On more than one occasion, I’ve been told by friends, after sharing our upcoming family vacation plans, “You always go to the coolest places.”
I wouldn’t necessarily call Disney World a “cool place” to vacation, but our family has tended to venture outside of our comfort zone since our kids became teenagers. My husband and I caught the travel bug around when we turned 40, and we learned that hitting the road with older kids can be fairly easy and really fun.
At times, though, I’ve worried that we are spoiling our kids. They have experienced some amazing trips in their short lives. But we want to travel, and we want to do it with our children. I tell myself we are gifting them experiences instead of things, and my teens have confirmed that many of their best childhood memories are from the trips we’ve taken together.
There have been so many memorable experiences. The time we ran into Ravens kicker Justin Tucker in Florence. The time my daughter was bitten by a capuchin monkey. Yodeling in the Alps. Being pulled by sled dogs in Alaska. The time I fell off my bike in Vancouver and my family didn’t notice my absence until much later than I would have liked.
I combat my concerns about over-indulging my children with the knowledge that our travels are creating compassionate, open-minded and global citizens. For kids who are growing up in a comfortable suburban bubble, traveling gives them perspective and glimpses of the larger community, country and world.
We’ve seen panhandlers in Seattle, New York and Baltimore, and my kids have learned that poverty is a problem affecting so many people across the country. We tour a new city and return to our warm and dry hotel room, while people who live there find their homes on the streets and in cardboard boxes.
We visit Europe and are struck by how old human civilization is. When we stand where the Boston Massacre occurred, that event in American history seems so long ago. But then we stand where the ancient Romans watched gladiators fight to the death in the Colosseum, and the youth of our nation is startlingly clear.
We see the vastness of glaciers, the Grand Canyon and the Alps — huge swaths of nature untouched by humankind. We observe wild animals like bears, bald eagles, whales and elk in their natural habitats, and marvel at them. This planet of ours is astoundingly beautiful, and I hope my children will feel inspired to protect this Earth that they have hiked, climbed and sailed over.
For a few years, I’ve felt like we are running out of time to take these family trips. Once my oldest joins the workforce — please, let her join the workforce — her vacation time will be limited and a week or two with her parents and younger brother may not be her priority, or even a possibility.
This year may be our last hurrah, at least for a while, so we are going to make it count. Traveling to Europe for 10 days may mean my kids will earn less money this summer, but in 10 years what will they remember? Will it be the shifts they worked at the local deli or being inside the oldest active synagogue in Europe?
I know the answer, and I remind myself of it each time I second-guess our decision to embark on another family adventure. Our travel memories will remain with each of us long after the souvenirs are unpacked and the suitcases are emptied.
Who knows what new experiences we will add to our ongoing travelogue this summer? I just hope none of those experiences involve a bicycle — the physical bruise is gone, but the one on my ego remains.