Many view travel with children like running out of gas at a busy intersection.
Frustrating, irritating, embarrassing, and you have no one to blame but yourself.
Why bother, they say, believing that travel with children is a prolonged duration of tears, bathroom breaks and meltdowns. Travel with children they contend, will never be that awe inspiring, soul-stirring adventure that it was pre-parenthood.
It is, simply, not worth the effort.
Tots in tow, on the road to Marrakesh can be construed as an act of defiance. You know those parents, the ones who claim parenthood won’t stop their foreign excursions- no siree!- they will continue to do everything they did before they got pregnant. No baby will slow them down or change their travel plans. The baby will just have to adapt. And of course they are wrong, children change you and travel can never be as it was. However, it can be profoundly better in many ways.
Since most of our family vacations have taken us to countries where the culture, food and language are very different from home, our travel has exposed us to a myriad of unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells.
It’s bonded us in ways that I’m sure, would have not occurred, if we had not ventured down the block and around another corner of the world together. With none of the distractions and conveniences of home, you spend time doing things seldom done at your house. Like playing cards, singing crazy made up songs,sharing your youngster’s ear buds to listen together to their favorite playlist. You’re together in sleep – your child open mouthed and deeply dreaming on your chest as the bus bumps along through the night. Together at dawn as your footprints mark the beach first.
And for those who cry “Oh it’s too dangerous or hot for my child “or “the flight is too long or the food too spicy” I’ve found travel makes children more flexible. It expands their food groups. They learn to sleep anywhere and not necessarily in a bed. They learn to amuse themselves. They see breast-feeding is quite a common occurrence outside North America and what pours from a tap isn’t always drinkable. And when mishaps and problems unfold as they can, children look to their parents and it can bring out the best in us. Children as long as they are fed and properly dressed are much tougher than we imagine. They can usually breeze through unexpected delays and travel misadventures – much better than we think.
It also opens us to the kindness of total strangers, like, when we suddenly need a Band-Aid, a washroom, and a shady tree in someone’s front yard. On a particularly bumpy sailing to Isla Mujeres my daughters breakfast made a sudden re-appearance. Kleenex and hankies appeared from all those sitting around us, and even a lollypop to help dry the tears of her first experience of seasickness.
A year later, when she stepped on a sea urchin, a stranger ran back to her room to find her tweezers, so I could carefully pull each painful urchin spine out of her tiny foot. On buses and trains, crackers and cookies are always shared to those who travel with children. Babies are cooed and fussed over to the complete delight of your infant who is getting so much more attention from complete strangers, than he/she ever did back home.
Children become your ambassadors, opening doors and conversations you never would have without them. They are our common thread no matter which time zone you find yourself in. Children connect us to each other. Differences in language and culture disappear when you communicate with smiles and simple offerings like a box of raisins. Yes, you won’t see all the museums you could pre parenthood, or dine in as many fine restaurants as you once did, but you will come to enjoy different perspectives that children provide on the road. You will see every puppy along the way. You will sit on the curb and eat ice cream. Wonder at the smoothness of a river rock and the deep darkness of a jungle night. And slowly as the days unfold your child’s voice often drowned in the pressures and noise of busy family life, becomes audible. Together you will experience the simple pleasure of standing in a downpour and dancing or feel the roughness of a donkey’s mane.
Then there are those who say “why spend all that money, when your children may not even remember the trip”?
“Why not wait till they are older, in their twenties, so they can fully appreciate the experience”?
I believe children need to hit the road early if they are to share in their parent’s wanderlust in adult years. The road nourishes and shapes them just as it did to us.
They may not remember each location as clearly as the pictures record them, but years later when your child can stop in their tracks, grab your arm and say “Mom can you smell that?” It reminds me of Thailand”, I know that the travel experience has been indelibly stamped in their memory. And even if they do give you a blank stare when you mention washing an elephant together, the magic of that moment is not lost because they can’t remember it. Rather it helped fertilize the family ties in ways we cannot always understand or measure.
My daughter has seen the sun rise over Angkor Wat and set on Ha Long Bay. She has been in long boats, river taxis, tuk tuks and bullet trains. She has smelt incense burning in jungle temples, warm spinach pupusas grilling in Belize and the salty sea air on the lonely cliffs of Normandy. She has run barefoot on the beach and released a floating lantern to set sail into the black night sky sparkling like a lone diamond on a long silver chain. And for those brief moments while traveling foreign lands with our children we as parents are transported to their side of the shore. We see the world as they do, innocent and unfettered with a humbling belief that humanity is inherently good, and for those brief days the distance between us melts.
Leigh Morrow operates Casa Mihale in the quaint ocean front community of San Agustinillo, Mexico. Her house can be viewed at www.gosanagustinillo.com
Learn basic words and carry a pocket dictionary if going to a country with a language you are not familiar with. Speaking your own language loudly does not guarantee you will be understood!
Going somewhere with clean drinking water? Pack a reusable water bottle.
You will never wear that second dressy outfit, so stop packing it. Most trips, you won’t even wear the first dressy outfit (but you should still pack that one). Never pack something that you haven’t worn before. Otherwise you’ll find your new shoes too uncomfortable, your new jacket too flimsy, your new underwear too wedgie-prone.
Make photocopies of your passport and leave one with friends and another tucked into your bag. Or, better yet, scan your passport and email a copy to yourself.
Budget hotels almost always offer free wi-fi. Luxury hotels will charge you for it.
Remember to tip! Even at all-inclusives where they have sold you on the concept that ‘gratuities are included’, they have also sold employees on the concept that ‘their low wages will be supplemented with tips.’
Carry a travel journal. When traveling solo find a quiet café in the afternoon and recall your days highlights. When traveling en famille take turns writing in the same book. These become wonderful keepsakes!
Take less pictures! A recent article from Smithsonian Magazine suggests that people who took more photos in a museum remembered less about the paintings they photographed than the people who didn’t take photos.
Ask first, shoot photos later. Many people have preferences over whether they should be photographed, and many others have religious ideas about photography. Being courteous and asking is often the best policy. And NEVER take photographs of children without permission from a parent or guardian!
For a layover over 2 hours purchase a day pass to an Airline Lounge. You can stay out of the hussle and bussle of the airport, get extra assistance, be productive or relax in the quieter atmosphere. Lounges have free WiFi, TV’s, snacks, and drinks, and some have children’s playrooms.