Yes, it’s difficult; but what isn’t? Yes, it’s not what it used to be; but what else is new since you became a parent? Yes, you have to pack half your house; but do it anyway. Travel with your children. Travel while they’re small and programmed to explore and discover. Travel far and wide and for a long time. Even travel to hard places (i.e. beyond Epcot Center and the in-laws’ house for the holidays, even beyond your borders). Travel for your kids, for the profound experiences that come with travel, for the memories (even pre-memories), for a taste of the sheer breadth of difference that coexists upon this planet. And travel for yourself, for the pleasure, for the challenge, for the rare delight of seeing the world vicariously through a child’s eyes.
My argument is not so far off the argument for taking children to restaurants. You had a kid and suddenly white table cloths were out of the question, in part because you knew said kid would tie-dye that tablecloth with marinara, but your main reason was that you didn’t think you’d have time to finish—let alone savor—that bottle of wine. Particularly with that table next to you glowering at you because they left their kids home with a sitter. But this doesn’t mean that you have to always leave your kids behind.
With time, you adapt. You find places that work—even places without slides and inflatable jumpers—places you can enjoy with your kids: the hip wood-oven pizza place that’s noisy anyway, the cafe where you used to waste away entire weekend mornings reading the paper happens to have an array of windows overlooking a steady flow of entertainment for your vehicle-obsessed toddler. Sure, you have to leave a super-big tip because of the state of the floor afterwards, but this is an investment: with practice, your kids learn how to eat in restaurants, learn how to order and stay in their chairs and use the napkin correctly. And not just because you say so, but because they see everyone around them. This is an investment in being able to enjoy eating out: again, for you; for the first time, for your kids.
The same goes for travel. Only better, because your child can actually enhance the experience, instilling it with a sense of wonder and creating real moments of human contact across so-often impenetrable cultural lines.
Catrinas, Day of the Dead, Mexico
I suppose it goes without saying that travel with kids is inherently an adventure, whether or not your trip qualifies as “adventure travel.” It requires stamina and creativity and supreme flexibility. But there is a pay-off to the extra work hauling all that extra baggage. Not only do your children experience a literal widening of their horizons as they experience places and encounter people different from those to which they are accustomed, but you have the benefit of seeing new places through a child’s eyes, a perspective that will shift, if not widen, your horizon too.
Monarch butterflies at Cerro Pelon, Mexico
Of course, travel with kids takes you to different places than pre-kid travel, or forces you to experience the old places in new ways. Forget sitting in a Paris café all the live-long day; your kid simply won’t tolerate that. Or six hours in the Louvre either. And forget climbing those narrow stairs into the duomo of Saint Peter’s. No, you have to go to where the little boats are sailing, to where the pigeons are begging for bread, to where the children of that place come out to play. For all the things you might have done before that aren’t so feasible with a child or two in tow (salsa dancing all night, or lying delirious in soft sand), there are as many new ways to experience place, and culture, and landscape.
In many places, children can be your ticket into a deeper experience. Compare strolling through a broad plaza admiring fountains and a baroque cathedral and all that local color to watching as your child blows bubbles with other children, joins an old man feeding pigeons, drops a coin in a beggar’s cup, falls in love with the fairy who freezes until a coin falls in her tin bowl and wakes her for a dance. Granted, you are the observer in either case, but children aren’t ever observers. Children live in the moment, wherever they are in the world. And they can bring you with them.
If you bring them along. Which, I admit, isn’t easy. But they aren’t the only ones who get better with practice. You will too. And the reward—a return to freedom, not from parenting, but as a family—is the world itself.
Plaza de Armas, Morelia, Mexico