As we did that weird little luggage dragging shuffle down an always too-narrow aisle exiting the plane, a kind older lady said to me “the kids were so good. We didn’t hear them at all!” I chuckled and said, “Yes, we travel all the time with them. They’re used to this.” Another man, not part of the conversation, overheard and said “It must be nice.” At first, I thought, well, screw you dude, thanks for your borderline mansplainy opinion on MY parenting which has nothing to do with you, with one of my signature eyebrow raises and deep eye roll. But as we left that airplane and airport and arrived at our hotel, we were enveloped by the warm Maui sun and sticky thick perfect sea-salt air, I pushed away the negativity and thought, “It is nice.”
Being able to travel with our kids and knowing they’ll be on their absolute best behavior during a 9-hour flight, is more than nice. It’s something I will never ever let go of or regret. I wouldn’t change a thing. On my deathbed, I imagine I’ll replay the highlights as I fade into the darkness, thankful that I spent my years giving my children the gift of the world.
My husband and I have a wanderlust spirit. We both have a hard time staying in one place for too long. It’s probably why we’ve lasted together these 15 years. We’re wandering kindred spirits. This is includes moving homes four times and traveling as often as we can. We get antsy when we’ve been dormant for too long. And I relish the fact that I’ve found a life partner with the same gnawing desire to see new sights. We’ve passed this wanderlust spirit on to our two children.
On average we take about five trips a year. That is a lot of travel with two kids under the age of 10! These include domestic and international travel. The world in which my husband works requires him to travel a lot and many of those trips have turned into family trips. We kill two birds with one piece of luggage. As I reflect on the trips thus far, I want to share what I’ve learned on these adventures and some introspection on why I believe with my heart of hearts it is nothing but positive.
It Feels Good! For me and my kids. But honestly, it feels really good in my heart when I take them somewhere. I enjoy it. Even all the chaos of packing and airport adventures. I don’t mind any of those stressors. I love taking them somewhere. Anywhere. My heart swells as they take in the sights or confidently wear their cute little backpacks briskly walking through the airport. I know this comes across as super Pintrest-y mom, and sure I’m crafty, but also I say fuck, like, a lot, and Sublime is one of my all time favorite bands. Basically, I call it like I see it when it comes to motherhood and I’m telling you, it makes my Scarlet Begonia sized heart swell. As I stand behind them, watching the ocean waves lick their ankles and droplets splash their faces until they scrunch up with shock and joy, I feel overwhelming peace. As my 9-year-old, clasps his baby brother’s hand, holding tight so his brother doesn’t fall, calmness overcomes me because I know they’ll always be there for each other. These moments of brotherly bonding are setting them up for a bottomless expanse of respect and caring for each other. Memories they’ll pour over as they grow, start their own lives and families, and reminisce as we all head down the inevitable path of growing and aging.
Speaking of doing things, they try new things! On a recent trip, my 9-year-old discovered he LOVES crepes. He’d never tried one before, because usually at home getting them to try new anything is like pulling teeth. But there’s something about the adventurous spirit that travel encourages. We’re somewhere new. Why not try something new while in this new space? There’s some kind of magic fairy dust that is sprinkled across my children as soon as we enter an airport. Suddenly, they’re flexible and aren’t so against trying something new. I don’t question this, I embrace it.
Culture! They have the chance to experience new cultures. This is everything from language to accents to what foods are sold in what stores and countries. It’s different everywhere we go, even within the States. Regions are highly different and you have to learn new things. You have to be open to new ways of functioning. You learn that sometimes people do things differently than you do. And that’s okay, that’s what makes the world an interesting place. For years I’ve told my kids that everyone is different because if we were all the same, the world would be so boring. And as we travel they’re seeing that incredible fact with their own eyes. Hey, maybe mom is on to something?
Adaptability! When my oldest was born I was a schedule stickler. After all, the parenting books told me how important a schedule was. Which resulted in a paralyzing fear of traveling overnight, literally anywhere. I was a wreck if we just spent the night at my in-laws home. When our second came along, I was far wiser. We started traveling with them before my baby was two. And we haven’t looked back! My kids can now hop on a plane anywhere without meltdowns and adjust their wild sleep schedules and nap if they need to wherever they are, they are content sleeping in a bed or pull-out couch. (See above comment from aforementioned strangers!) Our kids just don’t care. And often we roll home at 10pm on a Sunday night and shag their butts outta bed early Monday morning for school. And guess what…..THEY’RE FINE! Sure, we’re all sluggish for maybe two days, but we all recover and bounce back into our daily routine like the bad ass travel bosses we are. None of us really get stuck being upset on those tired-post travel mornings. We kind of settle in and then start planning the next trip right away. They’ve learned that there is no way to completely plan your life. Things happen. Flights are delayed. Your schedule can change without your input. You dont always get as much sleep as you would like but the reward is having one-of-a-kind experiences.
