If you have not guessed already, I live for my trips. Since the days we could, my husband and I have always taken whatever points we had, adding on to work or school travel to experience the magic of new places ranging from Paris to Penang, Hawaii to Hong Kong, Singapore to San Diego…..all done on bare minimum budgets, but done nevertheless.
So, when we had kids, curbing our travel did not even cross our minds. Instead, a choice to get bumped on a trip to Paris when I was pregnant, resulted in enough airline dollars to subsidize a trip to Amsterdam when our little one was barely five months old. Several months later, a family wedding found us making a trip to India…with our kid screaming the plane down at landing due to severe ear pain. That should have taught us a lesson, to maybe wait till the kids were older to take trips. Instead, we reasoned differently….what is 10 minutes of screaming in a trip that lasted over 18 hours? Not much, and if that was the worst we had to endure, we would just take our chances. And off we trotted to destinations near and far, sometimes with incredibly supportive infrastructure and at other times with people glaring us down like we had no business traveling.
Early on, we learned one secret to traveling with kids, travel light, rely on local sources of food and entertainment and do not look like you are taking your kids room on wheels for company. Sure we had to scramble in the Netherlands for baby formula without reading dutch, find medicine for an ear infection in Phuket , etc….but the interesting thing is we knew we could manage, the kids could survive and with this confidence we marched on.
Fast forward many years and trips later, and our kids tell us that our biggest gift to them has been the exposure to so much at a young age. A few years ago, my sixth grader opined happily that she felt good experiencing four great civilizations that were being discussed in history class. My ninth grader at that time was so deeply touched by her visit to Tibet that it formed the foundation of her college essays many years later. Besides being the “cool” ones in school because of their travels, the real benefits according to them have been the joys of visiting a new place, learning more about the world around them, appreciating people, foods, languages, signage, ads, cultures and most importantly to have a voice based on experience. Henry Miller once said, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” And for the kids, their trips made them view so many things in a new light.
– Roaming freely in Cairo and Alexandria months before the Arab Spring and then seeing all the protests and arrests and deaths on TV hit a new note of reality.
– The ability to tread in the Dalai Lama’s Summer and Winter Palaces as foreigners, and recognizing that the Tibetan leader could not be a visitor to his own homes
– Being on the beaches of Chennai and Phuket months before the Tsunami and knowing first hand of the damaged areas
– Reading about an earthquake in Hawaii, soon after we left….the list could go on and on.
The younger one waits for Time magazine every Saturday to catch up on world events and the older one just like us starts her day with visits to a plethora of websites to get the news of the day from not just the CNN perspective, but a multifaceted one. Of course, they could have always become curious individuals, but we do believe that the trips that they have taken have promoted a level of growth and maturity that no book or education by itself could provide.
So, our little words of wisdom to parents out there, get out with your kids. It does not have to be exotic….just some place that is just a tad bit different, with people who bring a new perspective to sow that little seed of curiosity that you can nurture over a lifetime.