Friday, April 26, 2013


I read this article, and then I felt a little annoyed.  Because I traveled with wild abandon when I was young. I snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef, I dove the Red Sea, I traveled by ferry through Norway and train in Amsterdam and cable car in Switzerland.  I took the Parisian Subway with shakey French and traveled by Safari through Kenya.  I saw poverty and concentration camps and people living on the side of the road in the desert.  I saw ancient ruins and fantastic new buildings.  I stood in Berlin after the wall came down and stared at the bullet holes and graffiti on the walls.  I rode a horse through Monument Valley and learned about John Wayne.  I whale watched on the Olympic Peninsula and went white water rafting in Alaska.  I climbed to the top of mountains in Greece and to the bottom of salt mines in Salzburg. 

I did all of this before I was 18 and my parents who were in their forties then their fifties were right there with me, telling me how much fun the slide in the salt mine would be, how the boat wasn't going to tip over, how the lions couldn't come into the safari van. It is something I will always be grateful for, and it's something that gives me pause whenever anyone acts like the only time to travel is right now and if you put it off, it will never happen.  

You can travel young.  Or you can travel always.  I plan, with all my heart, to make travel like this available to my children.  Because there is nothing greater than walking through the Louvre after reading The Second Mrs. Giaconda and there is nothing cooler than seeing 221 Baker Street when you just read Sherlock Holmes (and then stayed up all night completely terrified) and after a long unit on Greek and Roman history walking through the streets of Italy. It gives you all those things that the author of the article talks about - culture, perspective, and life being about more than just you.  Because every winter, we would sit down with a map of Europe and start throwing out destinations.  And my Dad would research plane tickets.  And we would decide where we wanted to go.  Life wasn't just about me, and life wasn't just about them, it was about us as a family, being a unit that worked together to plan and execute these trips.  My sister and I whined an acceptable teenage amount, but we also learned a lot about each other and about ourselves.  My parents learned to know and respect us as adults, rather than as children.  We packed our own suitcases, learned exchange rates, wrote notebooks about where we were going, wrote emails and letters to our boyfriends about the interesting things that happened to us.  
Travel with children is expensive, I will not lie about that.  We were extraordinarily lucky.  My parents prioritized travel over almost anything else, and made their careers work for them - we went to Vancouver and the Pacific Northwest for conferences, Egypt so my Mom could work with a hospital there, Chicago for an annual conference, Alaska because my mom had a colleague there and could put in several days of work.  My parents sacrificed a lot to give us these memories, and in hindsight, it was some of the best parenting they did.   

My parents worked remotely a lot.  Do you remember what the first laptops looked like? I do, because I helped cart them through airports.  Have you ever seen somebody dial up to the internet via a payphone?  My mom used to have a portable modem with adapters for every single kind of phone jack that existed around the world.  We stayed with friends and family and ate picnic lunches bought at the grocery store instead of at fancy restaurants. These days, that kind of travel is even more possible with sites like VRBO and AirBnB.  Yet we hear so often that traveling is something you should do when you are young, before life gets in the way.  And that's just the wrong message.  I think maybe people think children don't appreciate travel, that it is meaningless to them.  And before they are three, that is correct, but the Berlin wall came down when I was five.  And when I was in kindergarten and the wall came down and tickets were dirt cheap, my parents pulled us out of school and put us on a plane and my Dad showed me the bullet holes and the guard stations and talked about having to show his passport when he went from one side of the wall to the other.  I didn't put everything together until I was in middle school, paging through my history books, but it was powerful.  Seeing world history as you learn world history in school is incredibly powerful, and it's played a huge role in who I am today.

Please do not think I am blind to the incredible amount of privilege afforded to me by my upbringing, which follows me into my current life and makes travel possible, I'm well aware of that.  But travel is not limited to people with my upbringing, and it isn't limited to the young and foolish.  In fact, it isn't limited at all. Don't think that only fancy childfree people travel.  Don't think that you have to be "ready" to travel before you can make travel happen.  I have an extremely inconvenient job but I have traveled more in the last year than we have since college.  Some trips have been cheap, some have been expensive, but all have been worthwhile.

I don't think it's a coincidence that when I think about the life I want to leave, I would rather go on vacation than upgrade our TV to anything but "the one that came with the apartment."  That when I think about what kind of job I would like, it's something with reasonable hours and the ability to go on vacation without waking up in the middle of the night sick with worry.  I recognize now that it will be challenging to give our children the life my sister and I had.  Three week trips to Scandanavia and Alaska are probably out of the question given our career choices.  A month in Europe will likely be off the table.  But adventure doesn't come only in 3 week increments.  It does not require a 7 hour time difference.  It can, in fact, be planned into vacations to visit the grandparents or the aunts or the cousins.

This kind of travel is possible, it's just going to require us to make a lot of strategic decisions from very early on - trying to find the right company and stay at it to accrue enough leave time, actually using our leave time and making it clear that it matters that we be allowed, and supported, in doing that.  Just like we shape our priorities as we house hunt, we shape our priorities towards the life we want to live.  If you are also prioritizing traveling, and trying to shape a life where you can get up and go as much as possible, what kinds of things are you keeping in mind as you shape your careers and settle down?  What are things we should keep in mind while we are squirreling away money so that we can go to Spain and South America?  What is on your travel bucket list?   

1 comment:

  1. Oh man. Prioritizing travel, do I have thoughts.

    Despite appearances, I think we're only moderately good at it. We put way too much travel on the back burner while we were working on our house and cabin...but then again, we did pay them off within 2 years. And I'm really proud of that.

    I *did* quit my job to travel. But we're sorta shopping for property as we travel because, let's face it, we want a community, we want friends, we want a little house. (At this point in the economic cycle we want to pounce before prices rebound.)

    If (more likely, when) we buy soon, I do want to put more emphasis on taking a couple weekends a month to explore, hike something, and have a local adventure with hopefully a larger vacation once a year.

    Like you, I *hate* when people say that you must travel when you're young "because you won't later." I refuse to believe that I will turn 30, 35, 40, 50 and magically not travel. Flat. out. refuse.