I met my husband in graduate school, and it was very apparent early on that we were made for each other. I had recently spent a month in Jamaica doing research. He had recently spent a month in Thailand back-packing, and so we moved in together and decided to spend a month exploring Guatemala. A trip like that either leads to marriage or the desire to part at the airport and never see each other again. Fortunately for us, we worked well together on and off the road. We were married two years later.
We spent the next few years soaking up whatever travel might come our way, at home or abroad. It was a fantastic time when we were footloose and fancy-free. In the spring of 2003, we became pregnant with our first child and immediately began receiving advice from others, “You two will have to slow down on some of that traveling you’re doing now that you’re going to have a little one around!”
We were terrified. Everyone went on and on about how everything changes when you have kids. Were we ready for everything to change? Would we ever be able to travel to exotic locations again? Could we still be footloose and fancy-free as we always had? In the end we decided definitively, everyone else was wrong. And we would prove it. We started by taking our 12-week-old baby to London for four sleepless days.
For most Americans, family vacations occur as one week out of the year, often during the summer, where the entire family crams into a mini-van for 18 hours to drive to Disney for four days, then crams back into the mini-van for the hellish return trip of 21 hours, or so. Or Mom and Dad decide to go to Paris alone for seven days because the 3 and 5 year-old kids aren’t old enough to enjoy Europe – hogwash. Not that Mom and Dad don’t need time alone, but our philosophy on traveling with young children developed early. Do it. Don’t wait!
Too many parents make the decision to leave their children at home during great travel. Sometimes the goal is to “wait until they can remember,” or worse, to abandon any and all adventure in their lives for the safety and predictability of home. But is it actually safer to raise the future leaders of our country with no knowledge or vested interest in the world around them? And as Americans, are we encouraging the development of a close-minded society by teaching our children that it’s better to stay at home? Safe, predictable, and easy.
When Ashleigh was two and a half years old we made a test trip to Colorado for the summer. It was designed to be easy, but to still rigorously test Ashleigh’s travel stamina. She flew well, she adjusted much better to all changes than Steve and I did (as most kids do), and she had a blast. It was something new and exciting. A place to explore. So the following summer, when Ashleigh was three and a half, we set out on the road (or in the air) for two years. Our family of three lived in ten different countries on five different continents. Steve worked remotely while we traveled, and along the way we introduced our daughter to some of the most adventurous travel spots in the world. We learned about different cultures, different languages, different people, and different ecosystems. We all made many friends, but most importantly, we taught our daughter that the best kind of friends to have are the ones that love you for your differences, not necessarily your similarities.
Ashleigh is six now. We’ve been at home for just over a year after our “Around the World Adventure” and I can say without a doubt that it was an amazing experience for all of us. She doesn’t remember everything that we did, or everything that we saw, or even every place that we lived. Occasionally she’ll say, “Mom, do you remember when…” and it will completely surprise me that such a small tidbit of memory resurfaced after so long. But she speaks so eloquently about so many topics that most people don’t actually believe she’s only six. She has an unrivaled imagination, better problem-solving skills than most adults I know, and a thirst for knowledge that will knock your socks off.
Is it because we traveled with her around the world and introduced her to so many amazing people and places that she is who she is, or is this some kind of freak genetic event that has lead to the development of an amazing and engaging child who takes the world by the horns and dives in with unfettered curiosity? Toss the coin. The argument for genetics versus environment has been raging for decades, but we have a very strong belief that had we just sat at home, not traveled anywhere, and chosen the safe easy route, she would be a very different child. Traveling helped Ashleigh begin to define her place in the world. For most people that process doesn’t start until much later in life. But when you have the opportunity to begin that process at three years old, the world becomes an open door where opportunities are much more obvious and welcoming.
Currently we are all missing our life on the road; a fact that is incomprehensible to most of our family and friends. And although Ashleigh is in school now, we do have high hopes of making the best of her summer and winter vacation time in the upcoming years.
Next spring, our son will be two years old and we will not wait one minute longer than we have to. Spending the summer with both kids exploring a fantastic foreign land will be our next great adventure.
So, when someone asks me what my secret to a great family life is, I simply respond:
Travel with your kids. You can literally give them the world.