Everyone Told Me My Traveling Days Were Over Once I Had Kids, But They Were Wrong
It’s no question that being a parent is an incredibly joyful and rewarding experience, even with all the challenges that come from raising two spirited toddlers. My days are filled with all types of craziness as my only form of exercise has become chasing these balls of endless energy around all day (okay, I’m lying, I do try to squeeze in some "me time” and take a barre class when I can). Aside from the love I share for my children, my first passion is one I hold near and dear to my heart — my undying love of travel.
I fell madly in love with the points and miles game sometime in 2010, which only added to my incurable case of wanderlust, and I haven’t stopped since. I remember the “golden days” of award travel like it was yesterday — ridiculous mistake fares, the rush I got when booking and taking a trip on a whim, mileage-running, chasing after that elusive elite status and everything in between. Looking back, the fact that I once took 90 flights in one year (while pregnant the majority of the time), still remains my favorite cocktail-hour conversation starter today. 2013 was the most travel-filled and exciting year of my life. While it all seemed like rainbows and butterflies, I also vividly remember the day I vowed to never mileage-run again. If you know anything at all about pregnancy, let’s just say the smell of the galley as the food was heating up — you know exactly the smell I’m describing — made my stomach churn sometime after flight #42.
As most pregnant women can relate though, as soon as I broke the news of my pregnancy, I was bombarded with all types of friendly “advice." Whether it be friends, family, my hairdresser or even women behind me in line at the grocery store, everyone always wanted to chime in with in their two cents and offer parenting tips that often stemmed from good intentions. Some even took it upon themselves to tell me my traveling days were over, while others actually went so far as to tell me my life was over. As you can imagine, those comments were about as discouraging as hearing it’s impossible to get back in shape again after delivering a child (which, by the way, was the second-most heard comment in my case). Let’s just say that if I had a mile for every time someone told me it was time to kiss my passport goodbye once I had kids, I’d be a million-miler in the program of my choice. But deep down, I knew it wasn’t the end.
It’s Challenging, But Not as Dreadful As You Think
I’m not going to candy-coat it and say that traveling with babies or young children is easy; in fact, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s darn right tiring and frustrating sometimes — 15-minute in-flight toddler meltdowns take two days off of your life, according to an independent-study done by me.
I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t initially intimidated by the idea of traveling with my son, and ultimately we waited until he was a big ol’ four months old before taking him to Florida for the weekend. It’s safe to say that experience was much easier than I'd anticipated, so I took my second child on a plane at the ripe age of three weeks; this time, we jumped right onto a six-hour flight to California.
Now that my kids have been on dozens of flights and have frequent flyer accounts of their own, when parents ask how I do it, I frankly don’t have a magic answer or secret formula. While the world may make it seem like it’s a scary thing to just pick up and go somewhere with young children, it’s important to remember that with anything in life, how enjoyable things are with your children has a lot to do with the mindset you have as a parent.
Too often, we'll hear things like “Is it even worth it to travel when the kids are too young to remember?” or “I’ll just wait until the kids are older, when it’s easier and they’ll at least appreciate the places we take them." Sadly, that’s a lot of waiting. Despite the perception that it’s difficult to travel with young children, who knows what it will be like when they’re older and have school and extracurricular commitments keeping them on the ground. And if you’re waiting for the “perfect moment," that doesn’t exist. If the will is there, even just a tiny sprinkle of inspiration, just go for it. Never forget how simple it is to just live the life you want to live.
With 100% certainty, I will candidly say that you can have the best of both worlds, but you must accept the fact that the experience will be different. Am I going to stay out until sunrise in Istanbul, wake up in the Presidential Suite at the Grand Hyatt that my friends and I were upgraded to while simultaneously discovering that we’d also booked tickets to Rio de Janeiro during a mistake fare that surfaced sometime between happy hour at the Club Lounge and the walk to the bar? No. Frankly, my body hurts just thinking about that trip. However, I have no shame in saying I happily go to bed at 8:00pm exhausted, but reflecting back on how much fun it was making memories with my family after a full day in the sun and sand with my beach-bum kiddos.
