If we are being completely honest, I loathe travel – every last bit of the frenzied packing pace. The checklists, the hope that when we arrive at our destination the things we need the most have been somehow meticulously crammed into our luggage by the packing fairy. That we won’t reach our destination and have forgotten that one item our child so desperately needs, which will inevitably result in a moment if not an entire day of endless tears and complete failure on our part.
I despise the morning rush in the house before we leave – feeding people, animals, ensuring that the house sitter is all set, double checking flight times, all the while the children make that unexpected mess, a cat barfs on the way out of the house and well, of course something inevitable is forgotten. Tempers then begin to flair, mouths rush as fast as the feet and words that should remain held tight, spill out.
Then it is out the door to the slew of transportation modes we must embrace in order to reach the airport. Once off the tram, bus and into the airport, the children are of course, ready to embrace play where play is nowhere to be found. This is where as parents we must dig deep, try to organize ourselves and make our way through the passport control, security check, all the while keeping track of the ticking clock. After finally clearing security, re-dressing pursues in the mist of intolerant crowds, our children are likely to be lost found five-finger discounting an expensive item from the duty-free shop, and all the while we run to their defense. Tiny baby shoes are forgotten in random bins, bags dangling from any given limb, belt half on, half, well dragging on the floor and those darn little booklets that get us in and out of countries are missing.
Children are finally safely in tow, we press on to the gate where the wait seems interminable. Nothing for children to do, but touch every scattered suitcase, cry for some overly preserved snack out of the ridiculously priced vending machine and at this point, we wonder why it is that we continue to travel?
We long for the flight to board – a change of pace, of scenery, but we know once aboard the aircraft all bets are off. We smile to everyone on the way to the plane (a silent apology for what might be to come). Luggage in the overhead compartment, children in their seats, the delays incur. We as parents are now sweating, clammy hands, wet brows, and quick minds must pull out all the stops. The people, they seem to be everywhere. Pressed tight against us rubbing bellies, breasts and hands in places that should be sacred, smells wafting through the air of overly perfumed men and women, the toilet bowls seems to be misplaced right under our noses.
The smell of gasoline or other toxic fumes seem to now fill the plane and I, with the baby on my lap am feeling – not well. My stomach is tight, I need air; fresh air, perfume, toilet, chemical free air, which is lost the moment those doors slam shut and I feel trapped with children and my husband around me and all I long to do is flee before my breakfast appears in places that no apology can fix, all the while my head spins with, why the hell do I continue to do this to yourself? As the thoughts race and the heat penetrates through the fake smile I try to muster up for my children, the plane finally moves. A slow, steady, gradual pace that now feels like a boat at sea with my stomach churning ever so slightly and the only thing I can focus on is that tiny white bag that is tucked in the seat in front of me.
The jets begin to roar, the perfect distraction for the children. Thank you God, as my eyes slowly close transporting me to a beach somewhere distant with white sand, and gentle breezes, but that thought is interrupted by the child on my lap screaming for food, or crying out in pain as her ears feel deep, intense pressure.
The two-hour flight seems endless. Snacks are distributed at a manic pace, magazines are ripped and thrown all over the floor, seats are kicked and muddied, voices rise and patience fall. Dreaming of leaving the flight with my children, husband and sanity in check are all hopes, and just then the smell of shit breaks through the other vast array of odors. Of course, my child has a category five blow-out on my lap in our tiny seat. Where is that miniature white bag when I need it? Off to the toilet to try to change my baby and get myself as shit free as possible. My patience and mind are both waning. I want to cry. I want to open the emergency hatch and deem this whole horrible idea a loss, but my children and husband need me and that beautiful city still awaits. The city that looked glorious on the Internet from the comforts of my home – the damn city I wish I could have skipped over on Trip Advisor and instead been at peace and quiet in my tranquil setting. That city where pilgrims end their journey – a journey I am certain I may never make, awaits. Grand cathedrals, quaint streets, babbling brooks, surprises lurking around every corner, the very city I dreamed of. It will be wonderful I assure myself, once we are there.
