    I want a time machine to go back to the 1960s and watch all those criminally ignorant parents let their kids be kids.

  7. Re:
    “The crackdown starts as soon as we step back
    on North American soil: “Mind their fingers!” —
    “Where are her shoes?” — “They could get hurt!”
    I wonder why so many people feel compelled to warn others of dangers and rules. Of course busybodies have existed since time began. And a lot of people probably think they’re being helpful. Then, too, there’s the fact that warning somebody is a “social interaction,” — and for certain kinds of personalities “A WARNING” is the first thing they think of … instead of a
    compliment or question.

    Warnings work to keep a societal structure in place.

    Constant warnings that “Other People” are out-of-line may reveal how many linear, non-creative, bean counter personality-types walk among us.

    Related to this is a tendency for people to say no instead of yes when asked certain kinds of questions. (No keeps things “in line” or static, while yes might
    be considered creative, which is scary and uncomfortably open-ended for certain kinds of people.

  8. Thanks Steve for a well put analysis of why some people annoyingly “correct” or “warn” when it comes to others’ kids!

    If there is one thing that gets me “bristling”, its when someone nosily imparts their own opinion about what my kids should or shouldnt be doing!

    You are right, there are many frightened, boring, and annoying people who live among us!

  9. I just saw Andy’s post here and felt I had to respond. I grew up in a mid-size mid-western city. Back when I was a kid, my friends and I would ride the bus to the swimming pool wearing nothing more than a pair of swimming trunks. We ran around the neighborhood usually wearing nothing more than a pair of cut-off jeans in summer. I suppose that anyone could have seen us and kidnapped us or something, but no one ever did.

  10. “they could get hurt” = “we might get sued”

    I don’t think people are overly concerned about your child’s safety so much as they are concerned about their wallets.

  11. I have a little free range etiquette question: how do I tell a parent that I think their kid is doing something dangerous? The example that comes to mind as a kid who is in a shopping cart seat trying to stand up or climb out. If the parent is watching I don’t say anything. If the parent has their eyes on something else, I’m always tempted to blurt out something or even (as has happened) grab the kid to keep him from falling out.

  12. Personally, Brian, if you saw one of my kids precariously climbing a cart and you saw that I wasn’t aware, I would be more than happy with a calm acknowledgment (so as not to send the kid startled over the edge) and even a catch if it looked that serious :D. I hope I would even tell you thank you for it!

  13. I grew up in an extremely over-protective environment, back in the former Soviet Union. But not because it was so dangerous there, but because my Mom was terrified of everything. And now I am just like her. I am in awe of parents who can let go and stop worrying. Even when we are on vacation, my radar is always on, and therefore not much relaxing is going on (at least for me).

    But I want to change, I do. One small step at a time. 🙂

  14. zrtakf,, eldwfxa

  15. I’d have to go along with with you on this. Which is not something I typically do! I enjoy reading a post that will make people think. Also, thanks for allowing me to comment!

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