A lot of people seem to think that you can’t travel with your kids. Believe me, they are missing out. It’s not as easy as tripping around by yourself, but ease isn’t the reason you got into parenthood anyways. Having the kids along can enhance the trip in many ways.
I’ve had people look at me like I’m crazy for traveling with my kids, especially when they were babies. “Isn’t it dangerous?” is what I heard most. The crazy thing is that having your kids with you — the younger the better — can be a real safety feature.
My eldest son was born while we were traveling on a sailboat in Mexico. ‘Pirates’ were a concern, especially for lone boats hanging out at the lovely deserted islands in the Sea of Cortez. So I was dubiously heartened to hear a popular story going around at the time; Pirates boarded a family’s boat while the husband was away. When they saw a mother and baby alone inside, they turned around and left.
I know from experience that everyone from corrupt police officers to opportunist mechanics become downright friendly and helpful when my toddler smiles at them. Most people in this world really don’t want to take candy from a baby.
People that would have, at best, seen you as a rip-off opportunity (and, at worst, a crime target) suddenly see you as a normal, perhaps more interesting person — “Can I hold the baby?” Kids are kids, regardless of race, religion, or economic status, and it’s hard to resist them.
In turn your kids will relate to their new surroundings similarly, without prejudice, if you let them. Watching your kids having a ball playing soccer with the local kids in Little Native Village, Mexico, might remind you of just how similar we all are at heart.
You’ll be chatting with them all the time, which broadcasts your native language and a little bit about you, making it simple for other travelers or locals to strike up a conversation. People are naturally curious and would often love to get to know you, but feel intimidated. That shy Ecuadorian just dying to try out her high school English will find it much easier to get the courage to say something to your 5-year old. Nothing is less intimidating than a family.
By the same token, the kids may encourage you to overcome your own reluctance, especially with language…at least your pronunciation of “Where is the bathroom?” is pretty well guaranteed to achieve native level.
Kids give you a reason to be just about anywhere (except nightclubs). You’ll find yourself playing in local parks, checking out the hotel facilities, and stopping at yet another ice cream shop. You’ll still do all of the usual stuff — maybe more, since you don’t want them to miss anything. But you’ll pay more attention to the museum explanations, get to do all the activities, and always have a plausible reason/excuse to do whatever you really want to do (ex: “But little Johnny has to tell his friends he climbed the Eiffel Tower!” or “You expect little Johnny to climb the Eiffel Tower?!”)
When kids aren’t busy playing control games with their parents, they love new and different kinds of food. Foreign bakeries are enticing, and the kids give you an excuse to try everything there is to offer. Food is such a huge part of any cultural experience and the number-one sensual pleasure of your pre-pubescent offspring — it’s going to be one of the most memorable aspects of any trip. The kids also make it so much easier to fully enjoy the local cuisine without gaining unwanted kilos — each one orders a different meal/dessert, and you get to ‘taste’ them all.
Traveling will challenge you, often in unexpected ways. We tend to want to shelter our children from hardship, even when we recognize that it is possibly the source of the best education. I would never in a million years have chosen to have the mast of our sailboat come down in a storm in the middle of the Gulf Stream. But it did, and it took all five of us to save the situation. No one enjoyed it at the time, but it became a favourite story and I think that we all realize how valuable that experience was.
Life isn’t all ‘smooth sailing,’ and who would want it to be? It’s so easy to let fear stop us from doing things — but the saying rings true: “It’s the things that you DIDN’T do that you will regret the most.”