Frequent Travel is Part of Our Lives
Just like I dedicated the time it took to understand the nooks and crannies of award travel and to fully make it a lifestyle, I put in the effort it required to make travel a top priority for my family. Traveling with my kids early on exposed them to a new normal, making them more adaptable to new environments and showing them that there is not a single way of doing things in this world. They’re fascinated by the littlest things, are relatively-inexpensive traveling companions — embrace the lap-child days — and best of all, they're flexible and resilient. Just try having a picky-eater when a giant octopus graces your table at Greek taverna in Crete.
Traveling has always been second nature to my kids from very early on, and it warms my heart seeing how excited and blissfully-happy they are on travel days. Airplanes, hotels and seeing new places are very much part of our everyday life as a family. Let’s not forget that the earlier you start, the quicker they become expert travelers. When kids are used to being on the road, they learn early on what to expect and how to behave properly. But still, let’s be realistic — I don’t have these golden-goose-egg children that people love to say they have — meltdowns are inevitable from time to time, but we survive them and life goes on. While we still cherish our time at home, spending time at the playground and having playdates with other children, we truly look forward to exploring the world together.
Traveling Offers an Unparalleled Education
As they say, the best stories are often told between the pages of a passport, and traveling offers children an education that simply cannot be matched. Of course it’s unrealistic to assume that children will remember every single detail of a trip at such a young age, but don’t underestimate the benefits traveling will have on them — I can assure you they will absolutely remember how they felt during the experience, the strong bond they felt with their family, and how special it was creating such lasting emotional impressions.
Traveling also gives you the opportunity to teach young children important life lessons, some that even some adults still need to learn. Children are very curious creatures and have an innocence and tolerance for others — just seeing my own kids interact with other children and embrace different cultures automatically gives everyone a more authentic travel experience. When they have the understanding that different people speak different languages in different places at an early age stimulates open-mindedness they will carry with them for the rest of their lives — not to mention, it's really cute when they start trying to use new words, too.
I’ll never forget the time my children had a blast playing hide and seek with a little Italian boy in the piazza of Oristano, Sardinia. Seeing the kids giggle and chase each other while not speaking a single word of the same language simply proved that there was no barrier at all between them. Travel allows their curious minds to stay stimulated within new surroundings, all while letting them gain confidence, learn to have patience and grow up with a love for all things adventure.
You’re a Better Person When You Take Care of Yourself
Some may claim it’s selfish to take young kids around the world, but all parents make tremendous sacrifices for their kids on an ongoing basis — it’s so easy to get caught up with caring for others that we will often put ourselves and our own interests on the back burner in order to tend to the needs of our little ones. While it’s never a bad thing to care for your family, you shouldn’t necessarily let go of your own identity and stop doing the things that make you happy either.
Traveling has always been important to me, so the thought of giving it up entirely to start a family just didn’t seem like an attractive deal to me. As with eating well, taking care of my health and learning new skills, I know traveling enhances my overall well-being. I know for a fact that I am a less cranky better mom when I take some time to care for myself. I thrive on traveling, and instead of letting that part of me go, sharing my passion with my kids is the greatest gift I can give them.
While it may not always be so easy to continue to live the globetrotter lifestyle once there are kids in the picture, it is oh-so-rewarding. Try to think of your new challenge as way to grow as a parent, too. I made the commitment to continue traveling with my children because I hope that one day it can give all of us a broader understanding of the world we live in. Traveling with my little ones also lets me see the world again through a new set of eyes, and allows me to let loose, be playful and totally present in the moment with them. Experiences like these are priceless.
Continuing to do things that make me happy since becoming a mom will hopefully remind my children (especially my daughter) that it's still possible to have it all once you start a family. I recently came across a thought-provoking quote: "You only have 18 summers with your children, so make them count." Even if you're the type of family that can only commit to one trip a year with the kids, go for it. You’ll never know if traveling is right for your family until you try it. Even if you don’t even have kids yet, when somebody tells you to get your traveling in now because those days are over once you have kids, just think about the thousands of families who have continued to travel together over the years. And trust me, there are a lot of them.
While some people will make excuses to put life on hold (with or without kids), it's usually always a good thing to step out of your comfort zone and pursue your dreams. Because “Hmmm, I wish I traveled less," said no one ever.
What are your thoughts? Do you have kids and still travel? Please feel free to share some of your insights as well.
All images courtesy of the author.