I love to write about our family travels, because I want people to
know that your life as a traveler doesn't have to end when you give
birth. I used to think that traveling with a child would be like some kind of medieval torture, and felt sorry for people on planes who lugged forty or fifty pounds of gear along to serve one twenty pound child. Frank and I went around the world before Alex was born, and though we enjoyed traveling, we didn't know how much we were missing.
Children open a whole world of kindness from strangers that you might not experience traveling on your own. They also open your eyes to see things you might miss, the small nuances of how life differs in a foreign place, and how much it is the same. I watch more closely how people interact with their children and how they treat a stranger's child. Those interactions speaks volume about a culture and about the hope we have for the future.
We have experienced neighborhood parks in Japan and Argentina, and met other children on swings and slides and contraptions we could not imagine seeing in the US. We have met kids in pre-school in China learning English and writing Chinese characters at age 3 and 4. Though we were grateful for our play-based, child-centered laboratory school that let Alex make his own choices, we marveled at how disciplined the kids were. We met kids in Easter Island and Scotland playing soccer, who welcomed our boy who was younger and about half their size, taught him how to play and a few ball tricks, and smiled for the camera. We met teens atop a mountain in Chile and in Tienenman Square, who wanted to just practice English with us, and were grateful for their openness, kindness, and hospitality. Although we faced challenges from time to time, these memories stand out as ones we cherish, the memories of kids who extended their hands and their hearts in friendship to strangers from America.
Having Alex with us has given traveling a new depth and richness of experience. I love the look on his face when some new experience or taste or texture of life presents itself...It makes the journey so much more worthwhile to see it and know that my husband and son are seeing and tasting and feeling the same things.
I think that traveling has been good for Alex, socially, mentally, and physically. Alex has traveled to twenty-one countries and eaten the dirt of five continents, which Frank credits for why Alex is rarely sick. He's an outgoing boy, not at all afraid of introducing himself to strangers, absorbs phrases of other languages like "please" and "thank you" quickly, and sees other kids as opportunities to make new friends, regardless of their age or race or language.
If you're thinking about taking a trip abroad with your kids, I recommend the Travel for Kids website. It includes a number of "insider tips" on making the most of your trip, and even includes an article on traveling with an infant that I wrote a couple of years ago. If traveling abroad is not in your plans or budget, check out the book recommendations in each section for some great stories and references on other cultures. When I was a kid, I traveled the world through books and imagination, and your child might enjoy that as well. Happy travels!
Photo: Alex atop the ruins of Leptis Magna, Libya taken by Frank, March 2006.