“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”
This quote is on my mind a lot these days, as we plan our next trip, backpacking around Eastern Europe. Traveling with our kids is one of our life’s greatest “whys.” Our three year old astounds me regularly with just how much he is learning every day. New words, new phrases, new ways of manipulating his parents into getting what he wants (or so he thinks), the way he grasps new concepts – he drags his roasted vegetables across the ketchup on his plate and said “look Amma, I’m Swiffer-ing!” Adorable as he is, he’s a lot to handle at times. Especially when the tantrums and whining hit. Who knew three-year olds were capable of such extremes? Our one year old on the other hand, at this stage, is actually the more challenging one. She has no filter, or any sense of self-preservation as she capitalizes on young toddlerhood, running around everywhere, testing her physical abilities while getting into things she shouldn’t.
I read somewhere recently that the ages between one and three years is the most difficult time to travel with kids. I shared this with my husband and we both laughed nervously as our minds drift to our fifteen hour plane journey looming ahead. Nothing like a good boost of confidence as we get ready to pay a small fortune and board the finest sardine cans on the planet and transport ourselves across the world.
I try to picture some of the places we’ll be staying on our upcoming trip. Self-catering apartments with beautiful yet very breakable objects scattered around, no doubt geared towards twenty-somethings looking to have a memorable holiday. Nothing will be baby-proofed, of course. I brush off a brief moment of hesitation as I wonder if it wouldn’t just be easier to stay home. We’re comfortable at our house, after all. There’s not much baby-proofing needed, for the most part. We won’t have to pack. We can just as easily curl up on our comfy couch and have a family movie night with a movie set somewhere exotic.
Let’s just be totally honest here. Travel is hard. Even for those who are not parents of very little ones.
The juggling documents, the coming and going, the packing, the unpacking, the things getting lost, the sweat, heat and exhaustion, facing challenging situations in an unfamiliar environment. You have to love all that is involved, even though half of it is all of this. Stressful, unexciting logistics, and the unexpected. Standing in line at the airport holding squirming toddlers is no one’s first choice for a good time. So, why do it? Why bother with all of this?
I can’t answer that. But I can tell you why we do it, and why we love it.
As much as we love our couch, and the view our our backyard, we love exploring places. Old familiar places, and new places, but especially new places. Where new discoveries await us. Where we can experience new cultures. Eat new foods. Hear new music. Meet new people and see how they do life.
These places have the power to stay with us through memories. Those memories lift us up when we’re having tough days.
Traveling helps us better understand the world we live in, and its myriad issues, so that when we are in a position to do something to help, we can, because we will have seen and we will know. Traveling makes us care about something beyond the four walls of our home. Traveling gives me perspective, and allows me to see how good I really do have it. Traveling forces me to practice gratitude.
Soon, we’ll be on a plane heading to Prague. Our oldest, now nearly three-and-a-half, kinda gets it. He knows we’re going on an airplane soon, but doesn’t understand the concept of cities, countries or continents. He is slowly starting to understand time zones (thanks to cross-country and cross-globe Skype-sessions with family). He is starting to grasp the fact that people can live and work differently than we do, some people celebrate different holidays, and eat different foods and speak different languages.
Traveling together is one of the ways we lay the groundwork for global awareness, curiosity, tolerance and compassion.
If there are only a few things our kids learn from Ryan and me before they leave home, I hope these will be among them.