We’ve traveled with our kids since they were specks. Their first passport pictures are hilarious—Child #1 at four months old, sporting onesie pjs covered in red hearts and one giant, crazy hairdo (Our kids were born and will likely die with giant, crazy hairdos because of the whole apples/trees thing). Her first international trip was to Italy, which was a wonderful trip and memorable in many ways, one of which was the epic lightning storm in Tuscany that struck so close to where we lay quivering in our bed, it lit up our skeletons like a heavenly x-ray. The simultaneous thunder sounded like two planets were colliding on our patio, in Memorex. Maybe louder. If you’ve ever been that close to lightning, you’re nodding your head right now. I accepted death as our most likely outcome.
Child #2 was born in the US but at five weeks of age, we tucked her into the bassinet on a flight to Shanghai, China, where we lived at the time. Ah, the airplane bassinet, which at first glance looks to be a friend but whose restrictions indicate otherwise. Because a friend will relieve your arms from 12 hours of hefting a child, but a non-friend will require you to take your child back during turbulence, defined as any miniscule bump your plane might encounter every twenty minutes and typically occurring right after your child has finally fallen asleep in the bassinet.
Child #3 was born in Shanghai looking fresh off a Tyson fight in the birth canal (a loss). At three days old, we held her head up for her passport photo. #3 was colicky as all get-out. We cradled her, bounced her, rocked her, all night, every night, to no avail. Day and night we paced the creaking wooden floors of our Shanghai lane house with her, trying not to step on the slug family who squatted in our living room (“Freeloaders!” I grumbled as I paced by the gastropods, but they ignored me and continued to slime around on my rug, those jerks). On her eight week birthday we flew with her and her sisters to Phuket, Thailand where she miraculously slept for more than 20 minutes at a stretch. I swore it was the travel that cured her; it cured us all. Getting out of the house as the walls closed in on us in the dead of winter, drinking tea from someone else’s cup, pacing on someone else’s rug—these things were transformative. Twelve weeks post-birth we escaped again, this time to Boracay, Philippines, for a break from the Chinese New Year fireworks (If you’ll remember from this post, this was the trip where I stomped my foot and crossed my arms and set my jaw and declared that fear of heights wasn’t a thing and I should definitely try parasailing. My big takeaway—irrational fears will sometimes take more than a petulant, impetuous, sleep-deprived decision to overcome.).
I’ve just given you a lot of personal information but please take it as background for my over-arching message: travel has saved me. It’s almost killed me too, but moreover it has saved me. It has brought me joy and adventure and memories and experiences I could never predict, some of which I would never want to predict. And now that my kids are older, I witness all of this in their faces when we travel. On our most recent trip to Mexico, my kids met a man selling delicious ceviche tostadas for 50 cents. He was decent and kind and had a ripped old curtain for a front door. They learned that bus drivers aren’t rich even though they accept fares from passengers all day. They saw that to some, showers are a luxury, and clothes don’t have to be new or even clean to be wearable. They witnessed that sometimes people rip you off because it’s easy, and they’re trying to survive. Ripping off is not okay but survival is an instinct, and sometimes an inflated taxi ride or a crooked cop is what that looks like. So be aware and when possible, appear less rip-off-able.
In much of the world, colicky children don’t even register on the problem radar and neither do slugs on your carpet or nearby lightning. Turbulence is part of life, but not the kind we’re talking about here. Their bumps are more fundamental, their issues much less first-world-ish than many of ours. Travel is a great reminder that we live in a giant world full of people who don’t have deodorant or Venus razors or Adidas anything or Instagram, but their place on this planet is equally important; their value is equal to ours.
These lessons are nearly impossible to learn in a classroom. We need to see them, taste them, and even smell them to believe and appreciate them. To maximize impact, these messages are best consumed raw, and by raw I mean while traveling. So go. Make memories. Take your kids. You can thank me later.