They will say you shouldn’t travel with small children. They will say it’s too hard. It’s not worth it. You’ll regret it. That it won’t be a real vacation.
They will say, for the love of God, whatever you do, do. not. travel. with. little. ones.
But I say, do it anyways.
I have four kids under the age of nine. I will be the first to tell you that traveling with them is anything but easy. Whether we travel down the road, across state lines, or over an ocean and through the woods, taking them anywhere is neither simple nor relaxing. Not ever.
And yet, we do it anyways.
We do it because travel teaches them about the world. They see new things. Hear new sounds. Taste new foods. Meet new people from every walk of life. Experience new moments that have the potential to change them, and us. On our recent tropical getaway, my 3-year-old son got to play in the ocean waves for the first time. He followed his big sister into the ocean (just a few feet away from us), was immediately knocked over by a strong wave and did a hard face-plant into the sand. That poor guy, he had sand in his eyelashes, his scalp, his ears, and his mouth. For days after, he avoided dipping a single toe into the water. He was terrified. But with gentle coaxing and a hand to hold, he learned the joy of standing ankle-deep in the water and letting the waves hit him. He learned how fun it can to be play chicken with those waves while running down the beach. He learned to overcome his fears. On our very last day, he said, “The ocean isn’t scary anymore. This is so fun!” That simple discovery for him, that boundless joy he felt as he played in the water, will stay with me forever.
We do it because travel teaches us important life lessons. In our last trip alone, we experienced an unexpected snowstorm that caused a long flight delay, our baby cut two teeth in the first half of the trip, our warm and tropical destination had a cold front blow through, and my husband’s eyeglasses were washed away with a strong ocean wave. For a while, it felt as though our long-awaited for trip was just one disaster after another. But we also learned a lot about letting go of the things we can’t control and making the most of an unfortunate situation. It wasn’t often fun. It certainly wasn’t easy. But however miserable it was at the time, I think we gained a little strength and resilience along the way.
We do it because, though it may not always be worth it to us in the moment, it is always worth it to them. The first feel of warm sand between their toes. Finding a small chameleon in a tree. Watching the vibrant red cardinal flit from one branch to the next. Wishing upon a star in the dark night sky filled with more stars than they have ever seen in their life. Spotting a hot air balloon drifting above the mountains. My oldest daughter still talks about the joy and wonder of meeting her favorite princess at Disneyland (God help us) years ago. She still remembers riding the Tube in London and how exciting it was to watch and wait for the next train. She doesn’t remember much else of either trip. Certainly, she doesn’t remember the jetlag or tantrums she threw or how overwhelmed and overstimulated she was on many days. She remembers the best parts, the parts that matter. And when we look back, we realize that’s all that really counts: not the pain that we experienced, but the joy that stays with us.
Mostly, we travel with our wee ones because there is a bond that travel creates for our family that is unique and irreplaceable. A bond that only shared experiences and special memories and unlimited family time for days on end can create. We spotted those dolphins. We got knocked over by those waves. We rode that roller coaster. We all squealed as that gigantic male bison ran alongside our minivan and ate a piece of bread straight from Daddy’s hands (at a game farm park where it was allowed, ahem, not in Yellowstone). And we did it together.And when times are hard on any given day of the year, when there are tears and disappointments and sadness in our every day lives, we can look back on those times as a family and remember the God-given beauty and the tireless joy of days gone by. The vacation is over, but it’s easy to recall the feelings of excitement, wonder, and comfort those precious moments gave us. That is everything, Moms and Dads. That is everything.
Think of it this way: traveling with kids is a little like Christmas morning. It’s messy. It’s expensive. It’s loud. It’s exhausting, for everyone involved but especially for the parents. It is not always relaxing or quiet or even enjoyable. But it is magical. Seeing the holiday — seeing the world — through their eyes is the closest you will ever get to NeverNeverLand. If you go into it with realistic expectations and a heart that’s wide open, it can be a breath of fresh air, giving you a new perspective. Giving you new life. It won’t be perfect or painless. But it can still be worth it. Often times, the hardest things are.
To be clear, I also believe in traveling without children, either alone, with friends, or with your significant other. Do that too, and do it without regret or guilt. But when everyone else is telling you not to take your littles and travel down the street or around the world, because it’s too tiring, it’s too difficult, it’s too expensive, it’s too much of all the bad things and not enough of any of the good things, I will say this:
Travel with them anyways.
Travel down the road.
Travel to the next city.
Venture across state lines.
Cross the country.
Cross the ocean.
Wherever you can go, however you can get there, however long you can stay, just do it. Take the leap. And when you do, cry when you need to, scream if you must, pull your hair out when there’s nothing else to do. You’ll probably do all of those daily while you’re away. But pay attention. Pay attention to their wide eyes of wonder, listen closely to their curious questions, relish in their clean-slate innocence as they experience the world for the first time. Play with them. Discover with them. Soak it up. It won’t ever be easy, it probably won’t be pretty, and that’s okay.
Travel with them anyways, long days and frequent tears be damned. Travel with them, knowing that travel, as with life, is often messy and beautiful at the same time. And there’s value in that too.
In fact, I’d say those memories are the most golden — the most worth it — of all.