Want to Take Your Kids to Far-Off Lands? Start Close to Home
Before having kids, my husband and I drove across the U.S. twice, trekked to Everest Base Camp, cycled through the Pyrenees, surfed in El Salvador, and among other adventures, spent a full summer circumnavigating the globe on foot and in a car. We ate crickets in Mexico and horse in China, devoured buttery croissants in Paris, choked down steaming yak milk tea in Tibet, drank vodka to pass the slow traverse across Russia, and leisurely plucked pieces of sushi from little boats floating around a lazy Susan in Japan. Travel was our foundation, simultaneously reinforcing our independence and helping us to find comfort and faith in our growing partnership.
So naturally, when we began talking about starting a family, we shared fears that our post-kid lives would feel incongruous with our pre-kid adventures. We worried about losing touch with our passions and seeing our identities shift from globe-trotters to diaper-changers. Alongside doing the things that mark the transition to parenthood – buying a crib and learning how to properly install a car seat – we created space in our budget for family travel, and vowed to buck Disney for Damascus as early and as often as possible. We rooted in our belief that spending our hard-earned vacation time in far-off lands was the only way to continue to be, and begin to raise, true citizens of the world.
Now nearly seven years into the post-kids era of our lives, with two kids in tow and a third on the way, we can look each other in the eye and say that we’re holding true to the life we vowed to lead, at least this piece of it. Our kids know how to pack their own bags, navigate customs, and endure long plane flights; and they’re eager to learn how to say “hello” and “thank you” in languages they’ve never heard before. They’re even starting to complain less about eating spicy food, sleeping in the same bed, and walking for hours on end.
Just as we’ve watched our kids adapt, we’ve noticed our own views of the power of travel, the place of travel, and the meaning of travel shifting over time. It used to be all about the trips for us — the more the better. But with kids, more isn’t necessarily better (or realistic). Our kids’ passports only get stamped a few times each year at best, meaning that the real work — the hard work — required to build budding travelers happens in between the trips themselves. It comes with building a traveler’s mindset – and a traveler’s grit – into everyday life.
In the dawn of our time as parents, we’ve learned that building a love of travel starts with building a mindset at home. It’s about filling daily life with exploration, discovery, and a view that the world can feel gloriously big and beautifully small at the same time. It’s about hiking nearby trails to build appreciation for foreign peaks. It’s about talking about a new place on the map before bed, and reading stories that bring other cultures to life (we love Madlenka, Ollie and Moon, and Papa Do You Love Me?, to name a few). It’s about bailing on burgers and going out for biryani. It’s about helping our kids see the sparkle in our own eyes when we have a new adventure, with or without them. It’s about inviting our little ones to be part of our joy, and meeting them where their natural curiosity comes alive. It’s about making the idea of global citizenship cool from the start.
Family travel — in the broadest sense — is about exchange, give and take. This year, we convinced our kids to trek through Laos, and they asked us to try a new route to the park. We floated with them in the Andaman Sea, and they urged us to wade into the Pacific’s frigid waters in our backyard. They challenged us to think differently about being at home, and we showed them that there is a world beyond California. We’ve punctuated their young lives with time in far-off lands, and they’ve reminded us that the spirit of travel doesn’t have to involve planes, trains and automobiles. We’ve expanded our collective view of what it means to be a true traveler.
We’d be kidding ourselves if we said that traveling with kids hasn’t changed our experiences on the road. But without a doubt, at least one thing has stayed the same from the pre-kid era to the post-kid one. The world continues to feel gloriously big, beautifully small, and full of wonder.