They’re Learning! I’m kind of a hippie when it comes to my kids education. I hate standardized tests. I believe strongly in social-emotional learning being equal to if not more important than memorizing facts simply to score well on an exam. The jobs our children will be doing haven’t even been invented yet, so I want my kids to learn to think outside the classroom walls. My husband is a tech entrepreneur. I’m a freelance writer. We are the kind of people who think if you can dream it and you have a solid plan, then chase your dreams, create something new, shake up the world. That adventurous risk-taker DNA is in our kids bones. And traveling helps supplement all of that. They attend an institution that is aligned with my pedagogy, so they’re getting the kind of education that I envisioned for them when they ARE in those walls. Outside of the walls, it’s my job to reinforce those lessons and ideologies. My method of choice is travel. I create wall-less classrooms. We don’t always lounge on a beach. Although, we DO do that too, cause beaches are the shit! But when we travel we visit museums and parks and castles and historical sights. We’ve wandered cobblestone streets that have hundreds of years of history eroded into their smooth facades. My kids may not think they’re learning, but they are. And they’ll be better humans, global citizens, and adults for it.
Memories! This is a give in. But it’s true. We often reminisce about past trips. And not just my husband and me, but both of our kids. It helps them in conversations with other people. Ours will chime in if they hear someone talking about a place we visited. It doesn’t get much better than your five-year-old being able to have a conversation with an adult acquaintance of yours about their favorite spot in Dublin. Well Bob, if you’re asking me, I say that visiting the Leprechaun Museum is rather worth it. And then you just have the memories that you have. You as a parent, have this impenetrable vault in your head and heart. The visions of them peacefully sleeping on a pull-out couch together, brothers snuggling in a foreign country or city. And foreign doesn’t just mean international. Foreign to children is anything outside of their neighborhood bubble.
Traditions! We’re a serious card-playing family. See my other article discussing that. It didn’t start because of traveling but I would argue it was cemented deeply into our foundation through traveling. What’s easy to pack? A deck of cards. What helps pass evening hours after a day of sightseeing? A deck of cards. What’s a way to have tech-free fun? A deck of…oh you get the point. We also travel every holiday season to Colorado. We have no family that lives there, but it’s our winter destination of choice. We ski, tube, rollercoaster, ice skate, and just enjoy family time for two weeks. My son was writing a mini auto-biographical story recently and added how we go to Aspen every Christmas. He’s aware of and cherishes our travel tradition.
Less Stuff! My kids have far too much shit. So many toys. Toys they haven’t seen in far too long because it’s nestled at the bottom of a blue storage bin, buried under 10 layers of other toys. And birthday season for us starts in September, then the holidays punch us in the face and wallet, and we round out this excessive gift giving season with a birthday in February. It’s insanity. I’m so tired of the junk. I hate giving gifts because it’s just TOO much at this point. No one needs all this crap. And you know what you can give your kids instead of another present that will be tossed under a bed after a couple weeks? Trips. You can take them places, show them the world, give them a gift that will bounce around in their brains forever instead of tossed under the bed until the next donation purge occurs. I enjoying knowing I’ve spent my money on the laughs, the time, the memories, and yes, the sneaky learning. We tell our kids that stuff doesn’t matter, stuff is replaceable, people aren’t and all that matters are people. And with your people you can create the gift of memories that will be cemented in you until you take your very last breath.
Rules Can Be Broken, Sometimes! I spoke above about adapting and this is the fun version of that. Instead of focusing on the fear of doing something different, think of the rules you CAN break. Candy for breakfast? Sure babe, its vacay! An extra pop with dinner? You got it dude! Michelle Tanner thumbs up! Okay, fine, you can sleep with the TV on. We let go of a lot of our day-to-day rules that keep us afloat as humans and a family. And sometimes it’s okay to break the rules. Sometimes it’s fun to break free of your routine. Basically, Treat Yo Self KidzBop version. And we all need to treat ourselves once in a while, what better way to learn that valuable life lesson than through just experiencing it from time to time. It’s natural. It’s just what you do to reset.
Travel will look different for every family. Not every family has a parent that travels to cool places for work or attends a school with a more flexible education philosophy. I get that. I grew up that way. But my parents did take us where they could and so did my husband’s. My vacations looked a lot more like driving-distance midwest fishing and marshmallows around a campfire trips, but I learned to pack six books and sit around, relaxing and reading for days at a time. I tinkered around with writing a novel as a teen. I knew I always wanted to be a writer. One trip, I rowed myself out on a canoe in a small pond and brought my laptop, to try and write the Great American Novel at the age of 17. It started pouring. I scrambled to row ashore and not soak my precious laptop that I knew we couldn’t replace immediately if it did succumb to water damage. I arrived, it survived. And to this day, I pack several books on every trip. I’m currently editing this article before sunrise on a balcony as the ocean sounds dance on my eardrums. Some things never change. Life lessons. Memories. Traditions. All of that is imbedded in me forever.
You have to find the groove that works for your family and your life. But I promise, looking for ways to find how that works for your crew is priceless. And something your kids will one day gift their kids with, if only because: it’s just how we grew up.