Traveling for Growth Instead of Escape
Travel can be an escape. Travel can be your life. Travel can change your life.
It can be all of those things at different points within a lifetime, but it can't serve all of those purposes simultaneously.
We’ve spent a few years, maybe more than a few years, often skimming the surface of what travel can offer. The reason isn’t surprising; we’ve had more than enough on our plates at home. Having our girls was hard. Caring for them as infants drove us right up to the edge. There was a morning after our second daughter was just a few weeks old, screaming through the night, when Josh was found by my parents with his head in his hands, tears on his cheeks, sitting on their porch by himself just two streets away from our home. I doubt that was his intended destination when he walked out of the house needing just a few minutes of silence, but that is where his feet took him. It was a captured moment in time that represents how we were so very tired we couldn’t think, and we were realizing that we were reliving the trauma of screams and exhaustion from our first daughter’s first year all over again. Everyone said it would be easier the second time, and everyone was wrong. So very wrong.
There are far worst tragedies in the world than having infants who simply do not sleep and who cry and cry and cry despite all of your efforts, but there are far easier ways to live, too. Being unable to console your baby, not sleeping nearly enough for weeks or months, and the isolation, blame, doubt, frustration, and despair that can absolutely accompany that situation makes the world feel dark. Our indoctrination into the world of parenthood was trial by fire, and just as that fire was under control and the trees were growing back from the ashes, we decided to have our second beautiful daughter and lit the flames up even larger than before. I had my own low moments that looked much like Josh’s, or perhaps even more desperate for anything that resembled normal rest and balance.
Add in job changes, economic uncertainty, real health scares, and life’s bouquet of other challenges and surprises, and travel didn’t need to be something hard, stressful, challenging, or trying. No, for us, travel needed to be comfortable, rejuvenating, comfortable, restful, and essentially an escape. Miles and points made that easy. There was attainable first class seats, pampering, resorts we otherwise couldn’t have afforded, lounges, suites, and beautiful places to see and experience while simply breathing from one breath to the next. That’s really all we had to give at times, just breath.
There’s nothing wrong with that. That is what we needed travel to be for ourselves and also our kids. I imagine that is what a lot of people need from travel, especially at the more stressful points that life inevitably brings. You can love your life and your family at home and still need a beautiful spot to escape from it all. Not everyone has that luxury, of course, but if that is an option on the table, I think it is more than reasonable to take it.
But as I fly home from another beautiful brief escape to a resort island paradise, I’m watching a documentary on Steven Spielberg thanks to the magic of in-flight entertainment. As that documentary tells the story of him transitioning from telling somewhat lighter stories such as ET and Indiana Jones to deeper films such as Schindlers’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and Munich, I realize that we’re approaching a turning point in our travel, too. I'm clearly no Spielberg, but that sort of transition is one that I think translates to lots of people and situations.
Life is not always easy at home, but we aren’t currently living in the midst of fear, chaos, and sleep deprivation in the way we were in some previous years...at least not most days. We aren’t walking as tight of a tightrope dangling over an endless pit of exhaustion with trips serving as the platforms to reach between high wire sprints. Simultaneously, our oldest daughter is already halfway through second grade, devouring books that I thought we wouldn’t get to for a few more years, and only getting more and more aware of herself, the world, and her inherent privileges and responsibilities in it.
To serve its full purpose, I think at some point travel needs to challenge us. I don’t mean in the way that tight connections, flying with squirmy toddlers, or jetlag can be a challenge. I mean in the way that you see, smell, feel, and taste things that make you uncomfortable and open your eyes. I love opening my eyes to high-quality sheets, a perfect view, included breakfast as far as the eye can see, and an awaiting infinity pool, but there’s a time and a place for that sort of travel, and for also for the kind of travel that teaches us in ways that a resort or theme park never could.
In the coming years, our oldest daughter will be studying the horrors described in Schindler’s List, in slavery, of world wars, colonization and the dark side that comes along with all of that and so much more.
I don’t want her to go to places and see, touch, and smell things related to these events simply to have a deeper understanding of them or have a photo for a school project, though that is part of it as history can teach a more relevant lesson if you understand it isn’t just something that happened in a book. Instead, I also want her to also learn about the resilience from the horrors, to smell the flowers that now grow where death once prevailed, hear the people that still sing, experience the ways life found a way to proceed, and see first-hand how good can win in so many different ways and in so many different places and faces.
The lessons of how people are the same more than they are different, and how a continent or two away isn’t really all that far can be touched on with all types of travel, but those lessons can be imprinted when travel goes a little bit deeper than just surface exploration.
Let's be real, we still have a two year old and won’t be making a dramatic shift in how we travel overnight, or ever completely turn our backs on comfortable travel that serves as an escape and creates a communally shared smile and happy memory, but I feel the time coming soon that our travel will sometimes start to take on a deeper purpose with a little more meaning. I’m excited for when that day dawns. I’m excited for my girls, and my family, but also for myself. For good reason, I've put that side of travel on hold for many years, but I want it back. I want to travel more for growth than escape.
I love sharing our stories and helping families find the resorts, cities, activities, and hotels that will serve as a good base for building happy memories, but if I can take that a step further and also tell stories that might inspire others to take a trip that will challenge or even change their lives, then that is a direction I can’t wait to explore, too.
I know I'm not the first parent to live through the cycle of life with small children and experience all of the highs and lows that came along with it, so I'd love to hear the story of how the purpose of travel has evolved as your family grew.