I love to travel. I don’t always love traveling with kids. Sure, watching them enjoy the view over Paris or the New York skyline is cool. When they try a crazy new food or join in a Greek folk dance at a taverna are good moments. But along with the many happy moments come a whole lot of aggravations too.
It's hard enough to pack for just me, let alone several more people. Arriving at the same time as a high school band to check into a hotel is never okay and pure purgatory with tired and whiny children. Same with security lines at airports. And let's not even talk about travel delays leading to 3am arrivals. Even when plans go swimmingly, I still don’t get to do some of the things I really want to do. I'm probably not going to get to see that new art museum or try that super cool foodie walking tour I have heard so much about. I will likely be spending a whole lot more time at a park or playground, rising early, and struggling with that car seat.
So why do I do it?
Reason One: Because the lessons learned while traveling are important. These are lessons that I don’t think can be learned any other way. I’m not talking about museums and zoos and architectural wonders. (I feel like sooner rather than later, virtual reality tours of all the big tourist sights will be routine). It’s the small, everyday stuff of organizing a life and realizing that the way we do it is not the only way. There are other candy bars besides Hershey (some even better). Not everybody eats cereal for breakfast, or their idea of cereal won’t involve anything with marshmallows or day-glow colors. Dinner can start at 9pm and go until 11pm and that can be fine. Kids can go home from school for lunch and then go back everyday. By themselves. You can even drive on the completely opposite side of the road and still have drive-through windows. (That was my niece’s big question when in Britain. Out of all the possible differences she could fixate on, that was the one she was most concerned about.)
It may seem like these are minor details but they are big details to a child. And using details that matter to a kid helps them see that what they take for granted as “normal” is not the same for everyone. And sometimes, the “other” is a better idea/ way than ours. And sometimes it’s not. Realizing that there is not just one way to get through life and be happy is a big idea for kids, and you have to leave what you know to really understand it. Nothing takes you out of your comfort zone and into someone else’s like traveling does.
Reason Two: Because learning to "let go" is also important, and this is something I can practice with the kiddos. Traveling inevitably puts you at the mercy of someone else’s schedule- planes, opening hours, traffic, etc. Things that you have no control over will go wrong. Learning to deal with adversity with grace and to problem solve on the fly are valuable life skills. I am not always very good at letting go of what I want to happen and dealing with what is actually happening. So this is something I can work on too.
And One Day….
Putting up with all those aggravations will pay off, I promise. One day, you will realize that your kids are comfortable and confident in their ability to navigate somewhere they have never been before, that they know how to communicate with people that don’t speak their language, and that they don’t let small setbacks change their goals. A mentality that benefits them in everyday life as well as travel.
And, one day, your niece will turn to you as you are pouting on the plane because you were bumped out of your nice, economy plus seats to the last row by the toilets. She will tell you that it will be okay, that you’ll still get there in the end, and isn’t that really the point? So one day, you will see that they are now the ones with something to teach you.