Saturday, March 2, 2013

In Praise of the Traveling Parent

My cousin recently returned from a trip overseas. She traveled with her two children, a four year old and an eight-month old, alone. 

( Insert applause here)

I have to admit, have no idea how she did it. Traveling with kids is  special kind of adventure and while her visit was routine, she was visiting her mother, she was still managing to travel with her children in a “third world “ country and then flying ten or so hours back with them.

Every time we are on the road I notice babies of other travelers.  There was the annoyed five year old who kicked my seat of six hours between coasts, the two babies on the train in Vietnam, the four children that a beautiful and dignified Jordanian couple wrangled through a ten hour flight. Once flying to Europe there was a modern gypsy ( wanderers not Roma) couple and there tow children. The husband looked like Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean and they chatted about how they had been living in South-east Asia and then Italy. There are a fair number of babies among the Thailand backpacker crowd.

One of my main big fears of parenthood ( I have about 1,000) is that I would not be able to travel. That finances or social pressure would keep me grounded for the whole long 18 year haul. Not a very pretty idea.

Yet, there are these parents and their kids on the plane, the rain, the boat, in the back streets, on busses. Clearly, kids are portable.

There is the oft repeated notion that children need routine. Not being a parent I don’t know if this is true so my next thoughts are pure speculation.

We were originally a nomadic species so I’m not sure moving from place to place is particularly traumatizing. When you’re a kid ( if you remember) everything was new, so what’s the difference between new here or new there?

Kids are sponges, they are supposed to be anyway, learning about everything around them. I would think being stuck in school or a house is boring as sin for the average kid.

Being exposed to new cultures, languages, peoples and ways of living surely is a boon to any child so lucky to have the experience. While there are surely many episodes of our travels that are adult only, there are plenty of things we did that would be totally ok with a kid.

Backpackers in Thailand who had their kids with them always seemed to get special treatment from locals. A woman who gave me a stony glare lit up with delight when a small farang baby came her way. Children are cherished in Thailand and the baby was handed between probably 6 different people before making its way back to a parent.

There are risks too, the word is a dirty place and kids are not known for their discernment. There is the added danger of losing a child in a place where they don’t speak the language – if the speak yet. And the  neurotic parent would probably die  of anxiety of they saw the state  of some of the bathrooms in many of the places I’ve been.

There is the social pressure too. Traveling with children, to far flung destinations is not viewed kindly by society or grandmothers at large. Disney land? Where they are surrounded by sugary sweet consumerism , great. India… less so.

There are all sorts of concerns for traveling parents that the rest of us are spared. Time changes, new foods, breast-feeding schedules, baby friendly accommodation, the looks other travelers give you when you get on a plane.

Whether or not travel with children is possible seems to lay with the strength of the parent. My hats are off to my cousin, and all parents who dare to travel with kids. I may hate that your baby just cried for the whole of trans-pacific flight but I’m sure as hell glad that you don’t let that stop you. You teach your kids that the world isn’t something to fear but something to embrace and parents or not we could all do with a little more of that. But you also leave the door open. If one day I do have kids I know that I can travel thanks to you. And no worries about the plane.

I can always bring ear-plugs.

1 comment:

  1. As far as children needing routine goes, I think any sort of trauma comes not from the scenery changing, but how often people go in and out of your life. Nomads, after all, still traveled as a tribe, meaning those kids saw the same people and had the same friends, the same people teaching them, throughout their childhood. Moving from place to place even within the United States means changing schools, which, for a kid, means leaving your entire social group and having to fit into a new one. That can be a major mindf*ck for a kid (it definitely was for me). So while I don't think traveling is bad for children at all, I think there is a big difference between taking your child on a trip, even an extended one, and moving you and your child's entire life to a different part of the world.