When Sophie Roell, her husband Charlie and their three children moved to China, they decided to make the most of their stay. Every time there’s a holiday they try to go on a trip, taking the kids with them. Sophie documents their wonderful adventures in her blog . Here on Pirouette, she shares tips about the best places to visit, as well as great feedback on how to plan for wild adventures with family in toe.

How old are your children? 

Alexander is 6, Izzie is 5 and Natasha just-turned-5.

Family Adventure in China

Where have you travelled so far?

We’ve done a hike along the Great Wall from Gubeikou to Jinshanling and finishing in Simatai, including one-two nights of camping, and a trip out West to Xinjiang: camel-riding and camping in the Taklamakan Desert.

Family Adventure in China

Did you have that type of adventure with your own parents when you or your husband were children?

I don’t know about Charlie but my parents were the adventurous types in terms of where they lived, so my brother was born in Rwanda and I was born in Uruguay.  It’s my father who particularly liked hiking and camping and my childhood was filled with tales of expeditions  — my father climbing in the Ruwenzori Mountains in Central Africa, or my brothers almost getting stranded up a mountain in Switzerland. We normally had the wrong equipment and not enough food or water, but the experiences were generally pretty unforgettable.

Family Adventure in China

Do you think 5 is the minimum age for such voyages of discovery ?

Personally, I like to hike or be active and that can be difficult before age 5. If you’re hiking with young kids you can end up carrying them a lot, which is tiring. What is difficult to tell is if they really are tired, or just don’t feel like walking further. In previous years, we used a lot of chocolate to bribe them to go further — (“If you get to the top of that hill, we can have a snack.” etc etc.). Now they have all turned five or older, not only can they walk quite big distances (possibly further than I myself can!), but they also really enjoy the hiking. We still go with lots of chocolate, but they seem to like the challenge of getting to the top for its own sake.

Family Adventure in China

Were there difficult moments, like the kids being too tired, or sick, or not liking the food?

One of the challenges of this type of trip is that if the kids are still quite small, they cannot carry any equipment. So it’s the parents who have to carry the tent and sleeping bags, and all the food and water for the trip. Charlie is very strong and fit, so he carried the heaviest load, but I still suffered: I  was normally at the back of the group huffing and puffing with my rucksack while the kids ran up happily. I was also the one who got sick on the last day! In terms of food, the kids don’t like Chinese food much, which is always a problem. They end up eating a lot of plain rice or bread, or suffering a bit on our trips.  Fortunately, in Western China the local people eat bread and meat kebabs which the kids love. So they were happier there.

Family Adventure in China

What do you think will be the memories they will keep from these adventures?

I really hope they will remember these trips when they are older, though perhaps for the younger ones it will be very fuzzy. Even if they don’t remember exactly what we did, I hope they will develop a love of being outdoors and hiking and exploring the world, rather than staying home and playing on an iPad!Family Adventure in China

What strengths and skills will they develop through such adventures?

I really hope they will learn easily to get on with people of other cultures, speaking different languages and have a good understanding of how other people live. I hope they will be physically strong and fit, and not scared of trying new things (like riding a camel). I hope more than anything that it will give them a sense of curiosity about the world and encourage them to undertake similar trips when they are older.Family Adventure in China

What were the best moments on the Great Wall of China and in the desert?

My favorite moment on the Great Wall was sitting down in one of the watchtowers on the second night, the place we were going to camp, and reading Harry Potter with them while looking over the beautiful view. My favorite moment in the desert was seeing them running down the sand dunes. They were just having so much fun. I also liked it that the girls got so attached to the camels, giving them names (Daisy, Wild and Rainbow Sparkle) and Izzy announcing that she was going to marry one of them (Daisy). Another wonderful moment was lying under the stars with them, and trying to name the constellations. “Where is the guy with the belt?” Izzy wanted to know as we looked up.

Family Adventure in China

Family Adventure in China