The importance of travel

Setting out for adventure when escalators were the big thrill

In the last couple weeks my husband and I have been slogging through holiday plans. This means looking ahead at the next year, and considering what to do now and what to do later, what we want to do, what we can afford to do.

I always thought I’d be one of those moms who just dragged her children around the world on my whims. I was inspired by the Irish writer Dervla Murphy, who traveled through India with her daughter on a donkey. I was ready to be a daring alternative parent, and my children would be world citizens, open-minded and flexible.

And as with all fantasies, real life intervened. India became out of the question. We did do some international travel with them as little ones because of important family events. I learned several important things.

One: I was and am too old to manage two infants on airplanes, through time zones, seat belts and other country’s car rental procedures. It was worthwhile in retrospect, but I’m not sure it was fun.

A rare, sand-compatible moment

Two: they were too young. B never understood seat belts, and unlike my youth, when I was allowed all over the plane including under the seats, the airline staff were not sympathetic. L. got nervous every time we traveled, couldn’t stand sand all over her body, spend the bulk of the trip missing home and then when we left, spent the following week missing wherever we had been.

Three: Money spent on travel before they have concrete memory is wasted, if what you are trying to give them is memories and a sense of the world. Both girls have actually seen the culturally-vital Track 9 ¾. Do they remember? Not even slightly. Duh, I guess in retrospect, but eager, restless parent that I was, I did it anyway.

It’s been clear that the last few years have become an ideal time to travel for our family – they entertain themselves better, they are interested, they’ll remember and they’ll behave up to a point. And that coincided nicely with our loss of travel funds.

How to handle this? Travel, to me, organically feels like a fundamental parenting obligation (and if I pull it off, a total pleasure). I don’t think my parents had a priority on travel, and neither did their parents. One set of grandparents were grateful to visit the other side of the state, and endlessly marveled as their son grew up to have a globe-trotting business career. The other set traveled widely because my grandfather was in the military and because they loved it. But in terms of kids, they seemed to put more emphasis on believing that all girls should stand correctly, cook well, and learn French.

My parents loved travel, but we didn’t too much, unless it was related to my father’s work or based on going to see family, which was far-flung. But when I was a young woman, they supported me in lots of travel, as I tried to experimented with different ways of living abroad – none of which worked, but I had a good time trying.

And maybe that’s it – travel was so liberating to me. I learned a lot about independence, saw and did amazing (and stupid) things, and found how Americans are both loved and hated in the world.

So I want to start that wanderlust for them.  It feels like I don’t have that many more years before they fly the nest, and I think, if we can, it will make a big difference in their lives. There’s no plan yet because there is no budget, and we may just finally get started with expanding their view of our own country. Our National Parks are treasure enough.

But I am interested in hearing from other parents about this. Do you believe travel is something today’s kids “need” to be good world citizen tomorrow? We’ve got so many obligations to manage – should travel be added to the cart?

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9 Responses to The importance of travel

  1. The last international trip I did with my son was to Poland when he was 11 months old. I was also with my mom who needed two knee replacements. Picture this…me wheeling a 250 pound old lady in a wheelchair while she pushes the stroller ahead of her. It was kind of an invalid train.

    On the way back home a stewardess literally made me cry because I handed her a bag with random garbage, food scraps and a diaper in it. She berated me in front of everyone that I’m disgusting and unsanitary and how dare I give her human waste (it was a pee diaper..not #2) . Anyway, she shoved the whole bag back in my face in my middle seat and told me to dispose of it myself. I mean the whole reason I had this big bag of trash was that I was trapped in the middle seat with 2 people on either side of me. It was humiliating, I was tired, and it just about broke my spirit.

    I still want to take crazy vacations, but my husband is the voice of reason. So we’ve kept flights to the continental US since then…although we’ve been coast to coast since then, multiple times.

    Yes, travel is important. Whenever I ask friends what they most remember about their childhood, just about 100% of them recall some family vacation.

    Travel does not have to be expensive. It can be a weekend at a friend’s house too.

  2. growingmygirls says:

    Oh, what an exhausting, hilarious picture you paint! And how good you are to have taken such good care of your mom.

    And I’m glad and appalled to hear other stories of airline unreasonableness. We traveled home from Cambodia with a six-month-old on two foreign airlines and were met with nothing but smiles, understanding and helpfulness with every squawk and baby-related issue. They even walked her around for us. I know it’s a hot topic and people push boundaries, but….

    And, yes, travel can be inexpensively done. It’s just that now was the time I envisioned really taking them to faraway lands while they were still young enough to enjoy from a child’s perspective and to make those bonds that only children can make.

  3. I believe travel opens kids up to the world and possibilities even if it’s to the next town.

    • growingmygirls says:

      So true, especially in New Mexico! Towns just an hour away are radically different that Santa Fe, and go north or south a few hours and we’re practically on a whole different planet!

  4. ssheers says:

    When my kids were about your kids’ age, we drove around Arizona seeing you in Sedona and then going to Meteor Crater, Canyon de Chelly, Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, and then Phoenix. Good memories. You could do that trip without the time and money that we spent on the airplane flight. In other words, you don’t have to travel far to make good memories for your children.

    • growingmygirls says:

      That was a lovely trip, and yes, I realize there are plenty of ways to do this in a low-budget way. There are just some days when my own urges are to put travel in front of other things like education or paying off the mortgage! We haven’t set up a low-maintenance lifestyle like some people I know, so that all spare funds go directly into travel, and it can be tempting, though getting there feels like it would be like extracting myself from a spider web.

  5. mandmhouse says:

    I know someone who gave each of their sons the opportunity to plan a family trip anywhere in the world as a high school graduation present. I know it’s off in the future for your girls but I think even one spectacular adventure that is (somewhat) self directed would impact a person’s entire life.

  6. growingmygirls says:

    What a great idea!! Ideally, I’d love a huge budget for that, but can see how it can be done in a moderate way. Thank you!

  7. christine says:

    I love this and all the responses. We travel a lot and always have, a benifit to homeschooling. But know that my 16 year old is taking a college course, Micro Economics, at the Community College we are unable to just go. I miss the old days. It is sort of pulling the family apart. I say go while you can. Love the ideas and agree with them all.
    GO anywhere.

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