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No need to stop exploring – Just bring the little ones along

Posted in Style & Travel

Little me, traipsing the Austrian Alps, with my friend Michele and a furry travelling companion
Little me, traipsing the Austrian Alps, with my friend Michele and a furry travelling companion

It might be a bit presumptuous of me to give advice to parents, as I am only half a parent myself – I raised two step-children which, let me assure you, is a very different ballgame than having children of your own. From my 50-year-old perch, this might also sound like the usual “when I was young things used to be better” kind of tale but, looking at the over-parented children I am often in contact with, I am fairly certain they would all benefit from less protection and more exposure to travel. Or life in general.

Young, and not so young parents, often deem travel with young kids too much of a hassle and they comfortably settle for the same vacation routine summer after summer: a trip to the parks, a house by the sea, short jaunts here and there.

My parents are not particularly adventurous and they come from solid middle class stock – yet, for reasons I never asked, once I entered the picture, they decided they would not forgo travel just because I had arrived. I was bundled up and taken along before I can even remember. The first distinct memory of a foreign trip is traipsing the Austrian Alps in itchy woollen pants and hiking boots, age 5, climbing what seemed giant rocks to my little stubby legs. I might have assimilated the first rule of travel right there and then – never complain and learn to adapt.

Charming Houses in Amsterdam
Charming Houses in Amsterdam

In the following years, my eyes were open to different sceneries, tastes, smells and customs. While staying with some friends in Rotterdam, I discovered that Dutch houses were built very differently to Italian ones and that, as cute as they looked, the wooden clogs I insisted on buying and wearing, were very uncomfortable.  Germans cooked potatoes the best and in Lausanne I tasted my very first handmade chocolates in an old store up a rickety street (and possibly my lifelong addiction to chocolate was born). I touched Communism first hand with multiple trips to the former Yugoslavia, where there were no shops but they served street food in the form of raznjici and cevapcici that I fell in love with. The finicky child who used to complain about dinner at home would have no hesitation trying exotic sounding foods anywhere else.

My father loathed planes so we were often treated to train sleeper cars – and how I loved the starched sheets of the top bunk and being rocked to sleep by the clanging rhythm of the wheels on the tracks. At dawn, I would lift the curtain ever so slightly and, lying on my belly, I would watch the scenery change, the street signs, the license plates, the voices and sounds, the vegetation become foreign and hence magical. Then some cavernous station would welcome us and it was a flurry of luggage and taxis and on to a new adventure.

Even after I started school, at least once a year, my dad would take me on a business trip with him. He would instruct me to inform the teachers I would be absent for a week and to gather the lessons I would miss. He knew that floating down the Seine, learning to eat lobster, following him around like a dog at trade fairs, welcoming my day with a stroll to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, would be more invaluable lessons than another week of algebra.

At fourteen, my parents deemed me ready to face travel on my own, in the form of study abroad sojourns, where I would stay with  local families who fed me and boarded me but provided much less supervision than they believed. In return, they got the whole Summer free from me and my teenage drag.

I didn’t know it at the time but all this running around Europe from a tender age left me curious for strange foods, tolerant of different cultures and inure to the mishaps that are apt to happen when we travel. Taking my little self out of my comfort zone early on gave me confidence and took away the fear of the unknown, the different, the untested. I am not sure my parents fully knew what they were doing; I suspect they just wanted to continue their explorations and couldn’t bear a whole string of Summer holidays on the riviera until I, or my sister, came of age. I also learnt to pack light, never ask if we were there yet and to daydream while being transported.

So, pack up your kids and go. Ignore the evil looks when you are boarding a plane with your toddler or baby. Don’t think of all the things that could go wrong – especially nowadays, you can get competent help nearly everywhere. And remember, temper tantrums are much less likely to happen in Bangkok or Rome or Mexico City than on Martha’s Vineyard or Disneyland. And for all the things your kids will hate you for later on in life, taking them places, they will always thank you for.

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13 Comments

  1. Lovely picture!!I did some travelling with my parents as a teenager (before that they dropped me at grandparents’ to get their own traveling time) but I can’t say I appreciated it. I actually remember myself constantly playing with a gameboy during a trip to India. I think that curiosity is an innate trait. Some have it despite the exposure to traveling, some don’t. But of course, for those who are naturally curious, traveling young is a great privilege.

    June 6, 2013
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    • Mmmm, travelling with parents during the teenage years is the kiss of death! I think I did it only once, and it was awful, mainly because of surly me. Probably the reason why I was shipped off by myself after that!

      June 6, 2013
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    • Every time I look at it, I see sheer bliss on my face, of the kind I am not sure I can come across anymore. So unencumbered.

      June 5, 2013
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  2. Great great advice! I actually picked up my kids and moved half way across the world with them. IT’s been an adventure over the last year, but I truly believe it will be an adventure they value and treasure. That said, while we travel a lot here in Israel (where we moved), we haven’t traveled outside the country at all with the kids since we got here — despite our plans to head to Europe. Gotta get on that. (Loved the pic of little you traipsing)

    June 5, 2013
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    • I love Israel. I fell in love the moment I set foot on it. I have wonderful memories of the best lemonade, of wandering around Jerusalem all alone, of dining with friends atop a hillside. And of my luggage being pulled apart and being questioned endlessly when I left! A girl travelling alone, who had crossed the border into Egypt and then crossed back, aroused suspicion. But I never felt threatened or scared. Has it changed so much? Reading your last blog entry made me wonder if one gets accustomed to threats and random violence. And is it so much safer over here? I think it’s wonderful you all moved. How priceless to give your children a different vision of life from an early age. And Europe is only a hop and a skip away.

      June 5, 2013
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  3. You and Michele look so cute in that picture! I know him now (as business partner and neighbour). He still has that smart look in his eyes… I guess you have it too!

    I have to kids and never stopped travelling (from biking anywhere to flying all over Europe) and exposing them to food, people, languages, challenges… I’m sure they’ll always think dearly about these experiences, as I do when I think at the ones I had with my parents!
    Thank you for the stimulating article
    Alan

    June 5, 2013
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    • Ciao Alan, I think that photo shows I probably had an early crush on Michele! Such look of adoration….Hope to meet you next time I am in Italy. Thank you for taking the time to comment and try to keep Michele sane!

      June 5, 2013
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  4. Janet Rörschåch
    Janet Rörschåch

    Your parents certainly knew how to travel with children. Particularly amazed with your father taking you on a week-long business trips. Wow! Good memories.

    June 5, 2013
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    • I think he just wanted someone along for company. Also, I am the eldest of two daughters and, not so secretly, he had hoped for a boy. So he just proceeded to raise me as a boy as much as he could, hoping I would take over the business one day. I am sure he was sorely disappointed when I went into a completely opposite direction. But those trips are wonderful memories.

      June 5, 2013
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  5. Very nice.. I started traveling with my kids when my youngest was almost two – it was very challenging and my then 5 year old was fixated with the plane’s lavatory and kept on flushing the toilet and washing her hands – very funny… And i was alone in all this .. But it was a memory that puts a smile on my face.

    June 5, 2013
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    • Yes, I forgot – the memories you will create for yourself!

      June 5, 2013
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