The world is a really, truly big place. Even during the lamest excuse for a “stay-cation”, your eyes should open just a bit to how expansive it is, and how narrow our perspective tends to be. If you are fortunate enough to leave your familiar surroundings and venture into the unknown, your eyes will be peeled back into a full Hollywood diva too-much-plastic-surgery “surprised” look. Perhaps the perfect example is hiking; how often do you top a ridge, only to find that it was merely a foothill that was obscuring the truly majestic peak beyond?
I’ve been blogging to share my small steps into the greater world, and perhaps a unique aspect of my travels has been the particular baggage I bring along- namely, my children. It has been exciting to see the world through my own eyes, but even more so through theirs. I hope that expanding their horizons will give them a head start on the life lessons it took me a few decades to learn.
I usually plan a vacation in a fit of mania, drawing up grand plans and optimistic itineraries. Children are the travel equivalent of a sea anchor; yes, they slow you down, but that helps parents with a wandering mind to focus on what’s essential. For example, an itinerary without kids might include a half day of museums, an afternoon of walking through a shopping district, dinner at a well-recommended local restaurant, followed by an evening frolicking with trust-funders. The same vacation with kids might include an hour or two at the most interesting museum, a casual lunch (read: someplace that serves pizza), followed by an afternoon at a nature park. Dinner might be at the hotel, with an evening drink on the hotel rooftop while they watch a movie in their room. There isn’t a drastic difference, but the goals have to be scaled back a little.
However, I think that we probably do more “fun” and spontaneous stuff with the kids than we would alone. For example, stopping at an amusement park in Oslo:
And whatever this moment was in the Athens airport:
Everyone gets tired when traveling, but kids can be remarkably resilient; just make sure the iPads stay charged, and the kids will keep going long after mom and dad’s batteries are drained.
The most satisfying moments are when we don’t have to build enthusiasm for them; when they yearn to venture out and explore, and are excited by what’s around the next bend.
Enthusiasm is infectious though, so I suspect that a large part of a child’s enjoyment of the world is a reflection of the parents. If the grown-ups are enjoying the moment (even if it means standing in the rain waiting for a ferry), then the kids are likely to adopt the same attitude.
Of course, they will always be honest. When the fish market in Muscat smelled like a building full of day-old fish, my kids were not impressed…
We have to allow more time for just playing, and that is a good thing. Maybe the most important thing.
Its fun to see them get excited about new experiences, and even catch the photography bug:
The second image was actually part of a story much cooler than you would expect. We had returned to a great little hole-in-the-wall pizza place in Bergen, Norway, and the owner took pity on our rain-drenched and pathetic looking herd. It probably helped that we had tipped well the day before. Whatever the reason, he brought us upstairs (which was half storage for the restaurant, half apartment where he obviously lived with his family). He was very interested to hear about our experiences in the Middle East, as he was a refugee from the region. It meant a lot to him to be seen as a person with a culture, a heritage, and a family that he was struggling to provide for. The pizza was great, but the story was even more memorable. Without the kids, my wife and I would’ve probably had much more pretentious food without the human connection.
Don’t misunderstand me, we do make our kids try all sorts of uncomfortable food. Vegetables of every shade of green, strange soups with unnameable things floating in the murky depths, and many other non-chicken-nugget food groups. Sometimes it works, sometimes they revolt.
Children have a fresh perspective on life, and given the opportunity they can surprise you with their insight and appreciation for the beauty that can easily be missed.
“Not another old church! It looks just like the last one!”
Or, “Yeah, whatever, I’d rather be playing on my iPad than sitting on this ancient sea wall”
All in all, traveling with children can be worth the effort. Usually. It helps if the place you are visiting has plenty of partially-tamed animals and you don’t mind taking the small risk of rabies:
Traveling with the people you care most about is the most rewarding, and I hope when I’m old they’ll lead me along a forest trail somewhere and let me share some of their wonder and enthusiasm again.