The plane lands, the seat belts undone and now the fun begins of finding the stroller in an unfamiliar airport. The kids run off the plane as if they have been caged for the last 24 hours; trying to keep up feels like a qualifier for the Boston Marathon. Once down to the baggage claim we wait as the carousel turns out bag after bag, none of which look like our stroller. In that moment we wished we had left the stroller at home and just carried our children on our backs, but my mind immediately flashes back to our trip of Paris. “Oh, let us travel light,” we both agreed. Four days later, what felt like a broken back and shoulders that permanently plunge over like that of an 80-year-old, we declare the wait for the stroller a smart move. The sanity wheels finally arrive; we toss the kids in and make way for public transport – another means of wanting to barf as we make our way to that incredible city.
And if we thought the journey to our destination was the tricky part, the arrival and settling in gets better. We never know what to expect once in our new destination. We have been humbled on more than one occasion when it comes to travel with small children. We are still reeling from a night when our daughter over indulged in a combination of blueberries and milk resulting in her being sick all over the most pristine, white hotel linens in none other than a gorgeous Irish country estate.
Or the times we arrived at our hotel, apartment or house looking disheveled at best. The kids look like we just picked them off the street; we still smell a hint of shit from the flight somewhere, put cannot seem to place the exact location. My hair, oh my hair. My own mother would cringe at the mere sight of it, looks like the hands of a chubby 18-month-old had been tossing and turning it as she tried to find her way into peaceful slumber on the plane. Depending on the location, we muster up the best of the language, mixed in with a vast array of hand signals, make the necessary transactions and find our way to a beautiful apartment. While inspecting the new digs we pray there aren’t too many breakables in this overly fashionable abode.
Changed and cleaned up, we make your way outside. Oh, the fresh air, the smells, the sights, the people are all greeting us with warm smiles and welcoming “Hellos.” The flowers are just starting to bloom, a slight breeze blows in from the west and you hear the church bells ring. Our children frolic happily through parks, meander down tiny streets, and meet strangers with innocent eyes as we snap a few photos as tokens of remembrance. We spend the next several hours finding our way by foot through the city locating hidden gems along the way, tasting delicious coffees in small cafés, exchanging commerce and feeling alive in our new destination.
We eventually settle in to our new destination, making our lodging our new, temporary home. The children find their space, eat their meals and we slowly, but surely begin to relax. The moments of fluster, sickness and fret are washed away from us and the excitement of the new location begins to slowly seep in. We smile for the grand opportunity of being able to witness first hand a new country – her people and her surprises. We rejoice in the fact that we are able to share such experiences with our children and pray that these experiences shape them into self–reliant, curious and open-minded individuals.
See, this is what travel is all about. To travel is to forget the unromantic act of airports, buses, hurry, waiting, and patience flailing. Travel makes us stop and appreciate all that sits in front of us and all that still awaits. It is the creation of memories not only for ourselves, but for our children as well. To travel is to understand that the world is a grand teacher; a teacher we want our children to embrace whole-heartedly. It is realizing, that perhaps, the famous quote by St. Augustine had it right when he said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” We want to dive into that book with our children, not simply skimming over the pages, but truly indulging in each page, soaking up every last bit of the text.
Some of the happiest times in our lives (note I didn’t say the easiest times in our lives) were when we were traveling as a family. We relish in our children basking in the wonder of the Alps, feel overcome with joy when they touch their chubby toes in the Mediterranean, cry in celebration as they blow out their first candle in a new country and delight in the fact that we can show them the small Italian towns in which their ancestors were from.
Travel is a beautiful gift, and we are grateful for each and every opportunity. We have come to realize that through our journeys we are slowly, but surely beginning to unwrap a small slice of this incredible world.