We arrived home late in the day Monday from Central America (hence the near silence around here). My family traveled to Costa Rica where we visited my father, old friends, my family’s ecolodge, and had some real honest-to-goodness time together. I remained essentially unplugged for the 10 days (except for a few brief moments online). Wondrous. Life really feels different without an iPhone in my pocket and a diaper in my purse while on the way to preschool. I didn’t have the iconic stethoscope along either. In the absence of routine and my typical tools, I was reminded that travel and how you deal with it is often about perspective. And optimism.

Time brushes your body differently when you’re out of the country, as if it attains a new temperature. Startling news like the shooting rampage in Arizona or the deeper disappointment in Andrew Wakefield hit me differently than I would have expected. Sometimes what we infer really depends on the view. When sitting in a country without an army, surrounded by family and wide open spaces, priorities came into focus, minutia disappeared, the resume of my life diminished in importance, and tragic news penetrated less deeply. For me, travel was a break from responsibility but also a break from the internet, the demands of the constant worry we can feel when taking care of others or bearing witness to the hydrant stream of ideas and news in the (social) media. While I was in Costa Rica, I really felt like a mom. Singularly at times. We were devoid of deadlines and while in the middle of the rain forest, the distance from technology was vast. Big trees, humid thick breeze, and the bazillions of bugs reminded me that there really was a time before my iPhone, Twitter, and e-mail. There can be time that is slow and uninterrupted.

Let me be clear, travel with children isn’t all rosy and relaxed. Travel with children is just that, travel. It’s not technically vacation. There remains little “down-time.” The diapers still get filled, the tantrums remain rampant, the sicknesses can still appear, and the room is usually crammed. And although travel through the eyes of children enlightens, it also exhausts. Which leads me to these 5 things.

5 Truths About Travel With Children:

  1. Kids Still Get Sick. While I like to blame daycare and/or preschool as the source of our many ailments at home, I must say, this past trip proved my mini-theory wrong. We’ve previously held school liable for the colds, lice, and illnesses our children get but F hadn’t stepped a foot in preschool since the Wednesday before Christmas. And our trip was entirely embedded in illness. We left Seattle New Years Eve when F had a pretty high fever. It lasted nearly 4 days. This was followed by O’s stomach virus (lots of vomiting and diarrhea) the following day. The following morning O then came down with the same virus and fever as his brother. In the 11 days of travel, 9 were highlighted with fever. The kicker? After arriving home, F developed a stomach bug and we spent last night helping him deal with projectile vomit, etc… It’s utterly bizarre that it’s been weeks (!) since we’ve seen health in our home. Even though illness was a an integral part of our adventure, we sincerely felt it sincerely didn’t ruin or tarnish our adventure. A nuisance, yes. The volume of Tylenol we used, remarkable. But the illnesses didn’t slow the boys’ wonder. Their sense of delight in the monkeys, the waves on the beach, their time with an unfamiliar grandfather remained poignant. Promise prevailed. Children really are resilient. My advice? When you travel, pack Tylenol, Advil or other fever reducers (miracle workers). You’ll never be sorry you were prepared.
  2. People Touch Children: It’s beautiful. Strangers touched my boys every single day while we were away. The adoration was  exquisitely welcoming while the personal-space-with-children-formality dissolved at the border. When the boys were infants, I was more of a germ-a-phobe and worked to avoid such encounters by tucking them in (the Moby wrap, Ergo, or Bjorn helped). I admit it; I used a lot of Purell. But as they have grow up and entered  the community as members themselves, I’ve backed away from policing germs. Learning genuine, independent skills to connect to others is essential to growing up. Touching and making contact, it turns out, can be a big part of connecting. The boys learned more and more how to greet and respond to strangers. It was valuable; I really felt we were less alone. I’d read an essay recently entitled, Traveling…with a Rock-Star Baby about a similar take on the generosity and delight towards children in Southeast Asia. Children really can function as ambassadors–Being welcomed and acknowledged by strangers urges children to recognize they have a role outside their own family. I am so thankful for all of the attention they received, as they are brighter and more resilient because of it. And yes, I acknowledge that truth number 1 may be a direct result of truth number 2. More Purell next time?
  3. The Airplane Public Doesn’t Welcome Children: This one is a doosey. We’ve traveled quite a bit with the boys. F took more than 20 flights in his first year so I’ve witnessed the many faces of the public on airplanes. Traveling with infants, daunting but not so challenging if you can get your infant to sleep. The biggest challenge for families often arrives while traveling on airplanes with children between 12-30 months. Toddlers just simply can’t sit still and are not easily entertained. And as global travel continues to get more awkward (less water, higher security screening and rituals, more full flights) it’s becoming exceedingly clear that the public does not welcome families on board. Patience is waning, I suppose. I often tell families in clinic to pass out earplugs, greet the neighbors in the rows and ignore the looks and stares during the screaming. Although I remain hopeful that families will feel welcomed on board, I am reminded of a November New York Times article about Child-less flights. The articles discusses the notion (movement?) to create particular flights banning children. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? The NYT reports that 59% of the public would like family sections on airplanes with 20% stating they would prefer child-less flights. Internet, how is this possible?
  4. Experiences Are More valuable Than Toys: The boys eyes were open the entire time, their beings quieted. This trip was a telling reminder that experiences in new places, with friends and family, are worth every penny and the sacrifices we make to facilitate them. Travel is education. Wonder abounds in the rain forest, in unfamiliar restaurants, and in a truck on a bumpy road. Travel to cultures different that our own expands our childrens’ perspective. Whenever and if ever possible, get out of Dodge.
  5. Travel Inspires Optimism: An article in Pediatrics published online yesterday highlights the need for optimism. Over 5000 teens were followed starting when they were between 12-14 years of age. They were assessed for their optimistic thinking style and resulting substance abuse, antisocial behaviors and emotional problems. Over a series of years, optimistic thinking was found to be protective against depressive symptoms. Although somewhat intuitive, the findings suggest that instilling and modeling optimism may set your children up for healthier and happier years ahead. Promoting optimism may be an incredible preventative health benefit. Immediately while reading this today, I thought about our travel. Travel, and the challenges presented when out of your typical routine can be a great time to demonstrate optimism (particularly when well rested!). Model and demonstrate your optimism and flexibility with challenge early and often. All it may take is leaving home! Multiple times a day while traveling, we encountered new experiences, food, language, or terrain. Our boys were always initially fearful or dubious. We did a ton of cheering, reassuring and repeating. Fortunately, the fear of the waves faded, fear of many new food was overcome and the fear of flying diminished. New experiences paint a perfect landscape for promoting optimism. Leave home whenever you can. See, it really is about the view.